1) You’ve written a great novel, could you briefly explain to a potential reader what it is about?
It’s about a 16-year old boy, Sebastian, who falls in love on holiday in Italy, and about a retired CIA agent who recants his participation in Operation Gladio post-WW2. That’s when the CIA-backed Right-wing government in Italy committed acts of domestic terrorism and blamed the Left in order to frighten voters away from communism.
2) Where did the idea for your book came from?
I’d long wanted to write a love story with humour at its heart but when Americans protested about Russian interference in their 2016 presidential election, I thought, Oh yeah! And you’ve never interfered in another country’s domestic politics? And I knew immediately how to combine Sebastian’s and the American’s stories that are both about a loss of innocence, one sexual and the other political.
3) Can you tell us about your experience writing your novel?
I was helped by lockdown. Longhand writing in the morning followed by a walk and then typing in the afternoon. But it’s not the sitting down that’s the discipline, it’s the editing, the scaling back of adverbs and the cutting down of long sentences, the elimination of the friends you’ve included who add nothing to the story – the killing of one’s darlings, in other words.
4) What made you start writing or want to write a novel?
Reading Lawrence Durrell, JD Salinger and William Faulkner in my 20s. But I was broke! I had to find work and then provide for a young family which left me little time for writing… And then I began to enjoy my work and exorcised (exercised?) my writing demon by writing financial market reports until such time I’d had enough and wanted to write for myself. I began my first novel in 2013 and got it published in 2018. One writes in order to discover what one has to say; anything else is propaganda.
5) What is the biggest challenge you've faced as a writer?
The first is saying No. To my wife when she asks me to visit a gallery with her, to my children when they asked me to take them to the park, to friends who ask me to the pub. The second is finding an agent or, specifically, writing something good enough to land an agent.
6) What do you think of the publishing industry and its processes? How easy is it to get a novel published?
It’s phenomenally difficult. No-one owes a writer publication. A publisher can choose to publish a writer out of love or out of the need for financial gain (and it’s not for me to tell them which), but I am all too aware of some awful books that get published and of some brilliant ones that don’t. More often than not, though, I think the industry gets it right.
7) Why have you chosen Indie Novella?
I’ve always championed the underdog. In my last place of employment I had a choice between choosing the market leader or an unheard-of start-up with vision, drive and integrity. I chose the latter and never regretted it. To play a tiny role in the success of a trailblazing upstart publisher would be a privilege and something I’d be very proud of.
8) What do you think of diversity and inclusion when it comes to novel writing and publishing? Is there more we can do to encourage new writers from different backgrounds?
In the 1970s, orchestras began using ‘blind’ auditions, whereby musicians would audition behind screens in order to get more women into their ranks – and this worked. Today, enlightened businesses receive ‘nameless’ CVs from recruitment agencies that ensure all indication of gender, race and faith are absent in order to achieve diversity in the workplace – and the indications are that this is working. Perhaps the publishing industry could organize ‘blind’ short story- and novel-writing competitions? I’d love to have the evidence to be able to say definitively that literary agents discriminate against older writers but I can’t!
9) What advice would you give new writers?
It’s never too late to start. There are no short cuts. The real work starts once the first draft finished.