Alexandra Stopford [flakey]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
I always had a book, when I was a child, we weren't allowed to watch telly, so reading was our main form of entertainment. Winnie the Pooh was a firm favourite, as well as Charles Schultz cartoons, then I progressed to RUmer Godden, a fantastic writer. She made me long to go to India, she wrote so vividly about the sights, the smells and tastes.
I have always written letters, as our family never really lived together after about the age of ten. I would have a continual dialogue with my mother through letters. Then I wrote a book for my daughter, about a child who was 'back to front'. Nothing ever came of that, but later, when we had some difficulties at home, I decided to write about them and they became my first book. I didn't plan it, or think about it, just sat down and wrote. Eight years later I continue to edit it and try to improve it. My mum has helped me edit it right from the start; and a good friend of mine who I trusted to tell me the truth.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
I like real life stories, not necessarily biographical or autobiographical, but books about people, their emotions, their triumphs and tribulations. I also like books which have some humour, and are well written, of course. I don't like fantasy worlds, unless I feel the creatures possess real human emotions. You can read my work on www.authonomy.com. My book is called 'God's Away on Business' by Alexandra Stopford.
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Oh dear, my 'creative process' if that's what it is, is a bit problematic and random. I generally have to think myself into the voice and then I'm away. Usually this happens at a time when I have to way of recording my thoughts, perhaps on a dog walk or when I'm at work and can't find a pen and paper. Since I have a rotten memory, I am sure I have had some great thoughts that have wafted away forever. I am an expert at avoidance and find little jobs, which were previously unappealing, suddenly become immensely important and urgent. I have to psyche myself up to write, unless I am in a 'writing mood', in which case it just gushes out with no effort at all. However, that is quite rare.
What type of reading inspires you to write?
Often when I am inspired by an author, it can be counterproductive, because I lose the will to write, thinking I can never do it as well as they do. It can be disheartening. But sometimes a sentence or phrase will trigger an idea.
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
Characterisation is for me, of the utmost importance. Then pace, for if a book meanders around the place, I tend to lose interest, with a fairly short attention span, unless it is fantastically written or hilariously funny. I think it's important to pepper narrative with dialogue, to 'show' rather than 'tell'. This keeps the reader engaged longer. Of course, a book needs some sort of plot, but it doesn't have to be action packed. I also think language is important. Too much repetition is offputting, and using less words has more impact than using too many.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
I don't care, if it works, it works.
What well known writers do you admire most?
The impossible question! If I had to name four authors, they would be Rose Tremain, John Steinbeck, Somerset Maughan and Mary Lawson. But you could ask me tomorrow and I could come up with four more equally great writers.
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
We need to be shown the character, not told what they are like. You can then form your own image of them, and this makes them 'yours'. I base all my characters on someone I know, but then recreate them, moulding and shaping them. A bit like Frankenstein.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
No, absolutely not, I'm terrible at telling stories! I wish I wasn't, but I am, and doubt that will change since I'm not getting any younger and am hardly likely to develop the skill.
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
I probably write for myself and my family, though I obviously have the 'book signing' fantasy that every writer must have (surely?) but ultimately, if only my family read my book, that's okay.... at least I THINK it is.
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
Yes, definitely, especially with my first book. This was a cathartic experience, as we were going through a really rough patch with our daughter, and writing about it cleared some things up. Also, my daughter read it and I think she finally understood how her behaviour had affected us. So, in the end, it was actually great therapy - and free!
Does reader feed-back help you?
Yes, it does, though you have to know when to ignore it as well, or you end up changing everything and have an unrecognisable book. But if there are trends, it helps pinpoint those, and you know that enough people have found a particular bit confusing/boring/unnecessary or whatever, and it helps you improve your book. Then someone comes along and says, 'I absolutely loved such and such' and you think, 'Oh God, I've just changed that.' It can be confusing at times.
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
Yes, and no! I have been shortlisted, which gave me a thrill way beyond what it was worth, especially as they credited my husband with writing the story. I live in hope though.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
I aspire to write daily, but I usually fail. I have to fit writing in with my day job, so can't really impose too much of a schedule, but I do say to myself 'Right, by the end of this month you will have done....' blah, blah, whatever it happens to be. I am usually pretty close to having done it. If not, I beat myself up quite badly and give myself a good talking to.
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
I always use a computer, unless there isn't one available, when I write in notebooks. I am ashamed to say I am probably responsible for the destruction of quite a large area of rainforest, as I hate reading off a screen, so frequently print out large chunks of my book and use this to correct from. I like to feel the paper, and to see more than just an extract at a time.
What sites do you frequent on-line to share experiences or information?
Authonomy at the moment.
What has been your experience with publishers?
I wish I could say I have had any experience with publishers, but that would be lying. I have tried numerous agents, and one kind lady read my whole manuscript and said I wrote well, but she didn't want to take my book on, so that was a bit devastating. It seems really difficult to get a publisher interested, especially if your book crosses genres, as mine does. I live in hope though.
What are you working on now?
An 'autobiography' of sorts, just funny stories from my rather strange and unconventional life; plus a more 'heavy' book about a mother/daughter relationship which has always been a series of misunderstandings. This is far more difficult to write than my memoirs.
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
Put them on www.authonomy.com. YOu will generally get an honest opinion, though you do have to put your real life on hold for several months and devote yourself entirely to the site, so be prepared for this. Everyone has something to say. I really do believe that. It it's really no good, someone will let you know! You need quite a thick skin, so don't be too precious about it.