Emily Bullock Interview

Emily Bullock Interview
by Shanta Everington

Emily Bullock graduated from Kings College, London, with an English degree and 19th Century Literature MA. She followed this love of plot to work in feature film production before pursuing writing full-time. She attained a distinction from UEA Creative Writing MA. Currently tutoring for the Open University, and studying for a Creative Writing PhD, Emily's short story, My Girl, won first place in the Bristol Short Story Prize 2011.

"My Girl is an evocative story, beautifully written and with an internal rhythm that matches its setting, the boxing ring. This winning story 'floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee', as Muhammed Ali famously said." 
Bristol Prize Judge Tania Hershman.

Hello Emily and welcome to The View From Here. Congratulations on winning the Bristol Short Story competition with My Girl, a brilliantly observed tale about a mother and daughter, set in the world of female boxing. What inspired you to write this particular story?

I have been doing a lot of research into boxing for my PhD and the short stories that I read often focused on a sort of pseudo father/son relationship. There was a real absence of female voices. So, in My Girl, I wanted to establish the mother and daughter relationship for the reader – to try to understand this conflict of pain and love from another angle.

The boxing setting felt very authentic. Do you have first hand experience of boxing or was there a lot of research involved?

I have been to amateur fights, and my grandfather was a boxer (see opposite). I always remember being aware of the sport: seeing books on it, watching tapes of it. But I will be going to my first real competition fight at the Olympics in July.

How exciting! I understand that your Creative Writing PhD explores connections between boxing and the construction of a narrative. What made you decide to study for the PhD and how did you go about choosing your topic?

I was going to write the novel anyway but I am really wanted to do it in the context of the PhD, the chance to discuss my work with other writers, and to make the researches and reflective processes visible. I am just starting to write the critical thesis; and using the research I have done in this way is something new for me. I am looking forward to examining in more detail the work we all put into making our writing authentic.

Can you tell me a bit about what your research entails?

As well as all the historical research of setting a novel in 1953’s London, there is also the research into making the boxing scenes in the novel appear real. But I have also become interested in the role of the Hero in boxing short stories and films – how often the characters are archetypes, and what this says about our need, as readers, for Heroes. I do a lot of research from books and the internet but there is nothing like actually talking to people who have experienced the things you are writing about. I am also fortunate that my grandfather has left behind a large collection of boxing posters, programmes and newspaper clippings.

You published a historical novel, The Separate Principle, with the Arts Council Funded YouWriteOn.com and Legend Press scheme in 2008. How was the experience of bringing out your first novel with this scheme?

It is a book that I could never see being published by anyone else, because it is rather bleak and dark, so I am pleased it is out there. But I won’t be retiring on the royalties any time soon. This was one of the first schemes of its kind, but it is becoming easier now for writers to publish themselves with the advance of ebooks. It is just another option open, to get your work to readers and build an audience.

You previously worked in feature film production. Has that experience influenced your fiction writing?

I think it has. I am a visual writer; I often see the scene in my head before I write it. If the setting and other visual details aren’t in place in a piece of work then I find it hard to orientate myself in that scene. I also try to think about film editing and how I can use similar techniques to switch between chapters or events in the story.

Who do you credit as your influences?

For my undergraduate degree and masters I studied nineteenth century literature. So, it was only after this that I really started to discover contemporary writers. I suppose in some ways, as a writer, I become influenced by everything that I read – one particular writer’s ability to construct character, another’s use of time. But there are two writers, in particular, that I would read anything they wrote: Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison.

Do you have any unusual writing habits?

Every time I start a new piece of work I like to load my desk up with snacks (a whole week’s worth of salt and sugar) in an attempt to keep myself seated. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but at least I always look forward to starting something new.

Do you have any advice for writers trying to get published?

There are lots of magazines, online journals etc out there which are a great place to meet other writers and readers. Competitions can also be a good place to get your writing noticed. But if you’re at the stage of looking for an agent, or approaching some smaller publishers directly, then really think about where your work would be best placed. The rejection letters will come and some pieces of work will never see the light of day; it is important to keep developing work and learning about your strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

What’s next for Emily Bullock?

I’m finishing off my PhD novel at the moment. So my agent is poised to send it out... then all I can do is keep my fingers crossed and start thinking about the next piece.

Thank you, Emily, and the very best of luck with all your writing.

For more information on Emily and her writing, please visit www.emilybullock.com

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