Louise Phillips is a Dublin Writer, with three children, and she balances her family life, work life and her writing life, while tweeting and blogging. She has just finished the first draft of her novel, a psychological crime thriller with a paranormal twist, and is editing like crazy.
Hi Louise and thank you for taking the time to share your writing background with us.
I understand that you were chosen as part of a small group of emerging new talent for a series of workshops given by Dermot Bolger, then Writer in Residence for South County Dublin. Had you ever shown an interest in writing before?
“I wrote a little in my early twenties, but nothing I ever showed to anyone. Then I stopped writing completely. I suppose life got in the way, marriage, raising children, looking after elderly parents, struggling to pay the bills, the usual stuff. A short while before I started in the group with Dermot, I did a creative writing course. The facilitator was Eileen Casey, this year’s winner of the Hennessy Award. On the first night of the class, Eileen gave us 3 different exercises to try over the following week. Firstly, a poem about your father hands, secondly, a short prose piece beginning with the words “I knew a woman who…..” and finally, some work on character creation. Even though I was nervous about putting myself out there and attempting to write, I also felt energised in the way you do when you start something new and exciting. By the time I drove home the first night, I had most of the poem in my head. When I arrived, I ignored my hubby who was eager to find out how I got on. I barged past him and went straight up the stairs to finish the poem. As I quickly scribbled down my words before they disappeared, I think I knew my life was about to change. Instinctively I felt writing was going to be a huge part of who I am, and all those years of being away from it, hadn’t diluted the passion in the slightest, in fact, I think it made me all the more determined never to stop it again.”
As writers, we often doubt ourselves, but you’ve been able to gather belief through your writing.
“When I was picked I was excited, thrilled, amazed. It was a wonderful feeling when I heard I would be part of the group. Dermot Bolger is a writer whom I admire and respect, so it meant a great deal that he believed in me. We all doubt our own abilities, I know I do, so it matters greatly when people say they enjoyed something you’ve written, or your writing moved them in some way. When Dermot emailed me to say I would be part of the group, it really boosted my self-confidence. His workshop was brilliant. I learned lots from the experience, and also made some great new friends.”
Louise and I share an interest in continued learning.
“Workshops are a great means of improving your writing. I am a firm believer in continual life learning, and I make a point of doing at least one writing workshop every year. Each workshop I have attended, has given me something different. I see them as part of the writing process, opening up new ways of improving my skills and gaining writing tools for my writing toolbox.”
Choosing your writing course is important as it can influence your style. My personal fave is www.writing.ie has a lot of varied courses to choose from.
“You don’t have to be an experienced writer to partake, but you should choose your writing workshops carefully. There are a lot of them out there, do your research and decide which ones interest you the most. In the past, I’ve attended great workshops at both Inkwell (www.writing.ie) and The Irish Writers Centre. If you are just beginning to write, or if you have never attended a workshop before, realise one of the most important things about attending the workshop is the desire to improve your writing. Look on it as a new adventure. Of course you might be nervous at first, most people are, but it’s a little bit like the way writing only happens when you sit down and do it, you have to just go for it.”
I read that you have some pretty cool accolades: Short listed Molly Keane S/S Competition, Long listed RTE/Penguin S/S Comp, Winner of Jonathan Swift Award, Winner of NMA, Winner of the April 2011 Lonely Voice @ Irish Writers Centre. Do these motivate you to stay writing?
“Having success in competitions is important, and yes, they do motivate you in a way. But equally so, you should not be discouraged if you don’t have success initially. Sometimes you send work away and it is rejected. Rejection is unfortunately part of the game and I doubt there is a writer out there who hasn’t experienced it many times. It is never pretty, and you certainly don’t want to jump for joy when it happens, but there are a couple of things you need to realise about rejection. Firstly, choosing which piece of work receives a particular accolade can be down to the type of writing a particular judge might enjoy. Equally, your original submission may well be something which you can improve on, so revisit it again. I like the Samuel Beckett quote, “Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” If you do happen to do well in a competition, enjoy it. Lodge the experience into memory so you can call upon it whenever the doubting voice starts getting too loud.”
Louise has 3 children, works in accounting, blogs, tweets, edits her book and even has time left over to enter competitions! She says that multitasking is a necessary habit to practice.
“I write early mornings, usually from around 6 a.m. I try and get at least 2-3 hours in per day. We have our own business, so my time is pretty flexible. This can be a good or a bad thing. There are many evenings when I am doing the so-called day job well past midnight. I guess I am just one of those people who doesn’t always watch the clock. In general, I know that when something has to be done, you just have to get on and do it no matter how long it takes. I’m good at multitasking, and I’m also good at prioritising things. I try to work out what I need to do, what I want to do, and the things which can wait until another day. Like most people, I split my time between things I have to do and things I want to do. Writing is of course part of the latter which is why I don’t mind being up early. I enjoy blogging and tweeting, and yes, like many I’m guilty of spending too long on both, but in the main, I view them a bit like how many people enjoy watching easy television, sometimes you just have to chill out. The children are great, they are well past nappies, school runs etc. Having young children and writing is difficult, ask any parent. Fortunately, I am now at the stage where they are more a source of encouragement than distraction.”
When starting a story; some writers plot and they stick to it or some create characters and let their voices be heard organically – how do your stories start?
“They start with an idea. Something comes into my head and I think yes, this is an angle, an idea which I’d like to explore. I tend to want to write about things which might normally slip between the cracks, people in marginalised situations, topics which are sometimes avoided; things which are not easy subject matters to address. In part, I believe this is why I’ve been drawn to crime writing. Like most writers I’m intrigued by the human condition in all its frailty and wonder.”
“My experience writing a novel has been slightly different to other forms of writing. Obviously character creation and the driving force/idea behind why you are writing the story is still paramount, but plot planning and maintaining different shifts and changes over a longer narrative dictates an adjustment to your approach. For a start, there is a lot more information which you have to deal with, so it is important to track this as you go along. You can reread a poem pretty quickly, as you can a short story, but in excess of 50,000 words is another dilemma completely. There is no point repeating information unnecessarily; it annoys the hell out of the reader. I should know. I am one of those readers! In the main, I like to think about who is doing what and why. When you find a character, they come alive, they have to. If they don’t, they are not alive for the reader either. Once you have them, I begin to explore what would happen if the building blocks from which a character views his or her life, starts to shift.”
“In a short story, often the actual story only begins after you’ve written the first page or two. Something occurs, a twist, a remark, an observation, and you have it, the beginning of something good. Poetry is different again. For me it can start with just a line, or a visual prompt, something which causes a stirring of your emotions, emotions which once you’re hooked, you have no choice but to explore them further.
The important thing is to care about what you are writing, to be intrigued by it. Derek wrote a post a while back about whether you choose your ideas or they choose you? I think it can happen many different ways for different people, but the great part is that during the writing process, you create something which didn’t exist before. This I believe is one of the most satisfying parts of being a writer.”
I have been a long-time fan of you on twitter and your blog, and my favourite story is ‘Monkey and the Brain Eater’: http://bit.ly/o1KvKv You say that you know dementia, does it help to know a subject before you write about it?
“I think most people directly or indirectly call on their own life experience when writing. Sometimes being too close to a subject matter can hinder you, restrict the writing in a way. Nevertheless, if you do draw on emotions which you have experienced, at times something wonderful happens. A narrative voice appears; a fictional voice. Within it, a truth is captured. If you are very lucky it becomes universal in the emotional sense. A reader knows it straight away, they connect, and when they do, it matters.”
Why the name 120 socks?
“I wish I could say I put a lot of thought into naming the blog, and then my twitter account, but the truth is I paid little or no attention to picking the name at all. I started the blog last October after being away at a Writers weekend with friends. A number of them had blogs and were pestering me to start one. Like the bold child I protested at first. I didn’t understand why I should have a blog, but eventually, I said okay and the blog was born. When it came to giving it a name, the first thing which came into my mind was cleaning my son’s bedroom the previous Friday. From the floor of his room I picked up 120 dirty socks (teenagers you gotta love them). Of course later, when I shared this story with my son, he contradicted me as all good teenagers do. Apparently there were actually 121 socks!”
(Check back tomorrow for a short piece of fiction by Louise called, ‘Red Stilettos’)
Michelle Moloney King grew up on a farm in Co. Tipperary. Her lullabies were tales about banshees and fairy forts from her banjo-playing poetic father. His last words to her, “You won’t remember me, you’re too young,” started her penning down his stories and thus began her creative writing. She has a Bachelor of Science in IT with University of Limerick and recently completed a Post Grad in Primary School Teaching with Hibernia College. She started a blog in April 2011 where she shares stories about teaching, the IFSC, creative writing, flash fiction, ICT, art and much more.
Contact Louise on
Twitter – www.twitter.com/120Socks
Contact Michelle on
Twitter – http://twitter.com/#!/MoloneyKing