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Interview with Pauline Yates

Pauline Yates is no stranger to Nightmare Fuel magazine. Her latest micro fiction The Taste of You featured as part of our recent ‘Love Has Teeth’ theme, and prior to that her chilling tale, The Ghost of Christmas Past was released in December’s ‘Violent Night’ theme.

An Australian Shadows Awards finalist, Pauline’s short-form horror, dark fiction and poetry have appeared in publications including Black Hare Press, IFWG Publishing Australia, Redwood Press, Midnight Echo, Aurealis, and Metaphorosis.

Pauline’s debut novel, Memories Don’t Lie will be released on 11th March through Black Hare Press. It’s a fast-paced science fiction novel, inspired by her love for dark and dangerous action and adventure.

We recently sat down with Pauline to get to know a little more about her new book, her writing process and her advice for emerging writers.

On social media you’re known as ‘midnightmuser1’ and on your website you mention that midnight is when your creative fire burns brightest – tell us a bit about this! For instance, how do you balance your writing with getting enough sleep?

Writing up to and past midnight was my only chance to write. I’m a mum of three, and anyone with children will know that time to oneself is scarce. Writing at that time became a habit, so sleep wasn’t an issue. I’m also a bit of an insomniac. Instead of fighting it, I used it to my advantage.

Your debut novel Memories Don’t Lie is getting released later this month – congratulations! Tell us a little about the story and how you came about writing it.

Memories Don’t Lie is the result of many years of hard work and persistence. It’s said you need to write a million words before you publish a book, and if that’s true, I’ve easily passed that milestone. It’s also said it can take years to develop a story, and that is also true. I don’t regret the time it took me (though I do blame my love of short story writing for being a distraction).

Many revelations didn’t appear until the last rewrite, and the time spent developing my characters was invaluable. Ask me anything about them, and I know it. They have become like real people to me. There’s never enough room in a debut novel to explore everything about them—I needed to keep my word count under 100K if I wanted any chance of it being picked up (and even that word count was pushing it), and many scenes were cut. But Memories is a planned series, so I look forward to revealing more about each character as I progress.

Photograph of a smiling woman with shoulder length brown hair and a white singlet on
Pauline Yates

For this novel, Memories Don’t Lie follows the main character, Sarah Wilson and her quest to escape her uncle’s restrictive upbringing. Sarah is on track to win the Tactical Skills Program’s top graduate title and join a top-ranked Civilian Safety Response team. Her life is turned upside down when she is abducted from base and thrown into a world of secret military genetic experiments to enhance soldier performance. Everything Sarah thought she knew turns out to be a lie, and those lies could cost her life.

The backdrop for this story revolves around my interest in cellular memory and déjà vu. While this story is fiction, I hope it inspires readers to ponder on the hypothetical science-based elements I touched on when writing this book.

Your protagonist, Sarah Wilson, has an inner strength and tenacity we love to see. Was there someone that inspired you to create a character like Sarah?

Sarah has traits I admire, and always strive to enhance within myself, so it was easy to transfer what I like into my character. But finding inner strength can be challenging at times, so more than anything, I wanted to create a character that people could aspire to should they find themselves struggling. 

Early readers of my first drafts all exhibited an increased positive outlook after reading Sarah’s story. They may not have noticed, but I did, just little things, like finding the courage to tackle difficult life issues head on instead of dodging around them. Sarah reaches many dark depths, and finding her inner strength to overcome obstacles, many of which are forced on her, is something I hope readers can learn from and achieve for themselves.

Book cover showing DNA strands and the words Memories Don't Lie by Pauline Yates

Sarah Wilson, orphaned niece of Lieutenant John Wilson, is determined to escape his restrictive upbringing and find her place in the world.

Her journey takes a deadly turn when she uncovers secrets about her past, hidden deep in her mother’s memories, that threaten everything Sarah wants.

They could cost her everything she holds dear—and her life.

How did the process for writing a novel like Memories Don’t Lie differ to writing short fiction, and what (if any) challenges did you face?

Short fiction actually helped me write the novel. Learning how to tighten prose, cut the fluff, show the world without getting bogged down with info dumps are some of the things writing short stories taught me. Sometimes, if I wasn’t sure how to best explain a concept in the novel, I’d write a short story about it to help nut out the details, what was needed, what wasn’t, and if it worked. 

I spent many of my early writing years entering short story contests with a time and word limit. When you’re given two days to write a 1500 word story, it makes your writer mind work hard. I also entered contests that had accompanying forums for feedback, and the writing tips I learned from that were invaluable. Another thing writing short stories did was give me a sense of accomplishment. It’s hard work slogging away at a novel day after day, year after year, and it’s easy to lose momentum when the end seems to get farther away. 

Aside from those benefits, getting short stories published was a boost to the confidence, and it helped build my author resume. Instead of querying with “Pauline Yates, author of nothing”, my efforts turned it into the current bio I have today, which I’m very proud of. 

As for switching between the two—short stories and novels—for me it’s about mindset, and lots of practice and discipline. The basic principles are still there. You still need scenes that work, you still need to avoid info dumps. You just have more room in a novel to flesh out characters and descriptions. But you still need to keep them tight otherwise you’ll end up with a file full of scenes you had to cut because you waffled down a path you shouldn’t have taken.

What tools or techniques do you use to write with?

I’m a plantser. I usually have some idea of what the overall story will look like, but I’m open to change, because sometimes the story will go in a direction I hadn’t anticipated and reveal a concept I would never have thought of. I also learned the hard way that not having scenes fleshed out, even if only in note form, can lead to mega amounts of rewriting. I’m trying to avoid that now because I’m growing tired of having to rewrite everything, so I tend to do more in-depth outlines before I start. But I firmly believe that sometimes you need to write what you don’t want, to discover what you do want. And that brings me full circle in the plotter/pantser debate.

With regards to what I use to write, I just use word doc in a Microsoft Office application, and the version is so old I’m surprised it actually works anywhere. But I afraid to update because some of my stories are equally as old, and I’d freak out if I couldn’t open them. I have, for the first time in my life, a writing room, complete with a desk I carted around with me since my twenties. I started with a desktop computer, changed to a laptop that lived for ten years, then shouted myself a new laptop when I reached version 5 of Memories because the old laptop was about to die. I love the quiet of midnight, when it’s just me and my muse, so yes, I love silence when writing. I’m finding more time to write during the day now, which is actually really nice. But give me my midnight writing escapades anytime.

Writing is not a static process. How do you think you have developed as a writer over the years?

The craft of writing is an ever evolving journey. I was terrible when I first started. Sure I could tell a story, but writing it so it made sense was a challenge. I’m not good at metaphorical prose, and I’m always trying to improve that. I’m more a visual writer—scenes play out in my head like a movie, and my challenge is to recreate that scene in words on a page. Everything after that is just practice, practice, practice.

I learned early on that my strength was in writing with 1st/present POV. I actually rewrote Memories in this POV because I tested a chapter to see what would work best, and 1st/present brought the story to life. I’ve always liked scifi, but it wasn’t until much later in my writing journey that I discovered my penchant for horror and dark fiction, so now that’s what I write most. But I’ll try my hand at any genre; I certainly covered every genre during those writing contests. 

My reading has definitely expanded. I spent a large part of the last three years reading widely for craft improvement purposes, and I’m confident I can pick a good story. However, there’s always something to learn, and I will continue to be the willing student.

You’ve had several stories published on Nightmare Fuel, and many more in other publications. Do you have any advice for emerging writers about crafting flash or micro fiction?

Regardless of length, it still needs to be a story. Obviously, the shorter the story, the more important the words chosen. With like anything, practice makes perfect (if there is such a thing), so my advice to new writers is to write, edit, repeat. Try different styles and genres. 

Write a longer story then challenge yourself to cut it down to micro length. There is much to be learned in the art of editing. It’s amazing how many words you can cut without losing the essence of the story; or how sentences can be reshaped to make them shorter. 

Ditch the dialogue tags; limit your characters to one, no more than two. Every character you add comes with a backstory, and if that isn’t touched on, they are no better than a cardboard cut-out. But that won’t help your word count, so consider cutting characters, too. 

Flash fiction is what is says – a flash of a story. The story must be there for it to work, but the sentences must be crafted to only give a glimpse of that world. If dialogue is used, that must be short and to the point, too. 

Balance is also important. I usually divide the word count by three so my beginning, middle, and end, are relatively equal in length. A strong start will mean nothing if the end is crammed in.

For those interested in finding out more about your work, where should they head to?

You can find everything about me, Memories, my other publications, and links to everywhere, here: