Hello readers! I’ve been blogging for a good couple of months now about my writing (as well other life adventures) and I thought it was time to get to know other people in the writing community. I have asked a number of people through Instagram if they would like to participate and received really positive feedback!
Below you will find the first interview with Erinna Mettler a writer based in Brighton, UK.
Tell me a little about yourself 🙂
I am a Brighton based writer and mother of two boys. I started writing quite late in life, just before my 40th birthday, when I was in a new city and had a new baby and wanted to do something for me. I did a creative writing course on a whim and ended up doing the MA and writing my first novel, Starlings. On the course I met people who co-created a spoken word group, Rattle Tales and a short fiction prize, The Brighton Prize. I now write every day as well as working as a writing mentor, privately and for charities.
Where would you say you are on your writing journey?
I’ve been writing for a decade. I’m quite far along but I feel like I’m only just getting there, only just starting to become good. I don’t have an agent or a big publisher but I’ve managed to get two books published, one by a small independent publisher and the other through crowdfunding. You learn on the job, there are lots of things an author has to do that I didn’t know about when my first book came out such as marketing, creating an author brand etc. Writing is only the half of it.
I specialize in short stories. My ‘novel’ Starlings was a set of short stories set in Brighton that all fed into each other to create one big story. Someone told me recently that the term for this is ‘shovel’. I wanted to show what it’s like to live in a city, to have your own story but to be part of a bigger one. My current book is a collection of short stories about fame. It’s called Fifteen Minutes after the famous Andy Warhol quote that everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes, all the stories are about fame in varying degrees, sometimes a famous person appears as a character or they are on TV and they influence the main character in some way. I also like to write stories for performance so a lot of my work can be read out to an audience, it can be tricky to get this right, a story has to be simple enough to be understood but complex enough in terms of theme to make an impression.
Who inspires your writing?
Real people do generally. My characters are a mix of people I’ve met and people in the papers or on TV. I do like writing from different points of view, you can be anything when you write, gay, straight, male, female, child, pensioner or even a cat, dog, alien – why not? It’s fiction, you can be anything you want to be within reason and so long as you do your research. I often write from long buried memories, something will come up and I’ll remember a place I visited 20 years ago and set a story there. Place is very important to me as well as character because I think characters often come from a sense of place.
I’m a fan of hidden news, the little stories that are mentioned in the sidebar that can be turned into something bigger. There was one a couple of years ago about a beach in Canada where sixteen severed feet had washed up over a period of a year. I wrote a story about a recently widowed man who finds one of them out jogging with his dog, and then I decided to play with gender a bit, so at first you thing it’s a woman talking to her husband who is missing at sea and then it turns out it’s a man. There was a TV documentary about an ape that could build a campfire and toasted marshmallows for his son, I watched that over and over and then wrote a story about what he might say about gun culture if he could talk. I’ll often combine things, I was at school in Yorkshire when the miner’s strike was on so I have memories of that and then when Margaret Thatcher died there was an article about her in the paper by Russell Brand which pretty much summed up how I felt about her death, I combined the two to write a story about an ex-miner on the day she died. If I’m stuck I look at the BBC international website and find something wacky there. God bless the internet.
I get it all the time. I’m not great at finishing things without a deadline. If I had an agent or publisher reminding me I needed to do things by a certain date I’m sure I’d have about 6 books published by now. If I’m blocked I write about something completely different, even if it’s only a very short story, a few lines or a page. Flash fiction is very good for unblocking. Usually with a short story though I can write through because I’ll know where it’s going pretty early on, and with a short it’s easier to work out how to get there. I usually have more than one on the go at any given time so if I get bored I can always play with the other one for a bit.
I do yes. I like cinematic writing and writers who experiment with form, not everything has to be linear. In real life your memories and experiences drive each other so non-linear writing is nearer to that experience. All the writers I like have an eye for the little details that make a huge difference to character and plot and they all use symbolism to suggest themes and intentions. I’m really trying to work on plot at the moment. I think that if you are going to write seriously you should also read books on craft. I just read Margaret Atwood’s book on writing for an article I wrote about her short stories and Stephen King On Writing is invaluable but there are hundreds out there on every genre imaginable.
I am working on a linked short story collection about a Nevada waitress (we’re calling it a novel). It started out as a tweet, then became a short story and now it’s almost a novel. I’m dipping in and out though because short fiction is an intense form to work in so it can be exhausting. I’m very happy with the ending because it leaves the outcome up to the reader to decide, it could be one of two things and even I don’t know, it depends a great deal on whether you are an optimist or not. The other thing I’m working on is part thriller, part YA, part fantasy. I’m not sure what it is – I’m an agent’s nightmare. It’s going quite well, there’s a plot and the characters keep suggesting new scenes to me – which is the best way. I’m not much of a planner so it just evolves rather than anything predetermined, though I have written the last chapter.
Get used to being edited. You should be spending as much time editing yourself as writing, then give it to people you trust and ask them to give it a close edit. Stories that make it through to the anthology stage of The Brighton Prize are all given a professional edit. Lots of people are resistant to this and don’t want to change anything but if you are going to be a writer you will be edited, by journal editors, by agents and by publishers. You can’t be prissy about it. You can disagree but if 2 editors point something out that doesn’t work – it probably doesn’t work, likewise, if you are spending a page explaining why something works – it doesn’t. Publishers give you a structural edit that usually has more red ink in it than your original words, the sooner you get used to it the better. A really good way to start is to read your work aloud, you will find all the mistakes and all the weasel words and all the bits that don’t fit in with the rhythm of the piece.
Starlings because I just did it and didn’t really have any expectations and then it got published. It was released seven years ago and people are still asking me to go to book groups to talk about it in Brighton. People who like Brighton like it a lot. It’s hard to choose one short story, Sixteen Feet is technically the best and it was shortlisted for The Manchester Fiction Prize so I got to read at the awards ceremony with all the pomp and fanfare that entails. I have a soft spot for Cornflakes because it was the first story I read to an audience and it’s been performed professionally by actors twice. It was read at Latitude Festival by Dianna Vickers and Gethin Anthony and I forgot I wrote it while I was listening, also it’s about vintage underwear.
The rejection. It’s a soul destroying business, you’ve got to be tough and just shrug it off but sometimes it still gets to you. Some people say you’re not even close to be a serious writer until you’ve had a least 100 rejections. The best way to get over it is to send out another story. Also I hate marketing but it’s a necessity, publishers don’t really do it for you unless it’s a massive one and you’re one of their star authors. I’m currently shortlisted for a Saboteur Award for Best Short Story Collection, it’s a public vote so I have to ask people to vote for me, I find that quite cringey. You can vote by going to www.saboteurawards.org until May 9th!
It’s quite social, there’s a big supportive community. You think it’s all writing at your desk in pjs but I’m always going to events and launches and meeting new people. In all my time writing I only met about 3 people who were not nice and I will not forget them when I win The Man Booker.
I would like an agent and another book about to be published. I would also like a bit more recognition for short stories, I think this preoccupation with crime is damaging to other genres and publishers need to be a bit more imaginative, there’s room for everything.
I did an MA and I teach workshops. I don’t understand people who say it can’t be taught, it’s like any art form you have to lean the skills involved. My MA let me concentrate on learning those skills in two years and set me off on a career that would have taken a lot longer to master. At the same time having an MA does not guarantee publication or even that you’ll be any good, it’s just a means to learn.
I either make notes in a note book first and write them up or just go straight into typing. I’ll start writing and then stop to research. I like to associate music with what I’m writing and the way I do this is via Youtube so I can watch it as well. In this way I not only get the feeling from the music but also from the images, if I’m writing about a particularly time for example, I will watch music videos from that time, that usually leads to news footage too. My writing process is a lot of stopping and starting and checking things but then new ideas come into from that process. I work at home usually 9.30-4 most days in the week. I do other things too like the mentoring and The Brighton Prize administration and a whole lot of marketing.
Keep in touch with Erinna:
Insta – erinnamettler
Facebook – Erinna Mettler
Twitter – @ErinnaMettler @BrightonPrize
I hope you enjoyed our first interview with Erinna. Stay tuned for more interviews being posted weekly!