Wordy Wednesday with David Southwell

This weeks Wordy Wednesday is with the author David Southwell. He has written several books on conspiracy theories and true crime under his own name. Of which he claims only two Secrets and Lies, and The Kennedy Assassination, are any good. He has also ghost-written several biographies.

"For my sins, I have been a regular pundit on both American and European television, featuring as both a commentator and consultant on shows as diverse at National Geographic documentaries to BBC consumer programmes. A few years back, I took a ride in a BBC car with J.G. Ballard and I now try to make amends for my crimes against dead trees by taking the advice given he gave me to: ‘concentrate on place, nothing without a sense of it is ever any good.’ This means I am now more known as a landscape punk, photographer and folklorist who is mad enough to stand up and give talks at festivals and galleries."

What a fascinating chap David sounds, I was as intrigued (as no doubt you are) to find out more about his writing and his thoughts on life, biscuits and vegetable animals.

When did you start writing? And why?
The earliest piece of writing comes from the age of six. A short story about Superman. In many ways, I've never stopped writing since then. I think that first story came as response to being able to wander through a world of wonder in the pages of a comic. Later, I went into journalism as it was the only arena where I could earn a living while indulging my curiosity about people and the stories they tell and an obsession with language. Now I am back to wandering in landscapes and worlds that raise wonder in me.

What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?
Copious amounts of tea, an absence of intrusive sound from neighbours and outside, a decent film soundtrack.

Do you write to a schedule, eg every day or three times a week, set times, etc or do you write as and when the mood strikes?
If I am commissioned/on deadline with a book, I will usually work 8am-1am, six days a week with 90 minutes for lunch and dinner. This is how you deliver 100,000 words, which only need rewrites due to the lawyers, in three months. At other points, without a specific project to deliver, I try to write a minimum of 500 words per day just to keep the muscles in shape.

What's the worst question anyone has asked you ever? And did you answer?
"Are you a vagrant?" and yes, I answered because it is unwise to try and ignore the Garda. I feel a longer story here, I might have to follow this up via twitter

What are your favourite biscuits?
This is a great time to live in England - the incredible biscuit choice you can find in your average Turkish grocer is a source of deep joy. My favourite biscuits are currently the sort that would deeply upset UKIP supporters - the are the Polish chocolate-hazelnut Hit biscuits. A chocolate-nut biscuit that you know Nigel Farage would hate is a wonderful thing. Political biscuits, not a new idea but a fine one, - see also Garibaldi

Tea or Coffee?
Tea. This is not to say that coffee is absent from my life, but tea is balm for the soul. I once met Douglas Adams and asked, as you do when you are a young, shallow want-to-be-writer, what his advice to writers was. His answer: "Hot water, taken internally and externally, will solve most problems you will face as a writer." He has proven right. A bath helps with the pain twisting through your neck when you've written for 10 hours straight and tea - the ritual act of taking a break to make it, removing your eyes from half-done sentence that won't come right while giving you a few minutes to think - fixes most blocks.

Where do you do most of your writing?
Like most people trying to write full-time, I live in a hovel. There is no separate writing sanctum, there is just an old table in the lounge. As a child I ate tea with my grandparents on it, now I scratch out words on it. I know the feeling, she says as she blogs at the kitchen table....

What book are you reading at the moment?
Kay Boyle's '30 Stories' and if you don't know about the amazing life of Kay Boyle, go look her up, the Folk Horror Revival anthology and Iain Sinclair's London Overground. I like to have three books on the go. One for when I am travelling, one for tea breaks and one by the bed.

Do you use social media (facebook, twitter, instagram etc) to engage with your audience, do you think it helps sales and do you find it fun or a chore?
I use Twitter and I try to be very strict about not selling myself or others - the key word in social media should be social, shilling your book is like running into a party and screaming look at me!

However, I am transitioning from being an author published by large publishers to an author being published by small publishers who care, so I am aware just how vital social media is. If as a writer social media is just a sales tool, I suspect you are more of a marketeer than an author.

I try to use Twitter to allow people to have x-rays of work in progress, to be inspired by the creative community around me online and to engage with people who like what I do. I've written books which have been translated into half-a-dozen languages, sold 50,000-plus copies and had three responses from their readers. Write a decent sentence on Twitter, and you get a dozen instant response. Tell me a writer who doesn't find that somewhat gratifying and I'll show you a misguided liar.

My approach to social media is make it something creative, make it something fun for yourself and others - make it something worth reading and something worth writing - and let it look after you in terms of creating a profile for you and your work.

A timeline of a thousand tweets all saying buy my book is the thing least likely to convince anyone that your work is actually going to be worth reading. Too right, see also automated Direct Messages full of links!

If you could genetically cross and animal with a fruit or vegetable what would you choose and why? I'm currently keen on a cucumber crocodile just because I saw a picture of something similar on twitter!
The Pear Wasp. If we could turn the useless wasp into something that tastes of pears when spread on toast, the would be a mighty chimera. A perfect solution to late summer woes!

If money was no object what would you buy your favourite person for Christmas?
The Egyptian House in Penzance. (I googled and I can see why!)
Egyption House By LondonRoad on Flickr
Unusually for an author ;-) David doesn't want to specifically advertise anything, but if anyone wants to check out his fictional universe they can do so @HooklandGuide on Twitter which is where he spends most of his time or they can say hello @cultauthor, also on Twitter.

Thanks for some great answers David.

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