THREE QUESTIONS: 
Martha Whatley

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF – HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING? ANY PUBLICATIONS? do you have a daily writing routine?

Routine and I are newly acquainted. Until recently, it was something that simply didn’t exist in my life. The same could be said for a sense of direction. While I’m still not convinced I have that much of the latter, the former is falling into place in the way that we’re taught how to walk. Blindly. Bravely. Hopefully, even. It’s not that I don’t like routine, I’ve just never really existed under its rhythm. I graduated with an MA in Creative & Life Writing from Goldsmiths College in London in 2016 – which I had to give up an expat life I loved in America to do – and a question that got asked repeatedly there was, “What’s your writing routine like?” My answer is the same now as it was then – I don’t have one. Some short stories that I’ve written, such as ‘Dogsbody’, which was included in the Ink Academy’s Collection of New Writing Anthology, came to me all at once, almost in completed form. The same happened withGood Girl’. Others have taken months of writing, redrafting, regurgitating, reworking, deleting, and fixing, just to get them finished. I’ll take what I can get when it comes to writing. If I have to scrawl on the back of receipts or save hundreds of files to my Notes app, fine. I know I’ll get back to them when there’s enough space in my head.

I do write every day, though. I left music journalism and city-life in 2017 (six years in that industry isn’t bad given what it’s like – if you know, you know...) and moved on to the world of travel, trading one kind of escapism for another. Now, I work from a barn in rural Wiltshire, creating content about destinations there won’t ever be enough time to visit. With everything, there are good and bad things about this. It’s great because I’m writing every day – the practice is there, at least. But it’s hard because when I come home, my mind is tired and my concentration is shot to hell, so sitting down to write more is often not on my radar. Plus, sitting so much when you’re in your thirties means you’ll end up at your doctor’s surgery, crying about lower back pain and groaning audibly when you get out of chairs. Trust me.

Education-wise, I’ve been lucky. My undergraduate creative writing programme was taught by the incredible Lucy Ellmann, who I kept in touch with during my junior year abroad (women-only liberal arts colleges in small Massachusetts towns are an experience unlike any other). After a five-year break from learning, during which I lived in Boston (media visas are a wonderful thing), I was apprehensive about going back, but my workshops were led by more amazing writers – this time Francis Spufford, Ross Raisin and Kate Norbury. I’ve learned so much from each of them, despite how much my own projects changed while we were working together.

SPECIFICALLY, TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR LONGLISTED STORY – THE INSPIRATION BEHIND IT, THE WRITING OF IT...

Good Girl is a story that entered my head and ended up on paper within the space of about three hours. I had the idea while I was in bed, fully clothed in the middle of the day, and staring at a box of plasters. I had really bad insomnia at the time and was trying to rest, and of course my brain demanded attention like a kid pulling at a cardigan. So, I started thinking about the idea and a character materialised in my imagination, and all of her idiosyncrasies and behaviours followed quickly along. Within a few hours, the first draft was done. It hasn’t changed much since. I try not to go over things I’ve written too many times, because I will pick holes in everything. Nothing directly inspired the story, but in the interest of transparency it’s safe to say that my characters and I always seem to have some kind of connection, whether it’s a desire or attitude, or something more significant. 

NAME THREE SHORT STORY WRITERS YOU ESPECIALLY ADMIRE – WHY?

Firstly, David Sedaris. The way he writes is so simple (anyone else go through a teenage phase of thinking to be taken seriously you needed Infinite Jest­-like prose?) – short sentences, unfussy words and relatable descriptions – it makes me forget I’m even reading and instead I’m just there in whatever scene he is putting me in, usually experiencing some kind of second-hand embarrassment as captured so perfectly in his stories. Then, John Jodzio. I ordered a copy of Knockout and remember reading it on the tube, snort-laughing into my scarf and just loving his punchy delivery and weird narratives. Finally, Miranda July. My undergraduate writing tutor, Lucy Ellmann, introduced me to her work back in 2007 and in class we read a story about a woman teaching swimming lessons to a strange bunch of locals on her dry kitchen floor that just captivated me. There was something about the insular, outsider nature of her female characters that always seemed slightly out of sync with the world around them that resonated with me and felt so honest. This kept me going back to No One Belongs Here More Than You for years.