Today I am delighted to welcome Shelley Day to my blog……
For those who don’t know already, could you tell us about yourself and your book(s) please?
I’m one of those people who’ve always written. But I didn’t take my fiction seriously until I was made redundant when I was 55. The redundancy turned out to be the very thing I needed to get me off the treadmill of wage slavery. It gave me the chance to do what I’d always wanted – to write fiction. Before that, I’d been a lawyer and an academic, and so I’d always written things in my job. But deep down, I’d always wanted to write fiction. I was working freelance, so my time was my own, and I started with a basic Open University Creative Writing course and I was hooked! And I just went on from there!
My debut novel is just coming out in July with Scottish publisher Saraband. It’s DOMESTIC NOIR, and called THE CONFESSION OF STELLA MOON. The publisher came up with this amazingly macarbre-sounding strap-line which does capture the theme of the book: “Because dark secrets don’t decompose.” It’s a novel essentially about a Family Secret. It is a black, brooding tale of matricide set in 1960s and 70s Newcastle in a family so dysfunctional as to be sinister. After serving a prison sentence for killing her mother, young Stella Moon is discharged to restart her life. But her plans are soon ruined when she falls prey to a dark family secret that pulls her back into the past. Strange rituals, shame and paranoia haunt her, like the persisting smell of her mother’s taxidermy in the abandoned boarding house. Stella is caught in a tangled web of guilt and manipulation. What truth and what lies are behind the chilling confession of Stella Moon?
It’s published as a CRIME novel, but it’s not a police procedural, or a whodunit. It’s more of a whydunnit, an exploration into the psychology behind the crime.
Where did/do you get your ideas from?
It’s truly hard to pin down where exactly ideas come from! My Stella novel, for example, didn’t come from an idea, but from a character (Stella). She emerged on the page during an exercise in a writing workshop. You can get ideas from anywhere, if you allow yourself to be open enough to let them in. When you start writing fiction, you start to notice things more, little details, you make connections, you start to see patterns, ideas press at you, characters come into your mind and make their presences felt … So ideas can come from a lot of places. Out there in the world, in the ordinary everyday world you can notice some strange or interesting things. Or ideas can come from inside you, from vague memories, feelings, images, from your own reactions to people and places and things. Places can be very important to a writer, because places have a spirit, and sometimes you can feel that spirit and it makes you want to write about that place. Or things, ordinary objects, can be inspiring like when, for example, they have a history, a provenance, a load of emotions sedimented down inside them. Or a photograph. You wonder what happened before or after that photo was taken, what happened to those people five years later. Ideas can come from all those places. The ones you write about are the ones that come into your head and won’t go away. You write those down. And if you’re lucky, and kind to them, they will make themselves into stories. As a writer, you are always registering things and asking yourself, ‘what if?…’
Are any of your characters based (however loosely) on anyone you know?
I’ve never set out to base a character on a real person, and I never would. It would be a difficult thing to do, even if I wanted to. It would be difficult because, as a fiction writer, your imagination is engaged from the start; the minute your pen hits the page, or even before that, your imagination is working on whatever fragments of material are to hand. So even if you begin with some idea of something real, say a place for example, very shortly your imagination takes over and the reality is eclipsed by the story. Not every writer is the same, but I personally find it impossible to stay with ‘the real’ for any length of time. I don’t think I could write a memoir. I’ve tried a few times but by the second sentence I am making things up and have deviated totally from anything that might count as a semi-accurate memory. Now, having said that, all characters must come from somewhere inside the writer, albeit somewhere so deep down they wouldn’t normally have conscious access . There’s a theory that fictional characters are part of the writer’s personality, deeply buried parts of themselves. Sometimes, when I read my work back after a distance from it, I see themes I never consciously intended, and maybe I can see how someone I know might have inspired a particular character. But that would be extremely rare and I can’t think of a concrete example.
How do you pick your character’s names?
My characters come to me with their name badges already on. The name is part of the character and could only with great difficulty be changed. Characters arrive with their baggage, and their name tags. Like Paddington.
Can you share your writing process with us, in a nutshell?
I don’t have any discipline to my day. I know I should have, but I don’t seem to be able to stick to one. Every time I try to impose a scheme on myself, it goes to pieces in no time. I always carry a notebook. I jot things down if they seem important. I always mean to set aside time to go through my old notebooks in case I find anything good in there to work on, but again that very rarely happens. I have a hut in my garden which is my writing hut. I am sitting there now. There is no internet out here, so no distractions. I’m eating PomBears and drinking black coffee. I am typing directly onto my laptop. When I’m writing fiction, I will often write by hand. Not always though. I’ll type up bits of it as the mood takes me. Inevitably I will edit it as I am typing. Often I will abandon the handwritten draft after half a page and type off at some completely different tangent. My writing process is all a bit random. I have only just realized quite how random it is when I tried to answer your question! I can’t really work at home, not in the house. That’s one thing I can say with certainty. Out here in my hut is almost ok but not quite. I work best in libraries or cafes. You have to be a lot more systematic once you’ve got a first draft, I mean the editing process, and structuring the work, all that demands sustained attention and commitment. I do a lot of that type of work outside in my hut. Also I read out here. I have a lot of books, lots that I dip into for reference or to check things. I have photos on the wall of things I like looking at. But mostly I like the light out here, and the quiet, and the fact that no-one will disturb me here. When I’m out here, my time is entirely my own. I need that solitude.
Do you have a favourite author?
I have many many favourites, and could pick a different handful every day, easily. So today I will pick Muriel Spark. The woman was a genius. I love her dark quirky humour and her spot-on observations. Thomas Hardy. I never read him any more but there was a time in my twenties when I read all his work from start to finish, I got completely carried away with him, wonderful storyteller, and capturer of the spirit of a place and time. The best book I read last year was Agota Kristof’s The Notebook. I was completely blown away by that, completely knocked sideways by the brilliance of it. I also loved, last year, The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas, a Norwegian writer. That was a stunning story and I went straight away to read one of his other books but was disappointed by the translation. And I return to the classics again and again. I’m reading Katharine Mansfield’s letters just now. And stories. Lorrie Moore’s stories. Lydia Davis’s stories. Carys Davies’s stories. Angela Readman’s stories. Jackie Kay, Ali Smith, Janice Galloway, Nathan Englander … I’m putting a short story collection together as we speak so I have been reading a lot of stories. I have so many favourites, it would take me forever to list them and tell you why I love them!
Were you a big reader as a child?
Yes. I read all the time. Milly Molly Mandy, I think she came first. Then my mother read Eric Knight’s Lassie Come Home aloud to us and I was transported. I was transported so far away by that book, I don’t think I ever really came back!
When did you start to write?
I’ve always written. As a kid I wrote and wrote in my school jotter, I was always going to the front and asking for a new one. I wrote from the time I could hardly manage to manhandle those big fat blunt wax crayons. I wrote poetry about my dog. Well, not really ‘poetry’ but you know what I mean. And magazines, I made little magazines and coloured them in and stapled them together and sprinkled glitter on. My grandfather got me a little kids’ typewriter when I was about 9. I still have it. It’s very precious. I typed many a magnum opus on that little machine.
What are you working on right now?
I’m putting together a short story collection which is called A Policy of Constant Improvement. In 2015 I won a New Writing North Award for it, and was lucky enough to be mentored by Carys Davies. So I am currently finishing that off. It will be out in 2017. I am also working on a second novel about a character called Clara. I’m not yet sure how that will pan out. She’s a complex character and leading me a bit of a dance at the moment.
When can we look forward to a new release?
My debut THE CONFESSION OF STELLA MOON will be launched in Edinburgh on 7th July and in Newcastle on 13th. They are free events, both at Waterstones. Everyone welcome!
How can readers keep in touch with you?
I have a website where my events and things are listed, and a facebook author page, and I am on Twitter. Here are links to my book and my author pages etc
(Shelley ~ in the white shirt ~ at The National Library of Scotland, 21st June 2016)
Thank you so much for joining me on my blog today Shelley. I’m looking forward to reading your book!
Publisher: Contraband (1st July 2016)
A timely and intelligent book’ – AL Kennedy. 1977: A killer is released from prison and returns ‘home’ – a decaying, deserted boarding house choked with weeds and foreboding. Memories of strange rituals, gruesome secrets and shame hang heavy in the air, exerting a brooding power over young Stella Moon. She is eager to restart her life, but first she must confront the ghosts of her macabre family history and her own shocking crime. Guilt, paranoia and manipulation have woven a tangled web. All is ambiguous. What truth and what lies are behind the chilling confession of Stella Moon?
Pre-order your copy here – The Confession Of Stella Moon by Shelley Day