I shall be engaging in a number of interviews with independent authors. May you find these informative, entertaining, and perhaps even inspiring to go out and locate their books!
This interview is with author Valerie Laws.
Dear Valerie, can you offer us a little insight into who you are?
I’m an award-winning writer who infamously spray-painted poetry on live sheep in my Arts Council-funded QUANTUM SHEEP project which combined random haiku with the principles of quantum theory. I write crime fiction (THE ROTTING SPOT, with a skull collecting theme and a homeopath detective, now available on Kindle), poetry, plays (12 commissioned for stage and radio), best-selling language books… I’ve had ten books published and have just e-published my eleventh, my first as an indie author, LYDIA BENNET’S BLOG of which more below. I’ve had many Writer in Residence posts, in a pathology museum working with dead bodies, University brain institutes, Egyptian 5* hotel ( those contributing to ALL THAT LIVES, poetry of sex, death and pathology newly out), a physic garden growing mind-altering plants… I perform my work all over the world and in the media, and specialise in science-based poetry and art, creating new forms of kinetic poetry on unusual media, not just sheep but beach balls or computer controlled illuminated installations, for exhibitions and public art commissions.
What is the reason that you started writing? When did you start writing?
I’ve always written and told stories. Ideas come to me and keep nagging me until I write them, either as plays, poems, novels, sci-art, whatever. I’ve been a full-time professional writer for about 11 years.
Are you writing under a pen-name, do you use your own, or is your work out in both ways?
I use my own name, Valerie Laws, for all the widely different genres I explore.
What, do you think, is your best book? And why is that?
My books are so widely different that it’s hard to say! My newest e-book is very funny, my crime novel is highly praised by readers and eminent writers, my poetry collections ditto. I’ve had a play published, also a book challenging ageism and telling the stories of older people both independent and with dementia. My newest poetry book ALL THAT LIVES means a great deal to me and gets terrific responses from live audiences, it took years of research and also personal experience, witnessing the deaths of my parents, studying the science of dying, watching dissections, and also writing about my sexual adventures post-divorce, which brings a balancing comedy. I’m very proud of my first crime novel THE ROTTING SPOT as I’ve always loved crime fiction.
Naturally, after the best book, what is your worst, if there is one? And why do you feel that way?
I don’t feel that way about any of them. They were all important at the time and still are, to me. Some are less or more successful but that’s a different issue.
How do you think your writing has changed over time? Did it change at all?
I like to think my life experiences have deepened and strengthened my writing and I’ve certainly learned a lot and my writing has become more and more diverse. For years I concentrated on poetry but lately have been writing novels as well.
And can you say that writing has changed you?
It’s part of me and it’s what I do. The fact that I’m doing it as a job has changed me, I’ve had to learn to pitch and publicise especially now I’m venturing more into e-books, selling does not come naturally to me. I love to learn new stuff, new technology, new skills!
What is the most daring thing you ever did or tried in your writing? In which book did that happen?
I suppose spray painting the sheep, in Quantum Sheep. There was a huge media frenzy about it and it still gets published and publicised today. I could have just been mocked and in fact I was pretty much teased about it by the media but I’m happy for people to laugh! I did another quantum haiku on beach balls for BBC TV, just published in an NYC anthology Maintenant 6. But also writing plays is very daring, because you have to hand them over eventually and watch them totally at the mercy of the actors and director, but it’s great when you sit in an audience who are laughing, and crying, around you – when you meant them to!
And, if your feel up to it, what is the most daring thing you ever did in your life? Feel free to skip this one, not everybody is up to revealing much about themselves…
I was disabled in a car crash 26 years ago so everything since then has been a challenge but I embrace change, challenge and transformation. Walking again after that, which I still do with difficulty and pain. I travel, have snorkelled with turtles and sharks. I’ve flown a plane. Had my second child after disability. Got divorced after 25 years and started dating fascinating men (some much younger than me). Bought my own house. Became a professional writer and performer. Studied Maths & theoretical physics, my worst school subjects, when disabled with two children, and got a first class honours degree. Wrote and performed poems about my sex life! All those things were daring I suppose!
Is there something you still want to have a go at, in your writing life? Is there a challenge you envision that’s worth pursuing?
There will always be challenges in writing. My main immediate challenge is to get better at the whole e-publishing phenomenon. I’ve learned to format and everything! But still so much to learn.
Has your writing ever been compared to the writing of another (perhaps even famous) writer/author? And do you like that?
Not really, I’ve been lucky enough to win prizes and awards and get fab quotes and reviews, but they don’t compare me to anyone else!
Do you have one or two favourite books (written by someone else)? If so, what are they, and why do they appeal to you so much?
Oh I love so many books! And writers! I love the novels of Barbara Pym, and Jane Austen (though I’m having fun with her in my new e-book!) I love a lot of poets’ work and I know many of them so have to be careful here but I love Sharon Olds, an American poet who is breathtakingly honest and intimate. I love Shakespeare, he’s funny, lively, sexy, sad and his language is so powerful and entrancing to hear. I love William Blake’s poetry, he’s a true prophet, he foresaw some modern scientific and social ideas far ahead of his time.
Which book you ever read would you label as least readable book, so far? Feel free to comment as liberally as you want to the why.
I don’t like extreme ‘torture porn’ crime fiction, like Birdman. I suppose Finnegan’s Wake is the one most people quote as unreadable but I also find (confession time) I can’t bring myself to read the great Russian novels, or most of Charles Dickens though I have read a lot of them and liked some.
Is there a book that you know of that should never have been published, in your opinion?
Mein Kampf? Books which encourage hatred, war, racism, misogyny, homophobia, cruelty… Of course there are books I don’t like or think aren’t good but somebody might like them, and if nobody does they won’t buy them, so I wouldn’t normally be in favour of wiping such books, however badly written or boring, out of existence.
Is there a writer that you would love to co-write a book with? And what genre would you like to write in then? Something you’re familiar with?
I’ve collaborated with visual artists, theatre directors and actors, but I can’t imagine co-writing a novel or poetry although I co-wrote two best-selling language text books which was different.
Let’s see… is there something in the realm of ‘wise words’ you once picked up that you would like to share? This does not have to be limited to writing, there is more to life than writing. At least, I heard there is. 😉
The poet/playwright Peter Mortimer told me a poem, and I think it’s true of novels and plays too, needs an imperative of some kind: meaning, it’s something you feel needs to be said. For myself, I’d say embrace change, celebrate life and its changing nature, keep learning and exploring new ideas, skills and experiences. Physics has taught me the universe moves, changes, transforms, all the time and we should accept and live with that.
And as a last question, what is cooking with you? What’s your work in progress? Is there a tip of a veil that you can lift for us?
I’m working on a near-final draft of my second crime novel which hopefully my agent will find a home for! I’ve several poetry projects on the go. But mainly I’m working on getting the word out about my new e-book LYDIA BENNET’S BLOG and the kindle version of THE ROTTING SPOT, now they are out there.
If there is anything else you would like to share, for example a thought, some promotion for your book(s), then here’s your chance!
My ‘antidote to Austen’ is my new comedy YA crossover, LYDIA BENNET’S BLOG – THE REAL STORY OF PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Lydia is outrageous and gives a whole new slant on the story, and uses modern teen language in Regency times. It’s available ($1.55 or 98p) from Amazon kindle at http://amzn.to/LydBBUK and in US at http://amzn.to/LBBUS and from Smashwords and I’m also blogging it, or Lydia Bennet is, at http://bit.ly/LydiaBsBlog
My first crime novel THE ROTTING SPOT is available (99p or $1.57) on kindle at http://amzn.to/RotSpot & in US at http://amzn.to/RotSpotUS
Or in paperback from www.redsquirrelpress.com, who also publish my latest poetry collection ALL THAT LIVES. I hope to put my other work out too as ebooks.
Thank you, Valerie, for your time, and for sharing your words with us!