Wednesday, 9 January 2013
Author Interview: Clive West
Clive West was born in the West Country of England in the early 60's. He was educated at a traditional English public school before going on to university to study civil engineering. Over the years, he has worked as a civil engineer, tutor of maths and science, schools quizmaster, employment agency boss, and writer. His work includes a collection of short stories with twists, a full-length novel called 'The Road' about the consequences of corruption on ordinary people and an accessible job hunting interview guide (based on his years of experience as the boss of an employment agency). He has also written a book about lymphedema. This is a disfiguring, life-threatening and incurable disease he now suffers from and which his experience shows that most fellow patients have (like him) been abandoned by their respective health services. Clive now lives in a rebuilt farmhouse in the Umbrian region of Italy along with Damaris, his writer wife of 22 years and their three rescue dogs. Apart from his fictional work, Clive also writes commercial non-fiction on a variety of topics but especially relating to business and employment. You can see all the books which he has been involved with at www.anysubject.com
What part of the world are you from?
What was the first important thing that you've ever written?
I've literally drawn up thousands of contracts and legal letters and I've long since forgotten which was the first important one. In terms of creative writing, I'd have to say that it was a series of training articles that I did for upwardly mobile employees.
Did you keep a diary as a child and do you still write one today?
No. I've tried many times but I just don't have the discipline. I really admire those who do but 'it ain't me babe'.
Which book are you currently reading (or are just about to read)?
I'm currently reading Ruth Rendell's 'The Bridesmaid' but I've got the Frost prequel on order and I'm really looking forward to feasting my beadies on that one.
What made you take up writing as a career?
As I said, I've always been a commercial writer so it was a natural thing to become a freelancer when I got disabled. I enjoy writing and I get a real feeling of the wind in my hair when I've got a subject and I know where it's going.
What have you written so far that's been published?
What books do you have in the pipeline?
I'm able to write in my head - often in my sleep - and I've got 3 stored up there at the moment. The one which I'd like to get down is a tortured view of life seen through the eyes of a serial killer. I also need to finish my autobiography about the abuse I suffered as a child.
What or who inspires you?
I'm inspired by the events that I've seen - many bad, sadly. I'm a keen observer of patterns and I love the use of probability trees to help me consider all possible outcomes of any given event.
Which famous authors do you admire?
That's easy but it does depend upon the context.
Asimov for his sheer perceptiveness regarding the way people behave. Technology may change but people don't.
RD Wingfield for his witty dialogue. Just read his Frost books and be prepared to be blown away by the man's talent.
Tom Clarke for the gritty realism of the brilliant Muck and Brass series (for my book, The Road)
Alan Bleasdale for Boys from the Black Stuff (again, for The Road)
How do you come up with your characters?
Most of my characters are composites of people I've known although I'm at great pains not to make any individual a 'real person'.
How would you describe your style of writing?
Would you say your last book was realistic?
I know it’s realistic. The sheer number of dirty dealings that I've seen during my years in the construction industry form the basis of The Road. It is chillingly realistic, believe me.
Could you describe its plot in just one sentence?
The story is one of how the corruption centred around the construction of a new ring road impinges on the lives of the ordinary people who come into contact with it.
Which part of the book gave you the most trouble and why?
Significant chunks of the book follow young people. I wanted to get the interchanges - dialogue, actions, dress, tastes - as accurate as I could. It took considerable research but I think I got there in the end.
Did you learn anything from writing the book?
Yes, I learnt about ecstasy and I also discovered a lot about offshore banking and moving money around.
If you were to rewrite it, what would you change?
I'd definitely try and find a way of splitting it into 2 volumes. I'd then be able to put the books out at a lower price per book and this would probably attract more buyers. They might also feel less daunted by two thinner books.
Is there anyone whose help you'd particularly like to acknowledge?
My wife, Damaris West, who is also an author, helped me very considerably with editing, characterisation and also with snagging. Corny as it might sound, I couldn't have done it without her.
Does the e-book format give rise to any specific challenges or benefits?
If I were to put The Road out as a physical book, the cost would be prohibitive for a new author unless I split it into two volumes (which would involve a major re-write). Having the e-book option has allowed me to keep it as one volume.
If you had to pick a genre you'd not previously written in or considered, what would it be and why?
I'd love to write a fantasy saga. I know there's a lot of that about at the moment (with the HBO serialisation of the George RR Martin books) but I'm sure I could come up with something original.
How much time do you set aside for your writing?
Not much at the moment sadly. My work involves getting our publishing business up and running and the only creative writing I tend to do is producing guest posts for other websites to run.
Is writing going to be your career for the foreseeable future?
I'd like it to be. Obviously the publishing business is in there, too. I don't want to split them.
Do you have any news you can tell us?
I've been engaged to co-write a fictionalised account of a childhood a bit like my own. If that gets held up, I'm intending to get cracking on that serial killer book I mentioned earlier in the interview. I really want to write that!
What advice would you give new or would-be writers?
Everybody has their own way of writing but what I do is to figure out a plot from beginning to end and write it up without bothering much about side plots, setting or details not directly relevant to the story line. I even skip over dialogue. Once I've done that, I return and fill in the missing pieces. I then return a third and fourth time to polish and edit it. Doing it this way avoids continuity breaks and also ensures that I do actually have a viable and plausible story.
What would you like to say to your readers?
I get a genuine pleasure out of writing although I'd hate to think what I write is 'comfortable'. I want people to enjoy my books but also to stop and think. For example, in my short stories, several are dedicated to creating situations which are 'obvious' (only so because we are all inherently prejudiced and blinkered) but turn out to be anything but. I like to challenge people - I hope I succeed - as well as entertaining them, of course!
Clive West writes for Any Subject Books Ltd