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20 Questions with... Martha Lane

Martha Lane is a writer by the sea. She writes extensively about grief, love, and all things unrequited. Many of her stories can be read online at Her novella, Lies Over the Ocean is available to buy on Amazon. Tweets @poor_and_clean

1. Please introduce yourself. Where are you from? What was your life like growing up?

I’m Martha, I grew up in North East Derbyshire then decided to go the whole hog and move to North East England for university and never left. I’ve now been an honorary Geordie for over half my life.

2. Did you always want to be a writer? If you also work, what do you do / did you do?

Yes, always. As a kid I was forever stapling bits of paper together and calling them books. I wrote my first novel when I was fourteen and saved it on a floppy disk! I’m glad floppy disks are obsolete now so I can’t ever find out how bad it is!

I’ve always stuck to the arts when finding jobs, I’ve worked in bookshops, magazine publishers, cinemas, museums. But writing books was always the goal. Still is.

3. Tell us about your most recently published work in a sentence.

A jilted bride hangs around the Eiffel Tower to exact her niche brand of revenge on happy couples.

4. What are you working on right now?

A novel set in a seaside town in the North East (surprise surprise!). It’s about teen angst, unrequited love, social mobility and inevitability. It’s a bit bleak and bittersweet but hopefully there are enough moments of brevity to make it enjoyable. It actually started as a short story two years ago and just kept growing. I love the characters so much, I’m hoping I can do them justice.

5. Do you have a writing routine, and if so what is it?

Routine is a dirty word in this house. I write when I feel like it, and don’t when I don’t. Fortunately, I feel like writing most of the time.

6. Where do you write – always in the same space, or different places? Can you write ‘on the move’?

I’m not fussy or particular, I can write anywhere. I usually write in an armchair with my spine twisted because the cat is on my knee and I’m having to hold the laptop above him. You should see my biceps! I’m hoping by the end of the year I will have a little space to write that is better for my back and arms. I mainly use my laptop but quite like reverting to pen and paper sometimes. Some of my favourite stories came out in a scribbled rush in bed, on a beach or metro.

7. What advice do you have for other authors who are starting out? What is the best advice you’ve heard?

My main advice is don’t worry too much about advice. Even the steadfast rules of language can be broken. There isn’t a right or wrong way to do this, only your way – and that can change one day to the next. Try to remember that rejection isn’t personal, even when it feels like it. And writing for yourself is as important as writing for an audience. Try and enjoy it!

8. Do you enjoy doing live readings or are they a necessary evil – or somewhere in between?

I love them, I like performing and have a healthy sized ego! What’s the worst that can happen?

9. Are there recurring themes in your work? Where do you feel these emanate from if so?

So many recurring themes I sometimes worry I am getting boring. Obviously, the sea, so far, twelve of my published stories feature the sea somewhere. My novella, Lies Over the Ocean is pretty watery.

Animals appear frequently in my stories; I even ran a workshop encouraging other writers to get wild with their writing! I don’t have any real explanation for why this is, apart from I love and always have loved animals. Even the gross and scary ones are fascinating to me. Over a third of my published stories feature animals in some way and I don’t plan on stopping.

Grief and loss also feature heavily, particularly pregnancy loss. Unfortunately, my own personal experiences feed into those stories. Grief is universal, irrespective of the cause, I think most of us have some experience of those feelings to mine for our writing.

10. Should writers have a moral purpose? What is the purpose of a writer in today’s society?

Stories have always been a way to interpret the world around us. How implicit or explicit the moral siding of the story is remains the author’s choice. While there is a lot of worth in a book like Handmaid’s Tale or Blonde Roots, I don’t think that should take away from the worth of stories for pure entertainment. Writing stories is the perfect chance to share ideas of morality, but I don’t think that means you have to with every story you write.

11. Do you write between genres or not?

Definitely. I write for children, YA and adult audiences. While I tend to lean into literary most comfortably, I have written work that is speculative, humorous, romantic (in my own fashion). I even have a historical flash in the archives. I’m open to most things – though nothing which requires too much research, and most horror gives me nightmares.

12. Which living writers do you most admire?

If I’m talking about books I loved, then it would be people like Sarah Crossan, Kate Atkinson, Jon Klassen, Art Spiegelman, Patrick Ness, Nadia Shireen. Really though, the writers I admire are those who are still plugging away after the umpteenth ‘there’s a lot to admire in this, I just didn’t love the voice’ emails, or indie authors with no marketing budget just trying to sell a copy of their work. Those writers slogging away, submitting and sharing their stories get my admiration daily.

13. Which dead writers do you most admire?

I’m not a lover of the classics, I even wrote my A Level coursework on how Shakespeare is overrated! But I love the work of Iain Banks, EM Forster, Harper Lee, Franz Kafka, Tennessee Williams. I read Of Mice and Men at school and hated it, but I have a feeling if I read it again, I would love it so ask me this question again next year and John Steinbeck might be on there too.

14. What’s the book you wish you’d written?

So many. The Book Thief, Life of Pi, The Wasp Factory, Isaac and The Egg, The Shadow of The Wind, The Shark Caller.

15. What other external influences do you have: nature/place, music etc?

Nature, family and parenthood are the main influences. Parenthood is basically a never-ending generative workshop (just without the time carved out to do the exercises!)

16. Do you suffer from ‘writer’s block’ and how do you overcome it if so?

Of course. I think it’s something we all suffer from – any writer who says they don’t is either a liar or an alien!

After my first child was born, I had a lot of personal stuff going on and ended up having a four-year long writer’s block. It is what it is. I try not to be too harsh on myself if I stumble into a block nowadays, I’m pretty confident it won’t ever last four years again. What’s that old adage, thinking is writing? I think returning after the long break away means I am certain I’ll always come back to it. Knowing that is a little comfort blanket.

If you’re in the quagmire of self-doubt I highly recommend reading positive comments from people who’ve read your stuff, that can really boost confidence and remind you why you’re writing in the first place.

17. What’s been your favourite reaction to your writing?

One pretty sweet reaction is that people are willing to pay for my writing. That’s a wonderful feeling, isn’t it?

Seriously though, I love it when people tell me I’ve made them laugh or cry. Any strong reaction really. Twitter’s good (or it used to be!) for people sharing their thoughts with the writers of the pieces they enjoy. Sometimes it feels a little like shouting into a void, so any reaction is a reminder that people are out there and they are enjoying my words.

18. How do your family and friends feel about your writing?

I think they like it, But I haven’t asked! I really appreciate those who read my stories, especially if they enjoy it. But I’ll still be their friend if they don’t.

19. Do you have a favourite bookshop?

I love what Bert’s Bookshop is doing. Locally, Barter Books is a super impressive second hand book shop. I also have a charity bookshop round the corner which is where I buy most of my books.

Our local libraries are fantastic too, and I’m a big advocate of Borrowbox.

20. How do you see the future of writing? Will we become more or less dependent on Amazon?

I think the industry is an oil tanker and it’s slow to turn. There seem to be pitfalls for authors that could be so easily removed, but because agents and publishers are so set in their ways the difficulties authors face don’t seem to be going anywhere.

I don’t like the idea of companies with profit margins bigger than some countries’ GDPs, but Amazon exists. It sells affordable books and for some indie publishers it’s the easiest way to get a book printed. Until the other problems with the book industry are fixed, people will continue to turn to Amazon.

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