Tips for Aspiring Writers – An Interview with The Word Hut

Tell us something about Susan Carey.

I was born in Herefordshire, England. My ancestry is Welsh/English. Some years ago I emigrated to Holland to live with my Dutch husband and I now have dual British and Dutch nationality. Even so, returning to the Welsh borders still feels like a homecoming. I write mainly short stories and I also teach English as a second language. In my spare time I love to belly dance.

When and why did you start writing stories?

I started writing when I moved to Amsterdam. I had a lot of major changes in my life to deal with and writing was a way of transforming feelings of grief and loss into something positive and life-affirming.

Where do you get your ideas and inspiration from?

Ideas and inspiration are everywhere. Snippets of conversations, other people’s anecdotes, a journey, the way light falls on an object. I got my degree in the visual arts and learned to observe in great detail. Stealing ideas from everyday life are useful skills for both an artist and a writer. This ability has been incredibly useful for me in my writing as well.

What is your favourite time for writing?

In the morning, if I can find the time. Most of my teaching assignments are in the afternoon or evening so that works out well.

Where is your favourite location for writing and why?

I write at my desk and occasionally in a notebook which I take everywhere with me. Many good ideas come to me when I’m cycling around town. I also keep pen and paper on my bedside table in case of the muse striking after nightfall.

What other writing do you do – non-fiction, poetry, etc?

I’ve written non-fiction, poetry, novels (for Nanowrimo) and have recently started blogging.

What is your earliest memory of writing a story?

I recently came across a snippet of writing from my early school years. It read, ‘I had a tom cat, he ate my duck’. It seems I had a feeling for flash fiction even back then! And a lot of imagination as I didn’t have a tom cat or a duck. At secondary school an Edgar Allen Poe inspired story was chosen by my teacher and I read it aloud to the class. It was quite gruesome and involved someone getting their throat cut.

Are you someone who plans their writing in detail or do you just launch into an idea and see where it goes?

I have tried both methods but have discovered that starting off with an initial idea or image and then taking it from there, works best for me.

People say you should only write about what you know. What is your view on this?

I think it’s good advice but often interpreted too literally. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write about a place or people that you physically know but write about what life has taught you. Successful stories work across cultures so it’s the humanity in the story that needs to be universal, regardless of place. Characters and settings can be as exotic as you wish as long as they connect to and grow from your experience.

Writing can be a lonely occupation or hobby. What is your advice for coping with this?

As a teacher I have a lot of interaction with my students and belly dancing is a very sociable hobby. I’m also a member of a face-to-face writers’ circle and a fantastic online writers’ community called Writers Abroad. Quite frankly I don’t know how I’d manage without the support of both groups.

Performing a duet at a friend’s birthday party

How do you cope when your writing is ignored or rejected?

I cry and then comfort myself with a cup of builder’s tea and a piece of Battenburg cake. No, honestly I try not to let it affect me too much. I would usually get some more feedback on a story and then submit it elsewhere.

Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you overcome this?

Fortunately, I’ve never suffered from writer’s block. As I’m superstitious, even writing this statement is making me worry I’m tempting fate.

Do you have a blog or website? For what reasons do you run these?

I have a blog and a website. The blog is about living in Amsterdam, my favourite places, and things I encounter on my travels. Living in a different culture feels the norm for me now, but of course for many people that’s not the case. Since starting my blog I’ve been looking at things in a more positive way and it’s also started to feed into my fiction. The website is so that people can get to know more about my published work, if they should feel the need!

What do your friends and family think of your writing?

Generally speaking family and friends are very supportive, so I’m lucky in that regard. As many friends and family live in theUKand real time together is limited, there isn’t often opportunity to discuss my writing that much.

Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their writing?

Susan Hill is one of my favourite writers. I love her pared down writing style and how she can conjure up place and atmosphere with so few words. She leaves a lot of room for the reader to fill in the picture. She also has no need to impress with fancy language, something I really appreciate.

What has been your proudest moment so far with your writing?

Having two stories professionally recorded for shortstoryradio.com and being shortlisted in the Frome Festival competition. I was also chuffed to be invited to the National Short Story launch party at the Charles Dickens Museum in London. I was also shortlisted for the Fish Flash competition and had a story recorded and performed at the Liars’ League event in Leeds.

What do you hope to achieve in the future with your writing?

Of course I like many writers I dream of writing a bestselling novel, but right now I’m happy that I very much enjoy writing and have lots of ideas I still need to get out.

If you had to give advice to a novice writer, what would it be?

Write from your heart and practise your craft daily, if possible. Set yourself achievable goals and build on those as you progress. Read as much as you can, both genre and literary fiction.Readingcan help you discover your ‘voice’ as a writer. When you feel able to, share your work with others. It took me three or four years of writing before I was ready to do that. It came as a most wonderful surprise that people enjoyed my stories and found them entertaining.

Writing info on this blog

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About susancarey

Writer and teacher living in Amsterdam. Trying to be mindful and occasionally succeeding!
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