The Puffin Review Interview

Interview with Marianne Wheelaghan

Interview with Marianne Wheelaghan

What’s your day job?

I co-run the online creative writing school, which I set up in 2002.

With other commitments, how do you make time for writing? Do you snatch time when you’re free or do you plan it into the day?

I’m not good at snatching time for creative stuff. When I write I like to know I have the whole day ahead of me. Like Charles Dickens, I find it hard to concentrate on my writing if I know someone is due to visit or I have an appointment later on in the day.

Sylvia Plath famously wrote at dawn, whereas other writers sup their espresso long into the night. When it comes to writing, are you a lark or an owl?

I used to be a night owl but more recently I’ve found that if I write into the wee hours I can’t then switch off and go to sleep – and I am a big believer in getting my sleep. So, I like to start early, the earlier the better, before I get too distracted by other stuff, then, even if I do have to stop for whatever reason, at least I will have got some writing done.

Do you have a set daily word count you feel you must achieve? If not, when do you decide your day’s writing is done?

No, I don’t have a set word limit or set time, but I do like to write for a good six to eight hours a day when I am in writing mode.

Which is more enjoyable: the first draft or the re-drafting?

I hate the first draft. It is so scary writing it because you have to fill all those blank empty pages and you don’t really know how your story will turn out. I agree with the writer John Gardner when he said: “One cannot judge in advance whether or not the idea of the story is worthwhile because until one has finished writing the story one does not know for sure what the idea is.”

But I love the redrafting ie; the shaping and sifting and constructing and moulding and correcting and cutting and creating the finished draft of my story.

Tell us about how you got your first publication.

After I finished writing The Blue Suitcase, my first novel, I submitted my manuscript to agents in the usual way. Despite lots of positive feedback no one offered to represent me. At some point, and I can’t remember when, my husband, Marc, suggested he publish my novel. This is not as radical as you may think – Marc has experience publishing education books and is also a writer. He established Pilrig Press and published The Blue Suitcase in November 2010 and my second novel, Food of Ghosts, in November 2012. He has now taken on new authors, whose books he will be publishing later this year and the rest is, as they say, history.

Do you sometimes feel like not writing? If so, how do you muster the motivation and necessary discipline to get to the desk and begin?

I usually always want to write but I do have off days. When this happens, like Anne Tyler, I make myself try and sit at the computer and type anything, it doesn’t matter what. In fact, sometimes I rewrite the same simple, inane sentence over and over again. Almost every time I do this an idea or two will sneak into the sentences. It’s as if the act of sitting at my desk and writing any old rubbish fools my brain into thinking that I’m really “working” and the ideas start flowing.

“The one ironclad rule is that I have to try. I have to walk into my writing room and pick up my pen every weekday morning.” Anne Tyler

Marianne’s Desk


Do you plan your novels carefully before writing a word, or do you set off on the journey and see what happens?

I do some planning, yes. I think a plan is good, even if I ditch it later. In fact, I will almost most definitely ditch it, and make many more plans and ditch them too. Because until the novel is actually finished I don’t know for sure what it will be about.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” ― Flannery O’Connor

Are you ruthless with your characters or do you allow them to develop on paper in ways you didn’t foresee?

I’m quite ruthless. I want my characters to do what I want. Of course, they develop and change in unexpected ways, just as the story does. But, no, I don’t put up with unruly characters.

Can you offer any advice for a beginner writer?

Gosh. Let me think. There are two things I tell my students when they start. The first is something by the writer Flannery O’Connor: “The only way, I think to learn to write stories is to write them, and then to try to discover what you have done. The time to think of technique is when you’ve actually got your story in front of you.”

And the other is by Ray Bradbury: “If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer….For the first thing a writer should be is excited.” Ray Bradbury

What work do you have in progress at the moment?

I am working on the second novel in the Detective Louisa Townsend Pacific murder series as well as a sequel to The Blue Suitcase.


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