The Writer’s Life
What made Michelle start writing? What other jobs has she done? Why can’t she whistle? You can find answers to these and many more things you never knew about Michelle in this, the most comprehensive collection of interview questions and answers about her ever assembled!
So – what made you start writing?
I wrote my first story when I was five: a rip-roaring adventure about an escaped Tyrannosaurus rex and a rabbit called Hamish. I don’t remember what made me start writing stories: it was just something I knew I wanted to do, as soon as I could read.
What did you find the hardest thing to do?
Simply to keep writing – day after day, week after week, and year after year, when I had no idea whatsoever if I’d ever get published. I used to get up very early in the morning in order to put in a couple of hours before going to the office, and sometimes I’d sit at my desk listening to the dawn chorus starting up outside, and ask myself if I was completely crazy, wasting my time like this? But the thought of chucking it in – of not writing – was just too bleak to contemplate. So I’d make another mug of coffee and shuffle back to my desk, and get on with it.
How would you describe the ‘writer’s life?’
Marginalized, solitary and not in the slightest bit grown-up. I spend my entire time day-dreaming, and getting paid for it. That’s why I love it.
Above all, not in the slightest bit grown-up…Do you miss the excitement and pressure of the lawyer’s boardroom?
When I heard this question for the first time, I laughed so hard that I nearly fell off my chair! This may sound as if I’m ‘protesting too much’, but since I left the law at the end of ’98, there hasn’t been a single moment when I’ve felt the slightest nostalgia for my old job. And that’s not to say that I hated it, far from it – at least, to start with. I was a litigator for 13 years, and to begin with, it was wonderful to be learning the ropes of what was then still very much a man’s job; and then there was all the excitement of going for partnership; and then – ? Well, then there was ‘more of the same’. More big-ticket cases about drugs and tobacco and disposable nappies (oh yes, I was one of the doyennes of the ‘Nappy Wars’ litigation of the 80s and 90s – which just about says it all); more horribly urgent ‘deal with it yesterday’ faxes from Japan and the States and wherever, more postponed holidays, and more weekends lost to work.
What were your favourite books when you were younger?
As a small child, I adored Tove Jansson’s Moomin books (I wrote to her once, and got a lovely long letter back, all about Moomins’ dietary requirements), and then it was Tolkien, and Alan Garner’s Elidor and The Owl Service; John Gordon (especially The Giant Under the Snow); all of Roger Lancelyn Green’s masterly re-tellings of the myths – Greek, Norse, Egyptian; and any anthology of ghost stories that I could get my hands on: M.R. James, of course, and E. Nesbitt. I was ten when I first read her Man-size in Marble, and it kept me awake in a cold, terrified sweat, for hours.
Who or what has influenced you?
That’s really hard to answer, because some of the most powerful influences are the hardest to spot. But I’d certainly name my mother as a strong influence – because she never cuts corners, and always does her best at anything she sets her hand to.
I remember once when I was about seven, I got the part of the queen in the school play, so I needed a crown. My mother got to work that night, and didn’t just come up with the usual foil-covered cardboard zig-zags: she also made a dome of red velvet to fit inside, and an `ermine’ trim of cotton-wool and black fluff. With an example like that, it’s no wonder that I grew up a little finicky when it comes to details!
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