It is my immeasurable pleasure to interview British Author Ray Robinson on my blog today. Ray has written critically acclaimed novels with stark honesty and realism that stay with you long after you turn the final page. His readers are quite glad he decided to Trust the Curtains!
Ray Robinson was born in North Yorkshire, UK, in 1971. After training as a Graphic Designer he spent many years teaching in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.His prize-winning short stories are widely published in literary journals and he is the author of three novels: Electricity, nominated for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and Authors' Club Best First Novel Award, The Man Without, and his latest novel, Forgetting Zoe. He is a post-graduate of Lancaster University where he was awarded a Ph.D. in Creative Writing in 2006 and is a Literary Mentor and Reader for The Literary Consultancy.
Now, on with the interview:
When and how did you know you wanted to be a pervert—I mean, writer?
It was September 1997 – the week after Princess Diana died. I’d just returned to the UK from Sweden where I’d been living and working for the past year. It was a strange time for me; I was twenty-six and didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I’d been teaching English as a foreign language for a few years, doing lots of travelling, but was pretty sick of it by that point – I felt like I was chasing my own tail. But during this time I’d been having some success getting poetry and short-stories published in small journals around Europe and North America, and had an inkling that it was something I’d like to pursue as a career, though I had no idea how to go about it, other than just plodding along and sending stuff out to more magazines no one had ever heard of.
My friends were throwing a house party the weekend I got back, and, as is it was the local magic mushroom season, we decided it would be rude not to harvest and drop a load. Part way through the evening, I ended up lying in the bathtub and having a conversation with God, who spoke to me through the bathroom curtains. I asked Him what to do with my life, and He said, ‘Be a writer.’ I don’t believe in God, so I guess I must have just been having some frank discussion with myself, communing through the curtains.
When I rejoined the rest of the party in the living room, they said, ‘What the hell have you been doing in the bathroom? You’ve been in there for half an hour laughing your bloody head off.’
I threw my arms out dramatically, and replied, ‘I’m going to be a writer.’
They were like: yeah, right.
The following week I applied to do an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University and got accepted. That was the beginning for me – not that I believe you need to study writing in any formal sense (I believe the complete opposite, actually) but a year of full-time study and twice-weekly work-shopping helped me test my dreams, to see whether I had it in me to sit down and write every day.
Ten years later, when I did my first book signing back home, some of the guys that were at the acid party back in ’97 came along. One of them, my mate Dez, said, ‘Do you remember that night we did the mushrooms? You said you were going to be a writer? We can’t believe you went and did it!’
My motto is: Always trust the curtains!
Electricity, your debut novel, is about a girl with epilepsy who is forced to reexamine everything about her life. What brought you to tell this story from this angle? And just how freakin’ excited are you about this book becoming a film?
My grandparents raised me until I was eight, and my cousin Lisa, who also lived with us, had a form of temporal lobe epilepsy. Lisa would ‘chuck a fit’ every day; usually full-blown, tonic-clonics. These would literally knock her off her feet and leave her convulsing violently on the floor. I remember watching her hurly-burly – the throes of her arrhythmic limbs, her body churning, shambling, gyrating – and life would take a sudden detour. This could happen anywhere and at any time: in the market; crossing the road; in the bath; in the chip shop; in school assembly; while climbing a tree or walking beside the beck. Usually, out in public, the family would just walk off in utter embarrassment. The shame of it! I was taught that it was okay to do this, as it was to laugh that uneasy laugh of shock. After all, what would she know about it?
Lisa’s behaviour, at the best of times, seemed random and bewildering, but during her seizures she became something terrifying. That wasn’t Lisa on the floor; she had been taken over. There was some enormous struggle going on inside her body and she always lost the fight. She didn’t have epilepsy; it had her.
When Lisa was able to stand again she would stumble up to her bedroom, climb into bed, and weep, leaving the family downstairs, dumb and shaken. The grunts, the screams, the convulsions, the social stigma, the ignorance, her total loss of bodily function and the utter violence of her seizures: all of these had a profound impact on me when I was a kid, and my debut novel, Electricity, grew out of these early childhood experiences.
With regards to the film? Well, I’m very excited about it, of course. Though I don’t really want to talk about it until it’s actually made. It has taken years to get to this point and I don’t want to jinx it. Maybe you can interview me when it’s released? [Absolutely! So knock on wood that I get an invite to the red carpet premiere...]
The Man Without is a dark tale of a young man’s inner turmoil, and Forgetting Zoe deals with a child’s kidnapping by a deranged psychotic. You really like exploring the dark side of the human soul, don’t you? What drives you there, besides a Ford Taurus?
I’m fundamentally interested in people & behaviour, and my novels have focused on people dealing with acute physical and psychological conditions – body dysmorphia, temporal-lobe epilepsy, amnesia, and Stockholm Syndrome. I think writing should explore suffering in an intimate way without sensationalism. Writers should make readers feel less alone in the world –that’s my main aim as a writer. People have said they find my work humorous – but they’re sick puppies.
Forgetting Zoe has been named as one of 2011’s Best Books on a number of lists. That has to be immensely satisfying. Has the Queen called to invite you to tea yet— or would you rather hear from Wills and Kate?
Don’t even get me started on the Royals! Though we all love Kate. It’s about time that family had an injection of some ‘common’, good-looking genes. Can you imagine a girl with Diana’s and Kate’s looks? Bang tidy!
It’s always nice to have your work recognized, though prizes and lists tend to be a bit of a lottery, so I think it’s healthy not to get too carried away by these things – it just means there are more people lined up to give you a kicking.
You and I “met” on My Space a few years ago when you were writing Forgetting Zoe. (Is anyone still on My Space?) Has social media changed your writing/marketing strategies much? Any regrets, other than becoming acquainted with me? ;-p
Hey, I was the one who stalked you, remember! But I never even look at MySpace any more – does anyone?
Books are sold, mainly, through word of mouth. Fact. I’m still not sure how all of this social networking can help artists and writers. I mean, is there any concrete evidence that it boosts sales in any meaningful way? It’s good for sharing information about your work, that for sure, but I find the aggressiveness of it all a bit irritating. Like you’re a complete loser if you’re not constantly trying to whore yourself, or share your many inanities, on Twitter et al. My advice: work more, Twitter less.
Tell us about your next project and what challenges you most when you sit down to write.
Every writer is an apprentice. Every book you write has to be better than your last. Every story creates its own brand new set of challenges. That is the challenge; to keep getting better; to take more risks. Ideally I’d like all of my books to be completely different, and to be written in a completely different way. I hate it when people say, ‘Oh, I can tell you wrote it.’ That feels something like failure to me.
I’ve written just over half of my new novel. I’ve had so many set backs with it. This is the first book I’ve written organically – usually I have the bookends sorted, the opening scene and end scene of the book, and the writing journey is all about joining these two ends – but I still have no idea where this book is going to end. It’s exciting, but I’m also shitting myself because at times I think it’s a complete pile of wank. But if you’ve written a novel you’ll know that this is a completely natural stage to go through. But writing doesn’t get any easier. That’s the sort of challenge I want from a career. What with death threats from gypsies in Andlucia, and recently losing 10,000 words in a robbery, it’s certainly turning out to be a bit of a challenge!
Well I for one am glad you finally made it back home to England safely. Never a dull moment when you talk to shower curtains, is there? (Mine talk back though...) Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences. Dost thou have a website?
Sure. If you’d like to know any more about my work, please check out the following links: