Lulu and Writing Magazine’s novel competition winner Ute Manecke shares her thoughts with us

Ute is the lucky winner of the Lulu and Writing Magazine’s joint adult novel writing competition and we asked her to tell us about her day job and also about what inspires her to write. Ute lives in Milton Keynes and works as a librarian at the Open University.

Tell us a little bit about yourself  

I have a range of interests. Whilst I love almost anything art-related whether it is books, film – especially art cinema -, theatre or art exhibitions, I also very much appreciate being out in nature where I go for walks or runs. The many green spaces with their lakes and parks in Milton Keynes are particularly conducive to doing this. I also enjoy doing yoga.

Have you always been interested in writing? 

Yes. I have made my first attempts at writing as a child and teenager. Particularly in my last two years of secondary school, I wrote quite a few short stories and poems.

Later, when I studied and worked, I neglected my creative writing for a while before I decided two and a half years ago that I wanted to get back to it, signed up to a couple of creative novel writing courses and that gave me the impetus to write again and see this project through.

What made you want to enter this competition?  

I was just finishing my novel and wanted to do something with it. When I saw the competition advertised, I thought that I have nothing to lose in sending the first few pages in. If nothing else, it would make me write a new synopsis and put together a marketing plan, which would be useful no matter how I would try to approach publication.

How did it feel to find out you were the winner? 

I could barely believe it. I was stunned. I had only just taken up creative writing again and in the past had only written short pieces for my own eyes and maybe shown them to a friend. I had no expectation of winning this but when it sank in that I had, I was absolutely delighted.

Tell us about your winning manuscript

The Snowstorm focuses on five strangers who find shelter in a barn in the middle of the English countryside on New Year’s Eve whilst a snowstorm is raging outside. Each of them has a different reason for having made the journey to this isolated area in these weather conditions, which is revealed in the course of the novel during which the characters start telling their stories. Whilst they initially tell each other some either invented or mainly happy real-life stories to break the awkward silence, to alleviate emotional pain and out of a sense of competitiveness, they later reveal, in another series of stories, the acute struggles if not crises they currently face in their lives. The interactions between the characters undergo significant changes during the less than twenty-four hours during which the story is set. The novel explores whether, and if so, to what extent the storytelling can be a cathartic experience to them and bring about changes in their mind-set and psychological wellbeing.

What made you want to create The Snowstorm

I have always been intrigued by situations where strangers find themselves in extreme, dangerous or very unusual situations and have nobody but each other to interact with or turn to. Moreover, I wanted to depict characters who are at a crisis point in their lives: I wanted to explore what had taken them to this critical point in their lives, show their struggles but also come up with some ideas of how they might pull through this tough time. In this context, not only do some of the interactions between the characters offer hope and provide new perspectives, the act of storytelling itself proves to have a cathartic effect. Showing this transformative power of stories and their effect on people was one of the motivations for creating The Snowstorm.

What kind of impact do you hope the book will have on your readers? 

I hope my readers will enjoy reading the different stories the characters tell each other. As the different stories could up to a point belong to different genres such as adventure, dystopia, romance, detective novel etc. I hope that the novel will appeal to readers who normally have different preferences with regards to genres.

What I particularly hope for is that my readers emotionally engage with the characters, empathise with them and are taken into their worlds and thus experience the magic of storytelling. I would like to raise some kind of understanding how circumstances can push people to breaking point and what that means. It would be great if my readers think about our potential for self-development and personal growth some more.

What will you write next? 

Since I finished the first draft of the novel, I have written a few poems and short stories but am also planning a short, second novel. It’s very much in the initial planning stages, which means that I have to do a bit of background research and come up with my characters, but the idea is that it is going to be a courtroom drama, which centres on a woman who is accused of murdering a young girl. A number of witnesses reveal very different aspects of the identity of the accused and the novel will be focusing on the complexity of identity and the difficulty if not impossibility of really knowing another person. It will also deal with how we always construct other people’s identities through the prism of our own subjectivities.

How can people find you? 

I’m on Twitter @Ute.Manecke where I follow various publishing- and writing-related sites. I’m hoping to soon have my own website up and running, too.

What advice do you have for other writers?

I would like to advise anyone who has an idea they want to pursue or feel they want to express something that is close to their heart to start writing it down. They are likely to experience the pleasure this process brings, especially when they reach a state of flow.

I would also urge other writers not to worry whether their writing will be good enough or whether they can do it, but just start writing. It doesn’t matter whether their first draft is not great at the end or whether they discard what they have written, the most important thing is that they have used their imagination, which is such a wonderful faculty that we all have but it needs to be used regularly to show its many beautiful colours. I therefore recommend writing as often and on as many days during the week as possible even if it’s just for a short time. It’s also important to build some thinking time in when you try to develop your story and come up with characters and a plot. I often find solitary walks can be very helpful with that when it is just you surrounded by nature.

And, very importantly, believe in yourself, don’t give up and take what you do seriously.

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