GUEST WRITER ANDY CHARMAN
Andy is a friend made on the Arvon Novel Editing course at Clun last year. As well as workshops and meals, we shared culinary duties together, designed either as student bonding – or a cost cutting exercise? Glad to report no one suffered food poisoning, despite raucous laughter emanating from the kitchen that disturbed a few of the waiting diners.
I love the concept and setting of Andy’s novel Crow Court and the excerpts I’ve read on Andy’s Unbound page. Looking forward to reading the complete novel.
Take the floor, Andy… I’m a Surrey-based writer, originally from Dorset. I’m still trying to elevate writing from the margins of my life; I write in the edges of the day, on trains, in coffee shops, in the mornings and the evenings, but it has been a life-long pursuit. I studied Philosophy and Literature as an undergraduate, and I’ve been interested in history and pre-history all my life, so if I’m not writing about one of those topics, I’m writing about both of them. The ideas I’ve been working on have had decades of attention.
What first inspired you to write? An infantile conviction that the past still existed somewhere and that everything—all existence—was comprehensible. We quickly lose this naïve aspiration to omniscience (most of us), but I think something of its memory stays with the average writer and comes out in the written creation of worlds.
What was your first piece of creative writing? How old were you? The first story I remember had two (maybe three) main characters descending through the Earth’s crust in a drilling machine and discovering that the past ages still existed in the layers of the Earth, you just had to drill deep enough. My characters drilled down to Roman times and met Julius Caesar. I was nine.
Which writers do you particularly admire? Gwendoline Riley is something of a hero. She hand-crafts each sentence with such astonishing finesse; I have copied out pages and pages of her prose just to get a feel for how she does it. Claire Louise Bennet writes from an intellectual stance that renders me speechless. Anne Tyler writes as though taught by God, Laurent Binet is inventive with form and Edward St Aubyn’s sears the pages with honesty. I love Stella Duffy’s verve and compassion, Svetlana Alexievich’s humanity and Hilary Mantel’s intensity. I could go on.
What do you love about writing? Ah… the surprises! I never knew writing could be so surprising, but it catches me frequently. It is a deeply emotional experience because you invest so much in it. Such was the release and relief, I sobbed like a faucet the first time I completed the last page of a novel. And I have learned things from scenes I have written, even though I made them up. Isn’t that crazy? Example. I wrote about a priest who came to understand the idea of evolution while stood at the foot of a chalk cliff. Looking up, he got a real feel for how long it would take tiny organisms forming as sediment to create such a colossus. Millions upon millions of years. I learned as much as the priest.
What do you hate about writing? Oh… [Anglo-Saxon] but it takes so long. It took me two years to write a crime novel, a year to find an agent and another year to reach the conclusion that it wasn’t going to happen. I wrote the first story in Crow Court ten years ago. Ten years. It’s not right.
Describe your ‘portfolio’ of writing… Most of my portfolio lies at the bottom of a drawer, but I have written a number of short stories. Several were published by the website Every Day Fiction (under the name A P Charman) and re-published in their first two anthologies. I’ve had stories short-or long-listed in competitions for Cadenza magazine, Littlehampton Wordfest, Jacqui Bennett’s Writer’s Bureau, the Global Short Story Competition and Ballista magazine. I’ve also had short stories in The Battered Suitcase and Pangea. Crow Court will be my first published novel.
What is your proudest achievement? I think it is yet to come. I’m not trying to be cute, but it feels like I’ve been learning how to write fiction for forty years and now I ‘m finally getting starting to know what I’m doing, so I can put it into practice. Crow Court is the first real output from that process, but there’s plenty more where that came from.
I am working up a humorous and philosophical novel about two idealistic teenagers who become great friends despite very different backgrounds. One is the son of a very conventional right-wing middle-class family, the other from a family of left-leaning radicals. They become inseparable through the exchange of ideas. Jean-Paul Sartre makes an appearance, so do Freddy Ayer and Roland Barthes, but it starts with my Grandmother’s house being bombed in 1941. It’s called The Freezing Point of Words.
Anything you’d like to add? There is no discernible difference between your experience of a well-written fictional character and a real person who just isn’t present. So, at a certain level, fiction becomes philosophy; it is a bubbling cauldron of ways in which the world might work.
Oh, and this of course… if I can tempt you into backing Crow Court, you can get a special signed copy and your name in the first edition paperback as a supporter! Follow the link to Crow Court on Unbound and buy your mum a copy.