HOW I WRITE: SHARON DUGGAL

Like me, Sharon Duggal was born and raised in Birmingham. I love to meet authors from the region who celebrate the West Midlands in their writing. Sharon’s debut novel, The Handsworth Times,  is published by Bluemoose Books. The story features strong female protagonists (another passion of mine) and is set in the 1980s during the race riots of Handsworth in Birmingham. It is essential reading and an important work of literature from a female British Asian author. You can buy a copy here: https://bluemoosebooks.com/books/handsworth-times. You can also find updates about Sharon’s work on her website www.sharonduggal.com and follow her on  Twitter: @MsSDuggal.

Q: How did you come up with the premise for The Handworth Times? 

SHARON: The Handsworth Times started as a couple of short stories. I knew I wanted to write about a time and place I was very familiar with (having grown up there) but one that was rarely reflected in anything I read or saw. I wanted to see people like me in books I was reading and as I couldn’t,  I decided to write my own.

Q. How does your background/ upbringing inform your novel writing processes?

SHARON:  I think all our personal experiences inform what we write in one way or another – not  necessarily in terms of putting our own lives directly into the stories but by bringing  our unique perspective to the page. Even when writing fantasy or science fiction,  a  writer’s own life experiences will feed in somehow.

Q.  Do you read while writing?

SHARON: Yes, I read all the time. I wrote that book on and off over a period of four years so there will have been many writers and books I read.

Q. Who are your favourite writers and why? 

SHARON: I love a very diverse range of writers from Thomas Hardy to Hanif Kureishi, from Toni Morrison to Beryl Bainbridge, from Rose Tremain to Chimamanda Ngozi Aditchie and many, many more. I like South American, French and Russian classics and read many contemporary writers too. At the moment I’ve just finish Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End and am just about to start on Elizabeth Strout’s Lucy Barton.  I don’t tend to re-read books but have recently reread One Hundred Years of Solitude and still love it. The only genre I don’t really get on with is fantasy.

Q. Why your chosen protagonists? 

SHARON: I have two main protagonists – Anila (a teenage girl) and Usha ( a middle aged woman). I wanted my heroes to defy stereotypes, find strength in other women and lead the change in the plot. They are both based on an amalgamation of women I grew up around including my mother, aunties and sisters. There is a little of me in both of them too.

Q. Do you have a word count limit per day? 

SHARON:  I do need deadlines as I am not very disciplined but if I impose word counts per day I  get a bit stuck. It needs to be about the words rather than the numbers but having said that I do aim for 5000 per week.

Q. What is your experience of the pitch/ synopsis/ agent / publisher submission rounds?

SHARON:  I don’t have an agent and was and continue to be rejected by loads of them –  not sure why. Perhaps I don’t easily fit into a preconceived idea of what a British Asian woman should be writing about or am writing in a way they don’t think is commercial enough. Luckily I have a great publisher in Bluemoose Books. They are a small independent but are incredibly passionate about the books they publish. I had all but given up hope until they expressed an interest.

Q. What next? 

SHARON:  I am currently working on my second novel which should be out in early 2020. I am also about to have two short stories published in separate anthologies in the Autumn.

Thank you Sharon.

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HOW I WRITE: ANNA VAUGHT

The following interview is part of a series of author interviews on fiction and non-fiction craft, techniques, writing habits and processes. Enjoy.

WHO: NOVELIST AND POET ANNA VAUGHT

Q.What age did you start, seriously writing? What was the reason for doing so?

Well, I had a tough childhood so I always wrote and had a lot of imaginary friends (Which you see in Killing Hapless Ally). I only started really applying myself to extended fiction in July 2014 after gaining the courage to do so.

Q.Was being a novelist a long held ambition?

I had done a number of freelance pieces but always lacked the confidence to write a longer piece. I just sat down one day and thought, “Right. I am going to write a novel.” And I did. I am now on my fourth novel – one published, one out on subs. I’m also co-editing and editing two anthologies for Patrician Press, the publisher of Killing Hapless Ally, in 2019 and 2018 called ‘My Europe’ and ‘The Tempest.’

Q. What were you doing before becoming a novelist?

My background is in secondary English teaching. I’ve worked abroad and travelled a great deal and I run an English tuition which helps me continue writing. I also have three young sons.

Q. What did you study at university?

I have both a BA and MA in English. However I am a prodigious reader and believe that has been my biggest teacher in terms of novel writing.

Q. Who were your favourite writers growing up and why?

I discovered Dickens very young and it had a big impact – I loved his humour and characterisation.  Roald Dahl was another favourite, of course

Q.What inspired Killing Hapless Ally?

KHA has a great deal of truth in it. Though parts are fictionalised, largely, I lived it. I appreciate that people without a screwy background may be running away, but that was it. I carried Ally both as a better version of myself (so the assumed self) but also as a burden that felt real and palpable for over thirty years. Since publication, strangers have written in to me because they’ve identified with the issues of mental health in Killing Hapless Ally.   People have also come to my talks and opened up and told me it meant so much to them, reading about an experience similar to theirs. One reader wrote to me saying the book had changed her life. I’m now working on a novel called Passerines: I have a particular interest in mental health and mental illness because of the struggles I have had and  I also love reading about history. I started reading about Violet Gibson, the Irish aristocrat who shot Mussolini (true story!) and also about the psychiatric hospital in Northampton where she was sent to for the rest of her life. Lucia Joyce also ended her days there. Part of Violet’s therapy was to care for the songbirds in the hospital garden – hence the title

Q.Do you come up with the book title first or the premise first?

KHA was always the title because killing Ally was the goal so I held it from the very beginning.

Q. Which comes more naturally to you – character or plot?

Character

Q. What’s your take on writers block?

I’ve never had writer’s block. Don’t wait for inspiration. Let it strike while you are at work.

Q. What distracts you?  

As a parent, my life is so full of distractions that I have absolutely no ideal writing conditions and very little protected time. I wrote part of Passerines hiding in the back seat of my car.

Q.Do you have a word count limit per day?

I have fiddled with Prolifiko (check them out on Twitter; they are very nice). You have to do whatever you can. I have written as much as 12,000 words in a day and as little as three lines.

Q.Did you have beta readers or friends help read the novel as you wrote it?

I had a few friends and my husband Ned as supportive early readers. I also joined a reading group where a couple of people gave feedback on my work. It can really help. I ask people’s opinions on Twitter a lot actually. I’ve found the writing community is very supportive there.

Q.Do you have writing mentors?

Well, not exactly, but the writers Avril Joy and Kate Armstrong have read bits of Passerines

Q.How did you submit to your agent/ publisher?

With Killing Hapless Ally, I submitted the book partially and then in full. I have started off with a wonderful small press (Patrician) who are exciting to work with.

Q. Do you read while writing?

I read all the time; two or three books a week.

Q.Anyone whose works inspires/ taught you how to write because of their sheer genius?

There are too many to name, but, Dickens; Joyce; Flaubert; Beckett; Flannery O Connor; Chekhov; Faulkner. The best book I read recently was ‘The Wake’ by Paul Kingsnorth.

Q.Did you read any ‘how to write a novel’ style books?

I liked Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer (Harper Collins). I also did a Cornerstones report while drafting Killing Hapless Ally and met a really lovely editor, but I’m not sure I would pay this kind of money again. I am sceptical about a lot of courses as I guess many authors are. I think the key things are reading and graft

Q. What books are on your ‘to read’ list?

Joanna Barnard’s Hush Little Baby; books from my subscriptions at And Other Stories and as a supporter at Galley Beggar; historical research on the doctors and nurses who kept psychiatric patients safe in the Second World War; Thomas Wolfe’s The Web ad the Rock.

Q.Tell me about your writing processes.

Research (which is ongoing). Write a shit Frankendraft where I turn out 60,000 words. Cry. Rewrite. Edit again. Involve other readers. Edit again.

Q.What specifically did you find challenging?

Honestly? Confidence. I am very determined but I fundamentally lack self esteem.

Q.How do you keep secondary characters interesting? Do you give them a story of their own or do you write multiple character books?

Rule of thumb. Everyone needs a story. Characters who add nothing get chucked.

Q. What are your current projects?

It is a busy time. I am working on two further books and editing two anthologies as well as continuing to run my tuition business.

Q.Where can we find you, read your books and work?

You can follow me on twitter @bookwormvaught and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/annavaughtwrites/. My writer’s blog is www.annavaughtwrites.com.  You can catch me on Goodreads or my Amazon page. My poetry is also published this year in The Emma Press Anthology of the Sea and The Patrician Press Anthology of Refugees and Peacekeepers. You can look at www.annavaughtwrites.com for news on this and for links to other writing, blogs and books. For teaching, you can find me at www.annavaughttuition.com.

You can buy copies of KILLING HAPLESS ALLY at www.patricianpress.com.

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