Welcome to a new interview in my series on creativity in non-fiction writing. Today I’m excited to introduce you to Laura Quigley, who writes all sorts of things, including non-fiction and fiction, as well as plays, audio and TV scripts. In fact, she started out writing plays, but found that her interest in research led her to move into the non-fiction book arena. Laura’s got some very interesting points to make about research and non-fiction – have a look at last week’s interview with Linda Gillard for more on the research process. I love the subtle differences and similarities we’re building up as this interview series continues!
Hello, Laura. Tell me a bit about yourself and your books.
I’m Laura Quigley and you name it, I write it: TV, audio, books, plays, short stories. I’m based in Plymouth UK, bringing up two brilliant kids and trying to keep my partner sane while he works ridiculous hours. I’ve got four books out – 3 non-fiction, the 4th is a time-travelling adventure for kids of all ages.
How did you start writing, and which came first, fiction or non-fiction?
Fiction came first, but not in books. I studied screenwriting and I was doing well with stage plays but the Arts Council cut the budget which prevented my award-winning play from touring. At the same time, theatre hours and family hours weren’t mixing well, so I thought, “write it as a book”. The play was based on a true story from the English Civil War, so I approached the History Press and got the research published, and that quickly followed with a commission to write “Bloody British History: Plymouth” for them. Then I wrote “South West Secret Agents” for them, which got me into Plymouth’s International Book Festival, appearing alongside more famous, literary writers!
In the meantime, a new publisher was looking for someone to write a new series of time-travelling fiction for them (www.forelock-books.co.uk) and that turned out so well, they want at least three more from me! And I work regularly now in both fiction and non-fiction – to me, it’s all story-telling, but some of the stories are all the more remarkable for being true.
Did you always want to write non-fiction or was this a relatively late development?
I’ve been writing since I was nine and I won a poetry contest. I’ve always written and I keep practically every word – it’s amazing how often I go back to an idea from when I was a teenager. I studied drama, media, film and television at University and did very well academically, probably achieving more than I did creatively in the setting. I wanted to go into film production but ended up in educational publishing/management (long story!) until I had kids. Then suddenly I couldn’t work full-time and writing was a job I could fit around the family. So I’ve always written. Yet it seems I’m only just now finding my ‘voice’.
I recently blogged about finding that writing non-fiction was still “creative”. Do you agree, or is only fiction writing truly creative?
Anything involving the craft of language is creative. However, what you are asking is a very complicated issue because there’s more to communication and crafting language than being creative, and yet creativity is key. I write narrative non-fiction, so there’s a lot of research involved and an academic mind-set helps with ordering and structuring the information. But I’m also telling a story and that requires shaping the language, modifying the flow of words, bringing the past to life, getting into the heads of the people I’m describing. There’s a lot of that in fiction too, obviously, and also a surprising amount of research in fiction! Sometimes the only difference I can see between the two is that for fiction I don’t have to have footnotes and a bibliography. Some might see fiction as less factual and more emotive, but the best non-fiction is also emotive, whether that’s nostalgia or self-help, history or travel guides. (Michael Wood’s “In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great” is non-fiction, but read that delicious prose – a fine example of emotive non-fiction.)
In short, I use the same skill sets for both, on a sliding scale between creativity and logical analysis.
I’ve heard it said that memoir should be considered as “creative non-fiction” – do you agree with that description? How do you think writing memoir differ from writing fiction on the one hand and non-fiction on the other?
If it’s based on fact, including memory, then it’s non-fiction and all non-fiction has an element of creativity, so I don’t see the need to distinguish memoir. Museums are full of memoir! In a way, all history is memoir, just some of it is in first person.
If you use your own life in your fiction, was writing a memoir different from doing that?
I use all my own senses in my fiction, but memoir is recording how it actually was, while fiction is inspired by the emotional realities while not necessarily recording the facts. Life inspires. Memoir records. Imagination helps in our understanding in both non-fiction and fiction, but non-fiction tries to stick to the facts. Fiction can be about creating new realities, inventing new scenarios. Memoir is exploring reality as it was. Difficult distinction, but there is a definite distinction between the two.
Have you got anything else you want to add about creativity and writing (with particular regard to non-fiction)?
As part of my research, I read a lot of non-fiction writers who could benefit from a course in creative writing, not because I want them to learn to make stuff up – far from it! But there are ways of telling a story in an interesting, compelling way and there are ways of putting facts in a series on a page that will bore the pants off the readers.
Great non-fiction writers (and teachers) communicate the facts using creative language and story-telling techniques. I’m not just talking about popular history presenters here either. I’m talking lecturers in business studies, chemistry professors, self-help gurus, renowned political commentators, journalists…the list goes on. Human beings communicate in stories that utilise language and all great stories communicate truths about the human condition and the world we live in. Non-fiction and fiction writers all have to learn to use these tools we’ve been given most effectively to get the message across.
Thank you so much for those thoughts, Laura! Tell us where we can find your books!
My website is currently: www.lauraquigleywriteyourstory.weebly.com
My fiction is at: www.forelockbooks.co.uk
My audio fiction is at: http://wordofmouthproductions1.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/ghost-stories-uk/
My non-fiction is easiest to find on Amazon.
And if you’d like to read my most popular blog post to date, which is about writing non-fiction, it’s here.
You can read new interviews in the series, either by subscribing to this blog (see the links in the top right if you’re viewing on a PC or on the drop-down menu if you’re reading on a phone or tablet) or clicking on the “non-fiction creativity” tag at the top of this post, which will give you access to all the interviews published so far, as well. Happy reading!
My own books are all firmly in the non-fiction area, but I do involve aspects of my own life and experience to make them more accessible and welcoming. Take a look by exploring the links on this page, or by visiting the books pages.