Billed as ‘A Comedy Existential Urban Thriller. With Pigs.’ Leo Cookman’s new novel, Welcome the Pigz has comedy, adventure, romance, magic and mystery, so what’s not to like? Leo joins us at Writers’ Checklist to tell us what make makes him tick.
Tell us about your proudest writing achievement.
Probably my last poetry pamphlet because people really responded to it and said how much they enjoyed it which made me feel like I've done something worth reading. I may have published my own novel but anyone can do that for free, so whilst writing a novel is undoubtedly an achievement I am yet to receive any solid affirmation that it was worth doing. But if not that, winning my school poetry prize when I was 11.
What are your writing strengths and weaknesses?
My strengths, I think, are that I'm pretty absorbent when reading and can be quite analytical of what I read which means when I write I can use similar styles, ideas, techniques, etc or equally leave them out or be deliberately subversive with them. Something I think should be done by more writers.
My biggest weakness is that I don't plan and tend to do research on the fly. Whilst it is not really a hindrance to me, per se, I can imagine not writing myself into corners and having a tighter structure would probably be the result of a little more forethought, but that would probably kill all the fun in it for me...
Do you have a writing routine or any odd writing quirks?
I think every writer is different and writes differently and at different times in different ways. Personally, I am incredibly lazy when it comes to writing so I tend to write in blocks. If you sit me down and force me to write or if something really grabs me to write it I will sit and not stop. I can write for hours on end and not leave my seat. When writing 'Welcome the Pigz' I was only “surfacing” to use the toilet or eat, the rest of the time I was writing or sleeping. I have so far (touch wood) never experienced writer's block so if pushed out of my typical torpor I can write whatever, whenever and wherever, which I realise is a rare gift. As I say, my biggest problem is that I'm lazy.
Who is your favourite author and why?
Either Alan Moore or Robin Jarvis. They would both be pigeonholed as writing for a younger audience but are the furthest thing from. They are incredibly gifted writers no matter what their format or genre and cram in a fantastic amount of detail and sub-plots into whatever they write, which can be chewed over at length. My main reason for liking them so much is, what they do best, and better than any other writer I've read, is atmosphere. Books are pretty immersive but their writing has a tangible reality to it that is splintered by magic and, normally, something very dark. The effect is profound. The Dark Portal and Watchmen are definitely two of my favourite books. One may be a comic book and the other a book for children about talking mice but their content far outstrips what is sold as 'mature' or 'literary fiction' today. I can't recommend them highly enough.
Are your characters ever based on people you know?
Never. I am no doubt influenced by people and their attitudes/responses but I never think to put real people into a story. I do tend to think about how I might react in a given situation I am writing about but it's never me as that character. I tend to use actors and/or characters from films as templates. A lot of the time that is normally just so I can see how they look in my head but once I start writing them and have a basic outline of who they are in conjunction with the plot they tend to come to life as I write which is one of the main pleasures in writing for me.
When writing song lyrics, what most inspires you?
As anyone who has heard any of my songs will tell you: Love. Or more specifically: Heartbreak. I am probably the grumpiest person I know, certainly the most cynical and definitely the most pessimistic, which is not something I'm proud of and try to change but I think it's because mainly I am such a big softy and a giant wuss. Whenever I am in a relationship I am on cloud 9 but as soon as it’s over then it’s novels, poetry, songs, etc. I take break ups pretty hard. “Contentment is the enemy of invention” as they say and it is never truer than for me. I fall in love very easily and relish personal and intimate contact so when I don't have it I get grumpier. Everyone likes to feel loved though, right? I just like to be a little more spoiled. I like to think I give as good as I get in that regard though. I give good cuddle.
Music is very emotive and expressive as is love and capturing that feeling or mood and bottling a moment is why I write songs, books, poems, all of that, so I can unpack it and look at it again later. Music is a very tangible way of summoning up that feeling at a later date.
What, do you feel, is the biggest obstacle when self publishing a novel?
Marketing. Getting your work seen and read is a slow, painful, uphill struggle. Without your own PR department and a multi-million pound ad campaign you're kind of stuck to just telling your friends. Admittedly, with the internet now it is a billion times simpler and you can reach literally anyone in the world but individuals would rather talk to individuals about other things, not hear you try to sell your stuff to them all the time. You dissuade more people than you grab in doing that.
At self publishing level the best you can manage is just making your stuff easily available and let people know about it when you can. I loathe self promotion because I am on the receiving end of it so much and know how painful it is to listen to someone pour their heart out about their project which you have no interest in. Most people respond positively to my stuff but the only way you’re going to capture hearts and minds is by making your work exceptional. People know good quality, so if it’s good, people will read it. I'm hoping I can get away with it...
What are you working on at the moment?
A LOT. I'm about to self publish another poetry pamphlet to accompany my other two. I am currently putting together a full poetry collection to send off to some competitions and hopefully publish (again, probably myself). I am in the final stages of writing a genre specific novella to E-Publish but not through Kindle this time, which will hopefully be out end of September/early October. I'm working on two different comic ideas I'd like to find an artist/platform for.
Depending how that all goes and if I make any actual sales or money from Welcome the Pigz, I will select one of the 3 novels I have started and plough through and finish that. I am trying to keep busy and hoping one of these will find the mark so I can be paid to keep doing this. A surprisingly optimistic approach for me...
I've been writing since the age of six, in various ways, and finally, after having self-published two poetry pamphlets have decided to self-publish my first novel: Welcome the Pigz. In addition to all the writing I play a lot of music in various bands and on various instruments, I am a keen photographer and have made a couple of my own short films that are floating around on the internet. I am secretly an aphid and can eat my own body weight in chocolate every day.