You read about some of his work yesterday; now get to meet HIM!
Interview with Colin Galbraith
DE: How do you decide in which format to explore an idea? Do you decide “I want to write a poem” and then try to figure out what to write; do you get an idea and play with it in several formats until it fits; how do you find it most often works for you?
CG: Devon – thanks for inviting me onto Biblio Paradise.
For poetry I need a concept first. That’s the most important thing. I need a perimeter with which to work inside so that I can push and pull all the sides into various shapes and images and produce a body of work as opposed to a single poem. Very rarely do I get the inspiration for a poem from an emotion or memory – I tend to source a concept first, let it mature in my head and then run with it.
The first draft of all my chapbooks have all been written within four weeks, and I find myself writing like a mad man at times. After that the craft takes over and they undergo major surgery, which is where I’ll select the poems to include and then edit them satisfactorily, all of which adds on up to another few months just to get them right.
Sometimes I get a concept that I can’t fit anywhere. One day it’s a novel, the next a short story, the next a poem. I had one idea, a story called The Hill that began life as a short story but never worked out. Then I thought it was because it should be a novel, but then that failed too. So I tried it as a poem and as a stage play – all failed.
I’ve still to write that story, but it’s one of my most inspired ideas so I’ve never let go. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll know how to write it when I reach a certain level of skill or have an epiphany or something. I had that idea nine years ago and I’m still living with it.
DE: How do you feel that fiction, poetry, play-writing and non-fiction feed off each other? Are they ever in conflict with each other?
CG: I answered this question last because it’s so tough. I wish you’d asked me what my interests were outside of writing, Devon, then I could have said: “Hi, I’m Colin and my interests are pop music and going to the pictures.”
DE: That wouldn’t be any fun – giving you easy questions! 😉 Seriously, it gives me a chance to ask questions rolling around my head, inspired by your work, but that I’ve never gotten around to asking.
CG: Non-fiction requires a different hat altogether for me, and is totally separate from anything else I write. I have to be in an objective and logical frame of mind in order to produce, and I have to have my mind firmly in the real-world and in business. So there are no conflicts there other than time management.
Very often though, while reviewing something or writing about particular subjects in an article, I am fed ideas that I often use in my fiction, so there is a natural cross over. I’ve written one play, and that was developed on the basis of a short story so there’s another link, albeit a tenuous one, but as for poetry, that’s on the other side of the spectrum altogether.
In the same way I have to be in dedicated non-fiction mode to write it, I have to be in dedicated poet mode in order to write poetry – it just won’t work for me otherwise. The key for me is switching those hats around instantly, in order to cover as much ground during the writing day as possible.
I’m still not sure I’ve answered this question the way I was meant to!
DE: What is the biggest lesson that Colin The Writer has learned from his experience as Colin The Editor?
CG: I’ve learnt why editors appear strict and rigid – because they have to be. You have to detach from the creative side entirely and try to put aside the fact that someone has ploughed so much of their time, effort and love into a piece of writing, only for you to have to write to them to say you never liked it. And that’s the hardest thing of all; knowing what goes into a story or a poem, knowing what rejection feels like, and knowing you are doing it to a fellow writer.
I set up an editorial process which I’ve adapted over time, to ensure I give each submission I receive the time and care it deserves. But this also means I now understand those editors who complain when people don’t do the simple things that are set out in the requirements. There’s nothing worse than opening a submission only to find the writer has only looked for the email address on your web site to submit to, and hasn’t even bothered reading the requirements or anything to do with the publication. I throw those ones in the bin almost immediately because if they don’t put in the effort, why should I?
Also, if a piece is really good either in concept or whatever, but it has obvious mistakes in it, I talk to the author to see if they are willing to make changes and improve the piece. I really appreciate it when editors take the time with me to develop an idea – which doesn’t often happen – but the ones who have I’ve never forgotten them or their advice.
On the flip side, I take much more care when making submissions of my own. I triple check everything to make sure that I’ve adhered to all the requirements, and I try harder to make myself get noticed by the editor. I’ve stopped using standard templates for my submissions, and I try to make them personal to the publication and the person reading them. I’m not ashamed to say that some of the more outstanding cover letters I’ve received have found their way into my own submissions.
I’ve also discovered just how hard it is to find good short fiction out there. I get poetry by the bucket load, more than I know what to do with, and it presents a problem when compiling the issues. I get lots of flash too, but short fiction – good short fiction – is extremely thin on the ground. This is good news if you’re a serious short story writer, as there seems to be a hole in the market for it.
DE: Would you ever consider writing again in a serial format? Or a shared world anthology? What kind of parameters would you want in that kind of project?
CG: I wrote Hunting Jack as a serial back in 2004 and I loved doing it. It was a great way of developing a story in a challenging and fun format, and in an interesting marketplace. I would do it again if I had a story that was good enough, and I think I would write half of it first before pitching the idea. Nothing I’ve come up with since then has fitted the serial format though, apart from the idea of a sequel to Hunting Jack maybe.
I love the idea of doing a shared world anthology, purely because it’s an exciting thought moving into someone else’s story and seeing what comes out of it. I think the more open and the less parameters that were place on that idea, the better. The charge of ideas would be what makes it, and I’d jump at the chance to do a project like that.
DE: How do you feel your writing has expanded your reading?
CG: This is a tough question because I’ve only ever thought about this in the reverse i.e. how my reading has expanded my writing.
My writing has grown (or shrunk depending how you see it) into bi-polarised sources: crime fiction and poetry. So from that point of view, I am reading more and more crime fiction, discovering new authors and styles, and getting lots of ideas for my own stories.
Also, I’m reading more poetry both from well known poets and independent ones who publish through small presses or by themselves. You’d be amazed at the talent there is, and by doing this, not only am I enjoying more poetry and benefiting my own writing skills, but I’m also meeting a lot of fascinating people from all walks of life by doing so. It’s a very fulfilling cycle.
DE: What new direction do you want to explore, writing-wise, in this New Year, and what attracts you to it?
CG: I’m delving back into children’s poetry and stories. I got such a buzz from doing Silly Poems for Wee People Vol.1 a couple of years ago, that I’m planning a second volume for this year.
What attracts me to writing for children? Well, I’m a big kid and have never fully matured (just ask my wife), so when I write something that makes me laugh I know it will make a kid laugh. When I wrote “River Monkeys”, I couldn’t stop laughing, and it went on to be published in a national children’s anthology.
I’m also a Dad, and one of the best things to come from having a kid is learning to tap back into your own childhood through their experiences, remembering how the world looked and felt back then, and then putting it all down on paper.
And it’s such fun to do. Writing for kids is such a departure from the serious business of fiction writing – and the occasional grim hardness of crime fiction – that it acts as cathartic release. It helps me move far enough away from the world of novel writing, that when I look back it allows me to see everything with a clear head again.
Colin Galbraith is the Chief Editor and Publisher of The Ranfurly Review, and an Associate Editor at The Scruffy Dog Review. He has published short stories, poems, non-fiction articles and reviews, in both print and online publications.
His novel, Hunting Jack, was serialised in 2004 by a US-based publisher, and his first chapbook, Fringe Fantastic: The Poet’s Experience of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, was published in paperback in December 2005 to critical acclaim. Poolside Poetry was his second paperback, published in March 2007.
He has published three e-books of poetry; Brick by Brick (2005), Silly Poems for Wee People Vol.1 (2006), and Selektion (2007). He edited his first anthology, Full Circle – An ARS Concordia Anthology in 2007.
He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with his wife and daughter, and his website can be found by logging on to www.colingalbraith.co.uk
February 8 & 9: TBA
February 24 & 25: Sandra Worth
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