My guest today, hopping nimbly off the magic carpet is Stella Hervey Birrell First off – what would you like to drink?
I’ve got a really picky tea order (decaf with soya milk) so perhaps we’d be best to just skip straight to the lager. It’s five o’clock somewhere right?
Sure is – I can offer you the local “bière blonde” which is like a very pleasant but strong lager plus I have all kinds of home made cake, jam, bikkies etc – choice?
I will have ‘all kinds of cake’ then please. Have you got any chocolate chip cookies? And I’m a sucker for a well-made scone with jam and butter.
Dig in – biscuit and cake tins on the table in front of you. Let’s start with your books – do you write under just one name or several? How many genres do you cover? How much have you had published including anthologies etc?
I write under Stella Hervey Birrell. It’s a partial pseudonym, as Hervey is my maiden name. I’m very much enjoying that it shortens to Stella HB (of pencil fame).
My genre for long form is women’s fiction: the first novel I would say is firmly ‘chick-lit’ but the second novel is a science fiction/women’s fiction crossover book. I write short stories too, and poetry, probably in a slightly more literary and slightly less chatty way. I also write songs, for my band, The Domestics, some of which can be found on iTunes.
I am very much at the beginning of my writing career, and my first novel is available on Amazon, published by Crooked Cat.
How long have you been writing professionally? I imagine that, like all of us, you wrote all your life before “turning pro”.
I have been writing seriously since 2012. Before that, I worked as a Committee Clerk but didn’t actually make any money after paying for childcare! So we agreed I would do the unpaid work of parenting for a few years, and see if I could fit the writing around it. It gave me the opportunity to approach my work seriously, but also spend some of those first years at home with the children.
What was your first published work? Short story, magazine article, poem?
Ah good question! About a hundred (ok, probably about thirteen) years ago, I attended a writers group in Barrow-in-Furness, possibly twice or maybe thrice. I picked the right three meetings to attend though, because they were collating an anthology and somehow my poem, The Moon, ended up in it.
What are your ambitions / hopes for your writing career?
I want to write, first and foremost. As people, we go through different stages of life, and most of mine have been chaotic and over-stimulating: I find that the daily application of words onto page settles me in a way that I’ve never experienced before. I feel grounded.
I’d like to produce a body of consistently good work, both long form and short stories/poetry. I also would love to continue being part of a community of writers, readers and creators, online and in real life. I’m committed to continuing to support fellow writers by reading and commenting on their work, and I hope other writers will continue to do the same for me.
And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d like to make some money out of it someday.
Now on to you, the author. Where do you live and with whom? Describe a perfect day at home for me. (Where else have you lived?)
I live in a rural idyll, a small village on the outskirts of Edinburgh, in East Lothian. We call it Pennycokeland but it’s Pancakeland really. No, sorry, Pencaitland. We (myself, cat, children, and husband, in that order) live in an ex-miners cottage on the edge of the village.
On a perfect day I drop the kids at school – sorry guys! – do some writing, and maybe get a lovely message, or a follow on Twitter (@atinylife140), or a subscriber to my blog, then for elevenses I go up to our local pub that opens for tea and cake. Back home for a spot of lunch and the cat decides to sit on my knee while I’m doing some more work: heaven. Later, it’s back up to school to pick up the boys, they’ve had a good day, and when we come home I magic a delicious dinner that we all like to eat, but is also healthy, from the bits and pieces in the fridge.
Later we either build a fire and watch some Netflix, or hand over to the babysitter and go back to our lovely Winton Arms (the same pub from this
morning) for the monthly sing-around that we host. Despite rolling home around midnight full of Tia Maria and Baileys, I still manage to get eight hours of sleep before my alarm goes for my writing hour at 6am.
(I moved from Edinburgh to Pencaitland, where I stayed in a flat share with a dear friend. Before that I lived with my mother in the South Lake District. Both of these are settings in my first novel.)
Do you have a “day job”?
Yes: unpaid childcare. Hardest but most rewarding job in the world, and not one I’m prepared to delegate if I can possibly help it.
Absolutely! Outside of writing and any THAT work, what is your main passion (greatest pleasures?)
It will have to be music then. I’ve been singing since I was a tiny: I sang part of Sing a Rainbow solo in an assembly at the age of five, and have been basically seeking the limelight since.
I’ve done a load of different things over the years: musicals, choirs, folk sessions and festivals, and utilising the guitar talents of a range of willing helpers because I never learned to play myself. But now I’m in a six piece band with my husband, my neighbour, my son’s godfather, and two other good friends. We’re called The Domestics and you can find out a bit more about us here. We do some covers and our own original material. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to hear your own songs played by a six-piece band. Our gigs are mostly local, but we’re hoping to stretch ourselves a bit further afield next year.
Another thing in common then – I’m a chanteuse too! Tell me two or three interesting facts about you that I haven’t asked.
My breakthrough moment: I wrote a piece for my husband’s son (I don’t use the term stepson as it puts me in mind of sub-son, or half-son) and sent it into the Guardian’s Family Section. Not only was it terribly exciting to get paid by the Guardian for some writing, there was a massive amount of good feedback about the piece from friends and acquaintances who had seen the column. It got me to thinking: ‘how many people have to tell me that I’m good at this, before I just do it?’
My writing salvation: My writers group, Tyne & Esk Writers. When I told my sisters I was going to write seriously, one of them gave me what she termed ‘unsolicited advice’ from our cousin. One of these pieces of advice was to join a writers group, because ‘agents and publishers look for this in a covering letter.’ But it’s more than that for me, now. Almost all my writer friends are members of the group, I have learnt so much from the sharing of their work, sharing mine in return, and from our friendships outside the formal group meetings. I don’t know if I would have kept going, if I hadn’t kept going to my writers group. Dalkeith Writers, I salute you!
Finally and most importantly – Bio and links please.
Stella Hervey Birrell’s debut chick-lit-with-grit novel is published by Crooked Cat Books and is available from the following places: UK Amazon US Amazon Kobo Nook and iBooks. She has previously had poetry published in Scrivens, an online writers’ magazine, and The Edge, an anthology of work from the South Lake District. Her ‘A letter to…’ was printed in the Guardian’s family section in 2011. In response to a request from the Scottish Text Society, she edited and set some words in Old Scots to music in 2015. Also in 2015, she was asked to creatively respond to an art exhibition which was part of Leith Arts Festival. She is a lead singer and songwriter for the band The Domestics She blogs at #atinylife140 tweets at @atinylife140 and can be found on Facebook here.
AND her debut novel How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? is available for pre-order at Amazon here