Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord: Peter Urpeth

If you have ever been anywhere near a writing group or book festival of any kind, you will know that writers come in all shapes and sizes, from big, robust circles, to tiny, stabby stars. They come in different flavours too, from cool, classic vanilla, to eyeball-exploding, triple-hot chilli sauce.

Thrillers With Attitude is on a mission to find out what makes these weirdly-shaped and strangely-flavoured writers tick.

My guest this week is author, blogger, poet, musician… Peter Urpeth.  Peter, who is also the Writing and Publishing Director of Emergents, has answered all questions in an entirely personal capacity.

What were you like at school?

I disliked school, almost every day of it, and spent a great deal of time just daydreaming. I think I had a kind of unspoken pact with most of the teachers. I’d not bother them or the class and they’d kind of leave me to my own devices. My school, in the mid 1970s, was rough. A violent place with plenty of bullying to be had. Due to my catholic upbringing, I was ‘excused’ RE lessons, which were CofE, and instead spent that time (about two hours a week) in a remedial class (as they used to call them). This had a big impact on me as the teacher, Aubrey Pope, was a leading figure in the emerging Friends of the Earth. He used to spend the lessons talking about saving the whale but never in a preachy manner, always to start a debate. I respected him hugely and every week there would be a small line of pupils queuing at the staff room door waiting for Mr Pope to deliver copies of the FotE newspaper to us. I left school at the first opportunity and with no qualifications, and even now have a hatred for that time. I was recently contacted via Facebook by a contemporary from my class with the usual ‘friend request’. I refused.

I think I was lonely as a school boy, never really made friends whilst everyone else had a kind of gang to hang out with. Maybe that was because I failed the 11 plus type exam for entry to the local catholic grammar school that most of my primary class mates went to, so I went on my own to a secondary school up the road that had only that year been converted from a grammar school to a comprehensive. The five years of posh, educated kids above my year, aiming at Oxbridge, whatever that was, simply could not comprehend the new intake of Oiks, and the mistrust was mutual. Even the teachers found this change too much to handle and seemed to exude a sort of cynicism about the young unwashed in their midst. Occasionally I got to play the pipe organ at the daily assemblies. I played the school anthem, Jerusalem, at such volume it cracked the varnish on the hall floor.

In my primary school I acquired the duty of ringing the Angelus bell at midday in the church. This would ring out around the neighbourhood. It was supposed to be in a pattern of three and fours and then a long twelve beat sequence. Sometimes I’d vary this depending on my mood and whether I thought any of the convent nuns were listening. Subversion is always possible in a system of seemingly tight rules.

This was also the time of the growth in the National Front in the east end of London, and a number of my school contemporaries got sucked in to that kind of stuff. Racism was everywhere in London in that period, or at least it seemed to me to be like that back then. It was on the TV, too, in the guise of some kind of mainstream humour, and I despised the entire white suburban young male culture that seemed to be about at that time, at least in my school. That led to trouble and further distance from my contemporaries. I supported Dagenham whilst the bone heads seemed to support Romford FC. Until they went bust.

In your role as Writing and Publishing Director of Emergents, you are frequently the bearer of bad news for emerging writers.  How do you deal with the emotional impact your words will carry?

Well, I don’t deliver bad news! The process is entirely developmental but with the caveat these days that the writers we work with must have projects that are broadly commercial in nature.

Do you ever feel yourself being sucked into the lives of the writers you work with?

Not really. Writing is a deeply personal activity and at times a complex one for individuals to manage in terms of such things as their time and family life, their creative and professional frustrations and other negatives that can make it difficult. So my work, meeting writers and their projects on their terms, does inevitably from time to time engage on a quite deep level about all these things and many others. But the relationship is always solely and entirely a professional one in nature with the boundaries that implies and requires. This is what I do for a living, That sounds a bit heavy given the context. The reality is that I am very lucky in my work. I meet a large number of amazing, creative people, who are tenacious and work hard on their projects. We all know it is not easy to make a living as a writer.

Have you ever had to deal with any bat-shit crazy writer behaviour?

Other than my own, no.

Has your work with Emergents impacted on the way you approach your own writing?

Indeed, mostly around the issue of finding any time to do any writing of my own at all!

What are you working on right now?

A fantasy thriller novel in the form of a post-vampire blood-fest set in a cold place and featuring possibly the coolest cast of pot-smoking, fashion-savvy undeads to ever walk a page after dark, and the biography of an avant-garde British jazz musician.

What is the Pete Urpeth writing method?

Make it up as I go along, generally. Then edit. Maybe weep a little, then edit again.

I read a lot of my work out loud as I go as I think that the intensity of the writing has to be contagious and immediate. That is a kind of rhythm thing, and the best test of that, for me, is the way words work when spoken. Anything awkward or jarring, or misshapen, can’t hide in the blind eye of the writer if the words are spoken out loud.

Do you have a favourite time of day for writing?

Early morning, when the unconscious mind still seems to have a slight grip on the woken self.

Are you a planner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?

I plan the seat-of-the-pants thing. By that I mean, I construct conditions of productive work but that is always spontaneous in nature. That said, I do a lot of research.

How much of the real Pete Urpeth do you reveal when you are writing?

None. Who wants to know that stuff?

What has been your best writing moment so far?

Not sure, but generally it reads something like this…’Dear Editor…I attach the finished article and my invoice as requested’ (repeat as many times as possible).

What are your ambitions, writing-wise?

None, just to do what interests me.

Are you inspired by any writers in particular?

Yes, but it is a quality of my own rapidly cooling bones that most of the writers that inspired me to start with are now, sadly, dead. Some of them were dead at the time. But the inspiration now comes from many places. Campaigning journalism and crap cutters in general, inspire me. Screen writing inspires me, especially Jonah Nolan and David Mamet. John Green is an astonishing narrative communicator, his relationship with his readers and viewers is inspiring.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Oh great, the trite license – and I’m going to cut it with the kryptonite of succinct glibness – write as much as you can, freely and without any external concerns about form, culture, morality, writerly myths et al – and a closing maxim from the fabulous Thomas Howalt of the National Film School of Denmark – ‘shit is manure’.

Is there any one book you would like to have written?

The Moomin series.

What are you reading right now?

A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music by George E Lewis

If you could spend a day hanging out with any one person, past or present, who would you choose and why? How would you spend the day?

I’m answering this from the daft section of the spectrum, and I’d say Thelonious Sphere Monk. I’d spend the day in his flat, listening. Maybe later we’d take a walk in a park. It is a warm, late afternoon, and hopefully we’d just stroll about aimlessly, passing the time. I’d want the day to be genuinely, mildly awkward as I think TSM in his modesty would share my bafflement as to why I was there, bothering him. We’d part at about 8pm, and I’d find a bar and try and suppress passing frustrations about all the things I wanted to ask him about but forgot because I wanted the day to be normal not an interview and I’d made the mistake of wanting him to like me.

A few quick questions to finish with. Favourite book?

It doesn’t work like that, the entire point of narrative is its endless expandability.

Author…

I refer you to the note above.

Drink…

A pint of Bitter & Twisted in Sandy Bells, or a pint of Maldon Gold in The Pride of Spitalfields.

Food…

Any combination of lamb, aubergine, dried fenugreek, garlic and chilli.

Film…

The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1928)

Television programme…

For all sorts of reasons, Katie Morag

Music…

Gnu High by Kenny Wheeler.

Great interview Pete, thanks for coming on the Literary Smorgasbord.

Peter Urpeth

Peter Urpeth

Peter is the author of Far Inland.  Find out more about him at his blog, Other Words.  

LG Thomson is the author of Boyle’s Law, Each New Morn, and Erosion.

Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord: Orla Broderick

If you have ever been anywhere near a writing group or book festival of any kind, you will know that writers come in all shapes and sizes, from big, robust circles, to tiny, stabby stars. They come in different flavours too, from cool, classic vanilla, to eyeball-exploding, triple-hot chilli sauce. Some of the nicest people around are writers, but some of them truly are mad, bad and dangerous to know.

Thrillers With Attitude has undertaken to meet up with a few of these weirdly-shaped and strangely flavoured writers, some well-established, others emerging, so that you, dear reader, can find out more about them without endangering body or soul.

Welcome then, to the Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord. My guest this week is author, Orla Broderick.  

Hi Orla, thank you for agreeing to take part in the Literary Smorgasbord.  Please tell us a little about yourself – what were you like at school? I’d especially like to hear about the kind of trouble you were in with the nuns, as mentioned on your Amazon author page.

Initially I was fairly quiet at school. Before the age of 14 I was the girl in milk bottle specs, home-made blue velour/ towelling track suit bottoms with pageboy hair style. I spent my free time washing feet in the local hospital, visiting the elderly, and every weekend I sat with a group of old ladies saying decades of the rosary. For reasons best kept to my own blog I was sent to an all-girls boarding school when I was 15. I hated it. I often snuck out at night, by myself, and hitched a lift to the pub. I stole paracetamol for my hangovers from the nuns own store, and helped myself to their food, which was far superior to the stuff we were fed. I was caught fairly regularly.

Your first novel, The January Flower, was published in 2012 – what was the evolution of Orla Broderick, the author?

I have always written stories. From as far back as I can remember, I have been inventing and documenting alternative realities to my own. It was only when I moved to the Isle of Skye that I really tried to write, and of course, found I couldn’t. But, when my daughter was born I had postnatal depression and was in counselling. From that counselling I started to write what I saw around me. I put The January Flower together from bits of all the women I saw and met. Pete Urpeth [writing and publishing director at Emergents] took me on, coached me, nurtured me, tried hard to keep me on some sort of trajectory.

 When did you first define yourself as a writer?

 It’s only now I would even begin to describe myself as a writer and I am tasting the word author.

 How would you describe your style of writing?

 I do a pretty poetic prose thing that covers humanity, one eye always on love.

 What are you working on right now?

 I’m writing a novel. It’s about lesbian drama. I do as much research as I can and feel I have fully researched this topic in particular.

 Do you plan your books, or are you a seat-of-the-pants writer?

I plan and plot and scheme. Sometimes this keeps me awake at night.

 How long does it take you to write a book?

 It takes me years and years to finish writing a book.

 Best writing moment so far?

My best writing moment was having almost everyone wet their pants listening to me read The Surf Board. This is a story loosely based on another nun incident, when I was caught passing a tampon around a religious education class. I read this on stage in Edinburgh as part of the Scottish Book Trust New Writer’s Showcase in January [2015].

 What are your ambitions, writing wise?

 I would love to be prolific.

What is the Orla Broderick writing method?

If the cat wakes me at 4 am, I will get up. I meditate. I make coffee. I write and write. I try and focus on getting the story to work and what needs to happen. Then I shape it. I try to find words, to say the thing in the way I want to say it.

Do you have any particular writing habits?

I smoke a lot. Sometimes I make bread or soup.

 What inspires you to write?

 The heart inspires me, acts of kindness, beautiful souls, natural stuff.

 Any advice for aspiring authors?

 Just write, just one word after the other, every day, just write.

 Is there any one book you would like to have written?

 James Joyce, Dubliners, wow, I wish I could write humanity like that.

 What are you reading right now?

 I am reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin

If there was one person you could spend a day with, who would you choose and why? How would you spend the day?

If I could, I would spend an entire day meditating with his holiness the Dalai Lama, to know love and compassion.

It’s been a pleasure talking to you, Orla. Thank you for taking part in the Literary Smorgasbord.

Orla Broderick

Orla Broderick

Orla Broderick received a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2014. Her novel, The January Flower, was long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize.  You can follow Orla on Twitter and find out more on her website.

Emergents is a community interest company supporting the development of creative careers, enterprise and the economy in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and beyond.

LG Thomson is the author of Boyle’s Law, Each New Morn, and Erosion.