Thursday, February 28, 2013

Author Interview with Shirley Benton

 Shirley Benton is the author of Can we Start again? and Looking for Leon, Pictured below. She was a panel guest at The Literary Ladies Evening which I hosted last summer in Drogheda and she is pictured below with fellow Irish writers Michelle Jackson and Helen Moorhouse. 

        1.   Did you always want to write?
Oh yes, particularly when I was younger and was being asked what I wanted to do when I grew up – mind you, I kept that to myself whenever I had my consultations with the career guidance teacher at school. Even back then, I knew I’d be told to do something else if I ever wanted to make a living. It was always at the back of my mind, though, even when I went on to work in industries that weren’t in any way related to writing. I always thought the sense of achievement of seeing your book on the shelves would be huge, and I aspired to experience that feeling one day myself. 

2. What was your favourite book as a child?

When I was very young, it was the series of Noddy books by Enid Blyton rather than just one particular book. I moved on to Enid’s obligatory Malory Towers and St. Clare’s books, then graduated to the Sweet Valley High series by Francine Pascal. 

3.When/where/how do you find the time to write?(do you have a separate writing desk or room?)

I have an office – a very neglected office. The daily plan is that I spend at least three hours there at night after the children have gone to bed. The reality is that I grab time here and there during the day because I usually don’t have a block of three hours in the evenings, due to various family and work commitments. When the plan occasionally works out, it is fabulous – but the reality is more frantic than the aspiration!

4.Who/what inspires your writing?

The fact that I know this is what I want to do for a living inspires me to write, although that’s possibly more of a motivation than an inspiration!

5. What advice would you give aspiring authors?

If writing a book is something you really want, you have to be prepared to sacrifice something and just make the time for it – not tomorrow, not next week – today. It could be something as simple as cutting out a TV show that lasts an hour and you’re not really keen on it anyway. There’ll always be a reason to put off writing your book, but you owe it to yourself to try if it’s what you really want – and nobody will do it for you or make that time for you. It’s entirely within your control to make your dream a reality, and that’s a powerful position to be in.

6.What's the best advice you ever got?

I suppose it’s an offshoot of what I said above – it’s the old Nike classic, 

           7.Do you have a favourite fictional character that you love to write about? 

I actually don’t. I guess people writing a series of books would, but all of my books are standalone. 

8.Have you ever/Would you ever base a character on a real person?


I think it’s asking for trouble to do that, because I’m sure some folks would recognise themselves! I also think it would exploit people. Even for “nasty” characters, I would never base one on someone I didn’t like in real life. 

10.What do you think of people who dismiss women's books/popular fiction as chick lit and say it is a passing fad or just frivolous?

If it’s a passing fad, it’s a very long one! I don’t think women’s fiction as a genre will ever be defunct. As regards frivolity, well, I personally think chick-lit is a misleading label that doesn’t accurately reflect the content of the vast majority of women’s fiction books. I can think offhand of various books that are classed as chick-lit and deal with alcoholism, depression and coping with death. If those issues were explored in a book written by a man, would the book be dismissed as being frivolous? 

I often wonder what exactly is/are the distinguishing factor(s) between a book written by a woman and aimed at the female market that isn’t classified as chick-lit, and a book written by a woman and aimed at the female market that is classified as chick-lit. For example, I recently read 
  a book written by a woman that focuses on a love story, and this particular book is very much not being marketed as chick-lit. However, a lot of women’s fiction that contains love stories will instantly be classified as chick lit. So what’s the difference? Is it the humour? The tone? And if so, aren’t these criteria rather subjective and arbitrary anyway? Why are some books deemed to be so much more worthy than others?

Personally, I don’t let the label worry me too much. As long as people who read my books enjoy them, I’m happy. However, I do think the dismissal of chick lit as fluff is disempowering for women – but I choose not to let that get to me, and I focus on enjoying what I’m doing instead.

11.How do you think the e-book will affect the book world and your career in writing?

I hope it can only affect it in a positive way, in that it will help authors – including me - to reach a wider audience. 

12.How long did it take to write your first book?

It took eleven months to write, if I remember correctly. 

            13.What's the hardest part about writing?

For me, time is always my enemy. There’s always so much I want to do relating to writing, but there’s only so much time you can make in your schedule to perform writing-related tasks without neglecting some other aspects of your life. It’s not enough anymore to write a book and get it published – you need to actively make sure it meets an audience and get involved in marketing it, and that takes time. I really enjoy it all, but I am usually scrambling to find time to do everything I need to do!

14.What do you think of the 50 Shades phenomenon? what next?

I haven’t read any of the trilogy and probably won’t because it doesn’t appeal to me at all, but I think it’s just one of those phenomenons that only come along every few years as a result of a combination of factors, and although its success will be analysed and attempts will probably be made to replicate its level of success, it’ll be impossible to do so. As for what’s next, I think I can safely say that nobody really knows – which some people would consider quite frustrating and others would see as being very exciting, because anything is possible.

This will be the last of this series of Interviews as I will be introducing two brand new regular interview features called My Life in Books and My Writing Life. Please get in touch if you would like to take part in either. I am looking for writers, bloggers, publishers, readers basically anyone who works with or loves books.

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