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What writers want

Jamie Guiney   Wed 10 Dec 2014   updated: Thu 16 Apr 2015

I remember the day I decided to write a novel. I was lying by a pool in Tunisia reading Catch-22 and within an hour of finishing the book, the notion had already taken root inside my mind. It was a loose idea though, for I had never considered being a writer before that.

I got home, bought a nice hardback A4 notebook and just started to write. For the next few months this was my little private hobby and I enjoyed it immensely. Whenever I had some spare time, out came the notebook and I would wander off into this world I had created.

I stuck at if for a few years, squeezing in some writing time here and there, with no pressure and no deadlines. Eventually I finished the novel, polished and edited it to the best of my ability and was incredibly proud that I had achieved this feat so many writers strive for. I had also learned a little about writing along the way (with hindsight not nearly enough!)

What I did next felt like a natural step for me, perhaps even a little entrepreneurial, but I sent this work to the Northern Ireland Arts Council. I couldn’t believe it when they came back and offered me some support – some funding to attend a writing course, some money to buy a laptop to write with. For me, this was the biggest, most important step of my writing career – it was my first validation. I was a writer, someone believed in me, and all of a sudden this little hobby of mine was becoming something a bit more serious.

I speak to a lot of writers at different stages of their careers and the majority of them, when I mention the Arts Council, have never considered going down that route. It’s a shock to me, because each country in the U.K. has its own Arts Council with their own funding quota and their own team of arts officers who are there specifically to support writers and artists alike.

It’s been 5 years since I got that first Arts Council grant. Since then, I’ve developed an online presence with my own website and twitter account, written a raft of short stories (and had a fair number of them published too) – but there are some highlights that never would have happened had it not been for the ACNI support:

  • Attended the Faber and Faber Writing Academy, a wonderful class in Dublin on ‘The Art of the Short Story’ taught by Booker Longlister Gerard Donovan and short story extraordinaire Claire Keegan. The first short story I wrote after the academy, was published in a US Literary Magazine (my first publication! more validation!) and nominated for a US Literary Award – The Pushcart Prize (even more validation!)
  • I’ve worked with one of the best editors in the business – Francesca Main (now editorial director at Picador Books) – a wonderful and kind person, who taught me a great deal about how to write a novel - from structure, to plot to character depth
  • Attended a Guardian Masterclass with Stephen King’s long-time U.K. editor Philippa Pride – an incredibly knowledgeable editor who helped me tweak my work in the right places and who also said some nice things about my new novel (more validation!)
  • Spent some time in New York working on my novel (more validation!)
  • There’s been times when I’ve also just needed some direction, some advice, and Damian Smyth (Head of Literature at ACNI) has always been there for a cup of tea, a scone and a chat about my writing

Every writer just wants validation. Every writer just wants to know that they can call themselves a writer, without feeling guilt and without feeling doubt.

I am now at the stage of my career where the first novel, my learning-how-to-write novel is in a bottom drawer (never to be seen again!). I’ve progressed so much since then, have honed my craft, and am happy to call myself a writer now without feeling like a fraud. I’ve just completed my first short story collection and am nearing the completion of my second novel, the big one, the one where I put into practice everything I learned over the years to make it a special piece of work. I’m excited and filled with anticipation about finding a publisher for these bodies of work because I believe in them.

I’m positive that I couldn’t have done most of this without support from the Northern Ireland Arts Council and I feel indebted to them. If you are a writer, an artist, someone creative, then speak to your Arts Council, apply for a grant - they’re an invaluable commodity that can make the difference in your career.


Jamie Guiney is a literary fiction writer from County Armagh, Northern Ireland. His short stories have been published internationally and he has been nominated twice for the 'The Pushcart Prize' with his stories ‘A Quarter Yellow Sun’ and ‘The Cowboy.’

Jamie is a graduate of the Faber & Faber Writing Academy and has twice been a judge for short story competition ‘The New Rose Prize.’ His work has been backed by the Northern Ireland Arts Council through several Individual Artist Awards.

Jamie favours the short story genre, believing it to be the closest written prose to the traditional art of storytelling. In between shorts, Jamie is currently working on his second novel and developing his skills in screenwriting.

He tweets as @jamesgwriter.

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In Conversation with | Doug Richardson

Jamie Guiney   Thu 24 Jan 2013   updated: Fri 06 May 2016

I can’t recollect a time when I haven’t loved movies. As I child I would have watched any black & white film on the television – 12 Angry men, To Kill a Mockingbird, Tarzan...something with Dirk Bogart in it; but mostly, I remember wandering across to the village video shop, then rushing home with a martial arts or action movie under my arm. Thankfully, during the 1980s in rural Northern Ireland it wasn’t taboo to rent an 18 certificate film out to a kid; so I became well-versed in the adventures of Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, JCVD...and the big action heroes like Stallone, Schwarzenegger...even good old ‘Yippee-Kay-Yay’ Bruce Willis himself.

Although my taste in movies has now broadened, I have always stayed true to my love for the action genre. It is a genre whose flagship theme is undoubtedly the classic hero v villain. My short story ‘The Fight’ not only embraces this theme, but also pays homage to my childhood heroes.

Therefore in choosing an interviewee on screenwriting, I set myself quite the challenge. I wanted to interview not just any screenwriter – but a Hollywood screenwriter - a Hollywood screenwriter who writes action movies! And why stop at that? In fact, I specifically wanted to interview Doug Richardson, writer of Die Hard 2, one of my favourite movies. I was just twelve years old when Die Hard 2 was released and between then and now, I’ve probably seen it 50 times.

Again, thankfully, for me, Doug Richardson is a gentleman. And so, to round off a trilogy of great interviews, I am humbled and honoured to present:

In Conversation with | Hollywood Screenwriter | Doug Richardson

Doug Richardson Biography

Doug Richardson was born in Arcadia, California. The son of a career politician, Doug grew up outside Sacramento and inside the state Capitol. He used to talk his way into then- Governor Ronald Reagan’s office, just to get a handful of jellybeans. Doug left Northern California for Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema. For as long as he could remember, Doug had wanted to be a movie director. But in pursuing his goal he discovered how movies are really made: in the writing. After finishing college, Doug signed a two-year contract with Warner Brothers. In 1989 he garnered national attention when his spec screenplay was the first in Hollywood to sell for a million dollars. Doug’s first feature film, the sequel to DIE HARD, DIE HARDER, was produced in 1990. He has since written and produced feature films including the box office smash BAD BOYS and, most recently, HOSTAGE. To date, Doug’s features have grossed over 800 million dollars worldwide.

In 1997, Doug’s debut novel, DARK HORSE, was published by Avon/Morrow in hardcover, followed two years later by his follow up, TRUE BELIEVERS. Doug continues to write and develop for feature films and television. He lives in Southern California with his wife, two children and four mutts.

Photograph Copyright Doug Richardson 2013.

Let’s start at the beginning - were you creative as a child?

Yes. Very.

What else were you into, besides writing?

I wasn’t so much into writing – though I did a bit of it. I was very much into drawing (my father began as a cartoonist) and then photography, then film.

What movies inspired you back then - have you always favoured the action genre?

Strangely, no. I’m more about suspense, thriller, intrigue. Though I was hooked on Ian Fleming’s James Bond books as a kid. So somewhere inside there I was an action guy.

I’ve read that originally you aspired to become a director - how did this evolve into a career as a screenwriter?

Simple. Best way to get a shot at directing is to write your own screenplay. In doing so, I became a writer.

You are credited as being the first screenwriter in Hollywood to sell a spec script for a million dollars. Can you explain what a spec script is, how the deal was made and what happened to the script?

A spec script is a screenplay that is written on “spec”. Or speculation. Without a deal. After a spec is finished, the options are to package it with a director and/or star. Or put it on the market for auction. In the case of HELL BENT AND BACK, I co-wrote it with my former agent, Rick Jaffa. We sent it to all the studios at once and hoped to get a bite. Disney stepped up and made a preemptive bid for a million dollars. We said yes. Then some time later, they got cold feet about spending forty million (that was expensive then) on a WW2 action comedy.

You also wrote a script for Die Hard 4 that was championed by Bruce Willis, but never got the green-light from the studio. Do you find experiences like that disillusioning or have you, as the cliché states, ‘grown a thick skin to work in Hollywood’?

Thick thick thick thick thick skin. Yet that stuff still stings.

Is Hollywood spurred more by the love of money, than the love of storytelling?

Seriously? If there was the love of storytelling, you’d see more good movies than bad. Nope. It’s bottom line town. It’s up to the filmmakers to try and make something good that’s more than just a box office bonanza.

I find it interesting that most bad guys in movies get caught in the end. Should screenwriters have a moral obligation to give an authentic representation of the world?

No. A screenwriter’s obligation is to tell a compelling story.

Let’s talk about your writing methods. Beyond the initial story idea, what process do you follow when writing a screenplay?

Outline. Write. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite…

Is your writing process much different for novels?

Not the getting up in the morning to write part. My outlines for novels are a bit looser, allowing for more elasticity in the storytelling. Movies are limited to visuals and sound. Books are everything you can possibly imagine that can be described with words.

Do you find adapting a book for screen easier or more difficult than writing an original screenplay?

Neither. Each has their own challenges.

When a script is completed, do you prefer to be on set during production or hand it over and just let them shoot it?

Depends on the circumstances. Sometimes the writer is welcome and an asset. Sometimes he’s a pariah because he wants to see things done his way. I’d prefer them to shoot the and perform my screenplay brilliantly, not touch a line of dialogue, then deliver it to me as if it came directly from my sub-cortex. Then again, I’m a realist.

Do directors always capture your vision for the script on screen?

Uh… no.

Out of all the films you have written, which are you most proud of?

Of my produced films, I’m proudest of HOSTAGE because I bled for that movie. And BAD BOYS, because it’s put together with chewing gum and gaffers tape and still works.

As a lifelong action movie fan, I’m interested in some of the other screenplays you have written that didn’t make it into production.

Tooooooooooo many to count.

That’s got to be tough.

Tough yes, but part of the job. Pro screenwriters are like professional baseball batters. They fail more than they succeed.

You’re known as a cigar enthusiast – when did you first get into cigars and which is your favourite?

The late great Tony Scott got me smoking cigars back when we were researching MONEY TRAIN. My favourite smoke is a Sancho Panza Bellicoso.

Does anything else even come close to a Cuban cigar?

There are many non-Cuban cigars that are pretty sublime. Just like there are some California wines that rival the French… just don’t tell the French that.

So your favourite member of the A-Team is Hannibal, right?

Not an A-Team fan. Therefore…

Besides Monroe Cole, who has been your favourite US President in the past 25 years?

President David Palmer.

What are your views on the Oscars?

It’s a really dull TV show.

What are you currently working on?

I just finished my fourth novel, BLOOD MONEY and am starting my fifth, tentatively titled 99% KILL. That and a variety of other movies and TV things in development.

What advice can you give to aspiring screenwriters?

Write. Get constructive critique. Then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

I'd like to say a massive thank-you to Doug for our conversation and for being so generous with his time.

Visit Doug's Website

Buy Doug's Books

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In Conversation With | Francesca Main

Jamie Guiney   Thu 01 Nov 2012   updated: Fri 06 May 2016

I’ve had tremendous feedback from my conversation with Lionel Shriver last month and am delighted to learn that others were as inspired by her words as I was. With this in mind, I felt it would be edifying to take my project into the wider aspects of writing to see what we can learn from the people that help put us into print.

So, for the second interview in the series, let me introduce an editor who champions literary fiction and whom I’ve also had the great privilege of working with:

In Conversation with | Editorial Director at Picador | Francesca Main

Francesca Main Biography

Francesca Main graduated from the University of Warwick in 2002 and began her publishing career with an internship at the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency before joining Penguin Books. At Penguin, she worked first in the rights department and then in the Hamish Hamilton editorial department. She became a commissioning editor for fiction at Simon & Schuster in 2007 and joined Picador as Editorial Director in 2011, on the eve of the imprint’s 40th anniversary. Francesca publishes literary fiction with a broad appeal, and is particularly focused on acquiring new writers for the Picador list. As a result, she is working with a number of debut novelists whose first books will hit the shelves in 2013. In February 2011, Francesca was selected by the British Council to participate in a UK editors’ tour of China, meeting writers, publishers and translators in Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai. She has also been guest editor for the Geneva Writers’ Group, and a guest speaker for the Arvon Foundation and the Faber Academy.

Photograph Copyright Francesca Main 2012.

How did you first get into editing?

I started out in publishing in 2002 with an internship at the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency. I graduated that year, went back to my home town in Dorset to work in a bookshop and merrily started sending letters to every publisher and agent in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, asking for a job. To be honest I’m amazed that anyone replied, let alone offered anything - I knew so little about the industry it hadn’t even occurred to me to ask for work experience. If it hadn’t been for Carole Blake’s generosity and the way her agency take such good care of their interns I would have returned home after a fortnight. As it was, they let me stay until I found a publishing job, and nine interviews later (!), I did. I started out as a rights assistant at Penguin, and then landed my dream job as editorial assistant to Simon Prosser at Hamish Hamilton, who publishes a number of my favourite writers, including Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers, Ali Smith and Jonathan Safran Foer. So I was lucky enough to learn from the best, and those two years at Hamish Hamilton were an invaluable grounding in editorial work. They led to my first commissioning role at Simon & Schuster, where I worked for four years, and I joined Picador as editorial director last year.

What are the changes that have taken place in the publishing industry since you became an editor?

Publishing has changed an enormous amount since I started my first editorial job in 2005; and yet a number of things are exactly the same. The rise of digital publishing has probably had the biggest effect - it has shaken up our entire business model and challenged our whole way of working. The editor’s role has expanded even further as we strive to promote our authors in new media (I wrote about this recently in a blog post for FutureBook: Blog Link). Whatever editors may think of the host of e-reading devices now available in terms of the way books are bought and read, they have had an undeniably positive effect on the way we read submissions. I used to tote printed manuscripts between home and the office every day - usually the first 50 pages of several manuscripts, only to discover that I was desperate to read more of one of them and had little interest in the others. Now I can carry my entire submissions pile around on a Kindle, which has made a huge difference to my reading efficiency (not to mention my posture).

When considering work, do you always read the entire manuscript?

I wish I could say I did, but it’s just not possible - I receive between twenty and forty submissions each month, and almost all of my reading has to take place out of the office, in the evenings and at weekends. In the year since I joined Picador I’ve acquired six new authors (out of nearly 350 submissions). With all of them, that tingly feeling of anticipation, of knowing you’re in the hands of a truly gifted writer and not wanting to put the manuscript down, was there from the first chapter. I try to give each manuscript I receive a fair chance, but if I’m not captivated within 100 pages, I know we’re not the right fit for each other.

Talk me through your work process - for instance, how many times would you read a novel that you are editing, before it goes into print?

Stephen King says that a writer should complete their first draft with the study door shut and the second one with it open. I think it’s the same with editing - you need to read the novel first without a pen in hand, and the second time with one. An editor’s most important role is as a reader, so it’s important to experience the novel as a reader would before getting under the skin of a manuscript. As for how many times I read the novel and what happens next, it depends entirely on the writer and how they like to work - and how close to novel is to being the best possible version of itself. I’m a hands-on editor and I love to work with authors for as long as it takes, but I have an internal limit of about five reads - I think editors lose a degree of objectivity with each draft and after a certain point a fresh pair of eyes is needed.

Ultimately, who is right - writer or editor?

Oh, the writer. Always. It’s their book, their world, their ideas, not the editor’s. (Though this is not to say that editors shouldn’t be listened to...).

Legendary editor Robert Gottlieb, once said that "The editor’s relationship to a book should be an invisible one". Do you agree and is it really fair that the author gets all the glory, when so much work also goes on behind the scenes?

I absolutely agree - the best editorial work is seamless and invisible, because the goal is to help the writer express their vision of the book, not to impose one’s own. And it is only fair and right that the author gets the glory, because it’s their hard work and talent and imagination that have made the book what it is - and that produced it in the first place. I’m with Gottlieb on this second point too - he says: ‘nobody should know what I told [the author]... It’s unkind to the reader and just out of place’.

What is the current consensus within the industry on publishing short stories and do you think the attitude towards this art form will change in the future?

Publishing short story collections is difficult in the UK, sadly. I wish this weren’t the case, but unlike the US, which has more of a national and cultural appreciation for the form, there just isn’t much of a market for short stories in the UK. This is despite a number of prizes and initiatives which promote and celebrate the short story, and despite the fact that some of the best short story writers of all time have come from these shores. New ventures in digital publishing are boosting the short story and creating opportunities for readers to purchase stories on an individual basis rather than as part of a collection. You’d think that our ever-decreasing attention spans would create more of a hunger for short stories - but then, it’s not fair to say that a short story demands less attention than a novel. In the case of the best ones, the opposite is true.

You have just returned from the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair. Can you talk about why the fair is so important to industry professionals?

Book fairs are important for many reasons, and Frankfurt is one of the biggest international publishing exhibitions in the world, incorporating all rights and sales channels. Publishers go there to network, to exchange ideas, to acquire and sell rights, to hear more about new books and authors, to learn more about industry trends and issues abroad, to attend events, seminars, parties... For me, attending the fair was a wonderful opportunity to hear about exciting new books, meet editors and agents from around the world, see old friends, and champion both the authors I publish and the Picador list in general.

Did you make any deals this year?

The biggest books - at least, those in the English language - tend to be sold in the run-up to the fair; so in the case of books from the UK or US the fair is more important for announcing deals than striking them, and for building the buzz and generating subsequent deals in translation. I bought a wonderful novel called SHOTGUN LOVESONGS by a debut American writer, Nickolas Butler, a couple of weeks before heading to Frankfurt (See link here for details) and auctions for German and Dutch rights happened during the fair.

What books would you recommend to people aspiring to become writers?

I’d recommend that anyone aspiring to become a writer reads anything that they can get their hands on - you can learn more from a brilliant novel (or a really bad one) than from a great many writing manuals. But I’d also recommend On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott, The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner. These books are all great on the craft, but also on what it means to be a writer on a personal and emotional level.

When reading for leisure, do you find it difficult to take off your editor’s hat?

I’d like to think that being an editor has taught me to be a more attentive reader, but that’s as far as it goes - I love to read more than ever and don’t find that the job interferes. Apart from not allowing enough time, that is. I do tend to give up on books I’m not enjoying pretty quickly.

Given the choice, what current writers would you like to work with?

There are a whole host of current writers whose work I love - Zadie Smith, Jeffrey Eugenides, Marilynne Robinson and A M Homes to name just a few - but I’m happy just reading their novels and editing those I’m lucky enough to work with already. But I would say yes to Caitlin Moran and Barack Obama in a heartbeat - for the email correspondence and lunches alone.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in becoming an editor?

Find a good mentor - ideally someone you can work for and learn from every day, but otherwise a kind editor or assistant editor. See if you can get work as a freelance reader or writing editorial reports for a manuscript assessment service - I learnt a huge amount from this. Get an e-reader for submissions and use the money you save on chiropractors to buy as many recently published books as you can from your local bookshop. Read widely. And trust your instincts, even after you turn down a novel that goes on to win a major prize.

Thanks so much to Francesca for doing this interview!

Visit Picador Books

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In Conversation with | Lionel Shriver

Jamie Guiney   Sun 14 Oct 2012   updated: Fri 06 May 2016

A short time ago, I began pondering the idea of carrying out a series of interviews with writers, in order to explore what inspires them, how they approach their craft, and what hard lessons they have learned on their way to success. I hoped to learn from them personally and also to share with other writers, their advice and experiences.

I am pleased to say that my project is going well, and I already have a number of remarkable personalities lined up, with some great surprises to come in the following months. To kick things off, I am privileged to present:

In Conversation with | the exceptional and prize-winning author | Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver Biography

An American writer who lives in London, Lionel Shriver is the author of ten novels. She is best known for the New York Times bestsellers So Much for That (a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award and the Wellcome Trust Book Prize) and The Post-Birthday World (Entertainment Weekly’s Book of the Year and one of Time’s top ten for 2007), as well as the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin. The 2005 Orange Prize winner, Kevin passed the signal million-copies-sold mark several years ago, and was adapted for an award-winning feature film by Lynne Ramsay in 2011. Both Kevin and So Much for That have been dramatized for BBC Radio 4. Shriver’s work has been translated into 28 languages. Currently a columnist for Standpoint, she is a widely published journalist who writes for the Guardian, The New York Times, London’s Sunday Times, the Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal, among many other publications. Her eleventh novel, Big Brother, is published in spring of 2013.

Photograph Copyright HarperCollins 2012.

What was the first piece of writing you got paid for?

I had a poem accepted for an anthology while I was in high school. The anthology paid by the word, and the poem was short. They cut me a check for something like forty-six cents. I never cashed it. I have a feeling it’s still moulding in a scrapbook in the attic. So if I’m ever really destitute...

What is your work schedule like when you are writing?

Not to sound stroppy, but this is the kind of question that makes me impatient, just because I don’t think the answer is interesting. I’m constantly handling interruptions these days—pleas to, you know, give us a quote, contribute a signed book for charity, speak at a conference—so my schedule is no longer as simple and steady as it once was. (Failure is great for productivity.) But I get the job done eventually, and that’s all that matters.

You suffer from Raynaud’s disease—has that had any effect on your career or your writing habits?

Calling Reynaud’s a “disease” is a little grand, really. It just means my hands get very cold at ridiculously warm temperatures. It’s hardly a serious disability, and the sole influence it’s had on my career is by providing a small slice of material: I employed it in “The Post-Birthday World.” Otherwise, especially since I’m such a cheapskate on the heating (we try to get by with just lighting the woodstove evenings), I’ve had to learn to type in gloves.

If it can be said that, being a writer is the analysis of humanity, what are your thoughts on the inevitable curse of self-analysis?

When younger, I found myself fascinating. I could carry on for reams in my journals about what I thought made me tick. This is the biggest change for me in middle age. I bore myself senseless. I don’t waste much time on self-analysis. Ironically, the very point at which I lost interest in my own character was the same point at which the British media became unfathomably fascinated by it.

Would writers make better therapists than therapists?

Hey, at least novels are cheaper! I do use my own books to sort out whatever’s bugging me, whatever feels unresolved—sometimes emotionally, sometimes politically. But it’s literature’s use for a readership that’s more important. Reading about other people who have similar experiences as yours, who think the same off-colour thoughts, who don’t feel the way they’re supposed to feel and admit it—I do think that’s therapeutic.

For example, I got a huge readership reaction to the fact that, when a character in “So Much for That” gets cancer, most of her friends and more than one family member make themselves scarce. Apparently this is a big problem now: we shy from sick people. That kicked off several soul-searching discussions in my events. Some people had had their friends disappear on them when they got sick; others had done the disappearing. Everyone was relieved to learn that it wasn’t just their private little problem.

We have spoken about psychology so how about some philosophy—as a preacher’s daughter, tell me what happens when we die?

Hah! Believe it or not, I don’t think an interviewer has ever asked me that point-blank before.

Disclaimer: how the hell do I know, preacher’s kid or not? But to go out on a limb: I’m allergic to religion, and I don’t buy into traditional fairy stories about life after death. But I do take some marginal solace in physics. Energy is neither created nor destroyed. Therefore if—if, mind you—consciousness is real, a form of energy and not simply a neurological illusion, then it doesn’t disappear. But the vessel that contains it most certainly disappears, or rots anyway, and I don’t think our selves as we experience them remain discrete.

So try this: if we imagine the self as water, and the body as a glass, death is a spilled glass of water. The water dribbles down the table legs, seeps into the floor cracks, and evaporates into the air. Maybe some of its molecules will join the Atlantic Ocean or water a plant. But if you call out “Lionel!” after I’m gone, those molecules ain’t gonna turn around.

That obscure enough for you? For credibility, it sure beats meeting St Peter at some pearly gate.

How has living in a variety of cities, such as Nairobi, Bangkok, Belfast, London, and Brooklyn, affected the way that you write?

Simple: it means I’ve set scenes or whole books in Nairobi, Bangkok, Belfast, London, and Brooklyn.

Can you talk about the inspiration for your new novel ‘The New Republic’? Being from Northern Ireland, I’m intrigued to know how much your 12 years spent living in Belfast were an influence.

If I hadn’t lived in Belfast, I doubt I’d have written that novel. It was Belfast that got me so enraged that terrorism paid off. Who’s running the place now? Sinn Fein.

Was it always going to be a satirical novel?


You have mentioned in previous interviews that, as a reader, you always have a pen at the ready—why?

In my teens, I started underlining and annotating as I read to imitate my father, who was always scowling into texts while furiously underscoring and scrawling in the margins. Later when I started doing so much book reviewing the habit proved fortuitous, since you have to cite quotations and remember what you thought as you read when putting together the review. It’s not a bad habit so long as you don’t regard the physical book as sacred (and it doesn’t belong to the library …). What some would regard as defacement is also a way of appropriating the book, of making it yours. And I don’t often reread books. So reviewing the bits I marked is a quick way of reliving the highlights.

Can you name some of the books that you do reread? (My own personal favourite is ‘A Christmas Carol’, by Charles Dickens).

In my teenage years I read "Catch-22" ritually around my birthday, but by the time I turned 18 I decided six times was enough.

Do you ever think you’ll write for television or film? For instance, would you be interested in writing an episode of ‘Mad Men’?

Oh, I love ‘Mad Men’! AND ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘The Wire.’ I adored ‘Borgen’ and ‘The Bridge.’ I think some of the best writing for the screen now is for the small screen. But I wonder if these writers aren’t better than I am. I’m not sure I could produce episode after episode to schedule and with such consistent quality and constant invention—working within a set length, too. Those guys make me feel humble.

You are a judge for the 2013 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award.  Can you talk about your thoughts on the art of the short story and whether we might ever see a collection from you?

I’ve probably got a collection’s worth on my hard drive already, and I have entertained the idea of putting together a collection entirely themed around property. We’ll see. I don’t think the short story is the form in which I shine. I’m too long-winded, and I’m best at those extraneous bits in novels that a strict editor would eliminate. I love to digress, and you can’t afford much departure in short stories. Still, I’m a great admirer of writers who command that form, like William Trevor, and I do hope that there will be some gems in the Times submissions.

How do you see the publishing industry changing in the next few years?

Too much and too fast. The publishing industry is in a state of hysteria right now. The e-book thing is starting to consume so much of the market, with Amazon pushing for prices at which publishers can’t make any money. Everyone’s terrified that after the dust settles no one will be able to make a living either as a writer or an editor anymore. Beyond occupational self-interest, I do hope that the traditional model prevails in some form—that it is still possible to write and publish professionally—because publishers vet, and I don’t want, as a reader, to spend my latter years drowning in a slush pile.

What are some of the hard lessons you have learned during a career in writing?

The big surprise is that writing a novel never gets easy. I find this shocking. You write multiple books, and you expect to get better at it and more relaxed about the process. To become more confident. Uh-uh. I find I am getting less confident. When entertaining the idea for a new novel, I’m much more prone to question: why does the rest of the world need that? And to my own dismay I’m decreasingly self-impressed. I only decided my new novel is any good on the very final draft this summer.

What is your editing/redrafting process like?

I write the whole thing ploughing forward until I have a book. Then I go over and over it until I can stand it.

What is the greatest thing you have learned from an editor?

I had one editor who pushed me to concede that a book wasn’t working because it was told from two points of view, when it should really be written from one. I had to admit he was right, though that meant starting the whole book from scratch. The lesson was: yes, you can rewrite an entire manuscript. But, boy, I wouldn’t want to have to do that again.

What was the book?

A Perfectly Good Family.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Depends on the kind of person you are. If you’re the sort to err on the side of self-satisfaction—to write something and then think, there, that didn’t come out so badly—I’d say, remember that especially in an age of computers all language is malleable: question every word. If you’re instead a tad neurotic, the worry-wart sort who keeps going over the same text and fiddling w it, I’d say, forward ho! Just get the thing down and then you can mess with it later. So many would-be novelists get stuck playing around with the early chapters, lose momentum, and never finish the book.

I'd like to say a massive thank-you to Lionel for our conversation and for being so candid in her answers. Lionel's new novel 'The New Republic' is out now!

Visit Lionel Shriver's Amazon Page

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