Abigail lives with her husband in an inconvenient cottage in the Scottish highlands. She’s most recently been published in Mystery Weekly and Platform for Prose. Her hobbies include fishing, napping, and drinking very good wine.
NLK: When did you start writing and what made you become a writer?
AS: Honestly, I can’t remember ever starting writing. It’s something I’ve just always done. Ever since I understood that the books I was reading had an author I wanted to be one. Growing up the only variation I ever had on what I wanted to be was a reporter.
Having said that, I’ve only been taking my writing really seriously for the last few years. I’ve no idea why I started then. I was, and still am, busier than I’ve ever been in my life. But it just happened. Maybe my mid-twenties was simply the right time for me.
NLK: Your writing focuses on relationships. Why is writing about relationships attractive?
AS: Yes, I’m fascinated by people. What’s going on in their minds when they are going about their day-to-day lives? And the relationships between people are most interesting of all. I’m particularly drawn to marital relationships. Troubled ones of course, or where’s the story? I think the reason for that is that I’ve only had one romantic relationship- I married my first boyfriend at the age of 19 and never looked back. So marriage is what I know! Unfortunately for my husband, my friends and family often assume I’m writing about him.
NLK: What is the hardest thing about writing?
AS: I think just about every writer would say the same- doing it every day.
NLK: Do you write more by logic or intuition? Can you summarise your writing process?
AS: I don’t know- which probably means I do it by intuition! I think if you read an awful lot then you learn the rhythm of words without having to think about it much.
My process starts with an idea. If it’s a short story idea I write the whole thing out in my notebook as soon as possible, while I’m still excited about it. I refine it when I type it up, then leave it for a few days and go back to it. Then I’ll make a few more changes and start looking for a good fit publisher-wise.
Novel ideas are a little different. I’m already working on a novel and don’t want to be distracted. So I write a (very) brief outline, then put it aside for the future. I’m on the second draft of my novel now, so maybe the time is approaching when I can move on to another. I’ve found working on my novel that I tend to underwrite. All dialogue, hardly any description! So I’m adding that in my second draft. Not much, but enough so my readers can picture everything. I like to think of them as brush strokes.
NLK: What are your ambitions as a writer? What are your plans for future projects?
AS: Of course, I’d love to get my novel published! Whether traditionally or indie only time will tell. And I’d like to win a short story writing competition. Preferably a big one, but I’m not fussy really!
I’ve just received a commendation in the William Soutar Writing Prize, which is an international competition based near where I live in Perth. After the award ceremony this month (a terrifying yet thrilling ordeal) the commended stories will be available in an ebook along with the winners and shortlisted. It’s my first success in a biggish contest and I couldn’t be happier.
NLK: Do you consider yourself a fast or a slow writer? What are some of the things that make you slow?
AS: I’m probably slow. Some days I only have a spare ten minutes in which to write. But ten minutes of progress is better than none at all. One thing that really helps is having a good word processor on my tablet. I take it everywhere with me and it really helps to be able to jot things down as they come along.
NLK: You live in the Scottish highlands, does your physical environment influence your writing?
AS: Absolutely! I happen to live in a fabulously beautiful part of the world, but also a wild one. For instance, the inspiration behind “Missing Mum” is that each year several people who go out for a walk around here never come back… My novel is based on the actual historical event of a sunken steamboat on one of the lochs.
It can be simpler things too, though. Last week it was a newspaper headline outside a shop that gave me a short story idea. “One Moment” came along while I was doing the grocery shopping.
NLK: Where can we read your work?
AS: My latest published short stories are “One Moment’ on Platfrom for Prose: http://www.platformforprose.com/#!writing/jxtkb
and “Missing Mum” on Mystery Weekly: http://www.mysteryweekly.com/issues/issue56.asp
Excerpt:May 1978I’ve always hated the wind. I now know that I get it from Mum, who got it from Gran. It’s not so bad when we’re at home, in Edinburgh. But Gran lives by a remote loch called Rannoch where it’s always windy. There’s nothing there but bent trees and scurrying clouds and foamy waves, all emphasising it. Even inside feels windy. The windows rattle and the fire smokes and Gran rocks back and forth until you just want to scream.We are on our way to visit Gran now. I always have mixed feelings about it. The other girls in my class have white, fluffy grandmothers who give them sweets. My Gran is iron grey and gives me chores. Mum says it’s because Gran’s own mother was very strict. I never met my Great Gran. But Mum often mentions her.The best part of going to see Gran is the beach. After my chores are done I’m allowed to go and play next to the loch. It’s great for swimming and you can light a fire on the shore afterwards and toast marshmallows. In my head, holidays in Rannoch always smell of smoke.“Skye, are you actually going to speak to me in the whole of this journey?” asks Mum.“Sorry. I was just thinking.”“What about?”“Gran.”Mum sighs. “She is very fond of you, you know. And you must try to be good because she’s getting a little anxious and forgetful.”“Alright. But she’ll probably have a heart attack when she sees you, anyway.” Mum fancies herself as a bit of a hippy. Of course, Gran is used to the loose, flowing hair and long skirts in crazy flower patterns. But Mum’s new tattoo might come as a shock. It says ‘love’, or something equally soppy and meaningless, in Chinese lettering, snaking round her wrist in a bracelet. Secretly, I rather like the bohemian style too, but it would never do to look like I was copying my mother. So I go the other way and wear pleated skirts with tank tops and long socks. The height of my ambition right now is a mini skirt with knee high boots, but Mum won’t let me have them.“It would take more than a tattoo to give your Gran a heart attack.”“Really? It nearly gave me one when I first saw it.”“It’s just a tattoo!”“How come you’re allowed a tattoo but I’m not allowed a mini skirt?”Mum pauses. “Because I said so.”“You only say that when you don’t have a proper answer.”“I’m not going to discuss this any further, Skye.”I huff and put my tape recorder on. The headphones are a good barrier. Mum rolls her eyes but I pretend not to notice, looking out the window instead. We leave the main road and start climbing the hill. Presently, we drop down again to a wooded area with a river coursing alongside. Ten minutes later we drive into the village of Kinloch Rannoch. Gran’s house is just a few minutes up the North side of the loch, not in the village itself. A few people wave to us as we go by. They’re gathered on the beach and recognise mum’s yellow Mini with purple flowers. Who wouldn’t? Mum waves cheerfully back but I kept my gaze fixed on the water. It’s calm today, but grey and uninviting. We always come in May to avoid the midges, so the weather is unpredictable. Sometimes it’s roasting and The Loch shimmers hazily, sometimes there’s still be snow on the hills and frosts in the morning. This time it was neither. It was just grey.The outside of Gran’s house is grey too. And she blends in, standing at the door to greet us.
© Abigail Shepherd 2016
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