Ian Kingsley interviewed by Lilolia
The following interview took place in December 2010, just before Christmas.
Not long ago I read Ian Kingsley’s fantastic psychological thriller Sandman and now Kingsley, a fellow dog lover, is back in this author interview. Jam packed with reading recommendations, inspiring authors to try out, invaluable advice for writers and some laugh out loud moments, this is a must read.
Once again, Ian, thank-you for providing me with a copy of Sandman to review on Lilolia.
Christmas is already upon us. Can you share some of your favourite Christmas holiday reads with us?
I am delighted to have just discovered Carl Hiaasen and would highly recommend his book ‘Skinny Dip’ as an amusing and light-hearted Christmas read. Not only is he really funny, especially with sex, he is a really good writer in the technical sense. It is hard to recommend a writer who would serve as a model for all the important aspects of creative writing (such as characterisation, plot, etc), but I reckon Carl hits the spot with this book. Or, something really unusual that you can get your teeth into over a holiday, is ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell. ‘Engleby’, by Sebastian Faulks, also has a flawed central character much in the same way as my own book ‘Sandman’ does; in both these cases, the reader really gets into that person’s mind. I also loved the unusual nature of the girl from nowhere getting into the family in ‘The Accidental’ by Ali Smith, which would make another unusual Christmas read. Personally I am hoping to get another Carl Hiaasen back from Amazon before Christmas. That would be wonderful chuckle over Christmas.
Which authors do you admire and what is it about their work that inspires you?
I greatly admire Peter Carey, despite his lack of regard for the ‘conventional’ rules of writing. (He gets away with things – and Booker prizes - because of his wonderful characterisation skills.) I equally admire the work of John Irving: and suggest to readers that one influences the other; you guess which way round! There are some similarities to be found in certain novels, but I am not saying what. (There’s a challenge for you!) Both these authors inspire me to create flesh-and-blood characters that readers will remember. Carl Hiaasen has now joined that short list. I also admire some of Sophie Hannah’s psychological thrillers (such as ‘Little Face’, less challenging to the reader than some others), the somewhat forgotten A. J. Cronin, and, last, but not least, Thomas Hardy, a classical master of characterisation.
Which novel has made the biggest impact on you as a reader?
‘Jude the Obscure’ by Thomas Hardy. You really get to know – and sympathise with – Jude Fawley, like few characters in fiction. I can never forget this novel and can re-read it like few others.
Do you have a favourite literary character?
Apart from Jude Fawley, in ‘Jude the Obscure’, as mentioned above, perhaps I would say Chili Palmer in Elmore Leonard’s novel ‘Get Shorty’. I love this character for his absolute ‘cool’. Even when up against a mountain of a guy you would expect to make mincemeat of him, he always has the upper hand. What a character – despite his shady past!
What does your average day’s writing routine look like?
A computer! No, seriously, once I get writing it is hard to take my eyes off the screen – and I require absolute silence. No music, no radio, nothing. I have pretty much a nine-to-five routine on the days I work: which is 3 per week. If I am not catching up with emails or something to do with my travel website, synergise.com, or my author website, iankingsley.com, then it either associated with marketing my latest published book or working on my latest novel. (I can listen to the radio or music when working on my website. What stops me while undertaking ‘creative writing’ is the need to clearly hear in my head what the reader reads – without any distractions.
Where do you do your writing?
When we moved to our present house I got a garage converted into an office: light and airy, without many distractions. I have a pleasant view of the garden and have only to step outside the door to take a break amongst flowers and shrubs. Quite often there is a dog at my feet. Sadly, two of our much-loved dogs died this year (both to cancer), and so my wife and I are helping a charity out by socializing dogs in training for the disabled. We get a round-robin of beautiful golden retrievers as a result. I imagine we will get our own dog again next year, but we are not ready for that yet. Either way, the dog at my feet is always a faithful companion and stress-reliever.
What is your advice to aspiring writers concerning getting an agent? Should they bother before they have a manuscript to sell?
Be pragmatic and time-efficient. There is no point seeking an agent until you have a completed MS. My suggestion is this. Write your novel in first draft, then prepare/finalize a short Synopsis and polish the first 3 chapters (or whatever your target agents require). Getting a professional critique on the first 3 chapters would be good cost- and time-effective option here, followed by a further polish of them before approaching agents. (Or use a peer review website, such as Authonomy.com, to get comments – being aware the latter will take up a lot of your time, for you, also, will have obligations to review.) You can then send the sample out to agents while you get on with polishing the MS until it shines! There should be plenty of time while you wait for agents to respond, and you have something to do when you get the almost inevitable rejections. If you’re lucky and one is interested, you can confirm the MS is completed at first draft but just undergoing a final edit, and if they want to see it right away – and maybe comment on it (very valuable) – then that is fine, as well, and is to your advantage. Everyone knows where they stand this way. Do not pretend an unfinished MS is finished, or approach agents while the MS is unfinished – unless you already have a novel published that will demonstrate your capabilities. It is hard enough getting an agent to be interested in your work without bombing them out, at the first exchange, with the news you haven’t even completed it. (That will probably be the end of what might have been a rewarding relationship.)
Do you have any pearls of wisdom to offer on the subject of marketing one’s novel?
I’m always seeking these pearls myself. Here are a few ideas. Strive to get a well-known writer or celebrity to write a short cover endorsement. If you have a mainstream publisher, they will advise, but at least you then have the opportunity of getting press reviews. After publication, find ways to get Amazon reader reviews. Get your own author website early on so that all publicity – even the book itself – leads people to your website. Include an extract of the book on the website (at least the entire first chapter) and use its sales page to make it easy for people to buy the book. Remember that the more Amazon sales you make the higher your book’s profile on Amazon -and hence in the world - so don’t only think about how much you make on each copy; think also how much each sale potentially raises the profile of the book. Get review extracts and personal information (which can mention your website) onto Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com (treat as separate entities), through their ‘Author Central’ feature. A final tip is this. Use a local setting for your book so you can get local bookshop interest and maybe a local signing. Send your book for review to local papers. Try to get local radio slots. All this is a good boost on publication. I reckon you need to sell a certain number of copies before word-of-mouth can ‘go critical’ enough in order to stand a chance of taking over, and I think concentrating on that marketing until you can see a good and stable Amazon book ranking is a sensible approach – before you get too involved with the next book. Co-operate fully with your publisher.
If you were stranded on a deserted island, which 3 things would you take with you?
I much prefer a real paper book to an electronic version, but that’s just me. If I knew I was going to be stranded and could take just three things, I reckon I would finally go for a fully stocked Kindle (including the Bible and good books on boatbuilding and survival), plus a solar charging panel to keep my Kindle going, and a large and full water container (so I can refill it from the water source I would hope to find). Please can I have four things? I would really like a bug-tight tent as well!
What is your favourite dish on the Christmas dinner table?
Plum pudding. I only see it once a year, whereas with turkey, you just know you’ll be seeing it again soon.
Thanks very much for your time and good luck with your current
project. Be sure to let us know when it comes out! And a Merry Christmas