Our Writer of the Week is debut author Margret Geraghty. Margret’s short story, “Icicle And
Edelweiss”, appears in Special 251, on sale this week.
There’s a feel-good message to “Icicle and Edelweiss”. Was it important to finish on a positive, thoughtful conclusion?
I think so. Real life is difficult enough without leaving readers feeling downbeat. The author Michael Morpurgo said that even in dark and difficult stories he always ends on a note of hope because he’s an optimist and believes there’s light at the end of every tunnel. As writers, we can’t know the state of mind of every reader, but I’d rather leave them with a smile than a frown.
It’s a character-driven story. Do people, real or imaginary, inspire you as a storyteller?
Probably a blend of both and sometimes the spark is the simplest thing. For example, I was once waiting for a train when I saw a boy – a young teen – wearing green Converse trainers with red laces. He looked a bit of a loner, so I gave him a big, hairy dog called Heathcliff and that started off a new story idea.
I also find that talking to people, or rather listening to them, can trigger ideas. It’s not the real person who goes into the story but maybe something they’ve said.
Do you remember your best-ever Christmas present – what made it special?
That’s a tricky one because all presents are special, but going back to childhood I remember the sheer thrill of filled stockings. I had a favourite aunt who sent me one every year, with each item individually wrapped. It went under the tree with the other presents, but because of its shape I knew which one it was and always saved it for last.
I think my father thought it was a load of tat, but I loved it. There was always a similar mix, which my aunt chose because she knew what delighted me: a conjuring trick, a puzzle or two, a miniature model horse, an I-Spy book and, best of all, a magic flower that you immersed in water and after a few hours it bloomed. It truly was a stocking of delights.
What types of books do you like to read – any favourite authors?
Oh, so many. My mother bought me Daphne du Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn” when I was about twelve, and I still have it. I’ve found that my tastes have changed over the years, though. I used to read a lot of literary stuff and I still love Jane Austen, but these days you’re just as likely to find me with an Agatha Christie or a Lee Child.
Raymond Chandler is a favourite, too. His plots are like bags of tangled string, but his metaphors and similes are wonderful. Then there’s Richard Osman’s “Thursday Murder Club” series. He’s brilliant at creating idiosyncratic characters. He also manages to blend pathos with humour and makes growing older sound fun.
In your mind, what makes a good “Friend” story?
I’d say emotion is key. If readers can’t identify with the characters on an emotional level, they won’t care what happens to them. While you won’t typically find high-speed car chases or rooftop fisticuffs in a “Friend” story, everyday situations and dilemmas allow readers to imagine themselves in the characters’ shoes.
We all know what it feels like to love someone, to be misunderstood, worried and embarrassed etc. A dash of humour helps, too.
Notebook and pencil or laptop? Kitchen table or study? Blank wall or inspiring view?
Desktop computer set up beside a window that overlooks my garden. I’m also a big fan of writing in one’s head, playing around with ideas and rearranging things. Walking helps that process for me, but also the kind of chores that allow my mind to wander. I’m a big gazing-into-space person.
What’s your one top tip for aspiring writers?
Different tips work for different writers, but something that helped me was watching films, particularly those that follow the Hero’s Journey model, which most classic Hollywood movies do. Feature films must grab the audience fast so it’s worth watching how they do this. Every line of dialogue counts and every scene moves the story forward.
One romantic fiction author says that watching classic comedies even helps her with writers’ block, throwing up ideas and suggesting fresh ways to go about things. Having recently watched an old Doris Day movie I can see what she means. It’s a perfect chain of cause and effect, with plenty of conflict.
And talking of conflict, Joanne Harris once said that she thought of all her novels as Westerns. “Chocolat”, for example, is basically “A Fistful Of Dollars” set in a French village. Something worth considering?
When it comes to creating suspense, Alfred Hitchcock is the master – but keep Norman Bates out of “The People’s Friend”!