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What inspired you to write your book?
Lack of money originally. I live in a poor part of rural France where there are not many jobs,and those that are available are poorly paid. Despite working full time as a self employed heating engineer, a long period of constant bad luck meant that I was always left with nothing in my pocket at the end of the month. The only thing that I could think of that wouldn’t cost me anything and might bring in a few pennies was to write. I had always entertained kids at family parties by telling them stories that I had made up, and people used to say that I should write them down and send them off – They didn’t tell we where to send them though!
What is it about/the genre?
Difficult to answer that one as there is no specific genre that it relates to. I suppose the nearest anyone has got to it is that it’s children’s stories for grown ups. The stories can generally be read in two ways. For example the story “Great Aunt Mabel’s Folly” can either be a kids story about someone inheriting a 25ft stuffed cat, or it can be a story about greed and incompetence. The only constant feature to all of them is that they make people laugh.I’m terrible at telling jokes but seem to be able to write them.
The book is introduced as “whisimal rubbish”, why?
Well I suppose they’re not really, but you have to keep a sense of perspective. It’s a book of humorous short stories, not a cure for cancer, and as such I don’t think that it all should be taken too seriously. I would hate to adopt the sense of superiority that you find with some writers simply because I write stuff that makes people laugh. The book is now out and available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, all good book stores and some bad ones.
How are you promoting it?
Everyone I show the book to loves it. However it’s an odd genre to promote – Kids stories for adults doesn’t really exist as a sub section. If it were a sports book or a military history then there would be obvious places to promote it but there is no one group of potential readers to target, and so it’s a case of getting it out into the wider world via reviews and reading sites and seeing what happens.
We’ve all heard of characters that were a joy to write about, but was there a character you struggled with?
Not really. The beauty about short stories is that the characters don’t really have time to develop and take over the story. I’m also a believer in the adage “The waste paper basket is your friend”. If it’s not working throw it away and start from a different direction, rather than labour away over something that you’re never going to be happy with.
How long are the stories?
Generally they are around 2,000 words but it varies from 1,000 to 3,000. Wanna read one? OK here’s a short one…………… (Auntie Vera and the Goddess of Health and Efficiency – is at the end of the interview.)
How many unpublished books do you have lurking under your bed?
One completed novel that needs extensive re-writing and will probably sit there until I run out of ideas, and one half completed book of humorous short stories based on one main character.
How did you find you publisher?
We pretty much found each other. He is a writer of action based novels and having realised how little money one gets after the publisher has taken all of the costs out, he thought that it was more cost effective to set up his own publishing house. We knew each other from an online writers forum, and when he was looking for additional titles for his new portfolio he asked me. At the time I had made up a “promo” book of my work so he could see roughly what the finished article would look like. We worked out a contract, I supplied the content. He put it together, organised ISBN’s etc, and now we are in the position of having the finished article. What we’ve got to do now is figure out how to sell the thing effectively.
The publisher is Charging Ram Books of Canada. They can be found via http://www.chargingram.com/ It’s a small publisher and is less than a year old so I don’t know if they are accepting submissions or not. Probably best to e-mail them with an outline first.
What’s the best/worst part of being a writer?
The best part has got to be when you hear someone laughing when they read your stories.I’m just as vain, needy and shallow as everyone else and when you hear them laugh, you know that it’s working. The worst part? Honestly can’t think of anything.
What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
Evenings. Simply because I don’t have any other time available to write. During the day I still need to do my day job.
Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer.
I initially started with pen and paper but now It’s all on the computer, although when I edit I have to print the work off and amend with pencil before going back to the computer to rewrite.
What/who do you draw inspiration from?
What are you working on now that you can talk about?
I am very excited about the next book. As I said said above it is based on one character: The venerable Auntie Vera. She was originally a character in one of my short stories and was loosely based on one of my aunts. My Aunt obviously had an inkling of what was happening as she died between the writing of the first and second stories.The stories are proving to be very popular on the site where I post my first drafts for
comments (Thewriterscircle.biz) and they practically write themselves.
How do/did you deal with rejection letters?
Rejection letters are very, very useful. It is possibly the only completely honest critique of your work you are ever likely to get. Fortunately, I haven’t had many, and so haven’t had need to borrow the mess webley and go for a short walk outside, and those I have had, have always been good sources of information. If you need to change the way you write or present stuff, a rejection letter with comments is worth its weight in gold.
Do you have a critique partner?
I put most of my stuff in first draft form on a writer’s site. Because we don’t live or associate with each other we don’t need to be nice about the writing. If it stinks we can suggest ways of improving it without worrying that we are going to have the dinner slammed on the table or lose a friend. I would much rather be told how to fix something than be told that I am the next John Grisham and wander around with a false sense of my own brilliance.
And here’s the story:
Tuesdays were special in other ways too. For Tuesday was cake day, and cake day was when Pam Harper the council funded manageress of the day centre would wheel in a trolley loaded with soft sponge’s, Battenburgs and Bakewell tarts for the members. As a result there would generally be more people than usual gathered there all in anticipation of securing a free bun. Therefore, it was somewhat disturbing when one Tuesday morning the sanctity of the day centre was violated by the appearance of a chirpy middle aged woman carrying a large CD player, rather than someone delivering a hundredweight of jam doughnuts and iced cup cakes.
The official notice pinned to the board that announced that this was to happen had been unread by everyone due to the smallness of the type. Auntie Vera and the others watched with some horror as the woman, having set up her equipment, stripped off her clothes until she was dressed solely in a Lycra leotard and woollen leggings. Mr Pemberton who had been observing the woman more keenly than the others had to sit down and take one of his “calming” tablets.
“Come along now,” said the Lycra clad woman, clapping her hands.“It’s time to get fit and healthy.”
This statement was met by uncomprehending stares from her potential fitness class.“Come on. Come on,” she demanded. “This is going to be fun!”
Auntie Vera’s wasn’t sure that having her Tuesday morning disturbed by someone with a ghetto blaster whom she had never met before could be accurately described as fun. A view evidently shared by everyone else as none of the club members made any move to leave their seats. This display of passive resistance didn’t seem to dent the enthusiasm of their unwelcome guest, who with the dedication of a true professional switched on the CD player and began to perform aseries of energetic movements to the music.
By the end of the third track, it was apparent that the woman was starting to be less certain of her authority.
“I am the Goddess of Health and Efficiency,” she proclaimed somewhat desperately, as she bounced up and down while clapping her hands above her head.
This seemed such a stupid thing to say that Auntie Vera was tempted to point out that she had been doing exactly that for the last four score years. But instead she reasoned that she should show some solidarity with the woman, particularly as the poor girl’s makeup was now starting to run, so she made a vague wind-milling motion with her hands.
Auntie Vera thought that the goddess jumping up and down before her resembled a slightly mad middle-aged woman with too much make up, rather than a mythical being. She also thought that goddess’s probably didn’t sweat as much as this one, and as Vera had suffered at least thirty years more misery than the woman who was now telling her what she should do, she wasn’t inclined to take the exercise class too seriously, but at least the woman was a tryer, and you had to admire her dedication.
Encouraged by this first sign of co-operation, the woman continued straight into the next music track. “That’s it,” she gasped. “Everyone wave your hands.”
By the end of the forth track the intructress was obviously flagging, and Auntie Vera was becoming concerned for her well being. Indeed the woman would have probably stopped, or at least slowed down at that point had it not been for the arrival behind her of Pam Harper and the cake trolley. At this sight everyone raised themselves from their chairs and started to move forward in order to secure themselves the best cakes. Taking this as an indication of participation in the fitness class rather than participation in demolishing the club’s stock of confectionery, the woman – now red faced and struggling to keep up with the rhythm of the music – gamely continued dancing to the next track. It was only when her fitness class swept past her that she staggered to a halt.
Auntie Vera went to the CD player and pulled the plug out of the wall.
“Are you alright, dear?” she asked the woman.
Auntie Vera patted the woman’s shoulder. “Come and sit down,” she said. “I’ll get you a cup of tea and a piece of cake.”
Into which genre would you say your book falls?
I’ve written a memoir that deals with separation: Woman gets dumped, craters, tries to figure out what happened and ends up figuring out herself.
Tell us a little about your book?
(Re)Making Love: a sex after sixty story is about my journey after my 21-year marriage crashed and burned when my husband “D.” announced, so Greta Garbo, “I need to live alone.” I cratered, then embarked on a relentless dash through the hazards of Internet dating, the loving, the illusions, and through it all a hard look at my foibles, whimsy, desolations, and in the end indomitable hope when all was hopeless. The key to my recovery is and continues to be the search to answer the question, Who am I? and how do I become whole again with or without the man I love? I am gifted by the journey of the living and the writing that became this true story.
What is your favourite scene in your book? Can we have a snippet?
Sure. Here’s Chapter 1 of my brand-new memoir (Re)Making Love: a sex after sixty story:
I Need to Live AloneI love romantic comedies: weep over them, quote their dialogue without attribution in conversation as when I am with a man who says he wants to be friends with me, “You actually believe that men and women can be friends?”When Harry Met Sally: Harry: “What I’m saying is—and this is not a come-on in any way, shape, or form—is that men and women can’t be friends, because the sex part always gets in the way.”
I collect music scores of Rom-Coms, buy the DVDs and watch them over and over again. Now sure, the appeal to me and others is this: girl meets boy and LOVE results, inexorable, indomitable, irrefutable, life-changing LOVE.I was sixty years old when my husband—let’s refer to him as D.—dumped me—old story, I know. But wait, as the commercials for fancy French Fry cutters say.I begin writing about my separation from D. on August 25, my parents’ anniversary. They were married fifty-four years. Can you believe it? I am alone and reading The New York Times in my condo where I live now. I find this: AP report, dateline: Chamonix, France (Isn’t that where Cary meets Audrey in Charade’s first scene? “Can’t he do something constructive like start an avalanche or something?” Reggie, played by Audrey Hepburn asks Silvie after young Jean Louis shoots her in the face with his water gun. Jean Louis shoots Peter, played by Cary Grant, as well.) The AP reports on an avalanche that “swept down a major summit in the French Alps before dawn on Sunday, leaving eight climbers missing and presumed dead along a trail often used to reach Mont Blanc . . . . One survivor, Marco Delfini, an Italian guide, said he saw ‘a wall of ice coming towards us, and then we were carried 200 meters.’ An injured survivor Nicholas Duquesnes, told Agence France-Presse, ‘There was absolutely no noise; it was very disturbing. We only had time to swerve to the right before being mowed down.’ ”I had been married twenty-one years when D. announced, “I need to live alone.” Oh so Greta Garbo. There was absolutely no noise. I was sixty years old and had been chasing him around the bedroom—to no avail—for ten years. Bill Maher in a comedy routine on HBO not so long after he had been dumped by ABC only to arise again with Politically Incorrect, said in a joke about older women, “menopause.” Get it? Men A Pause. Yeah, I got it.The French Fry Cutter salesman raises his voice on the commercial in my head: “But wait, there’s more”: I decide to date. I want a man who believes that men and women in love must be friends. But Harry is right that the sex part matters.The hell with Bill Maher.
Have your characters or writing been inspired by friends/ family or by real-life experiences?
This is my life, or let’s say, a big part of it—the loving and living-live part—close-to-the-bone, I pull no punches.
Can you sum the book up in one sentence?
A love story where a series of men appear–all identified as a lower-case first initial–while the upper-case D. weaves out and in, as both he and I maneuver through the separation, a journey where you’ll find Internet dates, emails, T.S. Eliot and Nietzsche, romantic comedies and the Grimm Brothers, photographs, recipes, dreams, the Obamas, and yes, even the kitchen sink.
Who is your favourite character in your book and why?
D., for what he did that made me broke my heart and for what he did that gave me courage. As I say in the book’s acknowledgements, “Oddly enough, this book would not have happened if D. had not left me and sent me on my journey.”
So “D” is your ex-husband? How does he feel about that?
D. in the memoir is my ex. To find out how he feels, you will have to read the book.
Excellent answer! So, which comes first for you – characters or plot?
All my writing begins with a character. Henry James in his preface to The Ambassadors talks of the novel’s “strong stake.” I think what he means is that we must know the trouble that drives the character, but the strong stake is ultimately the fullness of that character’s life on the page. In his preface to The Golden Bowl, he admits how he inexorably chooses to move closer. “There is no other participant, of course, than each of the real, the deeply involved and immersed and more or less bleeding participants….”
Who is your publisher and where are your books available? Are there e-books and hard copies available?
My publisher is new, Kelly Abbott of 3ones, Inc. The book is available on Amazon for the Kindle and soon as a paperback there and at other online bookstores—I hope—by January 10. For now, you can find the paperback, the pdf and the Sony Nook versions at http://sexaftersixty.book.com My first book The Woman Who Never Cooked, Mid-List Press 2006, is available on Amazon and elsewhere.
Are there any upcoming signings or appearances you’d like to mention?
I am planning a blog tour and would like to do interviews, or book club visits. Contact me, please, at email@example.com Something else is happening in mid-January. I’ll e-mail you as soon as that occurs.
Do you have an agent, or have you gone alone?
I don’t have an agent—and I need one. Maybe it’s time for me to actively look for one—something I’ve not yet done. Kelly Abbott found the book that I was writing as a blog, liked it and offered to publish it. Going with a new publisher required a leap of faith on my part. I guess time will tell whether I was wise or foolish. My first book won a contest: Mid-List Press’s First Series Award. This independent literary press has spent the last thirty years looking for new voices.
What marketing have you been doing to help sales?
I’m on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mary-Tabor/125813534105239 and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/maryltabor and I have a website at http://maryltabor.com/ I have to admit that this is the hardest part of the journey, but I am learning all the time and have met wonderful soulful folk who have loved the book and told me so—many even have tried to help me sell it by tweeting about it or inviting me to their blogs or interviewing me. To these good people I give my heart.
What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
When I wake or after a nap.
Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?
I journal all the time—so that’s paper. But when I sit down to put a narrative together, I work on my beloved Mac in my office where quiet and solitude reign. And I mean I love my Mac. I like to say that the living person I would most like to have dinner with is Steve Jobs.
What do you draw inspiration from?
From looking. And I do mean always looking, even when I’m sleeping. And I paint, but I never show that work.
Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?
That sounds like something I should do, but the oughts and shoulds have never worked well for me. Most important to me is simply showing up in front of the page, blank—or better, not so blank. I once read—this may be apocryphal—that Hemingway always left one sentence unfinished so that in the morning he had that place to begin. The painter and sculptor Roy Lichtenstein said he always had more than one canvas going in his studio. This works for me in the writing sense.
What drives you to choose the career of being a writer?
I write to understand. It is a search that gives meaning to my life. I admit freely that I have few answers and often define myself by saying, “I’m confused.” I’d be satisfied with that epitaph and hope that my friends would understand it to be the statement of one whose search continued until death.
What are you working on now that you can talk about?
I am writing what I refer to as a “blended memoir,” the story of my mother’s and my father’s family of the way their history of displacement (pogroms that preceded the Holocaust in Poland and Russia) have invaded my life. I am interviewing everyone still alive in my family and discovering the meaning of these stories in my own journey for understanding. You can read the germ of this idea, “Absent” here: http://maryltabor.blogspot.com/2010/04/time-limits.html
What is your writing process like? Do you do a lot of background research? Do you plot every detail or do you prefer the characters to move the story in new directions, or a combination of both?
I’m always reading and researching. Everything I read becomes part and parcel of the journey of understanding. But most deeply I believe the “not knowing” drives my work. If I know where I’m going, the story, whether it be memoir or fiction, no longer interests me.
Do you belong to a critique group?
No. I had that experience while I earned my MFA—and that was well worth it. Now, I rely on one or two chosen writer friends who pull no punches.
How long does it take you to write a book?
It took a lifetime to write The Woman Who Never Cooked. (Re)Making Love: a sex after sixty story I wrote live as a blog over two years while I lived the experience.
How did you get into writing? Did you always want to become a writer?
A piece I recently wrote, “Why I came to writing so late” gives the answer to that q.: a complicated and hard answer that can be read here: http://maryltabor.blogspot.com/2010/12/why-i-came-to-writing-so-late.html
What mistakes do you see new writers make?
As a teacher, I see that new writers don’t realize how important the small moment is and they fear writing close-to-the-bone. Here’s what I mean: I like to say that writers say the unsayable. If you want to write fiction or memoir that matters, you are going to have to take risks. You are going to have to tell the story that nobody tells, the story that is the underbelly of your generalities. The story that is hard to write, that cuts to the bone, the way a secret cuts to the bone. This is scary stuff to do. But here’s some advice from Eudora Welty: “One can only say: writers must always write best of what they know, and sometimes they do it by staying where they know it. But not for safety’s sake. Although it is in the words of a witch—or the more because of that—a comment of Hecate’s in Macbeth is worth our heed: ‘Security is mortal’s chiefest enemy.’ In fact, when the we think in terms of the spirit, which are the terms of writing, is there a conception more stupefying than that of security? Yet writing what you know has nothing to do with security: what is more dangerous? How can you go out on a limb if you do not know your own tree? No art ever came out of not risking you neck. And risk—experiment—is a considerable part of the joy of doing, which is the lone, simple reason all writers of serious fiction are willing to work as hard as they do.” That’s from Welty’s book The Eye of the Story. Read it.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
Don’t give up and value the small journal. It took Faulkner thirteen years to see his first short story in print. And he sent to the literary journals. You may say, “Literary Magazines: Why bother?” I say the “little” magazines and eZines take more risks than the slicks or higher circulation journals—and this is so in print and on the Internet where I think the world lives now. Some of those risks pay off in Best American; not often, but sometimes. Let’s talk Faulkner again: He published “That Evening Sun Go Down” in 1931 in The American Mercury (now gone)—in those early pages we are introduced to some of the Compsons who make up The Sound and the Fury. Faulkner’s first short story in a national magazine was the still widely anthologized “A Rose for Emily.” It appeared in Forum (now gone) in 1930. Both magazines rejected earlier stories. And the rest is history. I will say more about this in a new blog post soon.
What is your website and/or blog where readers can learn more? Can they friend you on Facebook or Twitter?
Of course. Contacts below. I have two Facebook pages. Hit “like” here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mary-Tabor/125813534105239 and then find my friend page.
I’ve always hated bad grammar: it’s sloppy, unprofessional and RUDE. Yes, I am offended by poor grammar.
I’m not perfect, I make silly mistakes (don’t we all?) but what I’m talking about here is sloppiness, and people who just don’t seem to care about the differences in there, their or they’re etc. And don’t get me started on the apostrophe!
This is a funny clip from Youtube. Are they for hire, do you think?
Disclaimer: Please don’t write in telling me my mistakes. I shall completely deny them!
Meet Lindsay Chandler—a 32 year-old New York City working wife and mother with old-fashioned values who thinks she’s living a fairy tale life (she’s not). She’s too busy navigating between her job, husband, home, children, friends and other obligations to acknowledge her loneliness. Then an unexpected friendship with her upstairs neighbor (he is smart, successful, sophisticated and sexy— she’s not) unleashes her passion and re-ignites her sparkle.
This liaison causes her to realize what she is missing. Yearning for a storybook ending, she decides to make changes in her life, embarking on a quest for self re-invention in this hilarious, witty, heartfelt story.
In the tradition of Sex and the City, Size Eight in a Size Zero World, is a modern-day story of a good girl trying to do the right thing and the wrong thing simultaneously, while remaining true to herself, whoever that is.
With the help of a believable cast of characters, Lindsay embarks on a plan to better herself and plight. This novel is a wickedly funny social commentary on the lives of average women in New York City’s posh Upper East Side.
You say Starfish is hard to define as a genre, is that like all your work?
Touching the Starfish was definitely a departure for me and I certainly felt let off the leash when I was writing it. My other work was, or can be, a bit more straightforward. This was the first time I’d tried to write a comic novel and the first time I’d mucked about with the form quite so much.
Was it hard to hook an agent/publisher for Starfish because of the difficulty of knowing the genre?
Actually no, but I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time when Unthank Books was founded. LINK TO UNTHANK
You worked as a copywriter, what is that exactly?
For a short while I worked for the Enid Blyton Company, just after the ‘brand’ was relaunched in the mid-nineties and all the licenses were up for grabs. I basically wrote promotional brochures for series, like The Secret Seven and The Famous Five. We also had to ‘update’ the characters as well, which once involved a whole morning deliberating what to call the imp in the Folk of the Faraway Tree because Enid had called him Chinky.
Oh, that’s so funny! Dear old Enid Blyton wasn’t very politically correct, was she?
What was even funnier about the Chinky business was that everyone was so blocked about the name that we dragged up from the stack another Enid book called The Christmas Imp, thinking we could nick that imp’s name and retitle Chinky but his name turned out to be Prick-Ears.
I bet you had some giggles! Have you always worked in the “writing field”? Is this because you’ve always held a long-time belief that you would eventually become published, or has your work made you want to become a writer?
I did always want to be a writer when I was a child but then again I probably wanted to be a Warlord of Atlantis as well. I wrote a lot in my teens, then forgot about it. It nagged, though. Things didn’t seem settled without it. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I had the confidence to start. But I suppose I have always worked in related fields. I’d wanted to work with books and worked in bookshops for about two years after I left university. Then I worked in publishing trade sales and international rights. This was before I started to write fiction, something that really got going when I had a year off on the dole. After the subsequent Enid Period I took an MA, mainly to buy some time, and it was after that that I started teaching and editing as a way to support myself and work on my writing. The writing for me is the priority though the teaching and editing do feed into it: write better, teach better, write better, teach better. I wouldn’t teach creative writing if I wasn’t getting my hands dirty myself and I’d be suspicious of any teacher who wasn’t a writer, too.
You have studied creative writing at university and obviously this will help, but do you think others who haven’t studied/been to university have less chance of being published?
It shouldn’t be that way, should it? Being a writer shouldn’t need a professional qualification like becoming a doctor or a loss adjuster. The best writers write because they need to and what they write is so distinct no one could teach it them how to do it. I suppose it depends on what type of market we’re talking about, too. A glace at the hardback fiction chart suggests that the writers who really shift copies probably didn’t study creative writing at university level, nor produce the sort of writing encouraged by such courses. If the work is strong, then not having an MA can be a positive advantage, I think. Publishers often want to sell an idea of an author before the novel, so “Jack Bratt has an MA in Creative Writing from UEA” may have less allure than “Jackie Bratby used to herd goats on Mount Ararat”. Then again, schooled writers often gain by osmosis a better idea of how the industry works and may make more professional approaches to publishers. They may also have better editing skills, too. Creative Writing course, if they’re any good, only really teach you how to edit.
As an editor, how frustrating is it to see authors’ potential yet know they will be turned down with a standard rejection letter? Have you not wanted to contact them and say, look if only you’d do this, this and this you would have a greater potential?
It can be frustrating, yes, and it has become harder and harder for a first book to find a publisher unless it’s obvious that it will sell very quickly in great quantity at discounted prices. In my work as a creative writing tutor and as an editor for the Literary Consultancy (I’ve appraised over eight hundred novels and only three of the authors have been published) I am always making suggestions about how a book can be materially and stylistically enhanced. I’m doing some editing for Unthank at the moment and have annotated some pieces and asked for them to be resubmitted. Editors in publishing houses used to do this. It’s because they don’t anymore that we have so many creative writing courses and literary consultancies.
Let’s talk about your current novel: Touching the Starfish is a fictional account about a writer, Nathan Flack who thinks he is haunted by a ghost called James O’Mailer. Is your character bonkers, or is he really haunted?
To answer that candidly would give away the end of the story! All I should say is confirm that, yes, that’s the premise. You need to read the last two parts of Starfish for a proper answer.
Starfish opens like a non-fiction how-to-write-a-novel book. Can you talk us through this process?
My basic idea for Touching the Starfish was for it to be a sort of Book Group style light comedy in which Nathan is forced to teach a group of eccentric students. It was easy then to structure the story around a course and give each part the name of the study topic, like Plot or Point of View. In each of these parts, Nathan would give some sort of (hapless) lecture on the topic at hand and in some places more emphasis would be given to the device, i.e. lots of talking in the Dialogue chapter. It’s really an organizing tool but it does mean you get a free textbook with your novel. If I could have wedged in a travel guide or car manual as well it could have been the perfect 3-for-2-table book. Why didn’t I think of that earlier? I’d be rolling in it.
The book is funny. Did you mean it to be, or did it change its direction half way through?
It was intended to be funny. I’ve always found it hard to relax when I write or when I give readings unless I get a laugh. Here, I did want there to be four or five funny lines or phrases per page. What did change the novel during the process was the more or less spontaneous inclusion of footnotes and a ghost character. These just occurred when I was writing the opening chapter and I ran with them. I didn’t really want to write a novel about teaching creative writing to start with and did it to amuse some friends initially. I suppose I was subverting the whole idea of a Book Group-style light comedy and I started to think of it as the least commercial novel imaginable. I didn’t quite anticipate that people were going to find it quite so funny, though I’m relieved that they do.
How many drafts?
There were two. It took quite a while to write the first draft, three years, but I write very methodically, going over and over each page until it reads like publishable prose. It then took me about three months to do the second. draft I diidn’t cut too many scenes and found myself only really making the first chapter better ground what happens later. This hasn’t always been my experience with drafting.
Did you self edit/self proof read considering your baskground, or did you get it professionally checked over?
Actually, we did it ourselves. It’s quite a steep learning curve because when it’s your own work and you know that you can spell the easy words correctly you forget that you can still mistype. The first edition of Starfish has a ‘shorts’ car where there should be a ‘sports’ car. Given that, if it’s your own work I would suggest getting a fresh pair of eyes to proof it.
This is your debut novel, but do you have other unpublished books tucked away somewhere?
Oh yes, there are four earlier novels. I wrote two in my twenties that received very enthusiastic rejection letters from editors.: “Potentially prize-winning author, writes like Donna Tartt but less good, show me what the does next bla bla bla”. My third novel got through this obstacle with a couple of big publishers but if the editors liked the book the sales people said it wasn’t ‘big’ enough to launch a season. My next book was by far the most mature, commercial and likeable, I think (it made some girls cry but in a good way, if you know what I mean), but I couldn’t even get anyone to read it. If this hadn’t happened, I probably wouldn’t have written Touching the Starfish. It was a strange fifteen years getting here but I think I pulled something out of the fire towards the end.
How many “real life” incidents did you put into Starfish?
None really. The incidents are gross exaggerations of things that might have happened. What is drawn from real life is the atmosphere that Nathan lives in. His flat, for example, is pretty much the semi-uninhabitable frost bucket I was living in when I started to write the book. The spine of the book concerns Nathan’s attempts not to be the Chosen One in a supernatural conspiracy story that he doesn’t approve of. That’s not autobiographical, I’m afraid. I did make that bit up.
Do you write straight onto the computer, or do you research first, get the idea perfect in your head and then type away?
I do write directly into the computer, though strangely once I finished Starfish I started writing longhand in pencil again (though this was in winter and it was too cold to stay in the house so I wrote in cafes, something I’d never done before). Usually, when the sun is shining, I spend quite a long time making notes and busking ideas before I turn the computer on. I usually describe to myself what I am going to write, then type it up. The next day I’ll edit this passage before I write anything new. It builds up slowly. I do plan a lot. Even my paragraphs have plans
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a series of twelve stories called The Syllabus of Errors. They’re loosely connected or overlap but not in a Cloud Atlas way. I am also writing a sequel to Starfish called SubGrubStreet as a blog. Nathan can’t ignore the internet forever.
Is it in the same vein as Starfish?
SubGrubStreet obviously is in the same vein but the short stories are mixed. There are some historical stories set before World War Two and some contemporary ones that are more hard-edged than Starfish. Then again, the sort of too-well-read, windmill-tilting male character that I used in Starfish does crop up a lot. There’s also one story that uses footnotes to tell itself which is pretty much in the same vein as the novel. If I concentrated on only one form or tone I’d get bored. Some days I’m happy to gaze out of the window. Some days I want to put a brick through it.
Will you use Unthank Books again? How did you find them?
I certainly will. I was very lucky, really. I knew Robin Jones, Unthank’s founder, because he had been my agent in the past. It was very serendipitous.
When will the next novel be finished?
Well, The Syllabus will be finished this year. I’ve just written the penultimate story so there’s only one to go. Next year I’m intending to start another novel. I’ve got some plans. I am likely to muck about again and follow in the same vein as Starfish.
Writing fiction is a state of mind rather than a career. I think this is what a lot of beginners forget and it
Is there a link for your Literary Consultancy?
Yes, there is. TLC, the original and the best: http://www.literaryconsultancy.co.uk/
Richard Sutherland is the author of ‘The Unitary Authority of Ersatz’, a collection of eclectic fiction and humorous poetry.
He studied History and Art History at Hull University and has worked as a Frozen Food Assistant, a Market Researcher, an Electricity Salesman, a Waterstone’s Bookseller and is now in the Marketing Department at Hull Truck Theatre (so he’s accustomed to people dressed as anything from cheeseburgers to penguins walking through the office on a normal day).
His life revolves around a loving girlfriend and two insane cats. His favourite colour hasn’t yet been discovered by scientists and he has a worrying obsession with traffic lights.
To get a glimpse into his bewildering imagination, take a gander at http://www.ersatzscribblings.com/