Wendy Orr – Interview (Sep 2014)

Wendy Orr

Q. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Living and working with stories.

Q. Where do you get your story ideas?

Ideas come from all around, from everything we think, see, hear and do. The magical part is why a few of those millions of sensations, anecdotes or thoughts should wiggle their way into the brain and start gathering other bits of sensations and thoughts to become a story idea. I have no idea how that happens.

Q. What tips would you give to an aspiring writer?

Read a lot, and read different authors and different genres, not just the ones you think you like. Then write a lot. Just like the reading, you should try lots of different styles and genres to find what you most enjoy writing – it may surprise you!

When you’re writing your first draft, try to put the inner critic aside: just immerse yourself in the story and try to write through to the end without stopping to edit or correct.

Put the manuscript aside for a bit and then read it as a whole, as if you’ve never seen it before. Try to read it through without stopping to correct messy sentences or misspelled words: you want to get a feel for the story itself. When I see a sentence that particularly bothers me, I just mark it but try not to break the flow by trying to fix it. When you’ve finished, make notes on what you think isn’t working: it’s a bit slow in the middle, the main character isn’t coming across as you intended, etc. The story needs to be in shape before you start fiddling with individual words and sentences.

Try not to get so carried away with the fun facts of research that you stick in fascinating trivia that doesn’t move the story along. Every word and incident in the book needs to do its job of advancing or deepening the story.

When you think your book is approaching the final draft, read it aloud. If you can’t read it to someone, record it as you read it and then play it back to yourself. You’ll pick up all sorts of unintended rhymes, repetitions, confusing sentence structure…

You can also, or also use the text to voice function. This has the advantage of not subconsciously editing out typing errors, though I find that the simple act of reading my own work aloud gives me more insights.

Remember that all writing advice is a guide only, and when you’ve learned how to write one book, you may need to write the next one in a completely different way. I have never completely managed to read a first or second draft with stopping to fiddle with ugly sentences.

Q. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?

Listen to your editor or writing critic’s advice, but don’t put your own gut feeling aside. Remember that if they have misunderstood something, the fix they suggest may not be right – but it undoubtedly means that you do need to fix it.

Q. Who has been your greatest influence in your writing career? Why?

I don’t think I could choose one person. If there’s one author I read as a child who I suspect has influenced my language, it would be Rumer Godden. But every author I’ve loved, and every editor I’ve worked with, has had an influence.

Q. How did you celebrate your first book being published?

A friend had a party for me, with a cake complete with plastic dinosaur. (For Amanda’s Dinosaur ).

Q. How do you get the creative juices flowing again when you have writers block?

I’m going to be controversial and say that I don’t really believe in writer’s block. There are days when I would sooner go out for a coffee or a walk on the beach than write, but that’s just a matter of discipline. There are times when I’m not sure what happens next in a story, either when I’m first working the plot out at the beginning, or when I’ve written a scene and realise that it isn’t right, or that what I thought would come next isn’t going to work. It may take weeks to work out the problem, and if it isn’t a simple matter of putting it to the back of my mind while I go for a walk, and finding the solution when I get back, I get out paper and pen and write questions and answers for myself around every aspect of the problem.

If you’re stuck on what new book to write, I would advise doing other writing – articles, blogs, poetry, essays – so that you are actively writing and learning while you wait for the new idea to hit. But ideally, I think it’s best to have a bank of a few possible book ideas jotted down in your notebook, so that you can start playing with one when you need it.

Q. If you could be any character from any book for a day who would you be and why?

Nim, of course. She lives dangerously, but I know she’ll always get out of it in the end. And I would love to ride Selkie.

Q. What’s next from Wendy Orr?

The new one is still in gestation, very early drafts, and too fragile to be discussed in public. However it’s a girl on an island again – but a very different girl, island and world from Nim’s.

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