Interview with Allan Neil

What do your fans mean to you?
So far they're a pretty small club, but if they enjoy what they read it will make my day when I find out. If they don't enjoy it I'll still appreciate it if they tell me why (constructively, of course.)
What are you working on next?
I'm close to completing a serious work - by my standards. At first his is based a lot my own family history, beginning towards the tail end of the 19th century and blending into an examination of the causes of war and peace, finishing in the 1960s during the time of the Vietnam War. I am also writing the first of a planned series of novellas, built around personal experience and sorry life mistakes.
Who are your favorite authors?
I am very attracted to historical works of non-fiction, and among a plethora of extremely good authors I number Anthony Beevor, William Philpott, Ian Kershaw and Pat Barker. For all round 'good stuff' you can't beat Bill Bryson. I have a liking for American crime writers, like Michael Connelly and those who combine crime with the quirks of US law, such as John Grisham. Strangely I prefer non-UK crime fiction, maybe because, with my background I keep finding flaws in domestic stuff. Exception to this would be Peter James, but he has serious Police connections. Otherwise my reading choices are wider than wide.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Ideas buzzing in my brain.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Apart from reading, I do a lot of research before committing anything to paper on the basis that somewhere out there, among my pitifully few readers, is the guy who knows that the word for 'love' in the Baltic States - 'Armastan' - is not Lithuanian, but Estonian!
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Up to recently - Amazon Kindle, but now extended to Smashwords.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes. I was eleven years old and it was about a Border Collie sheepdog called 'Blackie.' I submitted it as an essay to my English teacher who awarded me 99 marks out of 100.
What is your writing process?
It starts with an idea, triggered either by a world or local event or a personal experience. I try to follow a path through to a conclusion, then fit the bits in between. I don't necessarily write in chapter order, but can jump forward and backwards as the situation demands. The trick then is to glue the chapters together - logically.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
From Here to Eternity. I had just seen the movie and read the book in one sitting. Impact was how to fit individual characters to each person in the story.
How do you approach cover design?
It has to relate directly to what is inside the covers, of course, but also has to stand out among the other books on the bookstore shelf.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
The two, that I've read most often - 'I, Claudius' and 'Claudius the God.' by Robert Graves, 'Stalingrad' by Jeffrey Beevor, 'Warhorse' by Michael Morpurgo, 'Lasso round the Moon' by the Norwegian author Agnar Mykle, which led me on to reading the sequels featuring his character Ash Grande.
What do you read for pleasure?
Just about everything I read beyond the first chapter. That's normally the point at which I make my mind up - read on or bin it.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I have an Amazon Kindle Fire and an old black and white Kobo.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
None. I am totally clueless at marketing. 'Too reserved' say my friends.
Describe your desk
Think Passchendaele 1917 minus the mud.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
My youth was spent in the little town of Penicuik, some ten miles south of Edinburgh. My writing was greatly influenced by aforesaid English teacher at Lasswade School, neither, sadly, still with us.
When did you first start writing?
I have always endeavoured to write clearly and informatively in all respects, from letters, through articles to books. The readers can be judges of whether I have succeeded, but serious writing around 2000 when I started a correspondence with a friend in the USA, in the form of articles inspired by the aforesaid Bill Bryson's style.
What's the story behind your latest book?
The novel, yet to be finished; a boy, Caleb Gray, is born in a miner's tiny cottage in a small town barely disguised as my place of birth. The story begins when he leaves school at the age of 12 to work down a mine - the sole family provider as his father has been incapacitated. His potential has been seen by his main teacher (surprise?). His mining career ends when he is injured in an underground accident that claims the life of a school friend. The teacher is able to find work for him in an explosives factory (this mirrors my own family history). He makes great progress in this career and by the outbreak of WW1 Caleb is managing a department. He is recruited into the management of an armaments factory, manufacturing artillery shells but after the early Battle of the Somme in 1916, when rumours abound about the failure of British shells to explode, he is 'white-feathered' as a coward by his girl friend's family. After a night of drunken remorse he enlists in the infantry. Completing his basic 'boot camp' he is recruited by a branch of the British Army involved in aggressive underground tunnelling, mine-laying under enemy strongpoints. In the course of an underground battle with German miners he is entombed, badly wounded, with only a German officer as company and during his conversation with the German he begins to see the futility of war. Caleb and the German are rescued by a British search party and he spends months in military hospitals where various characters influence his thinking. Returning home and not taking any further part in the war he finds himself involved in politics, eventually being elected as a Member of Parliament. In the early 1930s he is part of a mission to Germany investigating the growth and threat of the Nazi Party. After the outbreak of WW2 his political career stagnates as he is torn between the need to fight the War and his strong yearning for peace and hatred of conflict. Nevertheless he continues to serve, while watching the power and influence of the Soviet Union constantly threaten peace. The outbreak of the Korean war in June 1950 influences his thinking further and when a General Election if called in October 1951 he decides to stand down and concentrate his efforts on trying to find peace.
I am currently working up to the effects on Caleb of the Vietnam conflict, where the story will close, I hope with a moral for the reader.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I felt, and still feel, that I had something to contribute to people who want to read and digest more than they are getting from what we call 'The Red Top Newspapers.'
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Can I answer this one later, please?
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Watching something take shape, then life.
You'll be 80 years old next year. Why don't you just put your feet up and relax?
I've learned such a lot and made a shipload of mistakes in my 79 years. Some of these are lessons, which I might try to pass on.
Also, I guess I've been a bit pompous in the foregoing questionnaire, so I'd like to point out that I do have a smidgin of a sense of humour. See 'The Auchencookie Chronicles' and 'A Week in the Life of Chairdog Bongo.'
Published 2017-12-26.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.