It’s been a while since we had a man interviewed. Well, here’s one! The original posts are here and here.
I live in the south of England, not far from London. Last year I published my first novel, The Ground Will Catch You. I’m now working on a second.
Before writing The Ground Will Catch You I completed another novel, which I submitted to agents but got nowhere. Looking back, I think they were right – even I suspected that it wasn’t good enough. This time I sent the manuscript only to ten agents, and even as I pressed the stamps onto the envelopes I knew I was wasting my time. I received plenty of positive feedback, but nothing concrete. No one called me in for a cappuccino, but I genuinely didn’t care. Self-publishing has been so liberating, a truly fantastic thing. There are plenty of people out there (designers, proofreaders etc.) who can help you get your novel into great shape if you’re willing to invest some time and money and are truly committed to doing yourself credit by making your book as good as it can be. And there are also many indie authors who are only too happy to offer their advice, and from whose experience you can benefit if and when you lose your way.
Finally, I’m a writer – I have two cats. That’s a given.
What is the first piece you remember writing (from childhood or young adulthood)?
As a teenager I kept diaries for a long time, which I think I still have in a drawer somewhere, although I haven’t looked at them since. That’s probably for the best. Later on I was always committing ideas to paper, writing down ideas scenes, dabbling in a bit of terrible poetry. I even did some songwriting. Most, if not all, of what I wrote was probably awful, but they don’t call it a learning curve for nothing.
What is your favorite aspect of being a writer? Your least favorite?
Like every creative person, I imagine, writing is an outlet for something within. It chooses you, and it’s both a blessing and a curse. I’m sometimes envious of people who can go through life happily without this compulsion. But then, when I hit my stride and write a great scene, or even just a good piece of dialogue, it all feels completely worthwhile. It’s a rush, creating something out of nothing. And getting a novel out into the world was enormously satisfying, precisely because it was such hard work.
On a practical level, it would be so nice to release standalone chapters one at a time, like a musician releasing a couple of songs before an album comes out. But writing a novel isn’t like that, it’s all or nothing, so in those moments when you’re riven with self-doubt, it can be overwhelming. All those months or years spent committing words to the page, in the hope that something good comes of it – that’s tough.
Also, having to work to pay the bills and then writing in my spare time often leads to a lack of time left for reading. Ironic, really.
Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, what is your best tip for beating it? If not, why not?
I’m not convinced that writer’s block exists, although there are plenty of times when the words don’t flow in the way I’d like them to. And that’s the point really: if the drain outside your house were blocked, nothing would get through at all, whereas I think this thing they call writer’s block is different. The words are coming out, they’re just in the wrong order. Or they’re the wrong words.
The key, I think, is to not edit yourself as you write, to rid yourself of that self-critical way of thinking. Just let everything flow. No one’s watching you, no one’s going to judge your work unless you ask them to. There have been many times when I’ve written pages of prose, only to read them back and be embarrassed for myself. But so often when I go back and read them again, weeks or even months later, I spot a phrase or an idea that has something, a little spark. And it’s nearly always something that didn’t occur to me at the time, something I wasn’t aware of at all. So that’s why I’m not sure about writer’s block – nothing stops you from writing, it’s a question of attitude. You’re not digging dirt in an East African diamond mine for 16 hours at a time – you have the luxury of sitting at a keyboard when it suits and putting pretty words together. A sense of perspective is needed.
One more thing: lose the internet. It’s amazing how unplugging that cable for a few hours can send productivity soaring. Who knew?
What is your current writing project? What is the most challenging aspect of your current writing project?
My new novel is going to be a real challenge, because it’s in a genre that I don’t normally read. But I had this idea for a story a while back, and it won’t let me go. I think it might be a dystopian-style novel, in that it’s either going to be set on an island or in a very remote place where an experiment is taking place. However, the rest of the world is carrying on as normal, so I’m not sure whether that’s dystopian or not. Imagine trying to sell that idea to an agent…
However, I’m excited, which is vitally important. And depending on how the book goes, there’s a possibility for a sequel, which I gather is a good thing.
What supports you in your writing?
Fear and belief. Fear because with The Ground Will Catch You I was terrified of making a fool of myself, which is why it had a structural edit, copy-edit, beta readers, a proofread and professionally designed cover. It went through four drafts, and I read the final one over and over trying to find mistakes. I was so paranoid. But the reviews have been excellent, so now I feel a lot happier. I don’t care if I sell a hundred or a hundred thousand – the book is out there, people are reading it and enjoying it. That’s what counts.
And that has led to belief. I’ve done it once, I can do it again. Although no doubt I will still obsess over tiny details in the middle of the night.
What are you currently reading?
I have Stories by TC Boyle next to my bed – big fan – but at the moment I’m mainly reading books that are in a similar area to the novel I’m working on, such as Wool; The Island of Dr Moreau; The Handmaid’s Tale; The Passage. This is not so that I can copy them; in fact, it’s the opposite. I want to avoid plot elements that might have appeared elsewhere.
Where can our readers find you and your books online?
I blog at www.inkwrapped.com and people are welcome to email me with any queries or points of view. If I can help, I will. If not, I may know of someone who can. You can also find me on Goodreads.
Amazon would be the place for The Ground Will Catch You in ebook or paperback format. I’ve just unpublished it from Smashwords because I’m thinking of trying Kindle Unlimited to see how that goes. And ten per cent of the profits from the novel in any format will be donated to breast cancer charities.