Monday, 21 April 2014

Speaking without being interrupted

You can't create new writing without ruining a few saucepans
My fellow Severn Valley Author Rob Ronsson has invited me to answer a few questions as part of a kind of writers’ chain-letter. As I don’t twitter, tweet or twist-like-we-did-last-summer, he’s going to do whatever the twittering classes do with these things. So I thought I’d just try to answer the questions as best I can and pop it on my blog to simmer gently … 

What are you working on?  
Two projects: one non-fiction, one fiction. The non-fiction is a proposal for a dissertation, part of a Masters degree I’ve been doing part-time alongside the full-time day job and alongside the writing and the music. I’m researching wellbeing and mental health nursing and, when I’ve finished the dissertation (and the Masters), I’m planning to use some of this material in a non-fiction book.The fiction - apart from the on-going effort to try to get some of my short stories published - involves a novel with the working title Nothing but a Phantom. 

How does your writing differ from others in its genre?
Let me tell you a bit about Nothing but a Phantom and then perhaps you’d be able to tell me what genre it is! At the moment, it goes a bit like this … An adventure story set in an alternative version of the late 1970s-early 1980s, where an Anglo-Saxon king still rules over a country called Angland. Dissenters risk banishment or assassination. The government is experimenting with a radio station called relax’d that can lull the populace into indifference with specially engineered chill-out music. Meanwhile, in Brittany, plans are afoot to form an alliance with the Celtic nations of Cornwall and Wales in a challenge to the power of King Edgar IV…  It doesn’t really sound like historical fiction, science fiction or fantasy. Would you call it ‘literary speculative fiction’? If anyone knows what genre I’m writing in and, more importantly, who will publish my novel when it’s finished, I’d love to hear from you! 

Why do you write what you do? 

I write songs and short stories to encapsulate ideas and experiences in a compact, accessible form; I write non-fiction, (articles and books,) to try to interpret and distil knowledge so that it can be better understood and used in practice. As for the novel, I’m writing that partly for the sheer enjoyment of it (and in the hope it will give others pleasure) but also because, in the UK, it seems almost impossible to get short stories published (either singly or as a collection) without first being published as a novelist. I suspect all my writing – stories, songs, articles and books – stems from being the youngest of four siblings who grew up in a noisy family. I write so as to be able to make myself heard, and this is still true, even now I’m grown up and living in a quieter family home. At work, and in the wider world, you can’t always say exactly what you want … but you can write it.  Jules Renard, the French writer, wrote: ‘Écrire, c'est une façon de parler sans être interrompu’ (‘Writing is a way of speaking without being interrupted’.) 

How does the writing process work for you? 
The young Tony Gillam (not to be mistaken for Rapunzel)
When I was little I took a few old candles and tried melting them in a saucepan to see if I could reshape the melted candlewax into new candles, as it cooled and re-solidified.  The experiment was not a complete success and turned an old but serviceable saucepan into an unusable one. It was also probably a significant fire risk and terrified my mother. But it taught me that you can’t create new writing without ruining a few saucepans, making your loved ones anxious and nearly burning the whole place down. Had someone actually been interested in my attempts at recycled candles that would have encouraged me to persevere. Even better, if someone had commissioned me to produce candles, offered payment, promised they would display them prominently with my name attached to them and set me a deadline by which to complete the project, then that would no doubt have helped. If, as too often happens, there is no publisher or editor urging me on, I find it helps anyway to set myself deadlines and try to imagine how excited the unsuspecting editor/publisher will be when they first get hold of the finished product.

I’m supposed to nominate a couple of other writers now to take up the challenge of answering these four questions. I feel slightly uncomfortable about doing this. It’s like trying to sell raffle tickets to friends of friends. That said, I would be interested to hear what my fellow Severn Valley Author Chris Smith would have to say on this topic and also to hear the thoughts of my dear old friend and freelance journalist Paul Dinsdale. But no pressure, there, Chris and Paul.


  1. Hi Tony! I love the gentleness of your blogs, and I really enjoyed reading about what you are doing..I stick to blogging, but I like you, I find that writing gives me a voice and a chance to think. As the blog has developed, I'm thinking things I would never have guessed at when I started.
    Good luck with your masters and also the novel. I think historians might call it a 'counterfactual'. So I would describe your genre as 'literary counterfactual'. Or maybe 'literary what-if'. I think the last one has a pleasingly wistful ring to it.

  2. Hi Grumblingappendix!
    Thanks for the the lovely compliment. I like 'counterfactual' but 'literary what-if' is a charming phrase, while the 'pleasingly wistful' is something I'm sometimes noted for/accused of, depending on your point of view ... so all of that will do nicely. Continue to enjoy your remarkable adventures in blog-land.


About me

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Tony Gillam is Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Wolverhampton, a freelance writer, trainer and musician. He is the author of 'Reflections on Community Psychiatric Nursing' (2002) and 'Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice' (2018).