WriteWords talks to novelist and WW member Deborah Swift
Tell us all about your writing background- what you’ve written, what you’re currently writing
I’m currently working on my second historical novel. The first one, “The Lady’s Slipper” will be published by Macmillan New Writing next year. I have just finished the edits and seen its sumptuous cover design, so I actually believe it is going to happen now! It is a historical novel set in 1660 in rural Westmorland, and is a story of love, loyalty, murder and revenge – and a little wild flower called the lady’s slipper.
I also write poetry and my work has appeared in poetry magazines, most recently in Envoi and Anon. You can hear me reading one of my poems live on http://www.litfest.org
Other work besides writing; ie. Editing, dramaturgy, tutoring, and how it works/worked for/against your own writing
I studied for an MA in Creative writing and found some of the course so useful I wanted to pass it on to other writers who might lack the confidence that they are any good. So now I teach creative writing once a week, and also take part in a writer’s group where we critique our longer pieces of work such as novels or plays. The writers group is particularly useful to see how the structure of a longer piece might work – often it is the structural flaws in a novel which writers need to look at, even when the general quality of the writing is good.
How did you start writing?
I’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!
Who are your favourite writers and why?
My main influences are actually plays. I spent many years as a set and costume designer for the stage so I am heavily influenced by all the drama I’ve seen on stage, and tend to think naturally in three acts, and in terms of scenes, stage directions and dialogue. For the novel I’m working on at the moment I have revisited Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and works by Restoration playwrights such as Wycherley and Aphra Behn. And Shakespeare an excellent place to find period-sounding insults and exclamations, though some of them are a bit too over the top for modern usage. “A plague upon you, whoremaster dog!” needs the right context to work these days.
Recent favourite reads on the historical fiction front have been Sarah Waters’ “Affinity” and C.J Sansom’s “Dissolution” (a real page-turner), but I also love Rose Tremain, she is masterful at creating the right voice for her characters. But I have always read widely, anything and everything, not just historical fiction – I’ve just finished Cormac Mc Carthy’s “The Road”, which was astonishing (in a good way.)
How did you get your agent/publisher?
When I had finished The Lady’s Slipper I made a shortlist of suitable agents from the book “The Writers Market UK” and started sending out the first three chapters. I chose authors whose work I had read and liked, and who had thanked the agent, (preferably profusely) and whose books seemed to be in a similar genre to my own. I earmarked those agents and to my delight, one of them asked to see the rest, loved it, and signed me up. Then I waited whilst the novel got sent out to publishers. A lot of nail-biting later, it was rejected by them all, for varying reasons, but I had some very favourable comments.
So I slumped a bit, but then with the encouragement of my indefatigable agent, started work on the next, and put The Lady’s Slipper to one side. Then I saw that you could email your whole MS to Macmillan New Writing. A group of us decided to send our languishing novels off, thinking, what the hell.
At 9 am one morning Will Atkins from Macmillan New Writing rang to say they wanted it. I had forgotten all about it by then, and I nearly put the phone down on him, because usually when people start a conversation with, “Hello, My name is …” I think they are trying to sell me a new phone or double glazing.
But now The Lady’s Slipper is available to pre-order on Amazon, even bizarrely, in Japan - I am starting to believe it will exist as a book, which is great, because I loved writing it. And I have nothing but praise for MNW, their rights department have since sold my book to the USA, and I am delighted to be part of their imprint which has a unique community of writers giving each other support through their blog. There is an interview with Will Atkins too on Writewords somewhere, which explains about the imprint.
What's the worst thing about writing?
I suppose the general angst and insecurity that I always think my writing’s not quite good enough. But it doesn’t stop the itch to do it
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