Login   Sign Up 


Collated Answers from WW interviews

How did you start writing?
Adrian MeadI was 33 years old, living in New York and stressed out after 15 years working in the pressure cooker world of hairdressing and fashion shows. On the weekends I was helping out downtown in a gang's projects, persuading kids to give up their guns. I'd travelled the world, been in some VERY strange situations and people were constantly telling me that I should write about it all. A kid from Kirkby in Liverpool becoming a writer? Surely you needed a degree in English Literature to be one of these rare and exotic creatures?

Desperate for a new career I moved to Edinburgh with a plan. I would become a criminal psychologist! So I signed up for an Access course at Edinburgh University. Then that strange phenomena that I have come to love and trust kicked in. You instigate change....and totally unforeseen events begin to take over and carry you forward...in a different direction.
I was asked by some students to be a stuntman in their no-budget short film, as I had a background in Martial Arts and, more importantly, I owned a suit and tie! Once on the film set I realised that THIS was what I was meant to be doing. I'd always sketched, dabbled with music, LOVED films and was never afraid of hard graft. Making films and TV combined all those elements. I was smitten.

Now absolutely determined to to be a writer/director I planned it like a military campaign, visualising every step.
Step 1. I needed training and a calling card. I would make a short film. But first I needed a budget.
I worked 5 days a week in a Salon, 1 day a week at the Access course and 6 nights of the week as a bouncer. I snatched any time I could to write, five minutes here and there but every day I would write. On Sundays I would take out all my scraps of paper, write them up into a script and then pay a student £20 to type them into a screenplay format for me (I didn't own a computer and couldn't type.)
In nine months I'd saved £7,000 and went back to New York and made a short film on 35mm. I passed my Access course, the short won some awards and my two short scripts and feature (written mostly on the toilet in work ) secured me an agent at ICM London. I was off.
Alan WilliamsLike most other writers the answer would have to be as a child. My parents encouraged reading widely although I must acknowledge the inspiration, imagination and, surprisingly, the vocabulary I found in comics. I wrote my first SF story in fourth grade as a school project on canals involving time travel. Yeah boring canals.

By ten I was writing and illustrating my own super-hero comics. I guess that influence still comes through in my more imaginative tales. I had an ongoing comic strip published in Australia that I wrote and illustrated. Writing is much easier than sketching.

Andrew BlackmanI always liked to write as a child, but was raised to be ‘practical’ and so took a practical, well-paid City job. The job took me to New York, where I stood under the World Trade Center one bright Tuesday morning and watched the towers burn. As I trudged home, my clothes caked in the dust of other people’s bodies, I vowed that I would not die doing something I hated: I would at least try to do what I wanted. So I began to write, sporadically. I quit banking and became a journalist, all the while working on my fiction in the mornings before work. Then a couple of years ago I quit journalism and became a temp so that I could devote all my energy to doing what I want to do: writing literary fiction
Anne BrookeI've been writing poetry since my early 20s (I'm 42 now) when I was going through a particular bad time emotionally. The only way of getting through it, I found, was to put my feelings down in verse. It wasn't great (at
all!) but it helped keep me alive. After things got better, I kept on writing poetry, eventually joining an Adult Education Poetry Group, and then started to send my work out to small press magazines. I've been published in a few now, but the poet's dream of a commercial collection has so far eluded me. That said, I did publish my own collection, "Tidal", in 2004 in order to raise money for my church. Much to my surprise, that raised about £400. During 2000, I went through another bad time - as did my husband, who was made redundant that year - and found I simply couldn't write any poetry at all. I moaned about this (and other things) to my mother so much that, one day, she lost her cool and told me just to write prose, if I couldn't write verse any more. I took her at her word, and "The Hit List" was started. Looking back, it is very much a "first novel", but it was where I was at the time and I'm proud of that. It also has its comic moments, which I'm proud of. Having started with prose, I was hooked and kept on going. By the way, the poetry came back in the end.

Beanie BabyI honestly can't remember what made me want to be a writer. I have often told people that as I was drifting through time and space on my way to being born, I passed through a number of doors marked 'teacher', 'nurse', 'actress' etc - then I got to one labelled 'writer' and just stopped. It is the only thing I have ever wanted to do; the only thing I have ever really known and I grow more passionate about it by the second.

Candi MillerIn my early twenties, I walked in on my boyfriend in bed with another woman – a woman much older than me. As I stood appalled I realised I was more fascinated by the detail than I should have been under the circumstances – for example, she sprang naked from his bed, breasts and belly sagging, and the first thing she did was put on her very large, very dark sunglasses. I raced home to write up the scene.
Candy Denman I have always kept diaries, written short stories etc, but it wasn’t until I had a difficult pregnancy which meant I had to rest for several months that I started writing fiction. My first effort was a synopsis and first chapter of a novel. I sent it to a publisher who advertised in a magazine and was shocked when they asked for the rest of the novel by return of post- it meant I had to write it very quickly
Caroline RanceThe first story I remember writing was called “Goldie's First Adventure.” (Note the series potential.) I was eight years old and it was about a little goldfish who used cunning and guile to fight her way to becoming leader of all the strange characters in the fish tank. This story contained the immortal line “I might not be the biggest, but I'm going to be the best!” I tried to write a Second Adventure but I think I'd exhausted all my fish-related ideas on the first.

When I was in my teens, I got all serious and decided I wanted to “be a writer”. I wrote lots of awful poetry. Then I started several novels, each time getting to about chapter 3 before losing confidence and thinking I could never be any good. With hindsight, though, they weren't really that bad and I'm glad I eventually gritted my teeth and finished one.

Cassandra ClareThe first book I ever wrote was when I was fifteen. It was entitled "The
Beautiful Cassandra". I promise that it wasn't about me, though it did
later affect my choice of a pen name. It was a pretty terrible epic romance. After I graduated college I spent a few years working for entertainment and tabloid magazines, doing celebrity journalism, but I never found it fulfilling. I started writing fiction again a few years ago, and what came out of that was "City of Bones."

Catherine RichardsI guess I first really got into writing through my other favourite pastime: the theatre. When I was younger I really wanted to be an actor. I spent a lot of my spare time as a teenager doing youth theatre stuff and found that I enjoyed writing material just as much as I enjoyed performing.

I didn’t really get into story writing until a few years ago. I found some short stories and stuff that I’d scribbled down when I was meant to be writing essays at Uni. I started to take some of the characters from them and put them in different situations. Eventually they took on lives of their own and had my first (very self indulgent and not very well crafted) novel on my hands. I then started posting some bits of it on some internet writing forums. Although most people were kind about it, it soon became apparent I had a lot to learn if I was ever to write stuff of publishable quality.
I tried to track down people online who would be brutally honest in their responses to my writing. One of those people turned out to be Luke Bitmead. We spent a bit of time giving feedback each other’s writing and eventually decided to write something together: mainly as a way of improving our writing in the first instance. Four weeks later ‘Heading South’ was complete.
Cathy GlassI have always been ‘a scribbler’, for as long as I can remember, – poems and articles for the school magazine, then short stories and articles for newspapers, periodicals and magazines. For many years writing was a hobby, something I did almost furtively in my spare time. Now I am a full time writer and foster carer.
Christina CourtenayI started writing when my oldest daughter was 6 months old, thinking it would enable me to stay at home with her and not have to go to work. I thought it would be dead easy to write a Mills & Boon or two – little did I know! Well, so much for that theory - my daughter is now 21 and I’ve only just had my first full-length novel published!
Claire AllenProperly? I started in early 2006. I challenged myself to write the book I always wanted to before I turned 30 - which was due to happen in June - so I sat down and became completely obsessed with my cast of characters and wrote my book over six months. It was one of the most exhilerating experiences of my life.
Claire MossI can remember vividly the night I typed the first few pages of NSR. It was early January, there was nothing on TV, and I'd had a mini-row with my then-boyfriend (now husband). I was drinking a can of lager at the same time as writing, and I had got an ipod for Christmas so was uploading a load of CDs onto the same laptop I was typing on. Needless to say, out of the c. 2000 words I wrote that night, approximately 10 of them have survived into the finished book. Straight away, though, I was hooked, and I knew it was something I was going to persevere with.

Clare SambrookAged four I wrote a joke book to impress my family and make them laugh.
Here's one I remember:
A bird sat on a fence.
The bird sat on the fence for a long time.
Then the bird fell off the fence.
Courttia NewlandI just started! I was poor and bored, so I wrote to give myself something to do! I also wanted to raise money for a music studio. I was 21 so it was just over 10 years ago.
Danny RhodesI’ve been writing since I was a teenager and kept diaries when I was at school so I think it’s always been in me to want to express myself with words. I submitted a few stories (always rejected) when I was at University and wrote for the University newspaper and then a few novels (always rejected) in the years that followed but it was all very sporadic.
Deborah SwiftI’ve always written something. Mostly poetry because it could be small and portable, and an idea could be jotted down quickly, or so I thought. (Then of course re-drafted and re-drafted until it turned into something completely different from the initial idea!) Now I have more time as I’m self employed, so I can write longer things. I have found writing a novel to be a joy – so many thousands of words in which to explore the story!
Diane SamuelsWhen I was a child, I used to love telling stories and acting out scenarios. I have always had a very vivid imagination and am constantly creating dialogues and unravelling differnet narratives in my head. When I learned to read and write I found that I could give my made-up worlds and characters vivid actualisation on the page. I found this very exciting and would spend hours and hours writing long stories when we were given English homework in primary and in the first few years of secondary school. As academic study became more imtensive in school and then at university, I did less and less imaginative writing - the critical voice became too loud. So, from about the age of fifteen, I expressed my creative voice through collaborative theatre making to which I was introduced by a wonderful youth theatre group called the Shifrin Foundation which was based at the Jewish community centre in Liverpool where I grew up.
Domenica De RosaI wrote my first full-length book when I was eleven (The Hair of the Dog – A Murder Mystery) but then a combination of O Level English, A Level English, an English degree and a career in publishing served to put me off writing altogether. I wrote my first adult novel, The Italian Quarter, when I was on maternity leave.
Elizabeth BuchanI think it was under the blankets at boarding school where I was cold, hungry and very angry at being there. Writing was a diversionary activity. There was a large gap between then and later when, as a mother of two toddlers, I decided that the time was never going to be right and I had better get on with it. I used to get up at 5.30 and write a page before seeing to the children and going out to work. If I was still upright after supper I would snatch half an hour to do another page. It took a long time, but I got there!
Emilia di Girolamo I went to university to study drama believing I wanted to act but in the 2nd year we had to do performance projects, which were basically any play we wanted to do. I had this story that I had carried with me since childhood and I kept thinking, 'if only someone wrote a play about that'. When I told a friend, she said, 'well go on then, you write and I'll direct'. That was how it started. I wrote the play and acted in it and we got a high mark and a good reception from the audiences. I entered it in the Questors Student Playwriting Competition and was a runner up. We ended up taking the play out on tour in the summer to a few small-scale venues and it went really well. I didn't write anything else until I left university. I was acting in one of Stephen Plaice's plays- he published The Devil (then called The Printers Devil). I told him a story about my sister and he asked me to write it. I did and it got published so that was my first paid published work. That gave me the confidence to write a bit more and I started going to workshops. After a particularly inspiring workshop with Anna Reynolds I decided to write a novel. Anna suggested the short story I had written was part of something bigger and it just hadn't crossed my mind before. I read that Jeanette Winterson had written Oranges are not the only fruit in 6 weeks so I thought I would give it a go! I wrote my first novel in 5 weeks. A writer friend read it and passed it on to his agent without telling me. The agent rang up and said he wanted to meet and things started moving. Sadly that novel was rejected by just about everyone and is gathering dust somewhere under my desk but my second one, Freaky was published. I have written another novel The Ice Cream Man but I have put it aside for a few months to work on my TV projects and get some new perspective on it.
Eva SalzmanI can’t recall not writing. In junior high school, hiding at the back of the class, I wrote novels in notebooks. On weeks-long family car journeys, as a child, stuck in the back-seat with my evil twin, I’d dream cloud shapes into people and gaze into the distance, imagining the lives one might have led, even if I’d hardly begun mine. Escape is as good an inspiration as any. Writing may have saved my life, and be saving it now, which is not to say that its function is catharsis.
Fiona RobynI wrote a poem thirteen years ago, after reading poetry for many years before that. Why? Something happened, and I think I just thought I’d like to write it down.
Gary DavisonSeven years ago, after the millennium new year, I decided to give up smoking and take up writing. I love reading. Read every day. So I thought why not start writing? I sat down and started writing a story called Missing. 125 000 words later I had my first novel. It was, according to friends and family, a blockbuster. In reality, it was pants. But that was me off and running and I’ve never stopped since. Every day 2-3 hours, not unless I’ve finished a book, when I have a month off.
George SzirtesI was in the school corridor when a friend brought me a hand written poem by someone else I knew. I was doing science A levels at the time but had started procrastinating by reading poems in the library. The fact that someone I knew could write poems (I had given up Eng Lit at 16) shook me and flung open a door I could look through. Importantly, though somewhat strangely, I thought it was a bad poem. And that nay have bee why I knew then, that minute – I really did, no hyperbole – that this is what I should do, and try to do well. It was not only a possibility, it seemed the most important thing in the world, perhaps – apart from love – the only important thing. So I started writing and have gone on writing.

Gillian CrossI started writing when I was about seven, though I didn’t write a whole book until I was about twenty-eight. I began with secret scribblings and I still don’t show things to people until they’re finished. I began because reading and imagining and writing all seemed like parts of the same wonderful activity.

Gordon and WilliamsRG: I started way back, but one of my points of inspiration was meeting Ray Bradbury in Paris in 1990. I was on my honeymoon, and Sophie and I were at a table beside him and his wife and somebody who I assume was his French agent. It was on the forecourt of a restaurant not far from the Louvre. They were so close that I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation and it didn’t take long to figure out who he was. I never go up to people but Sophie has no qualms about doing just that. When she said hello, he seemed very pleased. We talked for a while and he was exceptionally nice. He was a favourite writer of mine when I went through a science fiction phase in my mid teens and, having met him, I thought if he can write, then so can I.

BW: With a pencil, at infant school; I was told to by the teacher.
Helen CastorI set out to be a historian – but you can’t be a historian without writing. I had wonderful history teachers at school, and I suppose it was then that I first started to be conscious of the fact that putting words on a page was my way of reconnecting with the past. I’ve never been the kind of person who writes all the time as a way of expressing themselves – but I have always loved the power and precision of words
Helen McWilliamsAs a child I was always making up stories in my head (I still do to an extent!) and writing was a good way of allowing my imagination to run wild. When I was introduced to my first primary school teacher in the juniors section of the school (when I was graduating from the infants section!) the teacher who ‘handed me over’ said “this is Helen and she’s a very gifted story writer and poet”, those words struck a chord with me, and that introduction is recalled verbatim. Encouraged by this glowing report I started writing for fun outside of school.

I used to write off for autographs from television and theatre actors and actresses, too. One letter which I still keep close by is from star of television programmes ‘Outside Edge’ and ‘The Royal’, Robert Daws – he writes “I must say if your letters are anything to go by, you could have a very good career as a writer!”
Jae WatsonI have scribbled in diaries and written anxty poems from a young age. Writing has been a kind of compulsion since adolescence when I realised it was a private and relatively healthy way to deal with my teenage hopes and fears. We were a family of readers and so there were always books around to inspire me.
Jane ElmorAs a kid my favourite thing to do was write stories and make them into books - but, like a lot of people I'm sure, as a young adult I pursued other 'careers' first. I started out writing songs and playing in bands and fantasising about being a rock star... then decided I was too old for rock and roll and went on to compose music for film and TV. I co-wrote a comedy musical in fringe theatre and had my first go at a novel, which although got some encouraging feedback from agents, I somehow never managed to finish. A few years later when my life went wonky, I finally decided if I was as serious about writing as I always joked I was, it was about time I stopped making excuses and put it first. I quit everything and went on a Creative Writing MA.
Jane RogersAs a kid, writing stories. I have always written – for performance, rather than publication, when I was a student. My first published story appeared in Spare Rib magazine about 30 years ago.
Jenn Ashworth
I think it's a cliche to say that I always have written, but I really have. I remember stories written in the first two or three years of school about field mice and combine harvesters, and then a long phase of writing zombie and vampire stories. I wrote terrible poetry until I was eighteen or so, and then have been working on novels and short stories ever since. I've also written a journal every day since I was twelve. I don't seem to be able to think unless I have a pen in my hand and I can't ever see myself stopping - it is something I can't describe, although I think many writewordsers will know exactly what I mean. A strange way of looking at the world and of other people which means things aren't quite real until they are written down.
Jill McGiveringI’ve always loved stories and story-telling and began writing poems and stories for myself when I was a child. I think fiction writing is an important way of processing life – and making sense of experiences. It can also be satisfying to be able to impose order and a moral framework by means of a story, especially when “real” life seems random and unjust.
Jim YoungerI began writing at school. I had two ‘stories’, just pictures with captions. I would reproduce them on alternate days at infant school, in my ‘news’ book. Monday was a picture of a house, with the caption: “this is my house”. Tuesday would be a ship: “this is my ship”. Both works of fiction, because I didn’t have a house or a ship, just two rooms in a transpontine hovel. The teacher took me aside after a bit and said: listen Jim, could you not write something a bit different for a change? So the next day I doubled my output. I drew pictures of a bigger house and a purple ship with the legend: “this is my cousin’s house. this is my cousin’s ship”. So I learned early on the value of the plain, direct style -and the full stop. Looking back, I like to think I detect the beginnings of my ironic take on life.

Joanna Moorhead I’m a freelance writer: I write mainly about parenting, women’s issues and health. I write mostly for the Guardian, a bit for the Independent and Observer, and for magazines like Prima Baby, Family Circle and Junior. I’ve written four books, three on parenting. Writing was always the thing I did best at school, and I especially loved those exercises where you had to pretend you were a journalist and write in a ‘newspaper style’. I was a bit hampered by the fact that I went to a convent boarding school in the middle of the countryside, and the nuns didn’t consider newspapers ‘proper reading’ for their girls! In the end I struck a deal with one nun - she passed on the Daily Telegraph a day late, with page three removed so I didn’t get corrupted by all the saucy court cases.
John MurrayI started by writing poetry when I went up to Oxford in 1969. It was terrible pretentious stuff and it was all about showing off by being as obscure as possible. Before that aged 16 I was very much influenced by a famous photo of George Orwell with a fag smouldering in his mouth. I wanted there and then to be a writer so that I could type in a garret and have a fag always dangling coolly from my lips!(But I don't smoke any longer, and haven't for over 30 years).
Jon HaylettOne evening, some twenty years ago, I’d finished my marking and preparation for school and started, for no logical reason, a short story. Since I’d neither thought of doing this before, nor had any experience or knowledge of writing, the decision at the time seemed quite bizarre. Yet within months I had won a short story competition and my first novel had found an agent.
Jonathan WolfmanI’d always wanted to be an actor and/or a director and I studied drama at University. After doing a post grad film course for which I wrote and directed a half hour film, I thought at the time, the best way to achieve my goal to direct was to write my own original material and that is what started me writing. So really I sidetracked myself into it.

Josa YoungAs above, at age four
Julia BellWhen I was 8 in a red exercise book. The story involved camping and a yellow Labrador which I painstakingly drew to illustrate the story
Julia CopusI wrote a lot at school – stories, mainly, but some poems too. I was the one who stayed in during my lunch hour at primary school to write twelve pages instead of the usual two. There was nothing terribly inspiring about my childhood: quite the opposite. The house where I grew up was on a dead-end road with a chemical factory at one end and a smaller electroplating factory at the other. On summer nights, when it was necessary to keep the windows open, there was a constant hissing sound above the hum of the traffic. In the daytime, the house was filled with other, more boisterous sounds. Behind each door, at pretty much any time of the day, you could be fairly certain that one of my brothers would be practising an instrument – French horn, ’cello, piano… All three brothers eventually won music scholarships to various prestigious schools or music colleges. The horn player went on to play for some of the top orchestras – the Philharmonia, the Berlin Philharmonic, the L.S.O. … There was a lot of fighting in the house too, a lot of tension: my parents had recently divorced, and my mum was struggling to knit things back together again. What I longed for above all else was quiet, and, I suppose for a room – a space – of my own. My solution was to move out, during the summer of my O’ levels, to the caravan parked in the driveway! It was here (under the quieter hiss of a gas mantle-lantern, and by candlelight) that I began to experience the sense of release and of order that writing can provide. As I say, I had always written poems and stories at school but it was here in the caravan, for the first time, that I truly began to feel that with a notepad and pen I could make my own world; could be whoever – and wherever – I wanted to be. I suppose it was a case of “Have pen, will travel”.

Kal BonnerThe writing malarkey started with music magazines, when I lived in Liverpool - interviewing and reviewing bands and fairly exciting stuff like that. Then I moved to Jersey and it stopped, until about five years ago, when I faxed in my resignation whilst under the influence of madness, and it all started again from there.
I wrote my first book in long hand and figured that if I didn't have a second I'd go back to my regular job - but I did and I didn't.

Kate LongIn the early 90s I was sent on a course for teachers of English where we had to read out our own creative writing for feedback. I’d never done anything like that – I was an avid reader, but I hadn’t written creatively since I was a schoolgirl. I came back home all enthused and began work straight away on a novella.

Kathryn Haig At school, I couldn’t wait for the days when we did Composition. It didn’t matter what topic we were given by the teacher – What I Did In My Holidays or A Day In The Life Of A Dog or Grandmother’s Tale – I was off and scribbling. In my teens I wrote a truly dreadful book, heavily influenced by my favourite authors of the time, Georgette Heyer and Jeffrey Farnol. I keep it as an awful warning! Then life got in the way and I didn’t start writing again until my daughter, Rachel, went to school.
Kia AbdullahWriting is something I have always loved but prior to publishing Life, Love and Assimilation, I hadn’t actually had any professional writing experience. From a young age I was encouraged to write by teachers and friends but I chose a more staid career path and studied Computer Science at university. It was only after graduation that I had enough free time to write seriously. I started writing Life, Love and Assimilation in 2004. At the same time, I was maintaining a blog, which gathered a substantial following. It was those readers that encouraged me to pursue writing and complete my first novel.
Kit PeelI grew up next to a very large bookshelf. Maybe my bedroom was larger than my brother’s, but while he had a window by to the right of his bed, I had books. I wrote poetry from as early as I can remember and used to win school and local competitions which meant more books. In my year between school and university I decided, after writing some poems that really excited me, that I wanted to keep doing this.
Lee JacksonWhen I accepted that I would never be a pop star and the first line of a song became the first line of a first novel.
Lucy McCarraherI always wanted to write novels, but until recently, never felt I had the right material. Then about five years ago, after my second husband and I had adopted our two daughters from Russia, I wrote two thirds of a fairly autobiographical novel. I sent it to an agent I knew, who quite rightly told me it was boring and not very believable. “But it’s all true,” I protested. “That doesn’t make it good fiction,” she said. I rethought, stuck with a few elements, worked out a real plot, found a voice for my lead character and wrote three chapters. Then I got sidetracked by life and the need to earn money and left it.

Luisa PlajaWell, apart from writing on and off all my life... I started my first serious attempt at a novel for teenagers a few months after the birth of my second baby. I decided I wanted to do something totally selfish, non-work and non-baby-related. I also think I felt liberated at that point – I realised nothing in the world could expose me to more criticism than bringing up children. Er, not so far, at least.

Malcolm BurgessI had quite a hot-house academic education and like many people in this situation felt too intimidated to write. It was only when I left university and ended up in an awful ad agency writing copy for supermarket chickens and air conditioning units that I started writing poetry, which then became funny pieces for magazines and newspapers.
Maria McCarthyAt 25, I got dumped by a boyfriend and decided to distract myself by writing a romantic novel. Sadly my dreams of getting my own back via the ‘success is the best revenge’ route by producing a multi-million bestseller and embarking on a glittering lifestyle never got further than the first three chapters. Full-length fiction is hard, really hard. I have tremendous respect for anyone who can pull it off successfully.
Mark Liam PiggottAs a small child I wrote poems and stories, and aged 11 tried to write a novel about an alcoholic ex-footballer (“Days of Wine and Roses”!) Why? So many reasons: because I’m not a good conversationalist; because I want to change the world; because I need to record the things I feel and see; because I’m a raging egomaniac.
Matt Lynn
I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. Why? I count myself as a storyteller. I like telling stories, seeing the effect they can have on people.
Meg PeacockeI started when I was very young – four or five – and my father encouraged me; but he knew nothing about modern writing: I only began to find out something about that in my teens, looking in bookshops. I had a good apprenticeship in rhyming and metrical writing, which I don’t regret, though I wish I’d had other models. I think I wanted to write because I loved rhythm. I loved to sing, and it seemed the same kind of activity.
Michael Rosen InterviewSometime around the age of twelve and thirteen I began to get a sense that I liked writing, liked trying out different kinds of writing, I tried writing satirical poems about people I knew. At around sixteen, I got the bug after reading several things: D.H. Lawrence’s poems, James Joyce’s ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’, and some poems I ‘did’ for what was then called ‘O-level’. I started writing poems about things I had done when I was much younger, about girls, about ‘nature’. Most of them were deadly serious. In the sixth form I caught the Gerard Manley Hopkins virus. This made me spend hours trying to mangle the grammar and find alliterative and symbolic sequences of words. They were virtually incomprehensible and very boring.
Michelene WandorI first started writing at the end of the 1960s – so I’ve been going for a long time! It was relatively easy (compared with now) then and in the early 1970s to get published, have plays put on, etc. I started earning immediately, and have always earned my living from writing – that’s a very large part of why I continue. It is my profession, it’s what I know how to do, though each piece of writing is always a new venture.
Michelle HarrisonI first began writing when I was a teenager, and this was inspired purely because I loved reading so much. It made me want to write stories for other people to enjoy and lose themselves in. I wrote lots of short stories, most of which were horror, and attempted a novel which didn’t progress past the first four chapters. I also took any writing opportunities that came my way, such as school magazines and newspapers.
Milly JohnsonI’ve always written, from being a child. I just liked writing stories and poems for pleasure and that feeling has never left me. I can count on one hand the times I’ve not wanted to sit down and write.
Neil ForsythI began by contributing to a Dundee United football fanzine at 15, though that largely consisted of photocopying Roy of the Rovers comic strips and changing the words in the speech bubbles to make derogatory comments about rival clubs. Things didn’t progress much from there until five years ago when I quit my job at 24 and started writing on Scottish football – match reports and so on. I was running club nights to get by, and worked my way into men’s magazines and newspapers. Two years ago I stumbled across the story of Elliot Castro. I wrote to him in prison and things progressed from there.
Neil J HartI was probably around ten years old when I first knew I loved writing. My early hatred of reading was placated by the Ian Livingstone Fighting Fantasy books in which you ‘choose your own adventure’. This didn’t feel like real reading to me as I was fighting hobgoblins and rolling dice to see if I would live or die! From there I would draw pictures and create my own Fighting Fantasy adventures using huge sheets of paper to plot all the possible outcomes. It’s tricky stuff. I even made several board games with outcome cards and characters plots. I started writing properly some years later after dabbling in life as a professional musician. Short stories came first, then a documentary, some gothic poetry and finally initial ideas for Spritz. It wasn’t really planned. I just got caught up in it and now it’s everything to me.

Nick StaffordWhen I was very young I thought that I’d “be” a writer. There weren’t any where I grew up, and none in my family, so I don’t know where this came from. Novels were my first love, and I’ve recently been writing one. I knew that if I didn’t at least try to write a novel I’d bitterly regret it on my deathbed. I never meant to be a playwright. I was studying English with Drama as my minor option years ago: English so I could read all the time and Drama so I didn’t have to work. The drama tutor cast me as the lead in a play then suggested that I went to drama school. At drama school I wrote the one-man show that became the play…
Nik PerringI’ve been writing, in some shape of form, for as long as I can remember. I can remember writing and drawing comic strips when I was very young - about pirates I think. That, I think, is my strongest and earliest writing memory. In my teens I tried short stories, poems and music, and after being made redundant from a job in the motor trade, tried my hand, with a little success, at feature writing. It’s fiction I love though, and that’s what I came back to.
Patricia CumperI began writing after returning to Jamaica from university in the UK. I was overheard being critical by the producer of a revue I had gone to see. He challenged me to do better. I wrote a sketch for his next show and he asked me to develop it into a full length play. It ran for six months and has been produced throughout the Caribbean. My second play I produced myself and it was a complete financial disaster. One critic described it as the funniest first act he had ever seen!

I began to write at a time when Caribbean writers were just finding their voices: Roddy and Derek Walcott, Dennis Scott, Trevor Rhone, Carmen Tipling, Alwyn Bully, Errol Hill, Honor Ford-Smith.. it was magical to me to finally sit in a theatre and experience my own language and culture on stage.

I also read voraciously. I found the absurdist playwrights in the bottom of the bargain bin at a Kingston bookstore, I cantered through all of Shakespeare including the sonnets, went to see versions of Ibsen and Wilde in garden theatres. And I wrote and wrote. For years I supported my family by writing and producing a daily radio serial. Nothing teaches you how to get into and out of a scene better than that daily grind.

Influences? I admire Beckett and Bennett. I love Shakespeare’s tragedies but find the comedies tedious. Big themes explored through small personal stories interest me. When I grow up I want to write like Dale Orlander Smith.

Peter HobbsIt wasn’t planned. I spent a long period of time in my twenties, several years in fact, recovering from an illness. And I guess many of the sacrifices writers have to make – creating time, space and solitude – were made for me. Afternoons as I was beginning to get a bit better I just sat down and wrote. There was a lot of stuff going on in my head during these years, and it came out in some odd ways. There was no plan to it, but the writing began to shape itself into short stories. And later there, after I’d shown some of them to some people I trusted, and had some good, tough (though encouragingly so) feedback, there was a novel. That makes it sound easier than it was, of course, because writing the novel was three years of hellish struggle, but the memory of that’s been smoothed over by time. A good thing, too, or I’d probably not be trying to do another one.

Peter RobertsonI’ve always been obsessed with words. My Mother has recounted to me that when I was an infant, and she read stories to me, I was insatiable and demanded more and more. I simply couldn’t get enough. As for writing, I wrote as an adolescent but, with the benefit of hindsight, I see that it was the worst kind of juvenilia: trite and striving for effect.

Preethi NairI can’t remember a time when I haven’t written but I started writing seriously in my twenties. I used to work as a management consultant in the city and the routine was so monotonous, to escape, I used to write.
Rebecca StrongI can’t really remember when I first started writing but I’ve loved literature for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of my father telling me stories, and this inspired me to be creative with words. I used to write a lot of poetry and this is my first attempt at a novel.
Rosy BarnesMy first novel was written aged 8: 11 action-packed chapters (one A4 side each) about Campion the pony. I don’t remember much except a pair of twins, one of whom was “spoilt” and given a diamond necklace and an Arab mare for her birthday. The nice “unspoilt” one was given a crayon and a crust of bread. No shades of grey for the young authoress!
Rosy ThorntonDunno really. I get a lot of ideas from around me, I guess, not only for settings (Hearts and Minds is all about a Cambridge college) but also about human quirks and funny situations, etc. I had a year of adoption leave from work in 2003/04 when we adopted our two daughters; they were then aged 4 and 7, and with all that free time I went and helped at their school quite a bit. Primary school crazinesses feature large in More Than Love Letters and it’s no coincidence that the two characters who are primary teachers teach Reception and Year 3 respectively.
Sally NichollsWhen I was three years old I wanted to be a builder. By the time I was five I realised that I’d make an appalling builder and decided to be a writer instead. I’ve never changed my mind.

I love stories. I see the world in stories – my boyfriend remembers directions as a sort of spatial map, I remember them as a story – “we turned right at the pub with the hairy barman, then left at the statue where we were having that conversation about baked beans, then …” I’ve written stories in my head ever since I was a lonely little girl walking around the school playground. (I’ve also been giving imaginary interviews since then, so it’s very exciting to be able to do it for real). I started writing seriously last year, when I did an MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa.
Sara MaitlandWhen my father died and we were clearing out his desk we found my “first novel”, in a laboriously hand-written and lavishly illustrated limited edition of one. I must have been six or seven, so really I have always been writing.

Sarah StovellI was probably about six. I gave myself enough time to master letter formation, and then I was off. At the height of my infant school rebellion, I used to write stories while pretending to get on with my maths, and that pretty much set the tone for life. It just became a habit – an addiction – I never gave up. When we were teenagers, everyone else took drugs. I knocked out a couple of angsty novels. I probably wasn’t that cool, thinking about it. Oh, well.
Shahrukh HusainI’ve always written. For a long time my mother preserved a dreadful rhyme I wrote when I was 5! My first pieces were published in the Children’s Corner of a Women’s Magazine in Karachi, called Woman’s World, when I was eight. I remember one was about dogs and I was severely reprimanded for using the word ‘bitch’. I’d already written a saga when I was six – I remember just one line in it ‘…and then he kissed her and kissed her and kissed her.’ I wonder why my fledgling career as a romantic novelist never took off? My father travelled a great deal and we frequently went with him, so I began to contribute short stories to magazines and write feature articles whenever and wherever I found an outlet. I reviewed my first movie when I was fourteen – The High Bright Sun, starring Dirk Bogarde – and I assisted with an interview of Agatha Christie when I was 16. Why I started writing? I can’t answer that. It sounds horribly pretentious but I write because I must ; I love it and during the one period in my life when I didn’t write, I was making a lot of money but I felt unhappy and unfulfilled.
Shelley WeinerAs mentioned, it had come to me that I’d had enough skittling over the surface as an adept wordsmith. It was time to do something ‘proper’. What this ‘proper’ thing was, I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that I had a story – the history of how my parents, both concentration camp survivors, had come to South Africa – and I was determined to find a form in which to tell it. I’d heard about the Arvon Foundation and enrolled on a course in Devon, where Alice Thomas Ellis was a tutor. She became a friend and mentor – I was terribly lucky – and encouraged me to write a novel which, in a frenzy, I completed in about six weeks. This was the family story which I’d been so determined to tell and which, alas, was never published. But it did get me an agent and unleashed a torrent of fiction. Stories, plays, and A Sisters’ Tale, which became my first published novel.
ShikaI'm pretty sure that I started writing when I was very young because I first came to the UK when I was six years old and I understand that my teachers had spoken to my mother about my poems prior to my departure from my native Ghana. My parents decided to return to Ghana when I was nine years old and my British teacher informed my mother that I was on my way to becoming a good poet and this would be lost if I returned to Africa. Cue me screaming at my mother saying, 'what are you sending me to Africa for?' as she dragged me from the school. This became a bit of a family joke and I did not write a single poem for the next eighteen years.
Sion Scott-WilsonI've been writing since I was able to speak. I used to hold my
sisters and their friends enthralled with tales of the creatures who
lived under the toilet seat.
Sol B RiverI first started writing for my Youth Theater in the mid 80's while at school, The play was entitled 'Thomas' (loosely based on Steve Biko) and I also played the lead role. I began writing seriously (three plays in one year - non produced, but all sent to many, many theaters) in 1993. My first professionaly produced play was Moor Masterpieces in 1994 at The West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Stella DuffyI started writing as a child - poems, little plays for friends & to perform … but I always believed that only 'posh' people were writers - ie. not anyone like me! I was the first person in my family to go to university and it was assumed that I would become a teacher or, if I was really clever, a lawyer. The idea that someone from my sort of background could be a writer (or what I initially became, an actor) was simply not thought of. In the first place I wrote to create work for myself and other performers. Then, when I finally had access to a computer (a old Amstrad - it took seven hours to print the first novel!!) I wrote my first novel. Mostly in single chapter chunks and usually at three in the morning whenever I had the time or an idea … I have never understood why people take time off or go away to write their first book - it seems like putting an awful lot of pressure on yourself when you don't yet know if it’s something you can do.
Steven HagueApart from writing a lot back when I at school (I was the sort of kid that would turn a two-page story assignment into a full-on novella given half the chance), I started to write professionally when my last job suddenly demanded it of me. I’d worked in the marketing arm of a large insurance company for eight years when they decided that they needed an investment writer – someone who could translate the fund manager technobabble into something that was vaguely lucid – and I’d been earmarked for the role. I then wrote stock market report after stock market report for a couple of years and along the way I rediscovered my love of writing, so when the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy came along, I grabbed it with both hands and decided to pursue my boyhood dream of becoming an author. This all occurred about seven years ago (have I really been out of an office that long?) and I’ve now reached the point where my debut novel has made it on to the high street shelves.
Sue MoorcroftI learnt to write at the age of five and have never really stopped. It was my favourite subject at school, even though they did the best to suck the life out of it. At certain times of my life, such as when my children were small, I only managed to write ‘in my head’, so I was telling myself stories rather than actually putting pen to paper.

Tim LottI started writing professionally as a journalist when I was 17 and as an author when I was 40. I write because it’s the only thing I am able to do competently.

Trilby KentMy first efforts, when I was five or six, were thinly disguised Enid Blyton pastiches, written on a typewriter. I started by mimicking my favourite writers. After Blyton, it was Agatha Christie, then Arthur Conan Doyle and, later, various nineteenth-century gothic novelists. When I was in high school I wanted to be a playwright. I would have loved to be an actress, but I was far too shy; writing felt safer, and it meant I could be master of my own little on-stage universe. The other thing that I now realise was instrumental in getting me started were my parents' dinner parties, where there was always a delicious variety of characters to spark the imagination; I'd spend most of the time making mental notes, soaking up story ideas and half-understood snippets of conversation to jot down later.
Vanessa CurtisMy parents are great readers and ex-English teachers and my brother owns a bookshop, so books and writing have always been discussed avidly at home.
I started writing as a very small child and was encouraged by that rare thing, the truly inspirational English teacher. English lessons were the only ones that we were allowed to take outside under a large oak tree in the warmer months. The teacher read poetry to us – Christina Rossetti, Wilfred Owen - and ever since, I’ve always associated poetry with a sort of golden glow of eternal summer. My poems were published in the school magazine. I got my first experience of being edited at aged eight when the headmistress took it upon herself to change one of my poems without telling me, so that my first line, ‘There is a blooming blossom tree…’ was changed to ‘There is a flowering blossom tree’ (!). To add insult to injury I wasn’t given any credit for using the fantastically grown-up word ‘oscillating’.
Vanessa GebbieI have written as a freelance journalist for some ten years now, doing features on education for a glossy magazine based in Brighton, Sussex. (Brighton and Hove Life). Four years ago I started dabbling with fiction, and enrolled on a course at University. I lasted half of this course as it appeared to be encouraging novice writers who hadn’t mastered the basics to dive into the deep end and write a novel. I wanted to write short stories. So… I just sort of did.

William SuttonI never really stopped. You know, from writing stories in class and making up plays with friends at school. At college it was a great outlet for creative energy, a way to meet people, get to know people well. I always loved the process of a play: that arc from first idea through the crisis of rehearsals to the performance.
Zoe Fairbairns I wrote my first story on the flyleaf of an old copy of Rudyard Kipling's The Just So Stories, when I was four. I don't know why I did it; it seemed like a natural thing to do.
Zoe LambertMy gran recently unearthed a book of poems I wrote and illustrated when I was six or seven. They were about cows. At high school I remember I wrote a spoof detective story, where the evidence was a Victoria Sponge and a story about a murderous deputy head teacher. I was lucky because my school pushed creative writing and I realised I loved it. I knew I wanted to write, somewhere in the future, (if I wasn’t going to be a florist specialising in dried flowers or a violinist). It was really at university that I began writing a lot, as I took a course in creative writing, and published a story in the University magazine about homeless children who live in sewers in Moscow. It began with ‘I’m not getting in that hole’. I spent a year in Florence, teaching English and writing, but my stories were all over the place. A year later, I got a place on the MA in creative writing at UEA, where my writing continued to be all over the place. At that time I worried a lot about my writing instead of actually doing it.

Zoe WilliamsPeople always write, don’t they? Everyone grows up writing, writers are just the people who don’t stop. I’ll tell you what, as well – everywhere you ever go to interview someone, whether it’s in a Miss World contest or… I don’t know, insert something intellectual here… if you spend enough time with people, they’ll say “I wanted to/ am intending to/ probably might think about &c &c doing some writing.” Everybody knows they can do it; I think a gross proportion of them are right, I’m only glad that they’ll never get round to it. It’s not like long-jump, where only a very few people can do it, and the best are obviously the best. Everybody can write, and everybody’s writing is somebody else’s cup of tea. I can only make a living out of it because other people lack the application. Or the ego. Or they are too busy.