My interview this week is with Author Michele Northwood. Her debut novel, Fishnets in the Far East was released in January of this year.
Michele has led an interesting life from dancing, working in a circus, teaching, and now writing.
Read this fascinating interview to find out a little more about Michele’s writing, her strange experience, and piranha soup.
Thank you, Michele, for being my interview guest this week.
About Writing/Books/Being an Author
1. Do you remember the first book you read, that had an impact on you – in what way and what was the name of the book?
Apparently, as a toddler, I was infatuated with a ladybird book (the title evades me) it was the story of a naughty dog chasing ducks on a pond. According to my mum, at two years old, I knew the book word for word, and people were convinced I could already read!
As an adult it would have to be “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett. I was introduced to the book by a colleague who said, “It´s about a Cathedral – it sounds really boring, but promise me you will read it.” I have since read it three times. Follett´s descriptive style, narrative and storylines left a lasting impact on me.
2. When did you first realise you wanted to write?
I think, deep down I´ve always wanted to do it, but I was torn between writing and dancing. As a child, all my games revolved around dancing, being an English teacher to my dolls and writing stories. I used to open the dictionary, chose ten words at random and construct a story around them. Strangely, I have managed to achieve all three of my childhood obsessions. I became a professional dancer, magician and fire-eater and toured the world. Later I went back to studying and have a First Class Honours Degree in English and Spanish. Now, I teach English in a public school and in my own little school in Spain, plus I also write books in my free time.
3. Who are your favourite authors?
Since studying for my degree, the way I read books has changed. I read much more critically than I used to. I still love Ken Follett, as he is able to write in so many different genres and maintain his excellence. I like the late James Herbert, I also read Audrey Howard; her stories are set in the past and her heroines usually have to overcome hardship to succeed.
4. What is your favourite/least favourite thing about writing?
The favourite thing for me is seeing the finished article and being proud of accomplishing it. However, as I´m a bit of a perfectionist, I´m never one hundred percent happy with my work, and this leads me to the least favourite part of writing – the embellishing process. I tend to write the book in layers, I start with the skeleton of the story and then I read the manuscript over and over again, slowly adding more `muscles and sinews´ to it each time, making the passages more descriptive and the characters more realistic. It takes me a long time and can be tedious at times. I would like to be able to write the finished version from the beginning and save time, but at the moment, I´m not able to do that.
5. Where do your ideas come from?
At the moment my two books (one published and the other undergoing the `muscles and sinew´ stage) are autobiographies about my time dancing abroad. As I kept diaries at that time, I am writing from fact rather than fiction. I have however, started to write a ghost story which incorporates the town in Spain where I live, my house – which used to be a school- and the underground tunnels under the town which were used in the civil war. I do not have the storyline or characters plotted out. I simply write and the ideas appear. I´m always intrigued to see how the story will end.
6. Do you have more than one creative talent?
As I said before, I was a dancer for many years, and I won lots of trophies and medals as a young dancer. I also love embroidery and I create my own designs as well as doing kits. I am also quite psychic (which some people have put down to an overactive, creative imagination), but too many strange experiences have happened to me, for me to dismiss it as mere imagination. I´m also extremely sensitive to other people´s feelings and can tune in to their mood very easily, which can be draining at times.
7. When you create characters, are they completely made up, or do they resemble or remind you of people you know?
I would have to say completely made up, but I like to give each one a strong character trait. Perhaps one sniffs all the time, another swears, another has a catch phrase etc, so that they are easy to distinguish between.
8. How do you come up with titles for your books?
The titles take me some time to come up with. I play around with words in my head until I find something I´m happy with. The title of my first book: “Fishnets in the Far East,” appeals to me as it encapsulates the world of professional dance through the fishnet tights reference, whereas the Far East hints at the general location. The sub heading (A dance´s diary in Korea) pinpoints the location. As I´m planning to make these books into a series, I wanted the word `Fishnets´ in the title of the second book too, but at the same time, I needed the new title to be distinctive enough to stand alone, that´s how I came up with “Fishnets and Fire-eating.” (A dancer´s diary in Japan). As to the ghost story, I´m still milling words around in my head at the moment.
9. Have you won any awards for your writing and if so what?
Last year I won two writing competitions. The first one was run by Oxford University Press; entrants were asked to tell the publishing house in the most original way possible, which of their books we liked best. The winning entry would win a set of graded reading books for their school. I wrote a story about Sherlock Holmes solving a crime inside the publisher´s building and won the prize.
I also entered another short story competition and won first prize in the Fiction section. The stories had to show the real essence of Galicia. As my husband is from there, and we visit every year, I felt I was in a good position to write something convincing. The prize was some money, my work published in an anthology “The Goodlife in Galicia 2018” and accommodation in a rural house in Galicia.
A Little More Personal
10. Can you tell us about an embarrassing or funny moment?
This story has a little of both. When I was working in the Philippines, three friends and I hired a little boat and we went off for the day. We found a lovely little beach which seemed to be almost deserted apart from three American men who were sunbathing there, so we decided to get off the boat and go investigating. We found ourselves in the middle of an American Army base. We had a good wander around, had some lunch and then decided to go to the huge hypermarket and stock up on some western food. The problems began when we got to the checkout. All the items were scanned, and then we were asked for our army identification – which we obviously did not have. We felt extremely embarrassed as we were told to wait, and we held up the ever-increasing queue of shoppers while two high-ranking army officials were called to investigate.
“Who are you and how did you get in here?” We were asked.
The army officials became more embarrassed than us when they realised that security had been breached on their base. Four unsuspecting foreigners had sauntered into their camp from the beach, and nobody had stopped them. A vehicle was quickly found and we were ushered off the base at lightning speed with all our shopping. As we sat in the AR, laughing about the whole incident, we were told to leave the base and never to return. I often wonder what happened to the little boat!
11. Have you ever experienced anything weird you couldn´t explain?
Yes, this story is just one of many weird experiences I have had. I was working for a year as a Holiday rep, and I was on the bus counting heads to go back to the airport. My paperwork said that I should have fifty passengers on the coach, but I had counted fifty-one. Mathematics not being my strong point, I counted a second time but still had fifty-one passengers aboard. By now everyone had realised that something was afoot.
“Come on, who is playing with me and trying to get a free ride to the airport!” I grinned.
The passengers laughed, but nobody left the bus. After a third headcount, a lady said to me, “I know what the problem is, every time you count the gentleman sitting in front of me, you count two people.”
I looked at the gentleman who was sitting in an aisle seat. “That´s odd,” I said. “Every time I counted you, I saw a little woman wearing a fur coat and hat, looking out of the window!”
The old man´s eyes filled with tears. “You´ve just described my wife. She died three months ago and this is my first holiday without her.”
“Well, obviously, it isn´t!” I replied.
12. What is the strangest thing you have ever eaten?
This would have to be piranha soup. I was working in a circus in Brazil, and my boyfriend at the time asked me to go to a little restaurant he had heard about, which apparently sold the best piranha soup in Brazil. We went in and when it arrived I stuck in the spoon pretending that the Piranhas were eating it – nobody laughed except me! Later I returned to the circus only to be met by the show´s owner, who told me that he had heard about a great restaurant which served Piranha soup and he wanted me to go with him. As he was the owner, I felt obliged to go. It felt like I was living in a farcical play, as twenty minutes after leaving, I was back at the same restaurant, sitting at the same table, and being served by the same waiter who looked at me as though I was on the game or something! I ate a second bowl of soup – without doing my silly spoon antic and left. The soup was a good as they claimed.
13. Do you have a favourite vacation spot?
To be honest, I´m a bit of a workaholic and do not get away on holiday much. However, as a dancer touring the world, I always said that if money were no object, I would like to return to Malaysia and live there, particularly in Kuching or Penang. They are to me fantastic places that, in my opinion, are the epitome of Asia.
14. What makes you happy?
I feel extremely happy and fortunate to live in mainland Spain, we have a country house with views of the sea, and I absolutely love it there. I have the best of both worlds. I´m surrounded by nature and can take my three dogs on long walks around the countryside. (I also have three cats, but they refuse to go!) The beach is two minutes away by car, so it´s easy to go for a swim during the hot winter months. Sitting out on the terrace at night looking at the canopy of stars above me is breathtaking and helps to keep me grounded and ponder the significance of life.
15. Have you ever met anyone famous?
When I was working in Germany with a circus, I was asked to take part in the finale of a pop concert given by the Scorpions. After the show, there was a party backstage and we all got to meet the group. I have also danced for magician David Copperfield and supermodel Claudia Schiffer who attended the circus one evening. I´ve rubbed shoulders with Maurice Gibb from the Bee Gees, Sting, Chris de Berg and various others, who also came to the circus that year.