Interview Sunday #6

Image of Diane Dickson

Today, I’d like to introduce storywriter Diane Dickson from Diane’s Story Site. Diane has written and published both children’s and adult fiction as well as featuring serial stories on her blog. 

Welcome, Diane! I’m glad you could join us. Would you please tell us a little about yourself.

Thank you so much for asking me, I have really enjoyed your interviews and was flattered that you thought of asking me. 

I was born in Yorkshire a long time ago! and grew up in Lancashire. I’ve been married for over forty years and have two wonderful children, a son and a daughter, a lovely son in law and daughter in law and two gorgeous grandsons.  I am very lucky.  
 
Ian and I spent over twenty years living and working in the Middle East and, although at times it was difficult, it was also wonderful and we don’t regret a moment of it, even though we had to make sacrifices with regard to family life and so on.  
 
We now spend much of the year in a house in the middle of a forest in South West France, which is beautiful, and the rest of the time in a flat near to my son’s house in UK and that’s about it.

Such an interesting life you’ve led! 🙂 
What prompted you to begin writing and how long have you been writing?

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write.  I was the only girl in my class at school who loved “composition”, which is what it was called in those days.  I still have a book of my poetry that I started when I was about seven and it has just always been there, part of life.

That poetry book sounds like a treasure! I think it’s great that you still have it.
With your children’s stories, do you have a moral in mind when you start?

3 Things That Might Have HappenedNot exactly a moral, I do believe that we need to uphold good values, honesty, fair play, kindness, all of that, but also I think that it is important that there is magic and wonder.  I think that introducing children to books and reading at the earliest possible opportunity is very important and so, especially with the books for very little ones, the main thing is that they can understand and enjoy the story.  A friend of mine had a little girl and the day that they came home from the hospital her husband sat down and started reading to this tiny baby.  She has grown into an outstanding scientist. I often think of that when I’m writing children’s stories.

How is your process different when you write for adults?

That is difficult to answer.  When I write my adult stories I like to think that I get inside the head of my characters. I do often find myself thinking and even behaving in the way that I think my book’s inhabitants would do, quite unconsciously I hasten to add, and it’s sometimes rather odd.  With the children’s stories it is simpler, just telling tales that I think would entertain young people.

You write mainly short stories and novellas. I usually have a problem keeping my stories contained within the shorter format. What techniques, if any, do you apply to contain your stories?

With the very short micro and flash fiction, I find it helps me to keep the length in mind all the time that I’m writing and so subconsciously I am winding down when I think I’m approaching the maximum word count.  With the novellas I don’t think about it much, they just seem to come with their length predetermined.  I write quite simple stories with very few characters and locations and so they are limited by that, to an extent.  Also, I’m not a very patient writer, I want to know how it’s all going to turn out.
 🙂

How do you edit your stories in preparation for publication? Do you make use of critique partners or beta readers?

Product DetailsI read them over and over and over. Once I have the story very clear in my mind, I read the chapters randomly. That seems to help me to pick up typos and so on, as I’m not reading the story as much as the words.  The Harper Collins site Authonomy is great for feedback.  With Who Follows, my daughter in law very kindly proof read it for me but I try not to inflict my work on the family too much.  I have never lived the sort of life that has allowed me to join writing groups or anything so, although I would love to share and discuss, I am pretty much on my own.  I am sure that there are nits in some of my published work but I have come to realise that all I can do is my best and hope it gets near to being good enough.

I’m sure there are many people out there who would love to help you in this regard, should you need their help at any time, so you don’t have to ‘inflict’ your work on your family. 🙂
Please tell us a little about the stories you’re most proud of.
Product Details
There are some stories on Shortbread that move me. Sometimes a story will make me cry, either with sadness or simply because of the emotion in the words. I love that.  I have had one or two that have won competitions but strangely they are often the ones that I hadn’t really been that happy with – I’m a terrible judge of my own writing.   

You have some interesting book covers. Please tell us about them.

These were all designed by my daughter
 www.studioanjou.co.uk

They are lovely! 🙂 
When did you start your blog and what were some of your reasons for starting it?

It was about two years ago.  I did have a website, which I used simply to advertise my books.  The host was changing and I was looking around for a new platform and my daughter was blogging at the time and so I decided to give it a go.  Once I realised what a great resource it was, how very easy it is to do and that it’s possible to have feedback from readers, I was totally hooked.

You mentioned Shortbread, earlier. Would you please tell us what they do there?

I had a computer glitch a couple of years ago and couldn’t access Authonomy and came upon Shortbread almost by chance.  
 
Shortbread Stories was set up by Robin Pilcher after he attended a writer’s workshop and thought it was a shame that there were so many great stories hidden in drawers and cupboards with no hope of publication.  
 
They publish every story that is submitted to them.  This does mean that there is a great range of skill and every genre and type of short story that you may imagine.  It is a very friendly site, the members are very supportive of each other.  They run competitions, most usually the prize is simply a teeny little medal next to the story on the site and it is circulated as “The Friday Story” to over 6,000 members, so it is a great place to get some exposure. Now and then, they offer the prize of a book or something but mostly it’s just for fun.   
 
They choose what they judge to be the most suitable and have them made into audio stories. I have one or two of mine in that process at the moment and am really looking forward to hearing my work read aloud. 
 
They have published an anthology of work and are working on the next one and they also run writing workshops with Robin Pilcher and other highly experienced creative writing lecturers in attendance.  They are residential courses usually one at a beautiful villa in Spain and one in the flat where Rosamund Pilcher wrote many of her best sellers, so there must be inspiration seeped into the walls there, I think.  I haven’t been able to attend one yet but hope to one day.  I was voted Shortbreader of the Year 2011 and am a total fan of the site.

Wow! Congratulations! That sounds like a marvelous site. If anyone wants to check out Shortbread Stories, you can find it
here.
When you’re not writing, are there any hobbies you like to indulge in?

Yes,when I’m not writing I love my garden. We have about three acres here in France, more than half is forest and I try to cultivate bits. It’s a struggle because the soil is very poor but I do usually manage some fruit and vegetables and a bit of colour.

Do you have any other social networks that you’d like to share, Diane?

I do have Twitter and Facebook accounts and my blog links with them automatically but I don’t seem to have enough time to get on there very often.  I could sit all day at my desk, I think, and still not get everything done that I would like to, so I have to try and be a little disciplined.

That sounds very familiar! lol

To visit Diane’s Story Site click here.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, Diane. 🙂

Please take the time to check out her stories. Some will send shivers down your spine, others will make you laugh or cry. 🙂

Interview Sunday #3

Happy Father’s Day, all you Dads, Grandpas & Great-grandfathers!

Today, I have with me a talented young man whose blog I follow faithfully because of the variety of things he posts and because he rarely fails to draw out a chuckle from me. He has a marvelous sense of humour and writes about some pretty awesome stuff.

Welcome to my blog, Matt! Please tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Perhaps the first thing I should tell you is that I am rarely brief. So much so, in fact, that my Dad once said, “Son, you don’t speak in words, you only speak in sentences and paragraphs.” If there was such a thing as “The International Rambling Award” it would already be sitting on my shelf, basking in the warmth of the…see, I’m doing it already.

Right, about me. I was born in England in 1986, a fantastic year for the whole world (mostly due to my birth). A few years later my family migrated to Australia. We moved around a fair amount, but I now currently reside on the Central Coast, about an hour north of Sydney, working as a high school teacher teaching mostly English and History, but also (increasingly) Maths. I am a lifelong writer and reader, drink far too much coffee, tea and wine, have watched Monty Python far too many times (or not enough), still watch cartoons, am an avid music collector (albums number in the thousands), and am also a collection collector (I just like collecting things). One of my long-term goals is to become a published novelist, but my day to day goal is just to make people smile, laugh, and hopefully help people learn, too.

OH THAT’S RIGHT THERE’S OTHER QUESTIONS – stop talking Matt!

(If you are interested in learning more about Matt, I’ve linked his picture to his post My Personal Timeline. Just click on his picture above)

You recently published your 100th post. What prompted you to begin blogging?

At the start of this year, I set myself a lot of outrageously difficult goals, including getting my health back on track (two months later my health dived to frightening lows), writing 12 novellas in 12 months (more on this in a later question), and, come to think of it, a whole lot of various writing goals. Among them I decided to try blogging, so I would actually be writing for an audience. It was difficult initially though, because I have tried blogging before only to give up after several entries. But by the time I finished the first month, I realised I was really enjoying it this time, and, more shockingly, people were reading the nonsense I was writing.

Would you please describe some of the topics one might expect to read about when they visit your site?

One of Matt’s mugs from his collection. Click on the picture if you want to see more of his coffee cup collection.

My blog mostly revolves around the fact that I’m a nerd, so the topics to be found on my page include books, poetry, writing, music, history, and the occasional posts on art, coffee, tea, and whatever else takes my fancy. For a while I felt a duty to stick to books, but I have found as time goes on I am branching out more and more. I just try to keep my blog honest and true to myself. And sometimes silly.

Some people prefer to write their blog posts ahead of time and some just sit down and write them on the spur of the moment or when a topic moves them. What is your preference?

I briefly tried writing posts ahead of time, but I felt they were either uninspired, or when I finished them I changed my mind and just posted them immediately anyway. So generally I write them on the spur of the moment, although sometimes I let ideas stew for a couple of days too, especially when it comes to reviews. From time to time I like to time travel, writing a post in the future and then publishing it before it was written…I once nearly caused the universe to not exist because of this.

Have you done anything to specifically draw in more followers?

I’ve been trying to figure this one out myself, because I am a little stunned with how many followers I have gathered in only a few months. I know in my first couple of months I spent a lot of time wandering around looking at other blogs, and commenting here and there. I ended up following a lot of these blogs, and a lot of these blogs followed me back. But recently I find myself so busy with the blogs I already follow, and, of course, my own blog, it’s hard to find time to just wander around the blogosphere like that.

Aside from this…I guess I just try to be consistent, and make an effort to respond to every comment and make people feel welcome at my blog, hopefully giving them a reason to return.

Have you learned any secrets to creating a successful blog? If so, would you please share them with other newbies?

As I say, being consistent in both the timing of your posts and in responding to comments is super important to making a blog work. I also think it’s important to be reasonable with yourself about how often you blog – you don’t want it to turn into a chore, because that shows. Blogging should be something you enjoy, and if it feels otherwise maybe give yourself a day or two off, and return when you’re feeling more inspired. Also, this might be stating the obvious, but make sure you proofread – readers can forgive the occasional typo or clumsily worded sentence, as no doubt we are all guilty of it from time to time, but I occasionally stumble across a blog that is just littered with mistakes, and it’s just really off-putting.

But most importantly – be yourself! I love a good blog where you can really see the blogger themself in their writing. So be honest, and write about what you know.

Good advice! 🙂

Of the many categories you have listed in the sidebar of your blog, one of them is ‘12 Novellas in 12 Months’. You referred to this earlier, so I know you like to write stuff other than your blog posts. Please tell us a little about this challenge that you have set for yourself.

Ah yes, that little challenge. About five years ago I found myself suddenly reinspired to write creatively, after a several year absence from crafting stories for fun. In 2009 I found out about NaNoWriMo, the worldwide novel-writing event in which hundreds of thousands of people write a fifty thousand word novel in a single month. I completed this in 2009, 2010, and then in 2011 I completed the sister event, Script Frenzy, as well as challenging myself to write seventy five thousand words for that year’s NaNo (which I managed to pull off courtesy of an eleven thousand word day towards the end of the month – don’t try that at home, please, whatever you do).

So what does all this have to do with 12 Novellas in 12 Months? The problem with NaNoWriMo is that it only inspires me for one month of the year, and then it leaves me feeling burnt out for a while, and I end up not writing much over the remainder of the year. So I devised a plan to write all year round, but under more manageable circumstances – write 12 novellas in 12 months! Why novellas? Because if the average novella is thirty thousand words, this comes out at a thousand words a day, which is quite manageable even around a full time job. Or so I thought…but there’s six months left in this year, and I’m determined to beat this challenge. So far I have one novella finished, and several part of the way through. By the end of this month I should have six finished…uh oh.

I completely understand how real life can interfere with the writing life!

Is there a specific genre you prefer to write or do you enjoy stretching your creativity to try different genres?

As part of my 12 Novellas challenge, I am trying to write in 12 different genres. I think I like to genre hop a little anyway, though I have been more comfortable when writing in historical fiction, fantasy, and humorous or comical fiction. But really I just write whatever I feel like at the time – genres should be places to explore in writing, not restrictions to limit yourself.

That is very true!

What is your approach to writing? Is it similar to the way you prepare your blog posts?

My approach to writing changes from story to story. Out of the three novels I have written in the past three years, two I wrote entirely on the spot, with no planning whatsoever. The novel I wrote in 2010 was my historical novel, and so I actually did plan it (a little), and researched a fair amount before writing it. After finishing the first draft, I realised it was terrible, and I am now slowly researching a lot more before I attempt to rewrite that story.

Most stories for me start with an image, or a quote, or something simple. I just sit down and start writing, squeeze my brain and force the words out, and see what happens and where it goes. As the story progresses, I try and determine the characters in as much detail in my mind as I can, so that they can drive the rest of the story forwards. Normally by about the halfway point, the end begins to form in my mind, at which point I purposely throw twists into the story, twists that surprise even me as the writer (if I can surprise myself, hopefully I can surprise my readers too), so that the real challenge becomes trying to find a way to get to the ending I foresee.

Basically my approach to creative writing is ridiculous.

You sound like a ‘pantser’, like me! 🙂

Do you have anything else to share with us, today?

My advice for anybody wanting to become good at anything – just keep practising! If you want to become a successful writer, I truly believe reading broadly and writing relentlessly is the ultimate key to reaching this goal. The same goes for just about everything in life – don’t ever let somebody tell you you’re no good at something, or you’re never going to be good at it, because when we really apply ourselves fully to the task at hand, humans are capable of incredible things.

Very inspiring, Matt, Thank you!

For those who wish to experience your blog, they can visit you by pressing here. Are there any other ways in which people can enjoy your words of wisdom? 

Absolutely! You can find me on Twitter at @abritishperson, and on Goodreads I am listed as Matt Watson (they’ve been linked so just click on the underlined words).

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Matt.

Thank you for the great questions (and sorry about the rambling).

That’s not a problem. I have a rambling problem, myself. When I write a letter or email to someone, my hubby says it looks like I’m writing a novel – which isn’t all that far from the truth! In conversations, if someone asks me about writing, I’ll talk their ear off! Maybe we should start a group called Ramblers Anonymous! 🙂

Thanks, again, Matt for joining us today. Good luck with your challenges. 🙂

I’m sure you all have enjoyed our little ‘chat’. Please follow the links to learn more about Matt and his blog. 🙂