Sophie Dishman

Interviews with Local Writers

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2015 is drawing to a close with many successes for local writers in Sunderland and in Tyne and Wear. 
Sophie Dishman spoke to ten local writers: Amy McLean, Jenah Colledge, Blaine Ward, Alan Parkinson, Iain Rowan, Glenda Young, Colin Mulhern, Tom Smith, Stephanie Gallon and Michelle McCabe.
Amy McLean and Stephanie Gallon are independent writers.
Blaine Ward, Alan Parkinson, Iain Rowan, Glenda Young, Colin Mulhern and Tom Smith are part of Holmeside Writers.
Michelle McCabe and Jenah Colledge are members of Spectral Visions at the University of Sunderland.
Sophie spoke to them about their work and how their location has influenced their writing.

Sophie: Where are you from?
Amy: Sunderland.
Jenah: Sunderland.
Blaine: Sunderland.
Alan: Sunderland.
Iain: Sunderland.
Glenda: Sunderland.
Colin: Penshaw.
Tom: Sunderland.
Stephanie: Blyth.
Michelle: Birtley (but originally from Sunderland).

S: When and why did you start writing?

Amy:  I wrote countless short stories when I was a child, but I didn’t begin writing novels more seriously until I was about 20 or 20, which would have been when I was in the second year of university.
Jenah: Several years ago, however I always wrote poetry and songs from being a teenager – I started writing because it was a means of expression, for me. As a person who has always battled through life, I found writing to be a form of release and comfort. Writing to me, is like a legal off the shelf drug.
Blaine: Like many of us (I suspect), I started writing at school. I then spent (too many) years on non-creative (at times destructive) technical writing but always kept scribbling in notebooks ‘on the quiet’ in my own time in the hope that I could prevent the creative spark from being completely snuffed out. A few years ago I gave up the technical stuff and tried to re-kindle what little creativity I had left by trying (but failing) to write every day. I started writing again because – nauseating as it might sound – I felt I had to.
Alan: I’ve been writing in some form, spoof newspapers for people’s birthdays etc since my early twenties. I started writing my first novel in 2001. I take a great deal of satisfaction from people enjoying my work and a good review is worth more to me than any amount of money or women. This is just as well, as I’ve had far more good reviews than the other two.
Iain: As soon as I could hold a pencil, I wanted to tell stories.
Glenda: I can’t remember a time when I haven’t written. I was inspired and encouraged by my English teachers at school.
Colin: I started writing as a kid, first novel submission when I was fourteen; first rejection about two months later.
Why do I write? I like it.
Tom: When I was a kid, more seriously during first year of university. I thought writers were rich (genuinely did as a kid) and I was obsessed with comedy and wanted to create some.
Stephanie: I started writing when I was 13, but it was mainly fan works. When I was 15, I started to write my own short stories and poetry. My high school and college teachers both encouraged me to pursue writing when I went to university, so I did my BA in English and Creative Writing. I started writing because it was something I could always be doing. It was a good distraction from the stresses in my life, and it was satisfying to create my own worlds and characters.
Michelle: I wrote at school and after a very painful time in my life in my twenties, but having a child stopped me writing for a long time. It was only when I started my degree that I started again. I always find writing raises my mood and enables me to have a positive attitude, but I’ve always had the ambition to write a novel too!
S: Name some of the works you have had published and give a synopsis on them. 
Amy: The two novels I have published to date are Walk On and Celestial Land and Sea. Both are spiritual works, but where the former focuses on guardian angels and true spirituality, the latter addresses the ways in which the past guides the present in a more fantasy role.
Jenah: I have had two articles published on the Spectral Visions blog: A Clown with a Twist and To Whom Does Control Belong? I have also been a guest blogger for the university’s library culture. I also, submitted and had published a Gothic poem based on Alice in Wonderland called ‘Evil Alice’ which was published in Spectral Visions: Grim Fairy Tales. I have a website portfolio called ‘The Works of Jenah Colledge’ and also run my own makeup artistry blog.
Blaine: Aside from my own scribblings, I started writing articles and reviews for a local music magazine, then I had a couple of short stories published in paperback anthologies (An Eye for An Eye & Islets of Langerhans), won the princely sum of £50 in a short story writing competition, then started a flash fiction project in which I tried to write 100 stories, each of 100 words. I started but failed to finish two novels before finally finishing the third, Octahedron, which is still gathering dust on my desk while I decide what – if anything – to do with it. Over the last few months I have decided to teach myself to write poems.

Alan: Leg It. Published in 2011. It tells the story of a group of lads growing up in the seventies and eighties. One of them disappears when they leave school and returns fifteen years later for a school reunion. The two stories, the school years and his return are told in parallel and slowly reveal his reasons for leaving and his reasons for coming back. And, Idle Threats. Published August 2015. Whilst this is a sequel to Leg It, it does work as a stand along novel. The story revolves around three main characters. Liam works in a mobile phone call centre and hates every moment of it. Bumper is going bankrupt and has received a massive mobile phone bill. Jodie is an unemployed single mother who is desperate for a job but is hampered by a mobile phone that never works. They are all brought together in an armed siege at Phonetix Mobile. The three diverse characters, along with Security Guard Frank learn to deal with each other in extreme circumstances.

Iain: One Of Us is my crime novel shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger award. I’ve also sold over thirty short stories, some of which are collected in Nowhere To Go and in Ice Age.
Glenda: You can see the list at my website http://glendayoungbooks.com/.
Colin: Clash was my first accepted submission by an agent, and the first published, but it was my tenth novel written – for me, writing was a long, long apprenticeship. I didn’t actually sit down and try to learn, seriously, how to write well until I was on book six. I was writing crime at the time and switched to young adult after reading The Butterfly Tattoo by Philip Pullman. Following Clash, I wrote Arabesque, also published by Catnip. I self published The Boy Buried Dead Things on Kindle for fun – I love ebooks and wanted to make one. Right now, I am finishing off a middle grade novel and 20,000 words into an adult horror/thriller.

Tom: Sketches/gags with Treason Show, Newsrevue – these were the first thing I had performed after about 3 years of submitting and I continued to write for them for about two years after. Learnt a lot there. Short stories with Novel Magazine, few anthologies and play performed at South Shields library.

Stephanie: I was published in a few anthologies when I was younger, but it wasn’t until my final year of my undergraduate degree that I started to take it seriously. I’ve been published in North East Writer’s Sampler Volume 2 (2014), Material Magazine #8 (2014) and Spectral Visions: Grim Fairy Tales (2015). At the end of the year, I will also be one of twenty-five young writers published in the Electric Reads Young Writers Anthology.

Michelle: I had a poem called First Love published in a small regional magazine when I was in my twenties. I’ve had two short stories published in the first and second Spectral Visions book, first ‘Laura’s Story’ and secondly ‘Dragon’. I’ve also had ‘Thicker Than Watter’ published in another regional magazine, and most recently ‘A Wipers Tale’ was published in the recently launched The Brief.

S: Has your writing been influenced by where you live? If so, how?

Amy:  I suppose where I live influences my writing in the fact that life in general is full of stories. However, it is travel that excites me most; it was on a trip to Hampstead in 2013 that I knew it was a place I had to immortalise in writing.

Blaine: I think that every facet of experience eventually feeds into my writing one way or another and place/location/home is central to experience.

Alan: Both of my novels so far have been set in Sunderland. This wasn’t a deliberate decision and they could have been set anywhere but it has given them a sense of authenticity. Leg It especially seems popular with the people of Sunderland as it brings back memories of growing up in the city.

Iain: I think it would be hard for it not to be. Although you won’t always see it on the surface, everything I ever write is influenced by the places I’ve lived in, the people I’ve met, everything I’ve ever done goes into my subconscious. Sometimes things surface in my stories many years on, and in surprising ways.

Glenda: It has certainly been influenced by my childhood in that mam and grandma were Coronation Street fans and I grew up with the show as part of my life.

Colin: Clash was very much inspired by where I live. There is a story in the Author Notes in that book about two separate events that happened when I was a kid. These came together when I was developing the story, and are the reason why a big part of the book is set along the river at Fatfield – but the word “Fatfield” was actually edited out before publication.

Tom: It has recently, but I used to consciously not write about my area because I thought who’d be interested. I met another writer who felt the same but we move learnt that it’s part of our unique voices.
Stephanie: Growing up in Northumberland has made writing landscapes more accessible to me. In my fairy tale poem Wolfbann, I imagined it to take place in the woods where my aunties and mam would take us when we were kids. Living so close to Newcastle has coloured my view of city life and how communities interact with each other. I think living in the North East has influenced me in the best ways with my writing. Places and people are so full of life that it is impossible not to absorb it in to your writing in some way.
Michelle: Most of my writing is based in the North East. Thicker Than Water was based on something that happened in my family in 1905 and the story is steeped in local history. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in Britain that affects the psyche and nature of its inhabitants like the North East!
Are you a local writer? Get in touch with Northern Lights on Twitter – @North_LightsNE and on Facebook at Northern Lights.

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