This week on The Book Diner, we’re talking to the very talented Laura Wilkinson. I think I first met Laura at an agent event about eight years ago, but we’ve kept in touch and it’s been wonderful to see her leap from success to success. Despite being the mother of two gorgeous ginger boys and working as a literary consultant, Laura is incredibly prolific as an author, having four literary novels, The Family Line, Public Battles, Private Wars, Redemption Song and her latest, Skin Deep, as well the steamy romances, All of Me and All of Him already under her belt. She’s also published a range of short fiction and won or been shortlisted in numerous competitions. In addition, Laura is a very good friend to other writers and I am very grateful for the support she has shown me with Welcome to Sharonville. I have a feeling, my fellow Book Diners, that you will like her too.
Welcome to the Book Diner! Can we take your order – coffee, tea or soda? Eggs sunny side up or over easy? Home fries, French toast or biscuit?
Coffee please. French toast maybe … Eggs make me gag. Sorry. Can I have cake for breakfast? A slab of Victoria sponge please.
When did you realise you were a writer?
I’m not sure; fiction crept up on me. I worked as a copywriter and editor, and sometime journalist, before the stories, so perhaps I’ve been a writer since adulthood. With fiction, I still feel like a fraud occasionally … that horrible feeling I’m about to be caught out; people are going to realise I can’t do it after all.
Are there particular symptoms you think people should look out for if they suspect they may be coming down with Writer Syndrome and do you think there is any cure?
Only the usual ones of daydreaming constantly; hearing voices; characters speaking to you; sitting at a laptop for hours on end, hunched shoulders and a furrowed brow. Unfortunate side effects include flat bottom syndrome. Or maybe that’s just me. [Tee hee.]
Can you tell us about your latest project?
I’ve very recently published a novel called Skin Deep (Accent Press) about a beautiful artist desperate for a muse, who is called Diana, and a disfigured child, Cal, who is desperate for attention. They were both born to be looked at and they’re both struggling to find their place in a visual world obsessed with image. It’s about image, art, beauty, ugliness and the legacy of parental exploitation. It’s not as miserable as this sounds!
Right now, I’m working on draft two (three, if you count my draft zero) of another novel. It’s two love stories, but one is not a conventional love. I’m too scared to say any more about it now. It’s been a difficult one to pull this one.
What inspired you to write it? Where do you generally draw your ideas from?
I’ve been a voracious reader of fiction since childhood and most of what I understand about this world I’ve learnt from novels. So, the love of stories is deeply embedded. My background is solidly working class and as such writing wasn’t a career I considered as a child. Family members are bus drivers, mechanics, dinner ladies, and so forth. I was unaware writing fiction could be a career until I went to university and even then it wasn’t something I thought someone like me could do. I wrote terrible poetry and a few short stories in my twenties, but it was having children that ultimately drove me to have bash at writing fiction more seriously. Children are time gobblers and I wanted to use what little free time I had between earning a crust and raising them doing something I felt passionate about; something that might make them proud one day. [I’m sure they’ve VERY proud, indeed.]
Inspiration? Everywhere. News, images, people I meet, places and objects. The world is a beautiful, amazing, terrifying and exhilarating place; inspiration is everywhere.
The world is a beautiful, amazing, terrifying and exhilarating place; inspiration is everywhere.
Can you talk to us about one or two of the characters from your latest work? How do your characters emerge?
Now that my characters in Skin Deep are out in the world, rather than in my head and heart, I’d rather not say – it’s up to the reader to form their own opinions. That’s the thing with books, once they’re published you have to let go, they are no longer yours – they are the readers.
How do they emerge? Fully-formed if I’m very, very lucky (hardly ever). Mostly, they reveal themselves to me during the process.
Is there a particular theme or message you’d like readers to take away from this book?
Clichéd though it sounds, beauty really is only skin deep and ultimately it’s what’s on the inside counts for so much more. Beauty is an intensely personal thing – there is beauty everywhere. Don’t be fooled into thinking the images we’re constantly fed are the only ones to aspire to, or to admire. And that children need unconditional love.
What kind of writing process do you have? Are you very disciplined in terms of having a set work routine and doing a lot of planning, or are you more of a pantster? (You fly by the seat of them – Zinkologism.)
I am disciplined in that I write almost every day when I’m well into a project, though I’m not set in the when. I have a lovely garden office – my writing den – and spend the days in there, though I’m not fortunate enough to write full time; I edit and mentor to boost my earnings. Novels require momentum, I think, and it’s the only way I can work. Once I have some notion of the characters, what they want and so forth, I will have a rough idea of where I’d like the story to go – the broad narrative arc. Then, I plot the story, chapter by chapter, using large sheets of paper and plenty of post-it notes. I do allow scope for change and that’s why post-its are so great. You can move them about, screw them up …
Do you write longhand or on a computer or both? Do you believe that writing method makes a difference to style?
Notes with a pencil, everything else on a computer. It doesn’t seem ‘real’ until it’s on screen. I can’t answer the second part of your question with any authority as a result.
How do you approach research?
I tend to research as and when I feel it’s necessary. First drafts will often include strange notes like, ‘LOOK THIS UP/DOUBLE CHECK/IS THIS COMPLETE RUBBISH???’ I talk with people when necessary as well as reading widely. Commonly, I write first and fact check afterwards. The exception to this was for Public Battles, Private Wars. That novel was different in that I did a huge amount of research beforehand. Because the story is set against the backdrop of a real event in recent history I needed to do this for authenticity and I’ve written quite extensively about the process over at author Bridget Whelan’s place. For Skin Deep, I spent a lot of time studying old photographs of Hulme, Manchester in the mid 80s onwards because the first half of the novel takes place on a sink estate in Hulme. Here’s an example. With thanks to Charlie Baker.
How do you deal with autobiographical elements in your work? Do you worry about offending people or baring your soul too much?
All writing is based on a writer’s experience to some extent but this doesn’t make it autobiographical. I am not an artist, or a former model (as if!) but I did live in a Hulme flat while I was studying for my degree. Characters are a magical mix of elements of ourselves and our experiences, of people we have known or observed, things we have read and pure unadulterated imagination. Occasionally, I will give minor characters backstories of people I know, but I can honestly say that no one has ever asked if a character was based on them. If you worry about baring your soul then you probably shouldn’t be a writer, I’d say.
What’s your editing process?
I write first drafts quickly – fast and loose, straight from the heart – though I do a slapdash spit and polish on the previous day’s work before continuing. The second draft is all about checking the narrative arc, character development and arc, focus, momentum and motivation. The big picture. Sometimes, I’ll make things trickier for my characters. I share work with two trusted writer mates. Then I become more myopic, checking language, style and so forth. And after this, off to my editor with my fingers crossed.
Name one book you wish you had written and explain why it’s fabulous.
There are too many. I am constantly humbled by other writers’ brilliance. Those who consistently awe and inspire include Louise Doughty, Maggie O’Farrell, Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood, Kate Atkinson, Kazuo Ishiguro.
What advice would you offer to writers just starting out?
Read a lot, write a lot, be tough with yourself, be tenacious. When you are published, expect it to be nothing like you imagined. [Yes!]
How do you handle the rejections and bad reviews all writers experience?
Cry, laugh, get over it.
How do you deal with the Inner Critic who likes to tell us our work is worthless?
It never goes away – mine is particularly garrulous at present – so you have to learn to accept him or her, and ignore the little bastard.
What are your feelings about the growth in self-publishing? Would you advise emerging writers to self-publish or pursue a traditional book deal?
I think you have to go with what you feel works best for you, not what others say. I know some successful self-published and traditionally published authors, and I know a couple who blend the two. I was far too insecure to self-publish when I started out – that garrulous little bastard mentioned above – but I wouldn’t rule it out. Never say never is one of my mottos. But, if you do self-publish hire a decent editor (me? I also work as an editor!) and a decent designer.
If you could write anywhere in the world for a while, where would you head?
Somewhere very remote – the Scottish Highlands or Wales. I love London, Paris, NYC, Amsterdam, but there’s so much to do and see in these fabulous cities that it would be hard to write. I was awarded a two week spell at Gladstones Library in Hawarden, North Wales, and that place is truly magical.
Do you like cats or dogs or both? (Writers are known for being pet crazy, so let’s pander.)
If you could choose to have a different creative gift, what would it be?
Fine art – painting and sculpting. Big, messy, physical.
What plans have you got for future projects and events?
Another novel – see earlier. Workshops, talks and festivals over the summer and early autumn –Waterstones Brighton and Stockport, Gladstone Library Literary Festival, Frome Literary Festival, to name a few.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
Here: www.laura-wilkinson.co.uk Twitter @ScorpioScribble Facebook: Laura Wilkinson Author Instagram: laura_wilkinsonwriter Pinterest: laura1765 Goodreads: Laura_ Wilkinson
Is there anything else we can get you?
A mug of camomile tea please.
Do you have any questions for The Book Diner?
No. Thank you for having me over – it’s been fun.
Skin Deep Blurb:
It’s what’s inside that counts…
Art student and former model Diana has always been admired for her beauty but what use are good looks when you want to shine for your talent? Insecure and desperate for inspiration, Diana needs a muse.
Facially disfigured four-year-old Cal lives a life largely hidden from the world. But he was born to be looked at and he needs love too. A chance encounter changes everything; Cal becomes Diana’s muse. But as Diana’s reputation develops and Cal grows up, their relationship implodes.
Both struggle to be accepted for what lies within.
Is it possible to find acceptance in a society where what’s on the outside counts for so much?
Liverpool born, Laura is a taff at heart. She has published six novels for adults (two under a pseudonym) and numerous short stories, some of which have made the short lists of international competitions. Public Battles, Private Wars, was a Welsh Books Council Book of the month; Redemption Song was a Kindle top twenty. The Family Line is a family drama set in the near future, looking at identity and parenting. Her latest is Skin Deep. Alongside writing, Laura works as an editor & mentor for literary consultancies and runs workshops on aspects of craft. She’s spoken at festivals and events nationwide, including the Frome Festival, Gladfest, University of Kingston, The Women’s Library and Museum in Docklands. She lives in Brighton with her husband and sons.