Monday, 24 January 2011


Sheila is a valued member of both the circle and the committee. Her workshops are always inspiring and she is always ready to give encouragement and advice. I just know you are going to enjoy her interview.

Sheila, when did you start writing?

Not until I was in my thirties because I'd always thought writers were incredibly clever people and I didn't see myself in that way. At that time, we used to walk the dog in a tiny village near Alton called Froyle, known locally as The Village of the Saints. I was so intrigued by all the statues, I did some research and produced an article. Greatly daring, I sent it to the Farnham Herald and it was accepted. Following this, I had a letter from a wonderful lady called Meg who invited me to give a talk on writing to the Farnham Writers group. Astonished, I told her I wasn't a writer, and that the article which led her to contact me was the first thing I'd ever written. She said very firmly that I was a writer, and invited me to join the group. And that's when I started writing.

What genre do you write in?

I write general interest articles, short stories for women's magazines, flash fiction, ghost stories and children's stories. I'm currently writing a book for young teenage girls, and have a children's book to rewrite.
What was your first success?
Hugely encouraged by the Farnham Writers, I sent a short story to Woman's Weekly and it was accepted.

What things inspire you to write?

Generally questions. In other words the 'What If ' idea. I think about something which I've been told, or which has happened to a friend, and ask myself if it might have been different under different circumstances. This leads on to a whole new scenario, and I start writing. Sometimes, a chance remark, or a striking looking character in the supermarket can also lead to an idea.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Write every day. Never stop writing, and never give up. Write about what you know, and if you don't know, then do extensive research. For example, if you want to write about teenagers, then you have to listen to them in the coffee shop, on the 'bus, in the department stores.. wherever. You need to do this to catch up with the latest 'in words' and trends. If you want to write about a certain period in history, then you need to read extensively about the period, and not just history books. You need to read first hand accounts about the seamstresses, miners, farmers and housemaids of the period, as that's the only way you can get a feel for the patterns of speech and social mores of the time. I also read Writers' News avidly, and never finish reading it without being refuelled with ideas.

Do you have a writing routine?

I try to write in the mornings, and get the mechanics of housework, gardening, shopping etc done in the afternoon.

Who are your writing hero’s or heroines?

Where to start? Somerset Maugham, Annie Proux, Chekhov, Grahame Green, Alan Bennett, Jodi Piccoult, Khaled Hossein, Kate Moss, Victoria Hislop, Dick Francis, Hilary Mantell……..there are so many, and each of them have strengths which I admire enormously.

Which one of your characters would you least like to meet and why?

Probably the reporter in my children's book. By the time I've finished making him more villainous, even his mother wouldn't want to meet him. He doesn't like children and he bullies them, frightens them, and threatens them.

In what ways do you benefit from being part of the Tunbridge Wells and District Writers’ Circle? In what ways are you involved?

A session with other writers is always of enormous benefit. There's a strange alchemy about reading one's work aloud; it seems to put the reader in the position of listener, and makes you see your work through other people's eyes, so that even before comments are made, you can see awkward sentences, anomalies and, dare I say it, over egging with too many adjectives, background description etc.

I'm involved with the Circle as a committee member, and also as leader of the short story and features workshop, which is held in my house. We meet once a month, bring along our latest piece, and read aloud. I hope we remain detached, and that our comments are helpful. It's useful also, to occasionally work on exercises. A piece of dialogue maybe, or using all the senses, writing in the first person, points of view etc. This always heightens awareness of technique and flow.

Are you a member of any other writing groups?

I belong to closed forum of womag writers. This group is highly professional, extremely successful, and amazingly supportive. We put our short stories on the forum for advice, crits and general comments. The crits are always to the point, detached, and helpful. I've been a member of this internet group now for around 14 years, and I've met some of the other members. Not all of them of course, because they come from points as diverse as USA, South Africa and New Zealand. The last meet up we had was in Brighton. It was a blazing hot day and we sat under the trees in the gardens of the Royal Palladium and talked and talked until sheer hunger drove us to find a pizza hut. Then we talked some more. One of the members was from Canada, and she stayed with me for a couple of nights, before going on to stay with her family in Scotland. We didn't get much sleep!

Have you made a New Year’s Resolution?

I think I must rewrite my book for children. I've spent hard earned cash on getting it checked, and the general summation was that it was a good idea and original. I was told that the villains were not villainous enough, so I need to inject a bit more scary stuff. Then I'll send it off again. I've also almost finished a book for teenage girls, but get distracted by short story ideas.

Does anyone else in your family write?

My daughter Jacqueline is a poet. To date she's had six books published and has been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot award. Her work fills me with admiration.

What would be your ideal writing retreat?

I always used to write in a shed in the garden. When my husband Peter was alive, we were out walking one day, and I saw a summerhouse . I raved about it, and said I'd love one just like that to write in. The moment we got home, he looked at places in our garden to site one, bought the wood, laid the foundations, and built it. Peter was also a writer, so he understood the need for a designated writing place. I no longer use the shed for writing, but for quite a long time, my shed was my ideal retreat, where I left concerns over cooking and housework behind, and entered a different, imaginary world where I could lose myself in words.

What would you take with you?

My laptop, unlimited coffee, mobile 'phone to keep in touch and a radio for inspiring music.

Finish the following.

The figure stood at the end of the street waiting. The driving rain illuminated in the street lights seemed not to trouble the figure. Wind rattled the letter boxes belonging to the Victorian houses that lined the street. Half way down the row an upstairs light came on, a door slammed shut ………… and a woman stood for a moment, silhouetted against the light. For a split second, she hesitated then took off. The wind caught her hair, teasing and blowing tendrils into her eyes, and still she ran, high heels pounding through puddles, fury giving her speed.
"This has to stop," she shouted, but as always, by the time she reached the end of the street, he'd vanished.

Note: this has given me the idea for a ghost story, but I haven't finished it yet .

1 comment:

Norma J said...

Lovely interview and photo Sheila! Thank you so much for your support over the years. You have always been supportive, welcoming and positive - which is what the Circle is all about!

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