Author Interview: Marie Beswick-Arthur

Why is story so important to us?

…because we are story—living, breathing narratives bumping into each other on the shelves of a life-library. By virtue of being story, story will last as long as we do and then beyond in whatever comes after, despite digital ways of delivering it.

And on that dizzying platform maybe we can bring the questions to an “okay, now we know stories ‘r us, let’s talk about the writing and reading of them.”

I have been reading since I was four years old, and writing all my life too—professionally for over twenty-five years…  I call myself a literary concierge since I kind of sit behind this huge desk—and I do have a huge desk—and help others find where they are going (including myself). I started with a ton of rejections and a sprinkling of articles between more rejections. And then moved on to ghostwriting and teaching. All the while, I worked in the background (fifteen years) on the next great Canadian novel.

Fifty-five books collaborated and ghostwritten later (and a number of awards), my own solo-written novel, Listen For Water came out in June 2022. Published with a traditional offer by a hybrid publishing house. It is contemporary fiction for adults, yet children have read it too.

It’s been well received and has won an American award; it’s in the submitted piles of books for other awards too.

If you’re planning a sequel, can you share a tiny bit about your plans for it?

The publisher asked if I wanted to do a sequel. I did not, except I knew that the theme of the book was broad, and my second book, one I’d been working on for many years, would be a sequel in terms of the Canadian-ness and the coming of age topic, plus the aspect of poor parenting and an adolescent main character. None of the same settings or people, yet similar issues. Henderson (working title) is signed and will be published early in 2024.

What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?
Know that books are not written, they’re rewritten. (Michael Crichton said at least fifteen times) and I believe that. Know this up front so it is not a surprise to you. Know it has to be this way else you’d never get to where you need to go with the book.

Read, read, read. Make notes in the margins of books you like and books you don’t like. Read what you don’t like and figure out why.

Write, write, write. Throw it all down – the way I explain it is to do it as freefall which is a term W.O. Mitchell (Who Has Seen The Wind) coined way back—my mentor studied with him. I explain it like this (in a soon to be published 2025 novel on writing… yes, a novel that teaches how to write – we all learn from story after all in that whole ‘show me facts I’ll believe but tell me a story and it will stay in my heart forever’ way).

 Read, read, write: make notes in the margins, dissect, don’t copy but be inspired, freefall lots, read what you don’t like and understand why don’t just read ‘what you like’.

On that freefall writing, I explain it in an upcoming book, 2025, as this:

Imagine the primal act of throwing all your senses, in the form of words, into the wild rapids of a river. Picture your words flowing downstream then tumbling off a cliff and into a turbulent pool. The page is your river. This is Freefall.

Freefall is not a to-do list – it’s an un-do list. Remove all expectations of the rules of writing. Allow people, places, and things to describe themselves to you. You will find that past your inner-editor reside insights, intense conflicts, unfounded-joy, and dialogue.

Freefall is not a time for censorship. It is common for writers to struggle with instinct; they feel they must edit before they even put down the words.

The narratives of Freefall (which you create without boundaries) will have staying power because when your work goes through the formal stages of editing, the pieces created in Freefall will remain rooted in authenticity.

And, believe, believe, believe in your ‘self’. Align with other writers who are positive about everything, who do not put others down, who are open to sharing… find a mentor… it doesn’t have to be someone who writes.

Take some classes – small ones that don’t get you ‘all in’ so that you have used up all your budget. Grab a couple of books – authors who have written books about writing in a genre you enjoy or are writing in. Bounce around a bit to find the right fit for you.

Which leads me to: What books helped you the most when you were writing your (first) book?

The books that helped me might not be the ones that helped or will help you. I read a lot of Elizabeth George mysteries, so I did enjoy her book, Write Away. I learned about character sketches from there – yet I don’t typically write in her genre.

Stephen King’s book On Writing is excellent, even though I don’t read his books other than for study purpose.

I fall back to comfort as well, to children’s books to remind me what story is. The Velveteen Rabbit, My Side of the Mountain, Socks,  and get more complex with The Giver, and The Hunger Games. This brings me to the basics of storytelling and helps me organize my thoughts in both understanding story and in believing I am capable of being ‘an author’.

I also listened to podcasts from the University of Norwich – as they have a whole writing life series.

I’m not a fan of the expensive and long-term masterclass, because I think it pigeonholes a person into doing things one way, and it requires a large investment of money into a one-way-this-way plan. I think traveling around strong writers and mentors and teachers, and choosing (buffet style) works best while you’re dipping your toes into the industry.  One size doesn’t fit all—not in learning to write.

What do you do to get inside your character’s heads?

I love this question because the answer is I don’t. So it made me think, how would people get into the heads of their characters? It’s like they come to me and then I become them when my fingers are on the keyboard. Sure, later on in some polishing and rewriting (which all books are rewritten) I have to take a look and ask them (as if I’m interviewing them (the characters)).

“Hey, Dakota. Why did you do that? Are you sure you wanna do that?”


“That was really cruel and cold hearted, does it match your mood, Ray?”

And I wait for them to answer…

… yikes, do you want to end the interview now?

What do you think makes a good story?

When your heart is totally into the sharing (note I didn’t say telling) of it. Technically a seamless mix of showing and telling. And non-technically, you gotta get people around the fire, and want to stay there all night, listening to it. Therefore… a secure narrator also makes a good story. I could go on forever, but that’s the core… having a soulful-meaningful foundation in whatever genre you’re writing in.

What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

Letting go. About eight years ago, I worked with an American watercolor artist on her memoir. When it was done—or almost done—she confided that the picture behind her desk, the one I’d seen each time we’d connect (on skype) was behind glass because if it wasn’t, she’d have kept working on it. “It would never be finished. Always a work in progress,” she said.

It’s the same with manuscripts. We can always find something. Even when our books are in print we’ll find something we could have or should have changed. There are some great strategies to letting go, or knowing when to. I have to employ them over and over (sometimes) to let a piece go.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I always start with the words ‘insert really compelling fantastic first sentence here’.  The importance of first sentences cannot be stressed enough. Therefore, I take the stress off myself by just typing those words. Then I come back to it later, and later, and later.

I also love to personify items. Most of my works will see a household item or a house (in memoir) take on human qualities… either that it is referred to as a proper noun, or it has an opinion of some kind.

What would you say to an author who wanted to design their own cover?

I say, watch the Chip Kidd Ted Talk on cover design. Watch it once or twice a year. I say, you are a writer, not a designer (probably). I was fortunate in my book published last year, and in my next in 2024 that the publisher has an amazing designer. When I’m on a project with that publisher, I get to see three choices of a cover, and help choose. But on my own stuff, they don’t show me the three, they only show me what they have chosen. I’ve had tons of compliments on my cover so I know that the designer is a key part of the book (again, Chip Kidd – Knopf – Ted Talk).

What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?

Be concise and compelling, and stick to your message—get that message formulated first. Be sure to allow yourself to go wildly-creative within your idea/outline/structure, yet stick to the message. Put your logline at the top of your page—every page. And freefall the first draft. Then start cleaning. Watch cause and effect. Balance your showing and telling. Don’t be afraid to rewrite to try different POV and tenses. Tell the story with the fewest words, but not so few that the story lacks energy.

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