Once upon a time I was interviewed for community radio.
It's a small community and I doubt that there were more than 27 people listening (about
the size of my extended family). Anyone who has ever been interviewed knows that one
always wanders away with a definite sense of wanting a second chance...
The interview takes place in a room at
ground level on a summers afternoon. The high song of cicadas oscillates in the air.
Its hot and sticky. Sub tropical the sort of weather that gets into his
INT: Have you always written on computer or do you complete first drafts on paper?
SK: It depends. I dont have a system. Some stories start on paper, some on computer. Some start and go nowhere too, but thats a different story. Anyway, to answer the first part of your question no, I havent always written on a computer. Once upon a time it was a hard slog on paper for two or three or however many drafts it took, then onto a typewriter.
INT: How long have you been writing?
SK: I remember when I was eight I read Black Beauty. I loved it. I read it on a Saturday afternoon because my father was religious and insisted on quiet in the house on what he called the Lords day. It was so quiet you could hear the great grandfather clock we had in the hall tolling away the hours. Reading let me be quiet and yet disobey my father because we werent only meant to be quiet; we were supposed to be inert. Reading let me escape. I guess I wanted to write on account of that love of reading. I guess writing is providing the rope or the getaway car.
INT: Simple escapism?
SK: Ah no, more more more. But there has to be escape built in. Its where you escape to that adds the extra dimension.
INT: You said you had no system in terms of preferring to start with a rough draft on paper or typed. Do you have a system for other aspects of your writing? Planning, characterization, those other aspects.
SK: Probably. I mean I dont do the Somerset Maugham thing of starting with the beginning, working my way through the middle and then arriving triumphant at the end. I doubt that Maugham did it that way all the time too. Most of my stories start with an idea a kernel incident around which everything coalesces or with a character. The funny thing is that Ive noticed the idea stories are usually written from a third person point of view, the character stories from a first person perspective.
INT: Incident equals third person, character equals first? That seems a little limiting.
SK: Oh, its not that consistent. Ill often shift perspectives dropping from one to the other. But I do think its a general rule with me. Maybe because its the character so firmly lodged in my head that I cant get away from writing I And if it starts with an incident than I like to put the people I invent in there, like dropping innocence into the Garden of Eden. So Im a distant voice. Anyway, there are no rules except the fundamentals of interest, language and passion.
INT: Where do your characters come from?
SK: (tapping his head) In here. I mean theyre based on other people or on other people plus my split personalities. Theyre amalgams of people I know or want to know or the people I want them to be, but they always come from in here. And I believe theres always a bit of the writer in their characters because thats where the empathy comes from.
INT: Are short stories your first love?
SK: Maybe. I dont know. I started off trying to write poetry and I still love one or two lines Ive written. But that was the trouble; it was always just one or two lines. Never a poem. Poetry requires some distillation that I lack.
Anyway, its mainly been stories. But Ive had three satirical plays produced by a local theatre group. They were a lot of fun and I enjoyed the direct appreciation by an audience. Ive written two novels, one of which is safely entombed in a drawer somewhere. I never sent it away. The other has been nearly accepted twice and Ive gotten to the stage of not wanting no, of wondering whether I want to persevere with it.
INT: Is there a living in it?
SK: The way I make my living now is writing non-fiction. Textbooks in the main. Though its not fiction I like that too because any time you put pen to paper youre being creative. It does give me the chance to use a little of my fictional stuff as well. And Id like to think that maybe something I write in a textbook might make somebody appreciate reading just a little bit more or might somehow make a difference.
INT: You used to be a teacher.
SK: Still am. Still registered, that is. Anytime you try to write full time unless youre very lucky you have to figure that not everything is going to sell and that maybe youll starve metaphorically anyway. Ive got a very understanding wife who wouldnt let me starve, I think. But Im having a go at the gamble and the non-fiction stuff is earning okay.
INT: How important is the money?
SK: Its not the most or the second most or even the third most important thing. But it matters if youre trying to make a living. I sometimes think that being paid is the sincerest form of appreciation. But I cant think of books as product, which is a way Ive heard some publishers talk about it.
Anyway, if money is your primary goal I think there are about 8317 other more lucrative professions.
INT: So why do you write?
SK: Id like to say something pompous like why do you breathe? I cant help myself, I suppose. But if I conducted my lungs like Ive sometimes conducted my writing Id be dead. My writing motivation also probably has something to do with a narcissistic streak in my character.
INT: Is a routine important? You know, get up at eight, write three hours, break for lunch , then work to five.
SK: It is to some people. Sometimes I think that the routine bit is a little overused. A sort of protestant work ethic takeover of creativity. But you certainly need to keep working procrastination can become a deadly habit. I find I get a bit edgy after a lay off of a couple of weeks. I need to get back down to work.
INT: Youre happily married. Is that important: a stable background?
SK: It is to me. My wife Linda is always there a sounding board. Shes part of what Hemingway says every writer needs: a built in shit detector. And our relationship also forms a kind of counterpoint to the relationships I write about. Dont get me wrong - were never directly in there, but I measure out some of the stuff I write against what I know it is for me . Its also nice that my oldest daughter, Madeleine, is at me to write a book for her. She seems to be a fine prospect for a budding writer too quite often absent-minded, off with the fairies. A beautiful daydreamer. And Ive named one of my characters for my youngest, Johanna. Shes only four and has the makings of an obstinate engineer.
INT: Well SK, its been nice talking to you.
SK: You too SK. I think weve got a bit of a problem though, dont you?