I have two writing projects on the go at present: One is the editing of a novel I wrote back in 1984, and now want to publish; the other is a collection of short pieces which I am putting together as a book. The former, which is set in Mid Wales, is called ‘Heneghan’ – and I hope to have it ready to roll by early summer. The latter should be ready within the next two-three weeks.
I have also recently set up a new, writing-based, blog: The Wine-Dark Sea: Alienora’s Writing Odyssey (link above), in which I write about my life as a creative writer.
When and how do your characters come to you? Is it in a moment of inspiration, an epiphany? Or do they grow in some murky recess of your mind?
This is a really interesting question – and I have thought about it deeply. I would say that a good half of my characters present themselves to me as insistent voices, views via my Third Eye or as a result of meditations and path workings. Very often they bring knowledge I did not know I had, or glimpses of times far distant and places I have never, in this life time, visited. Yes, I would have to say that ‘inspiration’ and ‘epiphany’ are the most apt words. These characters whisper, or shout, or weep, or sing their words, images and lives into my ear – and I have no option but to pass them on. It sometimes feels as if I am riding in the mind, or behind the eyes, of another being.
As to the ‘where’ part of this, I would say predominantly during dreams, visions and walks through any peaceful and beautiful landscape.
There’s an acceptance that authors often write in traits or characteristics of themselves into their work, is there any part of you in any of your characters?
Oh, without a doubt! I think many writers use writing as a form of therapy or even exorcism, though we are not always consciously aware of this process.
I have written a journal for forty-three years, and have over a hundred volumes. In this, my traits and characteristics are honed, worked upon, viewed, rejected and accepted.
In my works of fiction, some pieces are openly written through a series of alter egos – and these show clear and unambiguous Alienora traits; in my novel ‘Long-Leggety Beasties’, the narrator, Geraldine Dolan, is based on the younger me, and in my book of erotica, ‘Come Laughing!’ many of the short pieces are my honest and blunt opinions of sex and sexuality.
For me, writing is like breathing; I cannot do without either. I am my words. I am my images and dreams – so, every word carries the DNA of the Alienora style, and the person who holds that pen or taps upon that laptop.
There is often a sense of urgency about the characters’ messages which means that they appear more as channeled pieces than narratives I have planned and made up. The characters appear fully-formed, and I then have to intuit the various aspects of their multi-layered personalities. I think this does go on at the subconscious level because I have never used character interview sheets. My characters tell me about themselves, I suppose you could say, and I chase after them with a net and catch as many of their precious words and thoughts and traits as I can.
Are you a planner, or free writer?
The latter! I have written spontaneously – and following visions – since I was eight years old. In the academic sense, I was always very organized and planned everything within an inch of its life. When writing essays at university, for example – I did a degree in English Literature – I was meticulous. But, as an English teacher, I tended to make it up as I went along, and creatively, I let myself be guided by inspiration.
Having said that, I am very organized, and plan minutely, when it comes to putting books together – but the actual creative process is more akin to dream than concrete reality.
When you are developing a book, what tools or techniques do you use, e.g. timelines, mood boards, character interviews, scraps of notes?
None of the above: I am predominantly a sensual writer. Let me explain: I have a very strong sense of atmosphere, landscape, the five senses, sensuality – and, although trained as an English teacher, write from my senses rather than the analytical part of my mind. The techniques I learned, both as an undergraduate and, subsequently, as a teacher, do not work in my writing life.
Scenes come to me already formed. Landscapes show themselves with startling clarity. People, even conversations, leak through my subconscious into my pen. For me, it is – and always has been – a case of trying to pin these vivid butterflies of inspiration down, gently so that I do not damage their beautiful wings, but with sufficient force that they do not escape until I am ready to release them.
Has your technique changed over time?
Yes, in the sense that I have become far more discerning and taut as a writer. I have learned that I cannot net every single part of the sensual world throwing its words and images at me; to do so would lead to overload – and, in all probability, gibbering insanity! I have to be selective – and learn to rein in and shut out.
But, in terms of the way I write, I have not, as yet (and am now well into my fifties), learned – or, if I am honest, wished to adopt – the tight discipline of note-taking and planning rigorously.
I am not for a moment knocking such an approach – but it does not work for me.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Do you actively look for it?
Inspiration comes from the world we live in. I am very much a lyrical and descriptive writer, and I never tire of the natural beauty with which we are surrounded. Love inspires me, and I often write my best works when I am experiencing that most life-enhancing of feelings.
I am a student of the Western Mystery Tradition and a First Degree Initiate – and the myths and legends associated with this path are endlessly fascinating and inspiring.
I also have a strong psychic sense, and often receive ‘visitations’ from people who are either past-life selves or beings from long-ago times and places. An example is Amgel – a Priestess from Atlantis – who regularly appears with snippets from her life.
Music inspires me, and always has. I often write and listen at the same time – and can be transported very easily to my imaginary world through the medium of song and instrumental brilliance.
What kind of an environment do you write in? Day/night/silence/music/desk/sofa etc
I now have my own Study in which to write – a lovely room! I tend to sit in an armchair (covered with a red velvety rug) in the Southern Quarter, laptop perched on my knees, and type away to my heart’s content (as, indeed, I am doing now!). I can see the village I live in through the opposite (Northern) window, and this is both consoling and wondrous. Often, I let the balm of music pour over me as I write.
Half way into writing my first novel, it’s taking over my brain! What advice can you give me on completing it? Or maybe an easier question. What do you wish you had known about writing a book before you started?
Be gentle with yourself. A book, like a real-life baby, has its own agenda – and does not always conform to our needs and time-lines. Just as babies are rarely born on their due dates, and no one really knows what makes them emerge when they do, so, in novel-writing, we cannot impose too much upon the book’s birth.
We swell with the literary ‘pregnancy’ – and that can be very uncomfortable at times (essentially parasitic, a book can, indeed, feel as if it is taking over the brain – as, in a very real sense, it is!), but we always, eventually, find that labour has started – and, for all the physical pain of that, we know that we will push our precious ‘babies’ out into the world eventually!
On a more literal theme, for me the most difficult, stressful and upsetting part of the whole thing has been the promotion and marketing aspect. Writing is a doddle in comparison. You could say that, having had an easy birth, I am now in the grip of Post-Natal Depression!
The publishing industry is in decline across the board. Do you think things like the Kindle are bridging the gap, is there still the same love for the written word, or is it being diluted by the modern obsession with tech and gadgets?
Yes, there is still a love of the written word – but people are less and less willing to take a chance on an unknown writer. I think Kindle is great, and has certainly opened up the world of reading for many people. I do not own one myself because, for me, nothing beats the wonderful feeling, smell and weight of a physical book. For this reason, I always order paperback copies of other writers’ books, even though it would be much cheaper to download them onto a Kindle.
I suspect that the current obsession with tech and gadgets will, eventually, decline – because people will, quite simply, not be nourished by them – and, at that point, there will be a huge resurgence of passion for the written word in its printed form.
As long as the urge to create, the Hephaestus’ Forge of Inspiration, and the vision to take pen, paintbrush, musical stave or block of clay remain, we will continue to push the boundaries of the human experience irrespective of what the publishing industry is doing.
Publishing is a human construct. The act of creation is what links us to the Divine, the Creator.
50 Shades of Grey author EL James was reported to make around £100k a day at the book’s height, and the upcoming film will make her millions. Do you find it a shame that the most lucrative and famous book franchise of the moment is one so widely derided for its lack of literary value? Or is it just good to have a book going mainstream?
I am all for books which break taboos, which question our society’s take (largely Victorian still) on sex – but, I do not endorse any book which is abuse hidden behind the glistering robes of erotica; I also find it hard to enjoy novels which are poorly written. I find it saddening, therefore, that such a novel as the above should have taken the world by storm the way this one has.
I think it says an awful lot (and the word ‘awful’ has been chosen for all its meanings) that we, as a society, have leapt upon this particular bandwagon – and yet we will not read literary works of beauty and worth.
I think this book, and others like it, feed into all that is salacious, Celebrity-loving, and taboo in our world – and I have long maintained that, if we were to be open and honest about human sexuality, works which promote its darker aspects would no longer be necessary.
But I do appreciate that I may simply be jealous because my book of lyrical and humorous erotica, ‘Come Laughing!’ has not gone viral!
If a fascist regime was burning the worlds libraries, what books would you save?
All of them – because, no matter what my personal feelings are, every single book ever written has represented love, labour and birth to a fellow writer, and it is not for me to deride that passionate commitment to the written word.
We are all connected – and inspiration is the sleeting force we all share in one form or another.
The temptation would be to say,’ I would only save those which I, Alienora, find to be of literary worth…’ – but that is such an elitist way of looking at things. It does not matter whether I personally enjoy another writer’s work or not, nor does it matter a jot whether I consider it well-written or not. What matters is that this person put pen to paper and created; that this writer helped spread the love of words to another generation.
For thirty years, I tried traditional publishers – with no success. In retrospect, I can seem that part of this failure stemmed from the huge demands of being a full-time teacher: to put it bluntly, the marking and planning required when one teaches English at secondary school level did not leave time for writing, let alone an intensive chase after a suitable agent/publisher.
When I took early retirement three years ago, therefore, I decided to go down the self-publishing route.
I went on a very good Masterclass, organized by The Guardian – and, after that, and with help from my partner, published a book on Amazon Kindle.
It did not do well, to be frank – and so, just before Christmas 2014, I published my erotic book on CreateSpace and Kindle. I then republished the first novel with the paperback option – and books number three and four have been published on both CreateSpace and Amazon Kindle.
The problem I find is getting my name known, getting out there, getting read. It is an uphill battle at the moment – but I need to remind myself that I only started just over three months ago. I also need to remind myself that publishing four books in three months is an achievement in itself!
What do you wish you knew about the publishing process before you started?
Since I am not published traditionally (though I hope to be one day), I wish I had known more about promoting and marketing my books. This is not something that comes naturally to me. I am shy and retiring in many ways, and have always lacked confidence in myself – so attempting to convince others that my books are worth reading has been extraordinarily challenging.
I think I am a good writer – but I lack the confidence to go out there and create a stunning and successful marketing campaign. It is one of the many Catch 22 aspects of writing/self-publishing: most of us are unable to afford to take advantage of the marketing help offered at a price – and yet, ironically, if we had the necessary funds, we would probably have a much higher profile on line.
I could have done with an intensive course in marketing!
What is the best advice you could give to aspiring novelists like me? Or what was the best advice you were ever given?
Write with passion. Write because you must. Write because you love it. Publishing success is a bonus – but the love of the written word should always come first.
Keep the vision bright and sparkling and perennially youthful!
Is fanfic to be welcomed as it broadens interaction and the readers experience or a scourge that devalues the ability of an author?
Apologies – I have absolutely no idea what fanfic is!
I am finding more and more, that writers often have several creative outlets. Do you? Or is writing your one source?
I am a musician as well – though only amateur and not very good technically! I play fiddle in a band, Ghost Weed – and play piano, fiddle and recorders for pleasure. I did not take grades in any of them, and can barely read music, so play mainly by ear.
I am also a member of the village Drama Club, and have played many roles in local performances.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
Ah! Now this is fascinating! For me, it was the other way round. I knew, from the age of eight, that I wanted to be a writer – but, needing to work for my living, became a teacher almost by default, and taught for three decades.
Now? Free at last, I can luxuriate in the world of the writer – and be the Alienora I always was underneath the Schoolma’am!
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I can date this with great accuracy! July 1966, it was, and I was in the classroom at my primary school (St Andrew’s, Headington, Oxford), dreaming in a slant of afternoon sun, when the teacher gave us a fairy story to write – and, suddenly, a whole new world began to appear – colourful and magical and peopled by princesses – from the nib of my pen, and, in that moment, I fell in love! It is a love which has never left me! I was only eight then – but I knew that this transferring of magic onto paper was what I wanted to do more than anything else in the world!
I adore humorous novelists, my three favourite ones being P.G.Wodehouse, Tom Sharpe and the late – and greatly lamented – Terry Pratchett. Why? Because I think humour is so very important in life; I think it is a healing, humanizing and connecting force for good.
I also admire Susan Hill, Pat Conroy, D.H Lawrence (and have read all or most of their works) because all three combine exquisite writing with a truly extraordinary sense of the landscape being almost another character.
I could name many more writers – for I am an avid reader – but I am conscious that my answers are long, and that I must soon leave this highly enjoyable interview (thanks, Sacha!) and return to the everyday world!
To find out more about Alienora, read her author bio below:
Born in Aldershot, in January 1958, I was raised in Oxford and then read English Literature at Aberystwyth University before becoming an English teacher, at Worle Community School in Weston-super-Mare, in September 1981.
I have always loved writing, and started a journal in January 1972, two days before my fourteenth birthday. The diary habit is still with me – and I now have well over a hundred volumes.
I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen, another when I was twenty-one – and then, in 1983, wrote ‘Riding at the Gates of Sixty’, followed, in 1984, by ‘Heneghan’.
‘Riding…’ was published on CreateSpace on March 10th2015; ‘Heneghan’ will follow suit in the next couple of months.
Both of the named novels won a prize in the South West Arts Writers in Progress Award: ’Riding…’ third prize; ‘Heneghan’, first!
I have also written plays, poems, short stories and reviews.
‘Long-Leggety Beasties,’ my humorous novel set in a school, was written in 2004, and published, as a paperback option, on January 8th 2015.
In June 2012, I started my first blog – and have, within the past two weeks, begun a new one (The Wine-Dark Sea – link above) – and, on December 22nd 2014, published ‘Come Laughing!’ (bawdy, funny, lyrical, sexual)
Finally, and on March 12th, 2015, I published ‘My Esoteric Journey, Volume 1’ – a small book of short pieces relating to my status as a student of the Western Mystery Tradition.
Between them, the four books have twenty-three reviews up on Amazon, the vast majority being 5 stars!
Having now realized my life-long dream of becoming a writer, I hope to publish many more novels. I would also love to become well-known and to make some kind of living, financially, from my writing.
All the books I have mentioned by name can be downloaded on Amazon Kindle or ordered, as paperbacks, at CreateSpace or Amazon.