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Leicestershire-based author Alison Moore talks to Derwent Life about her writing experiences in the Midlands.
It was back in 2009 when Leicestershire-based author Alison Moore got her first big break. One of her stories was shortlisted for the Manchester Fiction Prize, a nomination that would garner the attention of editor and publisher Nicholas Royle.
Royle picked up The Lighthouse, which would become Alison’s first full length novel and earned her a place on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize in 2012.
“I’d had short stories published before, but those were mainly seen by people who didn’t know me, so I could keep it private. However, when the Man Booker Prize nomination came through, there was suddenly a bit of a spotlight turned in my direction, and that was unexpected,” she said.
“It was incredibly exciting and completely unreal – it was difficult to take it on board at the time! I feel extremely lucky to have had that boost, as it’s enabled me to make a living as a writer ever since.”
A change of pace
Since The Lighthouse shot her to fame, life is a lot different for Alison. “Previously I did a lot of admin work for arts and education organisations while I had the odd short story published. I worked as a PA for most of my thirties, until I had a baby.
“Now I walk my son to school each morning, and then I start work. I’ll check my emails, do some admin and get my head straight, and then plunge into whatever is my priority that day. At the moment I’m making the final edits to my new novel, Missing, and my first children’s book, Sunny and the Ghosts, so there’s a lot going on.”
The shift from adult books to writing for children was inspired by her relationship with her son.
“Reading so much with my son, it was tempting to try to write something for his age. When he was 7, the idea for Sunny and the Ghosts came to me quite suddenly and I wrote it fairly quickly.
“It didn't seem like a hugely different undertaking really - Nick (my agent and editor) said it was recognisably my work but with a U certificate.”
Location, location, location
Born in Manchester, Alison spent most of her childhood growing up in Loughborough. She credits her experience of living in the Midlands as being a big influence.
“I find that it often crops up in my writing. Sometimes I’ve made use of the landscape and local landmarks, and sometimes it’s more about the idea of the Midlands and what it suggests – being in the middle, far from the sea – a bit like the Scottish Borders, which also appeals to me as a writer.”
When it comes to her love of writing, Alison started young and says she finds inspiration in her own life experiences.
“I’ve always enjoyed making up stories. I love reading, which is probably what inspired me to start writing myself.
“When I was eight, my mum encouraged me to submit something to a local writing competition. It was shortlisted and published in the competition anthology. I just kept going after that, writing and sending things off to competitions and magazines.
“Although my characters are fictional, they are usually based on personalities that are familiar to me or come from my own experiences.
“I also draw on places I’ve visited – in The Lighthouse I used a Rhineland walk I went on with my husband, Death and the Seaside is set in a fictional version of Seaton in Devon and my new novel, Missing, is set in Hawick in the Scottish Borders.
“These days I find inspiration anywhere, especially when I’m travelling – I once had a whole story come to me while I was driving to and from B&Q!”
Putting pen to paper
So what tips would Alison give for budding writers and for beating writers’ block?
“I’ve found writing magazines helpful – I still subscribe to one called Mslexia. My other top tip would be to edit very carefully before you start sending anything out. I suggest putting it away for a while and then coming back to it with ‘fresh eyes’.
“It’s also important to remember that rejection is part of the journey and every writer has experienced it, so don’t be disheartened.
“When it comes to writers’ block, I try to avoid it by always having lots of things on the boil at any one time, so there’s always something I’m desperate to get to work on and something else waiting its turn and so on.
“I only start writing when something’s ready to be written, bursting to come out, and I don’t try to force a certain number of words per day – I edit a lot as I go along.”
Alison has also been involved with a number of causes dedicated to improving literacy.
“Before I had my son, I used to volunteer with a literacy project in Nottingham. We formed a group and ran weekly sessions with themes and games.
“Then recently I supported a National Literacy Trust reading initiative and I became a patron for Nottingham City of Literature, which is committed to improving literacy across the city.”
Alison’s newest novel, Missing, will tell the story of a translator haunted by an incident from her past.
“Words can be enormously powerful or influential. Missing is all about communication and miscommunication, as a translator obsesses over which words she might choose. Whilst on the surface, it may not seem like a life or death decision, she definitely has cause to disagree.”