Aidan is the author of two published novellas, one of which – When The Music’s Over – is available from Fahrenheit 13, on the links below:
They are both fantastic examples of the novella form, with engrossing characters, concise yet detailed language and stories with real bite and emotional depth. Highly recommended reading. Aidan is also a lovely guy, has supported my blog and was amongst the first to shout up when we starting talking about this idea for #Fahrenbruary and what it could become. In that vein, he has very kindly agreed to take the time to answer some questions for us.
Can you tell us a little about your books?
I like to think that they’re short, but perfectly formed. I tend to write tales from the wrong side of the track, tales of the underbelly (that was the title of my second short story collection in fact) but I try to pack them with heart. I like to tell tales of crime, but also the impact that crime has on every day people. There’s a lot of family stuff in my stories. When the Music’s Over explores passion, marriage, old age and illness all wrapped up in a crime tale. Rival Sons explores family dynamics, love, terminal illness, young love, community and again, it’s all wrapped up in a crime story.
Most readers have fondly remembered books from throughout their life, the books that made them into the readers they are today, can you tell us a little about your reading past?
I can’t remember a time when books weren’t part of my life. My earliest memories are of my Dad reading me stories before bedtime – I remember Peter Pan and Christopher Robin being favourites. Once I could read myself I started with Enid Blyton and Wilber Smith and then moved on to comic books (I still love those today). And then I guess my most formative years in terms of what I read and write now were my late teens, early twenties when I started reading true crime and then started with the likes of Michael Connelly, Mario Puzo, George Pelecanos. Along the way I picked up loads of writers I admire, Dennis Lehane, Lawrence Block, Mark Billingham, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, Phillip Kerr, Kevin Sampson, Matt Beaumont, loads and loads. And then as I started to write myself I became aware of the indies, Darren Sant, Ryan Bracha, Robert Cowan, Paul Brazill, Matt Phillips, Gareth Spark, Paul Heatley and now dozens of Fahrenheit authors. As much as I still enjoy a traditionally published book there are some real hidden gems in the indie or small press ranks.
Music plays an important part in your writing, is that something that has carried across from your own life experiences?
I suppose so. I used to play Bass guitar and had numerous failed attempts to get bands off the ground. I guess some of that frustration comes out in When the Music’s Over, Benny is the Bass player trying to drive the band when the others are more interested in the party. I just love music really, I go to as many gigs as I can and there’s always music playing in my house while I write (right now? Ezra Furman). There’s always a link to music somewhere, even when it’s not obvious, Rival Sons is named after one of my favourite bands – in fact I’m going to London to see them next week – if you don’t know them, look the them up.
I also have some exciting news for you this Fahrenbruary – my novella Worst Laid Plans, about an accidentally kidnapped rock star will be released soon by Fahrenheit 13, and it’ll be a very special release that you’ll find out more about soon. So, the music theme continues.
Another common theme in your writing is capturing the essence of what its like to be young, without falling in to nostalgia, I’m thinking of the club flashback sequences in When The Music’s Over and Zoe’s experiences in Rival Sons. Where does this element of your story telling stem from?
I don’t really know, maybe it’s because I never really grew up! To be honest, I don’t think it’s a conscious thing, but now you mention it, it is something I do a lot. Worst Laid Plans is also about a group of people in their early twenties. I do look back on that time with incredible fondness, I guess that’s the time when anything is possible and so it’s an interesting time to write about in people’s lives because you can grow ambitions into reality or crush them dead – so dramatically whatever you do with characters of that age it’s impactful for the reader.
In both When The Music’s Over and Rival Sons there is a sense of redemption for at least one of the main characters by the stories conclusion, but at great personal cost. Is that a theme that interests you? And what do you think has influenced that side of your storytelling?
It definitely interests me a lot. What better than a flawed character, or a terrible situation that can have a moment of redemption, for me that’s what story telling is all about, be that in books, films or true life. Flawed characters interest me, I don’t necessarily like them but they’re intriguing, what makes them tick, would they chose different paths given the option etc… I love films like the later Clint Eastwood stuff (I actually love all of his stuff) Gran Torino and The Mule, I like books where the lead characters are rogues and yet you get pulled in by then – take Matt Phillips’ Fahrenheit 13 release Know Me From Smoke. And in real life I’m intrigued by people like Mike Tyson, Axl Rose, Kurt Cobain, people that have talent but also a massively self-destructive nature that they struggle to control but you can almost see they want to.
In a recent article for Punk Noir Magazine, which also plugged #Fahrenbruary – thanks for that by the way, the article is here – you talked about the novella being an often-overlooked form, but one which you love. What draws you to keep returning to the novella? And how does it compare with writing other forms of fiction?
For me it’s the perfect form of book. I love cinema and I want books to have a cinematic feel. Something short, sharp and impactful. Something you don’t take weeks to read, something that keeps you turning the page. I’m not saying novels can’t have that quality I just find that a lot of the time there’s unnecessary padding in that form, just for the sake of creating a chunkier spine on a shelf. For me, I want every word to count and in the novella it absolutely has to because you don’t get many words. Don’t get me wrong, all of my favourite books are novellas, so I don’t wish to do that form down for those that do it well, but I just feel that often it becomes about length, rather than quality – and that’s no way to judge anything
There is an element of classic noir styles throughout your work, how do you balance off the need to write something commercial that is also personal and fires you up creatively?
I never think about whether something is commercial or not. I just write stories I enjoy. I write for fun, so if I don’t enjoy it then there’s no point to what I’m doing. I spend more time with anything I write than anyone else does so it has to entertain me first and foremost. I always think that if it entertains me, it’ll probably entertain some other people and that’s all that matters – that I enjoy it and some other people do too. I never expect to reach a massive audience, I just want to entertain the audience I do reach. When I get feedback that I do, that means the world to me. I love to hear from readers that they’ve enjoyed my work – it doesn’t matter to me if that’s a handful of people or thousands, so I don’t think about it commercially. If I thought like that I don’t think I’d be able to write anything decent, I’d be to constrained by thinking about what might sell.
How did you come to Fahrenheit 13? Can you talk a little about your experiences being published?
I was very lucky. I was one of the original ‘Thirteeners’ under Number 13 Press, and last year Number 13 Press got taken under the wing of Fahrenheit Press and became the brilliant Fahrenheit 13.
I discovered N13P because I love crime fiction and I love novellas. I came to them as a fan and I liked what I was reading and so I thought I’ve got to try to get something published here. I had this novel that at the time was called ‘Last Request’. I’d been punting it around publishers for a few years and nothing happened. I took it off the metaphorical dusty shelf and gave it a savage edit. It was pretty bad as a novel, the writing was poor, but the story was decent and so I reshaped it, trimmed loads of fat and it became a 50K word manuscript called When the Music’s Over. I sent it off and Chris Black at N13P came back with a yes. It was one of the top 10 days of my life. Chris gave it another edit and I think the published novella is somewhere around 45K words.
When it came to getting Rival Sons published that was very different. I sent it off to Shotgun Honey, I’d always been a fan of the stuff they put out, on their website (I’ve had a number of tales there myself) and in books. I waited months and heard nothing so assumed it was a no and started punting it around other places. Then an email came in from Ron at Shotgun Honey saying he wanted it! I couldn’t believe it and said yes instantly, this was an ambition of mine fulfilled a book published by the publisher that had put out works by the likes of Tom Pitts and Chris Leek. And then, over the next few weeks I got acceptance emails from three other publishers I’d speculatively sent it to, I only submitted to four in total including Shotgun Honey – I was so grateful to all of them, but I had to tell them the book was already with another publisher. One note of advice to authors submitting manuscripts, if you’re submitting to multiple publishers always tell them that – it’s shitty not to, I made it clear than I was punting Rival Sons around to publishers. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in doing so, generally you’re going to get a lot of rejections so you need to play the odds, but be polite and check their submission guide if they say not to submit to multiples don’t submit to them at the same time as others. If you are submitting to multiple do let the publisher know that, not in some “you’d better act quick or you’ll miss out” way – they wont be missing out they will have thousands of submissions, it’s just a polite thing to do so they can decide whether or not to waste their time.
Did being published change how you work? You have experience of a couple of indie publishers and I’d be interested to know how working with them impacts on your writing.
I don’t think it’s changed a thing. I think I’m a better writer because of these publishers, their editing and advice has been invaluable but for me I would have written the books I’ve written regardless. I think all that’s happened is I’ve found publishers that were perfectly aligned with the books I wanted to write. I knew they’d be broadly write because I’d read the work they put out, I just had to hope they liked what I did – thankfully they did.
And finally, It’s the question I think every writer dreads but I’m going to ask it anyway! What is it that compels you to write?
I love stories. It really is as simple as that. I do it because I love it, I love to be creative and I love to be occupied. The minute I stop enjoying it I will stop, I hope that day never comes.
Huge thanks to Aidan for taking the time to support #Fahrenbruary.
Rival Sons is published by Shotgun Honey and is available to order here.