Q: Tell us about yourself. What got you into writing?
M: I live in Worcestershire, UK with my husband, two young children and a cranky old black cat called Lyra.
I always enjoyed creative writing at school. The pinnacle of my young career was when the teacher read out my short story in class. A slapstick tale of two talking kangaroos breaking out of a zoo, the work was sadly lost to history… but I returned to writing over the years, finally getting serious about writing a book a few years ago. More recently, I’ve had several flash pieces published, was long listed for the Cambridge 2020 prize for flash fiction and placed first in the February 2020 Writers’ Forum competition with myshort story The Truth About Cherry House. Tipping Point is my debut novel, and I have a sequel in progress right now.
Q: Tell us about the premise of Tipping Point.
M: It’s a dark eco-thriller set in near-future England, where we’ve descended into authoritarianism and climate collapse. We follow the story of a young woman called Essie Glass, who lost all her family in a terrorist attack. She gets involved in a band of underground activists and discovers a plot to suppress technology which could avert climate disaster. Essie must decide how far she’s willing to go, how much she’s willing to risk, to expose the conspiracy.
Q: What inspired you to write it?
M: Frustration! At the time there was much in the news about Brexit and we seemed to be obsessed with national identity at a time when nationhood couldn’t have mattered less. This was a year or more before the Covid 19 pandemic, but even then it was clear that we had some really global problems that needed to be solved by the best heads getting together, not drifting apart behind borders.
We seemed to be careering into deeper and deeper trouble, obsessed with consumption and economic growth over happiness and the natural world. I asked myself what it would be like for my children’s generation inheriting a world built on this paradox of unsustainable growth and inertia. The ideas almost wrote themselves – the only problem I had is real life kept plagiarizing my story!
Q: Did you do any research for your book?
M: I did a lot of research on climate forecasts, reading all sorts of doom-laden predictions of flood and fire, which areas of the world would be under the sea, that kind of thing. I also learned about carbon capture technology, one of the possible solutions to climate change, which at least gave me hope for the future! Most of the book is set in Worcestershire and fictional places based on real ones local to me, so I could write what I knew there. In the sequel, which I’m writing at the moment, a lot of action is London-based, which was tricky to research during lockdown and required a lot of Google maps work as it’s been a while since I last visited. I have booked myself a trip down there in September, so I can check it all out for real while editing, including a tour of the Houses of Parliament, which I’m totally geeking out over.
Q: How do you plan your writing session?
M: I always do an outline at the start of a new project, along with character profiles if I’m being good. Parts of the outline might be sketchy to begin with, but I know the bones of the story and its major plot points and some of its themes. By the time I get around to writing each scene, it’s fleshed out a little more. When I sit down to write, I know what’s supposed to happen. Whether that’s what actually happens is another matter – my characters can get a little unruly sometimes and take me down a lot of rabbit holes. A couple of times characters have even switched around from being antagonists to protagonists or vice versa. I like that combination of planning and going where the inspiration takes me.
In terms of when I write, as a working mum I have to carve the time out. I have one day a week at home without the kids when I aim to get a chapter completed, and other days I try and squeeze in an hour somewhere to keep the progress ticking over.
Q: Do you have any certain rituals while you write?
M: When I’m actually writing I need silence to really enter the world I’m inventing, or the words won’t flow. If I’m thinking and planning, I also find playlists helpful - and loads of fun to compile. Driving is always a good time for plotting, though it’s inconvenient when you have a eureka moment on the motorway!
Q: Why do you write?
M: My friends and family will tell you I have a tendency to put the world to rights. I’ll admit I get quite passionate about subjects that matter to me, social justice being a huge one. I suppose I find writing an outlet instead of haranguing the people around me! Beyond that, I have always found it easier to express myself in writing than in person. Part of my introvert profile, I suppose. Writing helps me make sense of my thoughts. Often when I write, themes come out I wasn’t aware I was ruminating on. Climate change was one of those. My original vision for Tipping Point was only to write an exciting ‘Girl’s Own’ adventure. It was as the idea developed that I realised I was quite worried about what we’re doing to the planet. Hopefully, though, Tipping Point is still an exciting adventure. That was my intention, anyway.
Q: Do you think creative writing classes are beneficial? Why or why not?
M: I attended the Write Here… in Birmingham course whilst I was writing Tipping Point and it was incredibly helpful (and very affordable). Along with meeting other writers, the course tutor was a published author (Helen Cross) and there was a Q&A session with a literary agent.
It was certainly a turning point for me. I realised I’d have to get serious about learning the craft if I wanted to be an author. It was also when I decided that was exactly what I was going to do. And that’s one of the best decisions I ever made from a personal point of view. I’m not yet at the stage where I can give up the day job, but I’m further than I dreamed I would be a couple of years ago. I think the Write Here course was a big step along that way, and I’d recommend any new writers to look into the Write Here courses.
Q: Do you enjoy editing?
M: I love it. Is that weird? Yes, it can be frustrating, and difficult when you have to kill those darlings. But the process of polishing, making my ragged story into something fit for others to read is a magical, exciting process. I don’t always fully understand it, but I know I love it! That said, I’m about to embark on editing for the sequel to Tipping Point, so maybe ask me again in a few weeks…
Q: Do you write in other genres? Have you ever written in different mediums?
M: Most of my writing is dark in some way or another, but I write horror and urban fantasy as well as dystopian thrillers. I’ve done some happier stuff too. The Truth about Cherry House was a short story about two elderly residents of a nursing home getting it on in secret. I did love writing that. I’d really like to try some comedy, but I think that would be very tricky to do. Being funny face to face is one thing, to translate that with just words is an incredible skill.
I’m not great at poetry – prose just makes so much more sense to me. I would love to try script writing in the future, but I’d need to gen up on the technical side first.
Q: If you could invite a fictional character for lunch (from your own book(s) or another writer’s), who would you invite and why?
M: Just one? Oh, crikey. Aside from my main character Essie, I’d like to invite Klara from Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. She’s the AI narrator of the story. Such a fascinating, warm, and loving character who deserves a little love back, bless her.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
M: Don’t give up. I used to think that great authors just came up with great stories off the cuff. It’s not true. Writing a good story is a marathon effort involving a lot of editing, honing and help from others no matter who you are. Not as magical as I thought – and much harder work! And I’d also recommend outlining your novel, though I know not everyone does. For me personally, there were times I’d have thrown in the towel on Tipping Point without a plan to keep me going. More than once, when I got bogged down with a particular scene or section, I skipped it and moved on to one I was excited to write, then came back when my confidence was up. That was only possible because I had an outline to keep track.
Oh, and seek out other writers, whether it be online, locally or both. They really are a most generous, life-affirming bunch and you’ll learn so much just talking to them.
Q: What are your future plans as an author? Are you working on another project?
M: I’m hoping to finish up the sequel to Tipping Point (working title Counterpoint) by the end of this year. After that I have along-brewed dark urban fantasy I can’t wait to get my teeth into.