Following the success of his first two novels The Disappearance of Timothy Dawson and The Rise of the Chemist, Abby McClaughlan speaks to Nathan Parker about writing, his upcoming projects and how he hopes to engage our local youth in all things literary in Blackpool.
Q. Tell me more about yourself and how you decided to pursue a writing career
A. As a kid, I always had a fondness for writing at school. I always liked reading, but there was a void of reading in my teenage years. I had lots going on, confidence issues, and I probably should have been reading then and I just wasn’t. I didn’t have the knowledge of books that would suit me. The first book I can remember reading independently was probably Goosebumps. I didn’t really start reading again until my early twenties and my dad suggested reading to help me get to sleep. I ended up reading To Kill a Mockingbird and I was just hooked on reading again. But I still had that thought: I’d love to write a book and create my own characters and twists and turns. However, it wasn’t until I went to a workshop at the Grand Theatre and at the end, they asked us all to write a creative pledge to ourselves for 2017. I decided I was going to write a short story. I had many ups and downs, and felt full of imposter syndrome, but this became my first book.
Q. Is Blackpool an inspiration for the setting of the books?
A. Yeah, it’s set in Granville, which is a seaside town like Blackpool. In the first book, it felt like I was thinking of Blackpool and making a few changes, but in the second book Granville really became its own place. The characters recur across the series, there’s a long-standing feud, as well as the individual plots. I wanted to make the characters authentic by basing it on my experiences living in Blackpool and people I’ve met.
Q. Is there anyone in particular who you know who form the basis of your characters?
A. It’s strange because no character is anybody in particular, just little influence and nuances. The main character Tommy has a brother called Derek who is a heroin addict, and whilst Derek is not my brother, the relationship between the two characters is real and based on my own relationship with my brother- the ups and downs, the mistrust, but then the overriding love. And people after reading the book often pick out their relationship as being a strength of the book. For me that’s the proof in the pudding; using real experience creates authenticity which people can relate to.
Q. I guess people like to see themselves and their experiences in fiction.
A. Absolutely! So, I finished the book and learned about self-publishing. I didn’t even know you could self-publish. Being an independent you have to do everything yourself: even formatting the pages to fit to a Kindle. So, I ended up uploading to Kindle Direct Publishing, which is Amazon’s platform, simply so I could get a copy, and I could give my mum a copy. I didn’t expect to go much further, but I’d created a social media platform and I’d found the online writing community really supportive during the process. Then people started buying the book locally and I had loads of support which I’m really grateful for. Then I got a call about entering it into the Lancashire Book of the Year 2019. I just thought, why not? I had to provide 6 copies of my book which ordinarily a publisher would give, but because I’m indie, I had to buy 6 copies of my own book and send them in. I didn’t think anything of it as there are hundreds of entries from all over the world. 6 months later, I got the call to say I’d made the shortlist, and I was the first self-published author to make it on there. So, I went to the event and sat on a panel with the other shortlisted authors who were really great and shared so much wisdom, tips and advice. I went to the event feeling like an imposter and left feeling like a peer. And all the schools that were taking part said they wanted me to visit.
Q. I did see during lockdown you were doing online writing workshops.
A. Yeah, I did a few things on Facebook live. Just before lockdown, I was preparing to start visiting schools and working with young people, but obviously that got stopped. But I wanted to still maintain a presence online. Just short 15-minute videos about creative writing but I gained lots of new online connections.
Q. In my experience of teaching, one of the difficulties is getting the pupils to streamline their ideas and not try to start a novel in a time-limited exam- how have you responded to this?
A. When I last visited a school their Head of English gave me the same feedback, so I set them a task where the story could only take place in an hour, which really helped them hone in on their ideas. And I think even a new face coming in can make a difference.
Q. You’ve recently created some poetry. Is that something you’ve always done or is that a new path?
A. No, I’ve never written poetry before. My first poem was Fatherhood which I wrote just recently. I’ve always loved music and I feel like the two are linked. They’re short, quick and there’s no room for thinking over a vast time. I wrote Fatherhood in one night when I had a bit of free time.
Q. When you are writing do you have challenging days where you feel blank or do you typically have a plan for what you want to do each day?
A. I usually have an idea where it is going but sometimes you reach a point in the story where you think, ‘I need to get to there, but I don’t think what will be the filler?’ It can’t just be a dud filler chapter it has to link to the story. But sometimes those are the most exciting days, because you can make anything happen in that space. It very much depends on my mood. The hardest thing for me is opening my laptop and starting.
Q. Do you try to set yourself time limits?
A. With having a little lad, working two jobs and lockdown, it’s been chaotic so I’ve just used whatever time free I can get. Sometimes I get to a point where I’m done for the day, and sometimes I leave it thinking I know what I’m doing tomorrow. It depends on my mood. Which isn’t to say that if I’m not in a good place I can’t write, sometimes those are my best days. The poetry thing- at first, I wouldn’t even call it a poem, just a short piece, because I wasn’t even sure if that’s what it was, but I’m definitely going to pursue that. It keeps my mind sharp.
Q. Who would you say are your influences?
A. I always find this really difficult. I can’t say I’ve read everything by a certain writer. I like Irving Welsh, Stephen King and James Patterson. I really get influences from everything: newspapers, TV shows, films and it’s just recycling ideas. There’s a thing where you worry that it’s already been said before. I read somewhere to remember – it’s not been said by you. It’s little things like that you can get from social media to just give you a little kick.
Q. What are your writing goals looking ahead?
A. I really want to finish the series. There are three books at the minute. I am writing the third now, but I think it’s the kind of place where I could write another three just with different characters. I just don’t want to exhaust the characters I have created, or let people get bored of it. So, I think this third book will tie up the story thread, but that’s not to say that Granville couldn’t have another series.
Q. I suppose it’s like when you have a favourite TV show and it gets carried on that bit too long.
A. Yeah well, it’s funny you say that because it’s part of my writing process. I think about what a scene would look like if I was watching a box set and then I try and write it that way. But in terms of goals obviously I think it’s the dream of most authors to get a publishing deal. Also, to get into schools making literacy relevant and accessible. Across the North West there’s just a massive cohort of kids who are disengaged from literature because they think it’s not for them.
Q. Well there’s a lot of emphasis on exams and not a lot on just reading for pleasure once you hit high school.
A. Yeah, that’s another thing I’ve tried to do during lockdown, which was set up a Facebook group called Right to Read. In my other role as a youth worker, we see lots of inequalities and it’s something I’m really bothered by. I read a report in 2016 which highlighted the difference between a kid growing up with access to a handful of books and another having none. The impact wasn’t only on literacy, but life skills and opportunities they go on to experience and I just thought: I want to try and do something about that. So, I put it out on Facebook and ended up with about 800 books and we gave them out to primary schools to give to children to take home who can’t afford books. I think the writing is a really good vehicle to use my skills as a youth worker and go into schools and talk about a range of issues. I think it’s about working alongside rather than delivering to the kids. Just to have the opportunity to talk about their experiences and passions and harness that in their writing. I like to focus on storytelling first. I’m hoping that schools will be looking for something a bit different to re-engage kids after this lockdown.
Find a link to Nathans books here
Follow his Facebook page here
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