TweetAlthough English born and raised, Valerie Poore left the UK in 1981 and moved to South Africa where she lived for nearly twenty years. She moved permanently to the Netherlands in 2001 where she teaches writing skills to university students and adults. She writes in her spare time and has nine books published, two of which are novels; the others are memoirs and travelogues.
Time to chat with Val!
You’ve written both memoirs and fiction. How many of each have you published?
Good question! I’ve written three novels, but only two of them are published. One is a kind of English country-life book with a humorous twist, and the other is an action adventure, a family story of suspense set on the European waterways during the Cold War. As for memoirs, I’ve written and published seven: three about my life in South Africa and four about living and travelling on a barge here in the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
I wrote my first memoir after reading Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. His stories about French country people reminded me of the farming folk I lived among in South Africa and prompted me to write African Ways. South Africa has had a bad press over the years, and while there are still problems, I wanted to show how warm-hearted, colourful and generous all its people are.
What are some of the challenges in writing a memoir? Do you ever struggle what details to include and which ones to omit? What advice do you have for others who are considering memoir writing?
Yes, as is often said, ‘just because you remember something doesn’t mean it has to be included in your memoir.’ You need to decide upfront what your story is about. Memoirs have several sub-genres and it’s best to decide first what the focus of your story is. In my case, when it came to South Africa, the objective was to show how life was lived there. Even though the stories hinged on my personal experiences, I focused on the places, events and people around me.
As regards my boating memoirs, my focus was slightly different. I wanted to actually share my watery life with readers. The books are quite personal, but even so, they are more about my world, the people I meet and what it’s like to live on the water.
I have rarely written in any detail about personal relationships and feelings, so there is a lot I’ve left out. Some people don’t like this, but that was never my purpose, and I feel it’s my prerogative to focus on other aspects of life.
Well, I think the most interesting thing is how many people have shared my experiences but in other countries and other situations. I’ve so enjoyed the letters and emails I’ve received from people who’ve ‘recognised’ themselves in my stories or had similar stories in different circumstances. That’s incredibly rewarding.
Is there any adventure you haven’t had, that you’re keen to experience, then write about?
Not really. I love my life now and will continue to write about it. I also write a blog that covers my other travel adventures, but I have no dreams of doing anything other than what I do now. I just wish I’d managed to do some of it earlier.
What is your latest book?
My latest book is Highveld Ways, a memoir about living in Johannesburg during the 1990s.
Sort of. It’s the third book about my life in South Africa, but it’s different because it covers a totally different situation. I’d moved from a rural area to the biggest ‘baddest’ city in the region, so while it is number three in one way, it is really a stand-alone.
What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?
I absolutely love writing fiction. It’s so liberating. After the factual restrictions of writing memoir, I can’t think of anything I dislike about writing a novel, except perhaps the marketing side. Unless you write a novel in a popular genre, it’s incredibly difficult to market it.
Yes. I think it’s the only part of my novels I was really sure of when I embarked on them. The title is usually a working title until the book is finished, so that’s not so important.
Have you ever imagined what your characters are doing after you’ve finished a book or series?
Not really, but my readers seem to want to know. I am thinking of writing sequels to both my novels for that reason, but I’m not really interested in writing a series.
After working for a very long time on a novel, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?
Yes, that has happened, but I was lucky with both my novels. I wrote them as chapters on a blog and I had great feedback as I was going along. I almost felt as if my readers were feeding my imagination with their comments, so this was a huge help.
Are you easily distracted while writing? If so, what do you do to help yourself focus?
Not really. I’ve had to write for my work my whole life, so I’ve needed to be able to write to order. In that sense, I’ve learnt to be quite disciplined. The biggest problem with writing now is finding the time outside my work. I have to make a decision to get on with it and once I’ve done that I find I can stick to it.
Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very well while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?
I think it consists of a mixture of genre, good writing (of course) and luck. If you write for a popular genre, then your chances are immediately improved. If you write well, then that helps even more, but tapping into the right mood at the right moment seems to be a question of luck (or perhaps brilliant judgement). JK Rowling took years to get Harry Potter published, and it was luck that the right child read it at the right time. Her books then took off and became a genre all of its own.
Not really because it all depends on what they are writing for. I write for me, and if others like what I write, then I’m really happy, but I don’t depend on my books for my income, nor am I trying to be a best selling author. Perhaps I should just say that writing is a craft so make sure you work at it: read a lot, read with attention and write with a critic’s hat on so you can be the best you can be.
Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?
I love interacting with people, especially on Twitter, but I dislike the hype and the excessive emotion that social media whips up.
Do you have any grammatical pet peeves to share?
Only apostrophe misuse when it comes to plural forms. As an English writing teacher, I’m aware that our language is constantly evolving and changing, influenced as it is by native speakers all over the world. I’m much more tolerant of changes in usage than I used to be because these will become the accepted ‘correct’ forms of the future. Still, apostrophes for plural forms? No, that’s pushing it a step too far…haha.
What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?
I love crime fiction, so I like a good puzzle, but I don’t like graphic gory detail about murders and I don’t really want to know about the workings of a killer’s mind. As a result, I tend to read police procedurals that focus on solving the mystery rather than the gruesome details of the crime and the brain behind it.
What genre have you never written in that you’d like to try?
Well, now you mention it, crime fiction. I’d love to try it but have no clue where to start. Any advice would be very welcome!
Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
I currently live in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, but I’d love to move to Wallonia, in Belgium. It is the French-speaking region of the country and I would like to retire there. The people, the scenery, the language and the culture are ideal for me.
Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?
A bit predictable this, isn’t it? Boats!
What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?
That’s had to change recently. It used to be cheese, but I’ve recently developed an allergy to milk, so I’ve had to wean myself off it. Awful. I now have a passion for the soya equivalent of quark. I just love it. My least favourite food is shellfish. It makes me squirm just to think of it.
Care to brag about your family?
I’m still waving the flag for my sister. She is amazing. She decided to do a teaching degree when she was over forty, but not only that. She funded her studies by stacking shelves at a supermarket at night, and at the same time, she brought up her three children almost single-handed. She has a lovely husband, but his job took him away much of the time. I’m so very impressed by what she achieved.
If you had a million dollars to give to charity, how would you allot the funds?
I’d allot every penny to animal charities: some to domestic pet shelters, some to wildlife conservation, but most to the protection of endangered species in Africa, particularly rhinos.
If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?
To manoeuvre a boat with ease. I’d so love to be able to do that well and without anxiety. I can’t and have to rely heavily on my partner to guide me.
What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?
Make sure the animal products we eat are from animals living in humane/natural conditions, stop buying goods wrapped in plastic (difficult, I know) and making sure we dispose of our litter properly and don’t throw it on the ground or in the water (that makes me spit!).
What simple pleasure makes you smile?
Spring flowers, the sun, summer trees and best of all, cruising along a quiet canal.
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