Tuesday, 12 July 2011

INTERVIEW: Pat Kelleher

Here at Falcata Times, we love it when we find a title that is so mindbendingly novel that we're surprised that no one's had the concept before. Such was the way we felt when we read Pat's original novel Black Hand Gang and we couldn't wait to get part two, the new Ironclad Prophecy.

As such we really couldn't pass up the chance to chat to Pat when the opportunity arose for a ceasefire in the trenches, so for your viewing please is the result of that peaceful time...

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?

PK: I don’t know about ‘afflicted’. I prefer to think of it as something I want to do, rather than being driven to it by some psychological compulsion. It’s a profession I love and make a living at and I’ve worked hard to hone whatever creative impulse I might have. Although, having said that, the desire to write is pretty much hardwired now; I don’t see how I could do anything else.

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

PK: The final year of my Fine Art degree, when I realised I was spending more time writing in the cafe round the corner than I was painting in the studio.

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?

PK: I started out writing comics and short stories for children, which was a great place to learn the craft. You learn to cut straight to the heart of the story, tell it concisely and make every word count. While I think there is some overlap in the skill sets used to write short stories and novels, they are two separate disciplines. It’s the difference between a sprint and a marathon; they’re both running, but you train differently for each. No Man’s World: Black Hand Gang was my first full length novel. While some skills were transferable, Black Hand Gang was a hell of leap and one heck of learning curve.

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?

PK: I probably wouldn’t have to. My wife would get there before me. She seems to be quite zealous about these kinds of things.

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

PK: Trenches and Extraterrestrials. If you know British comics, imagine Charley’s War drawn by Kevin O’Neil - at least that’s how I like to imagine it. Your mileage may vary.

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?

PK: Well, the books that have followed me around whenever I’ve moved are The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien, Robert Rankin’s Brentford Trilogy and Gormenghast books by Mervyn Peake. It seems like I’ve always owned copies of those. Neil Gaiman, Iain Banks, Robert Rankin, I’ve always got time for.

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?

PK: I don’t trust myself to wrangle a huge beast like a novel by the seat of my pants just yet. I pretty much have a chapter breakdown laid out with all the major story beats, so I know where I’m going, but within that there’s a fair amount of latitude, especially for the characters, which evolve as I write them. I usually try and start with brief one-paragraph sketches of the main characters, but I’ve found that once I start writing they very rarely conform. Naturally, fresh ideas occur to you as you write and get folded into the story, so there’s plenty to discover along the way, even if you know where you’re going. It really is about the journey.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

PK: Well, I like getting out to the Peaks or the Lakes, hill walking. It’s good for blowing the cobwebs away. If I want to remain sedentary, it’ll be reading and cinema. Recently, my reading has mostly been research, but it’s led me to some fascinating places and ideas that I wouldn’t otherwise have come across and authors I might never have read.

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

PK: Well, the fewer people that know about it, the better. Suffice to say that it is legal and my wife tolerates it.

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?)

PK: No. No pets. Is that wrong? Next.

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

PK: Nellie Abbott, the First Aid Nursing Yeoman, or FANY (stop sniggering at the back). She just won’t do as she’s told, either by the other characters or by me. And of course ‘Only’ Atkins. Most of my previous writing has been for licensed properties where you have to leave the characters exactly as you found them, so it’s been great to have a character of my own that I can put through the emotional wringer.

FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?

PK: Uhm. We’re both from the North? That, and the fact we probably share a Catholic sense of guilt. Apart from that, he’s a lot younger than me and, despite his youth and basic education, has experienced things I can barely imagine, except that uh, you know, I have to.

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

PK: Well, currently I’m trying to get things to grow in a local allotment plot. I’m not doing too badly, but am far from self sufficient, so I can certainly identify with my characters’ struggle with nature.

FT: Where do you get your ideas from?

PK: Listening, watching, reading; everywhere. They’re all around you. Ideas are like those 3D Magic Eye pictures from the Nineties. Once you learn to spot them you can’t stop. They keep popping out at you. I find ideas breed more ideas.

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

PK: Not writer’s block, but there are times when problems arise and talking things out over a couple of pints with someone can be helpful. Or it maybe it’s just the alcohol. I’m not expecting them to provide answers, that’s not the point of the exercise. Hearing it out loud helps to get my own thoughts in order. Funnily enough, talking to myself rarely achieves the same result, although it does ensure that nobody sits next to me on the bus.

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?

PK: When I was single the civility of the time didn’t matter but, now I’m married, it’s pretty much a disciplined day. I’ll get most of my procrastinating and casual web surfing out of the way by 9.00am (hopefully) and then write while the house is empty. There are times when the work will bleed into the evenings and weekends; deadlines, when I’m on a roll. However, it can be hard when the office is also the guest room, the laundry drying room and the stock cupboard. I’ve lost count of the number of half-coalesced thoughts and sentences that been have dissipated by someone breezing into the room, chattering away, looking for this or that. I really must get a lock. And I’m often told off for vacant stares at the dinner table when my wife realises I’m still ‘working’.

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?

PK: Well, for No Man’s World, that would be a wealth of crackly, old 78 recordings by the likes of Florrie Ford and Marie Lloyd to get my head into the period, interspersed with some rousing soundtrack music, mostly from James Newton Howard’s King Kong score and a bit of Wagner. But for the most part it’s silence. Radio, TV, heated arguments bleeding through from the neighbours next door; anything with words I find too distracting.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?

PK: That it would just be me and a blank sheet of paper and I could just sit in my garret and get on with it which I did for years with little or no feedback other than from editors. Now, with my first novel, it’s as if someone’s lifted the stone I’ve been living under for years and I’ve been thrust out blinking into the light. I find I’m having to blow my own trumpet and self promote, which is something I’m not used to doing, however I’m throwing myself into it with gusto. After all, I’m a writer and it’s all grist to the mill, right?

FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

PK: If you want to continue the Shakespearean theme, writing is an elixir to stimulate the imagination, where ideas are the active ingredient, stories are the delivery system and authors are your apothecary.

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

PK: The Ironclad Prophecy continues the adventures of the vanished WW1 battalion of Pennine Fusiliers marooned on an inhospitable alien planet. The threats are bigger and we learn more about the Khungarrii and the Ones. It’s set three months after the events of Black Hand Gang. The Mark 1 tank, His Majesty’s Land Ship Ivanhoe, hasn’t returned from its latest scouting trip and Atkins and his Black Hand gang face new challenges and new dilemmas as they are sent to find out what has happened to it. With Tommies, trenches, tanks, and tentacles, it’s pulp action all the way.

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

PK: Let’s see, the Internet Archive, io9, Twitter, The Medical Front WW1 and Bleeding Cool.

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

PK: No, I learnt the hard way, by doing it. In public. One word after the other. I’m still learning.

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

PK: That assumes that I have. I’ve been lucky in that never really had to deal with rejection so far. Each criticism, though, is a crack of the whip that spurs me on, if only to put it behind me. Which can be hard when the harshest critic is yourself.

FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

PK: Working from home, no office politics, doing something you love and entertaining people in the process are the best aspects. On the downside, working from home, erratic income, chasing money, and not having any amusing office-based anecdotes to tell down the pub. But having said that, I chose to do this for a living so I’ve no-one to blame but myself.

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