July 3, 2014 by benmblackman
My good friend Isabel Rogers asked me if I would answer some questions for her and, before I realised they weren’t about SClub7 (years 1998-2003) and that I had to type them out…and then publish them on a blog (gawd, do you want me to read them for you too?), I said of course I would.
It’s a bit like a chain letter I think – but online instead of a scrappy horrible piece of paper passed to you by a schoolgirl. And nobody will die if you don’t read it or pass it on. Will they?
Anyway, I think I’m meant to tell you how great Isabel is in this bit (and she is by the way). She writes how I want to: funny, smart, inspiring, romantic. As well as writing radio plays and sit-coms she also writes novels and poetry. Really bloody well. In fact, I don’t like her after all. Show off. She is my go-to man for all things apostrophes and gramma (I spelt that wrong on purpose, get it)? Anyway, I can’t talk about Isabel all day, I’ve got to answer some questions about my writing for her…
What are you currently working on?
Well, since month 3 of the new born baby, plus two family businesses (3 really if you separate the website from the shop) not a lot. I think I kind of knew this would be the case because I crammed as much writing as I could into 2013 and the early months of this year. You might not have heard (because I didn’t mention it much) but, in 2013 I gave up alcohol for a year. An entire year. Do you know how long a year is? 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,760 Hours, 525,600 minutes, 31,536,000 seconds (not that I was ever counting). Oh, did I mention I wrote a book about it (you didn’t think I’d actually do that for fun did you)?
Early this year I submitted it to a few fabulous agents, got some fantastic feedback, but I really need to get a grip and start pushing it out there again. The baby though, remember, and the businesses…and sometimes I like to just sit down and do absolutely nothing (as if).
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Well, mine is still in what I like to call its purest form. Bound and leather hardback does nothing for me, that’s selling out isn’t it? Don’t even mention Kindle to me, I’m not having it. For me, if it ain’t in a folder named, A Year Without Beer in Microsoft Word on my computer – it isn’t even worth opening my eyes for.
A while ago I realised what I write is officially called Narrative Non-Fiction. You can read all about it via another brilliant Isabel (Costello this time) here. I’ve written another book before this A Year Without Beer one too you see. It’s top secret so I can’t tell you about that – unless it gets published one day. Which it might.
Although I didn’t ever realise it at the time, I’ve read a lot of narrative non-fiction over the years. I love it. I guess mine differs, like they all do, in terms of the subject, the characters, the setting. In this genre I love books about village cricket teams meandering through a season, anonymous city bankers, people who work in Light Shops and lots more. No two are the same because not many people write books about working in a light shop, being a city banker or playing in a cricket team (well I guess a lot write about that but not many are good enough to find the shelves). My hope was, and is, that nobody else my age has been stupid enough to give up alcohol for no real reason at all, except to see ‘what it would be like out of interest’ and ‘whether I could do it’, let alone then write a whole book about it. Blimey – both of those things were quite hard to do now I come to think of it.
Why do you write what you do?
Because you asked me to, Isabel. Oh, sorry, you mean in general? Because I love writing. It took me a long time to realise but I really love writing. I’ve always done it, just not with the intent of ‘being a writer’, whatever that means.
I’ve always written a lot in my jobs (albeit not creatively) but I’m very lucky these days because I get to write every day for work – lots of copywriting for a variety of clients. Sometimes it’s creative, others very technical and formal but it’s always something new which I love and it all helps develop your skill.
But if I have to go a long period without writing for me, what I want to write (I really need to get A Year Without Beer out to agents again remember and my poor old blog hasn’t seen much action recently) it frustrates me. I think you know you love something if you’re always itching to do it but you can’t. Unless you’ve been bitten by a horsefly (which I know is quite an issue for many people right now, myself included), in which case you’re just itchy. You probably don’t love having a horsefly bite.
Basically, I write about what I do because I need to let it all out. When Twitter came along I used to just read what a few of the cricket players said on it. Then I realised it was easier to do that if you signed up and got an account. I didn’t ever write anything on it though. I wasn’t one of those weirdo’s. Then one day a delayed train journey and, well – I became one of those weirdo’s. Now I think of it, I think Twitter probably inspired me to start writing properly. It was an outlet for the million and one weird and wonderful, happy and sad, moving, inspirational and funny things I see every day and I really liked letting them out there. A while later I was chatting to a friend about the idea I had for my first book (top secret remember) when I realised – I’m going to write that thing. I went home and started writing it that very evening (after eating a biscuit, doing the washing up, opening my computer, realising writing a book is really hard, and then putting it off for another few weeks).
How does your writing process work?
Well it doesn’t really. Whilst my wife was pregnant and I wasn’t drinking I would write at night several times a week but, right now I’m too tired for that and something I have learnt along the way is, much as you want to write, you crave to write, you yearn to write – if you’re too tired or not in the mood then you shouldn’t force it just because that’s the only few hours you might get to do it.
It’s meant to be fun, not forced into the free time you have and, if you’re not into it, it’s not going to be any good is it?
When I am able though I grab every opportunity to write. A Year Without Beer was written at night (sometimes the middle of), early mornings, on trains, train stations, planes (ok once, and it was EasyJet but still, totally counts), waiting for a car to pass its MOT (3 hours and £247.33), weekdays, weekends, holidays, in the garden, outside cafes (I do that whenever I can and pretend I’m a writer). I tend to plan out my chapter structure and then write. I write write write and then edit in massive chunks. A Year Without Beer was written in 3 big chunks I’d say (and edited in 3 big chunks). I should really change my process because editing 25,000 odd words at a time really is not fun.
Have I mentioned A Year Without Beer enough?
When are the SClub7 Questions?
I think I’m meant to con someone else into answering these questions next (you know, or somebody dies because I have broken the chain). Trouble is, Vicky Walters hasn’t got the time apparently and I’m not going to pressure her into it or mention that here.