Today we conclude our series of global #Spotlight interviews by spending a few moments with F.E. Clark, who writes and paints in Scotland. It’s been a pleasure getting to read F.E.’s work here and at other places on the flash circuit; I’m also gratefully thrilled (thrilledly grateful?) to share with you she is generously contributing a book to this week’s Flashversary prize pot. You’ll see that mentioned a bit later on in the interview.
Thank you so much, F.E., for putting up with all my questions (35, did you say??? surely not!!!), and answering them so honestly and graciously. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you here at FF, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for you! Welcome to #Spotlight — here’s the mic. 🙂
Tell us about your writerly journey.
One way or other I have always written; recently I have begun to share some of it. Thanks to my parents, voracious readers who made sure of trips to the library and gave books as gifts – I have always loved reading. The books of Enid Blyton, the tales of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, C.S. Lewis, William Burrough’s Tarzan, all brought exotic adventure to my childhood. Early on I insisted I was going ‘up the Amazon’ – this is a trip I have still to make in reality.
While being a reader was acceptable when I was younger, the idea that one might call oneself a writer or an artist was something else. I was brought up on a farm, I was a quiet and solitary child, books were my friends and where I learnt what I needed to learn, my journals were my confidants.
I would love to write novels. I have a character who appeared a piece of flash fiction – whose story will perhaps lead me into a novel. Currently I am writing flash fiction and short stories. I am delighted to be part of the Flashdogs community, and have two stories submitted for their next anthology along with one story written collaboratively with the fabulous Voima Oy.
How do you balance (and find inspiration for) both writing AND painting?
Although I have in the past been terribly stuck, I find now, that it is time and energy that lacks first, rather than inspiration. Writing and painting feed each other. I am inspired by the magical land, sea, mountains and forests around me. I am very lucky in this respect. I believe that creativity comes in waves – the scrying for ideas, researching, drafting, editing, more editing, resting, thinking, beginning again – all part of the process of making something. Often we can be on one part of the wave and mistake it for being stuck.
I am still learning to balance all the elements in my life. Juggling whilst running on water – I have learnt neither. Spiders love our house, I never reach the bottom of the laundry basket, there is paint under my fingernails and on the sleeves of most of my clothes. Still, I am here, I write, I paint.
What does your daily writerly life look like?
I live on the mainland of North East Scotland. I write mostly at home; I may make notes long-hand then transfer to my laptop, editing as I go. It gets cold in our cottage, I often write in bed wrapped up in jumpers, furry hat firmly on my head. Coffee is required. Living in a rural area, there is nowhere locally where I would go to write in public. When venturing further afield, I might write in the notebook I always carry, over a ‘fine’ coffee. It is not rare to see people sitting with laptops and notebooks in cafes and libraries here.
Being part of groups is another balancing act – to have the autonomy, space and energy to write, but also be involved in some sort of community. Thanks to David Shakes, I am very glad I found the Flashdogs community online.
I have recently joined the Dundee and Angus Writers group as an associate member (I don’t live close enough to attend their meetings) and have submitted my first two pieces of flash fiction to one of their contests. I joined this group due to the enthusiasm of one of its members, Elizabeth Frattaroli, whom I met on a writing course this year. I have enjoyed keeping in touch with Elizabeth, who is currently writing a YA book, and we have met to catch up since at the Dundee Contemporary Art gallery café.
There are many opportunities to attend writing workshops, book festivals and courses in Scotland. We have The Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland, and public libraries – all good resources for a creative person to investigate. This year I have attended a week-long workshop on novel writing at Moniack Mhor Writers’ Centre with the authors Jess Richards, Rachel Seiffert and Peter Salmon as tutors; a short workshop via the city library led by Alan Spence, and a writing workshop at Barry Mill near Carnoustie led by Sandra Ireland.
What’s the publishing situation like from what you can see?
In common with the other countries, to get published here one needs an agent. Many publishers will not read unsolicited manuscripts. Even for published authors, new work must be commercially viable to make it to print. Self-publishing has become much more common, but leaves the author with the roles of proofing, editing, publicity, distribution. I look to those who go before me for their experiences of this journey, as I have yet to venture far.
Tell us about books and/or authors who’ve inspired you!
Books and authors who have inspired – too many to list them all, but here are a few:
Isabelle Allende for the magical realism in her novels and her YA books, Annie Proulx for the crystal clear detail in The Shipping News and her anthologies of short stories. Haruki Murakami for the wonderful surreal quality of his novels, and allowing an autobiographical view of his life in, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Stephen King: his books made me really see the meaning of a story being character led, and his book, On Writing, I would recommend to any genre of writer. Julia Cameron, for all her books on creativity, starting with The Artists’ Way. Patricia Cornwell’s early books, Elly Griffiths, William Gibson, China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, Michel Faber, Joanne Harris…. [list cut down from a million trillion fabulous names].
Who are your favorite Scottish writers (both of all time, and today)? For someone unfamiliar with Scottish writers, which authors/books would you recommend starting with?
On Scottish writers: you may have heard of Robbie Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Lewis Grassic Gibbon, so here are a few others I would recommend. Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain about the fabulous Cairngorms. Any of Andrew Grieg’s lyrical yet gritty writing. Written in Doric, the dialect which is local to me (we got strapped for talking in it when I was at school), The Waater Mannie by Neil Mutch – is the story of a water diviner in the North East of Scotland written in his own words. For those who love the thriller/mystery/police novel – Val McDermid, Stuart McBride, Anne Cleeves, Iain Banks, Ian Rankin. Or, Irvine Welsh, Christopher Brookmyre, Louise Welsh [list cut down from another million trillion fabulous names].
What are you reading now?
I am due some time to catch up with the lovely stack of books growing by my bedside; there never seems to be enough time, and my poor brain loves to launch into the stories of others. At the moment I am reading Island of Wings, by Karen Altenberg. The novel is set in the 1830s on the island of St Kilda, off the west coast of Scotland. I am enjoying it very much. I am also reading from Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times, a beautiful anthology of poetry to dip into.
Who else has inspired you?
People who not only walk, but make their own path inspire me. My parents – farmers both, my father surviving two strokes and still turning wooden bowls and learning to use a e-book reader. My partner’s belief in me is inspiring. Meg Robinson, whose life drawing classes I attended as a teenager, down in the red light district of Aberdeen, has been a huge inspiration to me – artist, writer, teacher, humanitarian. Meg lives in Spain now and it is her book Drawn By a Star, that I am adding to the Flashversary pot of prizes, as I have not written my own…… yet.
Final comments for the flash family?
I only began participating in this flash community in February of this year. I counted, and during this time I have written over 100 pieces of flash (a miracle for me, nothing to the more prolific writers). I am sad that Flash! Friday and Microbookends are both ending, and am very grateful to all who create these safe places for people like me to write in. I trust there will be more as things move and flow. I wish the Dragon-Queen well.