Cally Taylor, on the longest blog tour in history, has reached Qwerty Queen's domain. I will avoid the temptation to make comparisons between Ms Taylor and that other longest-tour-in-history record-holder, Iron Maiden. (They had very different riders, too - Iron Maiden didn't ask for lots of Hotel Chocolat products.) Nor will I review Cally's debut novel, Heaven Can Wait; that's been done, very competently, elsewhere.
I will say that I enjoyed reading Cally's book very much. It has made some people cry; it didn't have that effect on me, although parts of it were moving, but it did make me laugh. It's lovely to be able to praise this book because I've met Cally a few times and she has been enormously supportive of my writing. I think it's highly unlikely that I would have sold any short stories without her support.
Also, as a researcher, I can't pass up an opportunity to ask nosy questions, so when she invited me to interview her, I seized the opportunity to ask about some of her influences.
How have your real-life friends influenced your writing? "My real-life friends have been hugely supportive of my writing. For a long time I think they viewed it as a hobby I dabbled with when I wasn't socialising with them, but they were all as delighted as I was the first time I had something published in print (a piece of Flash Fiction in a competition anthology by Leaf Books in December 2005). In fact, half a dozen of them came round to my flat to celebrate with champagne!
In the summer of 2006, when my short story “Wish You Were Here” was awarded the runner-up prize in Woman’s Own magazine, lots of my friends rushed out to buy a copy and I was really touched by the phone calls that followed – particularly the ones that said it had made them cry!
I can't even begin to describe the reaction of friends and family to the news I was getting a novel published. I felt really quite over-whelmed by all the love and warmth that greeted the news. So many people told me they were proud of me it was astonishing.
None of the characters in my novels are directly influenced by any of my friends or family but I think it's inevitable that every person you meet has an impact on you in some way. I think my subconscious stores up all my experiences and the traits of the people I've met and mixes them all up to create characters."
How have your blog friends influenced your writing? "My blog friends have been so supportive it's incredible. Joining the Novel Racers was the best decision I ever made. I lurked on Kate Harrison's blog for ages, looking longingly at the group she'd started up with Lucy Diamond and thinking there was no way they'd ever accept a novice writer like me into the fold, before I finally plucked up the courage to ask if I could join. Everything changed for me after that. From being the only writer I knew I was suddenly surrounded by other people who were writing novels, dreaming of publication and struggling with this or that. It was wonderful to be able to talk about the craft of fiction without eyes glazing over or the subject being changed (no offence to my real life friends but if you're not passionate about writing discussing it for hours on end probably isn't that interesting!).
When I was writing ‘Heaven Can Wait’ I knew that the other writers in the Novel Racers group were beavering away on their own novel and that really helped to motivate me to get mine finished.
In April 2008 I started up my own group – a short story group called ‘A Story A Fortnight’ – and that’s also been a fantastic experience. Everyone is so generous with their knowledge and critiques and I’m inordinately proud of all our achievements, not least the fact that the group has now sold over 50 stories to various women’s magazine. I’ve met lots of the Novel Racers and SAF girls in person now and they’re as lovely and fun in real life as they are online.
Finally I need to mention the blog friends who visit my blog, some of whom have been there right from the beginning - when I first started blogging in 2006 about my attempts to get published. Writing can be quite a lonely world to live in sometimes and supportive and encouraging comments from my blog visitors continue to remind me that I'm not the only one who lives there!"
How have your own religious or spiritual beliefs, or the lack of them, influenced your writing? "Ooh, tricky question. I got confirmed when I was a teenager but would probably describe myself as an agnostic now. One of my favourite quotes is from Gabriel Garcia Marquez "I don't believe in God but I'm afraid of him" and that pretty much summarises my attitude to religion. I don't really believe in anything but there's a part of me that's a bit worried about what'll happen when I die if I don't (probably a hangover from being religious when I was younger).
I don’t like thinking about death – it scares me – and a psychologist would probably say that, by writing about death and the afterlife in a light-hearted way, I’m masking that fear. I’d say to that psychologist “It’s just a story. Tsk!” ;)"
How has your short story writing influenced your novel writing? "Writing short stories helped me find my voice as a writer. When I first started writing them I wrote what I thought were literary stories but I felt like I was forcing them out instead of writing what came to me more naturally. And that was light-hearted romantic comedies!"
How do your tastes in food and drink influence your writing? "Drinking wine helps when I'm blocked! When you're three sheets to the wind you think every word you're writing is great (even if you can't understand a word of it the next day). Seriously though, I don't think what I eat or drink influences what I'm writing although I definitely can't write if I'm hungry. If I'm hungry I can't do anything!"
And finally, many apologies for the weird fonts and formatting. I've tried everything, including retyping the whole post, and I can't make them behave :-(