Interview with Patrick Farnon

When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Doing odd-jobs about the house. I like painting and decorating but over the years I've done just about everything to fix up my house from plumbing and even some electricity. And I also like cooking. I have found from experience that you need to find a balance between mental and physical activity. Between the two I find the physical more important. I try to excercise every day.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
The few that I have downloaded are from places like Project Gutenberg. I try to fill in the gaps by trying to look at the best: classical writers from all over the world. Things like Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentinian writer that I have finally got round to having a look at and Francis Jammes, the French writer that wrote Prayer to go to Paradise with the Donkeys and the Romance of the Hare. I read French and Spanish at University and the donkey poem stuck in my head - wrote a story about in on my website - but it took me years to taker a closer look at Jammes, when I was living in Spain. If I ever get the time I would like to do a collection of his poems about animals, though I'd have to translate them from French. They've got to be about the saddest thing you could ever read. Just think what a Donkey's life is like, lugging stuff all its life for some idiot human. Or a dog's life. And then when you've wiped away your tears you see that lots of humans lead lives that are even worse than that of animals.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I think that was The White Bed, that was published in the New Edinburgh Review. I had just moved to Amsterdam and was pretty unhappy about my life and what to do when I read In Dreams Begin Responsibilities by Delmore Schwartz, the American writer - he taught Lou Read, the musician, at Syracuse University and Read loved the man. He was one of Vladimir Nabokov's favourite stories. I loved that story so much I read it over and over, twenty or thirty times and sat down and wrote the White Bed in one go. It unleashed something. And that started me writing.
What is your writing process?
I tend to do it in bits and pieces, when I have time. And build it up piece by piece, though I have often written stories and novelas in one go. But I certainly recommend the off-the-cuff approach: automatic writing in other words, write with the flow till you can't go any further. You get some surprising results. I've written in various styles though, having also worked as a journalist and an advertising copywriter and those all require different techniques.
How do you approach cover design?
My first two covers I designed myself. The first was for The Scots Way to Santiago de Compostela that I published two years ago. It was taken from painting - a side panel actually of a triptych - of the Last Judgement by Hieronymus Bosch, the Dutch painter, showing a pilgrim in the Middle Ages on the road to Santiago de Compostela. I drew stripes on his robe with a crayon to give it the effect of a kilt. There's a French Way, an English Way and a Portuguese Way to Santiago so I thought we might as well also have a Scots Way, being a Scot myself. Particularly when I started to read the 12th century Book of St James which had by chance been stolen from Santiago Cathedral the year before. The Scots had been down that way too from the earliest times. And left a bad impression. "Sleazeball Spaniards were Scots" was the title of one story. You can find out what they were up to by reading it. The Book of St James was the first travel book. Written specifically for pilgrims. But the cover says it all. In the background one guy is getting gutted with a knife by a robber while the blind, the dumb and the lame are staggering downhill, a crow is sitting on a tree branch, waiting to pick out the soon-to-be- a-corpse's eyes.
The second cover I based on a portrait of Chiang Kai-shek. I got a friend to blow up his marvellous medal of the Order of the White Sun and the Blue Sky and pin it on his chest to make it looked exaggerated. A bit like the stories I was telling about a chancer called McClafferty who gets involved in the scam. But the idea came from real life. I met some Spaniards who were moving the gold bonds on the internet. In the cesspits of the financial world.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
I love WIllliam Faulkener's As I lay Dying. These poor crazy people and written with such drive, it seems to say everything about bungling, desperate mankind. Then Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, because of the absurdity and how the economic system operates. A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez because of how he strings his prose together in one long continuous narrative. Hemingway's A Moveable Feast because of the nostalgic undertone. And anything by Jack Kerouac: Desolation Angels or On the Road. But ask me the same question on another occasion and I might give a different answer.
What do you read for pleasure?
That varies. I used to check the newspapers and magazines a lot in the past. Across the spectrum, but I've become exhausted by the overkill. And since much of it is opinion you realize the writers generally don't know much more than you do. I generally now prefer to read the press in Dutch which I find more educational and less sensational than the English language press, particularly the British. Recently I've been watching a lot of lectures on philosophy on YouTube which I find enthralling and you learn something, particularly where people get their ideas from and how thinking is formed. The same goes for history documentaries.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I have a Kindle but I rarely use it because it has no backlight, Tablets are much more attractive. And then I check out the news etc on my phone in the morning and look up stuff on the internet with it whenever I have a question.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
That's a question I still have to answer as I am new to this game and learning. But I think, since this is my second book, that exposure is much more important than sales. At the beginning. It seems to me better to have people reading your stuff rather than thinking of what price to put on it.
Describe your desk
I have a fairly big desk with my PC and printer on it but if I am writing I prefer to do it with pencil and paper. It is faster, easier and you can edit more quickly. In addition, and speaking from experience, sitting for hours in front of an electronic screen, typing, editing and correcting texts is physically tiring, especially for your eyes,
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Hamilton in the West of Scotland. It is still a pretty small town of about 60,000 people. I grew up on a housing estate that was full of all sorts of crazy characters - nutcases, I like to think - they were for me in any case, crazy characters. And I still remember many of them with great joy. In fact the crazier the better. From an early age the way people were or behaved stuck me often as crazy but crazy in a nice kind of way. Craziness that you could see was a reflection of some kind of joy. Lack of self-awareness. There were plenty of others of course whose craziness was suppressed and you had to be wary of them. Possibly for that reason I loved and identified with writers from the American South. The short stories of Truman Capote; Breakfast at Tiffany's I remember reading going along the railway line to primary school when I was about twelve. Flannery O'Connor. Carson McClullers: The Ballad of the Sad Café. Those were models that inspired my first stories. I later read all the decent short stories I could find by English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish writers, but there was something closer to home with the Southern writers. Still is. My father once said that - his generation in any case - that we (as Irish-Caholics) were second-class citizens and were treated like "blacks in the south" because of the sectarianism and anti-catholic sentiment, particularly in the West of Scotland. At that time in any case. Maybe that was also a link. Things have changed since then but you still have traces of it in the Celtic-Rangers football rivalry. It's pretty sad. But you are talking about a pretty low level of tribalism. And then go and check where the word "Hillbilly" comes from and you'll find another primitive, unfortunate connection with the Scots..
When did you first start writing?
Out of sheer misery. I was working as a translator (Dutch to English) for an investment bank in Amsterdam. I got so bored I went once or twice to sleep in the toilet. I was pretty unhappy but since I had a wife and a daughter and it was well paid, I had to keep at it. So then I hit on writing. I'd had written a decent essay that got me to high school and had a few pieces in the HIgh School Magazine and I'd done the usual translations from French and Spanish for my exams but I had no idea about such things as becoming a writer. It never occurred to me. So I wrote about ten or fifteen stories over a period of months when I was working at the bank - I don't remember how many exactly - and started sending them round to magazines. I got about ten published eventually within about a year or two.
What's the story behind your latest book?
This is based on a true experience. As most of my stories are. A few years ago I stayed with some Spanish friends in Spain who were involved in trading Chiang Kai-shek Gold Bonds on the internet. I put the story on my website. That was about four years ago. I had this idea called Paddy's Weekly in which I would write a short story every week and put it on my website and at the end of the year would have a collection of about 50 stories which I would then publish. I did that for three years, but as it turned out, I was never able to produce more than 14 or 15 stories a year. It was only the fact that an IT friend made a website for me that got me back to writing. I had just about given up by then since I could not get published. I even wrote a novel in Dutch as I'd given up on English. And Dutch has more affinity with Scots than standard English. The Queen's English, I believe they call it for some reason that makes me smile. So I combined that story of the Gold Bond with other stories and centered in on a single character: the chancer McClaffery. Even one about grown people on the street wearing nappies. I saw two cases of that in Amsterdam. It's just amazing the wackos that are out there.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Basically the fact that I could publish my own work. A good friend made a website for me about five or six years ago, and since I had published short stories years back, that encouraged me to start writing again. It had become obvious that traditional publishers were, for me, a waste of time, but that I could do it myself and give some meaning to my existence. So that's what I am doing. The technical side of course is always daunting. But as one financial guru once said, the only person you can trust to handle your money is yourself and if you don't understand something works, read it over and over, a thousand times if necessary till you do. And that's one good piece of advice I got from working in a bank. And then last year another former colleague Ruben, who had set up an internet publishing outfit published my The Scots Way to Santiago de Compostela (with maps) so that gave me a great boost for which I am eternally grateful to Ruben. The technical side is of course a hassle but I managed eventually to upload myself this second book. To my great surprise. But as the man said, if at first you don't succeed ...
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
The word success is for the moment not applicable but I like the way the question is phrased. It sounds like you have already arrived. I'll get back to you on that one when I have sold a few books or discovered a few readers.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy is to see something that you have created, that you could not imagine before you started, that when it is finished, surprises even you yourself who have written it so that when you look at it again, weeks or days or months or years later, you wonder who wrote it and think "that's really good, I wonder who wrote that?" And you did. But of course the dustbin is also full of stuff you threw away. But it is a great joy to bring creation into the world. Rather like bringing angels down from the heavens to earth. Then again the words come to you out of some great cloud of unknowing. I had a Vietnamese friend who wrote poetry. He'd get up in the middle and jot down a good line whenever it came into his head. Some people also write down their dreams. I did that too for a short time at the beginning. I thought there might be something interesting going on in there which I was missing out on and would cut out a lot of work. But that's also pretty depressing especially when you discover that what you eat or drink affects what you dream.
What do your fans mean to you?
As far as I know I have no fans apart from my ex- wife and maybe my daughter. You have to twist everyone else's arm to get them to read your stuff.
What are you working on next?
I am planning a book of stories on Cuba where I have a girlfriend with two daughters. In Havana. I have known her for over eight years and have stayed in Havana for maybe six months during that time. I also do translations for the Havana Times, an online paper run by an American, and contribute the odd journalistic piece. I am hoping to have that out by the end of the year or early 2017. I've already written more than half. I am going to call it Fidel Castro's Sewing Machine. I thought at first of calling it "Bagpipes in Havana" since some Cubans kids played "Scotland the Brave" for me in Havana: many Cubans originally came from Asturias and Galicia in Spain where they also play the bagpipes. But I got more hits on my website for the Sewing Machine than the Bagpipes, so the Sewing Machine is now the title. I have already written about fifteen or more stories which I need to add to my website soon - bout ten are already on my website from a few yeas back. I am also interspersing the stories with occasional emails from my girlfriend to give an insight into daily life in Cuba. She is the one who sent me "A Murder in Havana" (also on my website) about a young girl who got murdered outside the door of her flat. I want to try and portray some kind of realistic impression of life in Cuba based on my experience and relationship with a family there. To give a broader view I will also be adding a few stories by other writers, Cuban and a Chinese, taken mostly from the online Havana Times, that I have contributed to as a translator and journalist over the years. So it will be a mixture of about three quarters stories or articles of mine, interspersed with comment in the form of emails from my dear girlfriend and plus maybe about six or eight stories from other Cubans.
When I've finished that I've got a sort of science fiction story called "Just Wait till the Dwarfs get here" that I might expand into a short novel. It's about how I started smoking at the age of three and stayed a dwarf all my life. If a story I am writing makes me laugh, I get a great kick out of it. There's no better therapy than sitting in front of the screen with tears rolling down you eyes.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
When I was about twelve I used to go to the library to read; we had no books at home. And one of the guys I loved was Oliver Strange. I believe he was an Englishman, a hack writer who had never been to America, never mind the West. And he had this series of cowboy books about this character called Sudden. Sudden was one of these quick draw artists who could shoot the buckles off the belts of Mexican gunslingers. It was pure pulp but I loved it, read them all! I loved pulp fiction when I was young and comics too. And it maybe has been a lasting influence.
Published 2016-05-12.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Chiang Kai-shek Gold Bond Scam : Get McClafferty
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 42,750. Language: English. Published: March 17, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Visionary & metaphysical, Fiction » Inspirational
The misadventures of low-life "Bones-the-Dog" McClafferty.Whacked-out on dope and booze he hits an all time low. Rehab is called in to rehabilitate him. The Rake's Progress is described in a series of 20 stories as he moves from one unlikely identity to another. Private Eye, Dog Parlour owner, aspirant mayor, the force behind the Gold Bond scam, till the system goes pear-shaped after a sunburst.