Sunday, 23 May 2010

An Interview with Nik Perring

I’m delighted to welcome Nik Perring, prolific blogger, children’s book author and short story writer, to talk to Writing about Writing about his new short short story collection - ‘Not So Perfect’ (published by Roast Books).

I was lucky enough to receive a copy last week. After I admired the cover and the wonderful smallness and squareness of the book (it’s perfect to pop in your handbag!) I immediately turned to the first story. I’ve got a terrible concentration span and can usually only manage two or two stories in a collection before my attention wavers and I put it down. Not so with ‘Not So Perfect’ – I couldn’t stop reading!

Nik’s short short stories (also known as flash fiction) made such an impression on me that I let out a little ‘Oh!’, ‘Ooooh!’, ‘Wow’ or ‘Eep!’ as I finished each one (much to the consternation of the person sitting beside me!).

There’s so much truth in Nik’s stories that you can’t help but react emotionally.

Some of the stories make your heart break a little bit (“Sobs”), many of them provoke memories of failed relationships (“Pieces of Us”, “My Heart’s in a Box”), some give you hope (“The Mechanical Woman”), some make you desperately jealous of Nik’s story-telling ability (“Shark Boy” – my absolute favourite of the collection) but they all touch you in some way.

The biggest compliment I can give Nik on his collection is the fact that his words inspired me to write flash fiction again. I’d forgotten how much a few hundred words can do. Flash fiction stories may be short but they can still carry a huge emotional wallop.

So, onto the interview...

Hello Nik and welcome to ‘Writing about Writing’!

  1. I’ve just mentioned how your collection has inspired me to write more flash fiction. Which flash fiction writers inspire you?

Cally, that’s about the best compliment ever! That makes me very, very happy. And I’m thrilled you enjoyed the book so much.

Which flash fiction writers inspire me? Etgar Keret is the first I’d mention. In fact, reading his work (as well as the wonderful Aimee Bender’s) absolutely changed me as a writer; it changed how I wrote and what I wrote about. So him – for his humour, for his imagination, for his ability to really affect in such a small amount of words and for the way he so effortlessly makes the different feel familiar. Yes, he’s a hero of mine.

There’s also my friend, and another wonderful writer of small things, Tania Hershman (http://titaniawrites.blogspot.com/) – her work’s brilliant. Michael Czyzniejewski (http://www.michaelczyzniejewski.com/)and Sarah Salway (http://sarahsalway.blogspot.com/) are ones I’d recommend too.

And then there are the older ones, the greats. Franz Kafka wrote some wonderful short-short stories, so did Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, O Henry, Ray Bradbury...

  1. Some of the readers of this blog might never have tried their hand at writing flash fiction before. What makes good flash fiction in your opinion? Any tips on how to go about writing one?

I think good flash fiction tells the story of a moment efficiently and in such a way that the moment it’s telling stays with you long after it’s over. Like real life. It has a resonance, an echo. As I said in an interview the other day: If a novel is a choir in song, flash fiction is a single hand clap in an empty cathedral.

So, tips? Well, I think the most important thing (in any writing, not that I’m an expert on – well, anything!) is to understand and accept that a story will be as long as it is. So the first thing a potential flasher needs to do is to accept the story that they write. I don’t think I ever set out to write something of a specific length, more just think: this’ll be a longer one, you know? Often, it isn’t!

Also... find the character and the moment in their life you want to write about, and try to tell the story in the most efficient way possible. Get to the point! You might be surprised at how much you can get into 1000 words or more. Or less.

The other tip would be (and this is the same for other writing too, no?): take out absolutely everything that doesn’t need to be there. Be brutal and be brave and be confident in the story: a story’s about the story, not about its length.

  1. Have you written longer stories? What is it about short shorts that most appeals to you?

I have written (and published) longer things, yes. They just don’t tend to be as good as my little stories. I think I understand the structure of short stories better than I do anything else. What I found really interesting a few months ago, was re-reading my children’s book and realising that it wasn’t, as I had assumed, one mini-novel, but six separate, linked, short stories.

I do worry that that has something to do with my limited attention span!

  1. I’m curious about how you write. Are your stories inspired by a voice in your head, a line of dialogue, a feeling or something you’ve observed? Do you write only when you get the urge or do you ever use prompts etc to get yourself writing?

All of the above, I think, but at different times. Mostly I’ll start with a question. You know, err: what if there was a guy who actually couldn’t stop moving? What would happen if, when you fell in love, you actually gave your heart away (and could you get it back??). Or: wouldn’t it be cool to have a story set in house where the owner has decorated it in Post-it notes? Then that leads to: who would do that, and why? I’ll write to find out the answers.

Other times a story will come from something I’ve seen or heard or been told about. People are, and life is, a great inspiration.

And then there are the other times. The weird times. The times when I’ll just sit down and see what happens. In Bare and Naked in Siberia, I remember just starting with the idea of someone watching their dad watching a documentary on the TV. By the time I’d finished I’d ended up with a teenage girl coming of age and comparing herself to a baby woolly mammoth they’d found preserved in the ice. And here’s something freaky – the day after I’d written the first draft, a documentary was on the telly about a woolly mammoth they’d found in Siberia. Lyuba is actually real.

As for prompts. I don’t tend to use them other than for exercises. That said, there were a couple of writer friends (the lovely and brilliant Caroline Smailes and Tania Hershman) who, for a period of time, used to give each other other people’s titles as prompts. We had to write our own stories of, A Tale of Two Cities, or The Bible, for instance. That’s where The Other Mr Panossian came from actually. It was originally The Other Perella – from a title of a story by the brilliant Tamar Yellin (http://www.tamaryellin.com/) (which, incidentally, I’ve still not read).

  1. Although some of the stories are about hope there’s a slightly melancholy feel to the collection - it explores loneliness, identity, failed relationships and miscommunication. Lots of songwriters say they can only write when they feel depressed, low or pissed off. If they’re happy they can’t write a word. Do you agree? What is it about the more negative aspects of life that appeals to us as writers?

I think the negative emotions are easier for us to communicate and explore. When we’re happy we tend to concentrate on being happy, on doing what’s making us happy, so we don’t really have as much time, perhaps, to look at being miserable or sad.

But the beauty of being a fiction writer is having the opportunity (and duty!) to Make Stuff Up. Some of the sadder stories in Not So Perfect were written when I was relatively happy. I’m perfectly capable of being miserable and pissed off even when I’m happy, which probably says a lot!

You know, I wonder if maybe there are more layers, or more shades of grey (or black) to negative emotions. Happy’s pretty much covered, isn’t it? But there are so many things that can make a chap or a lady sad, and those things tend to be so much more interesting than the things that makes people happy.

  1. Something I noticed about your collection was the number of animals featured in the stories (“Bare and Naked in Siberia”, “Shark Boy”, “My Wife Threw up a Lemur”). Do you draw inspiration from animals (I have an image in my head of you being glued to David Attenborough documentaries!) or is it more of a sub-conscious thing?

Well, bearing in mind that I’d never thought about it before – definitely subconscious! You are very perceptive, Miss Taylor! (You’re not psycho-analysing me, are you!)

I do love animals and I do watch my fair share of documentaries, but I think having animals in the stories has more to do with basic emotions and feelings - and image and metaphor too. I think it’s about breaking things down to their core elements, almost in an atavistic way (I have been wanting to use that word since my GCSEs – thank you!).

You know, we all know how it feels to be hungry, but to be hungry like the wolf has much more weight to it, I think. And a wolf man... well that could be another story!

I’m also really attracted to the idea of blurring lines and of merging things. And I like pretty weird imagery too – it’s fun, in a Dali way!

  1. In my second novel I tell the story from the female AND male point-of-view. It’s a bit of a risk, trying to convincingly portray a member of the opposite sex, but in ‘Not So Perfect’ several of your stories are told from the POV of a woman and you do it very well. What made you decide to write from a woman’s perspective? Did you hear the character’s voice in your head or get an idea for a story about a woman and consciously decide to tell it from her POV?

Thank you! It’s hard, isn’t it! I just try to concentrate on trying to make the emotions and themes as universal as I can, and the characters as believable as possible. I think concentrating on the story and putting myself in someone else’s shoes is something that comes quite naturally to me, so writing something from the point of view of a woman is an extension of that. I’m just glad (and RELIEVED! )that people have said it sounds okay! And I’m very much looking forward to your next one!

  1. A number of the stories in your collection were originally published online. Would you advise flash fiction writers to follow this route to publication? How do they decide which sites are reputable and which aren’t? How did you go from online publication to printed collection?

The way I see it is the internet’s there to be useful, so if you can use it to your advantage then do! There is an incredibly large number of potential readers out there, and a good portion of them are actively interested in reading.

We’re in a position now where there are a good number of quality literary magazines, who only publish really good stuff – some are as difficult to get into as the good print magazines - and a good number of print mags put content online too. My advice to anyone looking to be published, in any form, would be to do your research. Read the magazines. See if they’re any good. See if your work would fit with what they publish and ask yourself if you’d like them to publish your work.

But, to get you started...

Duotrope’s Digest (http://www.duotrope.com/)is a wonderful resource with lots of information, including things like how long editors take to get back to you and the percentage of submissions they accept.

And Tania Hershman has compiled a pretty darned comprehensive list of people who publish short stories in the UK and Ireland (http://titaniawrites.blogspot.com/2010/01/non-complete-list-of-uk-and-ireland-lit.html).

Some of my favourite literary sites:

3 :AM magazine (http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/)

Locus Novus.( http://www.locusnovus.com/)

SmokeLong Quarterly (http://www.smokelong.com/)

Word Riot (http://www.wordriot.org/)

and Metazen (http://www.metazen.ca/)

though there are many, many others.

  1. Finally, what’s next for Nik Perring? And what are your writerly dreams?

What’s next? I’m launching Not So Perfect on June 3rd at 7pm at Simply Books in Bramhall (south Manchester)(http://simplybooks.tbpcontrol.co.uk/TBP.Direct/CustomerAccessControl/Home.aspx?d=simplybooks&s=C&r=10000115&ui=0&bc=0&collection=10071408) – do let me know if you’d like to come (http://www.nperring.com/page10.htm) so I can go about popping you on the guest list.

Then there’ll be more writing (I hope!).

I think the only writerly dream I have is to be able doing what I do to a standard I’m happy with and for people to keep liking my work.

And Cally, thanks so much for having me on here and for not making me cry!

Thanks Nik! It’s been a pleasure.

To get your hands on a copy Nik’s fantastic book (I recommend you do! I found it hugely inspiring and I think you will too) visit:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Not-So-Perfect-Nik-Perring/dp/1906894078/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274445887&sr=1-1

or

http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9781906894078/Not-So-Perfect

or

The Big Green Bookshop http://www.biggreenbookshop.com/simon-likes-/not-so-perfect-by-nik-perring/prod_349.html

BIO

Nik Perring is a writer, and occasional teacher of writing, from the north west. His short stories have been published widely in places including SmokeLong Quarterly, 3 :AM and Word Riot. Not So Perfect, his debut collection of short, short stories is published by Roast Books on June 2nd.

Nik’s particularly fond of the autumn, cats, wildlife documentaries, lemurs, and certain books have made him cry.

Nik blogs here (http://nikperring.blogspot.com) and his website’s here (www.nperring.com).

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Caroline Smailes - Like Bees to Honey

I'm delighted to be part of Caroline Smailes' amazing blog tour where her third book 'Like Bees to Honey' will be published, in its entirety, over a serious of blogs. I received my copy yesterday and can't wait to read it - not least to find out what the mysterious black-framed pages signify!

Like Bees to Honey

A major new novel from the acclaimed author of In Search of Adam and Black Boxes.

Nina, her son Christopher in tow, flies to Malta for one last visit with her aging parents. Her previous attempt to see them ended in tears. Disowned for falling pregnant while at university in England, she was not allowed into the house. This will be her final chance to make her peace with them. But Malta holds more secrets and surprises than Nina could possibly imagine.

What she finds is not the land of her youth, a place full of memories and happiness. Instead she meets dead people. Lots of them. Malta, it transpires, is a transit lounge for recently deceased spirits and somehow Christopher enables her to see them, speak with them and help them. And, in return, they help Nina come to terms with her own loss. One so great that she has yet to admit it to herself. Like Bees to Honey is a story of family, redemption and ghosts. It is a magical tale that will live with you long after you finish reading.

You can read the entire book online - for one day only - by skipping from blog to blog. I'm hosting Chapter Eighteen, below:


If you'd like to start reading at the very beginning please visit Caroline's blog:

http://www.carolinesmailes.co.uk/blog

And if you're after Chapter 19 of 'Like Bees to Honey' please visit:

http://notonlyinthailand.blogspot.com/

Tantalised? Intrigued? Want a copy to touch, stroke, cherish and carry around with you? 'Like Bees to Honey' is also available to purchase on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Like-Bees-Honey-Caroline-Smailes/dp/0007356366/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1273227630&sr=1-1

Monday, 17 May 2010

The editing starts in earnest...

Sorry for the blog silence - I've been in NYC!

Not for the whole time since my last blog post (though I wish I could have stayed that long!) - for 5 nights at the end of April/beginning of May.

I'd never been to NYC before and was slightly nervous that I'd find it an overwhelming, scary place. No chance - I absolutely LOVED it (photo on the left is of me in Times Square trying, and failing, to take it all in) and will definitely go back one day (there's so much to see and do there was no way we could fit it all in in four days).

A couple of people have asked me if I'll write a novel based in NYC? Quite possibly - one day. I just need the experience to fully sink in first (and possibly go back for a second/third/fourth visit!)

Anyway, back to Blightly. I've got until August to get the edits done on novel 2 and, after an enthusiastic flurry of activity (word cutting and index card plotting) after I met with my editor and agent it's time to knuckle down and PROPERLY start tackling the edits - including writing new scenes and rewriting existing scenes. It's not going to be easy and it's a much bigger job than the edits I had to do for 'Heaven Can Wait' but I know I'll enjoy it (sort of) once I actually get on with it and stop procrastinating.

Time is a problem though. With a full time job, a kickboxing class and a screenwriting session each week I don't know how I'm going to get it all done on time. I'll definitely have start burning the midnight oil (instead of burning up my electric bill watching dvd boxed sets at night!) and will probably have to take some time off work but the worst thing I could do right now is panic. Because if I panic I just freeze (or procrastinate even more) and the edits won't do themselves. I also have to write the first draft of my 10 minute script for screenwriting over the next two weeks. Er, what was that I said about not panicking?!

Changing the subject (and definitely giving me more motivation to get novel 2 finished) I found out the other day that 'Heaven Can Wait' has been sold to publishers in Croatia! That's ten countries publishing my debut novel now. Amazing! I'm tremendously lucky.

What else? I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Nik Perring's book of short short stories, Not So Perfect the other day and gobbled it up in one sitting (very unusual for me as I usually have a very short attention span when it comes to short story collections). It's utterly brilliant and actually inspired me to turn my hand to flash fiction again (after August obviously!). More on Nik's fantastic book on Sunday when his blog tour will be visiting my blog and I'll get to ask him questions about women who vomit up small animals and men called 'Shark Boy' (really!).

I'm also delighted to be part of Caroline Smailes' blog tour for her new book 'Like Bees to Honey'. I haven't received my copy yet but I will, exclusively, be posting the 8th chapter of her book on this blog! You can read more about her amazing and unusual blog tour over on Scott Pack's blog.

Oh yes. And if you're frustrated that I'm not updating this blog very often why not 'like' me over on Facebook where I try and post some kind of short update a couple of times a week (though I'm making no promises!).

More soon...