Thrilled to welcome Neil Ayres to the blog today, to talk to us about his novel (also an iPhone app!) ‘The New Goodbye’, digital publishing, writing tips and much other interesting and useful stuff…
Welcome to the blog, Neil. It’s a pleasure to have you here. So, first, I’d like to ask you to talk to us about The New Goodbye. It’s a novel and yet I have it as an app on my iPhone. What’s that all about?
The New Goodbye is a novel, but it’s also an app that the novel forms a part of. As well my book and a couple of short stories, the app includes Cervantes’ great novelette, The Dialogue of the Dogs, as well as a music video, some excellent photography, behind-the-scenes footage and illustrations by the rather wonderful Johanna Basford. The whole thing was developed by Russell Quinn, who also created McSweeney’s hugely successful Small Chair app.
Was it always the plan to go down this route? Or did you decide on it after you’d finished the novel?
As I began writing the book before the iPhone had been invented, no, it wasn’t always the plan. Actually, I started working on The New Goodbye around about the first time I saw a camera phone, so quite a while ago.
Unfortunately I completed the book just as the credit crunch bit, so expecting a publisher to take a risk on a genre-hopping novella while rejecting lots of other good writers already attached to their lists would have been hugely optimistic.
I realised there was an opportunity to be one of the first to produce something like this, and was also investigating rich media apps for work, so one thing led to another.
What benefits do you think readers gain from something being published on the iPhone (and/or similar devices)?
It depends on the type of reader. For instance, the Kindle is great for annotating, so for students and academic that’s really valuable in comparison to a traditional book. And as a commuter, they’re certainly a lot more convenient. Products like the iPad and iPhone offer a different experience though; a touch of fun and interactivity to a book. Great for kids and young adults, as well as for more art-led work.
For those going down a self-publishing route, mainly the freedom to handle everything yourself, and if you’re looking for readers rather than cash, the means to reach them without the need for a middle-man.
For those with a publisher, well, if you’re lucky enough to be a hugely successful author, particularly if you’re dead, publishers will be throwing money at you to emulate the success of products like Atomic Antelope’s Alice in Wonderland and Loud Crow Interactive’s Pop-up Peter Rabbit (http://mashable.com/2010/10/27/peter-rabbit-ipad/)
Personally I’m rather excited that Russell, the guy who developed The New Goodbye, is now working full-time for McSweeney’s. I think this is what publishers need to do, get in-house developers and give them lots of freedom, rather than spending ridiculous amounts of money commissioning creative agencies. I just don’t feel publishing can sustain these sort of projects if it’s going to continue to invest in new and mid-list talent, rather than focusing on the bestsellers. Tie-ins with other media companies is also a great option; for instance, with games companies.
So, the techno bits out of the way, let’s get down to something more traditional: the actual process of writing. How do you do it? What’s your process?
Generally I have two processes. Usually, especially for the more literary work I’ll work in longhand for the first draft, before typing everything up. Generally, and I have no idea why I’ve ended up with this distinction, but perhaps it’s to do with pace, for genre work I’ll start with the initial writing on paper, and then type up the first batch of writing and then just keep going on the computer, editing as I go along.
What do you think a story (any length – novels are stories too!) needs to have for it to be great?
Characterisation, a confident author and a lack of cliché. If you want a bite-sized piece of great writing.
Any advice you’d give to any aspiring writers who might be reading?
If you’re going to be a writer, you don’t need my advice. You’ll just keep reading and writing regardless. If you’re not sure if writing’s for you, then it’s probably not. It’s an urge; a horrible itch, that sometimes gives a strange degree of pleasure if you scratch it. If you don’t feel like that about it, try something else.
What’s next for you?
Well, immediate future wise, I’ve a couple of short stories appearing over on Run Riot (one went up for Hallowe’en, with the next appearing for Bonfire Night). Longer term, I’m very close to finishing my first science fiction novel, which I have an agent interested in representing. Once this is complete (I’ve the rest of this month left on it), I’m changing down a gear to revisit an old project: a future-set musical for three players and a rock band that fuses the stories of Frankenstein and Doctor Faustus.