Not long ago it was established with the absolute degree of telegraphed certainty that tweeting is for twits. When I signed up last year it took me days to come up with something to say in my first seminal message to all other morons like me. It turns out it wasn't that web-shattering after all, as I don't even remember what it is that I said, nor can I be asked to scroll through my subsequent 1,500 odd utterances in order to be reminded of it. Yet, I do remember clearly when I got Twitter in the social sense of the term, and that's when I plucked up the courage to drop a line to Nik Perring.
Now, whoever knows Nik will tell you that 'plucking up the courage' and 'Nik' just don't make any sense together, for this is a guy who doesn't ride a high horse while pontificating about the little people below (and, believe you me, there are some such types on Twitter...). Nik is all-round helpful, generous, kind, available and, lest I forget, a great writing resource too. He blogs about writing, has written a children's book and leads workshops as well. Oh and he's local to me, what's not to like dear reader? My very first Twitter friend is here today as his first short story collection is about to be officially released. Reviews for Not So Perfect are already flocking in and they are all stellar. I am super-mega thrilled because Nik will be at Simply Books in Cheshire on Thursday 3 June and, of course, I am going! So here is a peek into Nik's writing identity for our enjoyment. Thanks so much Nik!
What is your idea of perfect writing?
Mostly, I think, when the writing’s not noticed – when it’s that good all you experience is the story, without anything getting in the way.
What is your greatest writing fear?
I suppose that’d be not being able to write anything good ever again. I remember, after my first book came out in 2006 (one for children, I Met a Roman Last Night, What Did You Do?) I spent a lot of time consciously worrying that that would be my only one. Which is probably silly really – I should have been more concerned with writing something else because I do genuinely believe that if something’s good enough it probably will be published.
What do you consider your greatest writing achievement?
Not going mad!
Seriously though, I’m thrilled and proud with how Not So Perfect’s turned out. I’m thrilled I’ve had a collection of short stories published and I’m thrilled it’s been with the one publisher I wanted to publish it. Roast champion short fiction and they publish books that are brilliant and beautiful and different, and I wanted to be a part of that. (And all that’s without any disrespect to the other brilliant publishers we have here in the UK.)
And as a result of that, people whose work I admire and love have read it and have said some really cool things about it. That’s an amazing feeling.
What is the writing tendency you most deplore in yourself?
Procrastinating. Putting things off. Worrying too much about it.
Which living writer do you most admire?
There isn’t just one. For me, there can’t be. Aimee Bender and Etgar Keret absolutely changed the way I write and what I write about – so they need a mention. Both of them write with such honesty and such sharpness and they both make the different seem absolutely normal. And they’re funny and affecting and their stories stick with you, they resonate. They’re simply brilliant.
What is your greatest writing extravagance?
Err, Pelikan fountain pens and Moleskine notebooks!
I must qualify that though and say that as cool as they look, or as pretentious as they make me look, the real reason I use them is because they’re excellent tools. They work, you know.
Being able to write first drafts longhand is an incredibly important thing for me. It’s a natural thing, it’s actually, physically, writing and that’s a process and an action that I enjoy. It also means that I edit, or at least do a funny kind of half-edit, as I’m typing things up.
Plus (and I know this might sound like I’m trying justify my extravagance a little too much, but...) using a fountain pen is actually supposed to be better for you than writing a lot with something else. Because the way you write is different (you’re actually using your arm) you don’t end up gripping the pen so tightly, which means you’re less likely to get cramp or RSI (which I suffered from).
There. Extravagance justified!
What is the quality you most admire in somebody else's writing?
Without question: the ability to move me. It’s all very well being able to write long, complex sentences, write vivid and detailed descriptions, use lots of long words and all that, but that doesn’t count for all that much if it takes the place of a story’s substance; a story’s about story, about characters, about us being bothered about them – about us wanting to know what happens to them - it’s not about anyone showing off. Not that there isn’t a place for complex sentences and big words – they just have to fit and belong and make the story better.
What or who is your greatest writing love?
Well, it’s no secret that I’ve quite a crush on Aimee Bender! Ha! But being more serious, I think I’d have to say: books because there are always more brilliant writers and stories to discover.
When and where were you happiest with your writing?
I’m usually happy when I’m writing, or when I’ve written something I’m happy with and that could be anywhere or at any time. Or maybe I’m happiest when someone tells me they like something I’ve written, that I’ve moved them, that they’ve got it.
If you could change a thing about your writing, what would it be?
I think I always want to be better at it and I guess I’m working on it!
What is the most marked characteristic of your writing?
I guess that’d be a question I’d like to ask someone who’s read me. I’d like to think that, for better or worse, I get to the point. My spelling’s quite good too.
Who are your writing heroes?
As I mentioned earlier I utterly love Aimee Bender and Etgar Keret. Kurt Vonnegut is definitely a hero too. As is Raymond Carver. And Kafka.
You know, I think a hero of writing, to me, simply needs to be someone doing something different and interesting and good, consistently. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a writer, though there are some brilliant ones around now doing brilliant things: Michael Czyzniejewski, Michael Kimball, Caroline Smailes, Mary Miller, Tania Hershman, Vanessa Gebbie, Roy Kesey, Sarah Salway, Amy Hempel and Padrika Tarrant all come to mind straight away, but the people who publish them deserve admiration too: my publisher, the wonderful Roast Books, have been doing different and interesting things for a while now, making books that are as beautiful as they are good, Dzanc, Madras Press, Salt, The Friday Project, Toby Press, Locus Novos, SmokeLong Quarterly, 3:AM, Word Riot, Metazen, The Mid American Review – there are LOADS and that is a very, very fine thing.
Readers are heroes too. They’re the people who make this industry work.
How do you hope your writing will be referred to as long after you've gone?
I just hope it’s still being read once I’ve departed and met up with Kurt Vonnegut in heaven.*
What is your writing motto?
Ha! I do actually have one! If not a few. The main one’s something I usually only mention when I’m talking to someone about collaborating with them, and it’s this: I won’t put my name to anything that’s shit.
And by that I’m referring to quality control. There are lots and lots and lots of stories I’ve written that no-one will ever see because I know they’re not good enough. I think it’s an important thing to understand and to be able to accept that not everything you write will be good enough. There will be stinkers and there will be ones that are kind of passable – but that’s not good enough. I want everything I write that the public can read to be something I’m truly proud of; I’d be doing them and me a disservice if they weren’t.
My other mottos are simpler and don’t contain any swear words. They are: Get To The Point; and Never Stop Learning.
*I apologise to anyone who doesn’t get that joke. If you read A Man Without a Country you will – you’ll also be reading a really good book.