Author Spotlight: Chloe Banks
This week on the blog, I hand over to talented author and emerging scriptwriter, Chloe Banks, author of The Art of Letting Go.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
When I'm out walking, and an idea comes to me and starts building quickly in my head, it's super-energizing. I also love the process of editing and if that's going well I get really lifted by it. I guess like most things, when it's hard-going and I'm feeling uninspired, it's tiring and unsatisfying. When it's pouring out, I can barely sit still!
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Over-explaining. They'll write something that shows how a person is feeling perfectly, and then they'll also tell the reader how they're feeling. "He clenched his fists. He was angry." It breaks the trust between writer and reader as well as just slowing down the movement. Don't treat your readers as idiots - they get stuff (yes, even the subtle stuff).
Also, the tendency to favour originality over simplicity. Crazy similes, stretched metaphors. We are terrified of cliché, which isn't bad in itself, but there is a long, beautiful gap between cliché and purple prose. Yes, no other writer has probably written that interesting simile before... but there's probably a reason for that! Whether you have a slow, meandering plot, or a highly-complicated fantasy world with a hundred characters, the bones of the work - the sentences - are nearly always better simple.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Neither! I don’t either set out to be super-original, or to write what I think readers want. I set out to tell the story. Sometimes I decide to have a little experiment with something – writing a piece in the future tense or in the form of a list etc. – for my own fun. Sometimes those pieces end up doing really well. But they are the exception. The few times I’ve tried to write a technically satisfying, crowd-pleaser there has been no life in the story. So I just write what I write and hope somebody likes it!
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Keep it simple! I mean, I still have to tell my current writing self that too sometimes. Also, there is time. Yes other people write million-selling debut fiction in their early-20s, but most people don't. And why does it matter anyway? You are you, not them. Trust your instinct. Don't try to write what you think you should, write what you feel the need to. And perhaps most importantly, those times when you feel as if you aren’t getting much writing done and what you are doing is awful, they are the times when you are learning and developing most. You will come out of those times a MUCH better writer. Hang in there, kid.
Trust your instinct. Don't try to write what you think you should, write what you feel the need to.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Yes! It's helpful to be empathetic of course, but I am very much not into saying this or that sort of person can or cannot be a writer. It's a sort of club mentality that I think writers grow out of as they develop (if, of course, they ever had that opinion!) At first some writers are so desperate to be in the "writer's club" they want to categorise and analyse themselves and their fellow-writers. Work out who "we" are. But there is no "we". Do you write? You're a writer.
Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
It's not really for me, though no doubt it can be for some people. It's my work. I love it and I'm so grateful to God for the fact that I am able to do it, but I try to not over-spiritualise or over-romanticise it. I'm very much your roll-up-your-sleeves kind of writer. Having said that, writing a strongly-emotional scene can be very cathartic!
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I do. I obviously love getting good ones. It's amazing to think those words you worked at by yourself in a corner of your house are being read and enjoyed by someone. The bad ones don't particularly bother me. When you write you are so used to rejections anyway. If a publisher thought it was worth publishing, then someone not liking it shouldn't affect my opinion of it. I always think my writing could be better; if other people think so too, fair enough! Of course it stings a bit, but you get up and you get going again. The key is not having a thick skin, but having a thin skin and learning to live with the bruises.
When I think of my first one-star review ("Probably the most boring book I have ever managed to get half way through before giving up.") I remind myself that The Remains of the Day has loads of one-star reviews, including "Don't bother nothing happens", and it's probably the best book ever written.
What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
I don't write about myself as such, but I find at the moment I am very drawn to the whole idea of motherhood and what it does to a woman's identity, both as it begins and as their children grow up and grow away from them. And having two young boys, it's pretty personal to me!
Have you been on any literary pilgrimages?
Nope! I do love going to an author's house though. I really enjoyed going to Batemans (Rudyard Kipling's House) and we are regular visitors at Greenway which was Agatha Christie's home. I'm a huge fan of a good Christie and it's wonderful to see the place that inspired some of her famous stories. It also happens to be in a glorious location on the River Dart and you can arrive by boat or steam train if you want to!
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
The first time I read 1984 I didn't like it, but I think I was a bit young. Same with Cold Comfort Farm. Both of them when I read them later I adored. On the flip side, everyone told me that if I didn't like The Great Gatsby then it must've been because I was too young because it's brilliant. So I read it again. Still didn't like it. Perhaps I am still too young!
Some of my favourite authors aren’t necessarily technically brilliant. Agatha Christie herself doesn’t have the best style. Sometimes I’m a bit irritated by the writing at the sentence level, but she tells a rattling good yarn, so that’s what I read her for. If I want beautiful, heart-wrenching prose (which I often do) I’ll read someone else. Good writing certainly helps my enjoyment, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Some Booker winners are among my favourite books; some I didn’t get on with at all. I made a list on my blog recently (https://chloebanks.co.uk/posts/perfect-books/) of all the books I’ve given 10/10 for how much I enjoyed them over the last few years and the range was amazing. There are too many good books out there to limit yourself as a reader.
Can you tell us what you're working on at the moment?
I started writing scripts earlier this year – something I've wanted to do for ages. The wonderful actor Emma Stansfield, recorded a monologue of mine, and then I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the winners of the Pint-Sized Plays competitions. Recently, Antony Eden and Julia Hills filmed another of my short plays for Muck and Rumble to raise money for Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity, so it has been a rather lovely start! I am now working on a slightly longer play – a one-woman show. It's really not the time to be trying to get into theatre, but it seems I am falling that way!
Chloe lives on the edge of Dartmoor, Devon, with her young family. Her debut novel, The Art of Letting Go, made her a finalist for the People's Book Prize 2016, as well as propelling her into Amazon's bestseller list. She's the winner of many short story and flash fiction competitions, and was recently one of the winners of the Pint-Sized Plays competition.