Hi, Mark. Can you tell us a little about your background, and how you came to be a fiction writer?
Of course. I started out much like you, but rather than an online writing course, I attended a night class. I wrote a lot, and started sending things off to competitions and magazines – where I had some success. It was nice to get some outside endorsement, and it gave me the confidence to give up my job and invest some time in making a career out of writing. There’s a lot of trial and error involved though, so you’ve got to be pretty strong willed and very driven.
You teach both fiction and creative non-fiction. Did you begin writing one and move to the other?
That’s right. I started out with fiction – short stories in fact. They’re a great way to hone your craft. There are a lot of crossovers between fiction and non-fiction, but strangely, I tend to write both in very different ways.
As it is the route you chose to take, what do you feel are the pros and cons of doing a Creative Writing MA?
The pros are that you get time, space, and access to expertise that allows you to pick apart the craft and really develop your skills. It helps to be surrounded by people going through the same thing you are. As a writing student yourself I hope you’re already finding out the benefits of this!
The cons are that it can be easy to get channelled into a very particular way of working when, in fact, all writers have their own unique approach. I guess if you’re on an MA you have to have the right amount of flexibility to take everything you can from it. A lot of it depends on picking the right course for you as well. It’s a jumping off point, really. You get the basics nailed down, learn as much as you can, but then it’s up to you to have the energy and discipline to apply it to your own practice.
On the more practical side of things, have you been able to support yourself through a combination of writing and teaching?
Yes, I do that now, but it’s been a long journey and you need to be very committed. It’s easy to get sidetracked, and difficult to turn down paid work to take a day writing fiction. I also became self-employed so I could control the hours I worked. If you are dedicated and write well, though, it is definitely a viable career choice.
You have an up-to-date website and blog. Do you think this is vital to a modern author?
Yes. Publishers simply don’t have the time and money to invest in the publicity they used to, so the writer needs to do some of the work themselves. I’d also recommend using social media as a tool –grasp every opportunity to get your name out there and be seen by anyone willing to read and enjoy your work.
I wish you good luck on your journey!