I’ve had over thirty short stories published in a variety of genres, some of which have won awards or been reprinted in Year’s Best Anthology. My novel One of Us was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger award, and is published in print and ebook by infinityplus. Last year, I ran a project called 52 Songs, 52 Stories, in which I committed to write a short story every week of the year, each inspired by a song.
Awards: Derringer award for the Best Short Story; shortlisted CWA Debut Dagger
Favorite Read: Donna Tartt’s, A Secret History.
Pet Peeves: Oh, don’t get me started. Almost every ‘customer service’ department of every company ever.
If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…Someone with too many stories in his head.
Up Next: working on a crime novel, Going Under. The protagonist’s undercover in a protest group, losing his grip on what side he’s on.
Growing up, did you think you had a future as an author?
I did at one point. When I was ten or so, I wrote a series of stories about a spy that got read to the class and everyone said ooh, you should be a writer. I then rested on my laurels for a couple of decades. Still not written the spy story either.
Every generation predicts the impending death of the short story, but it’s it remains stronger than ever.
I love short stories. I love novels. But then I like epic long sprawling pieces of classical music and I like punchy three minute classic punk songs. You get different things from them. Short stories, at their best, have a certain perfection that a novel can never equal, a little gem where everything is necessary. And I think there can be real power in something that is read in one sitting. People are busy, and being able to read a story to the end can fit around that. I don’t think it will ever go away.
Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you learned that your novel One of Us was shortlisted for the UK Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger award.
I do indeed, even though it’s a while back now. I had come home from work, and it had not been a good day. It had been niggly and frustrating, and there were the promise of many more like that, and I came home in a bad mood, and stomped into the house, picked up the post, thrown out some junk mail, thought, what’s this, and opened a white envelope…I was in a much better mood after that.
You undertook a project where you wrote a short story weekly. That’s pretty intense. Were there moments when you were hit by writer’s block?
Yes, and no. It was harder, because I wasn’t just writing a story a week, I was picking a song and writing a story that song inspired, so it was even more constrained. What that project 52 Songs, 52 Stories taught me is that you can force it when you have to. Working to such a tight deadline made me write anything, no matter how bad I thought it was going to be…only, once I started writing, it turned out not to be so bad after all. Since then, the notion of block seems a bit of an indulgence. For me, anyway. Write, and in the end the good words come.
Speaking of which…Do you have a special writing regimen?
No, no, no. This is something I feel really strongly about. I don’t like the ritualization of the writing process…I can only write in my special place, with my special pen, and my special music playing, and my special scented candles burning, and my special lucky toys arranged just so…it’s all procrastination. Write in bed, write on the bus, write in the morning, write at night, write on the computer, write on the back of an envelope. Write.
Who’s your favorite classic short story writer?
Chekhov. Perfection. More modern, I’m loving George Saunders these days.
Does it irk you when people spell your name with just one “I”?
I’m used to it. Also, it provides me with some amusement when I say, “It’s Iain with two I’s” and people look at me like a rabbit in the headlights and write IIan, or Iaian.
What’s the most frustrating thing about being an author and a writer?
The gap between how the story seems in my head, and the reality of the words on the page.