Celia Rees is a brilliant writer, with several novels under her belts: a personal favorite being “Witch Child”. Here, we went a little into her world as a writer, as well as novel production & a love of History:
How and why did you start out as a writer?
I didn’t start writing until I was in my thirties and a teacher. A number of factors came together. As an English Teacher, I was interested in the process of writing and began to write with my students. I was also interested in what my students were reading. I read a lot of books for children and teenagers as part of my job and began to talk to them about the books they liked and the ones they didn’t want to read. They liked exciting books, thrillers and horror stories, but ones that had a bit more to them than the average genre novel (they were a discerning lot). They liked books that were edging towards adult in style, content and narrative structure but with teenagers like them at the centre of the story. At the same time, a friend told me a true story about a group of her students who had got mixed up in a murder hunt. The subject seemed perfect, so I thought I’d have a go at writing it. That story provided the nucleus of my first novel, Every Step You Take.
What are the pros and cons of the job?
You can work when you like.
You are your own boss.
Like any creative process, it can be very rewarding.
It is possible to make a lot of money (with the emphasis on ‘possible’)
It can be great fun.
You get to meet other writers and interesting people.
You get to travel, for example I will be going to Greece and Italy in May to talk about my books.
You get e mails and letters from readers all over the world.
It may not happen!
It can be a struggle to get published and you have to cope with rejection
Most writers make very little money from their writing
It can be deeply frustrating if you can’t think of an idea, the idea doesn’t work, the words don’t come.
What was the aim behind writing “The Witch Child”?
I don’t write anything with a specific aim in mind. I have a story I want to tell. Readers make of it what they will.
Can you name any good resources for wannabe writers?
Reading other writers. There are also lots of ‘how to’ books which all have good advice in them and courses that you take at places like the Arvon Foundation.
Would you ever collaborate with another writer on a novel?
I’ve always loved History and studied it at university, so I did know the period. In fact, I had the first idea for Witch Child while I was in an American History Seminar – not that I ever thought it would turn into a novel.
Out of all your novels, which would you most like to be made into a film?
Hard for me to to say. I think they would all make good films.
What are your top tips for wannabe writers?
Read. A lot.
Never throw any writing away, but on the other hand, don’t think everything you write will be published. Write because you want to do it.
Keep a notebook for random thoughts, ideas and observations.
Don’t think in terms of writing whole books – short practice pieces are more valuable.
Do you think it is right for the Government to put slang into GCSE books, then complain it is affecting participants grades?
You can study a book with slang in it, but you don’t have to write slang yourself. If you are talking about Creative Writing, it is probably best avoided. Remember that the book used for GCSE were not written for that specific purpose, they were written as novels not classroom texts. The slang and swearing will be there for a purpose. The purpose of a GCSE answer is to pass the exam. If examiners don’t like slang, don’t use it, unless you can demonstrate that you are using it for a specific purpose, in someone’s speech, for example. As far as Voice is concerned, I’d make sure there was a contrasting voice which is not using slang, etc. to show you have a range of register. Use your common sense.
To be a good writer, do you need good spelling?
Yes. But you can always use spell checkers.
What does writing mean to you?
It’s what I do. I can’t imagine a life without it.
Now, for one random question, as you must get bored of being asked about your job all the time:
Do you prefer X factor or Strictly come dancing?
Neither – sorry!