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  • Helen Lederer

Nosy Parkering with CWIP’s unpublished writers. It might be rude but it won’t be dull.

Updated: May 29, 2020

Helen here - there’s nothing better than finding out how other people write and what biscuits they like and if they use wet wipes at their desk (don’t ask) except we have – we asked the writerly Elaine Simmonds (longlisted for her as-yet unpublished novel, The Club for Mature Indulgence) to kindly reveal some of her secrets…

Elaine Simmonds, on the 2020 CWIP Unpublished Novel Prize longlist with The Club for Mature Indulgence

When did you first hear about the CWIP Prize and was your entry specifically written for it or were you working on it already?

I read about the competition in Mslexia magazine ahead of last year’s inaugural competition. I had written The Club for Mature Indulgence a couple of years before, so the competition gave me the impetus to redraft it. Despite not getting through last year, the redrafting made me want to move the book on to a new level, so I went to Mslexia’s Mslexicon Writing Weekend and spoke to several agents and attended sessions on editing, developing characters and plots, and pitching. I came back with loads of great input and so rewrote the novel in full. I had also met a fellow unpublished writer there, Carol Pedley, who agreed to be my reader as I prepared the novel for this year’s competition.

Elaine (the blonde on the right at the table in foreground of photo) engrossed in writerly chat at Mslexicon 2019

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I have always written and have always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first full length novel twenty-four years ago, and since have written three more – none of which have been published. I realised I never gave enough time to writing and also that I needed to understand more about the technical side of writing. I started studying for a Creative Writing degree with the Open College of the Arts to help move my writing up to a more professional level. I’m just embarking on the final year’s syllabus which will involve writing a new novel – I’m planning a suspense/thriller.

Have you ever started a novel and then abandoned it?

There are a few! One or two I really want to go back to and redraft entirely, one is about my time in St Petersburg in the mid nineties when I worked in a hotel and Putin was a frequent visitor; the other involves magical realism which I’d really love to master.

Did you write poetry as an angsty teenager?

Absolutely! I had to write poetry as part of my Degree course and, I think, my tutor would be the first to agree, I’m not a poet!

Can you describe what your novel’s about in two sentences?

Growing older doesn’t have to be boring, you can still enjoy a happy and fulfilling life. There is still time to pursue your dreams and to find love.

What made you write your book? Where did the idea or impulse behind it come from?

I was listening to a radio interview about a book called Thursdays in the Park by Hilary Boyd, which the press had decided was Fifty Shades of Grey for the over sixties. I read the book and it definitely wasn’t - it’s a rather lovely romance. But it made me think what if someone had written an erotic novel about the over-sixties which captured national interest, how would the author’s family feel. From that small seed The Club for Mature Indulgence pretty much wrote itself. But that was only the first draft. It’s two stories in one – the author’s story and the erotic novel which appears in excerpts. Intertwining both stories was a challenge. Each redrafting has built on the original draft. Being longlisted has been a huge encouragement.

Did you set out to write a funny book? Where does the humour come from in your book?

This was always going to be a humorous book, but I didn’t want to overdo the joke. I have relied on the plot and the interaction of the characters to create humour. It’s gently funny.

Can you read funny books when you’re writing your own? Who do you enjoy reading?

I tend to read more thrillers! I love to travel so Redmond O’Hanlon’s stories of exploration always make me laugh, as do Bill Bryson’s carefully observed travelogues.

Have you ever read anyone else’s bad review and felt slightly chuffed? (Lying is permissible in this answer.)

I’m just in awe of anyone who gets published – with the exception of celebrities!

Can you tell us about your writing routine?

I write whenever I can. I tend to have an idea in my head for a while and then get down to writing when I can clear enough time. I have a habit of scribbling notes in books I’m reading – so never lend me a book you want back!

Where do you write?

These days it’s in my bedroom, so not very exciting.

You can’t find the right words to make a sentence chime: do you (a) swear? (b) cry? or (c) eat? - if (c), what item of food?

I let it lie there and move on. In a few days something will suddenly pop into my head – preferably not when I’m driving or I end up taking a wrong turning.

What difference has being longlisted for the CWIP prize made to you? What would you say to anyone thinking of entering next year?

It’s been a huge boost. I believe in this book. I’ve been working on it and trying to get interest in it for a long time. Last year’s Mslexicon helped me decide to rewrite it and now I am determined to send it back out to agents and hopefully get it published. I think in the post pandemic era a funny and entertaining tale about growing older disgracefully could be just what we need.

Helen here again - we love you Elaine and thank you for entering… (as it were)

Elaine enjoying life on a houseboat in Kerala last year

Elaine Simmonds has two passions: writing and travel. She’s lived in many countries working in Public Relations. Elaine lives in Maidenhead and works as a freelance tour manager taking tours across Europe and the UK. She has always written in her spare time and can’t imagine not having a writing project on the go. She’s currently studying for a Creative Writing Degree with the Open College of the Arts.

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