I’ve been a long time reader and admirer of the very lovely Aliya Whiteley and I’m proper thrilled to welcome her to the blog to day to talk about her novels, writing, veggieness and jam. Amongst other things. I’m just sorry I didn’t do it sooner!
Aliya! Hello! Welcome to the blog. And talking of blogs, let’s start there. Way back in 2006 (when I was younger and slimmer) I started this blog and yours was one of the first I read. Four years on I’m still a regular reader of VeggieBox. So, could you tell us a little about blogging? How did it start and why did you choose to do it with Neil Ayres?
Hello hello, thanks for asking me along.
I should start by pointing out that I didn’t choose to blog with Neil. He chose me. I met Neil online when he asked me to contribute a piece to the PDF magazine he was running at the time, Fragment. He had a blog already, and it was about the literary scene and what subjects serious writers were tackling, and when he needed to take a break he asked me if I’d like to blog for a few days. I wrote a piece about jam, I think. Yeah. Substances that belong on toast. He must have connected with it on an emotional level because when he returned he asked me to stay on, and I did.
As I said, I’ve been reading it for over four years. Why do you think it’s lasted, and been consistently interesting, for so long? Have you found that difficult?
I think the fact that it’s a joint effort helps a lot. If one of us gets stressed out, or bored, the other can take over for a while. For instance, recently Neil had a lot happening in his day job so I took over the blog completely and took the opportunity to turn him into Playmobil and send him off around the world on the hunt for vegetable-related ways of solving the energy crisis. Eventually Playmobil Neil got bumped off by a Playmobil polar bear, and the real Neil returned to blog another day. So I suppose we’re keeping the blog alive between us, but also using each other as creative foils, and as inspiration.
Which blogs would you recommend people took a look at?
http://www.goodshowsir.co.uk/ highlights the best of the worst sci fi-fantasy novel covers. And there are a lot of those. Naked ladies and dogs in spacesuits abound.
My old school friend Nadine Pierce has set herself the challenge to eat her way around Edinburgh. I’ve been loving her descriptions of helpful waiters and 99p lunches and bottles of champagne. She’s fearless, and recently enjoyed Nepalese cuisine, which looked yummy. http://eatingedinburgh.wordpress.com/
Alis Hawkins writes marvellous historical fiction and is currently editing her new novel about The Black Death. She’s also blogging about the process in a very erudite yet helpful way. Great reading for writers who struggle with what happens after the first draft. http://hawkinsbizarre.blogspot.com/
Of course, you don’t only write blog posts. You write novels too. Could you tell us about them?
Yeah, I’ve had two novels published, both contemporary, both black comedy. They’re also both set in the same sinister seaside town, Allcombe, during the dead of winter, when the shops are boarded up and the locals meet up in dark pubs to mutter and play skittles. I’m writing from experience here, hailing from North Devon.
Three Things About Me follows seven characters on a training course for a high-street bank. They all have secrets in their past, including cultism, rock and roll, abseiling-related deaths, and superheroism, but it all comes out at the annual Christmas talent contest, where a passable version of Me and Bobby McGee ends in violence, mayhem, and an exceptionally large amount of spittle.
Light Reading is a mystery novel. Lena and Pru are RAF wives who are desperate to escape the base. Pru has the unusual hobby of collecting suicide notes, and she owns the last written message of a daytime TV star who hung herself in a hotel room in Allcombe. So the two wives pack their bags and go off to find out why the last word a person would want to communicate is FRIPL. Will they find the answer? Not before they’ve been locked in a cellar with a bin bag that might contain body parts, they won’t.
You’re published by Macmillan New Writing. How’s that been?
It’s a privilege to have been published under that scheme. My Editor, Will Atkins, was fantastic and as helpful as he possibly could be. The entire weight of that publishing house went into supporting my novels and trying to get them noticed and appreciated. No first-time novelist has a lot of money thrown at them nowadays, and MNW is clear that a huge marketing budget or an advance is not part of the deal, but I had launch parties, I had radio and newspaper interviews arranged for me, a foreign rights deal was done on Light Reading, and they also wanted to hear my ideas about how to get the book out there.
Perhaps the best thing about MNW is the sense of camaraderie that sprung up between the authors. We’re all in the same boat, and even though some of us have become big names and others have decided to give up writing there are no egos. We keep a blog together and we meet up for a meal every now and again.
How did you start writing?
I was at University, reading Theatre, Film and Television studies, thinking I wanted to be an actress but suspecting I was a bit rubbish at it really. Then, to make up credits, I took a Creative Writing module. I was hooked. I wrote plays to start, and then some poetry and short stories, and I wrote a couple of sitcoms, one of which the BBC almost liked. Then I attempted romantic novels, and once I felt confident about structure I went for a novella. That was published by bluechrome a while back, and on the strength of that I wrote Three Things About Me. It was a long process, but I always felt it was a craft I was learning, and an apprenticeship had to be served. It didn’t come easily to me, but I loved it.
What’s the Aliya Whiteley Writing Process?
The first draft is longhand, in notebooks usually, with only the right side written on so I can make notes on the left. Then I type it up and give myself a few days to despair over it. After that I’m ready to pick myself up and edit it.
I usually get the characters first, and then have one theme in mind. Without fail, by the end of the book that theme has been lost along the way and replaced with something else and the first chapters have to be seriously rewritten to reflect it, but there we go. I always leave some important plot point open, and surprise myself in the writing. That helps to keep it fresh.
What do you think a story needs (any length!) for it to be great?
I don’t know. Magic, perhaps. Yes, it needs to contain a moment when I forget that I’m sitting in my house or on a bus, because I’m living in that world instead, the world on the page.
Which writers do you admire the most and why? Could you recommend us some books?
Rupert Thomson makes me utterly jealous, particularly The Insult. Christopher Priest is awesome too. I just finished The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell. That was awesome. I’ve always loved Graham Greene, particularly The Heart of the Matter.
What tips would you give to someone wanting to make it as a writer?
As I said earlier, viewing those early novels and short stories as an apprenticeship certainly helped me. You need to learn how to write, and be open to advice and criticism. I’ve been a member of UKAuthors (online writing group) for a while now, and that really helped me to get to grips with editing and understanding what works and what doesn’t.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just finished the first draft of a new novel. That’s got to go off to my agent, and then we’ll see. Apart from that, I’m hoping to write some more short stories and there’s some interesting stuff coming up on the Veggie Box soon. Stay tuned!