Virginia Moffatt

Virginia Moffatt was born in London, one of eight children, several of whom are writers. Her eldest brother has written a theology book, one sister is a poet, a second, a translator and her twin is a successful author.

Could you tell us about yourself?

Hello, my name is Virginia Moffatt. I am 52 years old and live in Oxford with my husband Chris Cole, who heads up a research and advocacy organisation, and two of our three children. Our eldest daughter is in her first year at University. I spent thirty years working in social care, but I’ve found that hard going under austerity, so these days I’m acting in a support role in a multi academy. Outside of work and writing life, I love running (though I’ve done very little of that this year) and reading. My favourite social activity is meeting up with my regular book club – The Cowley Consonants.

How long have you been writing?

All my life, really, though I didn’t get going properly till I was nearly 40. My twin sister (Julia Williams) and I always wanted to write and when we were children we would make up stories for each other all the time. In my early twenties I did write 2/3 of a novel, and some short stories, but life got in the way, and it wasn’t till 2004 that I really made a decision to commit to it. Julia was well ahead of me by then, and has published 10 books in the time I’ve written my debut novel ‘Echo Hall’!

Tell us about your most recent book.

I’ve had a particularly busy writing year and have had 3 books out, 2 non-fiction, as well as ‘Echo Hall’. But since this is my first novel, this is the one I shall talk about. The book is set in a fictional village close to the Welsh border. It follows the fortunes of three women, Ruth in 1990, Elsie in 1942 and Rachel in 1911, who experience love, loss and conflict during times of war. It explores the theme of how unresolved conflict (both personal and political) festers in subsequent generations, and asks the question whether we could find another way. It’s part Gothic, part family saga, part political history. I hope it both tells a gripping story and makes readers think about the issues I’m raising.

What do you love about writing?

Ooh, good question. I love coming up with story ideas and then working out how to realise them. I enjoy thinking up characters and seeing how they develop, and creating fictional worlds in which they can walk. Most of all, I love having a finished story or book and finding out what readers think about them. I was really lucky that ‘Echo Hall’ was serialised via The Pigeonhole so I had the privilege of reading along with site members and seeing their reactions. It was wonderful to chat about the book with them, and I’m looking forward to doing this more in the next few months.

How do you get inspired, where do you get your ideas?

Anywhere really. The idea for ‘Echo Hall’ came from the fact we were living in a remote country village at the time and I used to imagine I could hear voices at night. Of course, I was imagining things, but it got me thinking, suppose the voices were real, whose would they be, and what would they be saying?

I write a lot of flash fiction, and I’ve found anything can prompt a story. For example, a news item such as people believing the ‘rapture’ was going to end the world, which resulted in two stories, one of which is the title of my flash fiction collection. (‘Rapture and what comes after.’ Gumbo Press Other stories have been prompted by real life experience, such as someone once telling me their husband was going to work in the Antarctic for a year, or an observation of my surroundings such as a chain of hearts hanging from the ceiling.

My second novel is based on a piece of flash fiction that just came from a random thought that popped into my head – if you knew your death was imminent and there was no escape, how would you spend your last hours?

As I said, ideas come from anywhere!

Do you have a specific writing process?

I have learnt over the years that first I need to work out the story in my head. Then I have to write it down. The first draft is dreadful, as it is just me splurging on the page, so the second draft is about making it more coherent. The third is where I play about with tense and person. I have found with both my novels that sometimes changing from 1st person to 3rd or past to present tense makes all the difference in bringing the story alive. The fourth draft is about paying attention to language, ridding the text of clichés, repetition, and finding better ways to say what I mean to. After that it’s just honing and crafting for as long as it takes. I think I did about 8 drafts of ‘Echo Hall’ by myself, and probably another 3 or 4 with my editor, so it’s not a quick process!

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Writing is a tough business. It is not for the faint hearted. You absolutely HAVE to believe in yourself and the story only YOU can tell. You will be rejected. And rejection hurts. Surround yourself with supportive but critical friends who can help you pick yourself up and then show you what bits of the feedback you need to listen to in order to improve your book. Be prepared to invest in workshops, courses, and writing festivals. Pay attention to professional critique, but don’t be a slave to it. Sometimes you will be rejected because the story isn’t working, but sometimes it just isn’t for them. Find yourself a writing community, online or in the real world. They will cheer you up when you are down and cheer you on when you finally sign that book deal. Finally, never, ever give up. If you have talent, work hard and are able to take criticism, you will eventually produce a book that someone will want to buy. Good luck!

What are you currently working on? How long before release?

I’m in the editing stages of my second novel, ‘The Wave,’ which is very different from ‘Echo Hall’. It is set on a beach in Cornwall and the events take place over less than 24 hours. I’ve had such a busy year, I’ve not been able to do anything with it since February, but am hoping to get back to it in the New Year. Hopefully I can get it finished and out by 2019, but knowing me, it could be a little bit longer. Meanwhile, I’m thinking about my third novel, ‘Gladstone’s Ghost’ which will be about Ireland. I’m itching to get on with it, but I have to finish ‘The Wave’ first!

What are you currently reading?

Elmet’ by Fiona Mozeley, on the recommendation of my daughter. I’m not quite sure where it’s going yet, but am liking the evocative setting. I’m also rereading ‘As If I Were A River’ by Amanda Saint, a story of dysfunctional families and missing people. It’s very good. I’m about to start ‘The Continuity Girl’ by Patrick Kincaid (another Unbounder), which I’m going to be reading by the Pigeon Hole in daily instalments.

Who are your favourite authors?

I’m quite a traditionalist, so love all the classic 19th Century novelists particularly Dickens, Hardy and the Brontes. I also love 20th Century novelists such as Greene, Forster (I’m loving the BBC adaptation of ‘Howard’s End’) and Orwell. My favourite living authors are Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Marilynne Robinson, and Jeanette Winterson. And I also love everything my twin sister Julia Williams writes, and the wonderful children’s books written by my friends Anne Booth and Judy Heneghan. But I am a real sucker for a good story so could add to this list endlessly!

Do you have any favourite fictional characters?

Plenty. Elizabeth Bennett in ‘Pride & Prejudice’, Marion Holcombe in ‘The Woman in White’, Margaret in ‘Howard’s End’, Jane Eyre, Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, Cathy Earnshaw (even though she is horribly selfish), Timothy Cavendish and Sonmi from ‘Cloud Atlas’, Crispin Hershey from ‘The Bone Clocks’, Owen Meany from ‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’, Janie Crawford from ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ and The Reverend John Ames from ‘Gilead’. I think what they have in common is they are all flawed, believable human beings struggling to make sense of life.

Any fun facts about you that you would like to share?

I once chased John Prescott down Whitehall, dressed as a cleaner and carrying a mop…*

*In case you were wondering, I was at a protest calling on the government to clean up Iraq.

You can read more about Echo Hall on this WEBSITE or about Virginia on her BLOG.

And The PIDGEONHOLE where you can read and discuss with people around the world for a live reading experience, or create your own private book club with friends.

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