Tell me about you, as an artist. How do you define art? What art do you make?
Writing is my art. Through my writing, I imagine and create possibilities. For me, that’s what art is. It’s a vehicle or process that allows me to move people (including myself) and to explore the impossible: history, silences, loss, what if’s. It’s also a way to empower people, to give back stories to those who have been silenced, to create representations that defy the limitations others would put on people, place, and possibilities; is art. I create art that I want to see, experience, and make reality. I write stories with complex, diverse characters as main characters in their own narratives because life is filled with complex, diverse people with interesting narratives full of possibilities.
Your flash fiction piece, Curdle Creek: Moving On is featured in our new crime flash fiction anthology, Shots in the Dark. What inspired this particular piece of writing? What do you think an anthology of BAME/POC voices exploring crime will bring to conversations within literature and the justice system?
This piece was inspired by Shirley Jackson’s, The Lottery. I read it years ago and always wondered how it might change if the protagonist was a black woman. Like much of my writing, Curdle Creek: Moving On starts with a question: what if…? It grew from there and took on a life of its own. Considering the piece from a crime perspective, I was interested in the systems that society creates to “save” itself and the price individuals are asked to pay in the name of it. State-sanctioned violence is still violence. I’m interested in what characters and people are willing to do to survive. As well as providing dynamic stories from diverse perspectives, I’m hoping an anthology of BAME/POC voices can amplify the call to dismantle systematic racism and the ways racism has infected the justice system. I’m also really hoping the anthology inspires other BAME/POC voices to explore the crime genre and consider writing as a form of advocacy. I’m really looking forward to reading this anthology.
Remembered, your first novel carries a strong historical influence. How did you find the research process for this work and what advice would you give to writers who are interested in writing historical fiction?
If you’re interested in writing historical fiction I recommend diving right in. Let your curiosity guide your research. I wrote Remembered while pursuing a Creative Writing PhD at Lancaster University. My research was practice-based so it included writing and revising as well as reading, and sharing my work with a dedicated reader, Jenn Ashworth. Jenn’s feedback was phenomenal. It helps that she’s such an amazing writer but also that she is a supportive person in general. She was able to help me develop my research and over the course of my PhD, I was able to get into a research groove. At times the research process was emotional. Historical accounts like the Slave Narratives, Slave Codes, and pieces like Roots made me cry. I couldn’t read them without being reminded of how cruel people can be to one another. But that’s not all the research uncovered. There were stories I hadn’t expected to find, anecdotes of former slaves that made me laugh, cry, smile, imagine. I recommend starting with a question and not being tied to what you think you know. That’s another thing: there is always more to find out. At some point you have to balance writing and researching. Whether that means researching until you find out a certain amount of information and then writing or writing and coming back to the research, at some point, pick up the pen (or open the document) and start.
For me, the research process included a lot of reading and imagining. The historical context provides the structure, some of the parameters or skeleton. The flesh of the novel is the historical fiction; the what if.
Finally, if you do write historical fiction, please remember that the people from the past were people. They were flawed then in ways that we are still flawed now. It’s not enough to say someone is a product of their time. People are products of people.
You created radio show, The Writing Life to explore writers experiences with making a living from their words. What initially prompted you to do this as a radio show rather than using an alternate media format? What has been the most enjoyable element of making the show?
I absolutely love voiceovers, talking to people and sharing information. The radio show seemed like the perfect medium to do all three. It was always going to be a radio show. There wasn’t a point where I thought I’ll interview people and then transcribe their words. Radio allowed me to keep the interviews intimate and engaging. Plus, I’ve always wanted to play the voice of a villain in a cartoon, game, or video show (so if you have the “perfect” part for me, get in touch). The radio show just seemed natural. Although I have won awards for the show, the most enjoyable element was talking to people.
You created the North West Literary Salon. What do you believe literary salons offer the wider conversation around literature and how do you believe writers can benefit from attending them?
My friend Naomi Kruger and I created North West Literary Salon. I realize that literary salons don’t mean the same thing to all people. When we were launching the salon, people thought we meant a reading group. It isn’t that. It’s not a reading either (though we love that). A North West Literary Salon-salon is a literary experience where writers share engaging readings of their work followed by lively discussions, live music, and good food. It’s a welcoming, creative environment. Literary salons make literature accessible. They open the narrative and invite readers and would-be readers to grab a chair and participate in an evening. Everyone is welcome. Actually that’s an important part of it. Far from being exclusive, literary salons are inclusive. Writers benefit from attending because they can make direct connections with readers and make lasting relationships. They are a good reminder that there is a person on the other side of the page.
You’re an associate lecturer in Creative Writing at Lancaster University. What do you enjoy most and what do you find most challenging about working in academia?
I really enjoy the first day of class; it’s when students are eager and sometimes unsure of the possibilities. I most enjoy watching them gain confidence and realise that they can create possibilities. I’m an associate lecturer at Lancaster and a Lecturer at Cumbria University. I find it challenging managing part-time academic contracts. I would quite like a full-time faculty position where I can embed employability and engagement in the curriculum, continue to write, and have funding for literary projects and research.
What advice would you give to aspiring novelists and short fiction writers when it comes to redrafting work so that it is ready for approaching publishers and venues with their work?
I recommend always reading your work out loud before approaching agents and publishers. To my internal editor I can write no wrong. Absolutely everything is ready for publication. My internal editor knows what I mean, you know, because she’s in my head. She finishes sentences and makes connections even if they aren’t on the page. I imagine her saying, “I know what you mean” but I also imagine her saying “Pulitzer!” every time I write a draft. I love my internal editor but I don’t trust her judgement exclusively. My external editor is a bit more realistic. So I read my drafts out loud and then my external editor (also in my head) says things like “what the?” and I know something’s missing. I plot out loud before I write so I can hear what characters might sound like and get a sense of their vibe. Then I can write them and read it out loud again. After that, I recommend sharing your work with trusted readers and reading theirs in exchange. Giving and receiving useful feedback strengthens your own writing while helping a friend as well. Once you’ve taken into account what your target audience wants from a piece and what you want from it, research editors, publications, contests and anyone you think you want to send it to. Read the submission guidelines to be sure you are sending the right piece to the right place but also be to understand what rights they are asking for. Read the fine print.
What does the future hold for you in your writing career? My plan is to take over the world one story at a time. I want to write everything. I’ve started writing for children. As a mom I’ve told stories for decades, now I’m writing them down. It’s really important for children of diverse backgrounds to see characters that look like them reflected on the page. I want to encourage children to imagine, dream, and explore. Last year I was commended in the FAB Prize for children’s writing. I want to continue developing that. I would also like to write a cartoon series one day. For YA audiences, I’m in the beginning stages of writing a game because I love video games. For adults, I want to write and read more stories about women my age so I’m writing a script about dating. But I’m also in the beginning stages, the reflective stage of a potential novel. I’m really interested in the Tulsa Massacre of 1921. It’s a horrible part of American history. I think I can write it in a way that honours the victims and explores the tensions and racism with sensitivity and creativity.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
I’m an infrequent blogger. From time to time I write about my writing life on my website. I write about North West Literary Arts on the organisation’s site. I’m on Twitter @YBattle-Felton and on Instagram @whyIwritebattlefelton. I write about my own projects and projects I find interesting, opportunities for writers, and events. I like to share information. Finally, I co-host Stories at the Storey. It’s a monthly true-story open-mic night. I write fiction and creative non-fiction so Stories at the Storey lets me share a piece of myself each month. I get to know people through their stories and I think that’s one way people get to know me. So, if you want to find out more about me, come down and listen. Or, come down and share your own true story. There’s always room for one more.
Sum up your experience thus far in one word