I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these fiction writers you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
1. What inspired you to write fiction?
Reading and travel at an early age. I was lucky: I took several trips with my mother, including one, through Spain and Portugal when I was seven, that so impressed me, even at that age, that I wrote (with a pencil of course) about the castles, the desert landscapes, the fishermen, the black-clad women on the beach. The seed had been planted.
2. Who introduced you to fiction?
Like many people, my parents first exposed me when they read me bedtime stories – all those fairy tales that we’ve never forgotten. Later I was fortunate enough to have passionate English teachers who passed on their love of storytelling to impressionable students like me.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older writers?
It’s impossible not to be impressed, influenced, and inspired by those you read. They get in your head. I grew up on the rock and roll poets – Dylan, Patti Smith, Jim Morrison – who added to the passion of words with their music. I’ve always been aware of the influence of all sorts of writing, from literature to pulp novels, to graffiti and billboards. Godard made this point brilliantly. So I was always aware of writers and the presence of writing of all kinds.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
Well, Paul, first off, I procrastinate as long as possible. Facing the blank page is a daunting task for me. I’ve always preferred writing at night, from around 9 pm to 2 am, more or less. Things become quiet, the atmosphere is lighter, my mind is more able to take flight, and I find that that’s when I’m best able to tap in to what I need to say. I had my chart done once and all my planets were grouped into the houses that correspond to 10 – 2 on a clock. That gave me pause.
5. What motivates you to write?
I’ve always loved the magic of words, of the pleasure of stringing words together into phrases and paragraphs, and in so doing, discovering what is brewing inside. When all goes well, I see without looking. I write without the impediment of thought. Often I’m surprised by what is expressed, and it seems to me that these ideas move through me from some primal, unconscious source. When I’m able to tap into that realm the writing is much better than anything I could produce consciously.
6. What is your work ethic?
I write pretty much every day, except for fallow periods, which may seem threatening but which serve to replenish and restore the creative process. Writing for me takes time, and I do a lot of editing, a process akin to sculpting as far as I am concerned: removing the excess to get to the essential. There’s a rhythm necessary to expressing an idea well, a kind of music that’s very important in carrying the text along. Sometimes it comes fast, other times it takes a lot of work before the words stop tripping over each other.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I’ve forgotten so much of what I read, yet ideas, scenes, phrases come to mind unbidden. Of course, unconsciously they create a fertile ground that influences me whether I know it or not, much like everything that has come before us influences us. Jung calls this the Anima Mundi and suggests that it is always available to us. I’m quite certain that we are composed of all things past, and quite possibly by what is not yet revealed as future.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
For me Dylan is truly transcendent and continues to express my life through his words. He deserved that prize. Kerouac’s poetic evocation of rebellion, and his portrait of his time is remarkable. William Burroughs modernist styling and satirical genius (Naked Lunch is both satire and documentary) is an influence I have had to get past. The Cuban Pedro Juan Gutierrez’ books about Havana in the nineties inspire me. Murakami’s surrealism attracts me, George Saunders is dark but beautiful, and in terms of poetry, I am constantly surprised by the remarkable styling of DAH’s work, and how prolific he is.
9. Why do you write?
John Lee Hooker said it very simply: “It’s in and it got to come out.” To me, writing is a calling, not a choice. Ideas, phrases, scenarios, are constantly popping into my mind and demanding their due. If I try to ignore them, they wake me in the night or ambush me when I’m doing something else. Through writing we preserve the past, and understand it better. For me, writing makes tangible, and gives form to the chaotic stream of my life. It’s a conversation we hold with ourselves, and sometimes, if we’re lucky, with others.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Well, Paul, as I said, it’s not always a choice. But however you come at writing, if you’re interested you’re bound to do what’s best: read a lot, write a lot, and don’t judge yourself too harshly – others will do that for you. And don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s important to maintain the pleasure of just writing, letting the words pile up until some kind of beauty emerges. It’s that process of discovery that keeps me going because writing itself is hard work, both mentally and physically. Some have called it a dangerous sport.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
My focus right now is on a manuscript of short fiction that I am collecting together under the title, Spinning the Sensualist. I’m also working on a novel about expats set in Paris in the late 20th century. It’s a kind of romantic, surrealist, thriller.