Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Wendy Brandmark is a fiction writer, reviewer and lecturer. She writes and publishes both novels and short stories and continues to work in both genres. Her newest novel, The Stray American, was published by Holland Park Press (London) in December 2014. An earlier novel, The Angry Gods (Dewi Lewis Publishing), explored racism in New York City in the 1950s and 1970s. The main story, set during the last days of the McCarthy witch hunts and the beginning of the civil rights movement, is about the love affair between a black poet and a Jewish woman who move between two worlds and find that they belong in neither. It received excellent reviews in The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and The Independent.
Wendy’s short stories have been widely published in magazines and anthologies, including The Massachusetts Review, Stand Magazine, Lilith and The Warwick Review. She received a Writers Award from the Arts Council in London to fund the writing of short stories, most of which have now been published. In 2013 she was a fellow at the Virginia Centre for the Creative Arts, and in 2014 she did a residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. She currently reviews fiction for The Literary Review and The Times Literary Supplement. She teaches fiction writing at The City Lit and supervises students in the second year of the Oxford University MSt in Creative Writing.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A WRITER?
I was always reading. My first attempts as a child to write stories were directly inspired by the books I took out of the library every week, sometimes several times a week.
I remember writing poems and stories in primary school and junior high. I wrote poetry for a couple of years after I first graduated from university, but by the time I started my MA in creative writing, I realized that it was fiction I wanted to write.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
My novel, The Stray American, was published by Holland Park Press in December 2014. Set in London during the months of protests following the Iraq war in 2003, it follows an American lawyer who comes to London to teach in a seedy American college and is bewildered by cultural differences. Though The Stray American is a comic novel it is very much about exile and dislocation.
Most recently, I have completed a collection of short stories and am working on another novel.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
I like to write in the morning if possible and sometimes for a short time in the evening. Though I think that a regular schedule is ideal, I often find that responsibilities and distractions take me away from my writing.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
It varies. I usually have an idea or a little plan before I begin writing a short story or a novel. Some stories have started with just one line. With novels, I will sometimes have a timeline, and as I go along I might begin to plan each chapter. I write my first draft in longhand and then begin to revise as I put it on the computer. That’s just the start of the process of revision. Most of my finished pieces have gone through many drafts.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
I like making stories up. And there’s great satisfaction in seeing a story or novel emerge.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
My ideas for fiction come from many sources: memories, dreams, newspaper articles, incidents, conversations, images.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
It depends. Sometimes getting down the first draft of a novel is a struggle. Often the last revisions of a short story can be frustrating because I’m so close to completion, yet I’m stuck on some problem which has to be resolved before the story can be sent out. Maybe the ending is not quite right or the wording of one line.
I also think the publication and the publicizing of fiction is not easy, especially in an industry which is driven by profit.
WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC VISION?
I want to keep writing and publishing. And I would like to see more emphasis on the short story through publication and prizes. In Britain there are not enough journals publishing stories, and publishers and agents are still very wary of taking on short story collections or anthologies. Ideally I would also like to see more support and publicity for small independent presses who often publish writers ignored or forgotten by the large publishers. They are also often more willing to take on collections of stories.
I would also like to see more funding and support for libraries. So many in Britain are closing down or have had cuts to their services and stock. They are especially important for encouraging young readers. I think all writers suffer from the loss of libraries and also from the decrease in bookstores, particularly independent ones who are willing to stock books by small publishers and local writers.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE AUTHORS?
These are the first fiction writers who come to mind: Emily Bronte, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Colette, Flannery O’Connor, Margaret Atwood
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Jane Duran, Miriam Hastings, Deborah Eisenberg
Thank you, Wendy Brandmark!
— Nicole Melanson
Like this author interview? Follow WordMothers or Subscribe to meet more great female authors!