Monday, 23 February 2009


I've been away for a week and I doubt you want to read about me eating fish, sitting on a beach, drinking beer, reading and writing my new novel- whoops, there that sums it up.

Reviews later of Apex Hides the Hurt and Things I Like about America.

Here are my answers to some questions a creative writing degree person asked me about writing. I wrote the answers really fast with no self-editing, as if she was recording me and I was the transcription, warts and all. Here's what I wrote (ignore all the spelling and half-arsed thoughts):

1) Do you think writers (specifically, writers of fiction) have a responsibility?
Writers of fiction do have a responsibility to their audience. Whether that responsibility is a worthy one or a political, polemic, conscious one is another thing. Writers of fiction, frivolous as it may be, fantastical as it may be, take you on a journey- they create infinite universes for you to wander into and immerse yourself in. Once you’re in, you’re living their truth and their fiction and the rules and agendas of their universe. Writers have a responsibility to you to ensure that their universe is immersive and consistent with the rules they invent, to keep you trapped on that journey. But on top of this, all fiction should represent a truth about the world, whether it mirrors or satirises the present, past or future, whether it creates fantastical situations ripe for triumph, there should be a nugget of truth about our world. Sometimes the most science fictional piece of work (e.g. Battlestar Galactica) will reflect the modern world in a way more salient and telling about the human spirit than someone worthy and factual like Frost-Nixon. To put this into book terms, William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ told us more about the dystopian technological future ahead than most other books. It reflected an innate truth within us all.

2) What is your own definition of the truth in fiction?
As above, truth should be a consistency within the universe you inhabit. But truth in fiction should ultimately be a reflection of a truth in human behaviour and human interaction. We read mirrors of ourselves and we read vicarious versions of ourselves, we find ourselves in characters and we find characters in ourselves, either living the life we wish or living a version of our own sordid truth, and fiction should reflect that in however small or big a way. ‘The Collector Collector’ by Tibor Fischer, written from the perspective of an ancient jug revealing the secrets of its every owner, though told by a seemingly inanimate object, reveals a truth about our history and our perceptions of time and nostalgia. Though the jar can’t empathise with human emotion, its discussion of such truths reveals a lot about the human spirit as it tries its hardest to understand why we’re programmed the way we are.

3) Fiction is expected to be made up, do you think readers will be disappointed if there is truth in a fictional story?
Readers would probably be disappointed to know how much truth there is in fiction. Writing for me is all about collecting. I collect characters and anecdotes and behaviourial ticks. I collect names too. My favourite is a friend’s mum’s boss: Radford Quist. Such a fiction-rich name yet readers would be disappointed to know that he manages an ambulance call-out centre in East London. I collect anecdotes, my latest novel currently in draft, is a collection of all the wonderful anecdotes I have collected about the immigrant experience of integration into UK society woven into a plot. There are greater stories in real life than in fiction sometimes. The comedy wrought from everyday real conversations in the Guardian Guide’s ‘All Ears’ column always gets me laughing, meaning I listen intently to conversations and speech patterns on trains and buses, trying to match my fictional characters to some real life persona, a realistic flow. The book ‘Shantaram’ should be fiction and reads like an amazing thriller, yet purports to be true. The greatest fictional books are weaved from real-life events. The novel I am drafting at the moment would be hampered by the limits of my imagination if I tried to make it all up. Instead, I have an intricate web of stories, all rich for fictionalising and exaggerating for comedic/dramatic effect to base my narrative on.

5) Was your interest always to be an author?
I wanted to be a world-famous rapper.

I always knew I wanted to write. I’ve tried to write a book so many times. I got through 40 pages of a novel when I was 16 before getting bored with trying to construct something that flowed. I knew I wanted to write, I just didn’t know what format. I always knew it’d be fiction though. Much as I am political and identity/culture-conscious and want to reflect that in my writing, I felt that fiction was always the best format for me. Which is weird because the first book I finished and wanted to heavily promote was a non-fiction travel memoir about a bizarre year I spent in Kenya living with the ex-pat Brits. It’s non-fiction, and again it’s the case where true life was more interesting than fiction, though (and don’t tell anyone this) I changed some names, amalgamated some characters and made their conversations more narrative-based! My next work is fiction. I can safely say now that I feel most comfortable in an author’s slippers than a rapper’s gleaming white trainers and that’s where I’m content to me. It’s where I can express my universal truth as intended.

6) How did you get to publish your book?
I haven’t published my book yet. I had a short story published in an Arts Council-sponsored book; the Arts Council invited me to a workshop on how to get a grant for writing your novel; I applied; got the money; wrote the book; found an agent; reworked the book; wrote another book; she preferred the second one; she’s currently trying to sell it...

7) Where do you derive your ideas from, for your stories?
My fictional ideas all stem from real-life situations and relationships. No matter how fantastical, they all derive from a truth in the real world. They usually spark off from a tiny event that transpires or a conversation with my father, friend Nick, brother Neel, fiancĂ©, something I hear on the train, an article in a supplement, someone’s theme I remix- anything is up for grabs in terms of the ideas factory. Seeing the potential for spinning a story out of random occurrences is your job as a writer. It helps to keep a weekly blog (, where amongst the book and music reviews, I keep a daily diary of something from the previous day that either inspired me or made me laugh, and often I’ll refer back to the themes in that diary for inspiration.

8) Do you think it's a risk to have 'realism' in your stories?
Not at all. In fact, sometimes it’s important to have some grounding in realism, otherwise the reader has nothing tangible to hold on to for the duration of their journey.

9) What's your opinion on readers reading for escapism?
I love it. I still read superhero comics every week. I read Spider-man and Daredevil and X-Men. It’s complete escapism but there’s enough tangible reality amongst all the aliens and bizarre science and mutated creatures. Spider-man is a man down on his luck, driven by a responsibility to the greater good, reviled by the public for always doing the right thing; Daredevil wrestles with his upbringing and the limits of his disability; the X-Men experience racism, prejudice and revulsion at every turn. Yet they’re all dealing with the Green Goblin, a man who controls magnetism, an alien who eats planets and other assorted evil geniuses. Why these comics have lasted for over 40 years, is not the kick-ass drawings and vivid depictions of badass fights- it’s the human element, the tangible hold on to a recognisable characteristic within yourself as an outside, or other and how that impacts on your life. And the kick-ass drawings.

10) Did you write for leisure first? If you did, do you find it difficult treating it as a job?
I wrote to express myself. I was a shy kid, in a comfort zone. Reading took me to places I was too scared to experience in real-life or too sheltered. Writing was how I translated my thoughts into something recognisable. Treating it as a job can be a complete drag because you have to think of yourself as a factory and your work as a product and your every indulgent whim may not be sellable or indeed readable by the general public, so doing this as a job,y uo have to temper your inner-censor and do what you want to do, stay close to your inner truth but deliver something that is worth a wider audience immersing themselves in. Otherwise, just keep a diary and never show anyone.

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