What are your top 5 writing essentials?
In terms of physical/environmental essentials, I need to be reading lots of great books while I’m writing. Reading a paragraph of good writing really kicks my mojo into gear and boosts my desire to write. At the moment I’m reading C.J. Tudor’s ‘The Other People’ and I’m really enjoying it.
I also need peace and quiet – I can’t focus properly if people ask me questions when I’m writing and I can get a bit snappy about it, so I have to take myself off somewhere quiet where I won’t be disturbed.
Coffee is another must for me; without my caffeine, I’d be too sleepy to write!
Who or what are the biggest influences in writing (this book)?
The idea of a mother dressing up her daughter and painting her like a doll came from listening to Stephen King’s Carrie (I’d also watched the film years earlier); always finding dolls creepy – especially those old-fashioned porcelain ones – and writing a YA novel in 2015 set on the Island of the Dolls. Those photographs will haunt me for life!
*The Island of the Dolls, originally owned by Julián Santana Barrera, is full of dolls hanging from trees and buildings covered with cobwebs and insects. The place was named during the 1950s when the owner began to hang them as protection against evil spirits.
The concept of the girl being housebound and believing she’s allergic to light came when I read an article some years prior with a picture of a boy dressed in white, wearing a mask who suffered from this condition. I also read Emma Donaghue’s Room, which blew me away and made me want to write an adult novel from a child’s POV.
Although happily married now, in my twenties I was in a controlling relationship. As a result, emotional abuse and psychological manipulation permeate my writing. My ex’s mother also suffered from manic depression. As a result, I have a keen interest in exploring intense, unstable parent/child relationships and the effects of mental ill health.
Cottages and Woods
Age 10 onwards, I lived in a 350-year-old cottage near some woods which I used to think were haunted, and old cottages and woods have excited and creeped me out ever since! I’ve always thought of bomb shelters and attics as creepy too – something about their darkness and claustrophobic nature sparks my imagination. Date-wise, I always saw Mother in 1970s clothes, and the original movie of Carrie was released in 1976 which subliminally made me set it that year.
The Knacker’s Yard
When I was in my early twenties, while my parents were on holiday, my cousin Beth had her eighteenth birthday in my parents’ back garden. In the morning, Beth woke me up and told me one of my parents’ pigs was dead. Shaking, I crawled inside the piggy house to drag it out. Beth didn’t want to touch it and I was older so had to face my fears!
The poor pig was bloated, open-eyed and staring with flies buzzing around its eye sockets. It must have weighed a good 65 kilograms and took all my strength to haul it out by its front legs. Somehow, we wrestled it into a black bin liner and hauled it up the 300 hundred-foot garden (completely bypassing the wheelbarrow, which my dad kindly pointed out later).
We then heaved the bloated corpse into the boot of my little car and drove to the knacker’s yard, where – I tell you no lie – a man with a blood-stained T-shirt (alongside a dog munching on a thigh bone, a yard full of dead sheep and thousands of buzzing flies) appeared to take the poor pig off our hands. Now that will haunt me forever!
Has writing been a lifelong ambition, or did you start writing for other reasons?
I wrote my first ‘thriller’ when I was 7, but my dream to become a full-time novelist started when I was eighteen after I wrote my first novel and got such a buzz from it!
Where do you get the inspiration to create your characters?
Mirabelle is a bookworm like I was as a little girl (and still am). I have always adored Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, and I was teaching the latter at the time and taught the former the previous year, so Mirabelle’s loneliness, love of books, curiosity and determination stem from Sara Crew, Mary Lennox and me!
When I listened to Carrie, I found her conflicting fear and closeness to her mother, and the mother’s controlling nature so chilling and complex that I got goosebumps. Indeed, Mother’s character in Carrie is so intense and frightening that she will stick with me forever, and I wanted my reader to be as afraid of and uncertain about Mother as Mirabelle is.
Have you got any advice for new writers?
- Read as many books on the writing craft as possible. I’ve read tons! I’d recommend Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ to get you started.
- Read as many books in your chosen genre as you possibly can and reflect on what made them good, and how they could be better.
- Write what excites you – if you get bored, your reader probably will too!
- Don’t overuse adverbs.
- Listen to your book through an audio app and edit as you listen; it’s incredible what you pick up. I always do this to fine-tune the rhythm of my sentences, eliminate repetition and spot typos. Listening is also a great way of varying the editing process, so you don’t get bored of reading your own stuff over and over again!