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Saturday, 28 October 2017

Interview: Charlie Laidlaw

It's time for another interview here on The Writing Greyhound! Today, I'm pleased to welcome author Charlie Laidlaw to TWG for a chat about Scotland, fiction writing and his novel The Things We Learn When We're Dead.

Firstly, tell me a little about your background.
After a number of temporary jobs, I started work as a newspaper reporter, which was all I ever really wanted to do. That journey took me from Glasgow to London. 
However, out of the blue, I was approached by a government agency to work in intelligence and, stupidly, I accepted their kind offer. It took me away from what I loved – and was good at – and put me in a world that was badly paid and which I didn’t much enjoy. In any case, it was dull and I don’t like vodka martini. 
Craving excitement and adventure, I ended up as a PR consultant, which is the fate of all journalists who haven’t won a Pulitzer Prize, and that’s what I’m still doing. Of much greater importance, I am married with two grown-up children and live in East Lothian. And that’s about it.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I think that virtually everyone who writes has always been interested in writing. Maybe our brains are wired differently, I don’t know. It’s been a compulsion since I was small. I wrote my first novel at about fifteen – and burned it shortly afterwards. (The world is a better place for having done that).
the-things-we-learn-when-we're-dead, charlie-laidlaw, book
Image: Charlie Laidlaw
Tell me about The Things We Learn When We’re Dead.
My current book, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead, is a modern fairytale of love and loss. It’s about the subtle ways in which we change, and how the small decisions that we make can have profound and unintended consequences. 
On one level, the book is a simple story of a young woman’s life. But, for those readers who want to make the connection, The Things We Learn is also a retelling of The Wizard of Oz: how a young woman in ultimately tragic circumstances comes to reassess her life and find a new beginning. 
It’s a meditation on memory, and how we can look back and make decisions that we only realise, maybe many years later, have taken us in directions we couldn’t have foretold. But it’s a book also about second chances.
How do you get inspiration?
I don’t know the answer to that. The inspiration for this book came to me on a train out of Edinburgh which, I suppose, is apt because Edinburgh is the only city in the world to have named its main railway station after a book.
The book is set in Scotland – was it hard to write with such a strong setting in mind?
I’m not sure that Scotland is any more a strong setting than anywhere else. For me, living in Scotland, it was a natural place to set it. I think it helps if you set a book in a place you know well: it helps to ground the book and give it authenticity. (The book is also set in Heaven which, being still alive, was a little harder to imagine!)
Did you find the process of reworking a classic tale difficult? 
It’s not really a reworking of the Oz story, merely a reworking of an old refrain: a young woman forced to re-examine her life and discover that “there’s no place like home.” In that sense, the Emerald City is as much a mental construct as a real place. It’s a storyline that’s been written over and over again, by Shakespeare and many others – I merely decided to give a bit of recognition to L. Frank Baum who, perhaps, did it best.
charlie-laidlaw, author
Image: Charlie Laidlaw
What’s your writing process?
Pretend to write for much of the time. Then decide to think about writing. Then decide that I have to do other things. Then write in a frenzy when deadlines are fast approaching. It’s probably a really stupid approach, but it works for me.
Which authors inspire you?
Too many to mention. Hemingway and Fay Weldon were early influences. Joanne Harris has to be my favourite author. Ah, and special mention to Maggie O’Farrell.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Read, read, read! If you don’t read and absorb all that wisdom, you can’t write. Simples.
What’s your all-time favourite book? 
Probably After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell or One Day by David Nicholls. I’m a sucker for contemporary literary fiction.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Win a Nobel Prize and earn a zillion pounds. But I’m open to suggestions and suffer disappointment easily.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
It’s a terrible thing to admit, but writing and reading take up much of my time. Working for a living is also a ghastly distraction. Otherwise, I’d do a lot more travelling.
What are you currently working on?
It’s called Darker Matters and is an oblique comedy about the unexpected consequences of celebrity. It’s a poignant book: a difficult story told, I hope, with humour and hope. (I like it anyway). It’s due to be published next year.
What are you reading at the moment?
Hot Mess by Lucy Vine. Thoroughly recommended!
The Things We Learn When We're Dead is available to buy now. For more about Charlie and his books, visit his website.

Will you be reading the book? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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