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Beverley Ward
Interview Date: Thu 10 May 2012
Beverley Ward is writer currently working towards the completion of a young adult novel. I'm also a freelance literature consultant running reading and writing projects and I'm Writing Projects Manager for Signposts Writing Project in South Yorkshire.

Your Questions Answered:

Firstly, what sort of a writing do you normally do? You've been working on a novel, but besides that, any other pieces? What genre - if any - you'd classify yourself with and what has always influenced you in writing?
Question By: Durre Mughal
Like lots of writers, I've written since I was tiny and always known that it was what wanted to do. I used to tell maths teachers that I was never going to need maths because I was going to be a writer; I didn't know then how much of my 'writing' life would be spent managing budgets and writing funding bids.

When I went to university there was no such thing as creative writing so I did an English Literature degree and I think that academic focus and scrutiny of text kind of inhibited my own writing until my mid-twenties. At this point I started dabbling with poetry and was then accepted onto the MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University as a poet, with the novel as my subsidiary. The MA totally destroyed my confidence in my poetry unfortunately but I did discover a talent for writing fiction and I've carried on writing fiction ever since.

I find it impossible to say what influences my writing. All those classical writers that I studied and all the reading that I've done will inevitably permeate my own writing and I was lucky to meet some inspirational people along the way too.

The novels which I've written (one for adults, one for children and the current one for young adults) all spring from experiences in my own life to some extent. I sometimes think I'm too lazy to spend the time learning about anything else(!) and I believe that everyone has experiences to share which will resonate with readers.

So, I don't really have a genre. The young adult novel that I'm writing is very much gritty realism but the adult novel involved characters like Medusa and Rapunzel sitting side by side with a jilted twenty-something chick in a hairdressing salon and my children's novel was about a child having an underwater adventure with a plastic dolphin – so anything goes really if it interests me enough to dedicate the time to it.

I work a lot with young people and so it may be that I'll find my home as a young adult author when this novel is finally finished but I'm wary of ending up in any niche as I enjoy new challenges.
Also wondered if at this point you want to talk about the novel that you've been working on? How long you've been working on it, what it's about, who it's aimed at and such?
Question By: Durre Mughal
I've been working on my current novel for years. I first had the idea for some version of it about eight or nine years ago whilst on a writing holiday in Skyros. Sophie Hannah set us the task of plotting a novel in an afternoon on a beach and I came up with the idea of a romantic story between a middle class girl who was tutoring a homeless heroin addict, and the book has grown from there. The book is based on a lot of my work experience in my twenties when I worked in literacy projects, homeless hostels and drug rehabs and I think it's quite a powerful story because of that. As a literacy tutor I used to help people in rehab to write their life stories and so I hold the stories of about 200 heroin addicts in my head. It's a big responsibility to try to tell those stories with accuracy and sensitivity.

I'm on my third or fourth draft at the moment and the book has been massively delayed by all kinds of things. When I had the idea, I was still working on my children's novel, Under the Indigo Waves, and I had some interest from agents and editors in that. So I spent some time re-working versions of that before an agent at Curtis Brown asked to see my opening to the young adult novel and said that she felt it had more mileage than the children's book. I also set out writing the book in an insanely complicated structure with multiple viewpoints and time shifts and in the end, the first draft just didn't work. The way I'd chosen to write it meant that everything was narrated retrospectively and I ended up trapped in the old cliche of telling rather than showing. In the end editing and fiddling around with it just wasn't enough and I've had to completely rewrite it in a different tense from a different perspective. I'm confident that the new version is much better.

In the meantime, I found myself working more and more hours as a literature development consultant setting up and managing reading and writing projects for teenagers which left little time for writing. I'm a validation junkie so I'll always say yes to freelance work regardless of the impact on my writing. No-one but me cares if I write but I get a lot of appreciation and reward for 'proper' jobs (and I'm insanely lucky that even the most proper of proper jobs that I've done has been great fun to do). And then I got pregnant and, once I had a child, I found that suddenly time to write was a hundred times harder to find. I now have two children, one of whom has health problems, and I find it insanely difficult to look after both them adequately, work enough to provide job satisfaction and a living and to continue with my own writing. I know it should be possible but when you've spent half the night up with a child who is crying in pain, been up since 6am, done a full day's work and five hours of childcare, often writing is not what you feel like doing at 9pm when all the other jobs are done. And because it's unpaid and purely for self-gratification, it just ends up at the bottom of the 'to do' list along with having a haircut and going to the gym. I was lucky enough to have a 'time to write' bid accepted by the Arts Council a couple of years ago but even then I didn't get the novel finished as I found myself pregnant and sick during the six months sabbatical I was supposed to be having with a mother (and main source of childcare) suddenly diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer. So I really wasn't able to make the most of the opportunity. I think it's hard for any mother to juggle their work and their job and hard for any writer to juggle their writing with the need to earn a living, but to try to juggle all three is a real challenge. Looking back I wish I'd spent less time in twenties and thirties preoccupied with various doomed love affairs and spent a lot more time writing when I had the chance. But that's the way life is and perhaps this will also feed into my writing at some point.
You mentioned that "female readership in their 20s might be interested to read about that before they start procreating" which makes it sound like it will be advice given from experience to young girls! Brings up that never-ending question to mind about, whether young female writers should put their career as a writer before starting a family, though I don't want to seem like I'm narrowing it down to that! Also the fact that you're a writer with children, and obviously that must have some affect on your writing. Would you say that you're one of those writers that draw from that aspect of your life or is your writing separated from it?
Question By: Durre Mughal
Having children is incredibly fulfilling but draining in a way that I could never possibly have predicted. At the moment they're very separate from my writing life but I can see that, in future, I may draw on the experience of being a mother in my writing, both as subject matter and also as inspiration. I have an iphone and often jot down funny ideas for children's books that occur to me when I'm with them.  

The problem with modern technology though is that as soon as I've had an idea I Google it and find it's already been done. Did you know there are eight books on Amazon called "Whose toes are those?"!
You're also currently the Writing Projects Manager for Signposts. If you could just tell me about the type of projects you run to help young writers out. We hear about a lot of opportunities for writers out there but, realistically, are there enough?
Question By: Beverley Ward
Working for Signposts is great. I feel so lucky to have found such a lovely job at a time when so many people are out of work. I've known Matt Black (the director of Signposts) for a long time and Signposts has always supported the work with young writers that I've been involved in, so it's good to be more involved in the overall management of the project. I founded the Sheffield Young Writers project about seven years ago with Grants for the Arts money from the Arts Council, having recognised that there were very few opportunities around for young writers. Since then, our project, and other opportunities for young writers seem to have grown massively.

I worked as a consultant with NAWE on behalf of the Arts Council a couple of years ago and some new initiatives, including The Hub, have grown from that. Signposts now runs young writers' groups in Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham, as well as supporting a spoken word project at The Hub (a youth project for young people of African- Carribean, dual heritage, Yemeni and Somali heritage). We're also re-launching a writing group in April for older young people who have graduated from young writers projects but who don't feel at home in some of the more traditional writing groups across Sheffield. In addition, we're involved in a slam project in South Yorkshire schools and we support Vicky Morris to run Cube – a fantastic journalism project.

We also run an annual young writers festival. Over the next few years, now that we have National Portfolio Organisation status from the Arts Council, we'll be developing more projects with adults, children and young people across South Yorkshire, hopefully bringing writing to new audiences at the same time as helping emerging and professional writers to build their careers. We're planning a mentoring scheme for emerging writers and will also be offering a number of writing commissions to new writers, so I'd advise any of your readers who are based in South Yorkshire to get in touch. (Our website is being redeveloped at the moment but you can find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter). We're a small organisation but we're hoping to grow and, by being well-connected with other writers and writing projects, we're able to point most people in the direction of writing opportunity that suits them, hence the name Signposts.