Marion Grace Woolley is the author of three previous novels and a collection of short stories. In 2009, she was shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Bursary for New Writers. She balances her creative impulses with a career in International Development; she has worked and travelled across Africa, Australia, Armenia, and a few other places beginning with 'A'. She is an associate member of the Society of Authors, and is currently at work on her fifth novel.
And so, to the questions:
What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good day’s writing?
1) Isolation. I find it incredibly difficult to write when there’s anyone else in the house. I need to be free to wander around in my PJs, talking to myself in funny voices, or simply to sit there and let my mind wander without anyone interrupting.
2) Internet Connection. I fully accept that this is a double-edged sword. If you have internet, you also have social media, and I think we can all agree that’s usually the death knell to a good day’s writing. On the other hand, you also have Wikipedia, YouTube tutorials, Google’s ‘define’ function, Etymology Online and a half-hundred other fabulous websites that lend rich authenticity to your work.
3) Movies, books and music – I know, that’s three things, so let’s just call it ‘Art’. Sometimes the magic just doesn’t flow. Often, it’s to do with emotion. To write emotion convincingly, it helps to feel it. It’s hard to write about love when you’ve just spent half-an-hour on hold to customer (dis)services, or to reduce your readers to tears when your head is still down the pub with your best mate the night before, making fart jokes and eating Monstermunch.
When you’re not in the mood, you need to get in the mood. Sometimes all it takes is a song, or a scene from a good film.
Is writing your main source of income, I read lots of articles saying writers make no
money, and my readers asked this question a lot! Can you survive on book writing alone?
if not, what else do you do?
I read a recent article saying one in ten writers make a full-time living from it. Considering how many writers there are on social media, I actually thought that was pretty good odds.
No, writing isn’t my main source of income. I’m an international development consultant.
Earlier in the year I also took over the country directorship for a human rights organisation in Rwanda, which is my second home. I first came here in 2007 as a volunteer sign language researcher with VSO, to develop Rwanda’s first dictionary of sign language.
I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had the opportunity to travel quite a bit. It’s a slightly crazy life, but always eventful. I doubt many people can say they spent Christmas in Sierra Leone for a rest.
Even so, I work to buy the time to write. I’m just lucky that the type of work I do affords plenty of material.
What are your favourite biscuits?
Without hesitation: Bakers Romany Creams.
Chunky, chocolatey, coconutty goodness.
Where do you do most of your writing?
At the moment, on the couch. There’s an arse-shaped imprint when I go to get coffee.
Do you use social media (facebook, twitter, instagram etc) to engage with your audience, do you think it helps sales and do you find it fun or a chore?
I do enjoy social media, I must admit. Though I’m still sore that Twitter took away its Discover button. My Twitter feed is clogged with ‘Buy me!’ book ads. The Discover channel was my only escape, where I’d do most of my retweeting.
I’m an avid blogger. As a kid, I always wanted to keep a diary, but my handwriting is shocking. Completely illegible. The moment they invented diaries you could type, there was no stopping me. I have several of them.
I also inherited a writing page on Facebook a couple of years back and it now has around sixty thousand likes. I put together a team of volunteers to help me run it. Although I try not to use social media for continuous self-promotion, I must admit to posting one or two links to my stuff on there. Sixty thousand – who wouldn’t?
As to whether it helps sales, I really don’t know. You’d probably be better asking my publishers. I just know that I enjoy it. I’ve certainly found a couple of new authors I like via conversations online, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility someone has found me.
Do you own an e-reader? and do you prefer to read digital or paper copy?
My Kindle is my best friend. A whole library in my pocket! I’m still amazed by that.
But let’s get this straight – that doesn’t mean that I love paperbacks any less.
I’ve never understood this either-or schism. It isn’t the paper or the electrons that we’re in love with – it’s the story, the characters. Anything that gets people reading has got to be a good thing, right?
Yes, I have a Kindle. Yes, I have a bookshelf. No, I wouldn’t part with either.
In some cases, e-readers are revolutionary.
Let me give you an example. In my secret life as a development consultant, I recently worked with an incredible organisation in Rwanda called Isaro Foundation. Their main aim is to encourage a literary culture, and to get people reading and writing for pleasure.
They recently set up the country’s first ever e-library. They managed to get forty Kindles donated to a school, and a PC full of donated and free-to-download books. They trained teachers how to use the Kindles, and within a few months they recorded a 70% increase in young people reading for pleasure. It was a combination of traditional books being very expensive to obtain, and the fact the kids just loved playing with the technology.
How could anyone turn up their nose and say e-readers are inferior?
Do you dream in colour?
Multi-colour surround sound. I have been so fascinated with dreams in the past that the first novel I ever wrote was called Lucid. It’s published by Netherworld Books. They marketed it as horror, but it’s more about the link between dreaming and shamanism, the dream juices in our heads and those found in the world around us: in plants, in foods and entheogenic drugs.
Many of the dreams the characters have in that book were drawn from my own.
If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?
Very little, I suspect.
I’d probably be a lot more ignorant, and a lot less empathetic.
Though I suppose it would depend on whether our oral storytelling culture had flourished in the absence of a written one. If so, then perhaps not all would be lost. Though being told a story, and being allowed to read it, is always a little different. In the first instance, the story belongs to the storyteller. In the second, it belongs to you.
It’s more likely I would have accidentally topped myself, there being no labels in the medicine cabinet.
What is your ideal holiday?
Funny you should ask that. Right now I am longing to head back to Blighty. I’ve been away from the UK for a year now, eight months of which I didn’t have a hot shower. I’ve been on a road trip through Laos which filled me with excitement, I’ve been to refugee camps in Congo which filled me with rage, and I’ve been to an elephant orphanage in Kenya that was so cute I was filled with fuzziness.
Now, I want to go home, see my family, take a hot bath and enjoy a nice, flat pint of beer.
Right now, I can think of no holiday finer.
Huge thanks to Marion for her thoughtful and interesting answers! Her latest book, Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran is available now.
A young woman confronts her own dark desires, and finds her match in a masked conjurer turned assassin.
Inspired by Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, Marion Grace Woolley takes us on forbidden adventures through a time that has been written out of history books.
"...beneath the mists of time. I was the first, you see. The very first daughter. There would be many like me to come. Svelte little figures, each with saffron skin and wide, dark eyes. Every one possessing a voice like honey, able to twist the santur strings of our father’s heart."
It begins with a rumour, an exciting whisper. Anything to break the tedium of the harem for the Shah’s eldest daughter. People speak of a man with a face so vile it would make a hangman faint, but a voice as sweet as an angel’s kiss. A master of illusion and stealth. A masked performer, known only as Vachon.
For once, the truth will outshine the tales.
On her birthday, the Shah gifts his eldest daughter Afsar a circus. With it comes a man who will change everything.
Note: Mature subject matter
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