Welcome to the four hundred and fifty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with debut novelist Robert Ford. 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, Robert. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Morgen: Me too (January 2005) and I certainly don’t want to stop… I think (hope) that once you’re hooked, that’s it. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Robert: Apparently I write Literary Fiction, although genres are not my strong point – the book is just exactly what it needed to be.
Morgen: I guess you need to know for the likes of Amazon but I write so many genres (and most aren’t one in particular) that I know what you mean. What have you had published to-date?
Robert: The King of Spain is my first book.
Morgen: Is your book available as an eBook? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Robert: My book is currently only available as an e-book. In the future I would love for it to have a physical publication. I read both and think they each have their plus and minus points.
Morgen: There’s nothing quite like holding a paperback with your name on it in your hands (although my only so far is a charity anthology) but even so… Do you have a favourite of your characters? If your book were to be made into a film, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Robert: Hal is my favourite character from the King of Spain. In my head he was always played by John Hurt.
Morgen: A superb actor. Which author(s) would you compare your writing to?
Robert: Not sure. Others have mentioned Mervyn Peake and Louis De Bernieres which is hugely flattering for me. Perhaps not so much for them.
Morgen: If others have mentioned it I’d say that’s flattering to all of you; (a) because ‘others’ have read all your work and (b) you have a style that’s clearly recognisable. Did you have any say in the title / cover of your book? How important do you think they are?
Robert: Yes, I was definitely consulted. They are hugely important, even in the realm of ebooks.
Morgen: Absolutely. I’ve seen thumbnail covers that are almost impossible to read the title and author (dark on dark). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Robert: My second novel. It’s called the Parish of St. Anne. I can’t say any more other than it’s amazing. Obviously.
Morgen: A writer has to believe in their work because if it doesn’t inspire them, it won’t inspire their readers. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Robert: I try and write everyday but I am at the whim of my creaky brain – some days we work well together, others not.
Morgen: Oh dear. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Robert: Plot. A little structure helps me feel more free to write productively.
Morgen: That works for me too. You mentioned Hal, do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Robert: For the most part names etc come to me randomly and they either work or not, but I get there in the end. Hopefully my characters are believable because they are a product of their environment, of the world of the book.
Morgen: A reader has to engage with them, don’t they. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Robert: Editing. All the time editing. Writing for me is a painful process and my work needs a lot of revision before it’s right.
Morgen: What a shame. You clearly love your books though so a painful process that’s worth it (I have to say editing is my least favourite aspect of the writing process). Do you have to do much research?
Robert: I avoid research as much as possible!
Morgen: Oh, me too. I’m so grateful for the internet. I check my facts until I’m sure they’re spot on and that’s it. What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Robert: The King of Spain is a third person narrative. That was right for this story but my second novel will be first person.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Robert: Yes. And for good reason.
Morgen: <laughs> Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Robert: Unfortunately rejection is just part of life and definitely part of being a writer. You just have to believe in your work and carry on.
Morgen: You do, the best way to think. Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Robert: I entered – and won – Fiction Fast-Track.
Morgen: Congratulations. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Robert: No, but I would like one, they are pretty fundamental to any physical publication deal.
Morgen: Certainly with the bigger publishing houses. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Robert: I engage with social media to an extent, you have to.
Morgen: You do (and it’s the most common answer to the second part of my next question). What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Robert: The least favourite thing about my writing life is the fact that I have to write at night when the rest of the world (and my wife) is asleep. It’s very tiring and in a way my greatest wish is to be able to spend my days writing.
Morgen: I quit my job in March to write full-time but I blog / deal with emails full time which is why I started my 5pm fiction slot back on June 1st, so I’d write something every day, although I ‘found’ two days this week to do final edits to two of my novels which I’d promised to take to one of my (very firm but fair) writing group colleagues – there’s nothing like a deadline to get something done. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Robert: Don’t give up. Enter Apostrophe Books’ writing competition Fiction Fast-Track.
Morgen: which I’ve added to my competitions calendar. 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)?
Robert: I’d just like to spend an evening in the pub with Hunter S Thompson. No food required.
Morgen: If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Robert: I’m a nostalgic person, but the future excites me too much to want to re live the past.
Morgen: Good answer. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Morgen: I love it too and reminds me of Baldrick from (the much-loved, especially series two) Blackadder. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Robert: Look after my daughter and dream of getting more than 4 hours sleep in one hit.
Morgen: I thought I was doing badly at five or six. Finally, where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Thank you, Robert. It would be great to see you again when your second novel comes out.
I then invited Robert to include an extract from his novel…
A wheeze and creep and timid clatter filled the otherwise silent bedroom as the various electronic devices ran their separate, habitual tasks. Sam lay on his back in the gloom and blinked his large blue eyes, happy to let the darkness wash over him in gradual shifting waves of purest black and dull, streaked silver.
‘Hello? Hello? Sam?’
Loud sobbing from the other end of the phone. The sound of an aeroplane’s engine passing low overhead. Music somewhere, distant. And in the background, a wavering, nondescript announcement – security procedures, boarding gates.
‘Please. Please, you must come… Stop it, Lizzie. Lizzie for goodness sake it’ll catch fire… Sam? Hi. Sorry. Look. One needs help. Can’t you see that? You must come.’
Would all remaining passengers for flight 4302 please make their way…
A loud sequence of bangs, fuzz on the line.
‘The game’s up, Sam. This thing has become tidal. All hands to the bloody pumps…’
The call had come a week ago, a strange and incomplete exchange – it seemed Grimes had offered him a job, had been inclined to invite him to the facility, that much at least was clear. But for the most part the conversation had consisted of a mixture of squawked abstractions and elliptical half starts that ended almost as abruptly as they had started, with a squeak and whistle and slam of the receiver.
Each day since had been defined by a certain anxious, ripe banality. And now it was time to go, to leave, to set out into the world, although in that moment any such action seemed quite beyond the limits of his resolve: the night had been torrid, filled with tangled and unsympathetic sleep, and so it was that Sam had woken to find himself in the grip of an intense melancholy, a heavy, lingering sadness that only really comes from dreams, that lies in the limbs and in the chest. He felt sick. And tired. And, for a time at least, the day could wait.
And a synopsis…
When unworldly 22-year-old Sam is offered the chance to swap life in his regulation bungalow for a job at a countryside retirement home, he drops everything and heads to the rolling fields of Sussex. But things at the eerie Edge Hill are far from what he imagined.
The residents are easily over 100 years old, but due to rigorous cosmetic upkeep they look like they are in their twenties. The strange ‘handlers’ who work in the facility seem to have everything under control – until a geriatric stampede sets off a mind-blowing sequence of events that threatens to alter his life for ever.
In this sensational debut novel set in the not-too-distant future, Robert Ford has created a universe of his own in order to brilliantly illuminate the one – and the age – we all share…
After graduating from Reading University in 2003, Robert briefly worked as a journalist in India before turning to the world of film editing, where he has been employed ever since. As well as prose, he has written several screenplays, and his directorial debut Sexy Pig was broadcast on the BBC HD channel last year.
He now lives and works in north-west London, roaming the streets in search of inspiration, drinking too much coffee and not writing as much as he should.
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