How did you get started writing?
My serious writing began when our four children were finally all in school and there was time to take a correspondence course in writing. After that, I began targeting magazines with articles relating to my interests. After a few acceptances, I decided to send an article about my Sutton Coldfield, England, seminary class to The New Era magazine in Salt Lake City. That article was titled “Royal Commoners” and appeared in the September 1987 issue. It was the first of many stories (both fiction and nonfiction) about youth from around the British Isles, which continued until I left England in 1997. I enjoyed interviewing many wonderful young people and eventually got the hang of taking printable pictures. The story titled “Preston Pioneers” in February 1995 was particularly fun to do.
Your fiction work includes YA such as Dingo. What do you like most about writing for the teen set?
I can still remember the odd mixture of conviction and doubt, confidence and fear that teenage years produced. I wanted to help young people grow through that and become strong in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Writing fiction that interests them yet at the same time shares decent ideas without preaching felt like a good way to go. Teens are a bright and inquisitive group and fun to be around. Their wisdom often astonishes me. I’ve learned many good things from this age group while interviewing and working with them. It’s always interesting to go outside my box and try to see things from their point of view.
How do you ensure that your writing for young adults is uplifting?
I do that by avoiding gratuitous violence and immorality. In my book of short stories for LDS youth (Please, No Zits!), all the stories are entertaining and true to life. The characters make mistakes and struggle with the consequences, but there is always a positive message aimed at helping with life challenges in a non-threatening way.
You have also written a sci-fi/fantasy screenplay with Jeanne McKinney. How is writing a screenplay different than a novel?
One huge difference is length. A book contains many pages of dialogue and description, whereas a screenplay is dialogue with sidenote hints at sound, scenery, music, and visual effects that come in later during production. A book can be between 80,000 to 150,000 words and more. A screenplay is usually between 15,000 and 20,000 words. A book is the whole deal, whereas a screenplay is only part of the finished product.
Another important difference is pacing. Although basic good structure is essential for both, a novel allows time for a spacious journey, whereas a screenplay is all about the bare essentials written with economy of words. Screenplays are usually plot, dialogue, and action focused. Novels are this and more. They also get inside characters’ heads, exploring feelings, thoughts, and memories. I’m sure my training in short story writing helped a lot with the tight writing needed for screenplays.
What are some of the challenges you have run into when writing a project with someone else?
Fortunately, my writing buddy and I have the same work ethics, and although we wrote everything by email (we were living in different U. S. states), our work times integrated really well. Jeanne is a night person, so she worked on the screenplay in the evening. I’m a morning person, so I picked up a few hours later, around 5:00 a.m., and continued from where she left off. We both work fast, so neither of us ever had to prompt the other to keep moving.
Since Jeanne is a professional screenwriter and had the right software, I trusted her judgment on most things. However, because our screenplays are set in England, and Jeanne is American, I made sure the language and other British details were accurate, and she trusted my judgment on that.
I can imagine some writers might have trouble accepting each other’s ideas and choosing which direction to take the story, but that didn’t happen for us. Our minds were in sync most of the time, and we were both willing to bend when needed. It was an exhilarating experience.
Recently, you have been focusing on nonfiction works, including True Miracles with Genealogy. What about nonfiction interests you as a writer?
For me, nonfiction is more demanding than fiction in that accuracy is vital and can get tedious. Finding crisp new ways to express old things can sometimes feel more like punishment than pleasure. But it does depend on the material. I loved getting involved in transcribing stories in the True Miracles with Genealogy books. The writing was still hard work, but the spiritual strength gained during the process was worth every bit of effort.
As a creative person, do you find you’re more constrained when you’re writing nonfiction?
Yes! Fiction is my favorite kind of writing. Imagination kept me absorbed for hours as a child—too much, really, causing nightmares at night and daydreams at school. Now, it is therapeutic to stop doing something dreary and spend an hour or so writing fiction for pure pleasure. It is energizing and satisfying to play around with words until a story springs to life and characters seem to morph right out of the screen.
You are originally from the United Kingdom but now live in the States. How do you think being British but an expatriate affects your writing?
I still have a deep attachment to my British roots, and usually include reference to the UK in my books. There are stories in Please, No Zits set in different UK towns, and the same with my genealogy books. My YA novel, Dingo, is set in Connecticut, U. S. A., and Cornwall, England. It comes in handy, knowing the places and language well. My problem is keeping English words for English characters, and not letting them pop up when they are American.
In both your fiction and nonfiction writing, how does the gospel influence your work?
All my writing (and life) is influenced by the gospel of Jesus Christ. My books are rooted in Christianity. They involve resolving everyday problems with Christian principles. I am inspired daily by the scriptures and by reading and viewing uplifting Church posts on the Internet. I try to pay it forward in some small way with my own work—not only through my books, but by regular posting of Church-related information and videos on Facebook and other social websites.
How do you feel your writing helps to build the kingdom?
I understand the need for building the kingdom through missionary work in the world, and I hope my writing contributes toward that. I realize the importance of sharing my testimony of the Savior because I originally discovered the gospel through another person opening her mouth about her beliefs.
The True Miracles with Genealogy books were written for both LDS and non-LDS genealogists, but Volume One has an introduction that explains in detail why the Church does family history work. That’s a put-off for some people, but I believe it is essential information that needs to be shared because it explains why we have temples and gives meaning to our very existence. The kingdom needs building from within and without. I hope my writing helps move the work along, and helps others find their way, no matter where or how they live. ❧