great weather for MEDIA is thrilled to head across the pond to London for an unforgettable night at the Society Club with Unthank Books on September 3 2015. PROJECT U (London) features contributors from the recent anthologies Before Passingand Unthology 7 plus special guests and editors. For a taste of what’s to come, great weather’s Jane Ormerod catches up with fellow performer and Before Passing contributor Victoria Hattersley.
JO: Congratulations, Victoria, on being published by both great weather for MEDIA (Before Passing) and Unthank Books (Unthology 6). I understand you are fairly new to writing. Can you say a little about your creative journey?
VH: Thank you, it doesn't stop being exciting every time I think about it. Yes, I only started writing about two years ago. It was something I'd always known I wanted to do but somehow other things got in the way, as they tend to. Also, there was a slightly cowardly part of me that wondered whether I actually could write, so perhaps for years I'd decided it was better not to know and just tell myself it was something I would do "one day." Then a friend persuaded me to join an introductory writing workshop with the Unthank School of Writing in Norwich and I figured if I didn't do it then, I'd probably never get round to it. Since then, I've been writing pretty much every day and I find it hard to imagine not doing it. I dont want to sound horribly pretentious or anything, but it does seem to feel like something I have to do now as opposed to a bit of a hobby. Kind of like a compulsion I suppose. Although I still don’t really think of myself as a "writer." Maybe that will come.
JO: "Kangaroo” - your story that appears in Before Passing - gives vivid insight into a young woman's mind. It also has the perfect title. What is the background to this piece?
VH: Ha, yes! The story isn't exactly autobiographical but there are lots of elements of my life mixed up in there. I suppose I started off wanting to write a story about fears of motherhood and pregnancy itself rather than actually being a mother, but then it became about the relationship between the two main characters as well (because I never have a plan for anything when I start writing – it just tends to come out how it comes out). The male character in there is based on a guy I used to know who played guitar and when I first met him he was always playing this odd little song called "Kangaroo" by a 70s band called Big Star. So the story title seemed to suit him and then obviously there's the image of a kangaroo mother carrying the baby around in a pouch. I just liked it.
JO: How was your experience working with small press editors? What was the process like from submission, through acceptance, to publication?
VH: I've loved working with small presses, although obviously it's the only thing I know so far. The first story I had published was the Unthology one. When I first got the email saying it had been accepted I was at a wedding and I was wearing these ridiculously high shoes. I must have spent the rest of that night jumping up and down in them because I literally couldn't feel my feet for two days afterwards. So yes, I find the whole thing incredibly exciting.
From my experience, I think the main thing I would say about working with small presses is that they are very supportive of writers, particularly ones who are just starting out. I can't think of any other way somebody like me with no track record would get published so soon. Because there is such a mixture of writing styles in these anthologies it's not like one story is under any pressure to "carry" the book. Also, it seems to feel like more of a collaborative thing rather than the press calling the shots. All the writers are kept informed of what's going on every step of the way and encouraged to think of ways to promote the book themselves. Before Passing has just been published so this doesn't really apply yet, but I liked the fact that with Unthology the writers were always kept informed of reviews so we could see how our stories were being received.
JO: What writers influence you? Anyone you feel more people should be aware of?
VH: That's a tough one in a way because I'm afraid I'm not very specialized (or probably very discerning). I tend to read anything and everything so it's hard to narrow it down to a short list. I guess if we're talking about people who have made me want to write... Off the top of my head, I love Jonathan Coe because he's very darkly funny and tends to focus on these quirky little nuggets of cultural history. I admire Barbara Trapido's writing a lot and also Maggie O'Farrell and Sarah Perry. I think there's something very elegant about the way Kazuo Ishiguro writes. (I can't think of a better word to describe it.) I've always had a bit of a thing for Alice in Wonderland so possibly that's at the back of my mind whenever I write something. Angela Carter – I remember reading The Bloody Chamber and wishing I could write half as well as her. A. L. Kennedy is another one. F. Scott Fitzgerald. And Georges Bataille, for a brief period. I also remember reading Jane Eyre over and over again when I was a kid and then going through some kind of Hermann Hesse phase that lasted for a while so perhaps that had some influence on me too. I try to read poetry too: for example, Bloodaxe Books in the UK have released this great series of three anthologies (Being Alive, Being Human and Staying Alive, I think) and I dip in and out of those a lot. They often seem to put me in a writing frame of mind. And then, as anyone who knows me well would probably tell you, I have a tendency to try to make people listen to the first page of Lolita whenever I come back from the pub. It's one of my favorite pieces of writing ever I think.
JO: Many poets have the opportunity to fine-tune their work through open mics. As a prose writer, what is your editing routine?
VH: I'm not sure I have a very well thought-out editing routine just yet. Generally, once I've written a first draft of something I'll have a quick read through straightaway and weed out any obvious repetitions or horrendous clangers and then I'll put it away somewhere for a few days. When I come back to it there will usually be various places where I'll think "What in God's name did I write that for?" etc., and so I'll change it. That's usually the time I start thinking about the structure too. Because I tend to write without any real plan in place, I find it hard to know where everything should go in the story until I can look at it as a whole. Oh, and I also have a very honest friend who will read through anything I've written and point out anything that's clearly shit. I think you need one of those. I'm trying to get in the habit of reading things out to myself once I’ve gone through a second draft because that can be helpful in terms of rhythm and sentence structure.
JO: Finally, what’s next for Victoria Hattersley?
VH: Well a few weeks ago I finished the first draft of a novel, provisionally called The Lantern Man, so I'll begin working through the second draft of that soon. I started it about a year ago and I've never attempted anything on that scale before so it's been quite a massive eye-opener (writing novels is hard work). I won't go into too much detail about it but it's set in the Fens of East Anglia and is about a group of friends, one of whom goes missing when he's 15. Years later, they all meet up again and two of them decide to try to find out what happened to him. I chose the setting because the Fens is quite a flat, strange, unsettling but oddly beautiful landscape with a lot of odd little stories and legends attached to it. In-between that I've continued writing short stories and would like to try to get one or two more of those published over the next few months.
great weather for MEDIA and Unthank Books present Project U
Thursday September 3 2015, 7:30 pm
The Society Club, 12 Ingestre Place, London W1F 0JF
Featuring Gary Budden, Elaine Chiew, Victoria Hattersley, Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, Jane Ormerod, and Martin Ouvry. Hosted by Robin Jones.
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Submissions for great weather for MEDIA’s anthologies open October 15 to January 15 each year.