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Friday, 6 December 2013

Interview with a Yorkshire Novelist: Introducing Sam Graham

It was around this time last year (October) when the book of short stories entitled ‘Tell Me a Tale’ was published in print by Armida in collaboration with Fluster Magazine. Among the many talented fiction writers featured in the book is Sam Graham, a creative wordsmith from the city of Hull.

I caught up with Sam to ask him about the book and where he sees himself in the future in terms of his writing adventures…

Tell me about the thought process behind your short story ‘Ghosts’ which is featured in the book…

I actually had no idea they’d accepted it until about two weeks before the book came through my door.  I got an email saying something like ‘As you know, we’ve accepted your story to…’  And I was just thinking ‘What do you mean, as I know?’

The idea was to look through the photos on Fluster’s Flickr page and use one of them as an inspiration.  I remember seeing loads of generic flowers and landscapes, then I saw a photo of a person laying in the gutter next to a skip.  I carried on looking through, but I kept going back to that one. It was horrible and grimy, and real.  I loved it.

As for the story itself, well, I was out of work at the time and was severely low on cash. I was weighing up my options, trying to find things I could do for some quick money and that got me asking myself just what I was willing to do to get be?

In a sense, Ghosts is about how the times we live in can turn good people bad.  By how following ‘The Man’s rules can leave you sliding further and further down, until you’re forced to abandon your own principles.

Which is your favourite genre to read and who are your writing influences?

Oh, a bunch of different things.  For two years I read hardboiled crime almost exclusively.  Writers like Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane and Derek Raymond (Robin Cook).  I started that as research from my undergrad dissertation and just kind of got sucked into it.

I read a lot of horror as well.  If you ask me, Clive Barker and Lovecraft are kings of the genre.

But I try to take something from everything really, from Spillane and Barker, to Todd McFarlane (Spawn), but if I had to put it to a list, I’d say Derek Raymond, Mickey Spillane and Joe Haldeman (The Forever War).

How would you describe your writing style?

People I know tell me I write depressing things.  One person in particular accused me of creating characters then systematically going about destroying their lives.

Nah, I like to keep it simple.  I’m always cutting bits out and condensing to use less words, but without (hopefully) compromising the integrity of the story.  I don’t like having to re-read a sentence a few times to figure out what it actually means.

I try to keep the narrative based in the character’s point of view, whether it be 1st or 3rd person.  I think it keeps the reader locked with the character, and gives more insight into that character without you having to tell the reader this, that, or the other.

What is your ultimate career goal - Do you hope to have more books of your own published in the near future?

Try not to die an embarrassing death, though I’d say that’s a general rule of thumb.
To have my own book published would be the dream.  Always has been, ever since I was young enough to still believe that teachers lived at school.

Ghosts isn’t the first thing I’ve had published, but it’s the first thing in an actual proper book, so I had a proper chufty about it.

I’ve been working on a novel for about three years now and it’s approaching the final editing phase.  It’s called An Inside Joke and is a tech noir story about a copper investigating a series of deaths, but it being kept out of the loop by involved parties.  As well as that he’s got some other things going on in his life that gradually affect his judgement and his health.

See, I created a character, then systematically went about destroying his life.  He’d probably be fine if I’d left him alone.

What is your opinion if self publishing your own work?

I’ve never tried it, because I’m sceptical of the idea.  I’m looking at it from the outside, but it seems like a bric-a-brac way of publishing.  I could be wrong about all of this, but these days anyone can write some one-draft piece of crap, bang it up on Amazon for 99p and call themselves a published author with no sense of merit, or achievement.

I know there’ve been people who’ve become a real success by it, and honestly, more power to them.  But it seems too easy.  Like I said, I’ve never tried it, so I’m half and half.  One half thinks it’s good because you don’t have to deal with ‘the industry’, and the other half thinks it’s a vanity tool for people who just want to see their name in lights.

Do you have any hints or tips for hungry writers just starting out and who are hoping to break into the competitive world of fiction?

The best advice I can give is prepare yourself to get hurt.  It’s an unforgiving world out there, and you’re going to get your work rejected.  A lot.  And no, it doesn’t hurt less as time goes on. If anything, it stings more each time, and after a while it’ll make you doubt yourself.

You’ll be upset, then angry and whatnot, but then once you’ve calmed down, just keep at it.  If you give up, then they’ve won.  Rejection isn’t personal, and it’ll happen a lot more than the acceptance.

Ultimately it boils down to this: if you’re doing something because you love doing it, then screw what other people think.

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