Monday, 10 January 2011


Introducing you to Norma, who is a valued member of the circle. Norma attends the short story workshops.

Norma, when did you start writing?

When I was at St Johns primary school I wrote several stories about woodland folk, although, I have to say, I don’t remember any of them showing a particularly original imagination! I began writing again in my early twenties, and achieved early success with the publication of a short story in Red Letter Magazine. Then life, work and motherhood interrupted my creative flow and the intervening years have been spent writing feverishly combined with long gaps of not writing or submitting at all. Recently, I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to send my work to an editorial consultant and hope that this will lead to me finally getting it right!

What genre do you write in?

So far I have written three books for children aged between eight and ten, three young adult books - the latest of which is a ghost story - and two full-length women’s commercial novels. I have also written copious short stories.

What things inspire you to write?

Life inspires me. I have been through bad patches where I have dramatically declared, hand swept across forehead, that I will never write again. Then one day I will be going for a walk, or a coffee, or even just shopping, and I will see one tiny scene that will set my imagination racing and off I go again. For instance, I have just been for a walk around Dunorlan Park and to the café and saw at least three little scenarios that could form the basis for a short story.

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

That’s a tricky one. I can’t decide between ‘don’t get it right, get it written’ and ‘edit, edit and edit again’. I think one follows on from the other actually.

Do you have a writing routine?

Unfortunately I don’t. I am a self-employed researcher and my workload is usually feast or famine. That means when I have no work I can write as much as I like, but this is balanced out by days or weeks when I can’t fit much in at all. I am not very good at routines anyway – if it’s a lovely day my garden (and all its weeds) beckons me I’m afraid. And I am very easily distracted by offers of coffee and cake…

Who are your writing heroes or heroines?

Many and varied! Off the top of my head (goes to look at bookshelves), I love Anne Tyler, Laurie Graham, John Steinbeck, H.E. Bates, E. Annie Proulx, Penelope Lively, Barbara Pym, Graham Greene. However, my two real heroines - because they have shown in front of my eyes that it really can be done - are of course, ex-Circle members Elizabeth Harris (writing also as Alys Clare) and Tamara McKinley. We were all struggling and unpublished together, reading our work out in various workshops, and these two talented ladies are now hugely successful.

If you were to invite one of your characters to dinner, who would it be and why?

In my first full-length women’s novel I have an ageing character, Clara, who lives with her bullying sister. When she was in her 30s, she sacrificed a relationship with a younger man because she thought it was the right thing to do. I would love to have the younger Clara to dinner (she also likes her food so we would get on well!) I would tell her not to give up her man as he loved her more than anything and she would never meet anyone she loved as much. We could also have a jolly good chat about her artistic career and how she should follow that instead of giving up and moving back home to her sister.

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

Writing is of course a solitary experience and it is very easy to fall into the pit of self-doubt and negativity. It is wonderful to have like-minded people to share your good and bad experiences with, and to pick up helpful tips and advice. The most beneficial aspect, for me, is the opportunity to attend workshops and read work aloud. Not only is constructive criticism essential, the very act of reading your own words can often pinpoint problems that you hadn’t spotted in black and white.

Have you made a New Years Resolution?

No! I’ve broken too many over the years. Although one friend suggested that our resolutions should be to take something up, rather than give something up, and I think that is a sound idea. Maybe I will take up eating more cakes…

If you were marooned on a mountain top in a log cabin, a blizzard outside and a roaring fire within, what five items would you want with you?

A massive pile of logs
My laptop with internet access
Next to Nature, Art by Penelope Lively – a short but exquisite book
A yoga instruction manual
My coffee machine AND plenty of capsules

Finish the following.

When Laura came around, the pain in her head gripped her. She lifted her hand up and felt the blood, sticky and warm. Her legs aching and grazed lay twisted. She looked around the darkness, confused, trying to remember what had happened. When a bright light shone in her eyes, the horror of her situation.........

sank in. She should never have tried to demonstrate her high kick on the boss’s table at the Christmas party.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant (and quite topical) concluding sentence, Norma :-)
Good interview too.

Norma J said...

Thank you Anonymous! And may I take this opportunity to apologise for the scary photo. What a shock when I scrolled down just now!

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