I have two young children (1 year old and 3 years old), so my writing process is to try and chisel out a thousand words or so once my day's work is done, the kids are asleep, the dishes have been washed and the house is tidy. I usually think about things for a long time before I actually start writing. I have a notebook that I carry around with me, into which I scribble ideas. Quite often, I write out by hand little sections of whatever book or story I am currently working on, then I type them up and embellish them later. Recently I have got much better at writing more frequently and letting ideas come to me as I write. I've been a lot happier with what I have produced as a result.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I don't remember the first story I ever read, but I read voraciously as a child. I loved Roald Dahl and Terry Pratchett and then, later, I got more engrossed in literary fiction. When I was 17 I purloined a box full of Penguin paperbacks from my parents' book shelves and started steadily working my way through them. Many of them were authors my parents had read when they were younger: Salinger, Faulkner, Greene, Murdoch, Orwell, lots of Steinbeck. I suppose the impact those books had on me can be measured in the fact that I still have them now.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
I have lots of favorites. To pick five I would have to say: Gulliver's Travels by Swift for its outrageously misanthropic and satirical visions of human behavior; Frankenstein for its structure and the genuine darkness at Shelley's heart; Coming up for Air by Orwell, because I think it taps into the terror of middle class English life in a way few other authors have achieved; Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie for the sheer ambition and high-wire antics of his prose; finally, Underworld by Don DeLillo. I read this for the first time when I was 18 and it was completely unlike anything I had read before. It's a vast, meandering monster of a book that manages at the same time to be intricately constructed with the delicacy of a much shorter novel. If there was only one writer left in the library...
What do you read for pleasure?
I read literary fiction. If I'm honest, I prefer novels by grumpy old men: Pynchon, DeLillo, Roth, Rushdie, Doctorow, Updike, McCarthy, Bellow, et al, but I can sometimes be persuaded (by my wife) into reading something by Margaret Atwood. I also love Ancient Greek tragedy and epic - I recently read Seamus Heaney's translation of Sophocles' 'Antigone', which is called 'The Burial at Thebes'.
Describe your desk
I don't have a desk. I write at the dining-room table. Sometimes I take my laptop into the living room. I dream of a day when my younger son's bedroom becomes my office. Then I will have a desk and it will be a marvel - all glass and highly polished chrome. I'll employ a gang of local toughs to buff and wax it hourly.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a town called Marlborough, which is a very rural, traditional English market town. Initially I suppose I wanted to write about anything but rural, traditional English market towns. But I recently finished a novel set in the sleepy hamlet in which I lived as a child. I'm planning to publish it on Smashwords soon. It's called Manton Hollow - look out for it.
What's the story behind your latest book?
'The Spirit of Atrocity' is about a woman called Medea Jackson who is led on a wild goose chase from far-Western Canada to the Middle East, in search of the impulse in humans that makes us want to wipe each other out in large numbers. Along the way she meets a Holocaust survivor and they strike up an unusual relationship. It's a kind of conspiracy thriller, but it's really about two very different people, both adrift in the modern world, who bump into each other and find they have a shared purpose.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I recently finished my fourth novel and felt that it was time to start making things happen. I have always been slightly frightened of the traditional, mainstream publishing industry, so I did some research, found out about Smashwords and here we are.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Writing is really the only thing besides child-rearing and swimming that makes me feel that I am doing what I should be doing. Everything else just eats up my time and energy and distracts me from what I have always felt is my true calling. I get enormous satisfaction from crafting sentences and chapters, structuring narrative and creating characters. I think as I get older and more mature as a writer I am also learning about the joy of failing. When something doesn't come out exactly as you imagine, it is devastating. But then you look at it again and realize it is not worse, it is just something else. And this is a joyful thing.
What are you working on next?
The new story I am planning hinges around ideas about sex and death. It will feature a number of characters whose stories are tangentially linked via circumstances they are often not fully aware of. I am hoping that it will be a much bigger, more ambitious book than I have ever written before, something that comments on the disconnection and isolation of modern living.
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