6 June 2017

Writing Fiction…Well How Hard Can It Be?

Please welcome my Tuesday Talk guest: Sheila Williams

First of all thank you to Helen for allowing me access to her blog. I hope she won’t regret it. 
[Helen: I'm sure I won't! *laugh*]

As a writer I am a beginner. I wear invisible L plates. I have a grammar book on my desk since my editor told me I have a penchant for dangling participles…er…what? I have a zillion saved articles about how to write and a shelf of books to take me into ‘deep point of view’, ‘crafting scenes’ and other arcane practices. I can spend hours glaring at the cursor on my screen as it stares back, balefully waiting for some action. My mind drifts to the now-forbidden ciggy; my fingers itch to press the ‘World of Solitaire’ key, just a quick game to let the ideas surface you understand.
Is it coffee time yet?

How did it come to this?

I had no early ambitions to write although I was and still am a voracious reader. I started a phase of writing non-fiction when I moved to a farm in the Yorkshire Dales and shared my time between running after errant sheep and writing. They were heady days – magazine articles, a newspaper column, a series on independent radio and even, the apogee of fame, a reading on BBC Radio Four, as it was then.  No problem, I was younger, in my thirties and surrounded by material for my next piece. Yet lurking in my mind was the idea of writing fiction…I mean how hard could it be?

And so it began.

A shedload of rejected short stories later – I still remember the pained and plaintive response from an agent – ‘I have no idea where I can place these stories’. Three novels, unfinished because I could never find a way to join the beginning to the end; the middle was always AWOL.  Perhaps it was time to look for another line of work. A divorce hastened this, took me back to reality and a ‘proper’ job although I continued to write non-fiction for professional journals related to my work.

Two decades later yet another of life’s little tsunamis swamped me and once again I was on my own and living on the east Yorkshire coast. A history book followed ‘Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast’ after I learned of the villages that had ‘gone back to the sea’ which is to say, through coastal erosion, they had, like Gadarene Swine, fallen off the cliffs. 

Yet another novel sandwich followed, again minus its filling. Then, miracle of miracles I won a short story writing competition and the literary fires were rekindled. At the grand old age of sixty four I upped-sticks and moved to France. To hell with it, I have a small pension to live off…I would write fiction.

So if you have followed me this far and are not wondering why on earth Helen has let loose this person on her lovely blog this is where I’m at. I’ve just published a collection of short stories,  ‘The Siren and Other Strange Tales’ and completed…yes really, my first completed novel is hopping hopefully around agents and a second is on the way.

What have I learned so far and please note I am offering these as my personal learning points and not advice.

- Self-belief is vital. This is the hardest lesson I’ve learnt. I suffer from a severe lack of confidence in my work and worry incessantly about publishing it. Authors can be the most severe critics particularly of their own work. I have found that a good editor is essential both to iron out the goofs and to praise when appropriate without flattery.

- I never read any ‘how to’ books about writing when I have a w.i.p. I find they knock my confidence and/or pull me off track. I save such books either until the first draft is finished or, better still, when I’m between projects.

- For me, discipline is important…no not that sort!  I’m fortunate in some ways to live alone for the most part of the year and can write when I want providing I can ignore the lure of the garden or the other distractions this part of France offers. Weekday mornings are for writing and the evenings for review and revision. The weekend is for socialising, housework, social media and visiting vide greniers (car boot sales).

- I’ve had to train my family when they visit to respect and understand that I’m working. Occasionally this might involve lying on the sofa, eyes closed. But this is because I’m thinking and composing not snatching a sneaky siesta.

And that is how it has taken me nearly forty years to get any substantial fiction into print…better late than never. 

That’s it for now folks and once again a big thank you to Helen for giving me this opportunity. 

THE SIREN AND OTHER STRANGE TALES is a collection of six short stories spanning the twentieth century and each with a spooky twist.

• Double-dealing care assistant Mandy Robinson meets a mysterious cat. The cat knows when death approaches but does Mandy?

• On a lonely road in France, self-absorbed artist Gavin is given some ghostly marriage guidance.

• A holiday in France proves to be one life-lesson too far for rebellious teenager Sukie.

• In German-occupied France collaborator Jean Fourrier pays the price for his betrayal.

• A simple game of cards between four respectable middle-aged ladies. Nothing could be more natural…could it?

• A stranger comes to a remote seaside village in the middle of winter. What haunts him? Is it grief or guilt…? 



Twitter @SheilawWilliams 


  1. That's the spirit ... never give up (and understand that lack of confidence in one's ability is the default for most writers). Lovely lovely account of herself from a writer that I value.

  2. Thank you Osyth for your very kind comments. The lack of confidence remains but the rhino hide is thickening so the one kind of helps the other.

  3. Thanks for owning up to the journey, which seems quite familiar! Best of luck with your novel!


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