Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a 31 year old debut author, (keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t be a one-time-only author). I live in Cheshire with my wife (crafting queen Laura Clempson) and our two tiny children. When I’m not writing I’m usually cooking, sleeping, changing nappies, playing hide-and-seek and splashing in puddles. All at the same time.
How did you come up with the idea for One Seriously Messed-Up Week.. (OSMUW)?
I don’t know! Well, I do, but there are quite a lot of answers to this question, and I don’t know if I can remember them all. The quick answer is that immediately after writing a long and arduous manuscript that I didn’t feel happy with, I decided I wanted to write something without rules. So, with barely any idea of what the story might be, I started writing and didn’t bother trying to make it an impressive read (which probably shows), and writing in the first person, as someone who can’t write very well, was the perfect excuse to get away with it.
Having spoken to you a few times on Twitter, I found Jack’s sense of humour to be very similar to your own. How much of you went into Jack? Would you say OSMUW is semi-autobiographical?
It is undoubtedly semi-autobiographical, but that is with a HUGE SEMI (ergh, yuck, that was actually unintentional). Jack’s school was very much inspired by my own, as were the social groups and general teen experiences, but Jack himself, (along with the other characters), is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster - bits of different people rolled into one fictional beast.
Although there’s very little modern day slang in the novel, I found the language used to be quite up to date. How did you get the language so spot on, or did you just go on how teens spoke when you were at school?
This is probably something that I shouldn’t really admit to, but I didn’t really give the language too much thought! I did try to inhabit each character and wrote their language as I felt they should speak, based on either teens that I know today or teens as they were fifteen years ago. I didn’t want to stick in too much modern day slang as this, I feel, is what makes dialogue feel forced and also makes it date extremely fast (slang seems to change with the seasons). Having said this, there were a few instances where I picked the brains of my teenage siblings-in-law when I was struggling for specific teen speak.
What research did you have to do for OSMUW, if any?
My research basically consisted of sitting on the train to work, listening to music that was around when I was a teen, and resetting my brain to what it was 15 years ago (not too tricky). I made a list of things that now, looking back, were key points of being a teen and being at school, and that was about it.
There are quite a few serious issues covered in OSMUW, behind the humour. Is it important to you to cover important subjects in your writing? If so, why?
There are two things that I need in my writing to prevent me from getting bored writing it - Humour & Topic. I struggle to enjoy the process if I don’t make myself laugh every now and then (I’m sure I’ll grow out of this and when/if I venture into different styles I’ll find different drugs to peak my interest. I’d like to try horror, so maybe scaring myself could be just as effective). Likewise, I lose interest if I’m not discussing themes that interest me, so, for OSMUW I tried to pick themes that were key to me when I was fifteen – bullying, religion, peer pressure, violence, love…
There are such fantastic twists in this book! How did you work the hints throughout the novel yet still make the twists a complete surprise? Do you plot your novels?
Thank you! In all honesty, I wasn’t even aware of any twists until people started reading it and commenting on them! I just wrote what I felt was an interesting story, keeping Jack out of the know as some parts of the story evolved, but I think I assumed that most of it would seem obvious and predictable to the reader. There was one revelation that I wanted to keep unpredictable, so I thought the best way to achieve that would be to forget about it. A lot of the time you see a story that tries so hard to misdirect you that it becomes obvious what is being hidden from you, so, to avoid overworking it, I just ignored it and wrote what I felt was interesting and dramatic.
How was your route to publication?
It was disgustingly simple. I found an agent unbelievably quickly (and I was prepared to hunt for a year before taking the hint and moving on), my agent was in talks with my publishers-to-be (Atom) surprisingly fast, then I waited and waited and waited and then I got a call to say ‘Congratulations!’ A few months of rewrites followed but that was a painless experience as it was all stuff that improved the story, so was therefore fun. Then I waited and waited and waited, then BOOM – a book was born! It all seemed so easy that I’m sure I will pay for it later on in life.
How does it feel to know your book will soon is now in the hands of readers?
Surreal. I’m sure that’s a fairly standard and unoriginal answer, but it’s the honest one! I remember being excited that ONE person had read it and enjoyed it (my agent), and then I was blown away to hear that the Atom crew had all read it and wouldn’t stop talking about it (although you can never be sure if what you’re being told isn’t merely a ploy to keep you a happy and positive writer!). To now know that hundreds of people own my book… my brain just can't comprehend that. Literally. It’s like when you try to picture the idea of space being infinite – there’s only so much information my brain can process before it just gives in. I can compute only the number of reviews I’ve seen (probably under twenty), and that’s overwhelming enough!
Tell us about how you write; do you write in a particular place? Do you have any music playing? Do you have any must-haves with you while writing?
I try really hard not to have any specific rules or routines for writing, merely because I would just use them as an excuse for not getting it done. I could quite easily get myself into the habit of writing in a specific chair at a particular time of day with my favourite pen in a Moleskine notebook, but that could easily turn into almost a superstition – ‘My pen is missing! I can’t write without my lucky pen!’
There are things that I usually do though – I normally work in a coffee shop, otherwise I end up getting caught up in household stuff; I write my first draft in a notebook, then rewrite it on a laptop; I will listen to music if I need it to help inspire a certain mood, evoke a certain memory, or if I can’t stop listening in to other peoples conversations! But I try to remain as flexible as possible (that includes writing a chapter on napkins in the passenger seat of my car, then pasting them into my notebook later).
What was most surprising to you during the writing process? And the publication process, if anything?
Strangely, I think the most surprising thing for me is hearing people say ‘I want to know what happens next!’ I hoped that the story would be entertaining, but I never dreamed people would engage to the point of wanting more. There were undoubtedly other things that surprised me, especially about the publishing process, but whatever they were I don’t remember them anymore!
You’re currently working on the sequel to OSMUW, how’s that going?
SO difficult. Not because I’m struggling to write it, but because of the above answer. This time round I KNOW that at least one person is going to read it AND they are going to have expectations! First time was just me – no pressure.
Can you give us any hints as to what we could possibly expect in the sequel?
It’s going to be the same story, only this time they’re going to be ON A BOAT! No, seriously, since I haven’t finished writing it yet, I don’t know what to expect! All I know is that I don’t want to try to recreate anything from this one. I’m not going to out-laugh or out-twist or out-shock anything from book one. All I can guarantee is that I’ll try to write it with humour and topic!
Anything else you would like to add?
Just to say thanks for the interview! I have grown to love answering interview questions because somehow they really help spark new ideas in me (including this one – if it inspires anything in book two I’ll let you know). Thanks Jo!
Thank you, Tom, for the great interview! How cool is that? The possibility that just asking questions may inspire something in the sequel! Exciting!
OSMUW was released on 2nd June and you can buy it from Amazon UK and Amazon US. Be sure to check out Tom's website and my review!
Wednesday, 8 June 2011
Interview with Tom Clempson
Can you tell us a little about yourself?