Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today, I’m welcoming Michelle to the tearoom. Welcome. My first question is what would you like to drink.
Thank you for inviting me over, Paula! I’d love a large mug of builders’ tea if you’ve got one, please.
We have any you like here. Now we have our refreshments I’ll start with asking you when you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
I’m like an anti-moth—drawn to darkness. Whatever I write it tends to come out downbeat or scary, so it was always going to be dystopia, urban fantasy and thrillers for me.
What writing elements do you think are your strongest points, and what would you like to do better?
I find dialogue quite natural to write. Probably comes of years of chatting too much! Strong emotions always inspire me too. The parts of my eco thriller Tipping Point I’m most proud of are the scenes with huge dramatic feelings like grief, fear and rage. I struggle the most with plotting and logistical scenes. Maybe this is just part of the job, but I go down some rabbit holes with plotting and it can take me weeks to find my way out!
Choosing only five of your favourite authors. Can you list them in order, 1 begin the top of your list, and say how have they influenced your writing?
Okay here goes (though of course by the time you read this my list will have changed several times):
Kazuo Ishiguro – his writing is so vivid and for me he’s the master if voice. Every book of his I’ve ever read is so distinct in its voice you’d never know it was the same author. If I could bring a narrator to life half as well, I’d be a happy writer.
Phillip Pullman – for the soulful humanity of his stories. I admire his ability to successfully flirt with controversial topics by wrapping them in rip-roaring adventure.
Jonathan Coe – I tried to channel the polemic rage behind the satire of What a Carve Up, one of my favourite books, when writing Tipping Point.
Sarah Waters – for her creation of atmosphere and setting. The Little Stranger is one of very few books that have genuinely scared me.
Stephen King – I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention SK, whose work I devoured as a teenager. That’s the man, officer. He’s the one who started me on this dark road…
I’m allowing myself a couple of honourable mentions to redress the gender balance a little: Emily Bronte for the twisted darkness of her mind, and JK Rowling— for creating a phenomenon. I mean, can anyone even remember life before Harry, Ron and Hermione?
I know that’s seven. Sorry!
When reading your work through do you ever find that your daily mood swings are reflected in your writing?
I love writing precisely because it takes me away from my daily mood swings! I don’t generally find mood effects my writing, but I do sometimes spot themes and situations coming out which I have clearly been subconsciously mulling over—past events, or anxieties that I was unaware of.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
Not so much characters, but there are one or two real-life situations I’ve worked through while writing. Some have found their way to become major subplots.
Do you set yourself a daily word count?
No, never. I have a demanding job and two young kids so I write when I can, and this doesn’t always lend itself to word count targets. I prefer to pleasantly surprise myself with a hundred words than get frustrated because I ‘only’ wrote a thousand.
How many hours in a day do you write?
I am nothing if not inconsistent. So…between zero and ten hours?
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
When I set out writing seriously a couple of years ago, I figured if I ever got published I’d want the world to know it was me, so decided against a pseudonym. Now I can see the attraction, in that it could help to separate private and writing life in some way. It’d be fun to be someone else sometimes! There is another author called Michelle Cook, too, so it may have been helpful in hindsight. But there it is—I’m still plain old me when I write.
How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
Sometimes the names just come with the character. Other times, it’s a case of trawling through baby naming websites and IMDB cast lists. For Tipping Point, which is set fifteen years from now, I tried to use names that might be unusual currently—in the UK, at least—but could become future trends. That’s where the name of my main character Essie, and those of her two sisters, came from. As a little private joke for myself, I named all three siblings after natural phenomena: Estella (star), Willow (as in the tree), and Darya (sea). With the story’s ecological theme, they seemed to fit perfectly. For all significant characters I usually do a pen picture and so I do know a fair bit about them. This has proved really useful in planning the sequel, where some of the character traits and backgrounds I didn’t cover explicitly in Tipping Point have come to the fore.
What was your hardest scene to write?
From a practical point of view, I really struggled with a passage forever etched on my brain, and known to me as ‘The Banner Hanging Scene’. It required lots of logistical explanation and many rewrites for my beta readers to understand what the heck was going on. Aside from that, I wrote a pivotal, grief-stricken scene for Tipping Point (no spoilers!) which was pretty raw and draining, but is now one of my favourites.
Thank you for joining us, Michelle. If you would like find out more about Michelle’s writing and books click on the links below:
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.