About Valentine Williams:
Briefly: I’m an older woman who worked in teaching, mental health and as a market trader and foster parent for years, then obtained an MA in Creative Writing. I was commissioned to write two self-help books based on some of this work and basically carried on from there.
I’ve always written poetry and short stories, and since giving up the day job (I had cancer – fine now) I’ve published various fiction novels under Valentine Williams, but kept poetry separate, writing under the name M.V. Williams.
I founded a writers’ group in my home town, and I attend local festivals (Wenlock, Whitchurch, Market Drayton this year) to give readings, so I’m in touch with local poets and writers. I am a member of Writing West Midlands and Shrewsbury Stanza group and Keele Poets at Silverdale, a group set up for older poets. I would be keen to promote a pamphlet if I was accepted, using social media and public appearances.
My poetry has been published in many different publications, (Lexicon, Flarestack, Dogma, Acumen, Decanto) but I’ve never had a pamphlet or collection published.
I won the Hippocrates award one year, the Ware Prize another and this year I’m judging the Crewe Poetry Prize. In brief: Married, four sons, one art therapist husband, no cats (allergy), living in pokey country cottage with a well under the floor and insects invading at night.
Likes travel, flea markets, world cinema, poetry and pork scratchings.
What inspires you to write?
I’m inspired by people I meet and their stories. Often just a line or two will set off a train of thought that turns into a story or a poem. Old archives and museums are a rich source of material for me too, which is how I started writing the book I’m currently finishing: ‘What Happened to Selina Smith,’ about a travelling menagerie in 1880 and some of the people who worked in it. I’ve done some thorough research into the lives of showmen and because Bostock and Wombwell’s Menagerie came to our town, along with Wallace the lion, the Python Woman, Major Mite Tiny et al, all the events were written up in the local paper and the archives are fascinating. My latest book, ‘Losing It’, (Tirgearr Press) was written after I’d met some of the staff from a secure psychiatric hospital and worked with them for a while. The story of a child stranded after the Boxing Day Tsunami in Sumatra and abandoned in an orphanage in rebel-held Banda Aceh, where no-one knew her name, and her rescue by an aid worker, struck me as remarkable, and I wrote ‘Child With No Name’ as a result.
Tell us about your writing process.
For each character, once the novel has started to take shape, I write a brief history with dates and main events. This avoids the ‘plot holes’ where the timings are all wrong. On a roll of lining paper I write the names of the main characters along the end and unroll the paper. Then I draw lines from the name and mark off sections every ten years, with the date. Having several parallel lines with events and dates on helps me keep track of who’s doing what.
I often sketch my characters in a notebook. Sometimes they’re sketches of real people I see on the bus. I keep a notebook handy all the time for thumbnail sketches, odd notes about places or people and lines, words or descriptions that I feel may be useful. I always do background research.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I imagine my characters and write detailed descriptions of them. I don’t use all this information in my writing. I try to hear their voices and find I can often do this, but I don’t talk to them. They do come alive for me as I write and as my work has been about interviewing people and memorising what they say, this has given me a larder of characters and dialogue in the back of my head to draw from. I feel at times a bit like a puppet master, killing off or giving attention to characters, hindering or helping them – it’s powerful at times.
What advice would you give other writers?
Pay for independent editing or a reader’s summary. Learn to cope with rejection slips. Don’t be afraid to be different, bold and imaginative. The market is swamped with anodyne, predictable fiction – don’t join in. Originality, a clear, authentic voice and your own internal monitor are needed. If you are bored with what you’re writing, the reader will be too. If you are excited by what you’re writing, go with it, then offer the reader a quieter passage in which to recover.
And keep doing it – it’s hard work, but persevere.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I have written commissioned full length non-fiction, published full length fiction in print and ebook formats, and self published various other work I couldn’t find a conventional home for.
I feel e-book publishers expect too much of authors today in terms of marketing, so my advice is to try and find an agent who will sell your book to a decent publishing house, who will edit it for you and produce print and ebook copies and will spend time and money promoting it with you. You won’t make any money from it otherwise. It’s hard to sell digital format books through personal appearance and readings. People like the real thing, with signature and dedication etc
Get advice from other writers. Self publishing has its merits but it doesn’t look good on a CV. The last book I self published was a collection of short stories, already published as separate stories. ‘Unconfirmed Reports From Out There’ has sold quite well as an ebook, but I do have print copies available.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I am optimistic about the future of publishing. Quality counts, though, not numbers. Writers generally get paid very little, but one or two earn a great deal. People still want to read, but quality is important.
What do you use?: Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer
What genres do you write?: Dark Fiction, Self-help, mainstream fiction, poetry, psychological
What formats are your books in?: eBook, Print, Both eBook and Print
All information in this post is presented “as is” supplied by the author. We don’t edit, to allow you, the reader, to hear the author in their own voice.