Teacher. Artistic bon vivant. Writer of noir. Kinda like the guy already. Another one of those Trestle Press writers who seem to be popping up everywhere. Like me. Here's a talented writer who openly admits he may have grown up on the wrong side of the tracks. Grew up in the dirtier, rougher side of British society. Which is good. That kinda life gives you a feel for writing noir/hard boiled.
Or so they tell me.
Anyway, pleased I was when Nigel graciously agreed to be interviewed by me. (I doubt the rubber hose, the 1000 watt light bulb in his face, and the brass knuckles lying about had anything to do with his decision.) Read and enjoy.
1. As one of those rising new British stars in writing noir, what was it that made you decide to tread deep into these troubled waters?
Troubled waters are where I swim. Not in a dramatic way, just in the way a depressive does - perfect strokes one minute, sinking the next.
I grew up watching old noir movies and that’s probably the strongest link I can suggest. They became a regular part of life and almost formed a mould of the way I viewed things. Of course I wanted to be the heroic character who went down with the ship; in some ways acted this out a bit too well in the early days.
|Dirty Old Town|
Fitting in with that was the punk movement and the rise of such art as Factory Records who also celebrated the industrial landscapes and the misery of them.
Inner cities have always been places I find fascinating. For some reason I’ve always seen some kind of romance in the urban decay, partly as I imagined that the stories of lives there must be so much more interesting than those in the suburbs in which I grew up. Of course, now I’ve matured, I see that life stories are never dull and that fiction is so much less about recreating real events than about crafting a plot of one’s own.
2. How long have you been writing? And when, might I ask, will we see a set of characters developed from you that requires novelization and perhaps an on-going series to be written?
I’ve been writing since I left school really, as long as diaries are included.
I moved on from diaries to poetry after the break-up of my first marriage. It was one of the few ways in which I managed to find an outlet for my pain. From there I moved on to being the editor or a magazine and a publisher on a very small indie level. As for prose, I guess I’ve been at it for more than ten years, five of those with a huge amount of focus and effort.
My novella, Smoke, is a stepping stone towards fleshing out characters for longer fiction and I do have a novel that’s complete and waiting for feedback. Early thoughts are very positive indeed and I feel like it will be ready for release some time next year.
3. Comment, if you will, on the British Crime Scene. What points of interest do you see that makes British crime writing vibrant and unique compared, say, to the European or American scene?
The British crime-writing scene is spectacular and has become all-the-more lively with the advent of e-books.
To put it into context, there’s a great tradition of crime-writing here, something which lies as a foundation and offers signposts to those writing today. We’re also very lucky to share the language of the Americans, which means that the influences of the hard-boiled work of the 1930s and onwards has always been easily accessible, as has everything since.
On top of that
has many aspects to life which make settings easy to come by. There’s a huge drinking culture; the council estate; the football gangs; huge variety of regional dialects; drugs; disaffection; an embedded sense of class and class-struggle; lots of movement in terms of immigration and emigration; multiculturalism with all its positives and seething undercurrents; riots; humour; conservatism; rain and grey skies. Perfect. Britain
What it has in common with other scenes is a loose-knit umbrella for everyone to shelter under. The community is friendly and helpful and considerate.
Trestle Press has played some part in shifting things up a gear for those authors who deserved to be established, but hadn’t quite cracked the ceiling. I’m thinking of Paul D Brazill, McDroll, Sant, Veste, Bury et al.
4. What kinds of struggle do you wrestle with when you write? What holds you back? What compels you to overcome these struggles and write?
I don’t find many struggles with short fiction. It’s not to say I find it easy, but my focus is clear and my mind can incorporate all aspects of a piece at once. The editing process is vital there, but not too daunting as there isn’t a great deal of structure to work at re-shaping.
It’s long fiction that I find taxing. I’ve attempted three novels now. The first, ‘Orinoco Pony And His Dandelion Adventures’ I’ve almost forgotten. The second was edited from 70000 words to 22000 and became the novella ‘SMOKE’. The third, ‘In Loco Parentis’, I’m pretty excited about and it’ll make it out to an audience one day. It can seem like a huge mountain to climb – I can put in months of work with all the spare hours I have and still find myself only at first base. Once enthusiasm drifts, I tend to let things drift with it and that means the structure starts to creak and my memory stops working. In the end, something usually kicks in to get me there – obsession might be the best word for it. Or stubbornness.
5. Who has inspired you? Was there a certain author you may have read that flipped a light on inside you to reveal the possibility that maybe you could write something better?I’ve been inspired by many writers over the years. Going along to see people read out their work is one of my favourite pass-times. It’s what stared my brother and I with our publishing effort, The Rue Bella way back.
It was seeing Allan Guthrie at the launch of his debut novel, ‘Two Way Split’, that excited me about the possibilities for my own writing. Not only did I immediately sense that he was a talented man, I also saw that he was able to take flavours from the history of noir and crime-writing and bring them into a contemporary and regional setting. What also gave me hope was his explanation of his journey to publication and the stamina and dedication he’d had to apply to the process. That was a point when things began to crystalize for me, though things are still solidifying around my work all the time – though I hope that an element of malleability will always remain.
Mr Guthrie’s still inspiring me. His books are fantastic and he’s doing very exciting things over at Blasted Heath just now that leave me in awe of his capacity to work.
6. For you, what makes a good story? What ingredients have to be added into the boiling cauldron that's used to eventually cook up a good story?
I’m not sure about ingredients. Perhaps it’s the blend that is the most important thing. I love to read work where I feel utterly absorbed (don’t we all?). How that is achieved is one of those mysteries to life.
As a Support for Learning teacher I work with a range of children who often have similar issues, but are all entirely individual. I guess that’s why I have a job – because there’s no one single answer. Things need to be carefully thought through and experimented with. I suppose that’s what it’s like to be a writer, too. There would seem to be templates out there to follow, but if it were simply a matter of copying, we’d all be at it.
Dramatic tension and empathy or sympathy for characters would certainly figure, as would well written sentences, great imagery and a dash of the poetic from time-to-time.
7. Looking back on the path you've trekked down so far as a writer, are there turns in the trail or, perhaps other paths altogether, you would have followed if you could start all over?
I wish that I’d reached my current position of status and as a craftsman many years ago. It would have given me more time to work at a better level.
Other than that, the path is what it was. I needed to do lots of things in life to get to where I am, had to survive a lot of stuff and to find some kind of hold on the planet. For those reasons I can’t separate writing from anything else.
8. What are you working on now? Give us some hints as what will soon be seen in the next coming months.
I’m not working on anything new just now. Attempts to keep the balls rolling in terms of sales for the things that are already out there is time-consuming, but always worthwhile. ‘Dirty
(and other stories)’ recently made its 1000th sale and things like that keep my spirits up. Old Town
In the New Year I’ll be starting on my next attempt at a novel. I have some ideas simmering away, but they need more time to ferment before I start shaping them into a draft.
I’ll also be working with Chris Rhatigan again. The experience of producing ‘Pulp Ink’ together was very rewarding and we’re keen to see what else we can do. At the moment, we’re not entirely sure what that will be, but it may involve adding in a couple more editors and changing the approach ever-so slightly.
There are also a couple of collections out soon which will feature my stories. ‘Brit Grit Too’ is being put together by Mr Brazill and there’s John Kenyon’s ‘Grimm Tales’ collection with an introduction by Ken Bruen. They’re both exciting the hell out of me.
There you have it. Good stuff. (but don't ask me why there's gaps in the interview. I've been pulling my hair out for the last two days trying to figure that one out!)