Welsh novelist Holly Muller shares a few things about life as a writer with ‘5 things to do today’
What advice would you give to a school pupil who wants to be a writer?
Read and read and read and think about what it is you enjoy in novels or short stories or poems. Let them excite you and then ride that wave of excitement into your own experiments with writing. It’s OK to imitate at first – soon you will develop your own voice.
What is your writing routine? Do you write every day when writing a novel or story?
I write after lunch up until tea time. Mornings are too restless for me to write – I have to fuss around with real-world things before I can settle into my fictional world; a bit like a dog turning round and round on its bed before flopping down to dream.
How important is it for you to keep fit and healthy when writing?
It’s very important to keep fit and healthy while writing. It’s a sedentary life otherwise, and you would get aches and pains and never see the sun. I need time in the light and air and at least twenty minutes of exercise each day to warm my blood and lift my spirits. I eat very healthily, which helps my concentration span.
How has the internet help writers write? Do you think there can be information overload?
The internet is a blessing and a curse. It is a direct window into a huge web of inspiration and research materials, and widens our world so much, which saves a lot of time that would otherwise be spent sifting through books or visiting libraries to look at old newspaper clippings, or travelling to another town or country to see it for yourself so you can write about it. But the internet is also a bit too easy. I think the brain becomes lazy and is not stimulated creatively in the same way as a trip to the library, for instance, where there is a journey, a certain atmosphere amongst the books, a sense of discovery, or to another town or country, where you are learning and seeing and smelling; where you are a little afraid, perhaps. All this makes the brain wake up and begin to imagine in unexpected ways.
How do you ensure you are not influenced too much by other writers and novels?
When I was writing My Own Dear Brother, I avoided all books set during the same phase of history (WW2 and the post war period). I didn’t want to accidentally find myself borrowing another writer’s voice. In fact, I read less in general, though I did still read. I think I feared being intimidated and dissuaded by another writer’s prowess on the page. Now that I’m between books, I feel free to read very voraciously. It’s so enjoyable and so inspiring! All the books I’m shovelling down are going into some kind of compost heap in my mind, ideas and impressions and influences mixing; mulching. From the rich nutrients a new book is slowly growing.
If you want to have a great day then what five things do you find yourself doing?
Sleeping long, eating well, walking up a hill with a loved one, talking and playing and feeling full of excitement and potential energy for music I will make or stories I will write.
What is your view on self-publishing through the kindle store and other platforms?
I have never self-published but I think it is a very interesting option, as there is no limitation imposed by the commercial interests of third parties, so those daring, unusual or difficult books that a publisher, in these lean and cautious times, might not dare to take on in case it won’t sell, can find an audience and potentially do very well.
How much have you written that is unpublished that you hope one day will be?
I have quite a lot of poetry that one day I would like to publish. It’s divided into some rather serious stuff and also some ludicrous whimsey. But I’m just not sure that it would be as interesting to other people as it is to me.
Does bad punctuation and grammar have to be an obstacle to getting a great story that someone has told?
Well, if you mean does bad grammar and punctuation make a good story bad, no I don’t think so. At the creative stage it is irrelevant and unimportant. Also, some writers deliberately affect bad grammar if they are trying to capture a certain character’s voice, like the brilliant J.D. Salinger for his Holden Caulfield character in The Catcher in the Rye. However, if you’re sending a manuscript to an agent or publisher you will need to make sure the nuts and bolts of the language are all in place. They are very busy people and will quickly discard a submission that is unprofessional in its presentation or confusing to read. Good punctuation and grammar is often to do with making sure your meaning is clear to a reader. So, in that very mechanical sense, bad punctuation is an obstacle because it can change your meaning or introduce ambiguities. With a couple of commas in the wrong place a panda ‘eats, shoots, and leaves’ – rather than ‘eats shoots and leaves’.
What things would recommend a person that has never been to the Brecon Beacons to do?
Climb the mountains and canoe down the river Wye. You will never feel more peaceful.