CF declined the offer to join Adam Dickson in a triathlon but managed to track him down for a quick interview. Adam has published several books including The Butterfly Collector and Drowning by Numbers. Here’s what he had to say.
CF: What else do you do apart from writing?
AD: I’m an advisor for my partner’s PR & Marketing business, as she has many writers as clients. I used to be extremely fit, competing in triathlons and running all kinds of mad races (including Ironman UK), but have now taken the sedentary route – preferring a little light cycling and walking on Sunday.
CF: What subjects or genres do you like to read?
AD: I usually prefer contemporary fiction, but will read other genres, especially if a particular book has been recommended to me by a friend. I do tend to prefer straightforward realism as averse to fantasy, sci-fi etc. But when I’m researching for a novel, I read as many non-fiction books relating to the subject as I can to authenticate detail.
CF: Who are your favourite writers?
AD: Graham Greene for his superb craftsmanship and atmospheric novels. Other (contemporary) writers I admire are Colum McCann, Martin Amis and Philip Roth. I’m currently reading Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, an incredibly deep and powerful novel.
CF: How did you know you wanted to write?
AD: I was always good at creative writing at school and read a great deal. After a long period of inactivity, I began writing again, and found a writing tutor, Bill Stanton, who I’d met at Southampton University during a writing weekend. I stayed with Bill’s Writers’ Tutorial for about four years, learning the craft of fiction.
CF: How did you get the confidence to start?
AD: I don’t believe you need confidence to start, only the initial desire/inspiration to get the words onto the page. After that it’s a case of sticking at it and finishing each piece you start. The process of getting feedback for your work, however, does take a certain courage. Fear of rejection and criticism prevents many potentially good writers from pursuing their goals. Basically, you develop a thick skin over time. But, as I said, the initial desire has to be there in the first place or you won’t have the drive to carry on.
CF: If you can remember the day you went from non-writer to writer, how did that feel?
AD: I can’t recall a specific day when I felt like a writer. Winning a short story competition, perhaps. Receiving praise from other writers. One of the most memorable days was receiving a copy of my sports book, Triathlon – Serious About Your Sport, from the publisher New Holland. I sat with it in my hands, a beaming grin on my face. After that, it’s often the little things, like selling a book here and there, or someone coming up to you and saying, ‘I’ve just finished your novel and I loved it.’
CF: Do you find novels or short stories easier to write?
AD: I used to write short stories quite regularly, but have since fallen out of the habit. Having made novels more the focus, I suppose it’s been a case of having less time and mental energy. Both my first and second novel took a long time and many drafts to complete, leaving me with little time for anything else.
CF: How (and where) do writing ideas come to you?
AD: One thing I’m never short of is ideas. I have so many books/screenplays planned in my head that I only hope I live long enough to write them all!
CF: What writing methods and discipline do you practise?
AD: I used to have a very rigid schedule, which consisted of getting up, eating breakfast, and working solidly on one specific project for up to five hours. I might also work some evenings as well to boost output. Now, I’m more flexible. You often hear writers talking about their schedules and how they put in twelve hour days etc., but this can be misleading and not particularly helpful. The creative process needs rest, or becomes like a battery drained. I like the sporting analogy, where constant training leads to burnout. The mind needs rest, too – and a little fun if you can handle it.
CF: How much do you edit and polish?
AD: My first novel, The Butterfly Collector, took eight rewrites before it went to an editor. The second, Drowning by Numbers, took eleven. I write the first drafts longhand in notebooks, then put them away for anything up to a year before reworking them. I tend to ignore the advice that polishing a novel too much takes the spontaneity out of it. Most literary agents and publishers say that the biggest problem with most submissions they receive is that they haven’t been rewritten enough.
CF: Which do you find easier: constructing characters or building a plot?
AD: I always begin with a single character (or two), and expand on that as I go along. This would usually be during the thinking stage, before I got anything down on paper. Later, it’s the difficult task of cutting and editing, where you may wish to keep the number of characters down. Plotting is largely instinctive, for me, rather than formulaic. Tension and drama are the order of the day.
CF: What’s the hardest thing about writing for you?
AD: Staying in the chair long enough to finish. There are always reasons to leave and do something else. ‘It’s a lovely day – oh, must go out in the sunshine.’
CF: What do you most enjoy about writing?
AD: Seeing a piece of work come to life, after many dull or uninspiring drafts. Finishing a novel is a wonderful moment, knowing you’re on the home run.
CF: Do you fall into writing ‘dumps’ and, if so, how do you get out of them?
AD: I recently had to give up writing my third novel, after five extremely trying drafts. In the end, I had to accept that it just wasn’t working. At the time, I was exhausted – completely wiped out mentally and emotionally. But after, I felt a huge sense of relief, that this was the right thing to do. I’m now writing my fourth novel (which I had in early draft form), which will now become the third.
CF: If you’ve suffered rejection, what works for you in dealing with it?
AD: Action. As soon as a rejection comes in, I send two more proposals out to other agents/publishers in its place. I’ve learned that rejection isn’t personal, although it may feel that way, and that agents and publishers aren’t in league to prevent you from being published. Also, if you’ve been rejected, you’re in good company. Some of the most influential writers of our time were once picking brown envelopes off the mat and crying into their soup!
CF: What are you working on at the moment?
AD: My third novel, several screenplays, and a book on bipolar disorder.
CF: What further ambitions do you have for your writing?
AD: To reach as wide an audience as possible, and to maintain the highest possible quality. Also, to inspire other writers and help them reach their goals.