Self-published author, B. Mamatha is a British-Asian author from Cumbria in the north of England.
A non-fiction writer and editor by trade, she’s been immersed in books, language and publishing for almost 20 years. She found that once she started writing short stories at school, she never really stop. She now writes literary speculative fiction: stories set in real, recognisable worlds in which fantastical things happen to odd people.
Her dream author dinner party guest list would include Franz Kafka, Raymond Carver, Jorge Luis Borges, Ray Bradbury and Charles Bukowski. She doubts Bukowski would show up.
B. Mamatha is the author of The House They Couldn’t Build, and her upcoming work – Bear-Faced Lies And Other Fictions – will be her second collection of short stories due out later this month.
The Three Top Tips for Writers
1. You already have your story
A piece of advice I heard as a child has stayed with me: “don’t try to be a writer too young”. It seems a little snooty now, but I understand the sentiment. Live your life, don’t just write it from afar. If you don’t give yourself time to experience the world – to amass a store of places, expressions, jealousies, quirks, unfairness and truths – what on Earth will you write about? The difference is between writing the world as only you experience it, and something that resonates with the lives of other people. And that’s where writing makes its mark: in connections.
At some point, however – and age isn’t always the marker of it – you achieve that personal store, and it’s an unending source of writing prompts. Often they come to mind when you least expect them: in daydreams, stray thoughts, strangers in the street, newspaper clippings, and the eternal question of interesting fiction: ‘what if … ?’
Pork Chop, a short story I wrote about a family terrorised by a gang who wear animal masks is – I’ve been told – strange and disturbing. Yet the idea came to me while watching a less-than-terrifying cookery show. The rest I drew on from a recurring childhood nightmare and the house in which I used to live. Stories are always there, waiting. For any writer struggling to find inspiration, I’d say: you already have it.
2. Know what ‘good’ looks like
I showed one of my stories to someone who happens to be influential in publishing, and was lucky enough to get a reply. “I like it,” he said, “but the ending is quite abrupt.” That was my cue to ask him for advice. Instead, I told him that, “that’s how I write.” I still kick myself – though at least I did rewrite the ending later.
While you may rightly be the only person on the planet who can tell this story in this way, if you don’t find out what others consider ‘good’, you face the prospect of converting everyone else to your way of seeing. That’s a huge challenge – and, sometimes, a misplaced one.
This doesn’t mean you should compromise on your writing, but to know when to acknowledge reliable feedback (especially on publishing practices, grammar and editorial development).
3. Don’t self-publish too soon
I was delighted when my story Symbiosis was short-listed for a regional writing competition. I was equally gutted when I had to withdraw it because I’d published it myself just after the closing date. Sometimes, it’s good to learn a little patience (and, perhaps, a little confidence).
Self-publishing is, all-things considered, easy. And fast – if you count web publishing, it’s almost immediate. If you want artistic control and the satisfaction of doing it yourself, I say: do it. But if you want a way into traditional publishing, an income, or best-seller lists, it may be worth waiting just a little bit longer.
You’re a writer: are you prepared to be a marketer? Can you get enough distance from your own work to edit it, or to accept revisions from an editor? Can you learn professional standards of book production and layout? Can you bankroll the operation and not flinch when you don’t cover your costs? Before dismissing these as not relevant to you, ask again whether you know what ‘good’ looks like to other people – people who will be buying, reading or judging your work.
Whether you want to be traditionally or self-published, there are ways to put patience to good practice:
- Keep submitting to agents, competitions and magazines in your genre. Whether you want to be discovered, be read, or increase your sales, you have to get your work out there.
- Learn how publishing works: what roles are involved, and what do they do? What does a publishing schedule look like? What are the foundations of layout and typography? What marketing approaches work? If publishing is the industry you want to be part of – or compete with – know the lay of the land.
- More than anything: write. If the love of the craft is what drives you, this is what it comes down to.
- Writing is a journey. To say you’ve seen or know it all is when you’ve reached The End. That’s when you close the book, put down your pen, and walk away.
You can follow B. Mamatha on Twitter @thegoldmanpress
Bear-Faced Lies And Other Fictions is due out later this month.