Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord: Jon Miller

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 poet, musician, teacher, and fellow presenter on Lochbroom FM, Jon Miller.

Hi Jon, welcome to the Literary Smorgasbord.

Tell me a little about yourself – where did you grow up?

 I spent the first seven years of my life in India and Africa: Mumbai and Kenya though there was also about a year spent in Zanzibar. My father was a banker; my mother busied herself being a mother. We lived the colonial life in the dying days of Empire. We had live-in servants, nannies, large cars. My father appears to have fought the Mau Mau during the Uprising but no-one seems to want to talk about this in the family. He had some strange scars and his regiment did not have a good reputation. We had holidays in the Seychelles and there are old 8mm reels of film of us cavorting on white beaches our hair bleached by years in the sun. I have the moles and the skin damage to prove it.

When we came back to Glasgow, I grew up in and around Broomhill and Partick in the West End. I also grew up inside my body and my mind as they tried to make sense of each other. Most of the time was spent up trees, on bikes, playing football, exploring disused railway tunnels and discovering pornographic magazines discarded in hedgerows beside the allotments.

 What were you like at school?

 I watched myself attend school without much purpose or understanding as to why I was there. It was something that was happening to me, like body hair or the burgeoning notion of a future. I was good at football but average at everything else apart from English which I was also rather good at. Once I discovered books I read voraciously and the football faded into the background.

 What are you passionate about?

 I get passionate about playing music, politics.

 Tell me about your route into teaching.

 I had spent as long as I possibly could avoiding a proper job. I was writing – poetry and fiction – getting published but not really earning anything (I didn’t realise then that it takes a very long time for this to happen). I was eventually officially declared ‘destitute’ – perhaps my highest accolade – but by this time I had a young family. Teaching was something I knew I’d be good at so it suggested itself as a way of finding money (which you don’t find as a writer).

 Was it something you wanted to do?

 ‘Wanting’ is as strange word. I found myself doing it and found it was energising and involving and rewarding although I was not aware that this would be the case before I started. Is ‘wanting’ unconscious? Are you impelled towards things that are good for you even if you are not fully aware of the reason for your choices? Teaching was not something I intended doing yet here I am still doing it so something must have worked out okay.

 How did your expectations of the job match up to the reality?

 Perfectly – I knew what to expect, had few expectations and they were all fulfilled. I realise now that I have helped a hell of a lot of kids get to a place that has done them a lot of good and that was something I hadn’t considered.

 Do you ever get frustrated by the books or poems you have to cover in class?

There are many different ways to be frustrated with books/poems. We choose most of the texts we teach: these are selected for varying reasons, not all of them literary. There are very few texts we ‘have’ to cover by diktat. Those that we have to are of varying degrees of success in their composition. Some barely qualify as literature, some are deemed ‘classics’ – that might be the same thing. If you teach a particular text for many years you gain an intimate understanding of its flaws and successes.

 Are there any you personally don’t rate or actively dislike?

 Yes – but it would be churlish of me to mention them and I lack churl.

If it was up to you, what books or poems would you like your students to read?

 I might like them to read them but they might not like to read them. Anything by Don de Lillo, Samuel Beckett, Les Murray, Czeslow Milosz. The Bible. Lao Tzu. As long as they keep away from Jackie Kay and Benjamin Zephaniah.

 There is a scene in the classic 1980s film Ferris Buellers Day Off where a teacher drones painfully on in front of a catatonic class – “ Anyone?  Anyone? Anyone?   Have you ever felt like that teacher?

 Yes. Today in fact. But part of the variety of teaching includes times when no-one wants to be there. I include myself in that.

 How do you keep it fresh?

 Generally, I keep it in the fridge. On other days, I rely on energy and the desire to take on what most people ignore. It comes from creativity and thinking up new ways of approaching an idea, character or poem. That’s the best bit.

 Report cards aside, how much time do you spend producing your own creative writing?

 Reports are less and less creative these days as they are often compiled from computerised banks of comments. The days of elegantly handwritten irony are long gone. I produce creative writing in fits and starts – usually I have a wee fit of remembering that I once did it and start something. I have lots of poems no-one has ever seen or have not been published at all (some of them are even quite good). I am wryly fond of Christopher Hitchens’ statement that “Most people have a book inside them – and that’s where it should stay”. I doubt if the world needs another minor poet cluttering up the shelves.

 What advice would you give to the young Jon Miller?

 He still is quite young – but I’ve no idea who he is and I doubt if I would recognise him if I did, apart from his mass of curly hair which I would envy. The young Jon Miller is still going to be the way he was so he probably would still be bewildered by the huge range of competing voices in his head so it would not make any difference. There is an assumption in the question that the current Jon Miller knows something about something worth passing on which is highly dubious.They both exist much like a hollow wind down a long corridor.

 What’s next?

 Bed, I think.

 A few short questions to finish.   What is your favourite book?

 Impossible.

 Author…

 Samuel Beckett. Don deLillo. Les Murray

 Food…

 Probably toast. Anything cooked by my wife.

 Drink…

 The first one of the day.

 Film…

 The films of Michael Haneke and Steve McQueen (except Twelve Years a Slave which is terrible.

 Television programme…

I don’t watch television. Although I will watch football online when I can because it induces a delicious mindlessness, emptying me of all thought because football has a wonderful capacity to seem brimful of meaning but is finally and completely vacuous. It leaves me in a blissful state of benign Buddhist emptiness.

 Radio programme…

 Most mainstream radio is pretty predictable – apart from some Radio 4 programmes where they are given space to discuss ideas and culture. I prefer podcasts such as RadioLab or Welcome to Nightvale. The best ones are more inventive, imaginative and experimental in their use of sound and deal with a kind of life that mainstream radio ignores.

 Music…

 The Phantom Band. Bukka White. R L Burnside. Mark E Smith. Nick Cave. Henryk Gorecki.

 What are you reading right now?

 The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud. It is based on Camus’ LEtranger but told from the point of view of the brother of the Algerian Meursault killed. It is a neat conceit that redresses some of the psychological and imperial ideas the original did not deal with.

Where can people find out more about you?  

 Why on earth would they want to do that? Call round to the house. Bring cake.

Alternatively: Some poetry I produced in collaboration with Peter White, artist.

There is also a short poetry collection entitled ‘Still Life’ which can be purchased from the American Amazon site for $345.48. Obviously rare and collectible.

I have some wee interviews and local documentaries for Lochbroom FM.

There are also various videos and EPs of bands I have been in on Youtube: Naked Strangers, Mojo Walk. EPs also available.

It’s been a real pleasure having you on the Thrillers With Attitude blog, Jon.

twitter thing

Jon Miller

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

 

Tales of Terror for Hallowe’en

pumpkins

A thousand years, give or take, before Einstein predicted the fourth dimension the Celts were already celebrating the night when the past, the future and the present became one.

Samhuinn (SAH-vin) was the day when the Celts brought their animals into the winter fold. It was a time of thanksgiving to the gods for the return of safe cattle and a plea for a bountiful food supply in the following year. In this season of the earth’s decay, Samhuinn was also a feast of the dead.

Early Christians in Scotland transplanted the Feast of All Saints onto the existing Celtic festival and so Samhuinn became Hallowe’en, a night for guising, when people dressed in disguise so that they would not be recognised by the spirits of the dead and trapped by them in the limbo between this world and the next.  When imported to the United States by Scots and Irish immigrants, the tradition evolved into trick or treating.

As a Scot, I’m a stickler for referring to this tradition as guising, but when it comes to making a Hallowe’en lantern, carving a pumpkin is a much more enticing prospect than spending hours scraping, gouging and hacking at the traditional Scottish turnip – a medium as yielding as your average boulder.

I went out guising every year when I was growing up in the 1970s.  There were a few glamourous wee fairies and the occasional witch roaming the streets, but mostly it was hordes of wee tramps going from door to door dressed in their dad’s old gear.  I was channeling Laurel and Hardy, the piece de resistance of my ensemble being a plastic bowler hat – a souvenir from a weekend trip to Blackpool.

This Hallowe’en I’ll be staying at home, cosied up by the stove, a glass of red wine to hand as I read a few of my favourite tales of terror.

Check out my list and please feel free to make a few recommendations of your own.

Happy haunting.

Classic shorts:

  • The Tell-tale Heart, Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Monkey’s Paw, W.W. Jacobs
  • The Bottle Imp, Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Lottery, Shirley Jackson

Creepy collections:

  • Zombiesque, published by Daw Books Inc
  • Zippered Flesh: Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad, edited by Weldon Burge
  • Night Shift, Stephen King
  • Books of Blood, Clive Barker

Long scares:

  1. Under The Skin, Michel Faber
  2. Dracula, Bram Stoker
  3. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
  4. The Stepford Wives, Ira Levin

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

Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord: Leila Eadie

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, Leila Eadie.

Hi Leila, thank you for agreeing to take part in the Literary Smorgasbord. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Career-wise, I stayed in education as long as possible, collecting degrees, then worked as a medical writer and editor for a few years before returning to academia as a research fellow at University College London and then University of Aberdeen. I’m currently working at Aberdeen’s Centre for Rural Health in Inverness, investigating the use of ultrasound as an ambulance-based diagnostic tool, which we hope will be particularly useful for people living in remote and rural areas far from a major hospital. I write dark speculative fiction: horror, fantasy, sci-fi. I’ve had lots of short stories published in magazines, anthologies and online, and now I’m trying my hand at novel-length fiction. I’ve also started writing theatrical plays in the last couple of years, and have had a few short pieces performed in Inverness.

 What were you like at school?

A brainbox! I was one of the kids vying for top marks in every class. But having said that, I spent many classes writing stories in my notebooks. I wrote ‘choose your own adventure’ stories for my friends, which we dived into at break-times, but I wasn’t always kind to them – they suffered many wonderfully gory deaths!

Tell us about the evolution of Leila Eadie, the author.

I was always a writer, filling spiral notebooks with my stories. These were just for myself and my friends, and I didn’t send anything to publishers until my mid-20s. But then my short stories found homes at various venues, winning small competitions, and so on. When I finally (reluctantly) left full time education, my fiction writing slowed because work took over, but I was working as a scientific writer and editor, so I was still writing, just a different type of thing.

More recently I’ve been working on a few novels, partly thanks to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, an annual challenge to write 50,000 words in November), which has helped provide motivation and word count targets to work with. I have a couple of pieces at the redrafting stage, and one with a first draft almost finished. And finally, I’m also interested in writing for performance: stage, screen and radio.

I joined the playwriting group run by Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, which has been wonderfully supportive and helpful, providing feedback and opportunities to have my work staged. So I now have a few short plays written, and a full-length play that I really should send to theatre companies…

 What is your style of writing?

Dark, disturbing, funny. I love writing brilliant bad-guys and anti-heroes.

 Why do you write this way?

Therapy? Maybe it stops me acting out all the strange stuff myself…

 Are you inspired by any writers in particular?

Oh, there are many who have inspired me. I would love to write with the same power to suck a reader into the story that Stephen King has. The complexity – yet humanity – of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novel series astounds me and makes me try to reach further. China Mieville and Charles Stross remind me it’s okay to be clever and strange in my worlds and plotting. John Scalzi writes serious stories that are full of comedy. I love Neal Asher’s sci-fi vision of a techie future. I could go on… On the other hand, meeting Catherine Webb, whose Matthew Swift books (writing as Kate Griffin) I completely adore, was not so much inspirational as a source of envy: she’s so smart and so young – and a brilliant writer!

 What are you working on right now?

I’m finishing an initial draft of a dark comedy novel about evil geniuses. It started out life as an idea for a television series, but I think it works much better as a book. I love the characters; I think there’s a fun mix of comedy, action and mystery.

 How much research do you do?

Quite a lot; I like to be accurate when dealing with real things that people can check on. But I also like writing about futuristic technology and alternate worlds where I can make my own rules. The key is not letting research distract me from writing. The internet is a wonderful source and a massive time-suck.

 How long does it take you to write a book?

Way too long. Once I have a draft, I put off redrafting. Books sit around in limbo interminably. I’m afraid I fall prey to the common problem where bright new ideas are more fun than old ones that need polishing up.

 Best writing moment so far?

Winning a writing competition that involved finishing off a short story started by Mike Carey, who’s written some great books and graphic novels. I submitted the story, then later received an email recommending I go along to a specific book festival. That was a clue that my story had probably been shortlisted, but when I met Mike at the festival and he said such nice things about my contribution… well, it was lovely to hear that from a writer I respect so much!

What are your ambitions, writing wise?

I would like to publish the novel I’m currently working on – I think it’s good enough to entertain people. And I would like to see my full-length play performed. But really, I write because I enjoy it. It’s a great bonus if others like it too.

 What is your writing routine – do you have a favourite time of day for writing?

Afternoons work best for me, through to evenings.

 Do you have a set amount of writing to do each day – if so, how is it measured – pages, words, lines, time…?

No. I probably should. It would definitely increase my productivity!

 What is your writing method?

Most of the time I approach a project with a hook and only a vague idea what’s going to happen; I let the characters dictate the bulk of the plot. This has worked out quite well, but my most recent novel was written from a detailed outline, which really helped me achieve the NaNoWriMo word count on time. So I’m happy to use both methods.

 Do you have any particular writing habits?

Not really, but I always use my laptop (or my phone/tablet if I’m travelling) rather than long-hand, and I generally have some music on while I write.

What inspires you to write?

Ideas! Wonderful scenes appear in my mind, leading me to ask questions about the characters, the situation, the way forward… Science and technology innovations also inspire me, as do oddities of the natural world.

What are you reading right now?

I usually have a few books on the go at any time, both paperback and e-book, for different reading opportunities. At the moment, I’m reading End of the World Blues by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Kill the Dead, part of the Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey and Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch.

 A few quick questions to finish with. Favourite book…

Hmm. I could give you a favourite bookshelf-full, but just one – impossible. However, books I recommend to others include: The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld, Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin, Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay… (there will be lots of others worthy of a mention that have slipped my mind!)

Drink…

Non-alcoholic: milkshake!  Alcoholic: Swedish cider

Food

Something Italian, or a lamb roast. Or jelly sweets, of course. Surely they’re a writers’ staple?

Film…

The Prestige, Bladerunner, 13 Ghosts

Television programme…

Game of Thrones, Suits

Radio programme…

I enjoyed the recent adaptation of Good Omens (Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman)

Music…

Industrial metal, EBM; rocky things like VNV Nation, Covenant, NIN, Blue Stahli

Thanks for taking part in the Literary Smorgasbord, Leila.

Leila Eadie

Leila Eadie

You can follow Leila on Twitter and find out more about her at makingstuffup.co.uk 

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

Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord: Robert Smith-Hald

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 singer-songwriter, Robert Smith-Hald.

Hi Robert, thank you for agreeing to take part in the Thrillers With Attitude Literary SmorgasbordPlease tell me a little bit about yourself.  What kind of child were you?

Hi Lorraine, it’s nice to be asked, so thank you.  I was an artistic child, always drawing and when I was able to-playing music on whatever instrument that was available, with a focus on composing.  Mostly lyres and, recorders (Camphill had a lot of lyres and recorders lying around) but we also had a piano.  My parents didn’t like that I played the piano so it was locked, and musical instruments hidden or put under lock and key.  I managed to scrape together money from deposit bottles along the roads outside the compound and bought harmonicas with that money.  These I played in the woods, teaching myself songs and also making up songs.
I also loved to work on the farm and took part as much and as often as I could, milking the cows by hand, feeding, shoveling manure, taking the cows to pasture and making hay, to name a few.  One of my favorite things was when we made maple syrup.  We tapped the trees by hand and collected the sap from each bucket and boiled it down in a good old fashioned wood fired sugar house. So I was a kind of hard working, artistic, imaginative child. A strange mix I guess. Now I write songs and make beer, and I work hard at it.  It reflects my childhood in every way.
What has been the evolution of Robert Smith-Hald, the writer?
Since my parents and the general Camphill community endeavored to quash my love for music and playing instruments/composing I kind of internalized that musical composer side of myself. I think that’s the main reason why I became the type of introverted yet personal songwriter I am today. Also, I’m pretty strong-headed about my music and take control of all aspects, from the writing of lyrics and music, to arranging and recording.  When we moved to Norway I was allowed to have and play a guitar finally, (just not electric and definitely not a steel string western guitar) and I started writing songs as soon as I learned three chords.  The songs sort of wrote themselves and I was just thrilled and decided to just go with it.  I’ve pretty much done that ever since, although some songs are pure storytelling.  I have a rule – when I find a cool chord I write a song with it as the main pivotal musical point.
Do you define yourself as a writer, and if so, when did that first happen?
I do.  I write text driven songs.  The music is of course equally important to the song as a whole, but for me I think of a good song as having meaning.  So I work hard at finding songs that say something about this condition we all exist within, the human condition.
What makes you write?
I don’t know.  I used to think it was an obsession.  I’ve come more to terms now that it’s just me.  Who and how I am.
How deep do you dig when you are writing – how much of yourself do you expose?
I go all the way really, every single time.  And to tell you the truth, I never know what the song is about until I’m done, sometimes halfway, if I’m lucky.  Some songs are pure stories though, like Jesus.  I just had to write that story down in a song, just as it had happened.  Also The Easter Bunny Is Dead song was a story me and my son made up about some terrible neighbors we used to live next to.  Recently I’ve been writing songs from the perspective of life changing events, but I still never know what the angle of the song is until it’s done.  I like to say that I “find” the song, or it finds me.  I just write it down.
What is the hardest thing about writing? 
Time.  Getting in the zone. I need to be able to shut the door.  It has to be a real door.  A physical door.  And when I close it, it can only be opened again by me.  Since that door usually was the kitchen, that could prove problematic, obviously.  I have a music room now, my own space to disappear in. Time to stay there.
And the easiest?
Letting it happen when you’re in the zone.  You’re just a bystander, an observer.  It just happens.  Some songs are written in a shorter time than it takes to play them. Literally.
Are you inspired by any writers in particular? 
Stephen King funnily enough.  I love his language and storytelling skill.  I learned a lot from his book On Writing which was the first book of his I read.  John Lennon and Bob Dylan, of course. Carl Perkins. I love his simple straight forward lyrics. I just got into Phillip Meyer.  He’s amazing.  And of course John Steinbeck.  His book East of Eden inspired my song Thou Mayest from the album of that name. As soon as I put it down I wrote that song.  It’s my short version (the live version is about 9 minutes long) of the essence of what he was writing about in that book.  That life is what you make of it and that you have choices.  Thou Mayest, as opposed to Thou Shalt.  There’s a helluva lot of Thou Shalt in the bible.  John Steinbeck’s opinion was that the translation went awry, it should have read Thou Mayest.  There’s a difference.
Best writing moment so far.
There have been so many.  Every time I write a song I experience it as pure magic.  Every time. But writing Kissed By The Sun, which was just released on iTunes still stands out as a pivotal moment for my evolution as a writer and songwriter.  Since I write by letting it all just happen/stream of consciousness I don’t really know what a song is going to be about or how its going to be, or come out/sound.  But life gives you pretty strong indicators sometimes, and with this one had a strong feeling.  My wife had just been through a terrible time and had to deal with serious illness.  She did and came out the other end better and stronger.  So in a way she got a second chance and took it and went with it.  That’s really what the song is about.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on songs inspired by life changing events.  We all have them.  From childhood but also in our day to day lives.  How we react to these events defines and evolves who we are. But as always, I let the songs just happen.  They come to me.  My job is to let them.  I’m grateful for every one that floats down into my lap.
What are your ambitions, writing wise?
I try to keep ambition out of it.  I just try and do my best and stay true to my craft.  I just want to write a good song.
What is your writing routine – do you have a favourite time of day for writing? 
I get a lot of text ideas throughout the day. I used to write them in scrapbooks and bits of paper.  Now I use my iPhone.  My ultimate time to work is between 1000 and 1300, but my day job still demands my presence so I get most of my work done of an evening and on weekends.
Do you have a set amount of writing to do each day – if so, how is it measured – pages, words, lines, time…?
No. I measure it more in terms of good songs about to come or coming.  If I get a good one I go with it and don’t stop until its finished.  Usually in the one sitting.  Sometimes though, I get halfway through and realize it needs time to mature or I’ll mess it up.  Then I record it as it is, and go back to it after a period of letting it develop. Sometimes that means a couple of days.  Other times it can be years. I’m working on one right now I started in April 1983 or 4.  This time I might find it.  We’ll see.
How do you write – longhand, laptop, typewriter, quill and ink?
I write longhand, in a ledger. I write as fast as I can to capture the ideas and my handwriting is really messy and downright illegible.  So I have to write it down better when the song is finished. I used to type them out afterward on a typewriter, then a PC when that came around, and collect them all in folders.  But now I kind of just fill up ledgers with songs.  The illegible one on the left, the legible one on the right. My latest ledger is a black leather one, with really nice thick paper.  It was a gift from my wife for songwriting.  She keeps track of my piles of ledgers and loose reams of work.  I’m a bit of a mess-pot when it comes to keeping order in all my songs. She’s also my main barometer.  She’s brutally honest and does not mince words.  She says it’s crap if she thinks it’s crap.  And it always is.  But she’s also my biggest fan and support.
Any writing habits – music, particular place to work?
A nice room with good acoustics and a door you can close.
What inspires you to write?
The human condition.
Any advice for aspiring songwriters?
Work hard at your craft.  Study others, particularly your inspirations, both musically and lyrically.  Find your own voice, and write about what you know.  Don’t listen to naysayers and be wary of yaysayers. Be true to yourself.
Is there any song you wish you had written?
Yes.  The next one.  It’s always the next one.
A few short questions to finish.  What is your favourite drink…
I love beer. I love whisky too, especially single malt, Laphroaigh and Glenlivet among my favorites. But my day job is as a brewmaster.  I run a microbrewery in Bergen, Norway and I make new beers every 2-3 months, year round. It’s kind of like songwriting.  Something new every time, using the same, basic ingredients.
Television programme…
My wife and I love movies and TV series.  I get loads of song ideas from a good story- whether it be a good book, movie or TV show.  We watched a fantastic series called Deadwood some years back.  It was a kind of a drama meets mockumentary of sorts of how a town grew in no-mans land in the Dakotas (before statehood) in the gold rush era.

What are you reading right now?

Stephen King – The Shining and Phillip Meyer – The Son.  I’m fascinated by the language in The Son. I also just finished your book Erosion and before that Each New Morn.  I loved them both but particularly the latter.  You’re writing is creative and alive and the pace is pulls you in.
Thank you, Robert – glad you enjoyed reading them.
Robert Smith-Hald

Robert Smith-Hald

Listen to Robert’s new single, Kissed By The Sun on YouTube.  You find find out more about Robert Smith-Hald at robertsmith-hald.com.  His music is available on iTunes and Spotify.

Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord: Alison Napier

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, Alison Napier.

Hi Alison, thank you for agreeing to take part in the Literary Smorgasbord. Please, tell us a little bit about yourself.

 Well now – I am a cool, age-fifty-something Scot who lives in Perth at the moment where I work for a social enterprise called CheckIn that supports folk with disadvantages getting into work. I run and cook for a lunch-club every week with some of them and I also supervise social care students and I live with my very tolerant partner Susan. I am a social worker by trade and have so far left the profession three times. My email inbox usually has a mix of YouGov surveys and library overdue book reminders but at the end of May I was very excited to get an email telling me that I had been short-listed for the Dundee International Book Prize for an unpublished novel. Which means in the top ten out of five hundred entries. Five hundred! So very thrilled indeed and regardless of what happens next I feel very proud of this achievement and of my novel, Take Away People.

What were you like at school?

School? Oh dear. Well at primary school in Fife I was in a wee gang and we pretended we were in an Enid Blyton novel and invented scary houses and sinister shady men. By secondary I was living in Tain where I was a bit of late developer and while my peers were drooling over boys and stuff I was stealing planks from a building site and constructing split-level tree-houses. I also played the oboe in the county schools orchestra which I loved because I had a crush on a gorgeous flautist and I blame her for the fact that in later life I became a radical lesbian feminist separatist anarchist peacewoman living at Greenham Common a few years later, and getting my badge of honour criminal record.

What has been the evolution of Alison Napier the author?

Like lots of folk I wrote highly embarrassing diaries as a child and adolescent. Early examples include ‘Had mince for tea and went to Brownies’ and progressed to ‘Had mince for tea, all is lost and what is life and who am I.’ Standard stuff. My dad used to send articles to the Scots Magazine and so I knew the system and later I sent a few of my own non-fiction to papers like the Scotsman and New Internationalist and was astonished when they were accepted. And I got paid for them! So I had quite a lot of non-fiction published. I also wrote other things that I did not believe fell into any category until I joined the Lairg Writing Group in 2008 run by the very talented Anne Morrison and I discovered that my writing was in fact fiction, albeit somewhat unconventional… This was huge for me – suddenly I had found the thing I did that defined me like nothing else did. I sent off some stories and they were immediately accepted and I just aimed higher and higher. I also got placed in the Neil Gunn competition twice and shortlisted for Fish. My most recent short story is published in Out There, an LGBT anthology (Freight 2014) edited by Zoe Strachan where I am between the same covers as Jackie Kay and Ali Smith. Blimey.

Do you define yourself as a writer – if so, when did that first happen?

I think I do but it comes and goes. A massive rejection makes me feel I must be a crap writer. The Dundee Book Prize shortlist makes me feel like a real writer. In between these two extremes I think I do think of myself as a writer but I would not introduce myself as that or claim it as my occupation. Writing is such an odd mix of the intensely personal and private, and the public.

What is your style of writing?

I am not sure my style has a name. I write a few words or a paragraph and from that a whole heap of new ideas get sparked, some of them based on word association or a play on words, some of them just the weird places that my mind goes. Descriptions of my short stories often contain words like ‘bleak’, ‘challenging, and even ‘gloomy’. This is not a description I recognise as often they seem quite upbeat to me and shot through with darkish humour. I can also honestly say that I never know what the end of a short story will be until it is finished. And it was the same with my novel Take Away People. I like mixing things up and just telling a story, or a tiny episode, in a way that keeps the reader jolted awake. It’s the BOO! school of literature.

Why do you write this way?

It is the only way I know. I once bought a black plastic box full of small lined index cards because I thought I should be more organised. But it didn’t work so I use them for shopping lists now. In 2010 I completed an MA in Creative Writing at Exeter University. My tutor was Booker shortlisted novelist, Philip Hensher, and he was incredibly supportive of and enthusiastic about my writing style so that was a huge boost. The MA made me wonder if my writing should be more technically structured but then I just thought heck no. I also studied writing for radio and screenplays which was a great help with dialogue. My early stories don’t have any dialogue at all!

Are you inspired by any writers in particular?

Ali Smith is glorious but my favourite short story writer is Lorrie Moore. I feel that both these writers gave me permission to be myself. Lorrie Moore has a short story where her character is laughing hysterically, and Moore covers an entire page with ha ha ha ha ha ha ha… all the way down to the bottom of the page. Fabulous. Learn the rules and then break them all.

What are you working on right now?

Well it is still mainly in my head right now apart from what I call random jottings but it is a novel. Unless it ‘fails to thrive’ as we say in social work in which case it will be a short story. And I am also working on my regular book review for Northwords Now, something I also love doing.

What is it about?

Lorraine, I wish I knew! I will start with a few spices and hope they end up as a glorious vegetable biryani worthy of the Mughal dynasty.

How much research do you do?

For Take Away People I was lucky to have some time not in paid work when I lived in a caravan in Lairg and just wrote. I went on day trips to a clearance village in Strathnaver for basic things like ‘can you see the river from the hill’ and ‘is there really somewhere to hide a moped’, details like that. I check facts on Google but I am not one for copious and meticulous research otherwise I’d end up with a PhD. Far easier to make it up. It is fiction after all. Oh and I did try a lot of fish suppers for the novel so that counts as research I guess.

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

See above – Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

How long did it take you to write Take Away People?

It took me from 2008 to 2012, but then it wasn’t a forty-hour week. Months passed without touching it. The redrafting took ages and the synopsis was probably the hardest part as I had to decide what it was really about. Short stories take anything from a couple of hours to six months.

Best writing moment so far?

I think it was when my fiction was first accepted by a very credible publisher and editor [Sharon Blackie of Two Ravens Press]. Suddenly the stories leapt from my desk drawer into the public domain and people liked them. And of course the shortlisting for the Dundee Prize is a huge boost for me personally. In 2012 I had a 30 minute session at the Ullapool Book Festival where I read three pieces to a very full room [I was there – LG]. That was great and I wasn’t nervous as I was totally in my comfort zone.

What are your ambitions, writing wise?

I would love Take Away People to find a publisher but perhaps it will not happen in which case I want the next one to be published. I also have a short story collection called Mirror Signal Manoeuvre which I am going to start sending out to the world. Apart from that I just want to keep on writing and getting better and better. Fame and fortune are unimportant. (Fiction – don’t you just love it?)

 What is your writing routine – do you have a favourite time of day for writing?

I seem to write best in cafes, and JD Wetherspoons are always a safe bet being cheap and open all day and never too busy. I do struggle to write when there are other people around in the house so a wee caravan out in the woods would be ideal.

Do you have a set amount of writing to do each day – if so, how is it measured – pages, words, lines, time…?

Nothing so organised I’m afraid – I wish I was one of these people who sets the alarm for 0500 and rattles off two thousand words before breakfast. Instead, I write when I feel like it, when there is a deadline coming up such as a submission for an anthology. And that is one of the great things about a writing group, because there is always a piece to write for the next meeting. So I might write three sentences a day or three thousand words. (Are you seeing a pattern here…?)

What is the method?

An equal balance of discipline and disarray.

Do you have any particular writing habits?

I write best at a desk, on an A4 lined pad, in pencil, on one side only, numbering the pages as I go along and tearing them out and making them into a pile. With a pencil sharpener, a rubber, a bottle of water or mug of tea, silence, a view, and no access to the world wide web of distraction.

What inspires you to write?

An intense experience, good or bad, often triggers a need to write a short story. But often I have no idea where they come from and they just evolve as I write. I do find it easier to write when I am unhappy, perhaps because raw feelings are much closer to the surface.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Yes. Read as much as you can. Read lots of different writers, even the ones you have already decided you don’t like. Read writers from other cultures and times, read the styles and genres you claim to despise (that would be science fiction and anything Russian in my case), read quality fiction wherever you find it, read and read and read. For me that was the best part of the Creative Writing MA – we were give a wildly eclectic reading list and it really opened my eyes to how much amazing writing there is and how narrow my own reading had been.

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

The Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore

What are you reading right now?

Four Novellas by Joyce Carol Oates.

Who would play Alison Napier in a film adaptation of your life?

Sue Perkins if she was free. Otherwise, kd laing. Of course, I would allow Miss Piggy to audition as she has the right attitude I feel.

A few quick questions to finish with. Favourite book?

The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch. Mad people, lots of sea, lots of pages and lots of food. Perfect.

Author

Not one favourite. Lorrie Moore, Anne Tyler, Jane Smiley, Iris Murdoch, William Trevor, Anne Enright, Lionel Shriver, Gavin Maxwell, Kathleen Jamie, Zadie Smith…

Drink

Endless tea. Shiraz for £4.99. And very good coffee. In that order.

Food…

A first class fish supper (with home-made garlicky coleslaw and curry sauce) is hard to beat. Otherwise, anything spicy.

Film…

I am clueless about films as they frequently seem like good books with the best bits taken out. Apart from Paddington! Why so? Because it is a classic film that spans continents and wrestles with the contemporary issues of immigration, cultural relativity and environmental colonialism.

Televison programme…

Brideshead Revisited from eons ago. Diners, Drive-in and Dives (Food Network). Or anything with Sue Perkins in it.

Radio programme…

Clare in the Community (R4), Saturday Review (R4) and Get It On with Brian Burnett (weekdays 6.30pm Radio Scotland) when I am cooking the tea.

Music…

Bach and Corelli. All recorder playing. Handel’s Messiah and Bruce Springsteen. And anything from the early 80s because it reminds me of coming out at Uni in Aberdeen, of the East Neuk pub, Hillhead, Daisy’s, and the Monday group at Bridge of Don.

Thanks for taking part in the Literary Smorgasbord, Alison. It’s been a gas.

A pleasure and an honour. I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

Alison Napier

Alison Napier

You can find out more about Alison on her website, and you can try following her on Twitter, but she rarely uses it as she doesn’t know how.

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

Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord: Drew Hipson

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 writer, Drew Hipson.

What were you like at school, Drew?

My report card from Primary school states that I was easily distracted and distracted others around me. I read lots of books from a very young age. I read and still have a two volume American encyclopaedia from the 1950s given to me by my grandfather which I think gave me my first love of actual words and how they appear printed on paper. At playtime in Primary School I used to recount the stories that I had read to some of my classmates, for example Daphne du Maurier short stories. I was rebellious at High School but obsessed with music and books – my English teacher gave me Susannah of the Mounties to read and I refused to even open the book – I was then grudgingly given Alan Sillitoe to read. I then read the works of Orwell, Steinbeck, Ken Kesey, Huxley and Evelyn Waugh all borrowed from the school library. My next English teacher was a dope smoking hippy Socialist who loved the messages in Steinbeck’s books, especially the brilliant The Grapes of Wrath. He would read passages from the book stoned in class and it made the whole experience more interesting!

What has been the evolution of Drew Hipson, writer, designer, and publisher?

I was always obsessed with how words appeared on a printed page and became obsessed with books and magazines from a very young age. I always wanted to create my own magazine and when I was a screen printer at age 17 I published my own fanzine, which was a mix of politics, poetry and pop art. After spending time travelling around Europe and staying in London for several years I returned to Glasgow and studied Graphic Design at College. I was blown away by the work of Graphic Designer Neville Brody, who completely revolutionised the world of typography: suddenly there was a visual aesthetic of words and the design of words combined. He was, and still is, a huge influence in terms of design and the utilisation of space within design. I am immensely proud of my Paul Weller publication All Mod Icon in terms of the standard of writing and the contemporary Modernist design of the mag. The feedback from Paul Weller and indeed many other musicians and writers has been incredible. Martin Freeman is a big fan of All Mod Icon and has written several pieces for the mag.

Have you ever written, or considered writing, fiction in any of its forms?

Yes I have written various things including a monologue that I’d envisaged actor Ray Winston reciting; a musical and political stream of consciousness thing that I’d written after drinking red wine one night and forgotten about. I found it by chance and was surprised that I’d actually written it – it is brilliant and it is a project which is on the backburner.

How deep do you dig when you are writing – how much of yourself do you expose?

I think that even if you don’t intend to, your personality and view of the world can be visible in your writing and I like that: my favourite writers’ unique visions shine through in their work George Orwell, Henry Miller, Hunter S Thompson, Alan Sillitoe, Charles Bukowski…

Are you inspired by any writers in particular?

I have always been inspired by the brilliance of George Orwell’s writing and his brave and lucid intellectual thought, also Hunter S Thompson and the extraordinarily gifted Colin MacInnes. Joseph Heller is incredible and Michael Herr’s Dispatches is profoundly inspiring.

What has been your best writing moment so far?

I have written several pieces for my magazine All Mod Icon which I’m particularly proud of for the flow, individual style and use of specific words. I also wrote a piece which was published in a book about the first Dexys Midnight Runners album Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, which I was pleased with.

What are you working on right now?

I began writing my first memoir in January called Le Depart, which is about my time jumping freight trains across France and of being Down and Out in London when I was 18.

What are your ambitions, writing wise?

To get Le Depart published. I envisage it to be a sort of Down And Out In Paris And London for the 21st Century. I have no real interest in what critics think – the urge is to see the beautiful assemblage of words on the printed page and for the story to ring true.

What inspires you to write?

Other writers always inspire and the actual love of words and the formation of them I find exhilarating.

What is your writing routine?

The routine is that there is no routine. Some days I find it hard to formulate words and even write a paragraph, then there are those days when it flows brilliantly and you have to keep writing, you have to forget about eating and sleeping and let it pour out of you.

Do you have a favourite time of day for writing?

I have to write early or during the day as the intensity of writing means that by evening I am mentally exhausted.

How do you manage working to deadlines – are you ultra-organised, or do you take it to the wire?

A bit of both really – after I am almost happy with what I’ve written I will print off and sit in a café with a new pencil and a coffee and apple pie and slowly go over it all and make revisions – the writing always looks different from the laptop to printed on paper. I usually like to be organised as taking it to the wire means errors and being a perfectionist that abhors me.

How do you write – longhand, laptop, typewriter, parchment?

I write on the laptop but sometimes scribble ideas down on paper when they come to me, usually after drinking red wine!

Any particular writing habits? (I wouldn’t ask most guests on the Smorgasbord this, but I really want to know what you wear when you write – are you always smartly attired, or do you have a pair of skanky trackies you wear for writing?)

I have always liked the idea of Alfred Hitchcock sitting at his desk at the precise hour in the morning wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie looking over scripts with writers, but the muse sometimes dictates and I can sometimes find myself sitting writing quickly in a t-shirt, boxer shorts and dressing gown and still be wearing the same by night time! I invariably though like to have a clean white shirt on and maybe a jumper, suit trousers and brogues, as the feeling of discipline connects with the writing.

What advice would you give to the young Drew Hipson?

The young Drew Hipson would not listen to advice from me, which is a good thing as I like the tunnel vision, idealism and arrogance that is the preserve of the young. I think a key piece of advice would be to always be organised and disciplined and when the writing comes run with it and don’t stop.

 You have already met and spent time with your All Mod Icon, Paul Weller – are there any other icons you would like to meet?

There are not many people that are alive that I’d particularly like to meet, but Icons from the past would be Alfred Hitchcock, George Orwell, John Lennon, Salvador Dali, Francois Truffaut, Steve McQueen, Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, Frances Farmer and Natalie Wood.

A few short questions to finish with.  Favourite book…

Keep The Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell.

Author…

George Orwell

Food…

Steak and beer.

Drink…

Red wine and Single Malt Whisky.

Film…

North by Northwest

Television programme…

The Sweeney

Radio programme

I don’t listen to radio.

Music…

Paul Weller

What are you reading right now?

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence.

It’s been a pleasure having you here on the Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord, Drew.  The Smorgasbord interviews are all about the interviewee, but on this occasion I can’t resist chipping in to say that All Mod Cons by The Jam is in fact one of the best albums ever recorded.

You have evidently got good taste Lorraine! It is one of my favourite albums of all time – Weller’s Play For Today-like lyrics and urban street poetry were very inspiring to me as a teenager and of course the songs are extraordinary.

Drew Hipson

Drew Hipson

You can follow Drew on Twitter and Facebook.

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.