Author Bling

Friday, December 13, 2013

S.R. Wilsher - An Author Interview

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I grew up in a small seaside town on the south coast of England, when it was still possible to have ‘Stand by Me’ days. So, I have to say my childhood was idyllic. My father’s death when I was eleven was less so, but the attitude at the time was, ‘life happens, get on with it’. And, I have to say, that suited me. I wouldn’t want it thought that it scarred me for life – informed my life would be more apt. It’s also where I met my wife when we were seventeen – and again when we were twenty-one – and where we raised two children. I’ve worked most of my life in Sales, which I generally disliked, but it was a good way to fund a writing habit, and also a six year degree in psychology, chosen for the way it would help my writing rather than my work. I had to give up working in Sales a few years ago when I had a kidney transplant and I now work as a Data Manager in Clinical Research.

So, what have you written?

The Collection of Heng Souk is about the impact of war on three men. It’s partly set during Vietnam, but it could be about any conflict at any time. The primary character is Ephraim Luther a US POW forced to keep a journal of his captivity and who challenges his interrogator, Heng Souk to consider the inhumanity of his behavior. The third man is Thomas Allen and who lives in the here and now. At his father’s funeral, Thomas learns his real father was a USAF pilot who never returned from the war. His journey leads him to the now elderly Souk and his niece Sun who has the journal and which details the fate of his real father.

Where can we buy or see your work?

All my released work is currently only available on Amazon. That may change as I learn more about this e-world.

All my links:   Website  The Collection of Heng Souk  The Seventeen Commandments of Jimmy September  Madness of the Turtle

Tell us, What were you like at school?

My schooldays can be divided into two distinct sections with a clear point of change. Up until I was eleven I was a model pupil, I was school captain and breezed through my 11plus to get to grammar school (for those of you outside the UK, that’s where they used to send the academically forward top ten percent who couldn’t afford a private education). Then my Dad died when I was eleven and in the first term at senior school. After that I became a ‘back seat of the bus’ teenager and left school at fifteen with very little potential. For years I denied my father’s death was a major influence on my behavior at the time, but I think I’ve been clawing my way back from too many poor choices during those formative years ever since.

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

I would have to say they’re modest. Because I write for myself without an eye on an audience or sticking to any genre rules, I think my stories are never going to have mass appeal. Nor am I an intellectual writer so would never expect critical acclaim – and certainly not now I’ve self-published. It would be nice to make a living at it, but my initial ambition was only ever to see a printed version of my book being read somewhere. It would be the final piece of solving the puzzle that writing is to me.

Which writers inspire you?

All writers inspire me, and not in an ‘inclusive, every one of us is special’ way. In the way that, if I read something I feel is poorly written, then it encourages me to write. And if I read a great book, then it encourages me to edit!

Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?

Ephraim Luther is an ordinary man of average intellect who finds himself in an extraordinary situation that he struggles to comprehend. Yet he does more than just survive, and he does so with dignity and fortitude. I like the idea of men like Ephraim discovering that they are capable of far more than they or anyone else believed.

What are you working on at the minute?

I have two books on the go at the moment. I like to have more than one so that it doesn’t become too stale. I have a Middle Grade story that I’m getting into shape for release next year. My daughter always liked me to freestyle stories to her at night, so this one – The Prince and Princess of Sarcasm – grew out of that time. I’m also working on an adult story, ‘was played by Walter Johns’. It’s essentially the whodunit of a young man in a coma reviewing his final conscious days trying to establish who put him in hospital. Walter Johns is an irascible old actor he had met a few days earlier, and I’m really enjoying funneling every politically incorrect thought I’m having through his mouth.

When did you decide to become a writer?

I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was eleven (maybe I started playing up at school then because subconsciously I saw it as a better route to being just that), but I started novels that I actually finished when I was in my early twenties. I still have them in a bottom drawer.

Why do you write?

My stock reply; ‘it stops the voices in my head’, usually kills the conversation. Yet there’s an element of truth in it because writing is a great way of developing some of those random thoughts. I like to take an image, or a scene or moment and see what story can be spun out of it. I think of it like a puzzle that I have to make sense of.

What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?

I guess, because it seemed the ordered thing to do. And I can remember the book that made me do so. I would never name it because it wouldn’t be fair, but it was a thriller rushed out to fit in with a world event and I felt it was so poorly constructed, so lazily written that I sat down to see if I could do better. I thought I could, but I was wrong. What I came up with was awful but, by then, I‘d started and all of a sudden I realized that the thing I wanted least to be was a failed writer. So I kept going, believing that if I never stopped then I hadn’t failed – would always be a potential writer. It’s what keeps me going still.

Do you write full-time or part-time?

I’ve always had to write part-time and my career and my writing have each suffered because of the other. But I did have a long period off work because of a transplant and managed to be very productive. It was a taste of what writing could be like full-time and I would enjoy that.

Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?

Before my operation I used to work long hours in Sales – well semi-long, 55 hours plus a week - and finding time was difficult. I used to write at my desk, or in my car and late at night. Now I do my hours across 4 days, although I still write at night.

Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

Not per day. I wouldn’t want to keep checking to see where I was on any schedule, and it should be about what you’ve written not how much. That said, I do give myself a monthly or quarterly target based on a point in the story, or the rewrite process.

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?

I think about an idea for a long time first to see if it takes root. If I keep coming back to it then I’ll jot down ideas that form into something resembling an outline and will either work on that, or start writing to see if the actual idea is something that really appeals to me. If I intend living with something that will take a year and end up at 90,000 words, which means I’ll probably write three times that, then it has to take a hold inside of me.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

From initial idea to completion can take years. Madness of the Turtle was rewritten umpteen times and I think I first had the idea for the story in its present guise over ten years ago. But most of that was rewriting to try and please an agent, and then an editor. From typing the first word to the last could be done in a few months, but I wouldn’t want to do it that quickly, I would always want to put it away and come back to it later, to see it differently. I think a year, full-time, to write an adult book would be right for me.

Do you ever get writer’s Block?

Not really. I can be lazy and easily avoid sitting down to write. But, I find the first five minutes are always the hardest, so I’ll normally just sit down and try and work though those five minutes. It’s why I always have more than one story on the go, because if I’m devoid of inspiration for one I’ll get on with another. If I’m struggling with everything then I’ll usually edit because that’s often the best time to do it.
What book/s are you reading at present?

I tend not to read when I’m writing and I’ve just had an intense bout of writing. The last thing I read a couple of weeks ago was, ‘Snow White Must Die’ by Nelle Neuhaus, which I struggled with in the beginning but ended up enjoying. Despite the fact that I think, like a lot of the Nordic Noir it resembles, it was overwritten. I’ve just begun ‘Tigers in Red Weather’ by Liza Klaussmann, and I have ‘may we be forgiven’ by a.m. holmes, waiting underneath that.

Do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?

I always let it stew, and I do it more than once. I probably spend more time editing than I do writing, as I believe everything can be improved. All of my stories have been rewritten multiple times and after each rewrite I put it away and work on something else for a few months. When I return to the original story, I see it in a different light and either see problems I couldn’t before, or solutions to issues I was denying previously.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I have three adult books that are currently available. Madness of the Turtle was my first, with The Collection of Heng Souk second. I have just published my third, The Seventeen Commandments of Jimmy September. A fourth will follow at the end of 2014. Years of trying to get past literary agents meant I had a body of work that was almost ready when I took the decision to just get them out there. It was quite cathartic and meant that I was able to finally let go of stories that I kept rewriting to concentrate on new ones. But I don’t have a favourite because they’re all very different with different potential audiences. I also have three in the bottom drawer that will never see the light of day, and for which I’m grateful that e-publishing was not available, as I’d be severely embarrassed to think they might be read now.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Don’t take too much advice – it kills originality. Or, if you have a sentence or scene that is so crucial to the story that it can’t be omitted, then the rest isn’t good enough.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

You might think they’re good friends now, but they won’t be there to help pay your mortgage later.

What is your favorite quote?

It came from a colleague when I was sixteen and it’s possibly not most people’s definition of a quote, but it was one that became a mantra for my life and, in turn, my children. In response to someone’s minor worry, he said, ‘well, they can’t cut your hands off’. It stuck with me and is a great touchstone for the irritants of life.

Tell us about your book cover/s and how it/they came about.

I like to do my own covers. There are a few talented artists in the family so I suppose I could have begged artwork from those close to me. But I see it as part of the process and I spend quite a bit of time trying to design something meaningful. The first, Madness of the Turtle, is laden with symbolism, while the thoughts behind The Collection of Heng Souk are simpler. The image refers to an important site in the story, whilst setting it in a frame refers to the journal in the story as a window on the past (although the tree was ‘borrowed’ from my daughter). Book 3 is a much more prosaic photo taken on holiday, while Book 4 is a simplistic one-colour image referencing the two main characters. I wouldn’t be comfortable using a library of covers images in case I came across the same image or background used elsewhere.

What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?

I try not to take either too much to heart. Positive feedback is always a great boost, and you’d have to be odd not to be initially wounded by criticism, but the reality is you cannot appeal to everyone. I’ve seen some of my favourite books and authors torn apart by some readers. Personally, being self-published meant I always knew that I would not get a string of 5 star reviews, and that poor reviews would become part of the landscape.

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