In the coming months Ringwood will be publishing a series of interviews with our authors. The first in our series is Jonathan Whitelaw, who celebrated the launch of his first full-length novel, Morbid Relations, just last week!
Writing is a privilege and not a right and that’s something that I think all writers should be aware of.
Ringwood (RP): What was the writing/publishing process like for you?
Jonathan Whitelaw (JW): Writing has always been described as a lonely business. But to be perfectly honest, the whole process with Morbid Relations has been anything but. Yes, it comes down to me sitting and actually producing the words but the support I’ve received, from friends, family and my partner has been absolutely fantastic.
Writing is something that I enjoy immeasurably and to be able to sit down and be part of that is a privilege, not a right, that most writers are grateful of. I like to set myself daily goals in my work and achieving them is a very rewarding experience.
RP: Did it change you and/or your thoughts in any way?
JW: I think with the goal setting, I’ve learned not to get frustrated when I don’t reach a target. Writing for me should be an organic experience and something that doesn’t necessarily have to be forced. Sure, there are days where you don’t feel like it out of sheer laziness but being able to strike that balance between producing worthwhile material and churning out words for the sake of it is a difficult and ongoing challenge.
But it’s something that’s important to me and my work. And only by actually sitting down and writing, getting things on paper, could I see what it takes to strike that balance.
RP: What started you writing in general? What first inspired you to be a writer/when did you first know you wanted to write?
JW: I’ve always had an overactive imagination. Being able to go back and reread the things that I’ve come up with is a fantastic and rewarding experience and something I’ve fallen in love with.
When I was about seven years old, I started coming up with stories. I would always play with my action figures and Lego and then used to think, wait a minute, I can write about these characters as well as play with them. The moment I worked that one out, I didn’t stop and I haven’t stopped since. Although I try to keep the Lego playing down to a minimum now. Being a fully grown adult and all.
The novel is deliberately set in Glasgow as I felt the humour of the city was the perfect outlet to tell a serious story through the medium of comedy. That was important for me, to have the narrative unfold in a manner that was fitting, respectful but also hugely humorous.
RP: What inspired you to write Morbid Relations, in particular?
JW: For Morbid Relations, the inspiration was to tell a story about a family and the trials of living with each other. You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family and for Rob Argyll, that’s certainly the case.
I wanted to show that no matter your background, your history or where you come from, it’s tough growing up and dealing with loss. The novel is deliberately set in Glasgow as I felt the humour of the city was the perfect outlet to tell a serious story through the medium of comedy. That was important for me, to have the narrative unfold in a manner that was fitting, respectful but also hugely humorous.
RP: What inspires you?
JW: I try to find inspiration in everything. I never let any experience, person or set piece in my life go to waste. There’s always something to be taken from life, good and bad.
As writers, we should always be observing. I think as human beings we should always be observing too. Seeing what’s going on around us is a hugely liberating experience and it opens your mind to so much. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do that all around the world. The tricky part comes in translating these experiences into something that people would like to read. That’s the trick.
RP: What makes you unique as a writer?
JW: I like to think my sense of humour sets me apart. While I’d never boast about being considered funny, after all comedy is such a hugely diverse and subjective entity, I like to believe that my own perspective on life, the universe and everything in it is such that people would like and appreciate. Or in any instance, bother to care about long enough to read.
There are plenty of people in the world who will happily shoot down work and good people for no reason without you doing it to yourself.
RP: Is that something that takes work for you to do, or is it something that comes naturally?
JW: I hope it comes naturally, otherwise there’s something seriously wrong. I’m a very passionate person about my work and my writing in particular. It’s something I see as an extenuation of my personality and having my personality invested in the characters, scenarios and plots of my work is important to me as a writer.
So yes, it takes work to put that across on the page but being passionate about what I do and being immensely proud of what I do is something that comes natural to me. There are plenty of people in the world who will happily shoot down work and good people for no reason without you doing it to yourself.
RP: What is your favourite thing about writing?
JW: That’s a tough one as there’s no singular favourite thing. Writing for me is a series of processes and I love them all equally. I love to write and I’ll always write, whether I sell a million copies or just one.
I love when I begin to formulate an idea, I love when the characters emerge and there’s a real sense of community about the piece. I love it when the story begins to unfold in front of me and I even love when it all has to be edited and reworked and made into the very best it can be. If I can tick all of those boxes then I’m happy and I suppose being able to do that is what I think is the best part of the job.
RP: What is your least favourite thing about writing?
JW: Again, I love it so much that it’s hard to pick out a bad point. As I said before, writing is a privilege and not a right and that’s something that I think all writers should be aware of. Throughout human history, there have been times where people have been persecuted for what they’ve written, that’s the power of this job. So to be part of that legacy, no matter how big or small, is something that every writer should acknowledge, not just publicly but privately too.
While I say that, I do detest having a blank page in front of me with a blinking cursor and nothing there. An old tutor of mine once told me “You can’t edit a blank page,” and that’s stuck with me ever since. So when I get that nag, I always feel I have to put something down. And immediately it goes away.
RP: When and where are you most productive? What is your ideal writing atmosphere?
JW: That’s a tough one as it can change. Productivity for me is more about where I am in the process rather than where I am physically. I’m happy to write anywhere. I wrote the majority of Morbid Relations on a train between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Sometimes it was rush hour, other times it was the dead of night.
Ideally the atmosphere is one that I feel comfortable in. If I’m in a place where I know I can get down to business, push through what I want to get done then it doesn’t really matter what’s going on around me. I’ve become very good at channeling out the world about my laptop.
I wrote the majority of Morbid Relations on a train between Glasgow and Edinburgh. … I’ve become very good at channeling out the world about my laptop.
RP: What other work do you do/hobbies do you have?
JW: I love football. I play and watch as much as I can. I love music and cinema and anything related to pop culture.
These things have, inevitably, influenced my work, in particular Morbid Relations. As a journalist, I’m always trying to come up with story ideas and sometimes, in the process of that, I get an idea for some writing or come across something that could be shaped into something fictional.
I’m very lucky to be able to enjoy what I do professionally in every aspect of that.
RP: What is your favourite book and why?
JW: This depends on what mood I’m in. I’m a huge fan of Dan Simmons’s Hyperion, it’s a great example of space opera and sci-fi on an epic scale.
But if I’m looking for comfort or laughs, then it has to be Roald Dahl’s Boy. I first read it when I was about 9 or 10 and I’ve been hooked ever since. Dahl was such a talented writer that transgressed so many genres and age barriers. Reading about his own childhood is fantastic insight into his later work.
And you can’t beat a bit of the late, great Terry Pratchett. Reaper Man is still one of my favourites.
RP: The obligatory question: Can you offer any advice to new writers?
JW: Write, write and write some more. Seriously though, like I mentioned before, you can’t read or edit a blank page. If you don’t get it out of your head then you’ll never know how good it is.
And never make the mistake of thinking the first draft is the finished product. As somebody much wiser than me once said, the first draft is the writer telling themselves the story.
An old tutor of mine once told me ‘You can’t edit a blank page,’ and that’s stuck with me ever since. So when I get that nag, I always feel I have to put something down. And immediately it goes away.
RP: Do you have any other projects on the go right now? What can we look forward to from you?
JW: I’m always writing and always have ideas for stories, novels and other work. It’s just finding the time to get it all down and out there.
I’m working on a follow-up to Morbid Relations directly at the moment, something that I’m finding a great and liberating experience. I’d also like to do something fictional in the future that looks at mental health and raises awareness about it.