Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Writers talk about writing - Ian Ayris

(Once you've finished reading what Ian's got to say, check out the whole series of interviews here)

Ian Ayris lives mostly inside his head, where he hears voices and sees things. Violent, odd, sweary things. The only way to rid himself of these voices and things is to listen and watch carefully and write down exactly what he sees and hears. It's an odd thing, but has resulted in almost forty published short -stories and a novel.

We're in a lift, I'm someone important (come on, pretend), you've got thirty seconds (tall building, slow lift) to tell me about your latest book.

My debut novel is called 'ABIDE WITH ME' published by Caffeine Nights Publishing. It's about two boys growing up in East London in the nineteen-seventies. It's about hope, community, friendship, football, gangsters, and biscuits. More noir than crime, more Mike Leigh than Guy Ritchie. It's been described as an 'Of Mice and Men' set in East London. Also as an attempt to single-handedly dismantle the English language by an octagenarian from Dorset. I love that one. Did I mention the biscuits?

Uh-oh. Not sure lifts are meant to stop suddenly between floors like this. Guess we've got a bit more time. Ignore the flickering lights and creaking sounds above us. Would you like to tell me about other books or stories that you have available?

I've had almost forty short-stories published both in print and online, mostly crime fiction, some just plain odd. Many of these can be accessed via my blog.

Please stop repeatedly pressing the emergency button. The comment about building a ladder of bones to reach the ceiling hatch and get out of here was just blue-skies thinking. So, what are you working on now?

Mostly working on promo for the book, but also turning over a sequel in my head. I mostly write in my head first then spew it all out onto paper when I get a minute. Most of ABIDE WITH ME was written inside my head waiting at bus stops, on the train, the school playground and pushing the littl'un round the park. I hasten to add, she was in a pushcair, the littl'un. I wasn 't just pushing her round the park on her arse. That would be silly,

What really pushes your buttons in crime fiction? What makes you put down a novel and think hell, now that's a good novel.

What I really love, what really makes a book stand out for me, is when I become completely absorbed in the world of the book. The sort of thing by the time I've turned the last page, it's like I've inhabited the main characters body and soul for the given period of hours, days, weeks it's taken to get to the end. Like I've seen the world through his own broken eyes, you know. I love two styles of writing: the minimilist Hemingway/Elroy stuff exemplified by some of the brilliant online noir writers on both sides of the pond, and the really deep stuff, where the author is trying to shine a light into the human psyche. Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn, those sort of chaps.

Conversely, what bugs you?

Two things bug me most of all. When an author uses a story or book to make a personal statement, be it political, religious, whatever. That really bugs me. Also, when a writer stops being a writer and starts being a 'name'. With the online exposure nowadays I can be instantly put off even reading an author's work merely by how they present themselves as ego-driven monomaniacs whose sole interest is themselves. The cult of personality, I suppose you could call it. Two very big names in the crime fiction world spring to mind. I have read a book by each author and, to be honest, struggle to see what all the fuss is about.

Which writers have been the biggest influence on you?

The first time I read Ernest Hemingway, he blew my mind. Unfortunate turn of phrase there, but you know what I mean. I thought Blimey, I never realised you were allowed to write like that. Really freed me up, he did. Made me realise you can write anything in any way you want. I love the Russian authors. Chekov, Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn, and Dickens and Hugo. Modern day writers, again, though by all accounts he's a bit of a twat, James Ellroy was a massive influence. Chuck Palahniuk, Derek Raymond, Ted Lewis. I could really go on forever and ever and ever . . . But I wont.

You're about to see your debut novel published. How's the follow-up going, and do you feel it's a a different experience writing it now you know your first is seeing print?

Being my first novel, I just want to enjoy the experience of seeing ABIDE WITH ME published before I start anything else, but a sequel is definitely in the pipeline. And yes, I think it will be a completely different experience. A little like the challenge of recording a second album, I suppose. I wrote ABIDE WITH ME without any thought of publication. I had no expectations, no pressure, if you like. With regards the follow up, I suddenly have readers of ABIDE WITH ME, hopefully, looking forward to a book as good if not better than the original. The other difference, and it is a very big one for me, is with the publication of ABIDE WITH ME I am now tentatively beginning to see myself as an actual writer. ABIDE WITH ME was written in a chaotic shambles of weeks and months, riding the rails of runaway emotions into the dark corners of my self. I don't want to lose that spontaneity in my writing, but I know if I want to make a real go of this writing lark I need to treat it with the self-discipline of a job of work. And self-discipline has never been one of my best attributes. Too much looking out the window, you know.

In your own writing, what do you think you do well, and what do you wish you could do better?

I think what I do well in my writing is to write without fear or expectation. I just write what I see and hear in my head. Uncensored. What I could do much better is to be more organised in my work, more focussed. I'm not one of those writers that can sit down for a set amount of time and not get up until a certain amount of words are completed. If something comes into my head, I wander about a bit till I've seen it all play out in my mind, then dash it down quickly on the laptop. I've had periods where I've written four or five short stories in a week - all quickly accepted for publication. But weeks and months can go by where I write nothing at all. Like I said earlier, if I want to make a real go at this writing game, I need to become a little more professional in my approach. Perhaps.

Can you remember what made you sit down to write your first book or story?

I got this voice in my head. It was all sweary and everything. Horrible, it was. And it didn't let up till it'd told its tale. The story became 'My Mate, Tel' - my first published story (Radgepacket, vol One, Byker Books)

Do you have a book or story that you're very fond of, but you think should get more attention from the world than it has?

Maggie by Stephen Crane. An unbelievable little book a hundred years ahead of it's time.

What book do you most wish that you had written?

Without a doubt, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Blimey. What a book.

If you could give an aspiring writer one piece of advice, what would it be?

Write with truth, write with humility, write with courage. That's all.

Gibbons or tigers? (NB this question is to help me in compiling my List of People Who Are Wrong).

Tigers. Every time. You know it makes sense.


  1. Smashing stuff. Looking forward to Abide With Me.

  2. Terrific interview and insight on a cracking writer. Put me down as another eagerly awaiting Abide With Me.

  3. Good interview. Although I'm always jealous of writers who say things like "the first story I wrote was the first I published". Suave bastards.

  4. Really enjoyed this intake into what makes you tick, Ian. Love your honesty & modesty too.
    I'll be reading Abide With Me.
    Ps. Good questions, Iain.

  5. Smashing - really enjoyed that. AWM is a fantastic book and Ian is one of my favourite writers. (Although I like to think of you pushing the bairn round the park in a shopping trolley, mate. I can see that, I can. Definitely. ;p)