Thank you to The Magic Wor(l)ds Blog for having me on. You can read it here:
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
Hi Stefanie, thank you so much for having me as a guest blogger! I’ve always wanted to be an author…in fact, eight years ago, I started writing a book called ‘How to Write a Book,’ but after starting the first chapter I realised that I probably wasn’t the right person to write that book. Oh, and I realised that it probably already existed, and that I should probably read it.
Since then, writing a novel has always been in the back of my mind. I embarked on a stand-up comedy career (alongside a more normal career in finance) and then left it all behind and went travelling with my wife. When I came back, I started working on my first novel; We Are Animals, which is largely set in the countries we visited.
Which books did/do you love to read as a child/now as a grown-up?
I was big into Roald Dahl when I was a kid, always dreaming of all the magical crazy worlds he concocted. The beauty of his writing is that it can appeal to every age; I remember starting young with The Enormous Crocodile and then moving onto George’s Marvellous Medicine and Matilda. As a teenager I carried on, reading The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar, Boy and Danny the Champion of the World. In a similar vein, I remember my grandad reading Spike Milligan poems to me and both of us loving the nonsensical whimsy in them.
My tastes probably haven’t changed much as an adult. I love Jonas Jonasson (The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared) and Andrew Kaufman (All My Friends are Superheroes) so it’s all slightly surreal humour.
More than anything now, as an adult, I love reading books to my two-year-old. I bought him The Enormous Crocodile just last week in fact, or, as he likes to call it, ‘big snap snap.’
Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
He is a totally different type of author to the ones I’ve discussed so far, but I would love to have a chat with Khaled Hosseini. His novels are so desperate and tragic, but also completely engaging, hopeful and full of beauty. I’d love to know more about his inspiration and the process he uses. I’d also like to tell him how A Thousand Splendid Suns had me in floods of tears on a crowded train in India, and how I hold him directly responsible for that.
If you could, which fictional character (from your own book(s) or someone else’s) would you like to invite for tea and why?
Oh, I’d have Professor Dumbledore over for sure, if for no other reason than the feasts at Hogwarts always sound amazing. I’d like to think he’d be able to create one of those feasts round at my house, although I suppose that wouldn’t make me a very good host, and I’d need to buy a bigger table.
From We Are Animals I think I’d like to meet Hylad; a big, soft, northern bloke who spends most of his life living in Sweden looking for someone who isn’t there. I think he’d be good company!
Do you have some rituals or habits whilst writing?
In all honesty, I wrote almost all of We Are Animals during my lunch breaks at work over a period of four years so I guess my biggest ritual was to make sure I’d prepared a packed lunch the night before so I didn’t have to leave the office. Occasionally I wrote on a bus or on a train, and then I liked to try and get a seat to myself. Reading that back, I certainly don’t write in luxury, do I?!
Where do you come up with your idea(s)? Do people in your life need to be worried? 😉
Absolutely they should be worried. Many of the characters in We Are Animals are based on people I met whilst I was travelling, and my second novel may as well be called ‘my nan’. I find that I can write a character better if it’s based loosely on someone, but then I’ll put them in a new situation and imagine how they might react. I would never want to write about anyone I didn’t like though, so no one needs to be that worried…
Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow, as a pantser?
We Are Animals was pantsed. I roughly knew where the characters were headed geographically and I had a very basic outline for the structure, but I let the characters do as they pleased in between those lines and I enjoyed seeing where that took me. We ended up in an unexpected country at one point and I learnt an awful lot from the research that one character basically forced me to do. I liked the idea of making it up as I went along because to an extent, the whole book is an old man’s tall tale to a teenager who is barely listening to him on a beach. That said, my wife did remind me that I needed to add a plot at one point.
Can you give novice writers some tips (do’s/don’ts)?
I never joined any writer’s groups when I started writing We Are Animals because I didn’t know they existed. I think that was a blessing and a curse, because it meant that I didn’t have anyone guiding what I should and shouldn’t write, or how I should or shouldn’t do it. Since I have joined some groups online, I’ve received a lot of advice and I’ve found some of it incredibly helpful. I’ve also received some advice that I’ve not taken, but that I’m still grateful for. My advice to a new writer would be to listen to other writers and readers, take what everyone has to say on board because everyone’s opinion is important, but to ultimately do what works for you, and to write what you like to read.
What are your futureplans as an author?
I’ve actually finished writing the first draft for my second novel and I’ve just started editing and working on my third. My only real plan is to keep writing… maybe for my fourth, I could write that book about how to write a book?
Last, but not least : Can you give my readers one teaser from your book, which is featured here on my blog, please?
I would absolutely love to. One of the main characters in We Are Animals refers to a certain category of traveller as being ‘vests’. The following extract is the definition of a ‘vest’ through the older characters eyes:
You could be forgiven for thinking that vests can see in the dark. They’re regularly found at night and they’re often luminous. They congregate on small beaches in Thailand and India, or on large beaches in Australia for the high season. It’s on these beaches that they successfully, quickly and loudly, find themselves. They find that the country they’re in is in actual fact their spiritual home, and they always seem to be holding a small plastic bucket of vodka and Red Bull.
The truth is that vests cannot see in the dark – not everything, anyway. They can only see other vests. They rarely see workers, restaurant owners, cleaners, the elderly or parts of the world without sand.
After dark, vests glow. This attracts other vests, and they discuss the ways in which the small particles of eroded rock beneath their feet have changed their outlook on life completely, and how they don’t know if they could live in a Western society again. They discuss the blogs they’ve written (which are normally about small plastic buckets of vodka and Red Bull) and then later they find that they’re both in the new spiritual home for two months, and that they’re going to share the same flight home. Then they discuss the ‘not even in the cinema yet’ film it turns out they’d both watched on the flight out.
Being a vest is only a temporary condition which is normally cured by the vest holding onto the material that’s loosely hanging by its side and pulling its hands upwards and over its head. Once this process has been followed, the vest begins to realise that there is no spiritual home, it has crabs living in its flip flops and that it is in desperate need of a shower.
Often, later in life, a vest will become something useful like a doctor, a builder or a teacher. No one will know about its two months of being a vest, and an ex-vest will tend to lie about it. Lots of ex-vests will revisit the spiritual home some years later with their children and there will be new vests scattered around the beach.
Ex-vests don’t usually like new vests, and they tend to mumble about them under their breath.
‘Another poxy vest,’ they mumble.