Friday, April 13, 2012

Linda Acaster - Reading a Writer's Mind

It is our pleasure to have Linda Acaster with us today to share her book "Reading a Writer's Mind: Exploring Short Fiction - First Thought to Finished Story."

Where do you currently live?

Yorkshire, northern England, part of the United Kingdom (of her ma’am, Queen Elizabeth II).

Tell us a little bit about your life.
I live in a house, drive a car, shop at the local supermarket, complain about Government taxes. It’s as boring as most people’s; that’s why I write fiction.

When did you first start writing?
At school. I was hopeless at music, hopeless at maths, hopeless at sport, but found I enjoyed composition in English. My teachers took an interest in my stories, too. Nothing beats encouragement!

What was your very first story about?
A boy and girl going through a wood and being hunted by wolves. I was about eleven and it was the first I wrote for myself. It ran to fill an exercise book. Don’t ask where it came from, I have no idea. It certainly wasn’t any life experience – but that, I think was the whole point. It has been the point in my writing ever since.

Have you written anything that you were too afraid to let anyone read?
No matter how much I’ve had published my heart always beats fast when it is shared for a response. But yes, there is one novel that I stopped at p80, despite it being well outlined. It was so dark that I decided that I didn’t want to go there, never mind have anyone else go there.

Did you experience anything you’ve written yourself?
Not in its entirety, though I mine parallel emotions. The closest “this happened to me” was a near-death experience that triggered a novel idea while I was still experiencing it – how bizarre is that? It still has to be written further than the opening.

Who are several of your greatest literary inspirations?
Oddly enough, I don’t think I have any. I’ve liked different writers in different genres through my life, but if I were to re-read those books now I think I’d go… meh. They were right when I needed them and I certainly learned from their techniques.

What kind of education have you received, and how has that affected your writing?
I have no degree or higher educational certificates. I left school at 16 to go to work – oh that life was that simple for the current generation – but I’ve never stopped learning about what catches my interest. I think this is a must for writers, or anyone. Going with what you have been dealt can be seriously limiting.

How much research time customarily goes into your projects?
Depends on the project. I’m currently on the second of a trilogy of supernatural thrillers set in university cities in the north of England. The first, Torc of Moonlight, was set in my home city of Hull and I set it up so that readers can use the novel as a route-map round the city. What can I say? I like to make things difficult for myself. Having marked this structure I have to follow it through with the next book which is based in York about an hour from where I live. Although it is a contemporary novel, a main thread deals with its Celtic and Roman origins as a fortress and colonia. So apart from internet research which is on-going, I have enough books and maps about the city to rewall the boundary to the front of my house, enough photos to fill a hard drive, have been on guided walks, attended lectures, visited museums, talked to people with the knowledge I’m after, and generally soaked up the atmosphere of the mediaeval city centre so it becomes a character in its own right. Doing this sort of thing opens up unexpected plot strands so I would never skimp it, but it’s not something that can be done over a couple of wet Sunday afternoons.

Who is your favorite literary character?
Shakespeare’s Falstaff – because he’s so flawed yet so rounded.

Who is your favorite character of your own creation?
This is a movable feast, depending on what I’m working on, but it is never the main character, always a subsidiary which takes on a momentum of its own. In my Mediaeval Hostage of the Heart it was a reeking Welsh wise-woman with penchant for natural poisons, and readers have mentioned her when they’ve contacted me. In Torc of Moonlight it was Murray, the main character’s rugby-playing mate and sounding board.

Tell us about your featured book.
“Reading A Writer’s Mind: Exploring Short Fiction - First Thought to Finished Story” does as its title states. It shows the detailed thinking behind the writing of ten of my short stories across a range of genres using different methods of delivery. I’ve had over 70 print published and these were chosen specifically as the examples. The Horror story comes with a warning; it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Why did you write that?
In a separate life I critique genre fiction for the Literary Consultancy in London. 95% of beginner writers make the same mistakes, the mistakes I made when I first started. Having an aspect pointed out as working or not within the context of a story is neither use nor ornament unless there is the explanation as to why. In the book I had space to explain why I made the decisions I did.

Is there anything special you would like your potential readers to know?
It’s going to be the first of a series of what-to-consider when writing fiction. The next will be about handling character, the centre around which all other elements revolve.

What activity or hobby, besides writing, do you find most enjoyable?
Reading – obvious, really.

What was your favorite childhood toy?
A red fire engine.

If you lost the ability to see every color but one, which one would it be?
Green – the tones are a kaleidoscope in themselves – and green is relaxing.

How do you treat people you’re not fond of?
As little as possible.

What is hiding in your closet as we speak?
You want to look? Go ahead, I’ll call the ambulance now for what falls on you.

What do you see as your greatest achievement?
Having what passes for a non-dysfunctional family.

What, to you, is absolutely wrong?
Stealing. I’ve worked hard for what I have. I expect others to do the same

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Show, don’t Tell – explained by a writer during a lecture many years ago. It’s the advice I always pass on.

You’ve decided to buy an exotic pet, what do you go for?
I’ve got one. I wear his ring. He takes a lot of looking after. Either that or I’m bad at training.

What do you classify as an “Adventure?”
Life. I think this goes with the in-built writer aspect of my psyche. Even a walk to the local shops can start a “Why if…” train of thought in motion.

If you could learn one new thing instantly, what would it be?

Finish this sentence. “I sometimes find it hard to…focus.”
You know the saying, so much to do, so little time. I’m not a fast writer and fresh ideas queue, screaming to be heard. I need to write them down in case they drift off because they think I’m ignoring them and they can be seductive.

Our thanks to Linda for her time and engaging responses. Her book can be found just below, and when you give it a look, do check out her fiction as well.


  1. Hi Peter! Thanks for inviting me across today. It was a thought-provoking set of questions you set me. A red fire engine?? It wasn't even mine, as I recall, because my parents insisted I have "girl" toys. Oh give me a break! Perhaps this started me on my ruinous road to writing, who knows?

    Lovely to be here, and I shall be popping back, so if anyone has any comments or questions I'll respond.

    Regards - Linda

  2. Terific interview - and, Linda, what great answers. I suppose I particularly like the one about the household pet. Made me laugh. Has the lad himself seen it?

  3. Er, no. I didn't think that was a good idea.

    Thanks for dropping by to comment, Alan. An interview is only as good as its questions, and Peter's done a fine job, eh?

  4. Fascinating interview. So nice to find out more about you.

  5. Hi Jenny, good too see you across here. Interesting blog, isn't it?