The stories that draw me back time and time again tend to be the ones that immerse me in their world, and it needs to be a world that’s very different to the one in which I live. Which books do you read more than once, and why?
It’s got to be the easiest way to start writing, hasn’t it? Most people have kept a diary at one time or another, and most of us have written letters. Writing from the ‘I’ point of view looks like a doddle compared with handling a number of different characters, because you’re viewing the action from inside one head instead of many. But this approach brings its own problems.
The book that really captured my imagination as a child was The Lost World, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It mentions black spaces on maps – imagine! There actually was a time when the word Unexplored was commonplace, and Conan Doyle’s book was the adventure story of my dreams. I did think the premise extremely unlikely – a sheer-sided plateau, isolated, unexplored, full of prehistoric creatures? And then I went to Venezuela.
Do you cringe at the thought of going any further? Nearly all of us are built to the same body plan, and those bodies react in very similar ways. Maybe you’re worried that your family will be appalled at what you write. Ever heard of a pseudonym? I have to admit that it was my agent who suggested I have a go, as she’d been approached about providing stories for an erotic anthology – now long out of print.
Parody is enormous fun. It’s a very good way of finding out about other writers’ styles, although you have to choose someone with a distinctive voice. I think the greatest gains are to be had writing poetic parodies. You discover new verse forms, new ways of looking at things, new ways to use images, alliteration, metaphors
For decades I was terrified of poetry. It all seemed so incredibly technical and difficult. I didn’t see the point; I wanted to tell a story. So when I did my MA I made myself face up to this and do the poetry module, even though the scriptwriting one beckoned as I’d already had five radio plays broadcast. What’s the point of doing a course if you don’t learn something new? I struggled. It hurt. I came to realise that this was something I had to actively learn.
A fantasy setting is usually closer to the world as we know it than a science fiction one. It’s more accessible, and consequently more attractive to a child who is still awed by things that are all too familiar to an adult. Fantasy is unlikely to change gravity, or body chemistry, or a breathable atmosphere, so the creatures that populate that world would be at home in ours.
During my student days I hitch-hiked round Europe, getting as far as Istanbul and meeting interesting people, getting in and out of sticky situations, and becoming more and more hooked on other cultures, climates, scenery, wildlife. It’s only now I’m in my sixties that I’ve had the time and money to pursue my addiction – the gathering of exotic material for my writing.