Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord: Aoife Lyall

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 and winner of The Irish Times Hennessy Poems of the Month, Aoife Lyall.

Hi Aoife, thank you for agreeing to take part in the Literary Smorgasbord.

What were you like at school?

I loved school.  It is fair to say I was pretty competitive, and loved getting involved in art, drama and sport alongside the academics. I was lucky to have my twin sister and a solid group of friends looking out for me, and I got on well with the teachers.

What has been the evolution of Aoife Lyall, the poet?

I have been writing poetry I could take seriously since about 2012, but at that stage it was very sporadic.  A long-term family illness and bereavement forced me to turn to writing as a way to get my head around things.  A lot of my early work focuses on that experience.  Since then, I keep an eye out for ideas and write down everything.  Now my work is balanced between personal experiences and ideas that come to me randomly that I want to play around with.

Why do you write?

I have always enjoyed playing with words and poetry lets me do that in a way I find difficult with other forms.  There is a big pressure to formulate, regulate and systemise things- poetry is where I get to introduce a little chaos.

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

My earlier writing was heavily influenced by my circumstances so I was dealing with myself, but the emotions were right there on the surface and decidedly raw.  My newer writing is not so much a chance to make sense of me, but to understand how I make sense of what’s around me.

Are you inspired by any writers in particular?

I love reading Billy Collins, Liz Lochhead and Roger McGough. They have a way of seeing the fantastic and wonderful in everyday life that I think is just brilliant.

Best writing moment so far.

When my husband made fun of me for being a poet- that’s when I knew I had something!  I had tried writing other pieces before- which were just horrendous- and I was so precious about them he had to be really careful not to offend me.  When he made fun of me?  That was a big push – he knew I had it in me.  Later that night I recieved an email telling me I had been awarded a commendation in the Neil Gunn Writing Competition: the first competition I entered, with the first poem I had written.  That double-affirmation was a big boost.

What are you working on right now?

A collection based on my experiences as a teacher.  It is in the early stages so I won’t go into anymore details.

What are your ambitions, writing wise?

To have writing at the centre of my career- creating, mentoring, teaching, lecturing.  The actual path it will take- who knows? This last year has taught me that it doesn’t do to plan too far ahead- the important thing is to DO and see where it takes you.

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

Early morning- even though I struggle to get out of bed the rest of the week, roll on Saturday and Sunday and I’m wide awake at 6:00am, ready to work away in the true silence you only really get at dawn.  I tend to do my best revision work at this time of day and usually work on four-six different poems over the morning.  I find this helps keep each poem fresh and stops my attention wavering.  If I know something isn’t working, I move on to the next poem, then come back to the original later.

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

I’m a full-time teacher so mid-week I tend to just jot down ideas.  At the weekend I set myself aside a block of five hours either Saturday or Sunday morning, sometimes both.  Some of that time may just be spent organising my files or reading- the point is that the time is an opportunity to focus on writing, and all that comes with it.

How do you write – longhand, laptop, typewriter, quill and ink?

Ideas and beginnings of poems are written in a lined, yellow notebook.  From there, the work is typed up on the computer and printed.  I rework the poem from the printed page using pens, pencils, highlighters, arrows and asterisks, then edit on computer print and repeat until the poem is done.  The drafts are all kept together in polypockets and folders.

Any writing habits – music, particular place to work?

I now have a writing desk at home that is solely mine. I think it’s worthwhile to have a space you can call yours- whether it’s a full room, a coffee shop or a spot on the couch.

What inspires you to write?

Pure curiosity.

Any advice for aspiring poets?

Start writing! For every piece that is worth developing you could have dozens that go into the scrap folder.  Learn to critique individual pieces of work- not yourself.

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

 Anne of Green Gables – someone who is amazed by the everyday world.  We would spend the day eating apples, reading and talking about everything.  There would probably be a brook and scones involved at some point too.

A few short questions. What is your favourite book?

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Author…

Roald Dahl

Food…

Pizza

Drink…

Tea

Film…

Night at the Museum

Television programme…

The Simpsons

Radio programme…

Top 10 at 10 MFR

Music…

Ludivico Einaudi

What are you reading right now?

Roger McGough’s collected poems.

Thanks for coming on the Smorgasbord, Aoife.  It’s been great talking to you.

eIMG_0200b

Aoife Lyall

Find out more about Aoife at her blog.

The Irish Times Hennessy Poems of the Month.

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

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: 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: Gary Little

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.

I have 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 comedian, Gary Little.  

Hi Gary, thank you for agreeing to take part in the Literary Smorgasbord. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
A 51yr old Glaswegian. Since 2003 I’ve been doing Stand up Comedy for a living.
What were you like at school?

Most of my report cards probably had chatterbox written on them! I was the class clown, trying to impress my pals.

You have a colourful life story, some of which you refer to in your stand-up, but what has been the evolution of Gary Little the comedian?

I was always trying to entertain people at parties. The guy you thought was funny, or an arsehole. Or both. Someone had seen me a few times, and suggested to someone who ran a comedy night, to give me a shot. I eventually gave it a shot. Then The Stand comedy club had a competition, along with the Daily Record. I was one of the finalists.

I caught your act when you were in Ullapool – it was a cracking night, but what really struck me was the way so many of your stories stayed with me days, and even weeks afterwards.  I think this had something to do with the truth in your act.  You seemed to be laying yourself bare on the stage.  How deep do you dig when you are writing material for your act – how much of yourself are you exposing?

I like telling stories. I feel more comfortable talking about things that are true. I think people can identify with stuff that I’m talking about. Depression, death of my mum, being in jail. All the good stuff! Fortunately a lot of bad stuff has happened in my past, and that’s always funny for other people! Nobody wants to hear good stories.

Can you tell me something about the process of writing a stand-up routine?

For me, most of my stuff will come to me when I’m out walking my dogs. I then just go over it in my head,again and again. Only when I have a show coming up ,will I write it down. Even then it’s not all there.

How do you get a feel for what’s going to work?
I try the new stuff every week at new material nights in Glasgow. No matter how funny I think it is,only doing it live will tell me if it works.
Have you ever got it badly wrong – as in tumbleweed moments?
I’ve never had total silence! Had a lot of gigs where I never enjoyed it as much as the audience.
When crappy stuff happens, do you ever think, brilliant – material for the act?
That’s my whole set!
Have you ever written, or considered writing, fiction in any form?
I’d love to write something,but I keep thinking I’m kidding myself on. While in prison I wrote a short story that ended up in the book Days Like These. It was all short stories by people who had never been published before. Mine was called The King And I. It was about how I felt when I heard Elvis died.
Are there any writers or comedians who inspire you?
Loads of comics I admire. Charles Bukowski is a writer who makes writing seem easy. Maybe he will inspire me.
Is there a particular story you tell that works every time, or does it depend on the room?
Probably the dog in the park routine. Everyone likes a dug story!
Any favourite stand-up moments?
Playing the Kings Theatre in Glasgow.  Supporting American comic Bill Burr. Performing in New York.  And any audience that is laughing at me is a favourite!
What about the worst?
I played a club in Leeds recently. I knew before the gig started,that it wouldn’t be great. I was right.  That was painful to the ego.
What are you working on right now?
My Edinburgh festival show. I’m at the Stand 9.30pm every night.
What is your writing routine?
I don’t have one. I just talk to myself when I’m out walking the dogs.
What advice would you give the young Gary Little?
Look after your teeth. Learn a musical instrument. Don’t get caught!
I’d pay to watch the film of your life story, but who will play Gary Little on the big screen?
Matt Damon!
A few short questions to finish.  Who is your favourite author? 
Charles Bukowski
Food…
Fish
Drink…
Wine. Red or white
Film…
Cinema Paradiso, Blade Runner, Once upon a time in America… Too many to list!
Comedian…
Billy Connolly,who made it okay to just tell a story. Chic Murray. Loads of club comics who I see every week on the circuit.
Music…
Loads of stuff from Smiths, Joy Division, Scott Walker, to club music.
What are you reading right now?
Ian Banks The Quarry.
It’s been a pleasure having you on the Literary Smorgasbord, Gary.
Gary Little

Gary Little

For tour dates and to find out more about Gary, check out his website.
You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord: Richard Thomas

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, Richard Thomas.

Hi Richard, thank you for agreeing to take part in the Literary Smorgasbord. Please tell us a little bit about yourself – what were you like at school?

I was always an outgoing kid, involved in sports, an avid reader and writer since grade school. Later, in high school and college I tended to be the guy that crossed over, hanging out with jocks, artists, intellectuals, etc. I’d like to think I’m a bit of a Renaissance man. Or as some may say, “jack of all trades, master of none.”

Tell us about the evolution of Richard Thomas, the author.

Been seven years of writing, taking classes online, getting my MFA, and reading all the time. I’m constantly filling up the creative well, so I never feel empty, and that means music, television, film, art as well as books. Early on I didn’t have much faith in my work but when I took a class with Craig Clevenger, he encouraged me to send out a story I wrote for that class, Stillness, which ended up in Shivers VI alongside Stephen King and Peter Straub. That gave me the boost of confidence I needed. Every time a new story gets accepted, I have a little bit of proof that I’m succeeding, evolving, doing well, retaining my voice. It took a lot for my novel, Disintegration to get out—three years of writing, editing and workshopping, a year of small press rejections (40+), a year to find an agent (100 passed) and then another year hitting the big six, getting really close, finally landing at Random House Alibi, where they’ve been just great. It’s a tough business, but it’s very fulfilling.

When did you first describe yourself as a writer?

Interesting question. The first couple of years I was publishing I didn’t call myself a writer. I think maybe about year three or four, with a few dozen stories out there, my MFA completed in 2012, and when my first novel dropped, I probably felt okay saying it then.

Your latest book, Disintegration, is described as neo-noir.   I’m a big fan of noir, but this was the first time I’d heard the term neo-noir – it sounds exciting.   Can you explain what the term means and how you came to be writing in this style.

It just means new-black, but to me that’s the sweet spot between classic noir and classic horror, the key being the word “new” meaning you have to do something different—a new monster, a new format, new language, something to separate what you’re doing from what’s been done the past 100 years. It takes the mood and tone of noir and adds in the terror of horror, as well as the tension of crime and mystery, but it can also include the world-building of fantasy, and the technology of science fiction, the regional lore of Southern gothic, etc. The first anthology I edited, The New Black, is a great example of that range of neo-noir, and Laird Barron writes a fantastic foreword that explains the history really well.

Disintegration took six years to write.   That’s a long time to be living with a book inside you, Richard.   I’ve got a few questions about that – why did it take so long; were you working on anything else at the same time; and finally, do all of your books have such a lengthy gestation period?

It was mostly the process of getting it published. I wrote the first half over my first semester at Murray State University with Lynn Pruett. Then when I switched to Dale Ray Phillips (you have to have at least two professors there) he asked the class first day if they’d continue to read my novel based on the first page. Nobody said they would, including him. He said it wasn’t, “thesis material,” which just means not good enough. I put it aside for a year and a half to write literary short stories under his guidance (the guy was nominated for a Pulitzer) and it was well worth the time. Then it was submitting to small presses, then to agents, then to the big six. We got really close a number of times, including losing a board vote by one vote. I did write other short stories during that time, it helped me to not go insane. I’ve got over 100 published to date, and I know I wrote a lot during that time of waiting, and failing, and submitting, and hoping. I wrote the second book in the Windy City Dark Mystery Series this past December, in about 25 days, so no, it doesn’t usually take me six years.

Are you inspired by any writers in particular?

Oh God, so many. Will Christopher Baer, Craig Clevenger, and Stephen Graham Jones really inspired this book, Disintegration, the style and voice. Stephen King is the author I’ve read the most, over 50 books, he’s a great storyteller. Chuck Palahniuk woke me up, showed me what you could do. And then in my MFA program I read authors like Flannery O’Connor, Denis Johnson, Mary Gaitskill, Cormac McCarthy, William Gay, Joyce Carol Oates, Haruki Murakami, and Toni Morrison—they all influenced me. Really, every author I’ve published in The New Black, Burnt Tongues, Exigencies, and The Lineuup—they all inspire me.

What are you working on right now?

Editing The Breaker, the second book in the Windy City Dark Mystery Series, for Random House Alibi.

What is it about?

This series is a little different. First book is set in Wicker Park, a neighborhood here in Chicago, the second in Logan Square. Each book has a different protagonist, but the same mood and tone, all set in Chicago. It’s more like Stephen King and small town Maine novels than a traditional mystery series.

How much research do you do?

Depends. If it’s a subject I don’t know much about, such as guns, or insects, or Chicago gangs, or local flora and fauna, I do a good deal of research. I also try to use as much of my own experience as possible. Living in Wicker Park for ten years, I can add a lot of detail.

What are your thoughts on reviews – good and bad?

I love it when a book resonates with a reader, that makes my day. I try not to dwell on negative reviews, but I do read them, and if it’s something I can improve upon, I work on it, for sure.

What’s been your best writing moment so far.

Wow, that’s hard to say. Getting my MFA was pretty cool, any time I publish alongside Stephen King, it’s very exciting (done that four times now, in Shivers VI, Qualia Nous, Cemetery Dance #72, and Chiral Mad 3). When readers reach out to tell me how much fun they had reading a story or book, when it inspires them to stick with it, or work harder, or keep submitting.

What are your ambitions, writing wise?

I want to be a full-time writer, and I’m not quite there yet. I think if I can sell film rights, and several studios are reading Disintegration right now, that the kind of money I COULD GET from that would really set me up to just write. For now, I write stories, novels, teach, write a column at LitReactor (Storyville), and travel to workshops, conferences, etc. I’m getting close, but it’s still a long way from a hobby to a full-time job. If you make $20,000 a year with a writing hobby, that’s pretty good money. If you make $20,000 a year as a full-time writer—not so much.

What is your writing routine?

It varies. I don’t write every day. Mostly spurts, anywhere from 60,000 words in 25 days to 40,000 words in a week, to 6-12,000 words a day. But typically I write a story in a day or so, about 3-4,000 words, and then I spend some time editing.

How do you measure progress – pages, words, lines, time…?

When it’s done. Nothing else really matters. I wrote a 6,000-word story the other day, and it was a great day, figured out the story and theme, got a nice hook and twist in there, and the prose came together nicely. That was a success, I think.

What is the Richard Thomas writing method?

I usually start with an idea, a philosophy, an emotion, or a fear. I don’t plot. So I sit with that idea, and then I think of what I’ve done before, what haven’t I done, where I could set it, who my protagonist(s) is/are, and then I start with the most compelling scene. I pay attention to my narrative hook, and then I just work on the conflict, increasing tension, which hopefully leads to a satisfying resolution. Setting is important to me, all five senses, so I try to write dense stories that are also entertaining, easy to get through.

What inspires you to write?

I love telling stories, transporting people to another place and time, and making them go through whatever my protagonist goes through, so hopefully they FEEL something powerful.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Read widely, and in your genre especially. Read the masters and then new voices, too. Write short stories, and in a wide range of genres, as you try to find your voice. When you send out your work, send it to a lot of places (assuming they are the right markets, applicable) not just 1-2 magazines, and don’t give up easily, stick with it. My story in Cemetery Dance got rejected 40 times before they took it. I had a story land at storySouth (3% acceptance rate) that had been rejected 100 times.

What are you reading right now?

I just read Gutshot by Amelia Gray, Inside Madeleine by Paula Bomer, and Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer—all three excellent books.

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

There are two I give away more than any other—All the Beautiful Sinners by Stephen Graham Jones, and Kiss Me, Judas by Will Christopher Baer. Those two, I think.

If there was one person, either contemporary or historical, real or fictional, you could spend a day with, who would you choose and why?   

Baer is such a recluse, I really wish I got to know him when he was teaching, online a lot. So I say Baer.

A few quick questions.  Favourite book?

It changes day to day, but for now, I say Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Author…

I think it has to be Stephen King.

Drink…

These days just a good cup of coffee, I think.

Food…

I could eat Thai or Chinese every day.

Film…

That’s so hard, but what I usually say is Blade Runner.

Television programme…

Just finished Breaking Bad a few weeks ago, so I’ll say that.

Radio programme…

Man, I hardly listen to the radio.

Music…

Usually comes down to The Cure or The Smiths. I’m old school.

It’s been a real pleasure meeting you on the Literary Smorgasbord, Richard.

Richard_138_B&W

Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas is the author of Disintegration. Find out more about him at whatdoesnotkillme.com

You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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

Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord: Cyan Brodie

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, Cyan Brodie.

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

My friends and family know me as Phil Jones. I moved from North Wales to Scotland seven years ago. I live in the tiny fishing village of Lochinver where I now lead a simple life, occasionally working beside the shore of Loch Assynt conducting such varied activities as felling trees, constructing outdoor furniture for pine martens, and diverting mountain streams.

When I get a spare hour or two I write. I mostly write Young Adult/New Adult fiction under the assumed name Cyan Brodie. I deliberately chose a non-gender specific name to reach a wider audience. And if you Google Search Cyan Brodie there’s just me.

What were you like at school?

Studious rather than athletic – having two left feet and poor coordination didn’t help.  In junior school I was the only one who looked forward to our weekly spelling test and I loved writing essays. Fortunately my sense of humour made up for my perceived ‘braininess’. I was also an avid reader – by all accounts I taught myself to read within days of starting school aged 5 even though English was my second language (Welsh being my first).

I did reasonably well with my ‘O’ levels, but once I entered the 6th form, growing long hair, listening to inappropriate music and being totally embarrassed in the company of girls became more important than my studies and I trashed my ‘A’ levels. Yet somehow I still went on to get a degree in Geography.

What has been the evolution of Cyan Brodie, the author?

I probably peaked too soon as ‘Phil Jones the writer’.

When I was 16 one of my school essays was chosen for publication in the first issue of a Welsh Arts magazine called Mabon. Crwydro (Wandering) – a slab of purple prose – was the only splash of colour in an otherwise grey and tediously drab publication. Thumbing through my free copy several years later I recognised the name of another contributor – some guy called Philip Larkin. He’d written an article about the poet Vernon Watkins. I hadn’t even realised Mr Larkin, a fellow Welshman, was also Mr Larkin the renowned poet and so I missed the opportunity to name drop. But it’s never too late to make up for lost time.

University, career and the real world took over and I barely wrote another word of creative fiction or indeed poetry until shortly before moving to Lochinver more than 40 years later. During my last year in North Wales I’d set myself the challenge of setting foot on every peak in Snowdonia above 2000-ft. This transformed into a project to compile a serviceable walkers’ guide to the area complete with photographs and step-by-step directions. Luck must have been having a quiet week at the office because within days of my first approach to a publisher I was invited to deliver the entire manuscript in person to Gwasg Carreg Gwalch in Llanrwst. 80 Hills was published less than a year after I arrived in Lochinver.

Once settled in my new home, purely by chance, I enrolled in a Creative Writing course run by local poet Mandy Haggith – an attempt to get to know my new neighbours (or at least those who could read and write). And within three months it dawned on me that I might have some talent for stringing words together.

I went through a poetry phase – over 100 poems within less than 12 months. Then I experimented with short fiction – stories, monologues, dialogue exercises – and finally decided to have a go at my first Young Adult novel – Dreamgirl set in Edinburgh. After a couple of failed attempts at finding a publisher I entered it in a competition organised by Manchester-based publishers Red Telephone Books for ‘the Young Adult Novel of the Year’ and Dreamgirl came joint winner and was published two years later.

In the meantime I’d self-published a collection of short stories, a poetry anthology, and another YA novel set in Inverness. All were published long before Dreamgirl finally saw light of day in October 2014.

The Scottish theme continues with my latest self-published YA novel – Dark Sky. A crime thriller which came out February 2015 – the first of the Lochinver Trilogy and touted as Tartan Noir for Teens.

At what moment did you first define yourself as a writer?

Probably when my first royalties cheque for 80 Hills arrived in the post – the magnificent sum of £36.

People still ask ‘Are you working tomorrow?’ and by that I assume they mean ‘Are you cutting down trees or desecrating the landscape tomorrow?’ and I’ll sometimes reply ‘No. I’m taking a day off to do some writing (so feel free to drop by and interrupt me).’ Obviously what I should be saying is – ‘Yes. I’ll be writing all day (so don’t bother calling round).’

 What genre do you write in?

Primarily YA and NA (New Adult) now. I enjoy reading thrillers so although Dreamgirl involved a certain amount of paranormal activity you’ll find no vampires or wizards or dystopian societies in my work. . . but who knows what lies around the corner?

What draws you to this genre?

I think writing with a slightly younger audience in mind gives the author freedom to look at life with a fresh set of eyes. – to show things from a different, almost anarchistic perspective. I enjoy challenging the reader – creating an unexpected, even discomforting response – and this genre gives me ample opportunity. Most of my characters are still at that stage in their lives when everything is new, when no risk is too great because it’s not been properly thought through, when everything is being experienced at a more intense level and when surgically precise sarcasm is just one more way of appearing cool rather than of being cynical.

Are you inspired by any writers in particular?

To my shame I’ve read very few YA novels. John Marsden’s award-winning debut So Much To Tell You probably inspired me to begin writing Dreamgirl. And some would maintain that my victim, Caddy, in Dark Sky is named in homage to the heroine of my all-time favourite novel The Sound and the Fury. I’m inspired as much by watching movies and listening to people blethering as by reading other writers’ work. The only thing my competitors might inspire me to do is to write better.

What are you working on right now?

I’m a quarter of the way through the sequel to Dark Sky called White Shore. It’s obviously set in the same location and pretty much features the same set of characters.

What is it about?

It deals with Matt and Amy’s attempts to recover from the Dark Sky fallout. The crime they exposed could have had horrific consequences had things worked out differently.

 What made you write a series?

I had three inter-linked plots in mind – each capable of sustaining a stand-alone novel. The setting was perfect for a fresh take on the standard Scottish crime thriller – Tartan Noir. Not the grimy streets of Glasgow or Edinburgh or Aberdeen but the remote, unspoilt paradise of the North-West Highlands where most of us never even bother to lock our doors at night.

How much research do you do?

The series has involved a great deal of on-line research into drugs, human trafficking, more drugs, police procedures, prison conditions, pre-1939 Irish politics… honestly! And of course I got to explore the geography and history of my new home in greater depth and imagine it in a different light. What if it’s not one of those shortbread and picture calendar corners of Bonnie Scotland after all?

How long does it take you to write a book?

I wrote the 70,000 word first draft of Dark Sky in 2013 as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge some writers put themselves through each November. But like most first drafts it needed major rework. I seem to remember one person considered it mostly unreadable [I’m saying nothing – LG]. The final, publishable draft appeared about nine months later. It must be better because it’s still selling.

Best writing moment so far.

Watching a complete stranger sitting in my local pub with their nose buried in Dark Sky becoming visibly engrossed in the plot. Also someone else who read Dark Sky told me the ending gave her goose-bumps. . . and I think it was meant as a compliment.

What are your ambitions, writing wise?

To continue – releasing a minimum of one new book each year. I’m convinced that self-publishing is more conducive to maintaining productivity and momentum than the tedious route traditional publishers put writers through with the obstacle course of pointless delays. Sadly the order for the cabin cruiser is still on hold.

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

I’m a night owl. I can often get so absorbed in the act that it’s suddenly stupid o’clock in the morning and I should have been in bed long ago.

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

I wish I could discipline myself to 2,500 words a day each day (which would equate to a 75,000-word novel within a month). But there are days when I don’t write a word and others when I can rattle off half a dozen chapters without breaking sweat. I stop when I stop.

 How do you write – longhand, laptop, typewriter, quill and ink?

The quill proved too impractical. You can’t get swan feathers for love or money up here.  75% is written in longhand – but I tend to add a great deal when I type it up onto my rusty laptop (hence the other 25%).

Any writing habits – music, particular place to work?

Occasionally music – but it can be distracting. Fortunately I live somewhere relatively quiet – no passing traffic, no 747s taking off close by, no noisy neighbours. Double glazing also helps. I don’t hold with needing a sacred place to write. It can be any room – literally (and I’ll spare your blushes but you probably get the idea).

What inspires you to write?

It’s not inspiration. That sounds too precious. Something will trigger a train of thought and the next thing I know I have an idea for a story that has to be written no matter what.

It can be something as simple as waking with a disturbing thought (the opening sentence to Dreamgirl) or catching sight of a random news report. I saw on STV that my local area had been designated a Dark Sky Discovery Site due to low levels of light pollution – and one idea led to another.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Spend nine hours reading for every hour you write.

Write what you yourself enjoy reading rather than what you think might sell.

Don’t over-plan – if you surprise yourself you’re more likely to surprise the audience as well.

There’s no such thing as writer’s block so get writing.

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

To Kill a Mockingbird – a predictable answer but so what?

A few quick questions.  Favourite book?

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Author…

Cormac McCarthy

Drink…

Southern Comfort if you’re buying – Birra Moretti if you’re not.

Film…

Jackie Brown (Tarantino)

Television programme…

Breaking Bad closely followed by my one guilty pleasure – Coronation Street

Music…

Where do I start? It’s Bjork today but it could well be Laura Marling or alt-J next week

What are you reading right now?

Blood’s a Rover by James Ellroy

It’s been a real pleasure meeting you on the Literary Smorgasbord, Cyan.

Cyan Brodie

Cyan Brodie

Cyan Brodie is the author of Dark Sky. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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