Up Close With: Lauren McMenemy

Meet the wonderful writers and patrons behind LWS.

Put a spell on your day and be charmed by listening to this Aussie host the Writer’s Hour or the LWS Myth and Paranormal group. This week’s featured patron is Lauren McMenemy. Often found with a knowing smile and an enigmatic black rabbit, she now calls England home. A writer since she could hold a crayon, she cut her teeth as a daily journalist, bringing hard-knuckled dedication to the music and culture pages. As a volunteer in the London Writer’s Salon community, she is a compassionate and thoughtful leader, always ready to jump in if needed and help. She’s a thirty-second degree master of the gothic and folklore genre, so hold on to your holy water or Celtic cross: it’s Lauren!

Lauren (LJ) McMenemy (she/her)

  • Based in salubrious Sutton, Sarf Lundun — though I am Aussie by birth and claim Adelaide, South Australia, as my home town.
  • Aged 42 (and still waiting on being told the meaning of life, the universe and everything)
  • Volunteer host for writers hour (usually the Down Under one)
  • Leads the Myth & Paranormal sub-group for LWS

What do you write, in general?

It depends on which time of day, which day of the week, and what my mood is.

For work, I am a freelance brand journalist, content strategist and copywriter, and you’ll find me writing about anything from B2B financial services to technology to marketing itself. I started my working life as a daily newspaper journalist back home (music editor; the rock’n’roll life for me), and have deployed those editorial skills as a writer, editor and proofreader since I arrived in the UK in 2006. I also recently became the Head of Community Development for the Minds@Work Movement, a charity which aims to improve and facilitate the conversation around better understanding of mental health in the workplace and reducing the stigma of these conversations.

On the subject of mental health, I write a regular newsletter (it used to be weekly, but it’s kinda slipped since I went back to work) about my journey recovering from a burnout-driven breakdown. Just before Christmas 2020, I was a wreck. I couldn’t go on, had to cancel all my work and curl into a ball for most of 2021. I tracked — and continue to track — my journey to being more selfish, otherwise known as taking better care of myself. People seem to find it useful.

However, the childhood dream was to be an author, and I’ve had multiple aborted attempts at taking the fiction thing more seriously. I found LWS through a need to be more focused and productive with my work, but I quickly became a gold patron in the early days and cranked out some wordage on the folk horror novel I’m mulling over.

Yes, I’m the spooky, weird girl in the corner — I write gothic and folk horror, and obsess over ghosts, witches, vampires and demons. That’s why I also lead the LWS Myth & Paranormal group.

What are you working on right now?

The novel is a folk horror set in rural Australia, in which I want to explore what a woman in her 40s is if she’s not a mother, as well as the country’s toxic masculinity and complicated relationship to the land in an era of climate crisis. Just a few light themes.

However, it’s just not ready to come out in the “right” form — so far it’s been a gothic drama, a monster tale, a feminist rant — so I’ve switched focus to shorter works for now, and for writing just for the sake of it instead of any lofty goals, a way to rediscover my passion for fiction after decades of churning out copy for a living. In my genre, new writers often make their name through anthology submissions, so I follow a tonne of open market groups and look out for prompts that catch my eye.

Where and when do you write?

Whenever I can, really, though I can say with absolute certainty that I am definitely not a morning person. I’ve done the 3 Day Novel competition a few times and am always reminded that I can’t be creative until after dinner — but then, I can write for hours and hours into the middle of the night. Unfortunately society still forces office hours on me even though I’m freelance, so I tend to work from mid-morning until dinner. I host Aussie/Kiwi writers’ hour, and that’s when I get my fiction brain on.

How do you write?

One of the great things about starting my career early with daily newspaper journalism is I learned to think and type quickly to get the story done and submitted — so yes, I write by computer. I do love the romance of writing with a pen or pencil in a gorgeous journal — and I have a stationery shopping habit that says I should use journals more — but I find my brain moves quicker than my hand can.

I do always carry a notebook and pen with me, and go through phases of writing down snippets of overheard conversations and story ideas as they come. Alas, it’s a habit I’ve only just started to get back into after my burnout/breakdown. Slow and steady is how I’m taking it now. No reason to rush. I just trust it will come when it’s ready.

Why do you write?

It’s all I’ve ever known how to do, and all I’ve ever been half-decent at. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write. I was that kid creating “books” with hand-drawn covers telling the story of the family dog, the one that would be found with her nose in a book at all times. I was always, always going to be a writer.

I know I’m meant to say something profound here about making my mark or wanting to give voice to the voiceless or affecting social change with words, and that would be wonderful if it happened, but honestly I just can’t think of what I’d do if I didn’t write. I love stories. I am a pop culture junkie, a music nerd, a film geek. I love theatre and literature. I adore trashy vampire novels and witchcraft grimoires and ghost stories around the proverbial campfire as well as the classics and the literary darlings and the non-fiction stars. Writing and consuming stories is the only time when I am truly happy.

So that’s why I write: it’s purely selfish.

What inspires your creativity?

My fears. I explore my fears through my writing, and I’m scared of every damn thing.

My eccentric English husband and all his excitedly-told stories of ridiculous escapades, plus the cutest, most diva bunny in the world that’s lived with us for about eight years.

My expat life. It heightens a lot of emotions, especially when you’re trapped a world away from your family in these plague times with very little hope of getting home any time soon.

The state of the world.

But mainly, because my habit of extreme empathy needs an outlet or I will go crazy.

Inspiration comes from those she loves - creatures, both big and small.

What’s your favourite book?

Erm… pass.

OK, ok. I hate this question because I never know the answer and usually just say whatever I’ve just finished (The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson, a Southern Gothic with a murderous crime edge). I have loved various books over the years and each time it highlights a different phase of my life. There was a time, yes, when I would sheepishly say “Twilight” or the Sookie Stackhouse books (those were the source material for True Blood — I told you I loved some vampire trash). As a kid, it was probably Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice. My favourite books of these plague times were probably Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street (just because of that damn masterfully perfect twist) or Alice Tarbuck’s witch memoir A Spell in the Wild or Grady Hendrix’s The Final Girl Support Group or Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic. (Note all the “probably”? It’s because I can’t make decisions!)

I also discovered the zines Hellebore and Cunning Folk during plague and can’t press “buy” quick enough when a new one is released.

In general, I am a sucker for beautifully haunting prose and a chill up my spine.

But if you push me, I’ll say The Great Gatsby. I always come back to it. Always. I mean… “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Swoon.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about creativity?

I’m not really one for words of wisdom or taking inspiration from others — my strange brain just takes these things as another sign of my failures. However, I did find a quote I love (and still go back to) while reading Tim Waggoner’s Writing In The Dark, a guide to writing horror released in 2020. In it, he quotes Kiwi writer Lee Murray:

“Think of it like a Mad Hatter’s tea party. No room at the literature table? Sit down anyway. Take the rabbit hole to the underworld. Conjure shrink-grow monsters, evil queens, the perfidy of time, and lonely, spiralling madness. Choose chaos as a ruling principle. Ask the hard questions. Say what you mean. Talk when you want to. Debate the intricacies of language. Hide the bodies of your friends in teapots. Cut off their heads. Reference Poe. And drink more of the beverage of your choice.”

I love this so much. The playfulness. The nod to genre. But also, its message to just make room at the table for yourself because you deserve to be there and you do have something worthwhile to say. I need to remember that.

What’s the one thing you would tell other/aspiring writers?

Never underestimate the value of community. Writing is such a solitary pursuit, but don’t mistake it for a solitary endeavour. I’ve got more of my own, non-work writing done since the plague hit and I found LWS than I have done in my entire life pre-plague, and that’s all because of you. Community supported me to realise my burnout, to have the courage to take a sabbatical, to not give up on my writing — even if I’m not exactly churning it out, and even if each attempt to enter the novel’s world has resulted in another shitty aborted draft. I’m still here, still standing, still trying. And that’s all anyone can ask when it comes to their dreams.

How can we discover more about you and your work?

The easiest route to all things me is via the website wherelaurenwrites.com — there you will find linkage to the work website, the writing website, the pop culture blog — all of which are totally neglected. (It’s my promise for 2022 that I give these much more love so there is something to look at.)

The most prolific thing is the ol’ Substack, which you’ll find here.

You can also find me on Twitter (@novicenovelist) and Instagram (@lozthewriter).

Lauren’s writers view includes inspiration from the mundane horror of suburbia.

✍️ Write with Lauren and hundreds of other writers each weekday at Writers’ Hour (it’s free).

Connect with fellow writers and build a successful, creative career with London Writers’ Salon.

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