Interview with Jim Murdoch

What do you write?
I started off as a poet. I suspect many writers do. I was happy being a poet and had no desire to express myself in prose. And things stayed like that for some twenty years. I was a poet. I wrote poetry. End of story. Then I hit a brick wall and produced nothing new for three years. I assumed that was me. I was in my mid-thirties; time to grow up. I tried to reconcile myself to being … let’s just go with ‘normal’ … but even though I had nothing to say (or at least believed I had nothing more to say) the need to write wouldn't leave me. So one day I sat down to write a something, an anything, simply to enjoy the experience of turning sentences round, as Philip Roth might have put it. When I counted up the words I realised I'd written the first draft of a novel. I’d certainly not planned to write a book nor imagined I had one in me but there you go. Twenty years later I've now completed six books, fifty-odd short stories, a couple of plays even and a lot more poetry.
I mean, what do you write about?
Oh, I write about people. I’m not much interested in nature or politics or science or even telling stories to be frank but I do find human nature endlessly fascinating. Why do we do the stuff we do? And we do do some weird stuff. Writing for me is about solving problems. I find it easier to work out the solution to a problem by giving it to a third party—i.e. a fictional character—and watching what happens to him on the page. The book is simply a record of those observations, my workings if you like. My novel 'Milligan and Murphy', for example, can pretty much be reduced to a single sentence: There are no reasons for unreasonable things; 'Living with the Truth' can likewise be summarised by: By the time you’ve made sense out of your life you’ve no time left to do anything with it. In the process of working out these ‘truths’ books get written.
No, I mean what kind of books do you write?
Ah, you mean genre? When people ask me that I invariably point them to what the writer Kay Sexton said in her review of my first novel: “In all, this is one of those novels that bookshops must hate: not 'hard' enough to be spec fic, not 'weird' enough to be fantasy, too realistic for the humour section and yet too humorous to shelve easily with the lit fic. And that, I suspect is going to prove to be its charm; for those who do read it, it's a singular take on the world, and it will either resonate with you or leave you cold. […] But I can recommend that you try it—if you like distinctive fiction that rings no bells and blows no whistles but creeps up on you with its absurdities, this book will satisfy you, as it did me.”

I would class all my writing as General Fiction. I aspire to be a literary novelist but when you boil that down all I'm saying is that I aim to produce well-written novels, good books.
Why do you write?
A writer is a person whose natural response to life is to write about it. I am a writer ergo I write. When I see something that moves me I don’t reach for a paintbrush or slip on my dancing shoes, I switch on my laptop (not that it’s usually turned off) and I try to express myself in words. Translating human experience into words feels like the most natural thing in the world to me. I always feel better when I’ve done that even if what I’ve produced is mediocre; I’ve been writing for long enough now that I’d like to think the worst I ever produce is mediocre. Most of the time when I’ve said what I have to say I could toss the words—they’ve done their job (for me)—but I don’t because I realise that other people can get stuff out of them too. It’s the green thing to do.
How do you write?
This may sound facetious but: One sentence at a time. I am most definitely a pantser. No offense to any plotters out there but I don’t know how you do it. If I’d worked out how my novel was going to pan out I wouldn’t see any reason finishing it. For me the whole point in writing is to work out something and so I have no idea where I am going. When I sat down to write that first novel I turned on my word processor, thought for a few seconds and then wrote my first sentence. I hadn’t the foggiest notion who I was writing about or anything about him but as long as what was pouring out of me held my interest I kept typing.
Where do you write?
In Scotland, where I was born; I live just outside of Glasgow. I’m proud to be a Scot but I’m not fanatically nationalistic. Apart from the occasional poem or story written in Glaswegian I’d be surprised if anyone would pick up my nationality from my writing although, especially in my blogs and books reviews, I find it hard to resist not slipping in the odd wee Scotticism even if I have to explain it. Scottish is a very colourful language and I like to do my bit to keep it alive.
No, where exactly do you write?
I have an office. All my life I wanted my own office but these days I spend most of my time writing in the living room on my laptop. I’m not one of those writers who needs complete silence to work—I remember a scene from Ken Russell’s biopic of Mahler where his wife runs around the local hillsides taking the bells off the cows, well that’s not me—nor do I need my lucky pen or to write on paper of a certain colour. I am the least superstitious writer you’re ever likely to meet. I sit here most days with my wife not ten feet away and get on with my work.
When do you write?
When I have something to say. I don’t have a fixed schedule. Not for fiction writing anyway. I do write every afternoon but mostly these days it’s nonfiction. The fiction comes in its own good time and it’s simply up to me to transcribe the stuff when it sees fit to appear. I do understand why professionals have to be rigorous when it comes to their time—their writing pays their bills—but I have the luxury of not needing to rely on my writing for even a small part of my income which is lucky because I don’t earn much from it.
Why should I read what you write?
Because it’s good. If you don’t believe me then read the reviews:

Jim Murdoch has a genuine natural talent and it as well for all of us that he has both recognised this fact and ... managed now to arrange his life in such a way that he will have more time to write in the future. That's good news for everybody. – Guy Fraser-Sampson

Jim Murdoch's debut is an intelligent, funny and moving novel that any discerning reader should enjoy. – Steve Kane

Jim Murdoch really is a very talented writer. His wit is dry, his dialogue clever and realistic, his prose matter-of-fact and concise. ['Milligan and Murphy' is] a well-written and intelligent book. – Jessica Bell

Jim Murdoch's collection of short stories in 'Making Sense' is his best work yet. – Paula Cary
What that you’ve written do you suggest I read first?
Well, not 'Stranger than Fiction' since it’s a sequel but other than that it depends on what you like. 'Living with the Truth' is a funny novel with a serious heart; 'Milligan and Murphy' owes a debt to Beckett and so is a slightly more literary work (don’t let the Beckett reference put you off) and 'Making Sense' is a mixed bag of short stories including a few in dialect (and not just Glaswegian) for the adventurous. No point asking me; I think they’re all good.
Published 2013-09-13.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Making Sense
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 39,580. Language: English. Published: August 22, 2013 by Fandango Virtual. Categories: Fiction » Literary collections » European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
(4.33 from 3 reviews)
Life doesn’t make sense but we still try to impose a sense of sense onto it. In this collection of stories we meet twenty people who have nothing in common apart from the need to make sense out of their lives, all trying to answer the self-same questions, and where their five senses fall short they have to rely on their other senses: those of humour, of justice, of right and wrong, of decency...
Milligan and Murphy
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 45,380. Language: English. Published: August 29, 2012 by Fandango Virtual. Categories: Fiction » Humor & comedy » General, Fiction » Literature » Literary
On one level this could be a farcical tale reminiscent of the work of Flann O’Brien about a pair of Irish layabouts who somehow run away from home by accident and are helped find their way by a number of eccentric characters; on another it might be a metafiction about the nature of writing inspired by Samuel Beckett or maybe it’s just a silly book like ‘Puckoon’. Then again it could be all three.
The Whole Truth
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 99,860. Language: English. Published: August 22, 2011 by Fandango Virtual. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » General
This volume contains two novels, Living with the Truth and Stranger than Fiction, depicting three days an old bookseller gets to spend in the company of Truth, an omniscient being with a wry sense of humour and an interesting agenda. Think Douglas Adams meets Alan Bennett with a touch of Charles Dickens, Franz Kafka, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. NB: ONLINE HTML VIEWER CENTRES TEXT
Stranger than Fiction
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 51,080. Language: English. Published: August 22, 2011 by Fandango Virtual. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » General
A sequel to Living with the Truth, the book is set in a landscape generated by Jonathan's memories of his past life. In this pseudo-reality he has to face more truths about himself and learns that the universe may not be in safe hands. By the end of the book he realises that you don't always need to get all the answers, and never to say die. NB: ONLINE HTML VIEWER CENTRES TEXT
Living with the Truth
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 50,330. Language: English. Published: August 21, 2011 by Fandango Virtual. Categories: Fiction » Humor & comedy » Black comedy
An old bookseller sitting in his flat in the seaside town of Rigby hears the door. Is it Death? No. It’s the truth in human form. Truth takes him on an emotional journey through his life providing him with many of the answers he might have sought, if only he was the kind of person who went looking for answers, and a few he would never have wanted to know. NB: ONLINE HTML VIEWER CENTRES TEXT