Questions and Craft
Celia is happy to answer questions about her writing. Here are the answers to some of the popular questions that others have asked. Scroll down the page to read all the questions and answers or use the quick links to jump to individual ones. If you’d like to ask a question yourself, please use the contact form.
Questions about writing
Read good fiction and keep writing. It doesn’t really matter what you write: letters, diary, journals, short stories, it is all good practice.
For more advice you could look at the page on this site called The Craft, it’s my advice for writers.
Ideas can come from anywhere. The trick is to remember them. I keep a note book, which is kind of like a scrap book, where I write down ideas. I also stick in anything that I find interesting: cuttings from newspapers and magazines, pictures, post cards, photographs, etc. Then, every so often, I look through it and see if a story is forming there.
Quite often I start with the question: What if?
For example: What if a girl met someone who was a vampire, but didn’t realise?
What if there was a girl who WAS a witch?
What if an English heiress became friends with a slave, and then they both ran away and became pirates?
What if? leads from who and where and when? to how? and why? and what happens next?
It is a useful question to ask…
It depends on the book. Some take longer than others.
They all have to be, to some greater or lesser degree, because they all come from inside me.
I can’t say. The other books / characters wouldn’t like it.
I would probably still be a teacher.
You have to create the atmosphere through using your imagination, imagining the world you are trying to create, using little details to bring it to life. With a book like Witch Child, you also have to do quite a bit of research to find out how people lived, what they thought and what the world looked like to them.
Not yet, although Witch Child is being developed as a play. There has been film interest in Witch Child and Sorceress. It takes a long time to get from page to screen, so you never know.
I am always working on something.
I was an English teacher and began writing with and for my students; they proved to me that I could do it.
I haven’t written it yet.
I never throw anything I’ve written away – it always comes in useful in one way or another, so I keep it for recycling purposes.
Is there any particular ritual involved in your writing process (favourite pen, lucky charm, south facing window)?
I have things that stay on my desk – like a moon gazing hare and a cricket ball. I have things that live on top of my computer – formerly a very small plastic pig, but he got lost – so now it’s one of the aliens from Toy Story.
I think the important thing to do when creating characters is to think of them as real people and think to yourself, how do we get to know real people? We describe what makes them different and we describe their behaviour, so when you are writing about a character, find small things about them that reveal what they are like and then establish their character through their behaviour.
Questions about specific books
A sequel to Pirates! I have not ruled out the possibility – I want to know what happens to them, too! But I can’t do it right now as I have other books I’m already committed to write. If it does look like I’m going to do it, I’ll keep everyone posted on the web site.
Although Witch Child appears to be real it is, in fact, a made up story. I hope that knowing this does not spoil anyone’s enjoyment of the book, but I wrote it as a diary because I wanted the reader to feel close to Mary. From her first words, it is clear that she must keep her diary secret. A quilt seemed a cunning place to hide it. If something is hidden, it can be found. That’s where Alison Ellman came into the story. She seemed a good person to link Witch Child to its sequel, Sorceress.
1659 was a time when witch persecution was still going on in England and also people were setting off for America taking their prejudices with them. In the New World Mary would meet a different people, Native Americans, whose belief was nearer to her own. If she was forced to choose, what would she do?
The Crucible is set at the time of the famous witch persecutions that took place at Salem, Massechusetts in 1692. Witch Child pre-dates this by more than thirty years, but the patterns such persecutions took, the accusations and the reasons for them, were depressingly similar. I wanted there to be echoes back in time from Salem, so I studied the transcripts of the trials (as Arthur Miller did) and used them as the basis for the case against Mary. I was also interested in the fact that the whole thing centred round a group of teenage girls. I write for teenagers. Behaviour doesn’t change. It was a way to establish modern relevance.
You can find out more about Witch Child at www.witchchild.com
Questions about other authors
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë – because combines all kinds of popular genre, but no-one thinks of it as a genre novel and I love the first chapter – the whole novel is there – you just have to read the rest of it to find out why.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – the writing is so brilliant and seemingly effortless, it makes me depressed.
- Dracula by Bram Stoker – The great gothic horror novel – hugely influential on the genre, fascinating narrative structure and it still scares me!
- Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood – Wonderful writing, and I love the way quilt patterns and different quotations interleave the fiction. It is based on an actual case and uses this to explore what is fact and what is fiction, what is real, what isn’t, what is ultimately knowable about a person – I find this fascinating.
- A Biography of London by Peter Ackroyd – This book accords exactly with what interests me about history and is so big and thick I can keep going back to it.
- Margaret Atwood – she is what I aspire to be.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald – as above.
- Alan Garner – he made writing for children seem like a grown-up thing to do.
- E. Annie Proulx – she coins the most astonishing metaphors and makes it seem easy.
- Cormac McCarthy – I discovered him fairly recently and find his writing challenging and exciting.
That would be telling!
I would never be so prescriptive.