Reviewed by Mike Stafford
Are you a book geek?
Yes, definitely, about the books I like. I probably consume more TV shows and films than I do books these days, but I’m pickier with books. They require more attention and commitment so I can never waste any time on anything mediocre. You can rarely read a book while doing something else (I’ve tried!) but I’m perfectly happy to stick complete trash like Gossip Girl on when I’m writing to give me some background chatter.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given (and do you follow it)?
The best piece of writing advice I ever got was from Neil Gaiman. I asked him a question on Tumblr (without entirely realizing how it works or how public it is because I’m a technological flail) and he replied with a very thoughtful and lovely paragraph. I have his reply written down on a piece of paper near my laptop with doodles and drawings and stickers around it. I won’t repeat it because it’s quite long, but the last few words of it are ‘You just keep writing’.
Which authors do you find most inspiring as a writer?
Neil Gaiman, obviously, because he’s so thoroughly, sickeningly and fist-bitingly talented, but not in a way that makes you feel like an inadequate piece of shit. I went to a talk of his in London last night and I came away feeling so excited by writing that I wanted to jump around and smash things up. Also, at the moment, Joyce Carol Oates. I want my brain power to look like hers. On the whole, I’m more inspired by musicians like Nick Cave and screenwriters like Jimmy McGovern and Joss Whedon.
Do you have an audience in mind when writing, or do you just write for yourself?
For myself as much as I possibly can, because whenever I start thinking about an audience looking over my shoulder I just freeze like I’ve been pushed into an exam hall for advanced tap dance and these judges are shouting, ‘DANCE MONKEY DANCE!’ and I start awkwardly dancing like Martin from Green Wing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjuTUWOtwKs
Where do you write, and why?
Anywhere, but mostly in my house because I’m lazy and coffee shops are overpriced. Disgustingly frequently I didn’t bother to leave my bed but now I write downstairs at a table because I’m twenty three and already have horrible back and shoulder problems to address. I also write a lot in my head on long train journeys and scare people by muttering dialogue to myself or spontaneously grinning.
Tell us the book you most wish you had written.
I wish I’d written The Corn Maiden & Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates. I wish I’d written Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace. I wish I’d written Breaking Bad, even though it’s not a book. Everything by Graham Greene. J.G. Ballard. American Psycho. The Shining. Christ, loads. I wish I’d written all the Harry Potter books. Every book I love.
Are you getting tired of commentators fixating on your age yet?
Unless someone’s really patronizing about it, I don’t mind. Sometimes the level of surprise I encounter makes me think all adults secretly view everyone below the age of twenty five as drooling illiterates who do nothing but fling feces at each other, listen to terrible music and ‘Snap-chat’, whatever the hell that is.
We struggled to think of any redeeming features that Nic Caruana has, and yet he's still sympathetic on some level. What is it about him you think readers warm to?
This is going to sound weird but I like Nic. I’d like to have a drink with him. His job is...different, but a lot of his problems are universal; alienation, loneliness, resentment of his past and his relatives, bitterness. These are all relatable human traits. He’s just as confused as the rest of us. None of my characters are superhuman. Ok, maybe Mark Chester. But he’s not superhuman, he’s just awesome.
There's a lot of drink and drug abuse going on in Nic's world, but is it hedonism, or nihilism?
This is going to sound wanky, but I think they’re almost, at times, the same thing, if you go by the modern strain of thought that wrongly confuses hedonism with narcissism. You can only be obsessed enough with yourself to be a narcissist if you don’t believe in anything else. Hedonism in its proper sense, which is concerned with pleasure, is bang-on, but that isn’t what’s going on in the abuse you’re talking about in Something You Are. That’s not pleasure, that’s desperate escapism, and narcissism as well.
Something You Are scores pretty highly for 'Sex, Violence, Language, and Other.' Can we guess who you'd ideally like to see direct a film adaptation? And indeed, who you'd like to see play Nic?
I’ve never thought about a director, probably because I’m so busy mentally directing it myself! Maybe Joe Wright for director... But I’d want Ben Whishaw to play Nic and I’d love Cillian Murphy to play Mark.
You touch on several political issues in the book, from political hypocrisy to students being priced out of education, and you're less than glowing about the military. Was that your characters talking, or were they channelling Jameson the iconoclast?
I’d never crow-bar a personal opinion into a book, because I can’t speak for my characters. I can agree and disagree with them though. Mark Chester is a bit of an old-fashioned socialist for example; he believes in giving back, but the character I’m working with for the second novel, Girl Seven, is very different. She makes a lot of decisions that cause me to think, ‘Why on earth did you do that?’ But it’s up to her. I can’t relate to a lot of what she thinks about the world, but that’s what makes her so fascinating to write. She’s teaching me a lot, and she’s way darker than Nic.
So then - evil: is it something you do, or something you are?
Well no one is born evil, are they? Whatever Christianity would rather have us believe. Evil is an evil action or the cumulative result of evil actions propelled by evil thought. It’s something you become (or something you can be turned into, if you think about abused kids who grow up to be abusers), because of something you do. I think. Plus, evil is a word that shouldn’t be used flippantly; it should be reserved for people like Ted Bundy or certain government ministers.
Mike is an acerbic Utility Analyst with a healthy love of literature. His bookshelves groan under the weight of all the crime fiction he has amassed over the years. To him, the conventions of crime allow authors to explore psychology, history, sociology and politics without ever risking navel gazing. His collection also includes philosophy, 20th century classics, and a copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare - a book he maintains no home should be without. The most prized volume on his shelf is a signed copy of Kofi Annan's Interventions.
As craftsmen, he admires Sallis and Bruen. As storytellers, he admires Ellory and CJ Box. He doesn't trust anyone who doesn't like Stephen King.
He is also a novelist battling against the forces of procrastination, and a food and theatre reviewer for the West Midlands's Edge Magazine. He lives in Worcestershire with his wife and young family.
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