William Thirsk Gaskill, who are you?
I’m 45, and work as an IT consultant in Leeds. I live in Wakefield and was brought up in Leeds. My work is urban, not rural. I am a child of industry and technology.
My main interests apart from writing are drinking alcohol and doing as little as possible. I enjoy a walk in the Dales occasionally. I used to be an active supporter of Leeds United football club, but this is something I grew out of. I like listening to Test Match Special, for the banter as much as the cricket.
I want to publish or produce in every major format. I have succeeded so far in short fiction and poetry, and so that leaves drama (film, TV, radio, stage), and novel. My main objective for 2013 is to be short-listed for the Grist Chapbook competition, which would give me a whole publication which is just my work, rather than appearing in an anthology.
I started writing a novel in about 2000. I didn’t make serious progress as a writer until I studied creative writing with the OU in 2010.
This year, performance has been the thing that has done me the most good. I have started getting unsolicited requests to perform, and will be appearing five times at this year’s Ilkley Literary Festival, four times with other writers and once on my own.
I am a very easy-going and non-judgemental person but some people find my direct communication style intimidating. My parents abandoned me in the woods, and so I was brought up by lawyers, and had to cultivate a magisterial way of speaking in order to get a word in edgeways.
If you had any advice to give to an aspiring writer, what would it be?
If you have submitted things and found that they are all rejected, do a writing course. A writing course should turn raw talent into technique, and is a good way of cultivating the writing habit. It will also give you perspective, and the chance to see your work in relation to that of other writers. It will also show you how you deal with criticism.
How would you generally describe your writing?
I would describe it as contemporary realism. I am philosophically materialistic (I don’t believe in God or life after death or anything like that). My direct communication style suits contemporary literary fiction and contemporary poetry.
In terms of the practicalities, I use pen and a small Moleskine notebook for capturing ideas. I then use an A4 notebook for free-writing and for working things out, especially when a piece gets stuck. And then it’s a computer for general work.
I am a pretty accurate typist and good proof-reader. I have a good command of contemporary grammar but I am not a grammar fascist. If you try to write absolutely correct English, in my opinion you come across as someone who learnt English as a second language. Split infinitives, for example, are perfectly acceptable – everybody knows that.
So, who are your writing heroes?
Kurt Vonnegut, Dorothy L. Sayers, Louis de Bernières, Raymond Carver, Alan Bennett, W. H. Auden. Vonnegut is a writing hero because he tore up the rule book. Most stories are about character, setting, and plot but Vonnegut’s major works are about forces. I like Dorothy L. Sayers for her ability to construct long sentences that, unlike Will Self’s, advance the story and are not there just for the sake of it. I like Louis de Bernières for his characterisation and settings, Raymond Carver for his ability to make a story out of next to nothing and Alan Bennett for his technique, his controlled handling of emotion, and also sentimental reasons. The Alan Bennett plays on ITV were the first serious drama I encountered. W. H. Auden because of the breadth of his work.
Thinking about them, the novel I most wish I had written is ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’. The novel I have re-read most frequently is probably ‘Have His Carcase’ by Dorothy L. Sayers. The novel probably most beyond or outside my ability as a writer is ‘Breakfast of Champions’ by Kurt Vonnegut.
What is your favourite kind of character?
A man who meets a nutter in a railway station. ‘Pick-up Technique’ features a man who meets a nutter in an airport, but that is not mostly what the story is about. The plot is about betrayal and the underlying theme, which only struck me after it was finished, is the north-south divide.
How much of your protagonists is a reflection of you?
Some of my work is life writing. I did an analysis of eleven short stories I had written and found they contained too many 40-something, male IT consultants, and so my next story was deliberately about a female protagonist.
So, your character in Ten To One, Tim. Describe him for us.
Tim is a character on the margin of society who lives from hand to mouth. He is naturally arrogant but keeps a low profile for the sake of his own freedom.
Is Tim the man at the railway station or the nutter he meets?
Outwardly he is the man but he combines elements of the nutter. The man always becomes the nutter.
What kind of genre novel do you think Ten To One is going to become? Where is the story going?
I think it is part thriller and part literary fiction.
Apart from Tim, which Ten To One characters do you like and would like to see carry on to the end of the novel?
I have a soft spot for Flic, because of the axis between her and Tim. Antagonists are great in fiction. Holmes would be nothing without Moriarty.
Have you written collaboratively before?
Yes, I once organised a collaborative project. I devised the setting for a murder story. It was set in a partly-ruined stately home called Fitzwilliam Manor which was in the process of being converted into a conference centre. I invented some of the minor characters, and the participants invented their own. I drew maps of the grounds and of the building. The grounds included a few features such as a canal, a derelict railway station, and a disused coal mine as well as gardens. The project was a failure, because I didn’t manage to convey to the participants that I expected them to be pro-active. I do intend to re-use this setting one day.
What do you see as the advantages and the challenges of collaborative writing?
I’m broadly in favour of anything that is conducive to keeping up the momentum of a project and cultivating the writing habit. I think the big issues are time management and having the ability to compromise.
When it comes to writing, I have the opposite of a time management problem. Once I have started a project, I tend to attack it and get it finished as quickly as I can. I record everything I submit to competitions and outlets. The one part of the writing process that I can’t deal with is waiting for a response. This is torture. One of the things I like about Ten to One is that it has a schedule.
As for compromise, I have worked with a professional editor, when I was writing my Kindle story, ‘Pick-up Technique’. The editor didn’t like the original ending, and wanted me to make some structural changes. I extensively re-wrote it, and the next draft was the one that was published. I can take any amount of criticism, particularly from people who get my writing. If I think a critique is wrong or not justified, I just ignore it. I don’t take anything personally.
What’s your opinion of your first piece of writing?
You mean, first published piece? It came second in a competition judged by Helen Simpson and it is quite obviously better than the one that came first, which, unlike mine, doesn’t have a discernible narrative arc.
The first thing I ever remember writing was a descriptive piece based on a chapter by C. S. Lewis, about the birth of a new world. I got an A for it. I invented a word, “hinderantly”, which means “slowly”. The teacher didn’t tell me off for using a word that wasn’t in the dictionary. She thought it was brilliant. My writing now contains hardly any description. I can’t stand description that doesn’t convey character or setting or advance plot.
Our last Ten To One interviewee, Danni Bentley, spoke of her love of Tolkien. Do you like his work?
I have read ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ but my hatred of Tolkien is something that keeps on growing. Tolkien to me is literature for people who don’t like literature. Ditto H. P. Lovecraft. I have never read anything by J. K. Rowling, and can’t imagine when I would have enough time to do so. Fantasy is my least favourite genre. Some people accuse me of being a literary snob, but I don’t care.
So you won’t be happy if the Ten To One novel turns out to be about eldritch Chthuloid gods being summoned from their watery graves off Skegness pier?
The only circumstances under which I could imagine making a vigorous contribution to such a project was if I were allowed to parody it. I could imagine myself writing something like a lurid description of the Chthuloid god’s engorged penis which goes on for 3 pages.