Carol’s ‘Close Up’ today with Caffeine Nights Author Shelley Weiner!

I’m ‘close up’ today to the very lovely and amazingly talented Shelley Weiner, who is an acclaimed novelist and creative writing mentor. Her novels include A Sisters’ TaleThe Last HoneymoonThe JokerArnost, and – her latest – The Audacious Mendacity of Lily GreenHer short stories have appeared in various anthologies and on BBC Radio 4.

Shelley is an Advisory Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund and has taught fiction for institutions that include Birkbeck College, Anglia Ruskin University, the Open University, the British Council, and Durham University Summer School. She tutors for the Skyros Writers’ Lab, is a mentor on the Gold Dust Mentoring Scheme and a reader for The Literary Consultancy. She is presenting a workshop at this year’s Cheltenham Literary Festival and a Guardian Masterclass on The Art of Fiction. Website:

And today she has very kindly taken the time out of her busy schedule to talk to us. I’m very excited! :-)

 How on earth do you manage to juggle your work as a Mentor and Creative Writing Teacher and write yourself Shelley?

It’s more a case of dividing my time than juggling: I see the teaching/mentoring as a completely separate activity from my own writing and definitely don’t subscribe to that horrible old axiom: ‘Those who can, do, and those who can’t teach.’ Teaching – which involves communicating practical skills that I’ve had to master over many decades, as well as imparting a kind of permission to write – has always been as important to me and, in its way, as creative as producing my own fiction. At the same time, I have to be very careful not to let it eat into my time so much that there’s none left for writing. Like most writers I know, I tend to procrastinate horribly, and leap at any opportunity (cupboard tidying? Sweeping the patio? Any displacement activity at all – the more mundane the more appealing…) to avoid sitting at my desk and stringing words together. So having a kind of ‘day job’ like teaching, preparing workshops, reading the work of others, can be a justifiable excuse. So I have to be very strong-willed about setting aside regular chunks of time that are for writing, and nothing else.

What inspired you to write a novel in the first instance?

Having worked as a journalist for many years, I felt that I’d honed my writing skills to the extent that I was very fluent and could communicate clearly and coherently. There was something missing, however, and I had a sense that I wanted to say more than the structures of feature writing or news reporting allowed me. I went on an Arvon Foundation course to explore my options, and wrote a poem that made people cry. The idea that I could write something to touch people (rather than inform or amuse) was a revelation. The poem was about my father, who had been a Holocaust survivor, and communicating my loss and bewilderment seemed to point the way to stuff I’d never articulated before. That’s when I decided to write a novel, based on the experiences of my parents, who’d both been in concentration camps. As a rather awkward mix of fiction and autobiography, that first novel never found a publisher. It was an important learning experience though, and my next one, A Sisters’ Tale, was bought by the first publisher to see it.

Who do you admire in the literary world? Who do you consider your mentor?

That’s a hard one. ‘Admire’ is a complicated word. I admire any writer who shows quiet and dogged persistence, a determination to keep going, to say what’s important, ignoring as far as possible the literary flavour of the day. I admire the greats, those like Tolstoy and Chekhov and Shakespeare and Austin, who have bequeathed on us such treasure – and Americans such as Roth and Bellow who have written so profoundly about issues of displacement that so deeply concern me. As for a mentor: when I went on that significant Arvon course, my tutor Alice Thomas Ellis encouraged me. She allowed me to feel interesting, a huge bonus, and gave me the kind of permission to write that, ever since, I’ve been trying to offer other new writers. We went on to teach together and became great friends.

Where do you write? Do you have a regular pattern or routine?

I’m fortunate to have my own office. It’s small and quiet, crammed with books and photos of my family, and gives me a sense of serenity and (when I discipline myself to switch of that dratted email!) creativity. My pattern, as I’ve said, is dictated by how firm I am about dividing my time. When I started writing fiction and had to fit it in between a day job as a journalist and the demands of two young children etc, I wrote each morning from 4.30am. I don’t know how I managed – but I did. Now things are less hectic, yet I’m far less productive. Which is a lesson of sorts, I suppose.

What are you writing now?

My fifth novel, The Audacious Mendacity of Lily Green, has just been published, and I have several tentative projects on the go. Nothing that I feel is substantial enough to share – and, you know how it is, a half-conceived story can dissipate into nothingness if it’s spoken about.

Share something with me that nobody else knows about Shelley Weiner…. Piers Morgan eat your heart out! ;-)

Hmm. How I wish I had some dark secrets – or a few tantalising shades of grey (that I could turn into a lucrative piece of ‘fiction’). But alas  … on the other hand I do have a passion that’s very unliterary. It’s dancing flamenco, which I’ve been doing, or trying to do, for the past five years. It’s a wonderful, dramatic release from real life, and I so wish that I could lose myself into it without worrying about footwork, arm co-ordination, etc. One day …

Oh, wow that’s fantastic Shelley! Now I’m interested to know who you like to share a cup of coffee and a natter with?

My lovely girlfriends – and my daughter Nicole, my son Steve, and of course Jack (husband). Anyone who has interesting things to say and hears me out and makes me laugh!

How do you relax though? 

That’s a fraught question. I’m not good at relaxing. My days are busy, busy and my thoughts/anxieties keep me awake at night. I do yoga – but prefer ashtanga to the slower versions, which is good for the body but less so for the soul. My plan is to spend a day doing yoga nidra (which involves six hours of relaxation) but I’m getting really tense about organising it …

If you won the lottery what would you spend it on? 

A family holiday home – a beautiful spacious house to accommodate all of us, plus present and future grandchildren. Somewhere easy to reach, near the sea.

Are you a savoury or sweets girl?

I was about to say ‘savoury’, then remembered how much I crave fruit jellies, marshmallows and marzipan.

Yes, I know what you mean! Tell me what do you have in your handbag right now?

Alas, nothing of great interest. Purse, make-up essentials, a few broken pens, sweet wrappers (see above). Oh, and my phone – I’m addicted to my iPhone, which is another terrible distraction, but what can one do?

Yes, aren’t we all! Although I must say Bob will have nothing to do with our phone. He always professors that he can’t see the text – what an excuse! What’s your earliest memory Shelley?

I have a hazy recollection of taking my first steps – my hand being held as I placed one uncertain foot in front of the other along a very dirty pavement in the very slummy part of Port Elizabeth, where I was born.


What has been your favourite year and why?

The year I turned 40 (I won’t say when!) which, for me, was significant and felt full of potential. It was the year I started writing fiction, and it came pouring out of me: a novel in six weeks, then another – short stories – a radio play. I’ve never felt or been more creative.

That’s so inspirational for others Shelley. Just shows what you can achieve and at any time in your life. I guess it has to just be the right time for you. What’s your favourite smell?


I love Jamine too… What was the last thing you laughed and cried at?

I felt very emotional – ok, I cried – when I was writing my speech to welcome guests to my son’s forthcoming wedding. Our Burmese cat, Poppy, makes me laugh – sad but true.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given or best advice you’d give?

The best advice is embodied by my two favourite teaching by-words that apply as much to writing as to life. The first is tenacity, the second is curiosity. Remember and apply them both and there’s every chance that you’ll finish writing that novel and/or have a long, fulfilling and creative life.


What’s was your favourite book as a child & as an adult?

As a child I was obsessed with ballet and addicted to the ‘Wells’ stories by Lorna Hill. And Little Women et al. Anything, as long as it wasn’t scary (I was a nervy little thing). Now I love a good story that’s psychologically astute – Philip Roth’s Nemesis was the last novel that bowled me over.

Has your world changed since you became a published author and how?

There’s no doubt that writing novels and transmitting what I know to others has illuminated my world. It has brought me into contact with so many fascinating, generous and creative people. Being published (never mind fame or money) definitely adds validation to what one does but, as I always say to new writers, the determination to write is far more important (and likely to be more gratifying) than the ambition to be a published writer.

Is being a published author all that you thought it would be, or what’s been a surprise to you?

Following on from the above – the trouble with being published is that the goal-posts keep moving. Achieving publication calls for readers, reviews, acknowledgment, etc. It never ends. And I’ve seen, through the experiences of friends and colleagues, how fickle the world of publication can be (agents as well as publishers – not to mention readers). So the important thing is to be able to switch off from the outside world and keep hold of that original impulse. To write!

Thank you Shelley! It has been lovely talking to you today and just to let the readers know that you can buys Shelley’s latest book from Caffeine Nights book store or its eBook store. You can also buy from your local bookshop or online!



More about Shelley @

Here’s a link to a sample of  her latest novel ‘The Audacious Mendacity of Lily Green via Caffeine Nights Publishers website









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