Our latest guest is Jason Beech, author of short story collections Bullets, Teeth & Fists and Bullets, Teeth & Fists 2 and the novels Moorlands and City of Forts, among others. Visit his blog Messy Business – Books, Writing, Stuff and buy his books.
Hi, Jason, tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in Sheffield, England, left with a history degree and use it vigorously to coach football/soccer in the United States. I wrote a novel in my twenties which was rubbish, another which I published – which I love – but should not have published, and everything that’s out there now I’m really proud about.
When did you find you were a writer?
When I had my first story published by an online magazine, The Flash Fiction Offensive, then Shotgun Honey. I knew I had the chops if I kept polishing.
Did moving from England to USA in any way affect your writing?
Yes. I set City of Forts in Yorkshire, originally, but the kid came out with an American tone and so I shifted it States-side. I have to watch out using the term shopping trolley. Now I’m writing something set in Sheffield, though I first set it in the US. I have to work hard to remember the language and attitudes. I’m caught between two cultures. Tricky.
What does your typical work day look like?
I get up, crack the whip so my daughter gets to school on time. Go for a walk when I can to stay loose, get back, procrastinate for a good half-hour, then write at least a thousand words. That can take an hour, sometimes two or more. After that, I write a brief outline of the next day’s work. Then I prep for the evening job, get home tired, watch some TV with my wife, and read in bed until I conk out. Some days I don’t get to write. Those days annoy me.
Do you have any routines or interesting rituals to get your creative juices flowing?
I read with a cup of tea before I get going. Could be the news, a bit of fiction, some history thing. But I have to read something.
You have a new book, can you tell us about it?
Here’s the pitch: A body in the basement is about to ruin Ricky’s summer. All thirteen-year-old Ricky Nardilo wants is a fun summer before he and his friends part for school again. But, when he and Liz fall through the floor of an abandoned house and come face to face with a dead man, the hot months become charged with danger. The City of Forts is the name Ricky and his friends have given a crescent of abandoned homes at the edge of Town. Lying in the shadow of a disused factory it is their refuge from the Town’s rust, its drug dealers, and the Ghost Boys. It’s not a refuge for long. The dead man has triggered a gangster’s warpath. Tarantula Man wants to know how his man has disappeared. And he wants to use the City of Forts for his own purposes. Ricky, Liz, Bixby, and Tanais will not give it up without a fight – and maybe with the help of Floyd, Mr Vale and his son, Charlie, they’ll rid themselves of the invaders. City of Forts is a dark coming of age crime drama where every street and alleyway is loaded with menace.
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I wanted the book to have the free-wheeling atmosphere of my childhood, where we just wandered the streets and woods in Sheffield. At the time the city seemed a sea of bricks from demolished factories, where an old boozer would seem a ship in a bleak ocean. I just transferred that to an American town and added a whole lot of darkness which I didn’t have.
A novel or a short story? Which do you prefer?
I’ve just read this amazing short story collection called The Uncanny Valley – Tales from a Lost Town, which is the weirdest thing I’ve read in a while, but I loved it. I think I’ll get it in paperback form. I loved Beat to a Pulp’s Superhero, Jordan Harper’s American Death Songs, and Kate Laity’s Unquiet Dreams. Fantastic works to dip into.
But when a novel is good it’s great to get lost inside. James Ellroy’s American Tabloid is my greatest crime fiction book ever. That thing hurt my stomach as much as watching Breaking Bad. I prefer writing novels once I’ve got a few thousand words in, but when you know you’ve written a good short one, it’s as good as writing a novel.
Printed books or eBooks?
Both. Mostly eBooks, but if I love it I’m buying it in print.
Who are your literary heroes?
James Ellroy, Iain Banks. They go round the houses, but it’s all good.
How important is Social Media for you to promote your writing and to network with other writers, readers, …?
Vital. I don’t know that it sells a ton of books, but I’ve met some top, top people on there. Now I need to meet them in a pub, over a pint.
What is on your work desk at the moment, if it’s not a secret?
Last year’s tax forms, a couple of my daughter’s toys which shouldn’t be there, a tea ring, and a scarf my kid finger-knitted for me.
Any advice for a young writer who’s just starting out?
Get to know other writers and listen to the buggers. And don’t publish your first novel. For God’s sake, don’t do it. Publish the second, instead.
Thank you, Jason!