Elle: How long have you been writing?
Rachel: I used to write stories as a child. I was a huge Enid Blyton fan, so most of them involved boarding schools and solving mysteries. I never took it seriously, though. When I was thirteen, I received a journal as a Christmas present, and I started journaling daily. I continued until I was in my early twenties, amassing over fifty volumes! As a teenager, I wrote a lot of angsty poetry. I never thought it was any good, though. I never shared it with anybody. I had a long gap after that, when it didn’t occur to me to write. Life kind of got in the way. Then, two years ago, my husband suggested I join an online writing group, and now I spend most of my time writing. When I spend time away from my computer for a long period of time, I actually feel twitchy. I write on my phone’s notepad, or in one of the many paper notebooks I carry with me. I don’t think I could ever go back to not writing again.
Elle: What genres do you write in? Do you have a favourite?
Rachel: I was thinking about this question a couple of days ago. I don’t know the answer. I guess, literary fiction, mainly. I say that because a lot of my stories don’t fit into one specific category. They are stories about people. Real people, going through things that real people go through. I write with a lot of emotion, and I love to put my characters through the ringer. Seeing them survive and evolve is something I find really interesting. My stories always begin with a character, rather than a detailed plot.
I discovered, only recently, I can write non-fiction. Writing, with honesty, about the darkest (and lightest) parts of your life can be therapeutic. It is my ambition to write my memoirs, one day.
My poetry is free verse and, like my stories, packed full of emotion. I guess I’m still writing a lot of angst-ridden poems, if I’m honest. I’ve written my life story through poetry.
I sit next to the
sterile hospital bed and
wonder how she got this ill—
how I never noticed—
I was supposed to look after her.
I watch as the angry mask
furiously forces air into her lungs,
her body slamming into the bed
with every blast.
I hold her lifeless hand
and trace the misshapen
fingers and thumbs;
memories cascade before my eyes, and
I am a grown-up child,
five years old, taking care of my mum,
my precious responsibility,
but I was selfish,
all I wanted was a mum
who could play with me,
run with me,
None of that matters now,
I just want a mum who can hear me,
speak to me,
but I know I’ll never have that again,
so I turn to the doctor and
and the mask is removed,
the machines switched off.
I’m terrified as I watch her breaths,
gradually fade to nothing;
she is still,
and I am broken.
I look to her face,
in her very last breath
she has smiled,
and I know she has seen my dad—
the love of her life—
they are reunited in death,
and this comforts my shattered
Elle: Are there any genres you’re afraid to try, or struggle to write in?
Rachel: A couple of years ago, I would have said Sci Fi, Fantasy, or Steampunk. I don’t read these genres, and I don’t understand them well enough to write about them. But, now that I have more confidence, there is nothing I wouldn’t try. I think it makes it interesting to try something new, sometimes. I’m sure if I did try to write in these genres, I would still turn my story into one about intriguing characters and their lives.
Elle: Do you read in the same genres that you write in?
Rachel: I don’t read much literary fiction. I do read books with great characters. I also love psychological thrillers. Grip-Lit, your “Girl On A Train” kind of style. I like to read a wide variety of genres. I think it widens your imagination.
Elle: You write both poems and stories. Do you have a preference? Which do you consider your strength?
Rachel: My poetry is more personal. It’s less polished, more raw. I think, poems have always been something I write when I have things I need to work out. They’re written for me, rather than for my readers. Stories are what I want to write more now. Specifically, the novel I’m working on. I think I write stories better than I write poetry. I’ve learned more about writing them over the last couple of years. Although, when my poetry is spot on, it’s pretty good.
The charity shop doorway looked inviting to Charlie. Walking the streets for hours, trying to stay away from J.T., had made his body heavy and in need of rest. His backpack hit the floor with a thud, startling the bundle of clothes lying next to it.
“You don’t mind if I grab this doorway, do you?” He pulled his lips into his most dazzling smile.
Donna was so young. It saddened him when he imagined the things that led to her thinking sleeping here was her best option.
“Knock yourself out.” Her smile had become sharper around the edges since they first met.
Springtime hung in the air, with its warmer weather finally reaching the streets. Even so, Charlie shivered, as he sat with his back against the door. He hugged his knees, and his eyes darted from side to side. He knew J.T. was out there watching him.
Screams drifted through the air, signalling the coming of Crazy Sue. She staggered between bodies, displaying a strange mixture of crying and guffawing. There were stories she ended up sleeping rough because her husband died and she lost her job. There were stories that back then she really wasn’t that crazy. Charlie knitted his brow as he contemplated how pretty she might once have been.
A whimpering sound drew his attention. He looked to Donna, who quivered and cried. Reaching out his hand and resting it on her back, he spoke in hushed tones. “Hey. What’s up?”
His friend gulped air, in an effort to breathe. “It’s C-Crazy S-Sue. She’s gonna k-kill me.”
The laugh had escaped his mouth before he could stop it. “Crazy Sue’s harmless. Why would you think she’ll hurt you?”
“I lay my stuff down in her spot earlier. She said if she saw me again she’d kill me.”
As the frightened girl buried her head in her blanket, Charlie shuffled closer to her. “Donna. It’s okay. Crazy Sue is . . . well . . . crazy. She shouts and screams at everyone. But she forgets all about it five minutes later. Honest.”
Donna peeked at him from under her blanket. “Really?” she whispered.
Holding her eye contact for longer than he normally managed, he nodded. “Really. You don’t need to be afraid of her.” He was tempted to add, “But J.T., well, there is someone you should avoid at all costs.” But it wouldn’t have made any difference. It never did.
Elle: Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a favourite ‘soundtrack’ to write to?
Rachel: I always listen to music when I write. There is no specific soundtrack. I hit random shuffle on my iPod. I have to skip certain songs, as they can be really distracting (like, you cannot write whilst listening to “Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees!). I love music. I listen to it all day long.
Elle: Do you have a favourite author? Or perhaps an author you view as an inspiration?
Rachel: Yes. Marian Keyes. I love her. I first discovered her in about 1997. I was in a bookshop, and I spotted a book with a bright red cover with a pair of lime-green mules on it. It was like a siren, and I made my way over to it. When I saw the title—“Rachel’s Holiday”—I believe I yelped with delight. It was like it was made for me. I bought it, without reading what it was about. As it happened, I fell in love. Marian Keyes writes books about characters. She writes about the darker side of life, with topics such as drug addiction, depression, domestic abuse. But she also writes with humour and oodles of warmth. Her natural storytelling style has me laughing on one page, then weeping on the next. I would love, in my wildest dreams, to be able to write as well as her.
Elle: Tell us about something you read that was particularly memorable, for whatever reason.
Rachel: About three years ago, I came across a book called “The Shock Of The Fall” by Nathan Filer. He was a new author to me, but I saw him speaking on TV about this book, and I had to look it up. It’s about a young man with paranoid schizophrenia, and about his past and his illness. I read it in one sitting, and I wept and felt my heart twist and turn. At the end, I felt like I’d gone through a bereavement or something. But, I realised I could write a story like that. I mean, I didn’t imagine it could be anywhere near as good, but it gave me the idea to start writing again. I had a story to tell. Maybe I could do it. Reading this book was kind of a turning point for me.
Elle: What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?
Rachel: My best ideas are always based on my experiences. I change them, play with them, but ultimately, they have events that are part of me at their heart. I also have a tendency to dream vivid, wild dreams. Pretty much every night. So I write them down and draw on those when I’m looking for an idea. Really, though, ideas are everywhere. Wherever I go, I see people who look interesting and imagine their life stories. I spend a lot of time inside my head. I think it comes from being an only child.
Elle: Do you think negative experiences are crucial in order to be a good writer? Do you find it harder to write well when it’s a positive experience?
Rachel: For me, I wouldn’t be the writer I am without my negative experiences. Especially, where my poetry is concerned. I write so much better when I’m feeling unhappy. I always have. My negative life experiences are probably the reason my writing leans toward being emotional. For me, experiencing pain makes me more understanding of how it works. For example, I don’t think anyone who has never experienced the darkness of deep depression can really understand it. They can read about it and understand it on a logical level, but they won’t feel the emotional connection to it. I think that comes across in writing.
With regards to positive experiences . . . I find it much harder to write happy. It is good to do this from time to time, though. Like, sometimes I have an idea for something light and fun, and it feels good to write something happier.
Elle: Do you think that as an author you write better when you pour the emotion on to the page, or when you take a step back and refine your work?
Rachel: Without question, pouring emotion onto the page is what works for me. I always get better feedback for my pieces that are from the heart. I never would have believed it could make such a difference, but it does. It comes back to that question of having a connection to your work. However, that isn’t saying I don’t edit my work. The first draft is pure emotion, and from there, I make it more cohesive and shareable. That’s an important part of the process.
Elle: What has been the hardest thing for you so far on your writing journey?
Rachel: The hardest thing has been, without question, believing in myself. It’s hard to be objective about my work because, no matter how hard I try, whenever I read it, I hear my own voice. So it doesn’t sound very special. But, I’ve chosen to accept that my voice is okay. One thing I’ve learned over the last two years is that most writers also have doubts. It actually makes us better writers. We can harvest that insecurity and turn it into magic.
Elle: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Rachel: I’ve received so much advice in the past couple of years. I’ve learned to always listen to advice, even when it’s tough. The best piece, though . . . probably to write about what you know. I didn’t believe it at first. When I did, my writing improved.
Elle: What is your purpose in writing? Do you aspire to be published?
Rachel: When I started writing, it was mostly about exorcising demons and validating my feelings. I never dreamed I could be good enough to publish. I never dreamed I would one day want to try. But, now, things have changed. I would love to be published one day. I have a novel I’m working on at the moment that is everything I’ve ever wanted to write about. It’s in the formative stages right now, but the feedback I’ve received on what I have written has blown me away. So, this book has to be published. That’s my dream. After that, my memoirs. This last year, I’ve had two poems and a story published. One of my poems is in www.threelinepoetry.com. The other poem and the story are in the WDC 2016 Anthology. I can’t tell you the thrill of that! Really, though, I just want to write. Every day; forever. That will make me happy.
Elle: How do you drawn the line between truth and privacy when it comes to publishing a memoir?
Rachel: This is a tough one. Writing about people who are still living is difficult, and I wouldn’t write about anyone without first getting their permission. I know the trouble that can cause. I have a distant relation who published a book on my mother’s family. She had so many facts that were incorrect. For example, she made two of Mum’s brothers twins, when they aren’t. She also said one of her sisters was dead, when she isn’t. So, getting your facts right is imperative. Like I say, I wouldn’t write about living people without asking their permission. I know most of them would be happy. People who have died, I would say that as long as you don’t lie, some people may not like it, but they are probably people who aren’t that close to you in the first place. I think honesty is the key. Whenever you write about real people and your own take on events, you run the risk of upsetting others. You have to be prepared for that, if you want to write about true events.
Elle: How will you format your memoir? Will it be told as a story, as a sort of ‘letter to the reader’ or will you use excerpts from your journal entries?
Rachel: I’ve thought about this a lot. I don’t want it to be a long narrative that moves linearly from event to event. I plan to write about certain events and certain time periods in an order that makes sense to me as I’m writing. I think chapters, covering events or time periods would make sense. Some of them short, some longer. Including some journal entries is a great way to show how it felt to be me at different times. So that’s something I will probably include.
Elle: Will you include photos, letters, etc. in your memoir? I love books that do that!
Rachel: Yes! I love books that include that, too. I’ll probably have some photos dotted throughout the book, rather than a section with tons of pictures. But I will definitely include some.
Elle: Will you self publish your novel and memoirs or try traditional publishing?
Rachel: Ideally, I would love to have them published the traditional way. I think most writers would probably say that. However, this is the real world and there’s a lot of competition out there. So, self publishing may be the way to go. Initially, at least. I can always hope I get noticed somehow.
You can read more of Rachel’s work at her Writing.com portfolio.