I’m super excited to have Simon Wilsher on the blog today! He talks about his dreams, about not being a narcissist, and about writing…
Thank you so much for doing this interview for Creating Serenity.
I don’t remember my father well as he died when I was young, and was away at sea for long periods with the Navy anyway. But my mother told me that he was once shot at taking a gunboat upriver during the Korean War. She didn’t know much more, but the story grew from that.
Did you have any growing pains with this novel?
My father is represented in both the journal writer Ephraim Luther, and that of the missing Sonny. Ephraim, with his nobility, became an idealized imagining of how I would have liked him to be, and Sonny the relationship I have with the missing man. I don’t have any issues about his death, but it did make me think a great deal about his absence, and of the bond I have with my own children.
Bonds with children are the best bonds in the world! Speaking of, do you have a message you try to convey when writing a story?
Like everyone I have many pet topics that probably crop up in my writing, and possibly far too many opinions but, from a reductionist standpoint, I think all my stories have one primary underlying message, which is that we are all disadvantaged when people consider only one perspective. My family can be irritated by my need to see both sides of a story.
I love seeing both sides of a story. I’m actually quite the same!
What are you reading right now?
At the moment, I’m not reading anything because I’m currently working heavily on book 4 and I tend not to read when I’m at the latter stages of a book. But I have just finished Tigers in Red Weather, by Lisa Klausmann. I couldn’t warm to the main character to begin with, but the writing was such good quality that I stuck with it and I ended up really absorbed.
I also have four thrillers currently lined up because my next project will be a thriller.
I haven’t gotten into thrillers much for some reason. They just don’t grab me but I keep trying! Are there any authors (living or dead) that grab you?
All writers inspire me, and not in an inclusive, ‘every one of us is special’ way. In that if I read something I feel is poorly written then it encourages me to write. And if I read a great book then it encourages me to edit.
The book that influenced me the most in pushing me to write was a thriller rushed out to fit in with a world event. I felt it was so poorly constructed, so lazily written that I sat down to see if I could do better.
I thought I could, but I was wrong. What I came up with was awful but, by then, I‘d started and all of a sudden I realized that the thing I wanted least of all was to be a failed writer. So I kept going, believing that if I never stopped then I hadn’t failed – would always be a potential writer. It’s what keeps me going still.
Have you always wanted to be an author?
As a voracious reader, I decided it would be nice to be a writer (but not with any precocious self-belief I could be) when I was eleven. I started novels that I actually finished when I was in my early twenties. I’m grateful that e-publishing was not available then as I’d be severely embarrassed to think they might be read now.
What is your writing style? Do you create outlines for your writing or do you just sit and type away?
I think about an idea for a long time first to see if it takes root. If I keep coming back to it then I’ll jot down ideas that form into something resembling an outline and will either work on that, or start writing to see if the actual idea is something that really appeals to me. If I intend living with something that will take a year and end up at 80,000+ words then it has to take a hold.
I don’t work to a daily word count as I wouldn’t want to keep checking to see where I was on any schedule; it should be about the quality of what’s been written not how much. But I do give myself a monthly or quarterly target so that I don’t subside into inactivity.
After that, I always let it stew, and I do it more than once. I probably spend as much time editing as I do writing, believing there is nothing that can’t be improved. All of my stories have been rewritten multiple times and after each rewrite I put the story away and work on something else for a few months. When I return to the original story, I see it in a different light and either recognize solutions I couldn’t before, or issues I was denying previously.
What is your next project? What have you been working on recently?
I have self-published three in quick succession. Madness of the Turtle was my first, with The Collection of Heng Souk second. I have just published my third, The Seventeen Commandments of Jimmy September. Years of trying to get past literary agents meant I had a body of work that was almost ready when I took the decision to just get them out there. It was quite cathartic and meant that I was able to finally let go of stories that I had kept rewriting in order to concentrate on new ones.
I’m currently working on ‘was played by Walter Johns’ which should be ready this summer. I’m also working on a series of MG books, the first of which should also be ready by late summer. The thriller mentioned above is already mapped out and I’ll begin writing that at the end of the year.
Do you write using a computer or the old fashioned pen to paper?
I do both. I used to write long hand and then type it up. But now that my typing has improved I tend to mostly type straight onto the screen. I do however carry notebooks to jot down ideas/scenes when I’m away. I also use my phone a lot to make notes.
I prefer to write in silence. But I do find music inspirational. Book 4 is about four twenty-something’s in a rock band so music is important to me, but I tend to listen to music mostly when I’m driving. I like a wide range of stuff from pop to rock to musicals, but my first choice would usually be something like the Foo Fighters (Everlong is my favorite) or the Chillies, or KoL. I do like finding new stuff but don’t really have the time. I like the way song lyrics are constructed and how they can often be a good example of writing sparingly.
Now for the silly, easy questions… What is your favorite word?
I like a myriad of words – there’s one, but I like them too much to have a favorite. I like words that conjure up strong images like ‘storm’ and ‘jungle’, or are so expressive like ‘elegance’ and ‘fierce’.
Myriad is actually one of my favs! What is your least favorite word?
Utilize, and words like it that are used/misused, sorry ‘utilized’, pretentiously. Reiterate is another abused/overused one that seems popular at the moment.
Do you talk to your characters?
Not really. The first person stuff I feel more as a soliloquy which I then work out how much it might be sensible to reveal. I think I might have overdone the openness in book 4. Whereas, because I tend to think of myself as more spectator than participant, the third person feels more observational and I imagine it as a fly on the wall.
What sound do you love?
My children laughing. And heavy rain.
Awesome sounds! What sound do you hate?
The whining drone of small engine motorbikes. And karaoke.
What’s your favorite time of year?
Summer. I love the way the warmth and longer days build. I also grew up by the sea and so many of my childhood memories revolve around whole days spent at the beach.
You’ve probably already answered this but… Best vacation spot ever…
A few years ago we got stuck in traffic and missed the check-in for our flight to Costa Rica by ten minutes. There wasn’t another flight for a week, but we were adamant that we weren’t going home. So we looked at the other flights leaving and ended up going to Mombasa that evening instead.
The small hotel was right on the beach and the Indian Ocean was gorgeous. We also went on safari and spent a night in a stone hut (it had beds, hot shower and toilet so we weren’t roughing it) on the side of a mountain with stupendous views. It was such a magical time that we’re scared to go back in case we couldn’t replicate it. We still haven’t been to Costa Rica.
What is the reasoning stated on your website about wanting to remain mostly anonymous and why you believe authors should do this. Has this affected the feedback you’ve received since you put up pics!
It has an internal logic, but it becomes much more of a challenge to explain when measured against what I’m trying to do. I’m very aware of the contradiction between my desire for anonymity and the marketing of my books. Even the writing of this becomes hypocritical. But in the same way a film can be spoiled for me by an actor being too well known, so I don’t want the personality of the writer intruding into the story.
‘Reading a novel may involve trying to establish the author’s motives but, to me, the presence of anyone who isn’t a character in the story is only ever a distraction, an abrupt pull back from becoming lost among the tale. My reading pleasure has suffered over the years by finding out that I don’t much like the author – the legend of Hemingway can be too much of a presence, the personal life of Greene an unwelcome intrusion, and the character of Chandler an undermining of that of Marlowe.’
I do recognize that there is a desire, one I share, to know more about an actor you like, or a writer you’ve enjoyed, and that it is an intrinsic part of marketing the product, It’s just one I feel can compromise my enjoyment; better that the book could just be taken for what it is without the author’s personality being a part of it.
I have to accept though that the above may be an excuse for a deeper personal reason; a reaction connected to getting so many rejection slips. For years I kept my writing quiet, preferring to fail in private. Oddly enough, I never considered a pseudonym. Although I use initials, this is mainly to avoid the books being judged on gender.
Apart from this, the idea of trying to sell something that I’ve created from scratch, and which nobody has asked for, always strikes me as being egotistical. To then go out and publicize it with the childhood-taught mantra of ‘self-praise is no praise’ ringing in my ears tends to leave me conflicted. So why publish? Because, to me, writing a novel is a challenging puzzle with publication the ultimate solution.
Yet, part of my holding back is also connected to self-publishing itself. I developed my writing during a period when vanity publishing was scorned and for a long time that was how I viewed self-publishing. It took me a while to take the plunge and although it worked for me in that I was able to put to rest earlier work and move on to new stuff, I’m very aware how the mainstream views self-publishing and I still feel as if I lack the validity that comes from a publisher taking me on.
Although I waited until I had received some credible feedback, the much earlier, ‘you need to go away and learn the craft of writing’ still infects me. I don’t know if I’ve done that yet and self-publishing hasn’t provided the evidence for that.
As for the photos, as uncomfortable as it was for someone who hates the camera experimenting with posting photos, part of me is relieved at the lack of feedback from outside my own circle. So, the truth is I don’t know. That’s probably because I’ve avoided social media. Both Facebook and Twitter seem too much like public speaking to me, and I much prefer the one to one intimacy of speaking through a book. And for a man with a sardonic sense of humor and too many opinions they both seem like they’d mean trouble for me. Being technologically lazy means it’s been easy for me to spurn them, although it has made marketing much harder and I suspect I will come to regret not tackling these outlets.
Whatever my own psychology, I do firmly believe my initial point. However, I also recognize that I might have to avoid sabotaging my own prospects and start being more single-minded. And so far, none of it has really hurt.
I love this interview! Thank you so much for taking the time to indulge my curiosity!
Want more of S.R. Wilsher?