Monday, December 13, 2010
Author Interview: Kingsley McGlew
Kingsley: It’s a pleasure to be interviewed by The Fringe magazine. Distance is something of an unusual novella that has been strongly supported by bookstores around Australia. The feedback I have been receiving is that each reader has found at least one aspect that resonates with them — it might be a landscape description, a conversation between the characters, the character’s emotional frame of mind, the narrative engages the reader. I never set out to write a ‘mass-public-appeal’ work; my goal is to write stories that I want to read. If I am going to dedicate so much time on characters, narrative, structure, dialogue, style — then it needs to engage me both intellectually and emotionally.
Scott: Your story has a real Aussie flavour to it, it reminds me of a Robert G Barrett book. How do you think the slang and terminology will be received in overseas markets?
Kingsley: I am a big fan of Australian colloquial speech. I love the absolute laziness of the Australian character: the shortened word (‘afternoon’ to ‘arvo’, ‘breakfast’ to ‘brekkie’), the wordplay or invented words (‘toilet’ to ‘dunny’, ‘campfire’ to ‘bush telly’). I find it amusing hearing stories of people who have migrated to Australia and come across an expression that they have absolutely no understanding of — they just smile, nod their heads and then seek clarification. For me, it is also the rhythm of the words, the musical canto of the speech: there is something uniquely Australian in the way we communicate. Instead of continuing to adopt American or English culture, we should be enhancing our own culture and remaining open as a multi-national society. As yet, Distance has not been published abroad and I am adamant that I will keep the words in their current format without ‘dumbing down’ the richness of the expressions. The glossary at the back of the novella will be quite extensive.
Scott: A lot of new writers often ask about the amount of pages or words that a published author produces each day. How much time would you spend writing on a typical day, (if a typical day exists for a writer that is)?
Kingsley: I do not have a ‘typical day’ of writing; it depends on what type of project and what phase or stage of the project that I am working on — the research, the creative outburst, the editing — and the cycle repeats until I end up with content that is of a certain standard. Because I have been developing as a writer for the past twenty years, I understand my personal creative process and work around it. The creative process is one of continual development and learning; I am only at the ‘grasshopper’ stage with much to learn. Generally speaking, I build a savings stash, quit my job or take extended holidays, and then have the creative outburst where the characters, the narrative, the storyline, is within — it’s about releasing it onto the page or screen. During this stage, I average between 3,000 to 5,000 words per day working within a fortnightly period — but there is a process at play. I try to remove the ‘hit and miss’ attitude and have a concentrated channel of what I want to write. I always start off slowly, content to write a couple of sentences on the first day, and then take a stroll. Once I have the word flow, it becomes this intense torrent and that’s where time almost comes to a standstill — it’s just the words appearing on the page or the screen. That’s what motivates me to continually write, the absolute escapism into the words. At the end of the draft phase, I place the work aside to clear my head and return later to start the editing/re-working phase — this consumes my after work hours and weekends. But the importance is to get the story down on paper.
It took me fifteen drafts to get Distance to a certain standard — I could not tell you the total number of hours dedicated to the process. On my blog page at www.kingsleymcglew.wordpress.com I have a ‘History of Distance’ that provides extracts of the process from start to book launch.
Scott: What sparked your interest in writing and did you start off by writing short stories or go straight to working on a novel? What markets did you send your short fiction to?
Kingsley: My interest in writing began as a child and I might have been heavily influenced by Dr Seuss — where there is a certain magic in the wordplay. The initial spark could be linked to the colourful language and illustrations of Dr Seuss. I think it also boils down to my gene pool more than anything else. A writer is a certain type of individual. I remember reading Storm Boy as a child and actually crying at the end of the story — there are numerous books that have affected me over the years, and the power of the written word continues to stir me somewhat. Because I was raised on a wheat-and-sheep farm, I had a childhood filled with space and it was this space that allowed my imagination to breathe. And maybe I do not communicate well verbally, but words on the page appear to be my purest form of communication. I dabbled in poetry in my teens, my twenties was a decade of experimental narratives where I tried to establish or find my creative voice, but it was only in my thirties that I began to mature as a creative writer and found an extended audience for my work. I always ensure that I am proud of my work before seeking an external audience — my creative history has been one of continual rejection and this rejection enhanced my development. On a positive note, amongst other published pieces over the years, the internet based magazine Assegai published my short story ‘Short Changed’. I don’t write to find acceptance in the marketplace, I write first and foremost to satisfy my own personal need for creativity. I receive a buzz if I see my work in print; it’s like a surge of high-octane energy that breaks the monotony of my 9-to-5 and, hopefully, a reader receives the same pleasure in reading the work. Like any writer trying to become established, I submitted short stories to numerous magazines and competitions — I think it was more to find respite from the story, to pass on the hot potato — so I could return to navel gazing and practising my golf swing.
Scott: How do you approach your writing? Do you tend to develop a story in your mind and then proceed to conduct some research or is more of an organic method where you write the story first and research any technical aspects later?
Kingsley: That is an interesting question there, Scott. There is no definite process but a vague concept of feeding my mind with a plethora of words, images, experiences — treating my mind as a storage depot and cramming as much information as I can. To be always reading, learning and seeking knowledge — and then something magical happens. I think the catalyst is always a broken heart and hence the need to escape into a new interior landscape to lick my wounds — the broken heart appears to be the key to unlocking the depot gates, and then I bathe in the mire of words to my heart’s content. I try not to talk about the stories in development as it ends up being a curse and the story retreats into hiding — and I might need to endure another broken heart to capture that particular story. I do not necessarily develop characters first and then the storyline; there is no real logic to the process. I tend to ignore the technical aspects until after I have something solid written — technical aspects appear more as roadblocks to the creative outburst. I try not to work the storyline out in my head but allow the storyline to develop during the course of writing the story.
Scott: As a writer it is interesting to hear what other writers read in their spare time. It is often surprising to hear the genres and variety of books other authors read. Can you tell us what are you reading at the moment and what your five favourite books are?
Kingsley: Currently, I am reading Ben Hall by Frank Clune and The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson (I was going to skip mentioning this title but I am actually enjoying the story and finding Lisbeth Salander as an interesting character).
My summer reading list includes: The Norseman’s Song by Joel Deane, Other Stories by Wayne Macauley, Normance by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, The Mighty Mullygrubber Malone by Will Swanton and Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. I am looking forward to sitting under a gum tree for some serious down time.
My favourite five books would include: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Sportswriter by Richard Ford, and Layla and Majnun by Nizami.
Scott: There seems to be a lot more options available to authors to get published now compared to say a decade ago. What advice would you offer to unpublished writers in approaching publishers for the first time?
Kingsley: Considering the number of rejections that I have received over the years, my advice to myself more than anyone else would be: Publishers are busy people, do not send them crap.
Scott: If you were stranded on a desert island, what five authors would you like to have as companions and why?
Kingsley: Ernest Hemingway — to go fishing with. Dave Miller, author to the book Brewing the World’s Great Beers — to brew the beer. Louis-Ferdinand Celine — just to be a crazy Frenchman and keep the troops amused. Poh Ling Yeow — to cook. And Kate Holden — appears to be an energetic bunny.
Scott: Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to your next book.