Writers of WHQ: An Interview with Heather Haigh

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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, writer, flash-fictioner, and fabulous community member Heather Haigh!


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

I’ve suffered from a debilitating variable chronic illness for thirty years, topped off with a near-fatal accident which left me sight-impaired and brain damaged. For half my life, regular work has been impossible. I tried every casual and work-from-home gig I could find and couldn’t do them. The bottom line was, I felt useless. My identity equalled disabled. Full time. Full stop.

Just over a year ago, I got up one day and thought: I’ll become a writer. I read books. I passed a couple of O levels in English a million years ago. How hard can it be? Hah. I picked up a pen and in the space of two weeks scribbled 40k words. Of utter garbage. Even I knew that. Okay, methinks, I shall consult the mighty Google on how to write. Whatever Google threw at me, I signed up to. Barely knowing how to open a LibreOffice document, I rattled through every free course I could find and started sending my ramblings out everywhere. If I saw a writing competition, I entered. I submitted to a literary journal before I thought to google what literary meant. To all the poor readers — sorry! As for plot, story, or protagonist: say what?

Somewhere in the chaos, I signed up to Writers’ HQ. Things started to make sense. Writing was what I should always have been doing. It’s my reason to crawl out of bed when I’m exhausted, or to listen to audio books, dream up ideas, and figure out how to stitch plot holes when I can’t. I found home.

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

Routine doesn’t exist in my world. My health and sleep, and therefore my life, are erratic. I live by priorities. I have a strategy, worked out with the help of a WHQ goal setting course, of assessing my health at the start of each day and listing my priorities accordingly. I get as far as my time and energy allow then reset.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have an early stage fantasy novel going on in the background. I flit between world and character building, sketching out the odd rough scene to get a feel for things, and outlining with Plotstormers. I started it before I settled into WHQ, and recently binned a fair bit and went back to the drawing board. It’s all a learning curve, though.

I usually have a couple of short stories on the go and a couple of pieces of flash. I’m training myself not to work on twenty pieces simultaneously, or at least trying to. As soon as I put a piece aside to stew, there’s another I want to start on, one just coming out of a crit-circle, one that’s been rejected so needs another run-through… and so it goes.

Gif of a white man in a suit saying "do it again"

What advice would you give to a writer starting out?

Perhaps learn a little of the basics, such as what a story is, before you unleash your monsters on unsuspecting editors. Join WHQ. The encouragement, the kindness, the talent of other writers that share their work and expertise, selflessly, is incredible. Read lots. Don’t be afraid. The stuff I sent out when I started was truly horrendous, but nobody died. Apart from a few antagonists.

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

Whichever one I’m working on. Every piece feels a little better than the last. Apart from a few stinkers that don’t work at all. I cringe at pieces I did a few weeks ago, then remind myself that’s a sign of progress. A few months ago I started making it onto longlists. Within the last month I made it onto three shortlists.

If I have to name a published piece, I’ll go with, The Woman who Lived on the Edge, just put out there by Black Moon Magazine. It’s my first attempt at magical realism — something I had never heard of before WHQ and found incomprehensible at first. There’s a piece I wrote recently, pride isn’t the word, but it’s one that I am glad I wrote. It’s a short piece on war that I put into a critique group which was read by someone who is currently living close to the conflict in Ukraine. Close enough to hear it happening. To know people it is happening to. Their response made me cry bucket loads, and I am humbled by their request to get it published. Writing enables you to reach out to places you never dreamed you could reach, and to be shaken to the core by people you’ll never meet.

What are the main challenges you face with your writing?

Time, memory and money.

Not enough hours in the day, days in the week, or years left in the old biddy. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll never complete all my writing goals, but will die happily trying.

Memory issues mean I have to write everything down, often in several places, surround myself with notes, rely on constant reminders from Alexa and several calendars to keep me on track, and, thank goodness for submission managers. I have to re-read my character outlines over and over, act them out in the kitchen, complete with props if need be — whatever it takes to make them stick. The neighbours may well question my sanity.

I have to be selective about all the writing books and anthologies I would like, as well as submission fees, and drop heavy hints come birthdays or Christmas. Libraries are wonderful. RNIB free talking books for the visually-impaired are fantastic. The bursary that WHQ gave me enabled me to get all the support a writer could need, at a time when I just couldn’t get the cash together but was desperate to pursue writing. It simply changed my life.

What are you currently reading?

The Burning White by Brent Weeks,The story of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and a stack of books on writing and research.

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

The people are the most wonderful, talented, supportive crew you could meet. The courses work, not at all stuffy or difficult to understand, and if they can ram knowledge into my befuddled noggin, that’s no mean feat. The retreats and webinars teach me so much and keep my motivation sky-high.  But, my favourite thing is Flash Face Off. It’s the most fun ever, incredibly inspiring, and got me over my utter terror of reading aloud. It’s also an excuse to dress up on a Friday night, by which I mean wear a silly hat. That’s not compulsory, but any excuse.

Gif of a topless white man with a wild beard standing on a beach, putting on a decrepit straw hat and smiling. Captions says: STYLE

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

One of my favourite short stories is, Python Pylori by Kathy Hoyle. This was the piece that made magical realism click for me and made me want to try my hand at what is rapidly becoming one of my favourite genres to read.

I’m a fan of fantasy and, although it’s hard to pick my favourite author, I’ll go with Jim Butcher.

And finally, apologies if this sounds like I’m handing out apples to the teachers, I’m going with The Case Against Pockets for Women by Jo Gatford. This poem convinced me that poetry isn’t all stuff that floats incomprehensibly above my head, as well as gaining the full approval of my inner feminist.


READ HEATHER’S WORK HERE:

The Woman Who Lived on the Edge in Black Moon Magazine

Then the Rain Came published by Loft Books (Content warning: bereavement)

Two Worlds Colllide in the Hysteria 8 Anthology

Trick and Treat in The Painted Word

The Smell of Copper, Salt and Urine is Preferable to the Smell of Shit in Flash Fiction Magazine (Content warning: child abuse)

Anna is Gone in Everyday Fiction (Content warning: grief and self-harm)

And Maybe You Died Laughing in Anansi Archives Volume 2: Gambles and Balances (Content warning: death of a child)

Heather Haigh
Heather Haigh


Heather is an emerging, disabled, working-class writer from Yorkshire. Her words have been published by: Flash Fiction Magazine, Hysteria, Black Moon Magazine and others. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: @HeatherBookNook

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JoWHQ

JoWHQ

Jo is a writer who procrastinates about writing by writing about writing. She looks exactly like her avatar.
A happy woman sitting on a green sofa with a laptop. Lovely kitchen in the background. I'd be happy too tbh

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