Writers of WHQ: An Interview with Erica Sharlette

11 minute read
Author: Jo

In case you didn’t know, the Writers’ HQ writing community is the actual, literal best in the universe, full of amazingly talented and generous writers who make our little corner of the internet a very nice place indeed.

And, as part of WHQ Community Week, we wanted to show some of ’em off — blog stylee.

Every day this week we’ll be posting up an interview with one of our WHQ members so you can get to know them as well as we do: how they write, what makes them tick, their influences, inspiration, top tips and favourite stories. We also wanted to show just how different each and every writer — and their writing process — is, and how there’s no one ‘right’ (write?) way to do things.

So today we are delighted to introduce you to WHQer, flash fiction addict, and one of the most generously supportive community members we are proud to call our own: Erica Sharlette!

Tell us about your writing journey — where did you start, where are you now, and how did you get there?

Well that’s a story within itself! I guess my writing journey began in 2010. I branched out with my own boutique marketing and PR agency, and one of the brands I was looking after — a webzine covering  ‘urban’ music, fashion, art, and culture retained me to bring in new talent to feature. On one occasion, the resident event reviewers called in sick and they had no-one to cover a particular show, so the editor called me and asked if I’d be willing to fill in? I was completely aghast at the suggestion, because I had never done anything like that before, so I told him I didn’t know how. He said just go along, and write what you see, so I did! Off the back of that review, event organisers began requesting me to cover their productions.

I received nothing but positive feedback from readers, but the editor described my writing style as “too flowery”; I’ll never forget that he told me: “When I walk into the room, I see a chair in the corner. When you walk into a room, you see a chair and describe the material, and the texture, you talk about how the light falls on it.” It was a critique I took to heart and actually saw as a compliment! I was about to launch my own website anyway, and thought to myself, “I could just start my own blog and write with no restrictions — so I did! Within my first week, I landed an opportunity to review a music video for singer, actor, and Hollywood A-Lister, Tyrese Gibson. It was his first in 5 years, and he personally selected me with a handful of others for the job. That lead to his being a recurrent feature, when he launched a new artist, and a new album of his own. I also had a host of really interesting music and fashion artists, and industry professionals, including fashion LEGE Caryn Franklin, American singer-songwriter Kevin Writer, Jewellery designer Imogen Belfield, girl group sensation Stushie, American NeoSoul sensation Leela James, and UK Soul showstopper Omar Lyefook, to name a few.

I had to step back from my business, my interviews and reviews in 2014 when my health imploded and I was in hospital for the best part of the year. Though I still tried to keep up my blog, I just wasn’t able to put in the same 110% I had previously. In 2016, I decided that if I was going to call myself a ‘writer’, I should try my hand at something other than what I’d been doing to that point and, as a means of fighting severe depression, a friend suggested I should put my tumultuous life story down on paper, and my début novel, ‘#ACharactersLife’ was born!

I’m guilty of liking things on social media and not really paying attention to more than a strapline; so when a notification came up for this Facebook page for Writers’ HQ last April, I had no idea what it was about, so I decided to take a deeper look, and found a world I didn’t know existed. I learned of flash fiction, and novellas-in-flash, and more — I was captivated! I began attending as many free events as my health would allow, and never looked back! 

Gif of a light skinned, dark-haired woman throwing paper in the air saying "welcome o the family"

After a particularly harrowing hospital appointment with quite a ruthless consultant I got extremely fired up about the way I was treated. It left me angry and upset for days. Unable to stop thinking about the appointment, I decided I never wanted anyone to feel what I had been feeling since my appointment, and that I had to do something about it. From that came my ‘Statement of Intent’ — a list of projects I wanted to undertake to spread the knowledge and understanding of Fibromyalgia to the forefront of understanding in the UK, so haplessly far behind the US and Australia.

The first project to come from it is a novella-in-flash entitled, ‘Under the Umbrella’ — referring to one of the terms Fibromyalgia is known as, being the ‘Umbrella Illness’  because it encompasses so many conditions. With over 251 symptoms to choose from, I selected 15 and applied them to characters from all walks of life, to show that anyone can suffer from this intensely debilitating sickness.

I finished the first draft of both ‘#ACharactersLife’, and ‘Under the Umbrella’ in November 2021, at the same time I found out I had won a bursary from both Jericho Writers and Writers’ HQ. I’m using the courses available as an opportunity to edit my chapters and gear them towards submitting to agents. In the meantime, I have almost completed my second novella-in-flash, focusing on the 7 Deadly Sins, entitled ‘7Sins’.

Aside from that, I spend my time writing flash (mainly based on the weekly WHQ prompts), short stories, poetry, and submitting, submitting, submitting! I owe so much of the high points I’ve experienced over the past year to WHQ and London Writer’s Salon — you both helped me get published SIX times over the past year, with two additional placements on the Fibromyalgia Action UK website and more coming — so a HUGE THANK YOU goes to Team WHQ!

Gif of Christina Aguilara pointing and smiling with caption that says you're the best

Do you have a writing routine? How do you work best?

I try really hard to have a healthy routine. I start at 08:00 on weekdays (08:30 on weekends — although I’m trying to take one day off now), taking part in the London Writer’s Salon breakfast write-along, then depending on the week, I try to attend as many of the Writers’ HQ events in the week as possible, although it really depends on my health and capacity on that given day — I never know when I’m going to flare up, and the episodes can be very unexpected, so I have to be careful not to overdo things, because that will most definitely cost me writing time, and I’m a terrible patient when it does!

Apart from the WHQ sessions, I also try to join the other London Writer’s Salon Write-Along sessions and 13:00, 16:00 and 21:00, the latter being the exception to my 18:00 finish. On my weekend day, I try to join the Weekend Morning Writers Write-Along sessions at 13:30 and 16:30, then try to knock off at 17:30ish.
I work best with my music, preferably blaring way too lad in my headphones—- I even post to my Twitter account what I’m listening to on any given day! Getting lost in music helps me concentrate, because it allows me to block out the world outside my bubble. I have a little area at the end of my bed that my carers and I named ’The Office’, and that’s where I spend my mornings. I then transfer to my adapted armchair in my living room for the afternoon, and I tend to stay there until just before the 21:00 LWS Write-Along, after which, I’m trying to get into the habit of shutting down for the night, either with the TV remote or a book (but mostly the TV remote…).

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a few different projects at the moment. In addition to editing the novellas-in-flash and my novel, I’m trying to finish some short stories in my WiP folder and bring up my numbers in a challenge I set myself at the start of the year. Ray Bradbury famously said, “It’s impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row.” With that in mind, I set myself a challenge in January to write two pieces of flash every week, but I’m a tad behind on my numbers (a shocking 18 stories to be exact)! ‍♀️

What advice would you give to a writer starting out?

Learn everything you can, consume as much material as you can, but make sure you understand what it is doing, why you’re doing it, and how it will get you to your goal. And for the love of ALL that is Holy, TAKE NOTES!!! You’d be surprised how often I have to refer back to what happened ten minutes ago!

Gif of Stephen Colbert hurriedly looking through pages and pages of notes

What’s the piece of writing you’re proudest of (and why)?

It changes regularly, but for now, it’s a little project I entitled #StoryGate2022 a few weeks ago for the dramatic effect (of course)! When I was a kid, I was cast in Sir Simon Callow’s stage production of Carmen Jones (adapted from the opera Carmen by the composer, Bizet into a major film with a stellar all-black cast led by the gorgeous Dorothy Dandridge in the leading role, opposite Harry Belafonte as her love interest Joe). It made an opera lover out of a 9 year-old! So when I was looking for inspiration for a short story submission about a month or so ago, I got the idea of bringing it into the modern-day, and setting it on a council estate.

I tried to incorporate knife crime, one of the foremost causes of death amongst the young black community and, instead of Joe being a soldier, I made him a police officer — no easy task for a young black man in today’s climate. I really enjoyed writing it, and I just hope it gets picked up by any one of the competitions I’ve submitted it to.

What are the main challenges you face with your writing?

It has to be my health. I never know what my capacity is going to be like literally from one hour to the next — Fibromyalgia can be that temperamental; and it’s hard to make people understand you’re not just being lazy, or non-committal; but in fact, 17 chronic, degenerative illnesses have real effects, and clashes with one-another; there’s never an hour when I’m not dealing with the side effects of several illnesses at once.

What are you currently reading?

In my typically short attention span style, I’m actually reading a few different titles… it depends on what I’m in the mood for at any given moment — that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it! I’m listening to a brilliant true crime audiobook entitled: Killing Women by Rod Sadler, and also reading Will by Will Smith, which I haven’t had a chance to take a big enough bite of yet, but from what I’ve read so far, it’s hugely entertaining. I’ve also started The End We Start From’ by Megan Hunter (I forget who recommended it), and for poetry, I’m getting stuck into Langston Hughes’ The Weary Blues.

What’s your favourite part of the Writers’ HQ Community?

I love the workshops with Flashy Kathy, Melissa, and Poppy. I feel they just know how to bring out the best I have to offer in their own original ways, and really have a way of making me want to ‘come to class’ (if only I’d had them as my college tutors)! I really hate missing Friday night’s Flash Face Off events, as Flashy Kathy is the naughtiest teacher I’ve ever had — and I love it!

And finally, give us three recommendations of writers or stories you love.

This is an easy one: anything at all by Fiona McKay, Iona Rule, or Matt Kendrick


Events As They Unfold in Real Time in Reflex Fiction

Writing with a Chronic Illness in The Enterprising Writer

Swipe Wrong in Five Minute Lit

By the Light in Free Flash Fiction

The First Signs of Spring in Nymphs

Erica Sharlette
Erica Sharlette

Erica Sharlette is a Londoner of West Indian and Asian descent. She writes to escape the daily battle of 17 chronic, degenerative illnesses and, after learning of flash fiction in April 2021, was published five times last year. Alongside her début novel, she is also working on her second novella-in-flash. You can find Erica on Twitter at @ESsWords

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