Today I am thrilled to present, for your entertainment, one of the most versatile writers I’ve ever known. My former classmate, Allison Davies, is a poet, screen-writer and prose writer. Here she tells us about herself.
Tell us how you got into writing.
I think it’s more a case of how writing got into me as it’s something I’ve done pretty much since I learned how to hold a pen. As a small child I was always making up stories and I filled countless notebooks with illustrated tales and poems. I learned to read early – maybe that’s something to do with it. Writing is definitely a kind of compulsion. If I don’t make time to do it I become a little like Lord Byron – mad, bad and dangerous to know.
Describe for our readers the genre(s) you write in and why they appeal to you as a writer.
I’m never sure how to answer questions about genre because I don’t much like assigning boxes and labels to things. I’ve written in a whole variety of styles over the years and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a journey writers often take while they’re trying to establish their voice and find a place on the literary landscape. I’ve never written chick lit or horror, though I’ve got an idea for a short horror film set on the Newcastle Metro which I’ve been playing around with for a little while.
You’re a poet and a playwright too; do you prefer one medium to another?
Depends on what day you happen to ask the question. I love both and often find that it helps to take a break and mess around with a poem when I’m having trouble with a script, or vice versa. Contrary to popular belief writing poetry can be hard work. I write prose too, and need to do more of it.
Where can we find your work? Where can you be found online?
Until fairly recently I didn’t have the confidence to send my work out for the scrutiny of others. I’m still on the learning curve but you can find some of my stuff at:
Every Day Poets http://www.everydaypoets.com/
Listen Up North http://www.listenupnorth.com/writer-profile/303
There’s poetry at EDP with more in the pipeline as I’ve only recently started submitting there. I’ve also had poems published by Northern Arts in publication called Red Herring that you used to be able to buy from libraries when there was still finding for that kind of thing. This year (2011) I was long-listed for the BBC Alfred Bradley Bursary Award. There’s poetry and prose at Listen Up North, and I’ve just sent a piece off to the BBC, so if that gets commissioned you’ll hear me yelling from every rooftop up which I can mange to scramble.
I’ve just finished a feature film so I need to start thinking about how to go about finding a home for it.
What inspires you to write?
Short answer – everything!
I’m one of those people who collects snippets of conversation and squirrels them away for future use, which can be a bit of a trial for my friends at times, especially when I’m earwigging on conversations at the table behind us in whatever cafe we happen to be visiting.
Anything can set me off on the trail of a story or poem, from the pinger on the oven, or late night drizzle, or the way the water juggles light at my local swimming pool.
Do you have time to read? If so, what are you reading at the moment? Do you have a favourite all-time read?
I usually have two or three books on the go at once and I carry one with me like a security blanket when I’m out and about. One of my biggest fears is that my car will break down or I’ll get stuck on the train with nothing to read. I always carry a notebook and pen too.
This week I’ve mostly been reading ‘Landfalls’ by Tim Mackintosh Smith, the third in a trilogy about the author’s travels on the trail of fourteenth century wanderer Ibn Battutah; Michael Ondaatje’s ‘The English Patient’ – a favourite which I re-read from time to time, and an anthology of contemporary Nepali literature translated by Manjushree Thapa called ‘The Country is Yours’. It’s mostly short stories and poems so it’s a handy thing to pick up when you’ve only got a short reading window.
It’s hard to choose just one all time favourite. Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ is great, as are ‘Chasing the Monsoon’ by Alexander Frater and Naipaul’s ‘A House for Mr Biswas’. Anything related to Asia seems to work for me.
Which author(s) would you say have most influenced your writing?
That’s another hard one to pin down, as inevitably it’s something that’s going to change over time. Amy Tan perhaps, or Arundhati Roy.
Are you working on anything new at the moment?
I’m working on some new poems and I’m in the early stages of writing a series of short radio dramas, aiming at the Woman’s Hour slot on Radio 4. Don’t want to give too much away about that just yet. I’m also working on a novel which is set in Nepal.
You also have a very interesting freetrade business, could you tell us a bit more about that?
I help run Danusha, a jewellery project based in Nepal. We have a workshop at Lalgadh Hospital (part of Nepal Leprosy Trust) in the south-eastern plains which run along the Indian border. It’s a beautiful area which is largely undeveloped and where a high proportion of the population live on or below the poverty line.
The project began in June 2008, in response to a need to provide training for women whose lives had been affected by leprosy. Initially ten women received training in simple jewellery-making. Since then they’ve received further training and now make jewellery for us to sell in the UK. They also receive training in health and hygiene, basic literacy and personal development and receive good food and accommodation while they’re on site. There’s also a micro credit scheme attached to the project.
I get to travel out to Nepal a couple of times each year and it’s a very humbling experience to work alongside people who are materially poor but who are rich in so many other ways.
There are four of us involved and we’ve had lots of fun negotiating the ins and outs of setting up as a company limited by guarantee. We’re now looking at setting up a family sponsorship scheme which is exciting, and we’re always after more fans on Facebook.
We sell at craft fairs and fair trade shops and we also do house parties, so if anyone in the north-east is interested they can get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org
What are your hopes for the future?
To find an agent, to have a script in production by the end of 2012, but mainly to keep writing.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Learn to accept criticism, obviously when it’s given by people who know what they’re talking about. There’s a principle which I adhere to fairly strictly. In film directors often use the term: “Kill your babies”. Sometimes a film maker will take a shot that they fall in love with. Lighting, composition etc are perfect. The only trouble is that they have another shot that makes more sense at that point in the film. Maybe not as beautiful or whatever, but something that adds to the pot and makes the whole film better, rather than something that enhances a thirty-second clip in the middle of act one. At this point a good director will ditch the beauty shot and go with what makes sense.
The KYB principle applies equally well to writing. You may have just constructed the perfect paragraph, filled with words of depth and power that convey exactly what you want to say at a given moment in time. The only trouble is it doesn’t fit with the rest of your novel, or short story, or play. So kill it. It’s not easy. I’ve been there and done it and been glad that I did, as it’s helped make me a better writer. I’ve also resisted and lived to regret it.
Other than that – try something new once in a while, don’t fence yourself in and don’t give up.
Don’t give up. Did I say that?
What do you most like about writing? What do you dislike?
You get to sit in a room by yourself and play God with the lives of your characters. That’s mostly good, but sometimes bad, especially on days when the cursor winks like an angry eye in the vast white space of your screen.
What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
Do I have to answer that? (Vic: yes!) Go on then.
Weaknesses: I’m seldom satisfied with anything I write. I procrastinate, lack confidence and have a tendency to romanticise, which is OK as long as I keep a tight rein on it. There’s purple, and there’s deep purple, if you know what I mean.
Strengths: I’m still here, still writing. I guess that’s a strength.
Many thanks to Allison for being involved. I hope you all enjoyed her pearls of wisdom.