Life is Not a Bed of Roses

Life is Not a Bed of Roses

What can you tell us about your short story collections Life is not is Trifling Affair and Life is not a Bed of Roses?


We wrote Life is Not a Trifling Affair (or Trifles as it quickly became) in 2011 after deciding that if we wanted to make a name as fiction writers, we needed to start developing a track record. We wrote our stories separately then swapped and critiqued them. Our writing styles are different and the stories cover a variety of moods and emotions. It was important we had a collection we were both happy with. There was one of mine that Sharon’s didn’t like and one of hers that I wasn’t happy with; so we ditched them. Once we had the final ten, five from each of us, we taught ourselves how to lay them out and arranged publication. We brought the paperback out first and then the ebook six months later.


In 2012, we repeated the process to produce Life is Not a Bed of Roses (which was shortened to Roses soon after). This time we brought the paperback and the ebook out at the same time.


Our stories take a random mix of characters and present them with a variety of situations. We hope our stories will not just entertain but leave the reader smiling and wanting more. Feedback from our readers tells us some of the stories leave them reaching for the tissues as well.


We sell the hardcopy books through book fairs and craft days; via local gift shops and book shops; or direct from our website. The ebooks are available from Amazon but can also be reached via the website.


Elizabeth, you used to be international jetsetter, so can you expand more on this for us?


I spent twenty years working in the global pharmaceutical industry, mainly in developing countries. I worked either with governments, to help them write the quality standards for the safe manufacture of drugs, or with companies, to help them interpret the standards. In some countries I did both — which led to some interesting situations on occasion. So I was a jetsetter in the sense that I spent a lot of time on planes, rather than indulging in the champagne life-style more associated with the term.


Much of the work was in Russia, Ukraine and other Former Soviet Union countries. This is why I am so interested in that part of the world and why so many of my stories are set there.


You edit the Chudleigh Phoenix Community Magazine, so who is this magazine aimed at and what is it about?


It’s a monthly newsletter written by and for the people of Chudleigh, a small town in South Devon, on the edge of Dartmoor. It is distributed primarily in electronic format, although there are some copies printed and available at the Town Hall for the readers who are not online. We publish articles about major town news, notices of upcoming events, profiles of prominent residents, restaurant reviews and the winners of our annual short story competition. You won’t be surprised to hear we also include the occasional advert for our books.


Sharon you were a journalist and a food writer, so when did fiction come into play?


I have wanted to be a writer since I was five years old. After finishing a degree course, journalism was the logical way to earn a living from words — and pile up a bit of life experience! I had to pester quite a few local editors as I had no relevant training or experience, but it was worth it. I loved my job, but hard news and babies don’t mix so I turned to freelance writing, specialising in food. I moved to Devon with my two children five years ago, and it was the perfect opportunity to develop the writing I have always yearned to do. Meeting Elizabeth helped!


You have 2 children, so how do you juggle motherhood and writing?


It’s not easy, but if you want to write you find a way. I have been a single parent for many years and in a way those challenges helped to me to focus on writing. Having been self employed since my son was born, twelve years ago, helps. It makes for a more pressurised way of living in some ways, but it buys you a certain amount of freedom. Suffice to say there is never any time for ironing and the kitchen floor never looks that great… 


Tell us a little bit about your inspiration behind the stories.


(Elizabeth) Many of the characters or settings grow out of personal experience, triggered by observations, often something trivial. For example, the story of Alexander Polychenko’s downfall in The Second Pair of Slippers (in Trifles) arose from two separate triggers: the sight of a table full of suited men jumping up and leaving a restaurant just before the food arrived; and a newspaper item about a disputed election where after two days and nights of counts and recounts, the returning officer wore pink fluffy slippers to make the announcement.  But the characters, the situations and the final stories are all fiction.


(Sharon) Just like Elizabeth, my inspiration comes from everywhere and everyone. I always carry a notebook around with me and now have to have one on my bedside table (with a pen that works!) as ideas strike at all times. Like most writers I’m a people watcher. And there’s nothing like sitting in a café or a restaurant and hearing a snippet of conversation, spotting an unusual bag, or hat or noticing an odd sign or something interesting in a window – and not always a shop window… Like Elizabeth I have also travelled widely but I think writers frequently draw on their own life experiences and I’ve had a fair few of those as well!


Are any of the characters autobiographical?


(Elizabeth) Not really; in fact, I find myself deliberately writing characters that, even if they have had some of the same experiences as I have, react very differently and have different emotions and personalities to myself.


(Sharon) Totally agree, even if you know about something it’s good that your characters are not just you spilling onto a page, it would all get terribly boring otherwise. Having said that I am working on an autobiographical project, alongside a fictional novel, and for me balancing the two is a good thing. Keeping up with the short stories is also good for keeping the creative juices flowing. 


What is your favourite novel?


(Elizabeth) I have favourite authors within different genres rather than one favourite novel. I love the fantasies of Tolkien, Robert Jordan and Raymond Feist. I enjoy the humour of Jasper Fforde and I’m not averse to the odd chick-lit by Katie Fforde or Sophie Kinsella.


(Sharon) That is like asking who my favourite person in the whole world is. I don’t have one!


How much does your home town of Devon inspire you to write?


(Elizabeth) We call ourselves Devon writers, but we are both relatively recent incomers. Our stories are currently written in the South West, rather than about it, but that is starting to change. Devon Time (published in Roses) was written as a reaction to the sharp differences I found in the pace of life here, after moving from the South East.


(Sharon) The longer I’m here the more inspiring I find Devon itself, its geography, its culture, its folklore. I love the moors and seascapes and the magic they conjure. People face similar dilemmas up and down the country, so often a story can be set anywhere. I have no doubt though, the longer I’m here, the more I will identify with what is on my doorstep and Devon has some very interesting local myths, legends and characters which no writer can ignore for very long.


Which writer would you have dinner with if you could?


(Elizabeth) Anne Tyler, whose novels about large dysfunctional families in Baltimore are a great example of how to make the minutiae for daily life fascinating,


(Sharon) OOOOHHH! It couldn’t possibly be just one. Tolkien, Doris Lessing, JK Rowling, Marilyn French, Dawn French, Helen Dunmore, Helena Drysdale, Jean-Paul Sartre, John Green, Charles Dickens — OK, Charles Dickens then.


Which writers have paved the way for your own work?


(Elizabeth) I’ve just completed my first novel, based in Russia which I describe as a cross between Field of Dreams and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen with just a dash of A Short History of Tractors in Ukraine, so I guess I have to say W P Kinsella, Paul Torday and Marina Lewycka.


(Sharon) Good question! I suspect almost everyone I have ever read has had some kind of influence on my writing — even Jeffrey Archer, Enid Blyton and Dan Brown.


What is your writing process?


(Elizabeth) I try to write every day. Whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction, I feel it’s important to get some new words on the page. (It doesn’t always work out that way and I’ve learnt not to feel guilty about the wordless days, but it certainly feels more satisfying when I can add to the cumulative word-count). I find challenges like NaNoWriMo (50,000 words in November) or Sally Quilford’s 100K in 100 days (First hundred days of each year) help. I enjoy free-writing (the literary equivalent of ‘taking a line for a walk’) and starting without a plan and seeing where it takes me. Once the words are on the page, that’s the time to edit and polish.


(Sharon) Same as Elizabeth, it’s really important to try to write every day though I try not to get too cross with myself when all I’ve written is the shopping list. I respond well to deadlines, so it is important to set them for myself. Having said that, children are the biggest deadline busters you can get as they have to take priority. I think self discipline is probably the most important lesson a writer must learn. I have little time (excuse the pun!) for anyone who says ‘I’d love to write but I just don’t have the time’. If you don’t find the time it just won’t happen. If you want it to happen, you’ll find the time. I like to write when I am on my own.   



What is the appeal of the short story rather than the novel?


(Elizabeth) From a writing perspective, it’s very different, although by no means easier. There are fewer characters for a start, maybe only one or two. It’s often based on a single incident or a short timeline. There’s no room for padding and every word has to earn its keep.


From the point of view of the reader, it’s a self-contained read that can usually be finished at a single sitting. It’s ideal for readers who have limited time, such as commuters, people stopping for a tea-break, or someone wanting a quick read in bed before falling asleep.


(Sharon) For me as a writer short stories were the only option to ‘get out there’ to start with. And I just love the process of crafting a short story from idea through to final edit. It’s a challenge to get it right and, I think, a great way of honing your craft. I also love reading short stories. A quick Helen Dunmore first thing sets me up for the day and the more short stories you read, the more your own imagination cranks up.     


What advice can you give to aspiring writers?


(Elizabeth) If you want to write, just do it. Do NOT say: I would write if I had more time; I’ll write when I retire; I’ll write one of these days. Do it for yourself, rather than anyone else, at least to start with. Writing is not the road to a quick buck or a lavish life-style (with one or two notable exceptions) but it’s a great way of satisfying the creative urges (and that’s coming from a scientist who has given it all up in order to write stories).


(Sharon) Everything Elizabeth said! If you want to write and you don’t, no one else is going to do it for you. Only you see the world through your eyes and only you can write it down in your own words. What’s stopping you? Well turn off the telly then, put down that newspaper, cancel that coffee. There is a reason they say writing is a lonely occupation. So go join a writing group for support and if there isn’t one in your local area, set one up. We did and it’s stuffed full of some great writers all writing with different motivations and every single one of them is inspiring. Oh yes — and never give up! Writing keeps me sane — well, just about…

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