Writer’s Block With Kelly Creighton

SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to KELLY CREIGHTON about writing her FIRST NOVEL, STAYING POSITIVE and why GLASTONBURY is her favourite place in the world …

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Belfast-born Kelly Creighton is the critically acclaimed author behind The Bones of It, one of 2015’s finest debut novels. The Irish Times called the book ‘blackly comic in tone…a Bildungsroman that evolves into a slow-burning psychological exploration of the mind… an engrossing tale of the consequences of living a life steeped in a culture of violence’.

The Bones of It went on to win the San Diego Book Review novel of the year 2015 and was nominated for the Kate O’Brien Award in 2016.

Kelly’s formative years were spent in Australia and later England, before moving on to Bangor. As a keen observer with a vivid imagination, Kelly has always been creative. However, it was when she became a mother that she completed the novel she wanted to show the world.

When Kelly isn’t dreaming up stories at home, she works as an arts facilitator, bringing her craft to community groups. Kelly founded literary journal The Incubator in 2014 and co-founded The Square Circle Writers. Kelly has contributed prose to such publications as Litro, The Stinging Fly, Honest Ulsterman and Banshee, among others. She has received nods of recognition from prestigious literary bodies such as the Michael McLaverty Short Story Award, the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing, Cúirt New Writing Prize for Fiction, Fish Short Story Prize and the Gregory O’Donoghue Poetry Prize.

Kelly Creighton lives with her family in Newtownards, County Down. She is currently working on many forthcoming projects. The Bones of It (€13.99) is published by Liberties Press and available nationwide.

On childhood

I was born in the Woodvale area of Belfast and moved to Australia at five months old. We lived in Sydney first, then Perth. I was so young I can’t remember it. My first memory was of me living with my grandmother back in Woodvale. I must have been three and was staying there while we prepared our move to Manchester. I remember a parcel coming in the post for me and it was a Cindy doll. She was the first doll I’d ever seen with short dark hair. I was pretty captivated by this. Manchester is more vivid for me. I remember going to nursery school and the house we lived in. I would watch my videotape of Grease most days, and then I would sit at the kitchen table painting. The smell of poster paints and plasticine always reminds me of that time.

On home

We live in Newtownards which is a large town situated on the tip of Strangford Lough. It is a scenic part of the country, especially when you take a drive down the peninsula. There are great walkways around Kiltonga Park and Scrabo Country Park, where there is Scrabo Tower. My claim to fame at home is that I once abseiled down the tower to combat my fear of heights. Unfortunately it didn’t have the desired effect.

Once a month our writers’ group Square Circle Writers meet in a bustling café in Conway Square, just a few yards from Ards Arts Centre which is the old town hall. Most of the group first met there while taking a creative writing class. Occasionally I’ll go to Haptik to read and soak up great art and beautiful coffee. I tend not to write in coffee shops anymore because the background music is beyond my control.

On creativity and family

It is easy to lose sight of yourself when you become a carer, as I did when the eldest of my four children was diagnosed with severe autism and learning difficulties. I found that working outside of the house was no longer viable for me. After a while I knew that I needed something to get me out and began setting myself challenges, like the abseil, mountain climbing or running. Almost five years ago, the day after completing the Belfast Marathon, I decided I was no longer excited by physical challenges and I was going to attempt to write a book. I wrote it over the next two years, grabbing the odd half hour here and there. Mostly I’d work on it when the kids were in bed, and always in the living room. I’ve toyed with getting a shed or fashioning a study but I know I wouldn’t use either. This is where I’m comfortable and where I started writing. Because it’s a room that doesn’t get a lot of light it’s now painted white so it feels summery all year round. There are charity shop finds and fresh flowers on the mantel, my beloved bookcase stands beside a reclining sofa and dotted around are tables that I’ve bought for a steal and restored. The rest of the house is full of photos but the living room is the main place for my eldest daughter’s artwork. Last year she came home from school with a huge folder of work. I was stunned, it was so good. She is non-verbal and often has a hard time communicating so her art is her voice. It is really inspiring and important to me that we be able to see it all the time.

On bookshops

No Alibis is an independent bookstore in Botanic, Belfast. It’s unique in that it specialises in crime fiction. The place is always a hub of good energy. It is a special place, and most writers here will tell you the same thing. I had the launch of The Bones of It there, and there are often readings and live music. No Alibis is a beautiful space owned by David Torrens, who is a tireless supporter and promoter of local writing. There is a great atmosphere that comes from the staff’s enthusiasm and friendliness. It’s a real gem and should be the first stop on any booklover’s visit to the city.

On her nightstand

The books on my nightstand are the ones that I will tend to go back to again and again. These are the Bloodaxe anthologies edited by Neil Astley (Being Alive, Being Human and Staying Alive); they are simply incredible for their depth and variety of poems. I keep going back to The Granta Book of the American Short Story edited by Richard Ford for story structure ideas. When I want to hear voice, I reopen Cherry, which is a memoir by Mary Karr. The writing is so stunning you can’t help but feel renewed when you read a passage. In the last year I have read a lot of non-fiction books. I like them for their strong emotional truth, in the same way I prefer to watch documentaries over drama. For fiction, at the moment I’m reading Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty. It’s beautifully written and I’m enjoying it.

On escapes

Apart from being at home, my favourite place in the world is Glastonbury. It’s so mellow; the festival is not like any outdoor concert I’ve ever been to anywhere else. Music is where I go to get away from it all. My husband and I can never agree on a movie that we’ll both enjoy, but we both love our music. The kids love music too. It’s a shared passion but it’s also my personal escape. I love an excuse for a long drive to put some old CDs on, or even just walking our dogs with my headphones on, hearing an album the way it was supposed to be heard. We’ve lost touch of that, I think, downloading just one song at a time. An album is a story collection. The placement and order of the songs are important, the thread, themes and overall tone.

On positivity

Maybe because I don’t see myself as solely a novelist I don’t fear the ‘Second Novel Curse’. I’m interested in all forms of storytelling. I start with a short story and sometimes it won’t let me go. This is how I know it can be more; a novel or even a play. Of course I do write novels too but I’m not putting any pressure on myself in that respect. I would hate to start thinking of creativity as formulaic. From the writer’s point of view, the stories that work are the ones you are compelled to write. As long as my heart is in it it’s a story worth telling.

I get a bit fed up with the amount of writing competitions there are. You have to choose the ones you value. Staying positive and focused can be a struggle when there is so much rejection, but being an editor has taught me not to take rejection personally. Now I see it from the other side. No one likes redirecting work and they do appreciate the amount of work and vision that has gone into your project. Most rejections roll off me, you develop a thicker skin, which is not to say that sometimes there won’t be disappointment. I allow myself some time to lick my wounds when that is the case, then I send my work back out there, because ultimately, if you want a readership, and I do, the project is doing nothing for you by sitting in a drawer.

On what’s next

Soon I will be heading to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig to start plotting the second novel in my Belfast-based detective series. The centre is the perfect setting to give a writer that much needed headspace to start a project from scratch and really let it breathe and grow. Before I go, I’ll put the final edits to my short story collection, Bank Holiday Hurricane, which is a collection of linked stories set in a Northern Irish town and further afield. I’ve been writing the stories over the past few years and I’m excited to see how they work together.

Then on June 17 I will be reading at Belfast Book Festival as part of Women Aloud NI: which is a community of marvellous women writers, and the brainchild of Jane Talbot who wrote The Faerie Thorn and other stories.

@SophieGrenham

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