- First question-bit of a cliche-how did you get into writing?
In keeping with the established tone, my first answer’s a bit of a cliché, too. Writing felt like a pretty inevitable progression for someone who had grown up an avid reader. I was quite a discerning young’un, so if I didn’t like a book I’d rewrite bits to make them better (which normally just meant more adjectives and dragons.) Then I became quote a rude, swear-y adolescent, so naturally I started reviewing books and concerts for newspapers and magazines which was all well and good for a bit of extra cash, but fiction was always what really interested me. I had about a dozen existential crises a day until I was well into my early twenties, and writing- be it as reader or author- seemed to be the only place I could find any sort of order or context to the world.
- Do you write full time & if so, have you always done this?
I’ve always had little part time jobs because making money from books is hard, and landlords tend to get irritated when in lieu of rent you offer then Good Read stats and the like. To be honest it works quite nicely that way. I’m not the most industrious of individuals, so I reckon even if I gave myself 24/7 to write, my output would be no greater... I’d just experience a lot more YouTube.
- Do you have a particular writing style or genre that you prefer?
Nope – I read all and everything. I never went to university and by the time I was in my teens I didn’t go to school all that much either (it wasn’t a great school.) So when I was younger I’d force my way through endless impenetrable literary tomes by dead Europeans about people sitting around for nine hundred pages contemplating and stuff. Now I read solely for pleasure and have a much better time of it.
- How do you develop your characters as you write, are any of them based on real people?
They never start as real people. They usually start with one scene or sentence- usually a quote- that I think embodies them- and they develop from there. I tend to take months- sometimes years- to start writing whilst a story is brewing in my head. I don’t take many notes, I just let it fester. Then by the time I sit down at a blank word document the idea’s pretty much cemented in my brain, so I tend to do the physical “writing” bit quite quickly.
- What was the inspiration behind In Bloom?
Newcastle, I suppose. I wanted to write a book about people from Newcastle. There seems to be a certain sort of mentality and atmosphere to Geordie families (it may well exist in other places, but Newcastle is all that I know) whereby you love and would literally do anything for your family, you just don’t say it out loud and sound soft- which lends itself quite nicely to comedy. So mainly it was the mood and tone of an area I know and love. In terms of literary influences it was my favourite comedies from, obviously, Adrian Mole, to A Confederacy of Dunces.
- What is your writing process-do you map it out first? Write a bit at a time?
I’ve never mapped out a story before but the book I’m writing now I have to because it’s quite big and a bit daunting. Usually the longest part of writing- for me- does not involve a keyboard, it’s the months before when I’m mulling over the storyline and characters in my head until they begin to vaguely resemble a coherent narrative. Then once I feel like I know where it’s going I sit down and the ‘fiddly bits’ like jokes and scenes and descriptions just sort of work themselves out. I can think of nothing more terrifying than having an idea and sitting down immediately to write. The pressure would cause me to throw up and retire.
- How much of you is reflected in your novels?
Increasingly less, but still plenty. I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen. And as a bookish, provincial teenager of limited friends and romances, I’d literally had zero life experience so it was almost entirely based on things I’d thought or seen or responded to. All books are in some way their author, though, however vaguely. It sometimes feels like you’ve taken a mallet to yourself and each character is a shard of your own personality, around which you pad out the rest with (hopefully) more wit and poetry than you’ve ever been capable of in real life without the benefit of spell-check and a good editor.
- What kind of research do you do before/during writing your novels?
As little as humanly possible. I honestly believe that as long as you’ve got the basic grasp of a subject that, in fiction at least, the more you research you do then the more likely you are to fuck up somewhere. Mainly because you’ll be so keen not to waste your laborious efforts that you’ll cram as much as you can in and trip yourself up. Far better to keep it vague, I think. It’s the characters and emotions and “journey” that you need to focus on- and you can be the only true authority on those.
- Do you have any plans to develop any of your novels further, write sequels, turn them into a series?
No. I have no way to elaborate on this. Just...no.
- How much attention do you pay to the reviews that you get?
I don’t go looking for them, but if someone passes them my way I’m always hugely grateful for anything. It’s an awful, creepy admission to make but the world of books is so tough to make any sort of living from that a bad review stings, but it is genuinely better than no review at all (as is more often the case.)
- Are friends and family supportive of your writing?
Ish. I still find it weird that they know I write. Every time they mention it there’s a split second where I assume they’ve hacked into my email account or something equally devious. They all seem very proud, which is nice. And they all buy multiple copies, which is nicer.
- How do you feel leading up to your publication day?
Nonplussed, really. My biggest thrills are 1) writing the book 2) getting it accepted 3) getting the money 4) seeing the finished product. They’re the best bits of being a writer, and in that exact order. Publication day itself doesn’t bother me. People buying it and saying things (especially nice things) is a treat, of course. But maybe because I moved back to Newcastle and I’m no longer in the leafy heart of literary London, Publication Day itself never seems like that big a deal to me. It’s the little bits before and after that gives me the most pleasure.
- Which other authors inspire you or are there any you particularly enjoy reading?
Donna Tartt, always and forever. Sue Townsend- the original and the greatest. Peter Hoeg. Nabokov. F Scott Fitzgerald. John Kennedy Toole. Stephen King...they’re the first ones that spring to mind.
- Finally...what are you working on right now?
A really weird and unlikely book that I am either going to love or spend my whole life regretting. It’s as different from In Bloom as a book can possibly get, and I’m still not sure I won’t set it on fire or feed it to some stray cats once it’s finished. It really has taken me by surprise.
Sounds very very interesting-ill be intrigued to read that when it comes out. Thanks again for stopping by on the blog and don't forget you can check out my review of In Bloom by clicking the link on the right!