Friday, June 27, 2014

The Journey of a Two-Continent Writer

by Edie Melson

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet debut author Heather Marshall at a local writers group. Her writing journey intrigued me from her introduction. She's originally from Scotland, but lives in South Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains. We convinced her to share a reading from her new novel, The Thorn Tree, and I was totally captivated. I went home and purchased the book on my Kindle and finished it the next day. I knew she was a writer I wanted to introduce on Novel Rocket. She agreed to this interview and I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I have.

Heather G. Marshall
Originally from Kilmarnock, Scotland, Heather G. Marshall is a writer and teacher now living in Greenville, South Carolina with her children, dogs, cat, Royal Enfield motorbike and a set of great highland bagpipes. In her writing, she likes to explore the connection between—or disconnection from—the characters and the natural environment. When she isn’t writing, you can find her tromping or riding over the hills here or, when she can get away with it, on the other side of the Atlantic.

Give us a little background on your writing journey. I know you’ve won several awards for short fiction. When did you start writing?
I started writing when I was a child. I have loved books as far back as I can remember. One of my grandfathers had a shelf in his bookcase reserved for books for me. I could go and pick one, bring it to him and count on him stopping whatever he was doing to read to me. Writing seemed like a natural extension of that. A friend and I wrote a children’s picture book when we were eight or nine. I kept writing, majored in English in college and have worked as a writer for newspapers and magazines as well as doing technical writing and grant writing. Even with all of that, I didn’t really take creative writing seriously until I began in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. I loved writing fiction, creative nonfiction and the occasional poem, but it was something I did on the side until Queens, even though I’d won a couple of awards. Part of what I got from the MFA program was my own full commitment to my work. 

I hear a lot of writers say that the first book they’ve written isn’t the first book published. Has that been the case for you or was The Thorn Tree your first novel?
The Thorn Tree is my second novel. (I’m not counting the science fiction novel I wrote in high school)! My goal with the first novel was just to get from beginning to end. I had started a few longer pieces and not seen them through. I finished, polished and submitted to a few agents. I got some nibbles here and there but ultimately decided to put it away and work on something else. I do not intend to go back to it. I’m glad I did it. And glad I moved on.

I know that you’re from Scotland, how has that played into your choice of publisher? I’m delighted to have found MP Publishing, and, obviously, that they like my work enough to publish it. I grew up in Scotland and still have lots of family and friends there. Over the past few years, I’ve won a couple of awards and had several stories published there. There are lots of wonderful writing communities there. In addition, The Thorn Tree is set on both sides of the Atlantic—more in Scotland than in the US—so I am thrilled to have a publisher that has a presence on both sides of the Atlantic as well.

Everyone has an opinion about how to launch a book these days. What are you and your publisher doing?
We are launching the book here in South Carolina and in Scotland. I’ll be over in the Isle of Skye for the Scottish launch in July. I think there are great connections in both places. In addition, partly because the book is set in Scotland and partly because I play that bagpipes in a band and am involved in that community, I’m hoping to make connections for the book there, through vendors at highland games and Scottish festivals across the US.

Can you give us a peek at your writing schedule and how you stay motivated?
My alarm goes off a 04:30 five or six days a week. I hit snooze a couple of times, usually, and then get up and get on with it. Most days, I love it. I love exploring new characters. I love researching places and elements in each story. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that the days where everything feels like a struggle are just part of the deal.

What do you have planned next?
I just finished the last story for a collection of short stories, so I’ll be looking to get that to publication soon. I’m picking back up with a novel-in-stories that is loosely based on my own adoption and reunion. Some of the stories are fiction and some are creative nonfiction, and, although they are all connected to the adoption and reunion, what’s at the core of all of them is an exploration of the creation or disintegration of identity.

Any advice for new writers?
Write. Every day. (At least five days a week). Get involved in a writers’ group. If you aren’t aware of one, start one. At first, it doesn’t matter what everyone’s skill level is; it’s more about developing a community and having some accountability. Yes, it is also important to read; however, if you find yourself reading and reading and reading and not writing then you are a reader (thank you—we need readers). Get writing. Trust your own voice. Commit.

Final question, if you could travel back in time, what would you share with your earlier self to encourage her on the writing journey?
See above! In particular, I would tell myself to trust my own voice.  I would give myself permission to fully commit to writing many years before I actually did.

You can also connect with Heather on her website .

Edie Melson is the author of four books, as well as a freelance editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. Connect with her on her blog – The WriteConversation, Twitter or Facebook.


Heather Day Gilbert said...

Heather, I love your cover! And the blurb sounds interesting--I love multi-generational stories. Putting it on my To-Read list! All the best to you.