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Since Cherry Potts‘s short story “Out of Darkness” appeared in Litro, she’s written and published a book about a community opera and received a special commendation in the 2011 Ifanca Hélène James Short Story Competition.
What have you been up to since your publication in Litro?
Since my story “Out of Darkness” appeared in Litro #96: Gangs, I’ve written and published a book about a community opera, The Blackheath Onegin, which is illustrated with rehearsal photos by me and performance photos by my friend Tony Stewart. I got a special commendation in the Ifanca Hélène James competition in 2011 for my story “The What Else in the Water”; however, my fantasy epic The Dowry Blade has met with complete indifference from publishers and agents.
I’ve written loads more short stories, two of which—”A Second Hand Emotion” and “Gone Midnight”—have been performed at Liars’ League Leeds. I’m currently working on a science fiction novel about pirates and a historical novel set in thirteenth-century Languedoc.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
Aged about 18 months, arriving at our new house in the back of my uncle’s soft top sports car – I remember the steep slope down into the little 60’s estate and being bewildered that this was now home. Like all my best memories, my mother claims I imagined it. No sports car? I don’t believe her.
What makes you happy?
Cuddling up with my girl and the cats on one of the rare days we don’t get up early, and singing my head off at Raise the Roof, Summer all Year Long or Blackheath Chorus… and writing of course.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
Before I could use a pen to form words, I ‘wrote’ in pictures; and once I could write, I did. I think I consciously knew writing was the thing when I was about seven, and settled for it for sure when I decided at nine that being a concert pianist wasn’t going to happen.
What are you reading at the moment?
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s My Nine Lives – an odd little collection of imagined autobiographies that makes use of her life on three continents, extracting sections and fictionalising them. Fascinating, if not entirely successful.
What advice would you give to a first time writer?
Write lots and read it aloud, what looks great on paper can sound pretty silly out loud – if that’s what you’re aiming for fine, but listening to it is important.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Me? Guilt? Nah…
How do you relax?
What is your favourite book?
Mark of the Horseman by Rosemary Sutcliff. Perfection on paper; and a shocking, shocking ending. I chose this because although it’s a children’s book (just – I wouldn’t let anyone under the age of ten read it!) it works for adults too, and never patronises. Beautifully written, I could hardly bear to put it down.
Which author is underrated or deserves to be better-known?
You wouldn’t believe how long I thought about this one. I’ve been scouring my brain for obscure small press writers who are out of print and shouldn’t be, and I find myself thinking, “Oh, but not all their books are good enough,” or “I’m sure they’re quite well known, really.” So I’m going to be fairly arbitrary and nominate Barbara C Freeman for rescue from obscurity. A children’s author and illustrator, she wrote 14 books over a 20 year period – 1961-81. I don’t think any of them are still in print or ever made it into paperback. I read most of them when I was between eight and 10, and I re-read several of them recently, and whilst they are not perfect, they contain all the elements that I love: redoubtable heroines, fantasy, history, and sheer daftness – but tempered with a backbone of genuine emotion. You take the fantasy and the daftness because her characters react appropriately to it, and she doesn’t cheat you when the going gets tough. These are comfort reads, perfect for recuperating from the flu, tucked up with a hot water bottle and a cup of tea. My favourite (and also a close run for my favourite book of all time) is her first: Two Thumb Thomas, about a boy being brought up by cats, and what happens when they decide he ought to go to school.
What’s the worst job you’ve had?
Sorry, I’m sworn to secrecy.
What is the most important thing life has taught you?
Do what makes you happy. Trust yourself. Look out for your friends.
I’ve just started putting together writing workshops to be run in local libraries, but also in weird and wonderful venues – gardens, concert halls, museums… any suggestions? The first of these will be at Blackheath Halls in South London, and I am firming up dates for a weekend extravaganza at Sussex Prairies, a beautiful garden in Henfield that I helped plant. I also have plans to start a publishing house, to publish all the talent I discover at said writing workshops. Writing-wise, I aim to finish my science fiction novel this year, and I still harbour an ambition to write an opera!