Welcome to the eighteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is of novelist/short story writer Philip Neale (a.k.a Neal James). If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Philip. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Philip: I am an accountant turned writer and began the ‘evolution’ in 2007. I’m 59 this year and loving every minute of the new skills I’ve discovered. I’m married (34 years) and have two grown up children. The writing began with an international competition sponsored by a local newspaper – my story finished in the top ten entries.
Morgen: Well done, I bet you were chuffed. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Philip: Novels are, for the moment, crime, but the next one will be science fiction (I’m an avid fan of Asimov). My short stories, however, cover not only these, but also fantasy, horror, romance, humour and adventure.
Morgen: Great to have variety to capture a wider audience (and I love short stories – thank you for sending ‘Rose Cottage’ through; I really enjoyed it). What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
Philip: Three books: ‘A Ticket to Tewkesbury’ (ISBN9781905809349), Short Stories Volume One (ISBBN9781905809608) and ‘Two Little Dicky Birds’ (ISBN9781905809936). I do all of the promotional work myself, and have a database of contacts which I target on a regular basis.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Philip: No, I don’t, and it’s not for the lack of trying. Large-scale success is heavily dependent upon a professional agency approach.
Morgen: It certainly can be and yes, you have to keep plugging away. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Philip: Not at the moment, but my publisher is currently going down that route with other titles. I read them when I can get my hands on my son’s Kindle………..
Morgen: What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Philip: ‘A Ticket to Tewkesbury’, and yes, just writing to you about it three years after the fact makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It’s something that you just never forget. It’s just the same every time.
Morgen: Ah… I still remember receiving the cheque from Woman’s Weekly for my short story (a beautiful coloured cheque which was so nice I never cashed it; a colour photocopy wasn’t the same… and no, I’m not that mad or rich, it was £10 for a 60-worder!). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Philip: Not from my publisher, but not one agency accepted anything I sent to them.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Philip: I have a number of novels at the ‘finished’ stage. ‘Threads of Deceit’ is with the publisher as we speak and is due out in July. ‘Full Marks’ will be next, in 2012. Then will come ‘Day of the Phoenix’, the sequel to ‘A Ticket to Tewkesbury’. Then ‘The Rings of Darelius’, the sci-fi novel I mentioned earlier. Finally, for the moment, ‘Dreamer’, a trip into the paranormal. I also have a second volume of short stories ready and waiting to go.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Philip: No, not every day. The most? Probably three chapters (about 8,000 words), and that was when ‘Day of the Phoenix’ started to take off.
Morgen: That’s good going. Mine’s only just a bit more (9337 – yes, I’m nerdy enough to have an Excel spreadsheet to refer too… oops I’m talking to a former accountant. OK, scratch that bit. ) but that was a http://nanowrimo.org day and I had to catch up. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Philip: It is real. I don’t suffer from it, as I tend to have several different styles on the go at the same time. If it gets to be a problem, I simply pit the writing aside for a while.
Morgen: I’ve had a few people say that. Writing a variety does sound like a good idea. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Philip: The idea comes first. I then decide how to draw it out. Do I start with the end and figure out how to get there? Do I start with the ‘meat’ and run it both ways? Do I just invent a plot and see where it takes me? It’s a mixture.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Philip: Just the one: ‘Talk About Laugh’ – a very personal trip through our family life, covering over 30 years.
Morgen: People love autobiographies, although I can relate to a project I did which was too personal (good therapy at the time though). What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Philip: Favourite: The thrill of finishing a book and seeing it in a shop or on a library shelf. Least Favourite: The struggle for a correct word or phrase.
Morgen: But you get there eventually hopefully. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Philip: Keep the faith, trust in your ability and never forget what is motivating you to try.
Morgen: If they’re realistic, passion over money. What do you like to read?
Philip: Crime (Patterson, Wingfield, Deaver), Sci-fi (Asimov, Frank Herbert), Horror (James Herbert, Poe), Humour (Jasper Fforde, Pratchett)
Morgen: You’re my Red Cross shop’s perfect audience. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Philip: Emerald Dragon, Critters, New Writers UK, Writing East Midlands, and, if you can invited, The Crime Writers’ Association, of which I am a member.
Morgen: I hear such good things about the CWA but I don’t write crime – I’m not sure I could write something clever enough to be believable or original… but I like reading it so I know I’ll try one day. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Philip: England. The internet means that is no longer the barrier that it once was.
Morgen: Absolutely, isn’t it great! Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Philip: I am on a number: Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn. Their value depends upon how much I am prepared to put into each one. I am not a full-time writer, have a regular ‘day job’ as an accountant.
Morgen: You’re still an accountant… oops. Definitely scratch my earlier ‘nerd’ comment. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Philip: You asked for it:
Morgen: I did.
Morgen: That was painless. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Philip: All of my three books to date are freely available in UK libraries, are stocked by Waterstone’s, and can also be obtained via WH Smith, Amazon and, in the USA, Barnes & Noble. I have given numerous talks to reading and writing groups, and September will see me at the Walsall Central Library. In the meantime ‘Threads of Deceit’ will be the main focus of a BBC Radio Nottingham interview at 2.15pm on Tuesday 30th August.
Morgen: Yay! I’ll try and catch it – I hope it goes well. Thanks Philip, it’s been great reading your answers and thanks again for taking part.
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