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20 Questions with... Rachel Canwell

Rachel Canwell is a writer and teacher living in Cumbria. Her debut flash collection ‘Oh I do like to be’ was published by Alien Buddha in July 2022. Her short fiction has been published in Sledgehammer Lit, Pigeon Review, Reflex Press, Selcouth Station and The Birdseed amongst others. She is currently working on her first novel and a novella-in-flash.

Twitter - @bookbound2019

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

I live in Cumbria now, but I grew up in a very different landscape. I lived in Peterborough but spent a lot of time visiting my grandparents in the Lincolnshire fens.

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

I have always been drawn to writing, but never believed that I could be successful. It has taken me quite a long time to come back to writing. I work full time as a teacher in a SEN school.

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

My most recent work ‘Oh I do like to be’ is a flash collection set in a British seaside resort; it focuses on the lives of the women who live there and their ordinary but extraordinary lives.

What are you working on right now?

I am beginning my second draft of a novel set in the Fens. I am also working on a novella-in-flash that focuses on witches and witch trials.

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

Write when I can! Life is busy and writing is fitted in.

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

Whereever I can.

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

Just do it and don’t worry about the end product, get the words out. The best advice anyone has given me is play and make a mess.

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

I haven’t done many but I do enjoy them. Which surprises me as the first time I was terrified!!

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

Motherhood seems to come up a lot and the collection has a fair share of female rage! I like to write about the extraordinary in the ordinary, focusing on lives that might otherwise have been for too long over looked.

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

I think there are so many purposes to writing. To entertain, to educate, to provide escape and to challenge. I don’t think writers have to have a moral purpose anymore than any other profession or group.

Do you write between genres or not?

I write a lot of flash but I am also working on a novel and a novella in flash. Historical fiction is something I love to write. I guess most of my work had a literary fiction slant.

Which living writers do you most admire?

Jenni Fagan and Sarah Moss spring immediately to mind for the way they can say so much in a few words. Heidi James’ work is incredible and she is such a generous and supportive writer to others.

Which dead writers do you most admire?

Emily Bronte will always be a goddess!

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

Seems to vary week on week! But this year it's Hex by Jenni Fagan.

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

External influences are wide reaching. And idea will often come from a place, something I have read or seen.

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

Often!! It seems to be a case of taking the pressure off and doing something else.

What’s been your favourite reaction to your writing?

With my recent collection lots of people have said how they recognise the sense of place, and that was exactly what I hoped to achieve.

How do your family and friends feel about your writing?

It’s just something I do! I have teenagers and they are pretty hard to impress.

Do you have a favourite bookshop?

My local bookshop The Book Lounge in Kirkby Lonsdale is fab. I really love Barter Books in Alnwick which is a huge second hand bookshop.

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

Good question! I hope not more dependent as I think indie bookshops are a live blood of communities – both writers and locally.

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