Liverpool-born, but raised in Mold, Laura Wilkinson has published six novels for adults (two under a pseudonym) and numerous short stories – some of which have made the short lists of international competitions.
Her latest, Skin Deep, is set in Manchester’s Hulme in the 1980s – where Laura studied as a student – and looks at the relationship between an art student and former model and a facially disfigured child, who becomes her muse.
“Skin Deep is a dark read,” says Laura, when I speak to her on the phone from her home in Brighton.
“It’s also a contemporary novel, set in Manchester and London, and is told through the eyes of beautiful artist Diana and interwoven with the story of Cal, a deformed boy.
“Both of them are seeking love and purpose, trying to find acceptance and their place in a world fixated with image. The novel follows their journey to professional success and personal happiness across two decades, and explores love, beauty, and the legacy of parental exploitation.”
Laura, 53, moved to Mold as a child, living in a chip shop near St Mary’s Church with grandparents.
“Back then the graveyard ran into our back garden so I spent lots of time playing among the gravestones. I remember being fascinated by them and what they told you about the history of Mold,” says the former pupil at Alun School in the town.
“Wales remains my spiritual home, though I love London, where I lived in my 20s, and Brighton where I live now, within walking distance of the sea and the South Downs. The Sussex countryside is beautiful, but I miss the drama of North Wales with its mountains and wide, sandy beaches, and my family, of course.”
Alongside writing, Laura works as an editor and mentor for literary consultancies and runs workshops on aspects of craft. She has spoken at festivals and events nationwide, including the Frome Festival, University of Kingston, The Women’s Library and Museum in Docklands.
“Unlike many writers I know, I did not always want to be a writer,” she laughs, after telling me she worked for a short time at the Leader, where her uncle was a sub-editor.
“As a child I only ever wrote when forced to do so by my English teacher, Miss Logan, at Alun School.
“However, I was a voracious reader and my life has been characterised by storytelling. After a degree in English Literature, I worked as an actress and when I hadn’t won an Oscar by 30 and wanted children, I turned to journalism and copywriting.
“When my boys were little, I began experimenting with fiction.”
After some success with short stories – plus “many rejections” – Laura turned to novels.
“Although it was in no way easy, I knew very quickly that I had found my form,” she reflects. “Rejections followed, along with longlistings and then shortlistings in a number of competitions, and it was a win in a debut novel competition that led to the publication of my first novel, BloodMining, in 2011.”
Last month saw the publication of Skin Deep, with Laura’s determination to get the book out there a neat encapsulation of the struggles novelists face in such a competitive market.
An early draft of the novel made the final seven of a national competition, with a glitzy awards ceremony held at the O2 in London. It was almost picked up three years ago, she explains.
“Since then, Skin Deep has been sitting in a virtual drawer, awaiting a rewrite. It’s a story I haven’t been able to let go of, or the characters, and I’m more pleased than I can say that Diana and Cal will finally get to tell the world their story,” she adds.
The novel’s near-misses journey means Laura is in a good position to give plenty of advice to new writers and that’s exactly what she’ll be doing in September at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden.
“It’s my second appearance there,” she adds. “I did a two week residency there, which was blissful.
“I’ll be running a workshop on what to do when you finish the first draft of your novel and how to refine and shape your manuscript into memorable fiction.
“I love working with other writers and I love Gladstone’s Library. When I was growing up it wasn’t open to the public but when I finally went there I realised it was just the best place to write. They have done an amazing job there.”
l Skin Deep by Laura Wilkinson is out now and published by Accent Press. Laura will be appearing at Gladstone’s Library on Sunday, September 3 at 1pm. See www.gladstones
library.org for more details.