The Writing Life

by  Laura Solomon

Despite having worked a variety of other jobs in my life (waitress, fruit picker, P.A., IT consultant) I have always known in my heart and my bones that I was destined to be a writer. I felt it was my fate; there was little I could do to escape it. I have persevered through a number of obstacles and have now published three novels and a short story collection, have a new novel, part of a trilogy for Young Adults, due out in November 2010 and have won prizes in a number of UK poetry and short story competitions, including the Bridport Prize and the Edwin Morgan Poetry Competition. Admittedly, it has been a rocky road, fraught with pitfalls, but the thrill of completing work and of seeing it published has kept me going. At thirty-five, I feel there is plenty of track ahead and intend to keep writing for the rest of my time on earth. I have written ever since I was a small child and made up my mind to be a writer at age 18, after suffering a period of illness and have pursued my goal fairly relentlessly, or as relentlessly as my life would allow.

One of the main barriers to pursuing a literary career was the need to survive in the world, to earn a living, to buy a house and achieve financial security. I didn’t think that writing would ever earn me much money, so I have always worked long hours, attempting to juggle two things – the day job and the writing. Eventually, aged thirty-three, I had the house I wanted and figured I would rather have more time and less money and quit my job to write full time. I aim to write 1000-2000 words every day and usually meet this target, though if the writing isn’t flowing I don’t sit there staring at a blank screen, I get out and go for a walk up the beach or in the hills that surround my small town. I am careful not to overdo it, and pace myself by only working 5-6 hours per day, which I feel is sufficient.

I am often asked ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ which is a difficult question to answer, as I often just ‘see’ a story or a novel in my head, or sense, at the periphery of my vision, the trace of an idea, which I then attempt to capture, as a butterfly collector brings down the net on a butterfly, snuffing it out and impaling it on a board for public viewing. Some of my best ideas have arrived not when I am sitting at a PC, but when I am out and about in the world, watching, observing and listening. I used to be very shy about what I wrote, but as time has passed, I have tried to teach myself to be more professional and I am thinking about attending the Hong Kong Literary Festival in 2011 to talk about my Young Adult trilogy – but not before taking a course in speech making at the local Toastmasters club.

My most recently published novel, An Imitation of Life is about a giantess and photographer, Celia Doom. My Young Adult trilogy focuses on the life of an adolescent computer nerd, Olivia Best and charts the struggles of her and her sister Olivia following the separation of their parents. I typically do eight or nine drafts on every piece of work I complete and lately have also taken to getting manuscript assessments from a well known New Zealand writer, Barbara Else, whose help on my books for Young Adults has been invaluable.

After years of working jobs that I hated, I can now say that I have my dream lifestyle, just chiselling away in my corner and sending my work away, mostly in NZ and the UK, though I have had acceptances in the States, Australia and Hong Kong as well. My main focus is on the UK, as I feel it is a big market, but it is very tough to get work accepted there, as it seems so many people are writing and there is a lot of competition. British mainstream publishing doesn’t seem interested in what I write, but some of the small presses of the world have accepted my work, so I continue to write and send my work to them, with a view to one day moving into mainstream publishing, once I am more established in the UK.

I am an avid reader and have ploughed through the oeuvres of Margaret Atwood, Paul Theroux, Jeanette Winterson, Salman Rushdie, Angela Carter, Janet Frame and many others and am the proud owner of thousands of books. Strangely, I am not from a literary family, so I am not sure where my love of literature comes from – it seems to me a gift from above, or perhaps, below.

In my youth, I met with a lot of negative criticism, but these days people just leave me alone, to do as I see fit and, fortunately for me, I don’t have to answer to anybody except the muse, who visits when she fancies. Luckily, I have friends who encourage and support me and I even have test readers, who read through early drafts of my work and provide valuable feedback. The journey is only just beginning.

Laura Solomon was born in New Zealand and spent nine years in London before returning to New Zealand in 2007. She has an honours degree in English Literature and a Masters degree in Computer Science. She has published two novels in New Zealand with Tandem Press: 'Black Light' (1996) and 'Nothing Lasting' (1997). Her first play, 'The Dummy Bride', was produced as part of the Wellington Fringe Festival, and her second, based on her short story, 'Sprout', was part of the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Her short story collection ‘Alternative Medicine’ was published in early 2008 by Flame Books, UK. Her novel ‘An Imitation of Life’ was published by Solidus, UK, in late 2009. Her novel ‘Instant Messages’ is to be published in 2010 and put forward for the Commonwealth Writer’s prize and was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize.

Visit Laura's site here

Photo credit of butterfly: Orin Zebest

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