Literary Sisters: Author interview with Anneliese Mackintosh

This week I’m delighted to welcome writer Anneliese Mackintosh to the blog.   Anneliese is a woman of many talents – a performer and writer of short fiction, novels and drama, as well as working as an editor and a teacher of creative writing.  Most recently, she took part in a tour in a hand-painted bus organised by Lush to promote their merchandise.  More of that in the interview below.

Anneliese is a performer not to be missed (if you don’t believe me, you can have a sneaky peek at some of her videos here).  In fact, if you’re based in the north of England, there’s a chance to see her very soon – when she appears next week as the guest at  Fictions of Every Kind, a regular live literature event in Leeds.  The theme for December is ‘Apocalypse’ (just to get us into the Christmas spirit); it’s at 7.30pm on 11 December at Wharf Chambers.  If you fancy coming down, then you’ll need to become a member of the club beforehand (it’s a workers’ co-operative).  It takes 48 hours and only costs a quid.  Bargain.

But now, Ladies and Gentlemen…I give you: Anneliese  Mackintosh.

Anneliese, tell us about your involvement in the Gorilla Perfume tour. How did that come about?

That was an unusual one.

High street store Lush recently launched a new range of fragrances, made by Gorilla Perfumes. (Don’t be fooled – the fragrances neither smell like gorillas, nor are they intended for use by gorillas. In fact, Lush are against animal testing and are extremely nice to all creatures.)

I was asked, along with several other writers, musicians, and dancers, to get on a vintage hand-painted bus and tour the UK promoting these fragrances. Ryan Van Winkle ( – a fantastic Edinburgh-based poet – was in charge of booking the performers for the tour. I’d performed alongside him several times in the past, back when I lived in Scotland, so he asked me to get involved. I read stories on the bus in Sheffield, Manchester, and Leeds, to around three or four people at a time. Each story was matched to a specific Lush fragrance.

It was weird. It was fun.

You have lots of strings to your professional bow – you’re a writer, teacher, editor and performer. How do you manage to juggle these competing demands on your time?

Spreadsheets! Spreadsheets are the answer. I love a good spreadsheet. Yes, spreadsheets and copious amounts of coffee.

You write novels, short fiction and drama for radio and stage. Tell us about your relationship with these different forms.

Short stories were my first love. I remember writing a story about a gnome factory when I was seven, and I got a ‘well done’ sticker for it. I thought: this is brilliant. If I write loads more stories, I’ll get loads more stickers. Sadly, I haven’t been given a sticker for my writing since – nor have I written about any more gnome factories – but I do still get immense pleasure from writing short stories.

I’m getting into writing novels now that I’m a bit older, and have developed the stamina for working on longer pieces. I do enjoy novels, but find the process of creating them comes far less naturally to me.

I haven’t written a stage play for a decade. I wrote and directed two plays while I was at university, and it was a harrowing experience. In retrospect, I think it would have been better to have someone else direct my work. There’s more opportunity for the plays to develop and grow that way. I was too close to the scripts. Plus, in all honesty, the plays weren’t very good. One of them involved a pterodactyl-based gameshow, and the other was set in a giant cardboard box. It was like a Michel Gondry film gone wrong.

Writing for radio is great. Going into the studio to see the plays being put together is fascinating. Writers are treated well in BBC radio drama. You get to sit next to the director and drink tea and feel important. I even got to act in my radio play. You can hear me laughing in the background around seven seconds in. It’s a pivotal moment.

Authenticity of voice is important to you. What methods do you use to capture the voice of your characters?

I am an excellent eavesdropper. I love listening to the different ways people speak: to the verbal tics, the cadences, the lexical choices. Everyone has their own individual voice, and if you’re good at listening to these voices, chances are you’re going to be okay at transcribing them too.

I think the important thing for me is trying to make a character’s voice seem as natural as possible. I find reading aloud really helps, and the editing process is vital – I keep chipping and chipping away, until I’ve created what feels like a coherent, natural voice. Which is ironic, I suppose, given how artificial the whole process is.

Recently my writing has been highly autobiographical, so I have tried to keep the first-person voice as true to my own voice as possible – to give the reader a flavour of what it might be like to have a conversation with me. Except that it’s a more polished version of me: I cut out the clichés and unnecessary repetition, and shape the text into something a little smarter, a little more manicured, a little more poetic – and better – than I am in real life.

Where do you like to write best?

In bars, generally. I like the background noise, the people-watching, (and if I’m being naughty – the booze). These things help distract me from the fact I’m writing, so I worry about the process less, self-censor less, and create the work more easily. This is particularly useful for early drafts. Later on, I’m more likely to sit at my desk at home, in total silence, so I can concentrate on the rhythm of the words.

Who is your most significant influence (literary or otherwise)?

My dad. Every night he used to read ‘Just William’ stories to me and my sister in bed. He’d put on silly voices and make us laugh our heads off. During the day, he always had Radio 4 on, and we’d listen to the afternoon plays together. My dad had the most incredible imagination of anyone I’ve ever met. He died a couple of years ago, and I’ve been distraught, but I can still feel him influencing so much of what I do today, in terms of both my writing and the way I live my life.


You’ve made your home in two fantastic cities – Glasgow and Manchester. Do you have a favourite (and if so why)?


Yikes, that’s like asking me to say which of my two children I like the best! I spent eight and a half years living in Glasgow. I was twenty-one when I moved there, and I did the majority of my ‘growing-up’ while I was there: both in terms of my personal growth and my writing career. I still have some truly wonderful friends in Scotland, and a bunch of brilliant memories. I only left Glasgow in July, and still miss it tremendously. Some days I just want to jump in a teleporter, go back to my favourite café in the West End of Glasgow, and catch up with my pals.


But I don’t regret coming to a new city one bit. Moving to Manchester has been about moving forwards with my life. I’ve met some great new people, become part of a whole new literary scene, and part of me has come alive again. It’s also lovely to be closer to my grandparents (who live in Bolton), and a bit closer to my mum and sister down south.


Name your favourite time-off activity….


I’d like to say something refined like going to the opera or playing chess, but in reality it’s putting on a tracksuit, grabbing a bottle of beer, and dancing around my living room to nineties grunge music.


What’s the best thing about being a writer? And the worst?


Writing, for me, is cathartic. It picks me up, it calms me down, and it makes me feel in control of my emotions.


That said, the writing life is fraught with highs and lows. The absolute best feeling I’ll ever get when I’m writing – the adrenaline rush that’s so addictive – tends to come when I’m working on a first draft, and a story is revealing itself to me, and it feels like magic. And then I get another adrenaline rush when I’m working on a final edit, and can feel all the intricate parts of the story finally working together, in just the way I want. Getting a piece accepted for publication or winning an award is an amazing feeling too – having that stamp of recognition for something you’ve worked so hard for makes it all feel worthwhile.


But the lows… well, there are plenty of them. Getting stuck halfway through a novel, or receiving negative criticism when I’m feeling vulnerable, or getting a rejection for a submission I really cared about, or suddenly realising everything I’ve been writing that day (or week, or month) is unusable… those things can be tough. It can also be a pretty lonely life. (See this video I made for some very serious advice on how to cope with loneliness:

And what do you most enjoy about performing?


I used to do a lot of acting at university, so performing my work is a way of keeping up with that. It’s a really special feeling, getting up on stage and showing a group of people something I’ve made. I love it when the audience members laugh, or even cry. It’s such an instant, powerful connection. Doesn’t always work out that way – performing to people who look distracted, or unimpressed, or asleep, is rubbish.


What are you working on just now?


Lots of things! I recently finished a novel, which is being considered by publishers just now. To take my mind off that, I’m working on two new novels, and I’m doing a lot of editing work. I’m editing Rodge Glass’ fab new short story collection, which comes out with Freight Books next year (more on Rodge at And I’ve just started working as an Editorial Consultant for the Hyland & Byrne Editing Firm (, which I’m really pleased about.


If you hadn’t got into writing, how do you think you might have been earning your living?


Ah, now this question supposes I’m earning a living as a writer! Sadly, I’m not. But if I wasn’t a writer, I’d love to have kept up with my languages and become a translator or an interpreter. I guess those professions still involve writing / wordsmithery, but in a slightly different way. I speak reasonable German, and know a smattering of French, Spanish, Latin, Italian, and British Sign Language. I’m passionate about learning languages. I can get pretty damn excited about declensions, you know. Talk to me about the ablative case and I’ll be your best friend forever.


Where would you like to be in five years’ time? And in ten years?


Ooh, I’d love to have a couple of novels published, a partner, a child, a vegetable patch, and a really awesome cat.


But I’d settle for happiness and health.


I used to have a very clear sense of exactly where I wanted to go in the future. Now I’m a bit older, I’ve realised how unpredictable the writing life (and life in general) can be. So many opportunities appear out of nowhere, while others fall through at the last minute. I think it’s important to recognise that, and not be too strict with myself, or too disappointed when things don’t go to plan. To be frank, very little of my life has gone to plan so far. But that’s okay.


If you had one piece of advice to give to your fifteen year old self, what would it be?


I wasn’t a very happy fifteen-year-old. I didn’t have many friends, didn’t feel I belonged, didn’t know how to talk to people… All those things made me who I am today, though, so I wouldn’t change the journey I’ve been on.


I guess I’d quite like to give that fifteen-year-old a hug and then leave her to it.


She’ll work it out in the end.


For more on Anneliese and her work, have a look at her website:  You can also follow her here on Twitter.





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