Sunday, 9 December 2012

Interrogating Andrew Lawston

Here's an interrogation with Andrew Lawston, Oh no it isn't, Oh yes it is

How do you strike the balance between writing something you want to write and writing something that people want to read, in terms of the compromises you make, if any?

Eek, a tricky one to start with! I strike the balance by writing everything and then deciding whether other people might want to read it. For every short story in Something Nice, there are at least two others which I wrote and then filed away for being too silly or too extreme. I don't make many compromises, because I try not to second guess what people will want to read - my most successful story opens with the muffled noises of people being violently sick. I'd never have believed anyone would want to read that, but it was snapped up by the first magazine I pitched! The exception is when I've tried to write for younger audiences - I have a YA project where a kid dies in agony on the second page. It's been pointed out to me that that's not really the done thing, and I totally see their point, but still can't work out how to remove the death without diminishing that scene's impact and suspense in later scenes. I know it's going to require a major compromise at some point, but still thinking it through!

What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in.

When I'm writing short fiction, or attempts at novels, everything is dictated by the idea I've had for a story, at least in the first draft, and that includes genre. The kind of stories I like to write lend themselves to magical realism, science-fiction and urban fantasy, rather than me being particularly driven to those genres. I do like the creative freedom that comes with fantasy, speculative and paranormal fiction, though. Short stories appeal to me because they're an efficient way of telling a great story, with no background noise.

Do you have a box, drawer, folder etc where you keep thoughts and ideas for future stories? Such as names you have come across, bits of dialogue, ideas, characters - even if you have no idea when you might use them?

I use notebooks, lots of notebooks - I have a serious problem! It's got to the point where my friends and family are trying to enforce a rule that I can't buy any more notebooks until I fill up at least one of the existing ones on my shelf. I use notebooks to write all my first drafts in longhand, and to jot down bits and pieces as they occur to me. It's more ideas and dialogue than names and characters, though, I get my character names by mixing and matching friends' friends at random on Facebook. I have notebooks dating back to at least 2004, and I raid them when I'm between projects and looking for inspiration.

How do you manage plot bunnies (ideas that invade your mind that aren’t usually helpful to the story you’re writing but breed

I write down plot bunnies - I think you have to. Sometimes I get an idea that's so persistent that I can't concentrate at all on the task in hand. So I write it down in a different notebook, and that usually gets it out of my system so I can get back to whatever I was doing before. The most recent and most unhelpful example was when I was writing a kind-of science-fiction short story over the summer, but got distracted by a vivid idea for a single page of a graphic novel 'sequel' to Tale of Two Cities. I couldn't think about anything else until I'd written it out, even though I've never scripted a graphic novel in my life and it took me several days to get the format right. And then I forgot about it.

How much of you is in your characters? Which of your characters is the you that you’d most like to be? Or be with?

There's not that much of me in my characters, usually. Maybe some trait that they might share with me, which I've decided I want to explore. He doesn't get mentioned much in reviews of Something Nice, but I think I'd most like to be Evian from The Longest Walk. He walks across a post-apocalyptic landscape, reinventing himself constantly according to his whims. I love the way he shrugs off his past from moment to moment, and I think we've all wished at some point we could do the same.

Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters?

I write all my first drafts alone in pubs, so I think my girlfriend usually just thinks I've become an alcoholic! I become intensely involved with my writing while I'm in the pub, but when I'm typing it up and editing at home later, it's all a lot more relaxed. I can't bear 'creative' people who behave like idiots to their friends and family. Having an interesting hobby is no excuse for being a pillock.

What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write?

I read very widely, and I'd like to write very widely too. My favourite genre is probably science-fiction, and I'd love to write it too, but frankly my science isn't up to it due to me being hopeless at maths. I've had ideas for all sorts of space opera antics but I know just enough to know I'd seriously embarrass myself unless I had so many proofreaders that the book ended up being written by committee. I read a lot of French literature, and obviously I'm not about to start writing that, although I have translated a few bits and pieces.

What lengths do you go to to convince us readers that your book has the X factor?

I don't work too hard on the promotion thing, because I know how much pushy authors annoy me as a reader. In terms of my book's X factor, I point modestly to the very kind reviews I've received, and I do like to make the point that the short stories in Something Nice have been published professionally in other forms, as I don't feel part of the self-publishing 'revolution'. I tend to hang around forums and make silly posts, and if people like my silly posts, then they'll probably like my silly stories. It's not a genius marketing plan, and I can't pretend it's been particularly successful, but hopefully people don't roll their eyes when they see my name...

How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made?

Grateful, but mostly gutted. I pride myself on technical accuracy, so it's always galling when I hear about a typo. There are a couple in Something Nice, in spite of my best efforts, and even though we're talking about just two spelling mistakes and a misplaced apostrophe, I've still considered putting out a revised edition to fix them.

What do you like most about visiting GR/forums?

I love Goodreads - it's a social networking site devoted to books, how cool is that? I love that everyone on the site is just so into reading. The enthusiasm and energy is brilliant, I love the interaction and the variety of things to do - there are features that I've still not bothered to even look at! The best thing is definitely the other readers that I've met through the site. If my book was wiped from Amazon and I never wrote another word, I'd still be on Goodreads every day chatting nonsense about books.

What is on your near horizon?

Many, many things. I've got a second short story collection that's approaching a publishable length, as well as my MPhil thesis (on an obscure slice of French cinema, very selective appeal, but still) and a 60,000 word Casanova translation. I'm also continuing to submit short stories and novel proposals to various markets. I've just finished performing in a panto, and am preparing an intensive month of writing before I start rehearsing the next show I'm going to be acting in.

Where can we find you for more information?

I'm all over the place! My blog is at and I'm also @alawston on Twitter, and have a Facebook page at And the book itself, Something Nice, is available at


  1. Wonderful interview :) Loved the book and looking forward to the next one.