Creative Frontiers talked to Pam Whittington, one of the writers in our Six of the Best series.
CF: Tell us a bit about yourself
PW: I was a G.P.O. telephonist. That’s right: headset, switchboard and plugs. I loved the work. I have been a widow for ten years – widow is not nearly as nice a word as wife.
My two daughters live locally. I have two grandchildren, both at universities and enjoying travel. I also enjoy having my daughter’s yellow Labrador stay with me when she is on late, or night shifts.
CF: What subjects or genres do you like to read?
PW: Stories with a spiritual theme and also romantic fiction, but not just boy meets girl, more someone’s journey through their life. Books which tell a story of struggle and overcoming their demons, but I don’t like wartime or life in Europe pre Second World War or terrorists overrunning countries. I’m a bit fainthearted and prefer to read about happy events.
CF: Who are your favourite writers?
PW: Santa Montefiore. Lucinda Riley. I find these two authors just so clever when it comes to telling a page-turning tale, and after much twisting and turning they have a very acceptable ending. I loved Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie. It taught me so much and reinforced my beliefs in life. I also like Sally Vickers, Sue Gee, Robert Goddard and P.D. James. My favourite travel book was In The Empire of Genghis Khan by Stanley Stewart. Probably my favourite book was The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. I also look forward to each new book that comes out by my friend Pam Fudge.
CF: What subjects or genres do you like to write?
PW: I love local history especially social history of how life was lived in my area and also places I visited. I researched and wrote the history, Hythe Hospital. A War Memorial Remembered. My second local history was Hythe Fire Brigade. A Local History. I like to write short stories with a slightly ghostly theme. My first novel is about re-incarnation. This was based on an archaeological dig I witnessed. My second novel is based on information suggesting many marriages are celibate.
CF: How did you know you wanted to write?
PW: I enjoyed English lessons at school and afterwards I was always scribbling about something, but submitting them for publication was not something I ever considered.
CF: How did you get the confidence to start?
PW: I did a course with the Writers’ Bureau, and won first place in a competition at Southampton Writers’ Conference. I joined Southampton Writers’ Circle and found support and new friends as well.
CF: If you can remember the day you went from non-writer to writer, how did that feel?
PW: We moved house and location. My daughters and husband were at work and although I had a part time job, I also had some spare time. I asked myself then what had I always wanted to do because now I had time to do it. Writing came into my mind. I remember getting an A4 pad and sitting in the garden. I began to scribble again.
CF: Do you find novels or short stories easier to write?
PW: Once I have the idea, I think it has to be novels, as it is just a continuation of the idea. Short stories I often write the outline and then put it away for a while.
CF: How (and where) do writing ideas come to you?
PW: I have a desk and computer in a small room. I’m a great one for eavesdropping. I hear some great ‘one liners’. Even something as short as that can give me an idea for a short story. Longer work comes from brooding at length over an idea.
CF: What writing methods and discipline do you practise?
PW: I am not too disciplined about my writing. I have failed badly recently when the weather was hot, as my creativity just seemed to dry up. Usually, I write at some time during the day, when I can concentrate for two or three hours. No good trying to write when you have something else in the back of your mind. A little relaxing walk can often bring inspiration.
CF: How much do you edit and polish?
PW: I usually write the story, then print out a chapter. I only seem to see my mistakes when they are on paper. Eventually I will rewrite the whole thing.
CF: Which do you find easier: constructing characters or building a plot?
PW: The characters usually come first, the main ones anyway, and although the plot is in the back of my mind I find it exciting, especially when the characters sometimes go a slightly different way from that which I intended, but the plot overall remains the same.
When I am writing I find either a character or situation stays in my mind, no matter what I am doing or where I go. It can mean making changes, and that’s also a challenge, which I enjoy.
CF: What’s the hardest thing about writing for you?
PW: Definitely the computer. I’d like just to write and not have to conform to what the computer expects. It can ruinit for you. I sometimes feel I would get on a lot quicker without it.
CF: What do you most enjoy about writing?
PW: With fiction, I love creating characters and placing them on path through a life, which I manipulate. Sometimes they take a different route from that which I intended and that is exciting. It makes them real. With local history, it is the research, again about characters, only they’re real.
CF: Do you fall into writing ‘dumps’ and, if so, how do you get out of them?
PW: Yes. I do. Sometimes I leave it and do something else. I don’t find it works to force writing. I don’t panic as I know it will come back again, maybe tomorrow. I couldn’t not write.
CF: If you’ve suffered rejection, what works for you in dealing with it?
PW: It doesn’t affect me as much as it used to. Then I would shut the door and go out, meet a friend, if possible otherwise, retail therapy, or just walking along the coast. Now I think, ‘Well, that’s your loss, then.’ I always have more out there and probably send it out again, there and then.
CF: What are you working on at the moment?
PW: I am writing another novel. This one is a romantic mystery. I have started my memoirs. I also pen various verses as ideas present. I usually have a poem forming in my mind.
CF: What further ambitions do you have for your writing?
PW: Like most authors my main ambition is to gain an agent or publisher. Secondly, I would like to write another local history; this time on local characters, wonderful people, who helped to form the area, where I live.