I’ve actually had three books published so far – and all in the space of a year! The latest is Ferry Tales, a collection of short stories about growing up in my home town in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Before that was The Olive Branch, a thriller which, believe it or not, I wrote more than thirty years ago at the height of the Cold War. But it’s my first published book, a fantasy adventure called The Island of Whispers, that I’d like to talk about in this interview.
Tell us something about yourself.
I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, halfway through the 20th century. I was brought up just along the road in South Queensferry (the Ferry) in the shadow of the world-famous Forth Bridge. I now live on the fringes of an ancient volcano, Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, along with my wife and muse, Alison.
Having retired in 2007 after many years in business, I now devote much of my time to my one true passion in life – writing. I had always tried to find the time to write before then, but the business of life kept getting in the way.
What inspired you to write this book?
I began to write The Island of Whispers shortly after attending the centenary celebrations of the Forth Bridge in 1990, when I had some time on my hands. I wanted to produce something which could be compared with Watership Down, but which would be set in my own territory. I completed the first three parts quite quickly, but I had to stop at that point because of business commitments. It was not until 2009, almost twenty years later, that I picked up the manuscript again and completed the final two parts.
The finished book really is like Watership Down, but with a difference. The difference is that there are no cuddly rabbits. Just rats. They live on the little island that’s tucked under the Forth Bridge. They’ve been there for centuries. Then a group of them attempts to flee to the mainland. They just happen to go in the middle of those centenary celebrations…
How did you publish this book? Why did you decide on that publisher?
All three of my books have been published by Black Leaf Publishing, a small, independent and innovative publisher. They’re a bit like me with my writing career – just starting out, but doing rather well. I decided to go with them on The Island of Whispers because (unlike many other small publishers) they weren’t after any outlay from me and because they genuinely liked and believed in my book. They’re also a very friendly bunch, and I was delighted to agree to their subsequent offers to publish both The Olive Branch and Ferry Tales, again at no cost to me.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I think I knew I wanted to write when I turned 24 and received a portable typewriter as a birthday present. That was when I began to tap out the manuscript of The Olive Branch.
What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?
For me, the hardest part has always been both finding the time to write and finding that right time, when your mind is uncluttered with other matters.
How do you do research for your books?
Thank goodness for the Internet! And thank goodness in particular for Wikipedia!
Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?
Yes, I learned that I should have gone on to finish it twenty years ago!
What are you reading now?
You won’t believe this! Someone told me recently after reading my latest unpublished work that the writing was reminiscent of James Joyce. I’m sure that was a compliment! Anyway, having read Ulysses many, many years ago, I decided to give it another go – out of curiosity. And do you know what? I’m loving every word of it! The writing is so fresh and it tramples on every convention that is being peddled by so-called writing experts today.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
After too many sterile reading years, when I was immersed in my business, I’m still in the process of catching up. In the last couple of years, I’ve read every word written by Dostoyevsky, Kafka and Chekhov. The closest I can cite as modern favourites are Truman Capote and Alan Bennett.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
My latest work is called The Bookie’s Runner. Inspired by some of the stories in Ferry Tales, it’s a biography of my late father. I uploaded the manuscript of it on autonomy back in January. It has received much acclaim there, and a review of it has even been promised by HarperCollins. More excitingly, Night Publishing, another vibrant, new publisher, will be publishing an expanded version of the manuscript towards the end of 2010.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
That’s easy! If you have a vocation for writing, don’t let other matters get in the way of it; make sacrifices to get on with it. Don’t be like me and wait until you’re retired and regret all those wasted years!
What are you doing to promote your latest book?
Because I’m with a small publisher, much of the promotion work is down to me – and I’m still learning on that score, I’m afraid! However, I have achieved a couple of coups. The book received a great review in my local paper. Copies of it are also stocked in a handful of my local libraries, where they are loaned out regularly. I can keep track of them through the library website, and I still get a kick every time I see a new loan!
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
My personal website and blog can be found at www.thefrustratedwriter.org.uk
Most importantly, The Island of Whispers can be bought at this link on Amazon.com.