Author and journalist Martina Devlin will be directing our Creative Writing – Getting Started Workshop at Listowel Writers’ Week this year. Her seven books include Banksters, Ship of Dreams and The Hollow Heart. Her eighth book, The House Where It Happened is due to be published in September 2014. Martina’s short story awards include the Royal Society of Literature V.S. Pritchett Prize and a Hennessy Literary Award. She was also named Columnist of the Year by the National Newspapers of Ireland.
A. No, when I was very young I wanted to be an orphan because something exciting was always being sprung on them in books. Obviously I saw it as a lifestyle choice, but logic wasn’t my strong suit because I hadn’t quite got my head round what would happen to my family. I squared the circle by mentally making it a temporary arrangement.
Q. Who were your early influences?
A. L.M. Montgomery who wrote the Anne of Green Gables series. When I became an orphan, I intended going to live on Prince Edward Island, just like her. I remember consulting a map to discover where it was, and being taken aback at how far away it was from Ireland. It is no coincidence that Anne was an orphan. I noticed they had all the best adventures.
Q. Do you have a favourite fiction writer? Who would that be and why?
A. Can’t pin it down to just one – I like different writers for different moods. For example, when I had January-itis I cheered myself up with some of E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia stories, a satirical take on crashing snobbery in a Home Counties village in the 1930s. I like to re-read a classic every so often. The last classic I re-read was Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, after visiting Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire. Following a tour of Dickens’s boyhood home, I re-read Great Expectations. And I got stuck into F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby after going to see the film last year.
Q. Describe your daily schedule.
A. I read a newspaper online while drinking a lot of coffee, both of which are absolutely essential to wake me up and get started. But I know the best work is always done in the morning, so I usually start writing before getting dressed. When I come to a natural halt, I swap my dressing gown for some ancient, comfortable clothes, and return to my laptop. Hours pass. I’m annoyed when the phone rings. I’m annoyed when the phone doesn’t ring, but that’s another story. In the afternoon, I’ll sometimes go for a walk or meet a friend for coffee – I’m fortunate in that several writer friends live nearby, including the children’s writer Sarah Webb who’s done the popular Amy Green series, and Lia Mills, who’s written a terrific book called Fallen set in 1916 during the Rising. But if I have a deadline or I’m editing, I’ll press on until evening. Though I try on occasion, I rarely manage good work at night.
Q. What advice would you give to all budding writers?
A. All writing begins with discipline. Sit there, stare at the screen, make yourself write. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted. Even if they are drivel, put down words – it’s a start. Then comes the hard but necessary part. You want to condense your vision to its purest form. So to achieve this you must cut, re-write, cut re-write, cut, re-write. It sounds merciless. But all good writing is based on re-writing. And no earlier rendition is ever lost because the ghost of its presence is always there in the finished version.
For more information or to book the Creative Writing – Getting Started Workshop please click Creative Writing Getting Started with Martina Devlin