Melissa Mostyn is a journalist, editor, blogger, film-maker and visual arts practitioner. She is well known for her fashion writing in the 1990′s and her blog, The Mostyn-Thomas Journal, as well as her writing on the arts.
What kind of writing do you do?
Since 2004 I have written mainly about the arts for a variety of publications including Disability Arts Online (DAO). For a time I had columns in British Deaf News and The Hearing Times, and also reported on deaf issues. In my spare time I blog regularly about life as part of a deaf and disabled family at The Mostyn-Thomas Journal. Before that I was a fashion journalist contributing to Vogue, The Independent and Esquire, which led to work as a co-writer on The Fashion Book, published by Phaidon Press. I later edited the first mini-edition.
How did you get started writing? What or who inspired you to start?
It may sound odd to you, but I began writing at a very young age out of a desire to communicate. As a child of the ’70s I was living through a time when sign language was banned from deaf education – I went deaf at the age of 16 months and didn’t speak until I was five. At this point, you would have thought that would rob me of access to the English language, but bizarrely, somehow something drove me to want to learn to write. I have blogged about the experience (Writing, BSL, my Deaf identity and me).
What has been the biggest obstacle for you?
Networking, without question. I started working in 1996, just after the Disability Discrimination Act became law. I didn’t really have a Deaf identity (despite an entire childhood in deaf education) and didn’t know about Access to Work. I had no signing deaf role models in my field of work, and no access to fully qualified sign language interpreters. As a result, I struggled for years to communicate with fashion designers, photographers, fellow journalists and magazine editors – even though I danced with them at launch parties regularly. There was no SMS or IM and email wasn’t as commonplace in the ’90s as it is today, so all I had to rely on was the fax, into which I fed hundreds of ideas for editors and slept next to, night after night. The telephone was king; Typetalk was useless. I quit fashion professionally in 2003, but the writing urge lives on.
Do you write full time or do you have a day job?
I am a mother of two very young children so I don’t write full-time, and at the present time, I don’t know if I ever will. On average I juggle writing with paid social media management for other people two and a half days a week plus most evenings after the children have gone to bed.
How do you network?
Thankfully, networking is far easier than back in my fashion journalism days. I email – all the time. I use SMS – all the time. I also use social media to keep up-to-date with other people’s movements where I can – it’s vital to show an interest in what others are up to because one day they could be planning a project that benefits you, and vice versa. It’s not always possible to get to London for meetings, but I find Skype enormously useful.
What inspires you? How do you find inspiration or ideas?
It could be one of those ‘why didn’t I think of that before?’ concepts in art, fashion, architecture, design, music, TV or film, executed with panache. It could be a visionary, or someone quirky, charismatic or strong of character. It could be a significant moment in time – not necessarily historic, but one that moves me personally, like the birth of a child, or the Paralympics Opening Ceremony. A flower; the colour of someone’s jacket, or a glance that incurs déjà vu. It could be my children, something they’ve done or achieved, or an injustice that has been served them. I don’t actively seek inspiration – it comes to me very easily. The real challenge is finding the space in my day as a parent to record it. I can’t halt playtime just so I can jot down my moment of inspiration.
How has your deaf identity helped your writing?
My Fashion Journalism MA tutor at Central Saint Martins once said that my writing had a very strong sense of humanity. She said it was uncluttered by other people’s opinions, enabling me to write about my subject with a clear-sightedness that was entirely mine. That is exactly how my Deaf identity has helped my writing.
What does a typical writing day look like to you? Do you have habits or a routine?
A typical writing day these days is one with many interruptions! I often have to switch windows on my PC in answer to an urgent SMS relating to either of my children (usually the older one). It’s nearly always just as I get into a certain flow. So I go and have a cup of coffee, and walk up and down thinking about my piece until I recapture the beautiful thought I had before, and rush back to the PC before it evaporates! It doesn’t always work, of course; I often wind up typing late at night when everyone has gone to bed – and repeating the practice until I get my mojo back.
Do you have a special memory connected to writing?
The first time I was published in a national publication. Esquire commissioned me to interview four men and their growing sons about their individual looks called ‘Like Father, Like Son’; the piece appeared in the magazine’s May 1996 issue with Natasha Henstridge on the front cover. I was beside myself.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
The crucial moment when I sit down to write a piece, and I realise that my mind has gone blank, just like the document I’m looking at. I have to keep referring to my bookmarks to remind myself what I was supposed to be writing about.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
The enormous satisfaction you get when you’ve cracked a way to describe something fleeting.
What advice would you give to an emerging deaf writer or young writer?
If you’re single and writing, make the most of it. Keep a notebook at your bedside, so that when your mind goes into overdrive at night, you have the perfect incentive to put pen to paper.
Do you have any favourite authors or books?
Bruce Chatwin, Paul Auster and Hanif Kurieshi are a few of my favourites. Every time I read Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, I simply waft away with its authentic descriptions of smells.
What do you consider the most important piece of advice you’ve received?
If you burn with the constant desire to play with words, again and again – whether it’s in a blog, in private or otherwise – then it doesn’t matter when you were last published. You still write.
What is next for you? What are you looking forward to in the future?
More time to myself, when the children are in nursery full-time. I plan to get published in print more.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Make the most of alternative interests. It was only when I went to work in TV in 2003, and then the arts, that I realised that I still wanted to write. Fashion had so disillusioned me that I’d overlooked other possible subjects to explore. Now, whenever I report on the arts, I feel enriched once again – as I do whenever I post on my blog.
How can we contact you?