Why Do You Write?
The artist Paul Gauguin once said “The duty of the artist is to affirm the dignity of life.” That’s what I try to do.
What Books Do You Read?
Anything and everything. It largely depends on what I’m writing, what I need to read for research. Usually I’ll have two or three things on the go all at once. Generally I’ll read a lot of novels, historical textbooks, biographies, and poetry. I love short story collections, too.
What Inspires You?
Courage in the face of overwhelming odds.
How Did You Know You Wanted To Be A Writer And When?
I’ve written stories ever since I could hold a pen. I don’t know where it comes from. I really believe some people are born to do the things they do. I knew innately that I couldn’t work a 9 to 5 job for 60 years, doing the same thing, in the same place, with the same people, over and over and over again. There’s a real honour and dignity in doing that, but it just wasn’t for me. I got very indignant about that aged five, I remember. So I needed something that afforded me space to do what I wanted to do. Writing came naturally to me. I didn’t get serious about it, though, until I came home from America in 2003. I landed having just walked out of the life I was meant to have and didn’t have a clue what I was going to do. My girlfriend at the time, my wife now, asked me ‘if you could do any one thing, what would it be?’ I replied ‘write’ rather sheepishly, the way you do with a tentative dream. ‘Then do it’ she replied. So, emboldened, I did. I owe all of this to her.
How Do You Deal With Rejection?
This sounds like a fucking arrogant thing to say, but the first three things I submitted to publishers all got accepted. I’m quite proud of that. So I haven’t had the traditional ‘rejection’ experience most writers get. I had a few small pieces turned down for online publication early on, but the books so far have all been picked up. I think it’s human nature to fear rejection. I’d never hit on women in nightclubs. Ever. The whole thing seemed brutal to me. But I think you have to approach rejection with confidence and belief. You have to be bulletproof. If you’re too sensitive to have someone reject your work without the knowledge that not everybody is gonna love everything, then you’re in the wrong game. Now I don’t fear it at all. Bring it on.
Who Are Some Writers You Admire?
How long have we got? I admire anyone with the guts to give it a go, but if you’re asking me who my favourite writers are then I’d say Ernest Hemingway, Philip Roth, Hunter S Thompson, Cormac McCarthy, Daniel Woodrell, Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, Henry Miller, SE Hinton and Bruce Springsteen. Yeah, I know he’s a musician, but if you look at those lyrics, the man is a writer of the highest calibre.
Is Writing The Only Artistic Medium You Do?
More or less. Right now it’s the only thing I care about being good at.
What Would Be Some Advice You’d Give To Your Younger Self?
I actually addressed this in one of the short stories that’s in my new book. I’d say ‘be braver, take risks, do more.’ I think when I was younger I was one of those kids that sat on the shore rather than braving the storm of life. I wish I’d thrown myself into experiences more, consequences and emotions be damned. I was too fucking soft and withdrawn. I try to make up for lost time where I can now. I think I’m doing alright but you can never buy back the time. Young people should be stupid, crazy and dangerous. Always.
Do You Have Any Advice For Other Writers
Don’t talk about it, do it. I see so many people in writing groups, sitting around jabbering about writing, covering all the peripheries of it, but never actually getting stuck in. Just wade into the guts of the thing. If you wanna be a writer then write. And fuck the ‘rules’. That’s the thing that pisses me off the most. Don’t get me started. People who pay thousands of pounds to ‘learn how to write’. You know how you write? You know what the rules are? Read a lot, write a lot and mean it. That’s it. That would be my advice.
What Is Your Writing Process?
Depends what I’m writing. The only constant is that I keep my radar up. With poetry if I hear a line on a bus or read one in a book or magazine that snags my interest then I write it down and finish the poem there and then. If it’s a short story I wait for something to piss me off, think about it across the day, revisit it later, let it build up and build up until it spills out of me in one go rather than trying to scrape the bottom of an empty well. Then edit it if necessary, usually not. For a novel I’ll wait until I get an idea, get some books that are relevant for the research, then start playing with my building blocks, see what fits. You ever play Tetris as a kid? Writing novels is like that. Stack one thing on top of another wherever it fits. If a piece doesn’t fit you can see it a mile away. It looks and feels totally wrong. Keep doing that and before you know it you have a novel. Easy, really.