Alison Marr, Highly Commended for the Life Writing Prize 2019


Alison Marr was Highly Commended for the Life Writing Prize 2019 for Fat Baby.  Life Writing Prize 2019 Judge Ros Barber said: “Here is a Northern Ireland full of magic and mystery that was seemingly obliterated in the Troubles” and judge Inua Ellams said: “I was completely swept up by the black humour of this vividly written and rich take on the story of the troubles in Northern Ireland.” In this interview, Alison shares how she came to write ‘Fat Baby’,  how she got into writing and her top tips for aspiring life writers.

Laura Kenwright: How does it feel to win the Life Writing Prize?

Alison: It feels gratifying to be highly commended for the Life Writing Prize – writing is hard, lonely work, beset with constant doubt so it’s great to be validated.

Laura: Can you tell us a little about your highly commended piece, ‘Fat Baby’, how you came to write it, what the challenges were in writing it and why you chose to enter it into the Prize?

Alison: I sent ‘Fat Baby’ to the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize twice before without any luck so I decided to rewrite it. I wrote it as a memoir and managed to cut it from ten thousand words to five thousand. The main challenge was in trying to balance the child’s voice with the adult’s who had the benefit of hindsight.

Laura: Tell us about your writing; how long have you been writing for, why do you write?

Alison: I have always written stories and poems but only really applied myself when I studied Creative Writing at the Open University, where I learned how to edit which was the most valuable lesson. In my youth I was the lead singer of a folk/pop band so I concentrated on music rather than my writing. I have always devoured books – it is a passion for me.

Laura: Are you working on anything at the minute?

Alison: Recently I get prompts from an online writing group and I find wonderful and bizarre images on Pinterest that kickstarts ideas & stories. I have fifteen years of material, mainly short stories and poems that could be cut, shaped & polished up.  Since learning that part of my prize was getting to meet an agent & publisher I have been writing furiously and have 30,000 words of a novel of speculative fiction about an obsessed King.  I am also a third of the way through another novel – about squatting with a vampire in a long-lost briar covered library in Camberwell.

Laura: Who are your writing inspirations?

Alison: My literary heroes are Edgar Allen Poe, Mervyn Peake, Hilary Mantel, Angela Carter, Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde … there’s so many…

Laura: Do you have any tips for budding life writers out there?

Alison: My advice to aspiring writers is to read and read and read and never give up when your work is rejected. It’s all subjective, keep going and try and write every day and be true to yourself.

Alison Marr, originally from Northern Ireland, is a musician and songwriter based in London. She studied Creative Writing at the OU and writes short stories and poetry and is currently working on a collection of fairy tales set in Kilburn. When not writing she plays jigs and reels on her mandolin. You can read ‘Fat Baby’ in the Life Writing Prize showcase here

Published 15 May 2019