Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Interview with Shaun Stafford

Shaun, your short “Incessant” featured in Issue One of TLC, and we had one of your poems, “Mummy, Mummy, Where Are You?” in Issue Two. Where do you get your inspiration from to write such things?

Well, “Incessant” was inspired by my own neighbours and my own frustrations at listening to their incessant and banal attempts to call their cat in. The poem just came to me one morning, about 4am, when I woke from a diabetic hypo. My mind works like that. And those quick-fire inspirations really do work well with short things such as stories and poems.

How would you define your writing style and what genre does it fit into?

I started off writing thrillers, but nothing was successful. My earliest book, “die Stunde X”, is alternative history – it’s my bestseller.  I wrote it in 1994 or 1995. Now, I mainly concentrate on transgressive stuff – people who are not decent members of society. “Besotted” was probably my most controversial book, but “Maggie’s Children” is, I guess, equally as fucked up.

Tell us how you write, how you get focused onto the task.

For “Besotted”, I tried to become Benjamin Beerenwinkel. I don’t mean that I got cancer or that I became fascinated with underaged teenage girls, but I wrote books and I drank alcohol. Lots of things that happen in “Besotted” actually happened to me. The mugging, the bizarre situation of chatting to a pair of transsexuals in a pub (happened to me in my village pub), and one or two of the characters are compounds of people I know.  For “Besotted”, getting drunk was the best way to write. Strangely, when I wrote “Maggie’s Children”, which is about an alcoholic former teacher, I barely drank. I don’t sit down and say, “I’ve got to write 2,000 words” because some nights, some days, that just won’t happen. But I am able to sit down in a pub with my laptop or my pen and notepad, and bang out, say, 5,000 words in a couple of hours when the inspiration gets to me.

What are you working on at the moment?

The problem is, I’ve got so many novels that are perhaps two or three chapters in, I’m not sure which one to focus on. I have one story, “One Eight”, which is a futuristic story about cloning, which I might endeavour to finish in 2015. I will definitely finish the sequel to “Blood Money”. And I always try to knock out a short story every month. Writer’s masturbation. Even if it’s too shit to show anyone, I’ve still written something.

Who is your favourite writer, the one you admire the most, the one who inspired you to be become a writer even?

Chuck Palahniuk inspired me to start writing more transgressive stuff. I wrote “The Journal” after I read “Fight Club”. But I really dig Martin Amis, and obviously Steinbeck and Bukowski. A friend of mine, Tom Gaffigan, advised me to get into Steinbeck (I’m ashamed to say that I wasn’t into him until fairly recently) and the way he dealt with characterisations inspired me when it came to writing “Besotted” and “Maggie’s Children”.  Guilty pleasure is Andy McNab (though I rather think he has a ghost writer), but then there is nothing wrong in having a guilty pleasure. I don’t think any writer inspired me to become a writer myself. But naturally, every book I read and enjoy is an influence and inspiration, and there have undoubtedly been too many to mention here.

Bizarre snap questions time (currently or favourite):-

Currently drinking?  A can of Carling lager.                        
Currently eating?  Pringles – Sour Cream and Onion.
Currently reading?  I’m reading “Of Men and Monsters”, an old sci-fi novel.
Currently listening to?  The Style Council - "Shout To The Top".
Currently driving?  Ha, you taking the piss? The last car I owned was a Saab 93 Aero. I rather suspect I won’t be driving anything that flash when I can drive again.

What do you think of low-budget magazines such as The Literary Commune, and the role they have to play in helping lesser-known writers to get their work “out there”?

Lots of unpublished writers have no audience for their shorts or poems. Yeah, the Kindle means your stuff is “out there” but in some instances, you’ll be lucky to sell a handful of copies of your stuff, mostly to your family and friends. Something like The Literary Commune means that your work gets out there to 100-200 people. And a writer, to be fair, doesn’t care how many people read their stuff, just so long as a handful of strangers do. That’s the key thing. If a stranger reads your stuff and nods his or her head and thinks to themselves, “Yeah, man, I really dig that.”

Any advice or encouragement you would give to other writers, whether their stuff is being read or being hidden away in a bottom drawer somewhere?

Read lots of books. You can’t possibly write unless you enjoy reading. Develop your own style, your own voice. Trust me, you won’t have it when you start writing, but you will once you’ve written a few things. Practice makes perfect. And never, ever, ever give up. If you enjoy writing, trust me, you will, with practice, hone your craft and people will start to enjoy reading your stuff. Oh, and don’t write because you want to be a millionaire. That’s never going to happen. Write because you have to write. Write because it’s in your blood. Write because if you don’t write, you feel that you’re nothing. Take inspiration from everything in life, good and bad. Having one of your characters tell an anecdote, one that’s happened to you or to someone you know, makes them seem more real. And never, ever, ever give up. Oh, I said that already. But yeah, if you enjoy writing, just write, and eventually, get your stuff read by people. Grow a pair of balls and hand your stuff to someone. Someone like The Literary Commune.

Ha, thanks, Shaun. Just don’t write about us in your next book!

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