World Book Day 2015 - doing it yourself
We talk to some of our artists - Billy the Kid, Colin MacIntyre (Mull Historical Society), Franz Nicolay and Frank Turner - and some of our friends about becoming authors.
- 06/03/2015 -
Reading is the old Pixar - something that unites both children and adults, as well as your younger and older self. From being read to as a kid, to picking up a copy of those slightly edgier books (like the teen-horror series, Goosebumps) before really exploring the epics (The Lord of the Rings), terrifying and gory (most of Stephen King's back catalogue), the challenging (Dostoyevsky, Chomsky, Danielewski, Homer), the truly life-changing (To Kill A Mockingbird, Catch-22, 1984, Wuthering Heights, The Ministry of Special Cases) and everything in between. Like music, we start young and safe, branch out onto what's cool, then rapidly realise we want to experience everything - all the stories, all the lives, all the events our imagination brains can grasp, absorb and relate to us.
World Book Day may be aimed at the young - which are at least some of you, probably - but reading is universal. It is also essential, a key way of communicating with people, as well as preserving history, our lives and hopes. I'm currently reading a book partially set in the Dominican Republic, about South American and Caribbean life (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Yao by Junot Díaz), and I know I just would never have the chance of even coming close to these peoples' experience of life, but this wonderful novel has brought me closer to them than I could ever get by myself. Dip into a book, and you've already expanded your knowledge of the world immeasurably.
And some people believe they have stories to tell and experiences to share with others. Some of those people are musicians at Xtra Mile Recordings: Colin MacIntyre (AKA Mull Historical Society)'s first novel The Letters of Ivor Punch is due 14 May 2015, Franz Nicolay's The Humorless Ladies of Border Patrol is out early 2016, Billy Pettinger (AKA Billy the Kid) who released The Smallest Small of Them All with fan sourced funds, and Frank Turner, who publishes The Road Beneath My Feet on 26 March 2015. We asked them - and a couple of our friends - to give us some thoughts on their recent authorship and the work that goes into it. Go on, dear reader!
Author: Frank Turner // Title: The Road Beneath My Feet // Out: 26 March 2015
I guess I've always thought about writing a book at some point. I work with words on a daily basis, so that pushes me in that direction. I also wrote a bunch of short stories when I was younger and I write a fair few articles and so on, so it seemed a likely path. I suppose there was a degree of hubris in there as well; I thought it'd be something that came naturally to me, that wouldn't be too much of a hassle.
I never wanted to write an autobiography (at least not until I'm old and grey, or I've won a war or something), so initially I was hesitant about the idea of writing a book about myself and my experiences. But in the end I thought it through, lingering on the Henry Rollins tour diary books that I have enjoyed and been influenced by, and managed to see a way forward to writing something that I would be comfortable with, and that other people would find interesting, entertaining, or useful.
I started working on chunks of prose for the book in mornings on the tour bus quite a while back. At first there were no deadlines involved and I was filled with the exuberance of a new project, so progress was swift. Working on small entries, one per show over a hundred or so gigs, also made things easier, more digestible. However, over time it became clear that I had undertaken a slightly more daunting task than I had at first thought. Writing a hundred or more entries is rather more work than a handful; and also, over the length of an entire book, you have to consider an overall dramatic arc, and make sure not to repeat yourself. Tour can be a repetitive experience, and I realised that I had to sit back and take stock of the project as a whole.
Not long afterwards, a deadline arrived, and suddenly the whole process was a slog, something I had to throw myself into, not something to take lightly. Thankfully, with the pressure of a deadline and the encouragement of an editor, I was able to reach the finish line (of a sort) of a first finished draft. Editing was a new experience for me - at times it was delightful, seeing new ways through the thickets of my thoughts and opportunities to expand or clarify different sections. There were moments that were stressful - I found it difficult to tread the right line between honesty and privacy at times. The "legal read" - when the lawyer checks to see if any chapters will get you sued - was interesting, to say the least, and I had to revise some parts and change some names to protect the innocent!
In the end I'm reasonably happy with the end result, although I feel like the main effect it has had on me is for me to be a harsher critic of my own use of the written word. Next time I'll do better. In the meantime I hope everyone enjoys the read.
Frank embarks on his first ever book tour (unlikely to reach his 1000th one of these, but you never know). You can buy tickets for these UK March dates via Pledgemusic.
Author: Colin MacIntyre // Title: The Letters of Ivor Punch // Out: 14 May 2015
I hoped one day I'd become an author, as I did a songwriter. When I say I hoped, in reality I was willing to sweat blood and tears. And now, this spring, my debut novel The Letters of Ivor Punch is being published. For World Book Day the good people at Xtra Mile have asked me to jot down a little about my journey from musician to aspiring author, to author. So here goes…
I come from a family of writers and storytellers in the Hebrides, namely on the Isle of Mull, and so stories were always around me growing up, alongside music. My songwriting developed through my teenage years and then when my music as Mull Historical Society started to take off , I found myself on tour a lot with time on my hands. I performed a UK support tour with The Strokes and was charged with writing the tour diary for Rough Trade, and I enjoyed it. (I recently tried to find that in the labyrinth of the internet, but to no avail; although, given it was 2001, there wasn't loads of blogging/archiving going on. It was probably just one man in Bedford turning a wheel or something.)
From there, short stories started pouring out of me. It was brilliant – another way for me to stay creative AND avoid writing my second album all about the view from the tour bus! These stories, and this feeling I had when I wrote, came from the same 'place' within me as my music. I wanted to write a novel, but I knew I needed an authentic voice, which, hopefully, I had discovered with my songwriting by then.
I was writing a lot but realised I needed to go through some of the same processes on the page, almost to educate myself, as I’d done while crafting my songs. That musical journey evolved with me writing and recording hundreds of songs (they live in my attic, and I still occasionally climb up and delve in). But most of them should never be heard by the outside world. They were just me searching, documenting, learning. And then at some point I was listening to Mercury Rev's Deserter Songs, Radiohead's OK Computer and Glenn Gould's Bach Goldberg Variations, all around the same time. I made a demo in a studio (rather than in my bedroom) and something happened: out of this came my own voice, my own sound, which was MHS.
So, could I do that with writing? I became a hungry reader: every book review I liked the sound of would lead to me buying the book. Every time I went into a bookshop, I would read the opening page of multiple novels. I started a book club on my MHS website. I re-discovered Orwell and read Bukowski, which led me back to his hero, John Fante (Ask The Dust), which led me to Knut Hamsen's Hunger. And then F. Scott Fitzgerald, then the Norwegian, Per Petterson (I used one of his book titles as a song, 'Out Stealing Horses', on my album Island), and Sebastian Barry, Ian McEwan, and, possibly my favourite author, Marilynne Robinson (her novels: Housekeeping, Gilead, and Home, are a must), and many more along the way (though Robinson’s is the only autograph I've ever queued up, and I was like a nervous teenager). Right now I'm reading Karl Ove Knausgaard, so I'm back to the Norwegians. I think I like the sparseness of their prose, the Scandinavian landscapes (not unlike Scotland?), and maybe it is also the relative simplicity of the translation that appeals.
It is probably my late grandfather, Angus Macintyre - who was the bank manager in Tobermory, on Mull - who has provided the spark for all this. He was a published poet for most of his life and is still in print. He would write serious, melancholic, comic verses about all sorts. Possibly his most often-recited poem is 'Islay Cheese', which was inspired by a story in our local bible - sorry, newspaper - The Oban Times. It was reported that the Isle of Islay's cheese was having aphrodisiac powers in Italy, even on the nuns, and in the Vatican too - at least that was how my Grandfather had it! My uncle, Lorn Macintyre, is also a published writer and so it was helpful for me to see my family doing it.
As a musician, I’ve also enjoyed collaborating with writers, including Irvine Welsh and Tony Benn, but a real boost to my authorly aspirations came when I joined a writer's group in London. There I was able to read my work and get instant, honest, objective feedback. That led to me co-authoring a BBC4 afternoon play. But then sometime over the past two or three years I started to hear a voice. I was on a flight to Jordan and I wrote: 'Dear Mr Obama, There were six eggs in the chicken coop this morning, two more than yesterday and four more than the day before. It's official: you can tell your men the recession is showing signs of recovery.’ And I was off. I wrote this voice down in the form of letters for a reason; some were written to President Obama, some to others. In these letters I suddenly morphed into an old man living on an island, an old man called Ivor Punch. He struck a nerve. I wrote more. A whole cast of characters presented themselves around Ivor, some had secrets even he knew nothing of. These were people from the 19th century, some from the present, some in-between; some well known, some not. And then I realised they had a shared story, and a kind of uniformity, despite their differences. This story began on the island but took me, on the page, to London and to America. The main character was Ivor Punch, but the star of the book is really the island, and how it travels with the characters. As it says better than I could on the back of my book, 'sometimes you have to leave home to know what home is'. And I have. (And, in my capacity as a musician, I'm actually a character in my own book).
I didn't tell anyone I was writing a novel and somehow my secret, shared only with the characters, helped me develop this fictional world full of secrets. I would write on my laptop on tour, on the spare pages in the back of books I was reading (I should say I had purchased them first, but still, sacrilege I know), on bookmarks, on my hands, once in a mirror, on buses, on planes (always a good one), on the tube in London, and a lot while staying in the US -- but actually, never on Mull that I recall. To paraphrase Bob Dylan in his excellent Chronicles, Vol 1, creativity comes from some form of motion, even just one foot in front of the other will do. And the process of writing has been much the same as songwriting: the melodies and voices won’t leave you alone. Just as well. I read somewhere (from a much more experienced author than me!) that writing a novel is like gathering thousands of little details or observations, it might have been Paul Auster.
And then I met my literary agent, he was fantastic for me, and quite quickly that led to me ending up on the good ship Weidenfeld & Nicolson (W&N), of the Orion Publishing Group. And so, now I am here, in 2015, my debut novel The Letters of Ivor Punch is being published on 14th May by W&N, just two weeks after my MHS Best-Of album, and new single, comes out on the equally goodly-shipped Xtra Mile Recordings, and I will be doing a UK tour, some festivals and launch events.
I will have to learn to read, aloud. I know what Ivor sounds like in my head, but what does he sound like coming out of my mouth? The very first of these events is back home on April 23rd, in Tobermory on Mull, in the book shop (Tackle & Books) appropriately just a few doors along from the bank. I can hardly believe it. But then, I can. And today an advance proof of my book arrived in the post from my editor at the publisher, who has greatly helped steer this journey more recently. So it must be real. And reading it now, in a bound book no less, I am becoming more aware of some of the musical references hidden within it: I've used a few of my song lyrics in the text, and one song title ('Tree Scavengers'), and it had almost passed me by. And now I have also written a new MHS song called 'The Ballad of Ivor Punch' which will accompany the audio book, and will get an outing on the spring MHS UK Tour, which ends in London at The Lexington, on April 27th. I think Ivor, in some form, might have to appear then too…
So, this is my journey so far, or some of it. If I were to try writing this piece again it would probably say something completely different, and maybe that's the point. There's no 'right' way. If I had one source to recommend it would be The Paris Review quarterly journal, in particular their series of collected author interviews. And my favourite book show is 'Writers & Company' with Eleanor Wachtel on CBC Radio.
Happy World Book Day!
You can read more about Colin MacIntyre's debut published novel The Letters of Ivor Punch on his website, and you can read all his music news in our story here, as well as checking out his April Loss tour dates on our gig calendar.
Author: Franz Nicolay // Title: The Humorless Ladies of Border Patrol // Out: 2016
It's hard for me to call myself an "author" when there are so many people who've been working on their writing their whole lives. It's like how I feel about actors who put out a record. It may be pretty good, but I'm still a professional musician and a serious amateur writer. (But) I've always been a serious reader. I started writing to fill time on the road and, between that and lyrics over the past few years, I've just become more interested in words than music. There's more novelty in it for me at the moment.
In 2012, I knew I was going on a six month tour that included a month playing shows along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, as well as all over eastern Europe, Mongolia, and China. I figured this was my opportunity to up my game from tour diaries to proper travel writing. Over the next few years, I spent more time deeper in Ukraine and the Balkans, interviewing the people who were putting on the shows, coming to the shows, putting me and my wife up in their houses, and just people I met along the way.
It takes forever to write a book, that's my main takeaway. The big - pleasant - surprise for me was how relatively easy it was to find an agent and a publisher. I was lucky. I have a lot of friends who struggle for years or give up writing over that. I got an online database of agents, picked out the ones who were interested in pop culture, travel books, and a couple other categories and sent out about a hundred emails with various sections of the manuscript. I got four who wrote back and said they definitely wanted to represent the manuscript, (so) I had some lunches with them, and picked one. Then I did another revision, he shopped it, I had some more lunches with publishers, and ended up, to my great delight, with The New Press. It's really a small miracle. I'm the kind of guy who finishes something and just wants to move on, so I came *this* close to just putting the PDF up on my website for sale, so I'm glad I put the effort in to see if the proper literary world was interested. I did read a book about shopping the manuscript, for specific tips on writing a proposal and a query letter. Other than that I just kept my ass in the chair as much as possible until it was done, and hoped for the best.
(It took) ruthless selfishness. It's especially tough with a young child, so I wrote as much as I could in the months before my daughter was born. Then when she was little and I had to finish it, I went on the wagon, which, you may be shocked to hear, gives you several extra hours of good working time after dinner if you need it
The one comment I regularly got, even from agents and editors who rejected the book, was "great title."
If you could collaborate with up to three other authors on a work, who would you choose and WHY?
Oh boy. I'm always first in line to buy the new Houllebecq in translation, but it sounds like he can barely stand human company, much less collaboration. I think Alina Simone is hilarious. Gary Shytengart? Robert Caro? I don't know, writing isn't really a collaborative medium in the same way music is. Most of them don't need my help.
Franz Nicolay's book will be out sometime in 2016 via The New Press. You can get his new album To Us, The Beautiful from our digital shop, and will have a bunch of tour dates which you can find on our gig calendar.
Author: Billy the Kid // Title: The Smallest Small of All // Out: Now
"Once upon a time, there was a small..."
This is how my book for kids of all ages begins. The small in question is not the smallest small of all, but a little guy who proves that you can be any shape or size and still accomplish a great many very big things. Like writing a book. You can even write a book and draw all the pictures in one week. Even I can do this, and I am of average size...
Billy the Kid's book was conceived, written, designed, and illustrated all in a week to fund a flight back home to Canada after getting stranded, penniless, in the UK. Her loyal fans pledged cash for the book, and she managed to get that ticket for a flight across the pond. That it's also about accomplishing astonishing things is poetic in itself. Buy The Smallest Small of All.
You can also buy Billy's latest album Horseshoes & Hand Grenades from out digital shop.
Author: Christopher Beanland // Title: Spinning Out Of Control // Out: Now
There's no honesty in writing any more – I'm thinking about that a lot at the moment because I just read Jonathan Coe's amazing biography of BS Johnson. Read it, and his stuff (and all the rest of Coe's too, I love him). Johnson had a completely punk approach to literature in the 1960s. So I'm going to be completely honest here. Brad asked me to write a blog as it's World Book Day. If it was anyone else I'd have said 'Sorry, I'm too busy' but he's got a way of arm twisting.
So what's the truth about my novel Spinning Out Of Control? Well firstly that it's too shit to get published properly. Okay maybe not too shit (check the reviews!) but not 'commercial' enough, though when I see what books people buy, I shake my head. Okay it's 'difficult' because it's a satire and it's modern but who cares? I published it myself rather than have it lying around doing nothing, and self-publishing was a massive headache. Would I advise you to do that? Probably not. You need pros who know how to do it. I'm writing a new novel at the moment called either Ten Brutalist Buildings or The Wall In The Head. Which do you like? I haven't decided yet. I'm hoping that I can get an agent and a publisher for that, though I know it's really tough out there. It's going to be about loss and grief and architecture, if you're interested.
What I would advise you to do is write. And don't stop. Spinning Out Of Control came to me in 2001 while I was at university. I put it out last year. Pyramids were built in less time. I'm trying to speed up. I have a new rule – 1000 words a day or I'm not allowed dinner. But it's hard juggling actual work (I do journalism in the day) and it's lonely and it's thankless to be a writer. Yet when it works out – wow, it's a magical feeling to create something special. I don't write many blogs like this (how am I doing?) but I sure as hell read a lot of them, just to check that I'm heading down the right road. I watch videos sometimes too. This is a really fun watch for writers. This guy is witty and I think about writing in exactly that way. I don't think it's necessarily complicated – you write 12 chapters in 6 months and that's a draft, then you spend 6 more months finessing the hell out of it until everything is perfect.
That's sort of what I did with Spinning Out Of Control – though it just took a little longer. Oh and it was inspired by the things I saw around me – music, the media, youth culture, consumerism, corruption. I think we need more young, vibrant, funny voices in fiction. There's so many great bloggers and great bands and journalists, but I want to read loads more addictive fiction. So write. Write about your world. And if you want to ask me anything, I'm always willing to answer. Wow, I wrote more than I thought I would there. That's a first. Happy World Book Day Xtra Milers!
Christopher Beanland is a journalist and writer who specialises in architecture, satire and music. He knows his emo too, which we like. He has written for plenty of daily newspapers, magazines and online outlets. His writing can be found via his website. Spinning Out of Control is out now and can be purchased for your Kindle via Amazon, and also in various formats from Smashwords, Barnes & Noble (a Nook book), as an iBook via iTunes, and from Scribd. It's also less than £3.00. Give it a shot.
Author: Ric Rawlins // Title: Rise of the Super Furry Animals // Out: Now
So, does you got an agent? Nope? Well here’s the good news: you may not need one. Recent reports are claiming that publishing houses are cutting out the middle man in an attempt to get their hands dirty in the race to find The Next Great Book.
This was certainly my experience, although the publisher on my first book, Rise of the Super Furry Animals, was already well established for its radical, hands-on nature. These publishers are The Friday Project, and here’s a quick account of how we found each other.
Rise of the SFA was a long, slow write. I thought it took me five years, yet I have friends who swear I was tapping away as long as seven years ago (which, when you consider it’s quite a short book, is frankly troubling). As you might have guessed, it’s because I had a full time job. This situation forcesyou to find pockets of time in which to complete the beast, which in some waysmakes it harder than if you’re free to spew it all out in a few months of liberty, with that initial buzz of enthusiasm still fuelling the tank.
Anyway. Looking back a mistake I made was to start sending to publishers early: I was sending over incomplete bits, bits that got deleted in the end, just to try and get some interest. Why? Maybe I wasn’t even sure that I was tough enough for the long haul – and thought that a contract would pull me along. After getting rejected a few times, Plan B came along. ‘Just write the thing!’ said Plan B. ‘and worry about all that publishing stuff later!’
So a few years later and I was nearing the end and thinking that Plan B had pretty much expired its use. This time, instead of approaching publishers, my approach was to approach authors. I’d just read John Higgs’ book on The KLF and felt that it had some similarities to mine: it was about a band who’d not really done much in a while, so there was no time-sensitive reason for its existence. It was also a book with its own angle on the topic and not necessarily an academic or exhaustive pop biog. John had actually self-published and found success, then been approached by publishers on top of that – but that’s another story. One publisher he’d discussed the KLF book with was The Friday Project, who’re an experimental/alternative wing of HarperCollins.
So I got talking to Scott Pack and Rachel Faulkner there. Scott was my first contact, and he was not only really receptive to the idea, but also had a few good ideas of his own to add. Once we’d established that we could count on the Super Furry Animals’ enthusiasm for the book, and Pete Fowler’s artwork – he’s really the sixth member of the band, so we had to have Pete – it was really quite a simple process. Rachel took me through the bulk of the editing, in which a third party editor poked and questioned at various parts. At first I was quite defensive and wondered if my “original writing DNA” ™ was being watered down, but it really helped to even-out the tone of the book. Scott and Rachel have left the Friday Project to move onto new and exciting things now, but they were both really supportive and I’m sure they feel as proud as I do that we got the first and only SFA biog out in time for their historic reunion.
Since it’s been published, it’s been great to punch in the book’s title into Twitter or Instagram and see people enthusing about it. But, as a first time author, one thing you may not expect is bad reviews! They can hurt, and I’ve had a few of those too. Reviews tend to arrive simultaneously with what should be your most celebratory week, the week of release – and one nasty review can just puncture your self-esteem. You’ve got to try and not let the world crash around you. Looking back on that, I’ve come to the conclusion that some people will read your work with an open mind while others may have their own idea of what it should have been; and that’s fair enough too. Try not to take positive or negative feedback too seriously: the likelihood is your book is neither a masterpiece or a piece of sh*t: it’s almost inevitably somewhere in between.
Ric Rawlins is a music critic, writer, musician, digital producer, and all round lovely bloke. He used to be reviews and online editor for Artrocker. He currently works for the charity Send A Cow who provide livestock and organic farm training, among other useful skills and further education, for families in Africa. You can annoy him on Twitter @ricrawlinzo. He knows A LOT about the Super Furry Animals.
(Not An) Author: Brad Barrett // (Working) Title: Eponymous // Out: ???
I'm merely a wannabe author. Behind me lies a trail of aborted books and short stories, unfinished, not destined to live, at least without being Frankenstein'd. It's always a shame because for the briefest of moments these ideas burned brighter than anything else in my life. But the fuel is exhausted only several thousand words in. They still linger upon my memory's retina, an afterimage of past hopes.
But this current idea - the one that is being written - has refused to simply die. It's been dismembered and restitched together, unrecognisable, over about four years, with one massacred and prematurely-terminated draft. Some time in November 2014, I decided I'd write 1000 words a day with a goal to get my first full draft done by the end of March 2015. I've done quite well - up until recently, where I've had up to a week of not getting ANY words down. I'm at around 30,000 words (a third of the way through by my Standard Novel Word Count Measurement) and, honestly, it's quite bad. However, I know that once this draft is finished, I will be taking a fresh parchment (err...word document) and starting again. This time, the story's flow will be in my head and on paper (err...screen), I'll have a better grip on the characters, and I can start chopping back some of the more flighty and fanciful prose. Keep it simple, communicative, and compelling. I'll still throw in a fancy word or two if needed though.
My point (and probably the whole point of everything) is this: don't give up. Publishing seems a long time from now, but honestly I'm enjoying the entire process. I love writing the thing, I love telling my awesome girlfriend (who is writing a play that will be sure to trump anything I end up conjuring) about the issues and the victories, I love the copious amounts of tea I drink while typing. Sure, some days I'm immensely discouraged and can't work out where my character is telling me it wants to go. Some days I can't muster half my daily target or more than a sentence, but even three words is better than none. And sometimes none happen too. But the sense of progress, of looking at the word count after weeks of writing and realising how much I've done, when you figure out how this character is getting from A to B or how best to show rather than tell, it's all worth the struggle. I'm having a blast and it's something I've been meaning to find time to do for so long that I feel so much better MAKING time and doing it - getting the work done, writing the fucking book (to paraphrase the mug I got as a surprise gift from my girlfriend while she was in LA for a month) - than at any time where I had a revelation for a plot idea exclusively stored in my head (most of those have been abandoned anyway because I've got way better ones now).
Write. Write as if your whole life can only move forward between starting and finishing the work. And read the rest of the time, otherwise - as Stephen King told me - you won't have the tools to write. You're building something of your own and you've lived for so long in other people's creations. Like walking around a friend's new flat (or island, or mountain cave, or Hobbit hole) and spotting things you like, you can use little bits - a wall hanging here, a lampshade there - or even entire shapes of rooms. But when you go inside yourself and hammer keys as if stopping would tear the world apart, it's your place. Writing isn't new to me; I've done it my entire life. I'm doing it now. I get paid for words I write and edit. It would be great to get you to live temporarily in a creation of mine. You may not like it - it may terrify and haunt you, it may make you sad or angry, it may bore you absolutely - but if at any point you feel enveloped, I've done my job.
Write and read. It is one of our only truly personal spaces. And as long as you're willing to share sometimes, you will be understood and will understand.
Read Stephen King's On Writing for general writing tips (because if anyone's going to know, it's him). Listen to whomever you can (including all us idiots here who have somehow carved a semblance of living out of somehow using words in our respective crafts), but just do it yourself. The only way to become more than a wannabe author is to get on with it. Write the fucking book.
Brad is currently writing his first novel after years of being a journalist, critic, general writer, editor and dreamer. He is also currently writing in third person about himself, which is weird. You can read Brad's writing here, on the XMR HUB, in places on the internet like VICE, where he writes about videogames, and his never-updated blog, which includes some old music features from print magazines.
What are you reading this World Book Day? Have you written a book? Tell us about it! Working on a short story or something? What is it about? Are you wondering how to get started in your writing career or how to motivate yourself to write that epic fantasy tome you have dreamed of writing? (Might be worth posing a question to Ask XMR) How much do you read? Do you have a target? BOOKS!