I met Moira when she gave a very well-received reading at a Fife Writes social evening. I enjoyed her reading so much I bought her book – and am really pleased she agreed to be part of this author interview series.
Moira, thanks for taking part!
Could you give a brief introduction to your work?
I began writing poetry and short stories many years ago as an antidote to the hectic finance job I had at the time. I was travelling extensively and alone, staying in lonely hotels and spending too much time in airport departure lounges. I took some creative writing courses at Strathclyde University and encouraged by my tutor I became serious about writing. In 2005 I resigned my finance role to write full time. I now have two novels and many short stories in print and am currently preparing my third novel for publication in 2017. As well as writing I deliver creative writing workshops and am actively involved in Scottish Pen. In the past I have been sub editor for a mountaineering magazine and New Voices Press, the publication arm of the Federation of Writers Scotland and a long-standing committee member of Weegie Wednesday, a Glasgow-based literary networking group.
If you cast your mind back to your first author events, do you have any tips for building confidence?
I am confident now but it wasn’t so long ago when I was very nervous reading out my own work, even to small groups. I would be so nervous my throat would close, I couldn’t breathe and I sounded quite emotional. The turning point came when I did a joint event. The other reader had organised everything and I thought I would just have to turn up and read, but when she arrived she was very drunk and I had to take over the running of the event. The fact that I had a responsibility to the audience made a big difference to my performance.
My first big event was the launch of The Incomers, at the Aye Write Book Festival. I had two actresses on stage with me to perform part of the book. We were all nervous but we had practiced our parts well and the whole event was a huge success and great fun.
My advice would be to make every event special and be as prepared as you can be. I always dress up for events and wear nice shoes. Once I begin to get ready it is as if I’m an actress putting on a costume, I become Moira the Author.
Could you tell us a little about the personal experience that inspired your novel? Was it satisfying / empowering distilling that experience into your book?
My debut novel The Incomers is set in a Fife mining village in 1966 and tells the story of Ellie a young black African women who, with young son Nat, joins her white husband in Scotland. There she befriends a young English girl, Mary. Originally I wrote the story from Mary’s point of view because it was a story familiar to me. Although I was born in the Scottish Borders my family moved to England when I was small. We moved to Fife when I was five and as a family with English accents myself and my siblings were treated like aliens. We quickly adapted but I still remember that feeling of being different and have always thought it would be a good subject for a novel. The novel has many incomers, a Polish miner, an Italian chip shop owner, all things present in the village I grew up in, but it wasn’t until I introduced Ellie, who is completely fictional, that the story became interesting. As soon as she walked onto the page she demanded that I write her story.
I loved the tender portrayal of the mother’s relationship with her baby son Nat. Did that come about very naturally for you, or was it something you had to work at?
I did have to work hard at it. Babies don’t normally have much characterisation in fiction and I was determined to make it work. The fact that he was strapped to Ellie’s back most of the time helped. But I was also lucky. At the time of writing my grandson and granddaughter were about the same age as Nat so I was able to observe them and pick up on all their little behaviours. They are both given credit for this in the novel’s acknowledgements.
Can you say anything about the editing process? Did you work through a lot of drafts? It’s often difficult to know when a book is ‘finished’ and ready to send out into the world. What was that point for you?
I am a furious editor. I write about ten to fifteen drafts before I consider the book finished. My first draft is always rough and then I begin to craft it. I always compare the writing process to sculpting. The first draft is my lump of clay and then each edit refines the shape until the finished article is ready. I have some early readers and I take their feedback very seriously. No writer I know writes in isolation. But with The Incomers, even when I thought I was done I knew I’d have to visit Africa before I was satisfied it was right. I went to Africa expecting to see large differences between African women and Fife mining wives and what I found there was their lives were really not that different. It was a great learning experience and when I returned I revisited the final version and changed it.
What’s your favourite way to keep in contact with your readership?
I love to meet readers in person. I visit as many book groups as I can and I do lots of library events. Since my second novel Ways of the Doomed was published I have also visited a number of schools. In September I embarked on my Highland, One Island Book Tour. I travelled all round the Highlands and Bute in my campervan, visiting libraries, schools, writing groups and book stores. I met loads of lovely readers.