Interview with I Read Indie

Talking today with Mandy from I Read Indie about books and writing. Here's what I had to say.

What would you be doing right now if you were not an author?

I need creative endeavours in my life in order to maintain my inner balance. I like to write, whether my work gets published or not, because words are my favourite creative medium and I feel more myself when I do. So it’s hard to imagine not writing – I’ve always done it. Having said that, I also design and make my own jewellery using sterling silver and semi-precious gemstones (I’ve got a photo gallery of my creations on my website), and I enjoy that too – it’s much more physical than writing and it’s good to be physically active when you’ve been sitting in front of a computer screen for hours.

I combine writing with occupational psychology work and I’m passionate about helping people (especially other creative people) to survive the professional challenges and achieve their career goals. I love this work and I’m grateful to be able to support other writers, no matter where in the world they reside. Technology is fabulous!

Scarlet Bennett on writing

5 years ago: what were you doing?

I was doing the same kind of work I do now – writing in every spare moment and doing occupational psychology work with individuals, groups, and within organisations. I was mostly writing short stories then, although I’d written an almost complete first novel that I abandoned because I wasn’t happy with it. That particular work will never see the light of day, but I’m glad I wrote it because I developed a lot as a writer through that aborted first effort.

Do you have a certain writing ritual?

I’m very busy, so I made a conscious decision early on to keep my writing routine as flexible as possible. I prefer to write on my laptop, but I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go so I can work on my story if I have a few unexpected spare moments. And I do use the notebook even though I prefer to type than write by hand – I refuse to get wedded to any particular method. I’m the same with time of day. I have no set routine because my day-to-day working life is highly variable. Sometimes I get up early to write, sometimes I tuck into bed with my laptop and write before I go to sleep. My philosophy is that the story is inside me, therefore the external circumstances shouldn’t matter.

My only fixed ritual is that I always start each writing session with a review of the chapter I’ve been working on previously. Editing is a pleasant way to get my mind into gear – less demanding than staring at a blank page – and by the time I’ve edited the previous day’s work, I’m ready to go.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?

It’s hard to put my finger on the toughest criticism I’ve received as an author, because sometimes it’s the little things that sting the most, and that’s usually more about the way the criticism is delivered, rather than the criticism itself.

I was sensitive to criticism in my teens and twenties, but I’m much less so now. That’s partly down to maturity, but it’s also because I know how to deal with it now.

I think it’s important for writers to be emotionally robust. Firstly, it makes life a lot more pleasant (no tears!) and, secondly, it frees you to write with courage, to risk causing offence in the service of your story.

Ever fangirled over another author? Who was it?

I’m afraid I reserve my fangirling for singers and guitarists. I fangirl a bit over Australian author Tim Winton – largely because he’s intelligent, thoughtful and sensitive and that’s very appealing – but I’m mostly a sucker for a handsome singer with a voice that combines raunch with vulnerability, and if he happens to be carrying a guitar, all the better. I also fangirl over Colin Firth, particularly when he comes as Mr Darcy, but that’s only sensible, isn’t it?

Is there an author you'd like to meet?

I’d quite like to meet Tim Winton – in my dreams, at least. If it actually ever happened, I’d probably be too apprehensive to enjoy it. Circumstances like that usually pass much more successfully in my imagination than in my life. I’m the sort of person who would walk away afterwards thinking… ‘I should have said this… ‘I shouldn’t have said that’… ‘Why didn’t I think to ask him about…?’ It’s agony.

Biggest writing pet peeve?

Characters, for me, succeed or fail on two criteria: dialogue and action. If the dialogue’s clumsy or inauthentic, all I can see is the writer and the mechanics. The writing becomes a barrier that keeps me out of the story. If the dialogue is real, the writer disappears and the character becomes a person to me – someone I care about and want to get to know better.

The same is true of action, but I think the stakes are possibly even higher here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tossed a book aside – disappointed at the wasted investment in reading to that point – because a character has been thrown into some kind of action that’s completely out of sync with the psychological profile the author has created. Once again, that takes me out of the story and into the mechanics (in a way that I find difficult to forgive). Action, in real life, emerges from the intersection of person, place and situation. How we behave is influenced by the time and place we find ourselves in, the social and environmental pressures we face, and who we are as people. Credible characters take themselves with them wherever they go – they don’t suddenly undergo a personality bypass in order to help a writer out with a difficult plot point. Not on my reading list, anyway.

Do you read other's reviews of your books?

Absolutely! I’m always curious to know what other people think and I’m grateful for the time and trouble they’ve taken to review my work.