Like Fiona Atchison, 64-year-old Lorraine Mace could be forgiven for wanting to take things easy – I mean, she and her partner Chris live in a gorgeous Spanish village on the Costa del Sol, far from the tourists. Who wouldn’t want to sit back and sip the sangria?
Instead, she’s hitting the keyboard everyday, working on her DI Sterling crime novels, the first of which, Retriever of Souls, is available now. She’s also written several books under the pen-name Frances Di Plino, as well as the children’s book Vlad the Inhaler (loved it!)
However, that’s not all Lorraine does. She is a columnist for both Writing Magazine and Writers’ Forum and is the head judge for the Writers’ Forum monthly fiction competitions. Plus she tutors at Writers Bureau and runs her own private critique and author mentoring service.
She also runs 5ks several times a week.
In between, of course, she’s had life to get on with, which has included the sad loss of her husband, seeing new grandchildren arrive and moving countries.
Here, Lorraine tells us more about her writing, gives her tips for would-be writers and what growing older has taught her.
Tell us your writing background – how did you get started?
It was a hobby for a number of years, writing short fiction and the odd article for magazines in addition to my first humour column for Living France. Then, in 2005, life decided to throw a whole heap of strife my way.
My husband became seriously ill and remained so for the next ten years until he passed away. At the same time, we lost a lot of money when our investments went sour. We used our remaining capital to buy a house in Spain, but this didn’t turn out well. Although we started a court case against the builder in 2005, which has cost a great deal in legal fees over the years, it still isn’t settled. Various other things happened that same year and, to cut a tedious story short, we were close to being destitute.
At age 50 I became the breadwinner, but didn’t have a job. It was at this point that I started taking my writing seriously in order to keep our heads above the financial deep water. I wrote two non-fiction books and was fortunate enough to get them both published. By this time I’d completed a Writers’ Bureau course and was taken on as a tutor.
Since then I’ve written and had published six novels and another non-fiction title. I’m the fiction editor for Writers Forum and also run my own critique and author mentoring service.
Can you remember the first thing you wrote professionally?
The first thing I ever had published was a twist in the tale story in That’s Life!
When I moved to France in 1999, I foolishly believed getting short fiction accepted would be easy. After more rejections that I care to think about, I was lucky enough to hit the right note and was paid the grand sum of £300.
I used the money to fund a Writers Bureau course and discovered I had a knack for writing humour pieces. This led to being offered the column in Living France Magazine. As mentioned above, I subsequently moved to Spain and wrote a similar humour column for Spanish Magazine.
For the last ten years I’ve been the humour columnist for Writing Magazine.
What is the hardest part about the writing process?
I think this varies from writer to writer. For me, it’s getting started on a new piece. Once I get going, the words will always flow, but I can spend hours procrastinating before forcing myself to get down to it.
You also tutor writers, what do you think most would-be writers struggle with?
There isn’t any one thing that afflicts all new writers, but I’ll list below the three issues that seem to crop up more frequently than any others for my students and clients.
Dumping information: new writers tend to think they have to put in every single detail of a character’s past life in the opening paragraphs. In real life we find out about people as we get to know them. It should be the same with characters in fiction.
Writing credible dialogue: I always suggest authors read their dialogue out loud. It’s amazing how easy it is to pick up where dialogue falters when you hear it, rather than read it.
Developing characters: allowing readers to identify with characters by what they say and do. How do they interact with others? Give the ‘bad’ guy a good characteristic and the ‘good’ guy a bad one. No one is all good or all bad.
Do you think the writing world is more difficult for women – and does age make a difference?
No, I don’t think the writing world is more difficult for women. I believe talent rises, regardless of gender. I certainly don’t think women writers are held back in any way. The editors I’ve worked with over the years haven’t (as far as I know) held any bias against women writers.
Having said that, I think women lack the self-belief that male writers have. I have been a member of many writing groups, both online and in real life. In the main, the men appear to have a sense of entitlement which women lack. Obviously, I’m generalising and there will be men who lack self-belief and women who feel whatever they have written is award-worthy, but in my experience it’s the other way round.
I’d like to see that change – I’d love to see women have more belief in their abilities.
With regard to age, I hope it’s okay to use a David Bowie quote because I think it’s apposite.
“Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.”
That’s how I feel about myself. I now know who I am and have belief in my ability, but it’s taken many years to reach this point.
What advice would you give older women who want to write?
First and foremost – just do it! Don’t let anything stand in your way. If the words are in your head, set them free.
Use your life experiences to add depth to your work. Younger writers haven’t had to deal with even a quarter of what the average older woman has gone through. We’ve lived, loved, lost, endured, overcome, survived, risen above, and generally found ways of coping with just about everything life has thrown at us. Put that emotion into your writing.
As an aside, I’m fortunate that I write crime, so can get even with those who have upset me over the years. The number of people in my past who have come to a sticky end in my books is very satisfying.
About Retriever of Souls: Brought up believing that sex is the devil’s work, a killer only finds release once he has saved his victim’s souls. Abiding by his vision, he marks them as his. A gift to guide his chosen ones on the rightful path to redemption. Detective Inspector Paolo Sterling is out to stop him, but Paolo has problems of his own. Hunting down the killer as the death toll rises, the lines soon blur between Paolo’s personal and professional lives…