Stewart Binns has had a rich and varied selection of careers yet something within has always drawn him back to English History.
Here in his debut novel that passion is clear so we thought that it would be interesting to get to know this Man from Lancashire along with is vices. With subjects ranging from Camra to twins. However don't mention the Clarets...
Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?
Stewart Binns: To be ‘afflicted’ sounds like a tortured artist in his/her garret. I’m certainly not that. My day job (telly) is storytelling and I’ve written non-fiction before, so fiction is just an extension of my passion for stories. The ability to tell stories is a gift for sure, although learning the techniques for fiction was a challenge for me and it took a lot of heartache to get them right – assuming I’ve done so!
FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?
SB: I got there slowly as I realised how important words were in my TV scripts.
FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?
SB: See above. I’m a great admirer of brilliant copywriters/speechwriters and have worked with some. “Just do it!” (Nike) is a brilliant piece of writing.
I once worked with a guy called Rob Siltanen who wrote a commentary for the IOC’s Celebrate Humanity Campaign, read by Robin Williams:
Shots of the 100m: Speed…You measure speed in seconds.
Shots of weightlifting: Strength…You measure strength in pounds.
Shots of Derek Redmond trying to finish the 400m in Barcelona in 1992, helped by his father, after tearing his hamstring: Courage…You can’t measure courage.
30 secs, 17 words – brilliant.
FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?
SB: Blackmail? Plead poverty? Pretend I’m a tortured artist in his garret? It’s a bloody good story of an English hero.
FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?
SB: That’s Helen’s job! I’d take longer, but here goes: England, heritage, honour, justice, freedom, courage, guilt, regret, oppression, violence, lust, greed, innocence, struggle, carnage, cruelty, violence, truth, death – how many is that?!
FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?
SB: The 2011 CAMRA Good Beer Guide, Wisden 2010, anything to do with Burnley Football Club.
FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?
SB: I make sure I know the history back to front and as much as possible of what is known of the central characters so that everyone/everything fits, then I just make it up as I go along.
FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?
SB: Drink claret, Fullers London Pride, play with my twin boys, DIY, try to deal with the wilderness at the bottom of our garden, watch sport, fiddle with model railways. Non-fiction in prep for the next book.
FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?
SB: Mind your own business! – but it involves exotic rituals at a legendary and terrifying place called Turf Moor.
FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)
SB: No pets, although I always had dogs as a kid and we’re about to get dogs for the boys.
FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?
SB: Edith Swan-Neck. It’s obvious when you meet her – page 207
FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?
SB: I’m just like him of course.
FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?
SB: See above. They don’t.
FT: Where do you get your ideas from?
SB: Out of thin air.
FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?
FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?
SB: Early in then morning, late at night. It drives them mad, but my study is tucked away at the far end of the house.
FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?
SB: I love all romantic/emotive music, especially classical, but I don’t hear music when I write. However, I do see the scenes very vividly and try to visit all the places that occur in the narrative. I don’t write anything until I can visualise the setting and characters in
FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?
SB: That it’s glamorous.
FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?
SB: The sewage system of the human imagination. Hope it doesn’t need explanation.
FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?
SB: It’s called Crusade and is a sequel to Conquest. Hopefully it will be the second of a trilogy I’m calling The Making of England. The third part will be called Magna Carta.
FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?
SB: Clarets Mad, Penguin, BBC, Amazon, Guardian
FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.
FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?
SB: I took criticism on board. Only had one rejection – which was several years ago and of a very early and poor version of the manuscript. They were right to reject it, it was awful – I was still learning my trade.
FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?
SB: You are totally free to follow your imagination wherever it will take you. It’s very hard to make a living out of writing.