Monday, 28 May 2012

ABIDE WITH ME: Goodreads Live-chat Transcript (Part Two)


A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to be the subject of a live web-chat by the lovely people of the Goodreads Kindle Forum.  It was a long and enjoyable night, in which I learnt as much about myself as others perhaps did.  

Funny, not until you're having to answer questions fired at you at a million miles an hour do you sometimes see the spaces between the words.

If you missed it, PART ONE of the interview can be found here

And here comes the final part . . .  

Hope you enjoy.

All the best,



Anyway, Ian. Do you think your publisher will stay with KDP Select after the ninety days and branch out into Smashwords etc?
Tricky one. I can't speak for Caffeine Nights, but my feeling about KDP is that the exclusivity demanded by Amazon leaves a bad taste in the mouth. That's why I would never use it for anything I may publish myself.

Smidgen, Splinters, Wafflemaker... The names of your characters are obviously important. Where do they come from?
Honestly, that's what their names are. Who am I to change a character's name, just because it sounds funny.

Bit of a Dickens thing going on there :)
I love Dickens, so probably deep in me psyche somewhere, he's sitting about, having a right laugh.

Perhaps you could run a competition to name incidental characters in the sequal?
I've seen a few people do that, and it's a great idea. Thing is, these characters have already got names. Would be a bit rude foisting another on on them. I like that word. Foisting.
Silus Mange? Able Cocknocker?

Ian, from some of the words you have been using in describing the way you write, it feels to me like writing for you is a very "spiritual" process... is it ?
Very much so. A sort of channelling sort of thing. Really hard to explain without coming across as completely loony, but it's just the way I write now.
I was actually going to say channelling myself... so i totally understand what you mean :)

Great news re sequel, will we see more of Harry Wilkins?
I warmed to him at the end of the book.
I don't know if Harry will play a part yet, as I have no idea what will be happening. In AWM, I had no idea where each chapter would lead. I just listened and watched inside my head, and wrote. It's like AWM2 is already written, and it's just a case of me tuning in and writing it down. I like Harry. I hope to see him again.

If pushed to compare your style to any other writer's I'd take a pass. AWM is so unique in its mixture of subtle elegance and graphic style, that's a hard thing to do. If pushed really hard I'd say Ellroy (the early Ellroy of the L.A. Quartet era.) Do you have any comparisons that you think would be valid. (C'mon now. Don't be modest.)
Blimey. That's a hard one. I know there are elements of Virginia Woolf in there - all the visceral stuff, you know. And the Ellroy clipped sentences, yeah, I can see that. LA Confidential was hugely influential when I read it. I had no idea you were allowed to write like that.
And I think Hemingway is in there somewhere too.

I'd also say that Ray Bradbury should be included. For the poetic images and mythic references of the characters. Arthurian legend comes right to mind.
Never read any Bradbury, AJ, much to my shame. He's on me list, though. And I did pick up a sort of mythic quality to the whole thing, with Kenny at the heart.

Can you see yourself writing a novel from a third person perspective as opposed to first person?
I'm not sure I could. It's the voice thing, you know. I do a few short stories in that sort of distant omniscient wotsit, but I don't know if I could stand writing a novel like that. I suppose I need to be on the inside, feeling what the characters feel, and third person is something I find really hard to write and achieve that same level of intimacy.

Do you start with a title and then write, or write then come up with a title? How do you come up with said title, is it a case of picking it out of a hat? (:
With the short stories, the title comes in pretty much immediately, although I never start with it. I always start with a feeling, a moment, and just go from there.
The title for AWM was provisionally Fortunes Always Hiding - a line from Bubbles - the West Ham song. Was a friend of mine that read an early draft and pointed out not only was ABIDE WITH ME a pivotal moment in the book - being sung at the cup final - but it was also the sentiment that tied the whole book together. When she said that, it was like the title revealed itself all in a flash.
I love it when that happens.

Kenny never actually spoke in AWM. Was this a conscious decision?
Funny, but I didn't realise either till I read the first draft. Then it sort of made sense. So a couple of places where he did speak, I made a conscious decision to alter them. So sort of conscious and sort of not, really.

Going through the reviews, it seems that one of the "things" that made your book a success with so many readers is the use of the East end local lingo. Was it easy to write? I mean if you're used to typing standard English stuff, was it hard to change, or did the words just come naturally?
It really was just a matter of listening to the voice speaking in my head, and making sure I wrote it down accurately. Because I speak pretty much like John in the book, although not quite so sweary, it wasn't too difficult as, say, if he were a Geordie or something.
And the standard English thing, I've never really done that to any great degree.

I know you write organically with very little planning. Any plans to write something that is more plotted beforehand?
I've tried, mate. On a couple of short stories. But it just doesn't work for me. Feels too constrained, as if I'm in control. For me, it's all about letting the characters tell their story. If I try and force them in a certain direction, they just sort of clam up. Can't blame them, really.

It's the dialogue (and in this case, the internal dialogue as well) that can make or break a novel. In AWM it rings completely true.
A lot of the dialogue, I re-enacted wandering around the front room, just so I made sure I'd got it right. Tescos queues were another one. Got some right looks there.
And as I said to AJ earlier, it's a real rhythm thing. A sort of feeling. I would get a little twinge if something wasn't quite right, a sort of jarring feeling. Then I'd just listen a little closer till I got it right.

Do you feel that the local language adds to the identity of a person/of a community? Do you feel that it helps a person integrate/feel part of that community to a certain extent?
I think a local dialect can be both inclusive and exclusive. During my counselling training, I was once in a class full of middle class Essex women in the power suits and their delicate sensibilities. When I turned up with my Dagenham top and my dropped aitches, yet still got top marks, I'd never felt more discriminated against.

I feel that Kenny kind of reminds me of Lennie from Of Mice and Men...
Funny, my publisher pointed that out as well, Rosemary. He referred to AWM as 'Of Mice and Men' for the East End. And I suppose the similarities are pretty clear. I think there are definite differences, but it's a valid comparison.

Terry Pratchett said at a signing that "Your subconscious knows the complete story, soup to nuts, but it doesn't want you to have it until you earn it by doing things like endlessly mowing the lawn or washing the windows or feeding the dog or doing other deadly dull chores until it gets bored and finally throws the thing at you with an All Right! Here it is! For God's sake,write it! Remark."
Does that kind of inspiration strike you when you need it most?
I love that. And, yep, I'm a great believer in the whole story being written, ready and waiting, until the writer is at a time in his life where he needs to write it.
And I like King's archeaology analogy as well.

I believe the same about reading a book... Sometimes if you can’t get into a book, maybe you are just not ready for what it contains. It is why i usually just put them to one side rather than sack them off completely (apart from the ones that are just rubbish of course, that is a completely different thing!)
Very true. I'm still waiting for the time in my life when I can start ploughing through that pile of Jackie Collins classics by the back door.

A tutor at college, a sculptor, said the work was waiting in the block of stone. It was his job to do the work and get it out, release it. Sounds like that's a bit like how you approach your writing Ian?
(this is getting a bit deep, huh!)
That's a great analogy. And yes, almost identical. Steven King said writing is akin to archaeology, all about working down the layers to the truth beneath - then writing the truth.
I love that sort of stuff ;)

How was AWM received locally?
One of my main priorities was that the West Ham sections of the book came across as genuine. To this end, I posted the relevant chapters on a couple of die-hard West Ham forums, and braced myself for the worst. The feedback was absolutely unanimous. The most commented comment was that it was just like being at the game, and all the other things rang completely true. The local book signings - Basildon and Romford - were fantastic, so I'm pretty confident I've struck the right note locally - which is nice :)

And considering you've been featured in a few local newspapers and all that... have people stopped you in the street to grab an autograph yet?
Not yet - thankfully. Although I was in the Romford Waterstones a couple of weeks back, and someone asked if I could sign a bookmark for them, if that counts :)

I liken the "unintelligent" Kenny/Lenny character back the mythic icon known as The Holy Fool so the pedigree for that character is an honourable trope in any form of fiction. Did you have in mind that archetype, Ian? Or was Kenny an existing person to whom you assigned the characteristics?
There really is a deeper layer there. And I think with the Holy Fool trope you're pretty close. You know me, mate. I just write. For me, Kenny is as real as anyone I know. If he represented a trope, I wasn't aware of it at the time. But then again, I suppose all the archetypes are an unconscious thing anyway, aren't they.
A couple of people have mentioned to me the resurrection myth, and thinking on it, I think there might be something in that . . .

Do you have any more booksigning sessions planned? Are you staying in your area or will you be travelling further over the months?
Walthamstow Waterstones is the last planned one, and that's tomorrow. I'll be at the Tonbridge Arts Festival on the 23rd June with a bunch of other Caffeine Nights authors, which should be a fantastic day. Romford, Basildon, and Lakeside Waterstones have asked me to do another signing later in the year, as have The Newham Bookshop. We're looking to hit Brentwood and Southend Waterstones later in the year also.

Not coming north of the Border then? Got some good book festivals up here, Lennoxlove's just along the road...
Would love to. But not being able to drive and not having any pennies or sticks or pretty much of anything to rub together, I reckon Walthamstow's the furthest north I'll get this time round :{

[Ian’s turn to ask questions]Anyone got any thoughts on the vast amount of naughty words in the book?
* Actually do you know Ian, I hardly noticed them. It was part of the idioglossia (I may have just made that word up?)
* Nope, even my mum and Dad said that although there was a lot, it was in character and helped make John 'John'
* I agree, I couldn't imagine John any other way, it just wouldn't be the same
So relieved your mum and dad weren't offended. Funny, by the end I knew if I stuck in an extra naughty one. It stood out a mile. And I really struggled with the final sentence, until I realised a naughty word was missing. Popped it in, and the whole world fell into place nice :)
* Dad has been recommending it to anyone who will listen! ! (praise indeed) Have even had to lend out one of my signed copies!
Blown me away, the different sorts of people that have been recommending the book. Proper blown me away :)
* They're great from a non-native point of view, lots of new vocabulary !
* Pretty tame compared to the language where i work actually! and IMO totally within the context of the book and characters...
The context was the thing for me. At no time did I feel the need to really apologise, although I was very conscious of the potential negative impact it might have on readers.
* Maybe it was also a kind of a filter to ensure that the book reached the required audience...
like if you didn’t get on with the language (vernacular and swearing) then the book wasn't meant for you...
Very wise. I love that. I must say, I was expecting far more of a negative response to the language than I've actually got. So I think you might have something there . . . :)
* Yeah but so many readers saw it as a positive thing too !
* When I read it I became conscious of how much me and my mates swear just in the course of normal conversation in the pub. So definitely realistic!
That's what I found with the whole book. Being a single narrative, I was able to read the whole thing out and pick up anything missing. Just that naturalistic thing, you know.

Can I ask both Ian and Stu... Do you find that you have a bond through writing (I mean other than being twins and all that)... or do you try to not get involved in each other's projects? (Edit: I don't mean in a non-supportive way)
Ian::) The thing I find interesting, is how completely differently me and Stu write. We are very different characters in real life too. In a funny sort of way, I sometimes think my kind of writing fits Stu's more outgoing personality more than mine, and perhaps my more quiet nature is more akin to Stuart's beautiful prose. But it's not like that at all. We both feel a need to speak the truth as we see it. And therein lies the bond.
That's what I reckon.
What do you think, Stu?
Stu: I like to think that there's a mutual thing that although our stuff is completely different it is still in some way distilled from the basic values we grew up with.

[Last question of the night] AWM2… Is it going to be about Johnny again, or is it about other people but in the same background as AWM?
[Funnily enough, this question remained unanswered…]

No comments:

Post a Comment