Thursday 21 December 2017

Interview: Tom Ward

This morning, I'm pleased to be welcoming author Tom Ward to the blog to chat about life, the writing world, and his third book titled Fires.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I grew up in Scunthorpe and spent a lot of time messing about, climbing trees and reading books. It’s a small town, dependant on the steelworks, and there really isn’t much to do. There’s a lot of unemployment and frustrated people and my earliest thoughts about the place were wanting to leave.  
A bit later, I went travelling around Mexico and Central America for a while, then came back and studied English at Newcastle University. At the end of my time there, I fluked winning the GQ Norman Mailer Award for a short story. I got to go to New York and met Muhammad Ali, Oliver Stone and a few other people. Then I spent a month in Provincetown, on Cape Cod, and finished the first draft of what would become Fires. When I got back, there was no work, but Tony Parsons – who’d been a judge on the Mailer award – took me to lunch and told me to get a job in journalism, and I’ve been slowly plugging away at it ever since.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I don’t really know. I’ve always loved reading, and it seemed natural to want to write my own stories. It’s a way of creating a new world, and also righting wrongs you see in the real world through maybe less violent measures. If I followed Nathan’s path in Fires, I don’t think it would end well.
fires, tom-ward, book

 Tell me about Fires.
Fires is my third book and second novel. It came out November 2nd via Crooked Cat Books. It’s about a fireman in a post-industrial northern town. He experiences a tragedy at the start and sets out to find out how and why it happened. This makes him cross paths with Nathan, a young man frustrated at the lack of opportunity who decides to take matters into his own hands, burning empty buildings as a symbolic act of defiance. There are elements of a thriller about it, but it’s also about frustration, lack of opportunity and austerity.
What’s the best thing about writing fiction?
That you can do anything you want. Then re-write it in the second draft so that it actually makes sense to other people.
How do you get inspiration?
Everywhere, really. I read a lot and watch a lot of films. But walking down a different street, or going to a new environment can help spark ideas. It’s usually just a single little idea, “what if this person did this” and you develop it from there.
Do you prefer writing novels or short stories?
Novels. You’re more invested and it’s a bit more of a struggle. And it’s satisfying when you see it all begin to take shape. I have a book of short stories out, Dead Dogs & Splintered Hearts, and I think some of my best, funniest and darkest writing is in it, so I won’t stop writing short stories. With short stories, you can experiment with different facets of your personality. A novel reflects you more as a whole.
Do you think that your work as a journalist has influenced your creative writing?
I’ve written about all sorts of things from mental health to first person pieces where I take LSD at work to interviewing film stars (Viggo Mortensen FTW). But I don’t think it’s directly influenced my fiction. I’ve just gone freelance after two years as features editor at Men’s Health and I think if anything, being able to tell a story helps with journalism. A 3000-word feature is just a short story with some facts added in.
What’s your writing process?
I usually try and write the first draft fairly quickly, then refine it at lunch or after work or in the mornings for the next year or so. But it differs from book to book. I’ve written four books, two of which I’m still working on and the process differs. Some have loose, meandering plots, like my first book, A Departure, so you can go with the flow. Fires has a more rigid plot in order to set up certain events.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Getting people to read it! I enjoy the process and there are challenges, but it’s all fun. Once you have this book, what can you do other than tweet about it a lot? If anyone can tell me, let me know.
What do you love most about writing?
Just being able to slip into this world on my own and seeing the thing slowly take shape. Sometimes when you re-read a sentence and it’s actually good, that’s an amazing feeling.
tom-ward, author

 Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
I think there are a lot of bad writers out there and there’s not really any harm in that, but it can be hard to cut through the noise as someone who takes it a bit more seriously, perhaps. If you’re certain writing is what you want to do, know that you probably won’t make any money unless you’re writing throwaway romance or crime thrillers. The focus should always be on writing the best sentence you can, not how the book will be received or sell. In my opinion at least.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
Like my all-time favourite film, it’s too hard to choose. But I do like Lord Of The Flies, Catch-22 and Blood Meridian.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I became a freelance journalist in October, so I want to write big, important and entertaining articles for lots of places. Fiction-wise, I’d like to get my work to more people. For both, I just want to keep improving and growing and have the freedom to do so.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Music is another big one. I play the guitar and go to as many gigs as possible. I’m also getting more and more into art, going to exhibitions and buying the odd print. Basically, anything creative that aspires to a high standard I’m interested in.
What are you currently working on?
Two novels and a second book of short stories. I’d like to publish one per year, for these three at least. We’ll see.
What are you reading at the moment?
The Gallows Pole by Ben Myers. It’s about ‘coiners’, outlaws in the Yorkshire moors who made their own money in the 18th Century, essentially one of the earliest organised crime gangs. It’s great, bleak and colourful. Myres really transports you right there.
Fires is available to buy now. For more about Tom and his writing, head over and follow him on Twitter.

Will you be reading Fires? Let me know in the comments below!

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