Exciting Developments!

It’s all happening all of a sudden. After some months of knowing, as an abstract concept, that my novel was to be published, now it feels as though it is actually happening.

One compelling bit of evidence that the birth of the book is imminent is that you can pre-order it on Amazon here.

And I feel I would be failing in my duties as an author if I did not urge you to do just that.
Another particularly big piece of evidence is that the book now has a cover. Here it is on this page. I love it I have to say. Thanks to Rebsie from my publisher Skylight Press for creating it. The moody photo of the beach was taken by an old pal of mine Phil Murray and thanks also to him. How it came to be taken is a tale both ancient and modern.

Modern in that I got in touch with Phil via Facebook – we were mates when we were both in our 20s. I was guitarist and songwriter with a not particularly popular Indie rock combo called the Blaze Heroes, Phil was the bass player. But Phil left town, to get a proper job – with her majesty’s constabulary. And these days he also has a photography studio on the side – he’s a busy man.

So much for modern – now for ancient. Friendship – there’s something that hasn’t changed in a few millennia – and when Phil found he was in a position to do an old mate a favour, an old mate who needed cover photography for his book and couldn’t take a decent snap shot to save his life, Phil didn’t hesitate.

Not only did he insist on taking the photographs but he got up at stupid o’clock in the morning to do it and drove for an hour or so in the dark down the meandering roads of West Cumbria in order to reach the beach at dawn.

The beach in question is on Walney Island, off the coast of Barrow-in-Furness. It’s where I grew up – and where Song of the Sea God is set. Though I hasten to add, I just borrowed the geography from the island – not the people, not the plot. Walney island has an isolated feel, though it is attached to the mainland by a bridge. It is beautiful in a stark, uncompromising way – Phil captured that beauty in his photo, I hope I have also done so in my book.

A final proof that things are moving is that I have my first opportunity to read from Song of the Sea God – at the Cheltenham Literature Festival no less. The Cheltenham Festival is one of the biggest and most star-studded in the UK – packed with stellar names from literature and showbiz. I’m very pleased the organisers were willing and able to crowbar me in down at the very bottom of the bill. I live in Gloucestershire so it’s a local event for me and one I’m very pleased to be involved with.

I’ll be reading in the Waterstones Book Marquee in Montpellier Gardens, Cheltenham, at noon on Friday October 5th. Public readings can be an anxious experience for a writer – but I’m happy to do this as I feel I owe it to the book to give it the best delivery into the world that I can.

Garry Powell – Author Profile

Today I’m delighted to be able to introduce fellow Skylight Press author Garry Powell whose new novel Stoning the Devil has recently been published. Thanks for joining me on my blog Garry.

Tell me a little bit about yourself as a person?

As I’ve said before, I try to live like an Italian. What I mean by that is that I try to live life to the full, sensuously and spontaneously, and I appreciate beauty of all kinds, from the beauty of nature to the beauty of art and the beauty of women. Again like the Italians, I think family and community are very important, and as far as possible I try to engage with people face to face, in authentic communication. I’m told I’m blunt, especially by Americans. I’d rather run the risk of offending someone now and then than always be smiling in a false and hypocritical way.

I believe that we can be both spiritual and sensual, that these are not contradictions. I believe in the power of stories to renew us and energize us. I detest corporate capitalism and what Dylan called the “masters of war” who are always trying to enslave us. Freedom is not a question of being able to have guns and not pay taxes, as right-wing Americans believe, but a respect for the rights of others, irrespective of sex, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, nation, and so on.

If you want to find out more about my life, which has been pretty peripatetic, you can read my biography on the Skylight Press website. http://skylightpress.wordpress.com/2012/08/18/garry-craig-powell-on-skylight-press/

Tell me about your journey as a writer – how you started and how you have developed?

I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was about 16, oddly enough after reading “Wuthering Heights.” I thought: I could do that! I was probably wrong. I wrote on and off for years, mostly the usual solipsistic and precious stuff that immature people write. I convinced myself that it was avant-garde. It was certainly incomprehensible to everyone but me. No one wanted to publish any of it.

In my early forties, when I had a massive mid-life crisis, I decided to take a chance and go to graduate school to study writing. I went to the University of Arizona’s MFA Program, in Tucson. In some ways the course was weak, but it did get me into the habit of writing every day, and I started writing stories that people could relate to. I wrote a very bad autobiographical novel, which seems to be a compulsory first step. Again, no one wanted to publish it.

Then a couple of people told me I should be writing short stories. Short fiction hadn’t really interested me that much, but I found that I could write them, and was pleasantly surprised to find that people wanted to publish them. I had the idea of doing a story-cycle, with recurring characters, set in the United Arab Emirates, where I’d lived for eight years. I found it a very fruitful idea. I published in some of the top American magazines, and even got one story in the Best American Mystery Stories series. I found an agent, and she failed to sell the collection. She persuaded me to turn it into a novel, which against my better judgement, I did. She failed to sell that too.

Finally, I decided to try sending it to British publishers, and it was picked up immediately by Skylight. I think British publishers are much bolder than American ones. Unlike their US counterparts, they aren’t necessarily looking for formulaic fiction. As you know, Skylight take risks. It’s an edgy stable of writers. I think they’re going to get much bigger.

How would you describe your work – its themes and the important things about it?

I noticed while re-reading the galley-proofs of Stoning the Devil that it’s about sex more than anything–almost every chapter is about a sexual relationship that is violent, abusive, obsessive or forbidden. I wasn’t trying to be sensationalist, though, and the book is far from pornographic. Although there is some graphic sex in it, anyone looking for racy content is going to be disappointed.

What I was interested in exploring was the way sexual relationships mirror the power dynamics in couples. I think the way people behave in the bedroom is often a great way to explore their characters and the way they see themselves in relation to others. And because relations between men and women, and between Arabs and expats, are strained in the Middle East–because of religious repression and patriarchalism, and cultural prejudices, and the materialism and hedonism of the way of life in the oil-boom society–for all these reasons, it’s hard to have natural, healthy, loving relationships there. I particularly wanted to explore the predicament of modern Muslim women.

How do women, who know how the rest of the world lives, cope with the lack of freedom and opportunity? I wanted to look at women who don’t conform to the western stereotype of downtrodden, submissive Muslim women. In my life there, I found that most women fight back, either through open rebellion, or through slyness, deception and manipulation. I wanted to examine all that deeply. I also wanted to look at how westerners were complicit in many of the political injustices in the Gulf.

So in fact it’s a deeply political book, because it’s about how power is abused, although it’s not about politics in the narrow sense at all.

Tell me about your current book – what makes it a great read?

This is what Naomi Shihab Nye, the best-known Arab-American author, said about it:

“Stoning the Devil is a mesmerizing read. You will not find another book like this one. Garry Craig Powell has an astonishing ability to create characters with swift and haunting power. His intricately linked stories travel to the dark side of human behavior without losing essential tenderness or desire for meaning and connection. They are unpredictable and wild. Is this book upsetting? Will it make some people mad? Possibly. But you will not be able to put it down.”

In addition to the fact that I write about complex, intriguing characters with strong desires and real problems–in other words, in addition to the fact that I know how to tell a story well–I think I have a talent for using language lyrically, but with restraint. I might compare myself to Michael Ondaatje in that regard.

I’d like to think that the stories are beautiful, if also bleak at times. Another comparison might be Paul Bowles. I also think that there’s an ambition to the book that most collections don’t have. Because these stories are so closely woven, it’s not just a short story collection but a real novel-in-stories.

Daniel Staniforth, our publisher, told me that he’s teaching Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, and he felt that Stoning the Devil was right up there at that level. (You see how cunningly I am using other people to do my boasting for me!) Love Medicine is indubitably a modern classic, so I can’t think of a higher compliment.

I’ll leave the last word to the masterful George Singleton, who is in my view the funniest writer in America: “These linked stories are utterly mesmerizing and exotic. With a keen ear for dialogue, and a sensibility of the best Conrad, Kipling, Orwell and Achebe, Garry Craig Powell has pulled off a masterful feat.” Incidentally, there’s humour in my book too, even in the bleakest stories.

Where can I buy a copy of the book?

It’s available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, as a conventional book or e-book. You can buy it from Book Depository, from Skylight Press, or order it from you local bookshop. Or you can come to one of my readings and buy it directly from me.

For more information, visit my website, http://garrycraigpowell.com (where you can find my blog about life in the Emirates and Oman too) or like my Garry Craig Powell, Writer Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Garry-Craig-Powell/245224412224546

Where do you get your ideas from?

It’s one of the questions people most often ask writers – and one of the hardest to answer – Where do you get your ideas from?

It’s tough to answer because there’s no one place, and sometimes we don’t know ourselves where we get them – it‘s like some kind of deeply felt sympathetic magic. Norman Mailer called writing ‘the spooky art’ and this is why. By the time something I’ve written is finished it’s difficult to say where it originated – if I didn’t know the process it took to get there I’d say it just arrived on its own.

For me the fairest, simplest answer to the question where do you get your ideas from? Would be – they evolve.

That’s the truth, it’s a statement more honest than if I’d said I got them from listening to friends, or watching people on the bus, or reading books. Bits and pieces can come from all these places of course, and many more: newspapers, magazines, rock songs, dreams. But the point is that a finished story or book is highly unlikely to have something in it which is a straight lift from art or life – it will have evolved, with time and thought and rewriting, into its final form.

Perhaps that’s why some authors get grumpy about the ‘based on’ question which seems to be the line of inquiry so often these days from people looking to find a way into a piece of fiction. Was this character based on such and such a person? It’s as though writing has to have a direct route back into the artist’s biography – whereas often the reality is that a character in a story or novel is at least partly the way they are because they have to serve the plot – the whole thing is an artistic construction after all, not a personal diary.

In some ways I suppose it’s not where I get my ideas from, but where they lead to which is important to me. But hey – where do you get your ideas from?

Drunken authors

I could never be the sort of author whose reputation is as big as their books, I’m too well-behaved – these days.

I mean I’ve had my moments I like to think, back in the day, when I was younger, I liked a gambol round the paddock. But nothing compared to the titans of the game for whom bad behaviour and a copious appetite for booze was as much a part of the job as a well wrought metaphor.

There was an era of course when being paralytic for much of time seemed to be essential for the man of letters – women of letters maybe not so much, though I’m sure there are those who have given it a go.

So who was the daddy? Who was the drunkest of them all?

An outside bet must be William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies among many other great works. He hit the bottle hard and cut a half-cut swathe through many a literary soiree. He’s certainly not the best known of literary drinkers though is he?

Who do you summon up when you think of the phrase drunken writer? I’m guessing the first name that springs to mind won’t be a novelist at all but a poet.

Dylan Thomas, am I right?

He certainly does have a reputation as an all out toper and he does take some beating. Thomas lived so much for the bottle that it eventually killed him before he reached 40. That’s certainly an incredibly self-destructive effort.

Essentially though, Dylan Thomas was a writer who was an alcoholic. Whereas my pick for number one, the biggest literary drunk of them all, was essentially an alcoholic who managed to produce a book. He was Malcolm Lowry and the book was Under the Volcano.

And what a book. I’d recommend it to you if you haven’t read it. Not surprisingly it deals with someone who was drinking himself to death. They say write what you know. It tells the story of the last day of the life of the ‘hero’ as he staggers from bar to bar during the Mexican Day of the Dead.

Lowry’s fate was as fixed as that of his fictional alter ego. His life seems to have been one long round of drinking whatever he could find which might possibly get him off his face, then making an ocean-going nuisance of himself, then facing the consequences. I remember a magazine profile on him by Martin Amis which revealed that Lowry once drank a huge bottle of olive oil in the belief that it was hair restorer and would get him drunk. I’m not sure which part of that story I find most strange – what he drank or what he thought he was drinking.

A typical day in Lowry’s life was: get up, drink a Jeroboam of Windolene, have a huge fight with the wife or a terrible accident with a chainsaw and finish the day either in jail or some kind of mental institution.

Not surprisingly he managed to drink himself to death too, but not until he was 47 – he must have had the constitution of Keith Richards.

I’ve not even mentioned William Burroughs who shot his wife in the head during an ill-advised game of ‘William Tell.’

I think I’ll stay a well-behaved and relatively sober author. The other kind end up dead too soon and having achieved less than they might have done.