In conversation with Charmaine Wilkerson

It’s wonderful to have support from other writers. In the run-up to publication of my new novella, I had the great pleasure of talking with the brilliant writer Charmaine Wilkerson, who I have got to know through the international flash fiction community.

CW: Cath, it was a pleasure to read through your lovely novella, In the Sweep of the Bay. Your story spans decades and generations within the life of the family at the centre of this story with such finely textured language and profound insights. How would you describe this novella in one line?

CB: It’s the story of a long marriage and the persistence of happiness, in spite of all obstacles.

CW: Where did the idea of the couple at the centre of the story, Ted and Rene, come from?

CB: I don’t know! Did I see a couple like them, in that café on the seafront in Morecambe that they visited on a day out? I wonder. Certainly I went to that café, and the scene was the first section of the book that I wrote, a snapshot of Ted and Rene in later life. It was a stand-alone flash originally and I called it Keeping the Magic Alive. Thinking about it, that could have been the title of the book – it’s what’s at the core of it.

CW: One of the things I appreciate about all of your writing, not only in this novella, is your use of small, telling details in a story. Often, those details evoke a sense of place, not the least of which is the English bay, Morecambe, which is referred to in the title of the story. Which element tends to come first in terms of inspiration for your story ideas- location, character, or event?

CB: Character, I think, always. Or rather, characters moving through their lives. I see the action scrolling out like a film. You know how in a film you can ‘read’ the characters’ emotions on their faces? That’s what I hope I can conjure up for reader in prose.

CW: In this novella, the sense of place includes the interior settings evoked through your storytelling. The buzz of comradeship at the ceramics factory, the coat shop, a hotel lobby, a marital bed. Do these details just come to you in the writing or do you find you take notes in your daily life which then lend themselves to story scenes?

CB: I do wish I was good at keeping notes, because we are surrounded by characters for stories as we walk down the street, any street, on any day. But I don’t carry a notebook. I do take photographs, though; I think I have a strong visual sense, and (I hope) good intuition.

CW: The end of the story is intriguing. I don’t want to give it away here but I do want to mention that it leaves the reader thinking, is this based on a true story?

CB: No, this is pure fiction.

CW: You frequently publish short stories, in particular, flash fiction? What about your longer projects? What can readers expect to see from you next?

CB: I like the shorter forms, novella, short story, flash fiction. I used to say I’d never write a novel. But I have a couple of longer projects. One is a novel I started in NaNoWriMo in 2018, set in Nepal in the aftermath of an earthquake. The other is what think will end up as a novel based on the life of my Auntie Phyllis, who was a famous circus artiste. I feel a responsibility to write her story. Though, unhelpfully, she left few words, only pictures, so what I write has to be fiction.

However, I may just write another novella – or even two! – first. I do seem to have an affinity with the novella form. I’ve tried writing novellas-in-flash without success, but I’m thinking of having a go at a novelette-in-flash, in which each separate story is under 500 words. I’m taking advantage of Nancy Stohlman’s prompts for FlashNano this month to help me with that.

In the Sweep of the Bay is available for order through independent publisher Louise Walters Books.

Charmaine Wilkerson

Charmaine Wilkerson is an American writer who lives in Italy. Her award-winning flash fiction can be found in Best Microfiction 2020 and numerous anthologies and magazines. Her story How to Make a Window Snake won the Bath Novella-in-Flash Award in 2017 and the Saboteur Award for Best Novella in 2018. Her debut novel Black Cake is due to be published in 2022.

Guest Post: Sal Page on her writing journey

It’s been a while since I’ve had a guest on the site. Today I welcome Sal Page, with her thoughts on writing.

Writing and Me

Ah writing! This is something I do. I’ve tried to stop. Several times. I once wrote nothing but work stuff for four years. That horrible job. But it’s not a nice way to live. I missed it. I like having a story on the go, or two or three. Or the occasional poem or even a play. A novel, or two or three, that may never see the light of day but boy, did I enjoy writing them. And, yeah maybe writing helps keeps you sane.

Not that I call myself a writer. I’m just someone who writes.

I don’t believe, as many seem to, that when writing you have to suffer. I know it’s tough writing a novel synopsis but, if you’re talking blood, sweat and tears, I could tell you about all those from working in kitchens for thirty-plus years.

Neither do I think there’s ever going to be any money in it for me, although obviously on the odd occasion we mention writing to those that don’t, we’re suddenly going to be ‘the next JK Rowling’ so there might be some cash involved there.

The truth is I’ve made just over £700 from writing … since 1986. Yes, I’ve been writing for some time. I make close to that per month now, as a part time cook. So, I’m a cook and someone who writes.

Recently, I’ve been leaving flash, stories and novels behind, in favour of memoir and non-fiction. I’ve started writing my weight loss memoir/self-help book, The Impossible Thing. (#TheImpossibleThing, my own hashtag!) In the past three years, four months I’ve lost 101 pounds (7 stone 3). I’m aiming to lose 130 pounds and to keep it off. Then I’ll be qualified to finish this book and maybe it will, somehow, reach a few readers. Sal Page solves the obesity crisis single-handedly.

The next chapter I plan to write is a memoir one about being at school. In the spring of 2017, I wrote a blogpost that listed the names I got called at school. This was quite a moment. I could never have dreamt I’d go from being deeply ashamed and embarrassed and not telling a soul to telling, effectively, the world.

I love everything about writing. Having ideas, thinking about them, writing notes, getting stuck into a first draft, letting things lie, talking about writing on Twitter, reading other people’s work and putting my spoke in, redrafting, editing, tinkering, perfecting, submitting, having things accepted or rejected, getting listed, placed, winning, reading in open mics or being invited to read ‘cos I’m placed or the winner. I love the little shelf of anthologies with my stories in, my Amazon page and rereading things I wrote years ago and still love ‘cos they’re mine.

Why do you write?’ is a question often asked on Twitter. My answers are always ‘It can stop me thinking about food’, ‘I can create a world and control everything in it’ and ‘It’s FUN.’

Yeah. Writing. What’s not to like?

Thanks to Cath for inviting me to write this piece for her website.

Sal Page

Sal Page

Guest post: Interview with author Mike Scott Thomson

It’s good to hear different voices on the site. Here’s what English author Mike Scott Thomson has to say about his writing:

CB: I’ve read and enjoyed your stories in Visual Verse – you obviously like responding to pictures and do so imaginatively and in vivid prose. Have you used picture prompts much for other stories you’ve written?

MST: Thank you for your kind words, Cath. For me, picture prompts have provided a useful exercise in letting those creative energies flow: to build a brand new story, which I might not have thought to write otherwise. They can also provide fresh ideas, boost confidence, and are a brilliant method to get that keyboard tapping. I should use them more often.

What other kinds of stimuli do you use for your writing?

My fictions tend to arise from all sorts of different sources: perhaps a blurry, re-imagined glimpse from hazy memories; perhaps an overheard snatch of conversation, or an intriguing bon mot, stripped of its original context; however, instead it often comes from a slab of bureaucratic lunacy to which I cannot help but administer a good old British lampooning. For example, my story which won the inaugural ‘To Hull and Back’ humorous short story competition stemmed from an occasion at work where we were made to express our activities as a fraction of an integer onto a timesheet coded with 14 different colours, then upload them to a shared disc drive defined by a dollar sign, a wiggly squiggle and a pair of square brackets. Figuring out what that meant proved fruitless for the purpose it was intended, but I did get a good comic story out of it.

Of the books you’ve read this year, which one would you most recommend and why?

Jasper Fforde’s ‘The Eyre Affair’, and also its first three sequels. They’re full of literary references, are extremely funny, and Fforde himself is a superb plotsmith. Prior to reading them, I ploughed through Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, under the impression some background knowledge would be helpful. As it turned out, that wasn’t entirely necessary; his books are a good way to glean a broad understanding of the classics without having to embark on marathon reading sessions. (That said, I did like Jane Eyre too.)

If you could have three wishes granted for your writing, what would they be?

Well, I’m still haunted by the events of W.W. Jacob’s ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, having first read it decades ago. If I did indeed wish for flawless first drafts, a lucrative lifetime publishing deal, and hundreds of millions of impatient and adoring readers, then what macabre consequences would accompany such desires? (Besides, it’d be cheating.) Instead, I’d wish to become more of a morning person (so I can fit in writing shifts before starting the commute), an approximate 10% increase in self-confidence in my writing ability (too much would be damaging, I feel), and a fervent desire that nobody in the world – ever, ever again, ever – misspells my surname with a ‘p’.

Mike Scott Thomson.PNG

Bio: Mike Scott Thomson’s short stories have been published by journals and anthologies, and have won or placed in a few competitions, including ‘To Hull and Back’, InkTears, and Writers’ Village. Based in south London, he works in broadcasting. You can find him online at http://www.mikescottthomson.com and on Twitter at @michaelsthomson.