Robbie’s fascinating story, Final Call For a Simulated Reality, was shortlisted in the July 2020 short story quarter, and is featured in our first Short Story print anthology. (One or two copies still available to buy!)
Robbie says he has recently got himself out of the kitchen after years as a professional cook and is now focusing more on writing. He won a poetry prize at school but has kept his writing in the dark for years. After being introduced to writing competitions he has been trying to hone his skills with short stories and the challenging, interesting world of flash/micro fiction. Although he has completed a couple of novellas (currently unpublished) he has been working mainly on 10-20,000 word stories.
He has one of those currently at the publishers (Austin McAuley) but it isn’t available quite yet. You can find more of his work on the Dove Tales website here.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourself, and the kind of stuff you like to write.
I’m Scottish and in my early thirties. I’ve spent much of the last few years working as a chef around Scotland and did a year in France. It was a real passion for a while but I’m glad to be out of it now. At the moment I work part-time in retail and it’s fairly stress free which suits me much better. It also gives me much more time to write and do some voluntary work which I like.
I like to write a wide variety of things, including poems which is interesting because I don’t really read much poetry, it just never seems to connect. I really like exploring the different sides to characters, particularly their darker sides. In the past couple of years I’ve really got into writing stuff on fictitious ‘other worlds’, not quite sci-fi, not quite magical realism but something along those lines. I really enjoy writing shorter (10-15k) stories although I have managed a couple of 40-45ks.
How long have you been writing, and what was it that first got you started?
I have been writing, or at least making up stories and characters, as long as I can remember. In my teens I wrote a lot of songs and poems, also a couple of film scripts but I definitely prefer writing stories. Writing is something that seems to be in my nature to do. It has been something of an escape for me, something I perhaps needed to do and did almost by instinct so I’m very lucky.
What does your writing day/schedule look like?
I’m hoping to be able to write full-time one day but at the minute it is as and when the mood takes me. I can’t really force it and don’t want to. I probably could push myself a bit more but I love what writing gives me and hate the idea of it becoming a chore. I’m lucky in that I’m not money or ego-driven (I don’t think!) so I can do it for the love of it. Saying that, I am trying to develop a bit more of a schedule for my writing. I’ve found that I write more in the mornings whereas when I was in the kitchens I tended to do it more when I got home at night, although I’d often be too tired so things generally ended up on the back burner.
How have you found writing during lockdown times? Has your writing day changed much from how it was pre-lockdown?
I’m very lucky in that I found lockdown incredibly helpful to my writing. I had only started sending things to competitions right before the first one and that was mainly poetry. It was actually Cranked Anvil that got me to thinking about shorter 1,500 word stories and this has been pretty revolutionary for me. Before I was always trying to write full-length novels and usually I’d get so far and then stop. I suppose I was a bit of a perfectionist but in all the least helpful ways. Lockdown gave me a chance to really explore different ways of writing so I suppose I’d have to say it was invaluable.
Tell us about the last thing you were working on. And also, a little about your very next project.
I’ve just finished a 10k ‘story’ about a guy who goes mad waiting on a concert during the second lockdown. It’s more a stream of consciousness thing I suppose. The character is basically an angry, hateful person who only likes this particular (fictitious) artist. I’m hoping it will come across as quite funny as it’s really just a big rant against everyone and everything while obsessing about this singer.
Next up I’m doing something a bit different, focusing on a few different characters around Edinburgh who get involved in a conspiracy. I’m trying to plan this one a lot more than my previous stuff and focus more on plot and character development. In the past it’s often been a stream of consciousness or things loosely based on my experiences and kind of seeing where that takes me. Although recently I noticed that too many of my characters were essentially some version of me so I’m trying to move away from that. I recently took part in a course by Cat Dean McKenzie who did an interesting exercise on developing a character, which helped. The protagonist of my next one actually came to me in a dream which I didn’t actually think was a real thing that happened so that’s pretty cool.
What successes have you had in the past? How do you feel when you see your work in print?
Cranked Anvil was my first real publication. I had done a couple of poems that the author Jean Rafferty (who has been an incredible help to me over the past year or so) used on the website Dovetales – Poems for Peace but in terms of competitions etc, you guys were the first to publish any of my work. It was fantastic when the first anthology arrived. As I’ve said I generally just wrote as a hobby or an escape so actually getting something I had done in print was something I didn’t really expect to happen. My Mum was a big factor in convincing me to send things off so she was pretty happy as well.
Do you have a particular place where you go to write?
Funnily enough now things are opening up again I’m going to start going out more to coffee shops to work on writing. Up until now I suppose I have always been a bit too self-conscious. At the minute I generally just write in my room, which is best described as organised chaos.
Recently I’ve been writing and taking notes in The Meadows in Edinburgh. I’m planning to make my way round the coffee shops now they’re back open and get back to some writers groups.
Do you have any tips or advice for other writers?
At a writers group someone said to read the opposite genre of whatever project you are working on which I found quite interesting. I can’t remember where I read it or who said it but to ‘give up on the 400 pages and just try to write a bit each day’. Also the idea of ‘cannibalising’ ie. taking previous bits you’ve written and adapting them to fit into other projects. I used to think that was ‘cheating’ but not anymore. Love your notebooks would be another! I love filling up notebooks with anything. Cat Dean McKenzie’s Shut Up & Write! Course (University of Edinburgh) was very helpful.
Finally, some quickfire answers:
Planner or pantser? Trying to become a planner.
Computer, pen & paper, or typewriter? Used to be pen and paper but typing it all up got to be a pain.
Do you write every day? I write or type something each day even if it’s just a few words of nonsense.
Do you have a daily/weekly word count target? I’m trying to be a bit more target orientated but like I say I don’t ever want to lose the love of writing by getting too bogged down with it being ‘work’. Although thinking of it as ‘work’ does sometimes give me a much needed push. So I’m a big contradiction really.