Writers’ Checklist puts novelist and short story writer, Tom Gillespie under the ‘author interview’ spotlight. Tom’s debut novel Painting by Numbers is published by Crooked Cat Books and described as a dark, surreal thriller.
Is the man behind the words also dark and surreal – here’s your chance to find out...
Buy Painting By Numbers
A short story called Trapped, It was about a local mining disaster and involved three burly miners, a collapsed pit shaft and a dog named Patch. I was 11 and it won my home town’s annual Civic Week Writing Competition. I was promised a trophy, but never got one. My story was published in the local newspaper, I was interviewed on BBC Reporting Scotland and Sigmund Freud has taken up my case.
What are your writing strengths and weaknesses?
I think my views on my own writing ability are in a continuous and neurotic state of change, and are often shaped by how I’m feeling about the story I’m working on; whether I’m wrestling with a difficult section, or singing along enthusiastically without any apparent obstacles. But my state of mind can often switch without warning. One day I might convince myself I’m pretty good at concise, descriptive language and then the next day, after a second read through, I’ll completely change my opinion, and re-write the whole lot all over again.
I spend a lot of time reading things aloud. If it sounds hollow or clunky or embarrassing when it is airborne, then I’ve probably been fooling myself and it needs a re-work. When you start to believe you are good at something, it is a sure-fired way to fall flat on your face. Have you noticed that I’m avoiding a straight answer?
Do you have a writing routine or any odd writing quirks?
I try as best I can to maintain a writing routine; up at 5.30, write for a couple of hours, and then the same again from 9.30-11.30pm. However, I work full-time, I’m a dad and for some inexplicable reason my wife enjoys my occasional company. So there’s only so long you can do that before your mind, body and family start to complain and you find yourself gibbering incoherently at work (not that anyone would notice the difference).
When I am writing intensely, I’ll stick to the regime. But if I am editing or outlining, I try and grab space and time when I can. One of my writing quirks is that I like to write with my left leg in the northern hemisphere while my right stretches into the south… oh sorry, that’s social networking isn’t it?
Story-wise, are you a plotter?
I’m a part–plotter. Initially, I’ll work on a rough narrative arc, try and sketch out a road map. And then I’ll let my imagination take over, allowing characters to breathe and take different directions and pathways if they wish. Then I’ll re-configure the narrative, if I have to, and keep tightening the bolts until I’m relatively happy with the finished product. With my new novel Painting by Numbers, I had the beginning and the end worked out, and so it was interesting to allow the story to slowly unfold and wind toward the conclusion, taking a few unexpected turns along the way.
Are your characters ever based on people you know?
Of course… but I refuse to say anything more than that.
How do you handle rejections?
Alcohol and then I write some more... just to spite them.
What qualities do you think writers should have?
Qualities? Oh bloody hell… thick skin, patience, imagination, stamina, a sense of humour, insomnia, terrible table manners and an obsessive desire to be loved.
What are you working on at the moment?A new novel. It’s going really well… I have a title, I’ve sketched out the plot, I’ve made lots of tea, re-decorated the second bedroom, taken the cat to the vet for its monthly haemorrhoid treatment, tidied my desk… tidied it again… then moved it to another room, and now all I have to do is put one word in front of another until it is done.
Tom’s writing has been described as terse, minimalist, hyper-realistic and ambiguous, where layers of meaning are conveyed using a concise and economical style.
His debut novel Painting by Numbers, a dark, psychological drama that explores the surreal complexities of the human mind, is out now, published by Crooked Cat Books. Paperback release date: 23 October 2012.
He is currently working on a second novel and a collection of short stories.