"When we read, we start at the beginning and continue until we reach the end. When we write, we start in the middle and fight our way out." - Vickie Karp
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Tom Vowler Visits
But enough waffling - TO BUSINESS.
Make yourself a cup of tea and pull up a chair. The fabulous Tom Vowlerhas answered some questions about his new book: The Method and Other Stories (winner of the Scott Prize), and writing in general.
And, can I just say, I have read his book and it is wonderful. Seriously, one of the best books I have read in a very long time. So, you should want to get your mitts on it! At the end of this post you can see how to be in with a chance of winning a signed copy of it, too :)
So, on with the questions and, I'm sure you'll agree, there are some beautiful answers here x
Hello Tom, welcome to my blog! Please make yourself at home. Thank you, Jen. I will.
So, you've got your first book out: The Method and Other Stories, which won the Scott Prize. Congratulations! How would you sum up your book for someone who hadn't heard about it? It’s an award-winning collection of short stories. The characters are all rather good at losing things: lovers, children, hope, the plot. There’s humour, tenderness and tragedy in equal measure. Well, almost equal.
How long have you been writing? Have you always been a writer of short stories? I started late, I suppose. If we’re talking fiction, then ten years. There was the compulsory clumsy first novel, slightly autobiographical, hopefully never to see the light of day. I dabbled with the short form back then, but only took it seriously in the last few years. Half the collection was written for my dissertation on a creative writing MA, doubling in length over the next year.
Who/what inspires you? Other writers mostly, or, I should say, their fiction. So reading a remarkable story or novel and wanting to have that same impact on others. But also anyone with creative sensibilities. Those who shun orthodoxy, who take risks, who suffer for their art. Those who have fallen through life’s cracks, but don’t give up. But if you mean what inspires my work, I’d have to say people. Magnificent, flawed, beautiful and tragic people. Their idiosyncrasies and deviances. Their fears and secrets. If you’re going to write, I think a basic curiosity, a fascination and empathy, in those around you is crucial. What makes them behave as they do, what it is to be human. And then there’s everything else: Nature. Colour. Music. A story, for me, can come from anywhere: a shared glance with a stranger, a song lyric, a headline, a nightmare. Everything becomes potential material, or to put it less pragmatically: inspiring.
What's your 'writing routine'? I need a daily word-count target when working on a big project, such as a novel. This is a minimum, so can be set as low as a thousand words per day – but it must always be reached, even on a bad day. I find this important as motivation, but also to give myself an idea of when I’ll be finished. I’m an afternoon and evening writer, morning's a curious affair I’ve never quite come to terms with. And I like to edit as I go. So once my target has been reached, I’m allowed to revise the day’s output. It’s an old piece of advice, but one I find invaluable, and that’s to leave the day’s writing mid-scene, mid-sentence even, allowing a less truculent resumption the following day. Short stories, for me, are different. There’s more precision, more sculpting, from the start. Stamina apart, I find them harder than their longer cousin.
What's your 'story'? How did you get from writing this book to publication? In short the book won an international prize, part of which was publication. In long I suppose it’s the first thing I’ve both been any good at and enjoyed doing. Actually that’s untrue: pulling pints of beer rivalled it. Writing fiction obviously begins as a hobby; you don’t awake one morning and announce yourself a writer. I hope. There were years of apprenticeship, reading everything, anything, trying to understand both what the writer was trying to achieve, and how she’s gone about doing it. Then learning to take criticism, as well as rejection by the bucket-load, listening to Them What Know. Finally, lots of sweat and self-doubt. And some luck, of course.
What do you consider to be the best moment of your writing career so far? The email announcing I’d won the Scott Prize is certainly up there. And then the build up to publication. I was taken aback by the number of people who likened it to childbirth: elation, anxiety, pride, problems finding a name. The first time you hold it, smell it. I can’t comment on the precision of the analogy, but it has been an extraordinary time. Knowing that my stories will be read in the US, in Australia, as well as here, is a great feeling. But increasingly I’m finding it’s the little moments. Seeing a stranger browsing the book in the High Street. Or when a writer emailed me to say one of the stories had just made her cry on the train.
Finally, what are you working on at the moment? Are we allowed to know? Having just finished a novel, I’m at that wonderful stage of contemplating the Next Big Thing, with endless ideas swirling, nudging me awake at 4am. For me this is the most exciting bit, when setting, style, theme and character are all up for grabs. It will be a novel, I’m fairly sure, one that, to quote Norman Mailer, hunts big game. And no, of course you’re not allowed to know.
Jen Campbell is the author of the best-selling 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' series. She's also an award-winning poet and short story writer. Her poetry collection 'The Hungry Ghost Festival' is published by The Rialto, and she lives in London, where she works at an antiquarian bookshop. Her new book, 'The Bookshop Book' is forthcoming autumn 2014.