1. Why do you write?
Out of my need to tell a story. The hope that I can make my readers laugh and also touch them in some way. To make them think a little bit about the world, the universe, the friends we make and the dreams we have.
2. How many books have you written?
One. My comedy memoir ‘My Life With Kate Bush’ that comes in at just under 86,000 words. I am 40,000 words into my second novel ‘The Adventures Of Retro Eighties Ant Man In Tweed’. This is a work of pure comedy fiction, which I hope will be easier to market than my memoir!
3. What inspired you to write your (latest) book?
I have always had a nostalgic, sentimental streak. I wrote a little nostalgic piece on how I became a Kate Bush fan and posted it on Facebook in the summer of 2008. It received a great reception from my Facebook ‘friends’ at the time, none of whom I knew in any meaningful sense, which is of course is always the best sort of audience to try your work out on. Never try to get an assessment of the quality of your work from friends & family – they love you too much to be critical.
4. What is your favourite genre to read?
Hmm. Tricky. Although I am primarily interested in comedy, I have read an awful lot of horror, particularly in my teenage years. Stephen King, H.P.Lovecraft, Clive Barker and James Herbert were favourites originally. Then, my ‘lady of the island’ introduced me to M.R.James, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and others.
I also enjoy the classics, having read most of the output of Ann Radcliffe, Thomas Hardy and the Bronte sisters. I am afraid Dickens never did it for me.
I have written some horror stories. One of mine ‘The House On The Hill’ came fourth in the monthly Spinetinglers.com competition in September 2010. But primarily I write comedy. I have had two comedy sketches performed and broadcast on the show ‘Shoot The Writers’ broadcast on ITV about four years ago.
5. Is your writing style at all influenced by those of your favorite authors?
My favourite author is J.R.R.Tolkien. These days, the quality of Tolkien’s work is often measured by people’s enjoyment of the films. I do enjoy the movies, but if you really want to experience Middle Earth, you *must* read the books. As Tolkien says himself in his foreword, it is unlikely you will find a work of such length consistently enjoyable all the way through. But I guarantee that those parts that do hit the mark, will inspire and move you like no other work you have read.
However, I have not written a piece of fantasy (the sort of fantasy that involves orcs, trolls, elves and dwarves) since the late eighties. What Tolkien *did* teach me was that you can break any of the rules of written English as long as you know *how* to break them. For example, in school I always remember my English teacher stating quite aggressively that you should never, ever begin a sentence with ‘And’. Well, Tolkien does, multiple times throughout The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings, and not once does it feel out of place.
6. Which is your favourite book that you’ve written?
Well as I have only completed My Life With Kate Bush, then I guess it is that one. But I have a strong conviction in the quality of my next!
7. What is your opinion of the art of writing?
You just have to read and while you are reading, examine the punctuation, the grammar, the structure of the sentences. Ask yourself why you like that book and what kept you reading it. Then, just try writing something in a similar vein. It’s not plagiarism, it’s not copying. It’s simply learning. Keep doing that until you find your own voice.
8. What advice would you give someone who is just beginning their own novel?
Don’t give up. Don’t impose a time limit. Enjoy the process. You will get conflicting advice from everyone. Some people will tell you to meticulously plot the whole story, others will tell you that they just made it up all the way through (with proviso’s of course – they often know the main plot points but getting to each of them is an improvisation). Some people will tell you to allocate certain times of the day and others will tell you that just grabbed what free time they had. All you need to do is relax and discover your *own* rules for writing.
9. Do you have any funny and / or interesting stories about how you’ve come up with plots or characters?
In one of my forthcoming books ‘Tea Break Tales’ which is a collection of absurd, zany short stories, all of the titles came from mixing up titles from a children’s book that I found in an antiques shop last year. The book dates from the 1970’s and had titles such as ‘Jenny and the roundabout’ or ‘The little horse’ or ‘The red balloon’. I would mix up the titles to get something like ‘The Little Roundabout Balloon Horse’ which makes no sense at all but fits perfectly the theme and idea for my ‘Tea Break Tales’ project.
10. Coke or Pepsi?
It is also available in paperback.
Riaz Ali also keeps a blog; you can read it here.