Wednesday, August 1, 2007

[Interview] Andrew Hook

Andrew HookIn addition to being the founder and publisher of Elastic Press, a small independent U.K. press that specialises in anthologies of short stories “at the edges of reality and fantasy,” Andrew Hook is an award-winning author and editor.

He has written over a hundred short stories, some of which have been featured in magazines that include The Third Alternative, Em: writing and music, Multi-Story, Buzzwords, and Front and Centre.

His books include the short story collections, The Virtual Menagerie (Elastic Press, 2002), Beyond Each Blue Horizon (Crowswing Books, 2005) and Residue (Halfcut Publications, 2006) as well as the novels Moon Beaver (ENC Press, 2004) and Full Circle. He has also edited The Alsiso Project (Elastic Press, 2003), an anthology which features 23 stories from 23 different writers all of whom examine, in their own way, the enigma of Alsiso.

In a recent interview, Andrew Hook spoke about his writing.

In the writing that you are doing, who would you say has influenced you the most?

As a child, Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming: as a teenager, Franz Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Sartre; as an adult, Tom Robbins, Raymond Carver, Nicholas Royle. As a child, those authors gave me a sense of adventure. The sensation of the world beyond where I lived, and one that might be filled with intrigue and mystery. As a teenager, those authors gave me a sense of self, of examining the internal workings of our motives and imaginations. And as an adult the two are combined and coupled with a love of language and what we can do with it.

I’m not sure why they effected me in this way, other than to say I was open to reading books and therefore of a mind to take on board new ideas.

Other than fiction, I was also influenced by punk and surrealism –- the do-it-yourself approach to dealing with the word and your subconscious.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

To continue in the face of adversity! It’s so difficult to get a tangible feeling of success in this business.

The first goal is to get one story published, then a few more, then ten, then… well, a novel perhaps… then some critical acclaim… then… then… to be honest, as any writer will tell you, there is always the next book to be written and you’re never any better than your last story. It’s like climbing a ladder that’s sinking into the ground at the same rate that you’re ascending. Sometimes, that feeling of desperation, of needing to feed the muse without gaining sustenance yourself, can be a real bind.

In all, how many short stories, published and unpublished, would you say you have you written?

In total I’ve written 114 short stories, of which 84 have been published or are pending publication, and most of the unpublished stories go way back when I was learning my craft. I’m quite impressed with myself! I’ve had stories in genre publications such as The Third Alternative, Nemonymous, and Midnight Street, and mainstream stories in Aesthetica, Open Wide magazine, and at LauraHird.com. Lots of these magazines are probably difficult to obtain nowadays, even secondhand, so I’d recommend searching out my collections. My website contains the relevant information.

Why and how is it that short story writers are perceived differently from novelists?

Short story writing and novel writing are completely different disciplines, and there is respect in both camps for both. At heart, I’m definitely a short story writer because I tend to think in short outbursts which are suited more to developing stories in that form.

Booksellers tend to look less favourably on short stories and have spent a lot of time convincing the public that they don’t need to buy short story collections either. No doubt commercial considerations lie at the heart of that decision.

As for readers, some people like longer works and others shorter. There’s no mystery to it, it’s just the way that people are.

How easy or difficult is it for a short story writer to make a living solely from writing short stories?

It’s very difficult. But then it’s also difficult for a writer to make a living solely from writing novels. Usually they’re also reviewing, or teaching creative writing, or have some such other income. The markets -- particularly the paying markets -- for short story sales are also dwindling; yet on the other hand the short story writer is in the fortunate position of being able to write for a specific market and sell a story quickly. It’s all swings and roundabouts in the end.

I feel that bookstore chains have made some of these decisions for readers by not encouraging short fiction to be published by the larger publishers. At a time when everyone claims that we’re living in the fast lane, with short attention spans and sound bites, short stories should be more popular than ever. This is somewhat true in the independent press, but less so with the majors. Readers can only buy what they see on the shelves.

How long did it take you to come up with the stories that make up, Residue?

My third collection of short stories, Residue, was published by HalfCut Publications in paperback and illustrated hardback in November 2006. These are mainstream literary short stories, usually concerned with fractured relationships and the nature of self. Some of the stories in the book were written ten years ago, some more recently. My publisher’s website contains a story by story account of my inspiration for each piece, and this can be read here.

As some of the stories are quite old, I had to re-read and re-write them. Occasionally it was difficult to return to the mental space in which they had originally been written in order to bring them up to date and yet keep them fresh.

Which did you enjoy most?

Out of the stories in the book: “Tight”, “The Summer of Hate”, and “Streetwalk”, because I think they’re amongst the best pieces I’ve ever written.

Residue is a collection of mainstream stories, whereas my other published work has tended to be science fiction, fantasy, horror or slipstream. Some of the stories are similar to my slipstream stories in the way that they deal with relationships, only there isn’t any weird stuff happening in the background.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

That I tell the story as it is.

For me, this means that the end result -- the story -- does justice to the original idea. The way that a story can be told can vary considerably from piece to piece, so I don’t restrict myself to genre or style. So long as the original idea is expressed how I believe it wants to be expressed, that’s fine by me.

Some authors -- those with big publishers barking at them -- may have to tell their stories in the way that best reflects marketing concerns, rather than artistic ones. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, we all have to eat, but at the moment, with most of my successes being in the independent press, I don’t have to compromise my writing in such a way.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

Most of my fiction contains some kind of real life experience, albeit fictionalised. It could be the plot, a character, or even something as tiny as a phrase. Just as the person I am is constructed from the sum of my experiences, so is my fiction.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

Having the commitment to write a novel.

I’ve actually written five novels in total. The first two (Reason and Consumption) will never see the light of day because I’ve subsequently moved on as a writer and those were written almost twenty years ago, the third is called Moon Beaver and was published in the United States by ENC Press in 2004, and the other two (Full Circle and Bobbing for Reality) are awaiting a suitable publisher. I’m happiest with Bobbing for Reality out of the unpublished work. Hopefully it’ll find a home soon.

I personally find it a challenge in terms of the time-scale involved. With a short story, when it’s ready to be written, I can write the first draft in a matter of hours, and after a brief respite to give it some distance, can edit it over another few hours. Then it’s ready to be sold. A novel is totally different, it can take anywhere between three months to (literally) years to write, with no indication at all that it might be saleable. For me it’s a real challenge to commit myself to such a long-term project that might end in nothing. Yet, when the idea for a novel comes, it’s impossible to resist starting it.

What happens in Bobbing for Reality?

In Bobbing For Reality the main character is a successful photographer with a damaged past. Dissatisfied with the pictures of reality found within his camera lens he becomes obsessed by the people in the peripheries of his photographs. When an elderly couple inexplicably appear in a double exposed image, and then continue to permeate his existence in terrible visions, he is forced to discover the cause of their hauntings.

Adding to the stress is the traumatic relationship with his ex-wife, the inescapable commitment to his young son, and his budding desire towards his son’s childminder.

Patrick is the key character throughout the novel, but is the reality that he sees the truth, or is that to be found beneath the surface of his experiences?

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I always used to make up stories when I was a kid. Mostly detective stories based on television programmes such as Columbo, Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie adaptations etc. Subsequently this lay dormant until I was 20 and had given up my day job to travel.

I spent a couple of months camping and inter-railing in Europe. My main memories of that time include moving from city to city on an almost daily basis and fantasising about what we were going to eat. To say we were on a shoestring budget would be rather an understatement. I’d always wanted to travel, and I agree with the adage that it broadens your mind. Within a couple of years I was off again, for sixteen months in Australasia. Experiencing a wider world view can be crucial when writing, I believe. It fuels and informs your imagination.

When I came back from travelling my life was a blank slate, and writing returned to it.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

Related books:


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Related articles:
  • An Interview with Andrew Hook by Duncan Barford, infinity plus, 2005.
  • Interview: Andrew Hook of Elastic Press, Emerald City #105.

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