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Today I’m on the ‘The Nine Lives’ blogtour, organised by Rachel’s Random Resources.
To promote this book I have a Q&As post, but b
About the Author :
Neil Randall is the author of seven published novels and a collection of short stories. His work has been published in the UK, US, Australia and Canada.
The whole world against him
The Nine Lives of Jacob Fallada is the story of an outsider, a lonely, misunderstood young artist who chronicles all the unpleasant things that happen to him in life. Abandoned by his parents, brought up be a tyrannical aunt, bullied at school, ostracized by the local community, nearly everyone Jacob comes into contact with takes an instant, (often) violent dislike towards him. Like Job from the bible, he is beaten and abused, manipulated and taken advantage of. Life, people, fate, circumstance force him deeper into his shell, deeper into the cocoon of his fledgling artistic work, where he records every significant event in sketches, paintings and short-form verse, documenting his own unique, eminently miserable human experience. At heart, he longs for companionship, intimacy, love, but is dealt so many blows he is too scared to reach out to anybody. On the fringes of society, he devotes himself solely to his art.
First of all thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions, I really appreciate it. Here we go! 🙂
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
My name’s Neil Randall. I’m the author of seven published novels and a collection of short stories. I came to writing quite late, in my mid-twenties. I’d always read voraciously but never really thought I’d be able to write anything myself. But, as the years went by, I was more and more drawn to having a go, trying to get the ideas ricocheting through my head down on paper. In the evenings after work, I started to write pretty woeful stories, in the main shorter fiction. Then, around fifteen or so years ago, I packed in my job, and decided to travel around Europe. I took a notebook with me and, in little bars and cafes, started to outline what would become my first book.
Which books did/do you love to read as a child/now as a grown-up?
At school, I remember reading Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, a Thirty-Nine Steps(y) type novel about an undercover agent/master of disguise being pursued by evil undercover agents. It was a very exciting read. Much later, I progressed on to the great American and (in particular) Russian writers – Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Yates and Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky. Naturally, Franz Kafka. Then I discovered the Beat Generation. Like many teenagers, On the Road became a bible to me, the whole counter-culture way of living. Catcher in the Rye. All of Henry Miller, in particular The Rosary Crucifixion Trilogy. The poems and short stories of Charles Bukowksi. Anything with Hubert Selby Jnr’s name on it. The shorter fiction of Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, John Cheever. Herman Hesse. Richard Brautigan. Knut Hamsun. Olga Grushin’s The Dream Life of Sukhanov is a masterpiece. In terms of my own storytelling style, I’ve always loved Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy and a lesser-known book called The Music of Chance are amazing examples of mesmeric, absorbing storytelling. So too with Haruki Murakami. I loved Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. And Roberto Bolano – a more recent discovery who’s proved a big inspiration, especially in regard to the latest collection of short stories I’m working on (working title: A Passageway with No Exit). Also Michel Houellbecq. I’m leaving half of my literary heroes out here! But that gives you a good idea of my tastes, of what you might find on my bedside table at any given time.
Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
Tricky question. There are so many writers I admire, alive and dead, who would be a treasure trove of gem-like advice. If I had to plump for one, it would be Charles Bukowski. And I’ll tell you the reason why. Endurance. He spent so many years in poverty and obscurity but he never gave up on his dreams of becoming a writer. In dead-end jobs, skid row hotel rooms, in a hospital bed after suffering a stomach haemorrhage that almost killed him, penniless, he carried on writing his poems. And now, twenty-odd years after his death, his publisher’s are still putting out new collections of his work. He’s considered one of the most important (and certainly most imitated) of all modern poets. And I think that’s how all writers should think. You’re certainly not going to die of encouragement. Have a thick skin. Take rejection on the chin. And keep writing. That’s the most important thing. I read a Kurt Vonnegut quote the other day about the worthiness of practicing an artform like writing, every day. That even if you never have a story published, even if the work you produce isn’t of the highest standard, the discipline of sitting down and doing it adds something rich and wonderful to your life, regardless. (I actually just stumbled across the exact quote: “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.”)
If you could, which fictional character (from your own book(s) or someone else’s) would you like to invite for tea and why?
It would probably be Ivan Turgenovsky from my first novel The Butterfly and the Wheel (Knox Robinson Publishing 2013). A fictional writer I created and placed into a factual setting, namely, the Russian Revolution. A plagiarist and phony, but a highly charismatic man, it would be interesting to know how he managed to ingratiate himself with the likes of Lenin and Stalin, how he managed to keep his head on his shoulders and his literary legacy intact. In many ways, Turgenovsky was inspired – was perhaps a natural successor – to Chichikov, the anti-hero of Gogol’s Dead Souls, a crafty, conniving character who goes around buying up deceased serfs whose names still appear on the government census – for financial gain – ‘paper ghosts’. Therefore, it would perhaps be fitting to share a cup of tea, or something a little stronger, with both characters, just to see how they’d attempt to outmanoeuvre each other, conversationally or otherwise.
Do you have some rituals or habits whilst writing?
Only that I write first thing in the mornings, when my mind is fresh. To supplement my income, I work as a freelance editor. Therefore, I have to juggle my day around my work for other writers. But, wherever possible, that three or four hour period, from five or six in the morning is my golden ritual. All my other writerly habits are probably bad ones!!!
Where do you come up with your idea(s)? Do people in your life need to be worried? 😉
Yes, they should be very worried indeed! No, I’m joking. Although I do use a lot of things from my own life in my writing. I think Joan Didion put it like this: ‘If something bothers me, I write about it to find out why’. And I’m the just same. But, in reality, it’s probably a search to understand myself better, the little individual truths, than any concerted personality assassination on anyone I may’ve crossed over the years.
Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow, as a pantser?
Go with the flow, a wing, a prayer, and my tail tucked firmly between my legs. As a rule, if I have a killer opening sentence, the meat of the plot in my head, and a vague idea of how I’m going to end things, then I’m happy. Plots are great if you’re that way inclined, or if you’re writing a high concept thriller, where all the pieces have to fit at the end, but the whole idea of not having an idea of what’s going to happen next can be as exciting for the writer writing the story as much as it is for the reader when they actually get to the read the finished book.
Can you give novice writers some tips (do’s/don’ts)?
The best and only advice (and I know I mentioned this before) is not to give up. And to read, read, read. 100 books a year. Minimum. Start with The Nine Lives of Jacob Fallada and go from there!
What are your future plans as an author?
2019 is shaping up as a great year for me. Not that it started out that way. In March I was rushed to hospital with a suspected appendicitis, which turned out to be something much more serious, something which required two major life-saving stomach operations. But now, happily, I’m well on the road to recovery and excited about not only about The Nine Lives of Jacob Fallada but another novel of mine – working title – Notes on the Animal Farm (Cephalopress) which is slated for release in November of this year. It’s not only a novel I consider to be one of my best, but one I actually wrote eight years ago. And is probably the best example I can give to any aspiring writer about perseverance. Just because you can’t place your work with an agent or publisher right away, doesn’t mean it’s not any good. Every seed knows its time, goes the Russian proverb. And I know Notes on the Animal Farm has found its rightful home now with a hugely talented and ambitious new publishing house.
Last, but not least : Can you give my readers one teaser from your book, which is featured here on my blog, please?
Certainly, my pleasure. This is from the opening chapter entitled: The Tranquillity of Solitude, first page, opening scene (world exclusive):
Jacob Fallada couldn’t work out what the older boys were doing, why they were gathering so many boulders from the beach and stacking them in front of a rock pool. But every time he asked them, he was either ignored completely or told to mind his own business, and he had to amuse himself with a plastic bucket and spade, building sandcastles which quickly disintegrated into a crumbly nothingness.
Disappointed, a little bored, Jacob glanced over his shoulder at his aunt, asleep in a deckchair, face reddened by the sun, snoring steadily, a dog-eared romance novel balanced precariously on her knees. Ever since they arrived this morning, she had continually shooed him away. ‘Go and play down there, with the other children’. It had been the same every single day of the summer holidays so far. And her indifference towards him, her impatience, how she could barely stand his company for more than two minutes without complaining, made him increasingly anxious to make friends.
Plucking up the courage, he approached one of the older boys again.
“Can I help? Can I come and play over here? Promise I won’t get in the way.”
Only to receive the sternest, nastiest rebuff yet.
“Piss off out of it, you little bastard.” And a shove in the chest for his trouble. “We’re not wasting our time babysitting a brat like you, running around in your dirty old underpants.”
It wasn’t so much the harshness of his words (Jacob had heard much worse from his aunt), or the shove that almost knocked him off his feet, or the jibe about the bikini briefs he wore in place of standard swimming trunks, but the way this boy’s face creased, displaying a level of irritation, disdain, hatred almost, that really took Jacob aback.
Lowering his head, he trudged back over to his bucket and spade. But after building a few more derisory sandcastles, he was just as disappointed and bored as before and decided to mimic the older boys’ actions. Unseen at first, he too started to collect stones from the top end of the beach and gather them at the edge of a nearby rock pool. As he did so, he was able to scrutinise their pool at much closer quarters, and finally worked out exactly what they had been doing. Now the tide was coming in, they were diverting the rising water levels, channelling it from the sea, ensuring a steady onrush of water into their pool at all times. This ingenious yet simple provision fascinated Jacob, and he was determined to use the same technique to construct his own personal pool for the remainder of the day, or at least until the tide came all the way in.
So absorbed did he become in his new copycat activities, he didn’t realise that his movements had finally come to the notice of the other boys. As he started to construct a channel of stones to divert the rising water, three of the biggest, burliest amongst the group made a blindside dash for him, knocking over all the stones he had just painstakingly stacked.
“Ha! That’ll teach you. You’ll never build a pool as good as ours.”
Undeterred, Jacob began to rescue the toppled stones from the rock pool and reconstruct the channel, only for the same triumvirate to repeat their blindside dash of a few minutes ago, knocking each stone back into the water.
Sensing the futility of the exercise, that no matter how many times he attempted to reconstruct the channel, the boys would never tire of rushing over and knocking the stones into the water, Jacob gave up altogether. Even if he played quietly on his own, he thought to himself, some distance from the others, they still wouldn’t accept his presence. And it was this sense of realisation, of injustice that compelled Jacob Fallada to do something that would have grave ramifications for the rest of his life.
Isn’t that a great reason to pick up this book and to find out more?!
Thanks once again for this lovely interview, Neil Randall.
Win 3 Copies of The Nine Lives of Jacob Fallada (UK Only)
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P.S. Are you an author (or publisher) who also wants a FREE interview like this? You can always contact me via e-mail!