How did you become a writer?
I used to write a lot as a child, making stories out of the words we were given to learn to spell at school. My spelling could be better but even then I loved making stuff up. I created what was known as a “fanzine” when I was fifteen, interviewing bands and writing reviews. Most of it was typed by my mom and I then photocopied and sold it. I think the money I made just about covered my costs. I suppose you can consider yourself a writer when someone pays you and so my first gig was as visual art reviews for a small listings magazine in Edinburgh. The pay, however, was very bad and so I reviewed anything they would give me; theatre, books, shows for the Edinburgh Festival, restaurants. You had to write a lot to make any money but it was fun and I was grateful for the experience. I graduated to writing longer pieces and I was a fashion editor for a few years. I was writing short stories too and one won a competition run by the BBC Radio for young writers. That encouraged me enough to keep writing fiction. Ever since then I’ve written prose and drama for radio.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
It’s hard to pick any one influence. I love many writers for different reasons, Muriel Spark for her playful tone, Nabokov for the way he uses language and Carver for his economy. I never studied writing but think you can learn a great deal from reading widely. Badly written books can often teach you as much as well-written ones. For example, after reading one poorly-written novel, I went back to my first, then unpublished, book and cut out all the adjectives. It was so much better and then found a publisher.
When and where do you write?
I am lucky enough to have a small study at home. I am a morning person and most of my best writing is done before lunch. Late night fiddling, however, can also be good. I teach at Strathclyde University and it’s it hard to find time to work during the two semesters but that’s the price I pay for having a regular wage.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel about the wife of a Scottish plant hunter. It’s set around 1912, just before the Great War. Many plant hunters were Scottish and were obsessed with discovering plants in remote places.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I often find myself ‘stuck’. Sometimes a walk will resolve it and sometimes you just have to see it as part of the process and go away and do something else. The next day everything usually clears. I don’t have any huge blocks – I have a stack of ideas that I haven’t had time to write.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
My first agent, a man called Giles Gordon, was very supportive. He took me on when I’d only written some short stories and a screenplay. He suggested I turn the screenplay into a novel. If someone else has faith in you it’s easier to start. He was also on my side when the rejection letters piled up and proclaimed that the editors were all idiots. I think he taught me to write for myself and realise that you can never please everyone so why bother trying. He died, unfortunately, but my current agent is equally amazing.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Write the kind of book that you want to read. A novel that reads well takes a long time to write, so write, rewrite and then put away for a while and read again with ‘fresh eyes.’ If you can’t stand the sight of your words change the font.
Beatrice Colin is the author of the novel To Capture What We Cannot Keep which is published in the US by Flatiron Books. It is also by published in the UK, Australia, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Poland and the Czech Republic.
She also wrote The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite (published as The Glimmer Palace in the US) and The Songwriter. She has been shortlisted for a British Book Award, a Saltire Award and a Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award and writes short stories, screen and radio plays and for children.
One of her children's novels, My Invisible Sister (with Sara Pinto) has been made into a film for TV by Disney in the US. Her novel for children, Pyrate’s Boy is written under the name E.B. Colin and published by Floris Books.