1. What do you write? Why this in particular?
I mostly write novels, but this book is an A-Z short story sequence inspired by words marked as ‘rare’ in the Oxford English Dictionary. I started that sequence as a kind of ‘sandpit’, essentially, in the gap between working on two novels, so that I could experiment with different ideas, characters, voices and genres.
2. What got you started on writing in the first place?
Back in secondary school, in my final year, we had a writing workshop with a short story writer called Val Thornton. She read a story of mine and wrote ‘I’d like to publish this’ on the final page. She was editor of an anthology titled New Writing Scotland and it was published the year after. I had no idea, at the time, how fortunate that experience was and that first acceptance kept me going through a lot of rejection and frustration in the coming years. I owe Val a lot!
3. Do you have a particular routine?
I teach at a university, so my routine is often dictated by the pressures of the teaching schedule and the semester. When I do have a sizeable stretch of time to focus on my writing, though, then I always write first thing in the morning through until lunchtime and then go for a walk or a run to clear my head. That’s my ideal day, with maybe a spot of reading or just time with the kids in the afternoon…
4. Do you have a dedicated working space?
I’m really fortunate in that I have a lovely office up at the university – looking out on a sunny courtyard – and a desk in the spare room at home. The majority of this collection was written at that desk, I’d say, but I did write some stories up at the university or out and about on trains or in coffee shops.
5. When did you decide you could call yourself a writer? Do you do that in fact?
Love this question. I think I probably started calling myself a writer after my first novel was published but, in retrospect, I’d encourage anyone to begin calling themselves a writer at the point where they begin to take the process of writing seriously. If you’re dedicating time to writing, to improving your writing, then you’re a writer.
6. How supportive are your friends and family? Do they understand what you're doing?
Yes, my wife and daughters are very supportive of my writing and of the family time they lose to me closing the office door. I think I’m also very lucky in that my parents are both avid readers and have always been enthusiastic cheerleaders not only of my writing but of the various decisions – in terms of courses and further study – that I’ve made in order to develop as a writer.
7. What are you most proud of in your writing?
I think I’m most proud of the variety in my writing. I’ve often worked across genres and, particularly, with different structures and narrative points-of-view. Rare Stories is a good example of that, in many ways, because I tried to play with as many different narrative tools, techniques and forms as I could…
8. How do you get on with editing and research?
It might be my background as an academic but I love both editing and research. Editing is an opportunity to hone and sharpen something, to really focus on making writing it the best version of itself, and I find that incredibly fulfilling. And research is, similarly, a chance to fully immerse myself in a task in a way that allows me to retreat into a wee cocoon of focus…
9. Do you have any goals for the future?
My goal, always, is to have enough ‘credit’ in the bank to write the next book. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really mean ‘credit’ in a monetary sense, but more that there are enough readers (or potential readers) out there to make pursuing the next idea worthwhile. As long as I feel that, then I’ll keep writing.
10. Which writers have inspired you?
The first writer I was conscious of being inspired by was William Boyd. He is a novelist who is able to write a gripping plot, but also able to give a real depth to his characterisation. More recently, I buy everything written by Sarah Hall, Sarah Moss, Ross Raisin and Max Porter. I read a lot, but those four are the four where I buy each new book without even reading the synopsis because I just know I’ll love it…
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Then about the book:
1. Tell me about your book.
Rare Stories is an A-Z sequence of short fiction (each around 1000 words) based on words designated ‘rare’ in the Oxford English Dictionary. Originally, I wrote them as a series of flash fiction posts for the blog on my website, but they’ve now been brought together into a full collection for the first time.
2. Tell us about your research for this book.
Thankfully, the OED website allows you to filter and search through their entries, so I searched for all words marked as ‘rare’ and then noted down the definitions which piqued my interest. I wrote them at the rate of one a week, so I would sit with the definitions for only a couple of days before deciding which of them had the most potential as a ‘prompt’ and then I’d get writing…
3. What inspired you to write this?
One of the characters in my third novel, Man at Sea, is a young boy in Malta who’s writing dictionary entries with his father. I started each of the chapters with these entries and really enjoyed the process of coming up with the fictional definitions. In doing so, I realised how useful obscure or quirky definitions could be as a jumping off point for a story so I began this sequence…
4. What's next?
I’m currently working on edits for my fourth novel, The Sleepless, which is forthcoming from Fly on the Wall Press in September 2023. It’s a thriller, set in a commune on the west coast of Scotland whose disciples believe that sleep is a social construct and that we should be moving towards ‘wakefulness’.
5. How can we get a copy of the book?
Rare Stories is available via the Bridgetown Café website or Amazon.
6. Do you have any events planned?
I’ve had two lovely readings, at Book Nook Stirling and at the Seagull Trust Bookshop in Falkirk, so far. At the end of May I’m delighted to be giving a small workshop to the Denny Writers group and I’ll also be headlining the Balloch Open Mic night. The local writing community has been so welcoming and supportive of Rare Stories and I’ve particularly enjoyed reading a couple of the more experimental and performative stories aloud!
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