It is a great honour to have the opportunity to talk to Craig Stone, the author of The Squirrel that Dreamt of Madness and Life Knocks (which is the prequel to the Squirrel). He can be found on Facebook and Twitter (@robolollycop) but my advice is, go find his books on Amazon!
Hi, Craig. Tell us a bit about yourself please?
I left school at 16 and moved to Spain, then came back to England and fell into acting college because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I was fired for wearing female underwear on stage, and nothing else, without permission during a performance.
I ended up working in a pub in the city of London. The regular drinkers worked for COUTTs bank and for some reason the manager thought I was intelligent and offered me a job. I decided to go with the flow and worked in banking for a couple of years, but eventually I sent an email to as many people as I could, it was more a short story, about the evils of city living, of the tie being the noose the system makes us put around our neck and the pension we chase being the rickity stool we all think we need to stay balanced on.
I sent that email and walked out. Not knowing what the next day would bring.
Turned out, eight months later I was living in Hawaii, had a book agent, and had secured a couple of book deals with Scribner in America and Headline in the UK.
Then life stuttered and I had to return to England, and when I came back I had no money, no job and nowhere to live.
I lost my book deals and lived in a garage in Blackheath and lost a year of my life eating peanuts and staring out of bars at passing cars.
Then I got another job in the city, and I moved out of the garage and life became normal.
Four years later I decided I wasn’t normal. I didn’t want normal and normal could fuck right off. I wasn’t ready for normal, I wasn’t ready to accept the rest of my life at 30. I was single, no children, and so I put a few things in a bag, walked out of my job and went to live under a tree.
Because I knew I could write myself out of it.
I knew I had a gift and I could write, and if I settled with normal before I had (at least) finished one half decent novel my normal, when it arrived, would always be tainted with ‘what ifs’.
So I moved under a tree in a park and I wrote The Squirrel that Dreamt of Madness. Then I wrote Life Knocks. The first book got me an agent, the second has seen me shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize.
But most of all, the journey has led me to a beautiful girl called Carolyn.
So if anyone isn’t sure, if anyone has a talent knocking at the heart of their door, all I can say is, what are you thinking not opening yourself up to who you could become?
Write your book, release your songs, draw your art. Yours is the only mind that can, the only hand that could, and the vision that will.
I’m now happily accepting normal.
You tweet and “facebook”, is there an author website and/or blog on the way or do social networks suit your need to network and promote your work?
No website or blog. I’m only using Facebook and Twitter. There are only so many microphones a person needs to speak into to be heard. I like that Twitter and Facebook are about other people. A blog would be all about me talking about myself to most likely only me. Which actually sounds good now I put it like that. Maybe I’ll write one.
What makes you write?
Knowing I am more hours in than I could ever get back out. If you have learned how to speak French, you are going to go to France. If you have spent so many thousands of hours writing, then you are going to write.
How much of Craig Stone is there in Colossus Sosloss? The story of making yourself homeless is your story? Was Squirrel really written “under the tree in the park”?
Colossus Sosloss is me. I changed my name partly because I didn’t want to be egotistical just writing about myself, and partly because I thought nobody knew who I was – so why would they be interested? I quite like Colossus, because he is important, but to everybody else in the book he is just a homeless guy, another face with no name.
Yes, I really was homeless. Yes, I lived under a tree in Gladstone Park which is a park in South-East London and yes, the entire book The Squirrel that Dreamt of Madness was written under a tree; if people find me on facebook I have the experience in an album in my photo section, because I had a camera on my phone and decided to document it. A lot of the actual events in the book happened, there is a sort of half way point I start to take events into the surreal, but before then – the logistics of how to wash whilst homeless, what to do with sexual tension when you are a tramp, where to hide your bags so your life isn’t stolen, fear of being beaten up – all of those were real problems I faced every day, and some nights, whilst writing the book.
Your writing is honest, surreal in a way, full of wordplay and wit, not to mention the sensual effect of your sentences – reading about the skater’s broken testicles hurt almost as much as actually breaking it … Is there a lot of thinking and designing the sequences of words or is your brain working that way when you face the blank page?
Not much thinking. I just write – and I enjoy it. Nothing is planned. I don’t like to stifle my writing by second guessing myself. I write, and often when I write I have no idea where I am going with it. Which is good, because that means neither can the reader.
And it makes it fun for me too. I can’t understand why someone would make a list of what is going to happen in their book before they have started writing it. To me, that is fear of writing something bad stopping what could become ‘out of this world’ amazing.
How would you describe your style?
Fun. But serious fun. Light, but seriously deep.
You had two books self-published. What next? Are you working on the third at the moment?
Not at the moment. I’m focusing my thoughts on winning the Dundee Book Prize. Winning would makes so much sense out of so many seemingly ridicuclous life choices. I want to live in that world, where if someone gives up everything to hold onto one true thing, it happens.
As a self-publisher you did good – you are getting 5-star reviews. How about the business side of your books? Are sales good?
I am making in total about £100-£200 a month from book sales combined in America and UK. I have no idea how some Kindle authors reach millions of sales, I think it just takes time. The Squirrel that Dreamt of Madness now has 33 5 star reviews in the UK. When that hits 70+ people will buy the book. So maybe in another year, my sales will start growing.
Would you like to go the traditional way, with an agent, publisher, …?
I have an agent now, Sonia Land from Sheil Land Associates in London. And Life Knocks is shortlisted for the Dundee Book Prize so, if I win, I would get a book deal through Cargo Publishing.
Yes, I would like to go the traditional way. The digital is fun, but I only went digital because I was forced to because I couldn’t get a traditional agent to read any of my words.
The way of the publsiing world today seems to be prove yourself on digital, then agents start to take notice.
Who are your literary heroes (if any)?
I read a lot of Roald Dahl when I was a kid, then Stephen King when I was 14, but I wouldn’t call them heroes. I just respect most of their work.
Better to live dreaming than dream of living – that’s the first sentence that drags the reader into the story of The Squirrel that Dreamt of Madness and it sure is a sound advice to follow. What else would you tell a young (and not so young) writer?
Ignore everybody elses advice, and your own. There is no wrong way to do Twitter, there is no wrong way to approach an agent, there is no wrong way to approach a publisher. There is only your way. If you start changing your way to suit how you are told then you will be waiting outside a door that never opens with everybody else. Too afraid to knock because the sign tells you not to.
The ones that make it are already lowering their way through the skylight.
Be yourself, it’s the most powerful tool you have. You are what seperates yourself from every other writer.
I had several agents email me back and suggest I changed my approach, I emailed them back and suggested they studied the art of versatile approach.
Don’t be afraid to piss people off because at the end of your life, you don’t want to be pissed off with yourself.
And hey, you might not make it, I might not make it – but don’t be that person that’s on their death bed regretting they never put down that novel in their head or that song in their heart.
How sad to leave this world with regret, when leaving this world without regret is the only gift we get to take with us.
Craig, it was nice talking to you. Thanks and good luck with your writing.
You too Renato, its been a pleasure.