Welcome to the four hundred and eighteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with literary author and poet Stuart Ayris. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Stuart. Can you tell us something about your writing…
Morgen: Great titles. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Stuart: I had plenty of rejections. I handled them rather pragmatically which is why I ended up opting to self-publish on Kindle. Had I not made that decision however I can imagine that my pragmatism may well have turned to despondency fairly quickly!
Morgen: Oh dear. That’s the great thing about being able to go it alone and it’s not that hard (once you know how, of course). Have you had any success in writing competitions?
Stuart: I have never entered any writing competitions but it’s definitely something I will keep in mind.
Morgen: I haven’t entered anything for a few months but like the themed ones as invariably it gets me writing something new. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Stuart: I don’t have an agent. If I was to opt for the ‘traditional’ publishing route I can see how it may be of benefit to have an agent. Equally, having taken the route I have, it’s wonderful being in control of all aspects of the process – the writing, the editing, the pricing, the promotion – I think I would struggle to delegate any of that to anyone else now!
Morgen: I have to say I love being able to make all the decisions (with guidance from my editor and first readers). How involved were you in the actual eBook process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Stuart: The only part of the process in which I was not directly involved was the front covers. My wife, Rebecca, painted the covers and Liam Sweeny designed the lettering for A Cleansing of Souls. I have only recently had a Kindle and I can already see the benefits. I have a huge collection of paperback / hardback books which will, in my house at least, never be replaced.
Morgen: Me too. My bookcases would look odd with just a Kindle sitting on them. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Stuart: I do all the marketing. It has been a steep learning curve but I have found my confidence has increased just by having to promote my work. It has, and continues to be, a wonderful learning experience. I have also had the great pleasure of conversing and interacting with some lovely people.
Morgen: Isn’t that great. I’ve made so many friends, all over the world, even just in the last year. I’ve met some of them too which has been a real thrill. I’m just back from Jane Wenham-Jones’ launch party for her latest novel ‘Prime Time’ which was fantastic. I say I’d go to the opening of a rejection envelope and it’s not far off. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Stuart: Simon Anthony, the main character in Tollesbury Time Forever, is my favourite character at present. I think Timothy Spall would do a wonderful job of portraying him!
Morgen: He’s great, and his son Rafe is a fantastic actor too. Regarding the title / covers of your books, how important do you think they are?
Stuart: I think covers for eBooks are perhaps not as vital as for traditionally published works but it definitely pays to have a professional-looking, intriguing cover regardless of the medium.
Morgen: I agree. Whilst I’ve not been put off buying a book because of the cover, a bad one doesn’t inspire me to find out more about the book… catchy titles do. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Stuart: I am 24,000 words into my third novel. It’s called The Bird That Nobody Sees and I aim to have it completed by the end of the summer.
Morgen: Another great title. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Stuart: I do try to write every day, even if it’s just a couple of paragraphs. I wouldn’t say I suffer from writer’s block, no. There are times though when I spend a long time thinking about the story, whether I’m cooking dinner or lying awake in bed. I’m a great believer that all stories are written – it’s just a case of remembering them, letting them come fully formed into your consciousness. I have become very sensitive to knowing if I am ‘forcing’ my writing. If I find that happening, I just stop and go back to thinking again. It seems to work for me anyway!
Morgen: I usually do something else (another story or something completely different) then find it easier to come back to it. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Stuart: I start with an idea and then get an image of the final scene. I then write the beginning (or what I think is the beginning!) and then write various scenes that form in my mind, scenes that will invariably be in a different order when the final edit is done. I see it as being a little like films are made – scenes being filmed out of sequence and then spliced together to form a coherent story.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Stuart: Most of my characters are based, physically, on people I know or have seen. The names seem to just fit the characters. I do like to use anagrams of people I know too – an anagram of my wife’s name (Rebecca) is the name of one of the characters in Tollesbury Time Forever.
Morgen: I’ve just booked in my 666th interviewee; a horror writer called Violet LeVoit whose first name is an anagram of her surname (or vice versa), how cool is that? Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Stuart: I have written some poems in the past and have written a short story called ‘A Day in the Death of Stafford Plank’ which I think may be published in time as part of a collection.
Morgen: I write more short stories than anything else and have literally written hundreds. I think that eBooks are the way to go with them. They’re great for reading electronically, especially on a small screen like a mobile phone, although I’m working on getting my novels online at the moment… really it’s still what most people read. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Stuart: I find that the main editing is done in terms of pace – moving scenes around etc. The editing in terms of spelling / grammar is performed by a lovely person I have come to know via Goodreads called Kath Middleton.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Stuart: I only do as much research as I have to. With my novels being part Literary Fiction and part Magical Realism, I can get away with making quite a lot up!
Morgen: The fun stuff. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Stuart: Tollesbury Time Forever is written in the first person, A Cleansing of Souls the second person and The Bird That Nobody Sees is a combination of first and third person. There are also elements of second person narrative in each of the novels. I guess that means I haven’t quite settled on a favourite style yet!
Morgen: Bravo on writing ‘A Cleansing of Souls’ in second. There aren’t many novels in that viewpoint – Jay McInerney’s ‘Bright Lights Big City’ is probably the most well-known. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Stuart: Not really. I’m quite determined!
Morgen: Glad to hear it. Most of my short stories are dormant on my computer or still in files to be typed up but I hope they’ll all see the light eventually. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Stuart: My favourite part is when I wake up the following morning, read what I’ve written and realise it has merit! The least favourite part, I have to say, is the promotion side. It doesn’t come naturally but I’m getting used to it. In terms of surprises, the positive response to both novels has been a wonderful surprise!
Morgen: I love having reader feedback, even the bad ones (for me on Goodreads) and most interviewees have said the same about marketing – it takes out so much time from when we’d rather be writing. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Stuart: Don’t force things, don’t let anyone bring you down and be nice to everybody you meet!
Morgen: As Jimmy Durante said “Be nice to people on your way up because you meet them on your way down”. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Stuart: Thomas Paine, William Blake and Jack Kerouac. I think it would have to be something very rustic and simple.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Stuart: “In this world you can be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. For years I was smart; I recommend pleasant.” (From the film Harvey with James Stewart as Elwood P Dowd)
Morgen: Brilliant film. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Stuart: No. Just my books.
Morgen: Plenty to keep you occupied, by the sound of it. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Stuart: I love playing my guitar, watching cricket, and of course reading. I do very much like alcohol and have learned over the years to drink just sufficient to enable me to write well when I’m writing and to not offend anyone when I’m not writing. Some may disagree though…
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Stuart: I find Goodreads and the UK Kindle User Forum excellent in terms of engaging with readers about both my work and other books I’ve read. I have never really got into the writing sites with regard to writing per se although, if any, I would recommend www.writewords.org.uk.
Morgen: I haven’t been on the Kindle forums yet but have heard great things. I will for sure when I put my novels up. Are you on any networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Stuart: I am on Facebook and Twitter. I find them very helpful in learning about the writing world, meeting like-minded folk and getting the word out about my books.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Stuart: For me, I just want to keep writing and publishing my books. I think the eBook world will settle down over the next year or so with Amazon perhaps exercising tighter quality control and less flexibility over pricing.
Morgen: I’d like them to let me put my eShorts up there for free. I can’t expect anyone to pay $0.99 (their minimum) for a 600-word story (although some have). Smashwords is better in that respect (and for submitting on my behalf to Sony, B&N etc). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Stuart: Just to thank you for asking such interesting questions!
Morgen: You’re very welcome, thank you for answering them.
I then invited Stuart to include an extract of his writing and this is from The Bird That Nobody Sees:
Eryn Rose was never born and she will never die. She is an angel, an idea, a thought, a spasm, a lightening, a moment. She bursts and she sparkles and she retires and she wavers. There are various names for clouds and for water-flows. Rock formations can be referred to in many ways. But an angel is an angel only. The sands shift. Volcanoes rumble. Even the seas sigh. Eryn Rose is the mellow in the honey, the cool in the deep hot blue, the breaking of the wave and the shimmering soft of high, high comfort. She is the sparkle and the glint, the hint of a hint of a hint. She is rapture and she is fantastical. Where others wander, she soars and where you dream she inspires and cracks and breaks into a million different suns that will just shower and float into the ether of all your wondabulous thinkings. And can she fly? Of course she can. She is an angel. But even angels ache.
Stuart Ayris was born in the Summer of 1969 in Dagenham, just on the border of East London. School was largely unproductive educationally and he went on to work in various fields (not literally!) including putting up stalls at Romford Market, working in a record shop, putting up ceilings, gardening and road sweeping. After resigning from an insurance company to play in a band, he found himself unemployed for two years. Then finally he got back on his feet and has been a psychiatric nurse since 1997. He began writing A Cleansing of Souls in 1991 when he was 22 years old and he wrote Tollesbury Time Forever between 2008 and 2011 publishing both as eBooks in the early part of 2012. In terms of writing, his heroes are Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. He has three wonderful sons and lives with his wife, Rebecca, in Tollesbury, Essex.
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