Alan’s story The Storyteller’s Gift was placed first in our April 2020 short story competition. It appeared in our first print anthology, as well as being published here on our website.
Here, Alan gives us a bit more insight into his writing process.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourself, and the kind of stuff you like to write.
I started writing when I was 60, so, as a fairly new writer, I find it difficult to say what kind of writer I am. I have tried various styles from magic realism to semi-autobiographical to science fiction and historical fiction. I would like to be more of a ‘planner’ in terms of imagining the end when I start. I feel it would make the process much easier but when I set out to get things down, I just follow the advice of my saxophone teacher when I was learning the rudiments of jazz. ‘Just waggle your fingers and hope for the best.’ What he meant was if you bind your head with too many rules, you don’t flow so well. Of course, with daily practice of doing scales, patterns, chord progressions, this ‘waggling’ becomes more precise. This is what I’m hoping for. By just starting and devoting at least half and hour a day to studying the process, I will improve.
How long have you been writing, and what was it that first got you started?
I started six years ago when I decided to do a Masters in Writing. I had been working for almost a decade as a storyteller in Spain, going round the country for 9 months every year, performing three or four times a day, writing my own material (text, songs, music) and doing some post graduate work appealed to me. I followed the book on writing given by the Open University (Creative Writing Handbook by Derek Neale) exercise by exercise over the summer before starting the course. My interest in the creative process comes from a very young age as I was in a band when I was 12 and my first degree was in Music at Dartington College.
What does your writing day/schedule look like?
I try to write at least 2 hours a day, normally after coffee at 9:30. I would say that only about 15% of my day is really devoted to creating new work as I have found that it doesn’t usually come out perfect, if ever, and most of the time is spent editing, fine tuning, filing off excess descriptions and repeated words. Nowadays, with the possibility of writing on the mobile I can write wherever I am, although too much time on the tiny screen gives me a headache.
Two weeks ago, I joined a writing workshop in the town where I live, San Sebastian, where I hope to find new colleagues to share with.
How have you found writing during lockdown times? Has your writing day changed much from how it was pre-lockdown?
From day one of lockdown, 15th of March here in Spain, I decided to use the time I was always complaining I didn’t have and managed to produce a fair amount of work and polish up some older seeds. Before the pandemic, I would find myself in a different hotel every night, with 3 or 4 hours driving between gigs. Although I was very much hooked by writing, I found it hard to get into a routine. Because of covid, I’ve had to retire as all the schools where I worked closed for months and even when they opened again after summer, there were many restrictions on theatre groups visiting them. For that reason, I have a lot more time. writing keeps me from getting maudlin’.
Tell us about the last thing you were working on. And also, a little about your very next project.
As I said, I’ve just joined a writing workshop and every week we have to write something different based on a prompt. The main novelty is that it’s in Spanish. I have great respect for people who write in languages other than their own as I’m finding it hard. After 27 years living here, my Spanish is fairly fluent but I’m realising that it doesn’t compare at all to the linguistic resources I have in English. One thing it’s making me do is concentrate more on the story and less on the language itself. I’ve already finished two flash fictions with this group and hope to continue.
In English, I have a couple of novels sketched out: one about the Black Death, the other about Pearl Fishers in Scotland. I turn to these bigger works for about two or three weeks every month. These are time when I just type away, hoping for a wide-angle type of writing. There’s still a long way to go before I send any of this material off to publishers. I also have a few short stories at varying levels of completion. These next few months, I want to write brand new stories. Spring is always a good time to start.