I'm super excited that Stephanie Carty has agreed to an interview for my series 'People & Books'. I've been following Stephanie's writing for a while, and as well as the content and genre she explores, I've always been interested in how she's found a way to combine her creative writing activities with her work as a clinical psychologist. In her interview, Stephanie explains how she came to write fiction, how she makes this particular combination work and how she helps other authors to look at their writing in this way.
Who/What inspired you to begin writing?
I came to writing by accident as I was approaching forty. I wrote a piece for other psychologists and thought I’d try a piece of fiction instead of an essay. I was surprised to find it enjoyable to write. Without knowing it, I’d written my first piece of flash fiction and caught the bug of writing and submitting short fiction for the next few years. The writing community and many friends I made kept me going.
Which authors do you admire?
Recent fiction I’ve adored tends to be character-focused with some darkness. I love Liz Nugent’s Skin Deep, Sarah Hilary’s Fragile and Catriona Ward’s Sundial.
Were you influenced by any particular books/authors you read?
I think the non-fiction bestseller Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker was one influence, as it got us all talking about the science behind sleep. I was influenced by a couple of films for my novel Shattered but I can’t share, else it may spoil what unravels as you read the book!
How many books have you written? What inspired you to write these books)?
I've written four. My first, very short book is a novella-in-flash called Three Sisters of Stone. This was published by Ellipsis in my previous surname of Hutton. I had been writing flash fiction (under 1000 word stories) for a few years and felt ready for the challenge of creating a novella with linked stories, revisiting the same three siblings across two decades. It was a fascinating way to explore the different coping styles and outcomes for siblings, while constrained by the challenge that each story must work both as a stand-alone piece and part of the bigger arc. I was thrilled that it won a Saboteur Award, which is voted for by readers.
My writers’ guide Inside Fictional Minds was commissioned by Ad Hoc Fiction. I’d been teaching writers about the psychology of their characters for a couple of years and had day-dreamed about creating a workbook, so this offer to publish kicked me into gear to get it written. It’s an easy read rather than academic text with a strong focus on practical application – there are over 100 written tasks to choose from in order to create psychologically informed characters. I’ve loved hearing how it has influenced the work of writers.
I am working on my second non-fiction book which is another book for writers. This time, I’m exploring what writers can learn about themselves by looking at what and how they write. It’s an exciting project that I hope to share in the next year.
My short fiction collection The Peculiarities of Yearning from Reflex Press is a collection of my weirdest and favourite flash fiction and short stories from the previous five years. It’s lovely to have the chance to put them together, as they are hidden in various anthologies and online journals. I found that the common theme of yearning for something (and sometimes denying or sabotaging it) linked very different pieces of work.
My novel Shattered is a commercial psychological thriller published by Bloodhound Books. I wrote the first draft really quickly, as the whole idea came into my head in one go! I started to write a summary of the plot but that ended up being 6000 words long and I knew I could fly through it, then go back and edit. I really wanted to write a book with little clues along the way, that may make a reader want to re-read when they get to the end (in the vein of ‘I see dead people’ from Sixth Sense). I think most people find therapy sessions fascinating so I was sure I wanted to include those with the point of view of the therapist. I had the ending of the book clearly in mind, which helped guide me to write the rest and I hoped that it would make readers think about themselves in a slightly different way afterwards.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I think that when it flows, writing creates an escape from real world roles and stresses. It’s a chance to roll around in a new world, inhabit different lives, communicate different aspects that may hide themselves in daily life. I love reaching a state of flow where it feels like my fingers are typing without any need for me to decide what comes next, as if I’m reading the words of somebody else.
Do you have any particular writing habits or routines?
No. I have had to be pragmatic and squeeze writing in where I can. Starting with very short fiction made this more doable. I’m the breadwinner in the family as well as having children with additional needs, so I learnt to snatch moments of time. I now have every Wednesday as a writing day but do try to make notes on my phone at random times when ideas strike. I sometimes take a day off work to write but there’s a fifty-fifty chance this ends up with me lounging around to rest instead!
What are you working on at the moment?
Last year I wrote an accessible literary novel about an enmeshed relationship between a mother and daughter. It explores repeating patterns in families. I really enjoyed writing it as half the novel is written from a naïve teen’s point of view.
I’ve recently started another accessible literary / upmarket novel that explores sibling rivalry in an unusual context – one of the sisters appears to have died and come back to life. I’m being playful with this one and not worrying about genre or market.
You also work as a psychologist and offer services to other authors about the psychology of character. How did this connection come about?
Once I started to discuss characters with other writers, I realised how much I took for granted that my psychology knowledge informed my reading and writing. I ran some one-day workshops around the country which turned into my online course Psychology of Character once the pandemic hit. Many authors have a great natural skill in noticing and understanding people but need that little extra help to think about certain elements, such as realistic change or how to differentiate characters from one another. It helps me to reflect and more consciously apply my knowledge to my own writing, too.
Do you offer any other services to authors?
I do manuscript reviews that focus on the psychology and development of characters and also get invited to teach on various topics related to psychology or short fiction.
Do you have any tips for new writers?
I’d say that creative endeavors are a form of play, let them remain that way. If you start to feel pressure, judgement, or that what you are doing feels like homework, then step back. Children learn and grow through play. You can free yourself to be playful with your writing. Keep it just for yourself at first. Nothing is wasted; we learn from each draft whether it’s ever published or not, whether it’s a 100 word micro or a 100,000 word fantasy novel. You can find yourself and your voice through the writing. Focus on the moment not the ‘product’ and you may find that this is a way to create gems of sentences, phrases, characters and arcs that you develop later. Your unconscious mind is working for you all the time! Don’t force anything. Write a title, a character idea, a lovely phrase or a premise in a notebook or on your phone then LEAVE IT ALONE! You will be amazed at what your mind gifts you next time you look at it one day, one week, one month, one year later, as if from nowhere.
Find out more about Stephanie's writing and author services @ www.stephaniecarty.com
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