Interview Colette Coen

Colette Coen has most recently been published in Chroma, Structo and Crannog Magazines. Her novel All the Places I’ve Ever Been and short story collections are available on Amazon. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland with her husband and their two teenagers. She is also Mum to a university student who has flown the nest and whose bedroom now doubles as Colette’s office where she writes and runs her proofreading business – Beech Editorial Services. Follow for posts of new fiction.

1. Congratulations on winning our contest with ‘It’. What inspired you?

I find that writing for competitions motivates me, so ‘It’ was written in response to a prompt where the story had to include ‘without it, it all falls apart’. I didn’t actually enter that competition, but when I was happy with it I sent it here.

I do as much writing in my head as I do on the page and was hanging out the washing when this came to me. I do have experience of a close family member who has dementia so that inspired me too. I used to have a romantic notion that with dementia you retreat into pleasant memories, but really, depending on the type of dementia, you could get anything coming out of the person’s mouth – basically a mash-up of every thought and feeling they have ever had. I liked the idea of the lack of inhibition that Cassie has. I also wanted to show the changing relationships and life stages – Judith had just thought she was going to have some freedom, when new challenges arise. I know that concern all too well.

2. How did you break into the publishing world?

I did a little bit of writing for the university newspaper when I was a student, then entered a competition to write an essay on Glasgow ten years in the future. I won the competition and thought that I was going to have an easy ride from there to the Booker. Things didn’t quite work out like that.

In my 20s I was very involved in a literary magazine which was produced in Glasgow called Cutting Teeth, but that folded round about the time I was having my kids, so a publication hiatus followed. I did start work on a novel at that time, but never got to the end of it.

About 7 years ago I decided that it was time to get serious again and I enrolled in the Faber Academy Novel Writing course where my tutor was the amazing Janice Galloway, and fellow students included Gail Honeyman, Ethyl Smith and Vicki Jarrett. I completed my novel All the Places I’ve Ever Been but despite a couple of near-misses with agents, I ended up self-publishing.

3. Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to see where an idea takes you?

I definitely just let a story develop as I write. I have a vague notion of where I want it to go, but plotting isn’t one of my strengths (although I am trying to develop it). I’m in the G2 writers’ group (with a high calibre of writers) and sometimes I am asked where something is going, ‘I’ll tell you when I find out,’ is my usual reply. I think it makes it exciting to just see where your imagination takes you, but it does mean that I need to do a lot of editing so that the final product makes sense.

4. What projects are you working on at the moment?

I wrote a script a few years ago set in the 1950s and loosely based on my mum’s experience of the early NHS, which I am slowly turning into a novel. I also have started work on a YA novel which I am really enjoying writing – it’s a lot lighter than my usual tone, but I do need to nail down the plot before I get much further.

I also still really enjoy writing short stories. I have a lot of care commitments at the moment, so being able to start and finish something in a reasonably short amount of time keeps me going.

I’ve also trained as a proofreader and have set up a business to do that. The training has refreshed my technical skills and it’s great to be doing some networking with lovely book people.

Interview Colette Coen