Saturday, 19 May 2018

Diana talks to MA student, Elizabeth Stafford-Smith

My name is Elizabeth Stafford-Smith and I am a MA Creating Writing and Publishing student at West Dean School of Arts and Conservancy. I am writing my first novel, Illusion or Delusion.

What is your favourite picture?

At the moment I would say it is Portrait de Dame by Tom Roberts, because the moment I saw it I knew I had found an image of the heroine, Anna, in my novel, Illusion or Delusion. She is a well born young Englishwoman who travels to America to track down the man who have her inheritance and this portrait is just right for her - the clothes and the hair.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision? How old were you when you first started to write seriously?
It depends on what you call seriously. I have been writing, scribbling in notebooks really, since my teens and have lots of them locked away but I have not been brave enough to try and get anything published. Now I’m coming to the end of an MA in Creative Writing at West Dean which has involved writing and editing the first draft of a novel. I still have a lot of rewriting and editing to do but I think I will try and get this out in the world. I think part of it is getting older – I’m in my 60s – and I don’t worry so much about how people see me anymore.

Marmite – love it or hate it?
I love Marmite so much I’ve been known to eat it from a spoon! I had marmite soldiers as a child and tried them with my three children but none of them would have anything to do with it.

Do you have any ritual and routines when writing?
I can write just about anywhere (good advice received years ago to not be dependent on a particular time or place) but I do like a coffee when I start and later, lots of water (and perhaps some chocolate, depending on how it’s going).

Other than writing full-time, what would be your dream job?
A designer and maker of art quilts – I love playing with fabric and threads and often dye my own. I always have at least a couple of projects on the go, I use hand stitching as a form of relaxation – I can think about anything while my hands are occupied.

Coffee or tea?
Always coffee. I used to drink tea until I realised I didn’t actually like it! Now I’ll drink herbal teas if I’ve had too much coffee and I’m bored with just water.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
I don’t know what’s going to happen in scene until I write it. I know what it will be about and what the outcome needs to be but how the characters will get there I don’t know. It involves a lot of sitting staring out of the window, wondering what might make someone do or say what I want them to.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document, what would it be?
The missing pages of the books Dr John Dee hid a chest. The books were found in the 1640s but were unintelligible to those who found them and were used to light fires until someone realised what they were. They were a distillation of his knowledge of alchemy and magic and I think they would be fascinating.

How much research do you do, and do you ever go on research trips?
I probably like research too much – I can always think of another book or website I could be reading rather than settling into writing. I enjoy visiting museums and like to get a feel for a place. I have used a rock formation in Kansas as the setting for the end of my novel and plan to go there as soon as I can.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
I think I’m always a little bit in love with my heroes – I have to find them appealing even if not perfect.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
As long as a book is well written, I’ll enjoy it. I’m reading the second book in Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle at the moment and have a Phil Rickman lined up next. I’ll always be happy with a Terry Pratchett even though I’ve read them all many times.

The author, Elizabeth Stafford Smith.

© Diana Milne January 2018 © Elizabeth Stafford-Smith April 2018

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