Monday, 25 April 2011

Interview with Trevor Belshaw

Trevor Belshaw lives in Nottinghamshire. He’s a published writer and poet with a hilariously funny book for adults, Tracy’s Hot Mail, under his belt. He also writes children’s books under the pseudonym, Trevor Forest.

Website - Blog
Tracy's Hot Mail

Trevor Forest website
Children's books on Kindle
Trevor’s books in paperback

What was the first thing you had published?
The first ever thing was a four-line poem called 'My Mistake'. It won a highly commended award in the Farringdon Poetry Competition. The first article I had published was a piece about my time working in the coal mines. Called 'The Early Shift', it was published in Best of British Magazine. My first published short story, 'Desperate Measures', appeared in Ireland’s Own.

Tell us about your proudest writing achievement
Erm, scratches head. That’s a tough question. I think the answer has to be, finishing a book for the first time. I’ve had many false starts, as most writers have, but I think writing The End, at the completion of my children’s book, 'Magic Molly', ranks as my best achievement.

I’m quite proud of the short stories I’ve had published in various charity anthologies including '100 Stories for Haiti', '50 Stories for Pakistan', 'Shambelurkling and Other Stories', and the forthcoming '100 Stories for Queensland'. I have also had some short stories and poems published by Ether Books on their iPhone app, which is another thing I’m quite proud of.

What are your writing strengths and weaknesses?
The weaknesses are easier to list than my strengths and far more numerous! I’m too lazy. I put things off far too much. I don’t read enough fiction. I’ve failed to find a publisher or agent. Strengths? I write good dialogue and some of the humour I attempt is actually quite funny. Writing as Trevor Forest in my children’s author guise, I think I hit just about the right note for the age group I write for.

Do you have a writing routine or any odd writing quirks?
I’d love a routine but I’m not that sort of person, so I just let things happen and go with the flow. I love being surprised at where the story and characters take me. I used to write a lot in the evenings, but since I had to take on another part time job I don’t have much free time these days. Ideally I’d like to be able to write in the afternoon but it’s just not practical. I write 'The Diary of an Aspiring Adulteress' on a Wednesday morning if I have the time, then I edit and publish it in the evening but again, it’s not always possible. Life was easier a couple of years ago when I had one job, not the three part-time ones I have now.

When I was writing 'Tracy’s Hot Mail', I could put out two to three thousand words a day with ease. 'Magic Molly', 'Peggy Larkin’s War' and 'Abigail Pink’s Angel' were all written at around the same daily word count. Now I struggle to get that amount down in a week. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to that sort of regime when the economic situation improves.

How important is it to you to plot your novels?
I don’t plot too heavily but I have changed the way I approach it slightly. I used to just let an idea run until it got me where it wanted to take me, but I found that I was rambling a bit and there were too many loose ends lying around that had to be cut out or tidied up. Nowadays I have an ideas sheet where I jot down the main points of the story in some sort of order, though not in any great detail. I add to it as ideas come to me during the writing process.

Are your characters ever based on people you know?
No, erm, the odd one maybe. I tend to pick out certain things a person does and blow them up out of all proportion. One or two of my background characters are a combination of people I knew when I was growing up, but in general I like to invent my own. The vast majority of people are far too boring to characterise in a book! A writer has to add personality to them to make them come alive.

Your main protagonist is often female. Why is this?
I like the challenge of writing female leads. It means that they can’t just rely on brute force to get them out of tricky situations. With female leads I have to be more subtle than that. I also find them much more interesting as characters.

Apart from that, I don’t think there are anywhere near enough female leads in children’s literature. Girls read much more than boys, so there is a bigger audience waiting for me and I think they want more than just pony club novels on their bookshelves these days. Boys have always been taken on amazing adventures in literature. Girls have every right to have adventures too.

Who is your favourite author and why?
Adult Fiction: Leslie Thomas. That man can make the most mundane setting seem like the most interesting place on the planet. His books have drama, pathos and humour, sometimes all in one paragraph. His characters are utterly believable and he writes about ordinary, everyday people that find themselves stumbling into situations they can’t handle. His men tend to be inadequate in one way or another, usually when it comes to understanding women. He’s still best remembered for his first novel, 'The Virgin Soldiers', but he’s far more than that. My writing style was once compared to Leslie Thomas and I have to say it was the proudest moment of my writing life. Other writers I admire are George Orwell, Tom Sharpe, Alan Sillitoe and Nottingham author, John Harvey, who was once a member of the writing club I joined briefly last year.

As for children’s fiction I have to go back to my own childhood and mention Richmal Crompton, Arthur Ransome, Willard Price and C S Lewis. I read 'The Hobbit' when I was about ten and that book, along with 'The Lord of the Rings', had a major influence on my reading habits as a teenager. Honorary mentions should go to Enid Blyton, A.A. Milne and Roald Dahl.

How do you handle rejections?
Mostly I’m pretty stoical about it all. I’ve had so many rejections now that is ought to be water off a ducks back, but it isn’t always. At times, when I know I’ve been close, I can get a bit down, but after a few days I manage to shake of the feeling of being a worthless failure, re-read a few of the nice things that have been said about my work, and tell myself to have another go. I do ask myself if it’s all worth it at times though. I’m still not 100% sure I’ve got the right answer.

What qualities do you think writers should have?
They should be flexible first and foremost. A writer should always be open to new ideas, even if it means they have to write about a subject that takes them out of their comfort zone.

What are you working on at the moment?
'The Diary of an Aspiring Adulteress'. A web serial that I hope will become a novel. I’m also preparing to write sequels to two of my children’s books, 'Magic Molly' and 'Peggy Larkin’s War'.

What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?
I’d advise new writers to get a broader experience by writing in different genres to the one they are most comfortable in. Have a go at articles, short stories, even poetry. I think the best piece of advice is, don’t rely on friends and family to give you an honest opinion. I can guarantee that they’ll tell you anything you produce is wonderful, and they’ll mean it, because they love you. Instead, join a writer’s group; there are clubs in most large towns and cities. If you can’t find one nearby, join an on-line one. There are lots of them about and you’ll get far more constructive criticism then you’ll ever get from Mum or Auntie Flo.

Use social networks like Twitter and Facebook to build up your circle of writer contacts. Listen to constructive criticism and try to ignore the people who leave overtly nasty comments or reviews. If you find the main point of the criticism is recurring, then it might be a good idea to take it seriously and try to avoid making the same mistakes in future. Above all else, listen to the advice of more experienced writers. They’ve already trodden the path you are about to walk and their advice will be invaluable.

Trevor Belshaw was talking to Maureen Vincent-Northam, co-author of The Writer's ABC Checklist


DW96 said...

Women can't rely on brute force? You haven't met my missus ;-)

Cracking interview, Mo, and some valuable insights, Trevor.

Marc Latham said...

Nice interview you both.

Marit said...

Great interview, Trevor (and of course, Mo!) - and now for your next one... your fame is spreading.

joanne fox said...

Great interview, thanks Trevor and Maureen.

It's interesting that you say you have to be more subtle when writing female characters. I like to try writing a male point of view from time to time and I do find myself writing in a more direct way than when I'm using a female point of view. One of the best things about writing (and reading!) is being able to enjoy that change of perspective.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Very interesting interview - great questions, Maureen!

Like Joanne, I quite enjoy writing from the male perspective sometimes. And I do agree with you, Trevor, about writing in different genres.