You have published short stories, prose collections and novels. Which of these was most difficult for you to write and why?
With short stories you are giving yourself such a brief window and in that condensed outlet you want to engage the reader as much as you can. A few years ago I wrote a collection called Jig Of Life (it was published in the USA as The J) and I used a unique formula of writing a longer story and then cutting it down, editing out what I felt wasn’t needed for a shorter version. It was like expanding a 7” single in reverse.
Your fictional biography “Now Is Not The Time For Trumpets” seems very interesting. How did you conceptualize it? How different was it from the usual biographies?
I have actually just found the original first draft which was so different and was a kind-of whodunit Agatha Christie type yarn. The idea was to write a fictional biography of someone that never existed, but could have against a backdrop which did exist. It is different from the perspective that it alternates between modern day and the past, questions, answers and a glimpse into the past. You discover what people made this person, the love, the heartaches, the success and failures. When I was writing I could actually visualize the main character. I could see him as he was in his youth, golden hair, flamboyant, beautiful but also how he was in old age which in retrospective was quite haunting and sad. The book worked well and from that I picked one character to write a further book – A Life Of Parties – and both books are now being workshoped in America for a stage adaptation. They are taking the characters and some dialogue and recreating something visual.
Tell us something about the books you are penning this year. Are you working on them simultaneously?
Two books are ready to be launched this winter as well as a book written by fellow writer Chris Henson which is about me. Nemesis is what I believe is my goodbye to prose collection. It’s a journey of arrangements, a chance to say goodbye to the past and move forward. With every piece I have written briefly what it means but like anything they are open to interpretation. Take Down The Flags has been a labour of love over the last two years. It’s a set of stories all based on the ending of World War 11. I spent time with many people who were around at that time listening to their stories and then re-interpreting them into mini stories with their permission.
Versus America is the book by Chris and is a kind of sequel to his book Tour De Europa. Chris follows me on my 2016 American book tour and witnesses the parade, the parties, behind the scenes, the hotels, glamour and ultimate tedium of it all in a documented writing style. I am already working on books for next year and beyond. One is called Beautiful Construction, a collection of diaries and the other HappySad, Stories From The City, focuses on love and consequences from the late 1970s in San Francisco.
What does your writing schedule looks like, on an average? How would you describe your average day, which you spend writing?
I am quite disciplined when I write. Usually coffee for breakfast then I will re-look at what I wrote the previous day, either edit that or start writing more. I will usually write for a few hours uninterrupted and like to flit between two or maybe three pieces of work. To break the day up I do go to the gym for a few hours, time out, music, just to be me really then a few more hours writing afterwards. It can all change. Last year I wrote a whole book in three whole days, it felt like I was never sleeping but I had this idea and out it came.
When and how did you first start writing?
I have always loved the idea of writing but as a child I loved the idea of writing utensils, the pens, pencils, paper, any form of stationary. I am still the same. I have always kept diaries which are useful when searching for names, situations and ideas.
How did you find your first publisher? Was it easy, difficult, did you face lots of rejections?
I guess I was very lucky. I was introduced to my former editor via a friend. We had lunch, we had drinks, we talked and she read a few pieces, a few weeks later contracts were signed. Five years later we re-negotiated terms and I now have representation on both sides of the Atlantic as well as PR management who handle the bigger stuff. But it hasn’t all been glamour and success. I very nearly signed to another American agent but their contract wasn’t workable and I felt I was getting no assistance from their editing team so on the strength of my lawyers pulled out and various manuscripts were returned to me. Two of these have since been published under a nom-de-plue and are doing really well.
Share some writing tips with our budding writers.
If you are starting to write then simply a page a day, because after a year you will have written 365 pages, a book.
Keep a notebook with you all the time. Write down ideas, overheard conversations, and names you hear, if on a bus or train write down titles, ideas, characters, anything. These little notes may come in handy later on.
Forget about agents, PR, publicity, sales etc. Just focus on your own writing rather than worrying how many copies they will shift.
Excerpt: This piece from Take Down The Flags is called Observations.
Anton is here, talking for the hundredth time about what he did during the war, about “how life’s an endless pit of chaos, but every now and then it all makes sense, and that’s what makes life worth living, you know?” and Simone is telling him, “It’s already been done.”
It’s Wednesday so Jo and Sarah are here – playing the same songs– he’s playing the piano and she’s drunk on her voice and soon their composition will be careless and sloppy and they’ll leave as lovers and whoever is scheduled next, probably me, will be too drunk to perform, so someone will get up and sing the anthem of France. And there’s Alice, sitting by the piano again, that instrument she pretends to know how to play, wearing red high heels and matching lipstick, disguising her writer’s block and making herself available enough for another cheap story that will probably be published the same day she writes it. She thinks we don’t know what she did, but we do, we’re just biding our time, her day will come.
Michael’s stood at the bar, rolling his own cigarettes, wearing that goddamn hat again like he’s some kind of Hemingway in a Parisian café. And Esmeralda’s pouring my drinks and I must say she’s damn good at her “transient position” and my disowned intemperance will miss her if she ever does make it back home. Here comes Olivia, being the ridiculously beautiful woman she is, dressed for a Gatsby party, ignoring Michael, asking Charlie how his story is coming along, speaking Spanish to Esmeralda.
She’s pretending that she’s got somewhere better to go next. Pierre and Allen stumbled in behind her, drunk and obscene as usual. They’ve read so much propaganda lately that now they’re convinced nothing matters, not even the fact that they are wanted men. Take a moment, look at all these people, all these beautiful fools with their talents and critiques and theories and philosophies and hang-ups and memories. It’s like the past few years never happened; they have forgotten what really happened, what real life was like. And I have to witness all of it. But really, who am I to judge? I’m just some two faced liar, thief, and drunk, sitting at the bar and scribbling about their lives on damp used napkins. I’m swaying on my bar stool, feeling all warm inside, and in such a state to choose my own reality, we’re no different from one another.
We’re just a bunch of worried, hopeless, starving artists and writers and musicians that come to this wine bar for the exact same goddamn reason.
Because now we can.