Monday 2 April 2018
Interview with Rob Palk
Rob Palk has previously published work in Litro Magazine and the Erotic Review. Animal Lovers is his first novel, written in London, Burgundy and Haifa. He currently lives in Leicester with several other writers and a cat.
Interview with Sandra Pollock
SP: When did you first know that you wanted to become a writer?
RP: I wanted to be a writer from about the age of seven or eight. I was a big fan of Roald Dahl and my primary school had a picture book biography of him as well as some of his books. He had a very glamorous wife and a shed he could not be disturbed in and this seemed to fit well with my plans for life. For a long time, I used to spot the names of the writers of TV and films and I was full of awe for these beings who had the power to invent situations and jokes. In my adolescence I abandoned this for dreams of being a rock star, but absence of ability set me straight. I discovered Jack Kerouac and again it was the lifestyle rather than the work (which I can’t read at all now) that appealed. I wanted to wear check shirts and listen to jazz and laze around and I am happy to say I succeeded in this.
From Kerouac I discovered Celine and Joyce and the big Russians and started to love literature for its own sake.
SP: What type of writing or genre first caught your interest and why?
RP: I’m pretty ignorant of genre, my reading mainly being the trad canon of capital letters Great Literature, although the comic strain in this especially appeals. I’ve had periods of enormous receptivity though, moments when all I seemed to do was read. In my sixth form era, as a lovelorn aspiring writer I raced through Joyce, the Romantics, Dickens, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy with that teenage ability to let myself be swallowed by the work and live inside it. Between my second and third years of university I had a lazy summer job and got into the big post-war Problematic American Beast novelists - Roth, DeLillo, Ellison, Vidal. In my early twenties I discovered the mainstream English tradition - Woolf, Eliot, Austen and Lawrence. I wouldn’t compare myself to any of the above but they’re invaluable as measuring points.
SP: Who would you say has had the most influence on you as a writer?
RP: I’m not sure who has had the most influence on me as a writer, but I think my stuff exists at the end of a not very fashionable strain of comic writing - Austen and Fielding as grandparents and then on into Anthony Powell and the Amises. But there isn’t one overriding influence. It’s more a case of spotting the styles you respond to.
SP: When did you begin to see yourself as a writer? I mean really believe in yourself.
RP: I believed in myself far too much when I was young and untested which meant as soon as I got rejections I gave up for several years. Fully believing in myself only came quite recently though - I knew with Animal Lovers that if people didn’t like it, I did and that it deserved to be read. I didn’t have that with earlier attempts.
SP: Where did you study your writing?
RP: I’ve never studied writing or even literature past GCSE level. I did a six-week course at the Groucho Club in the early 00s but that was more a chance to compare notes than an academic course. I’m not convinced much study is needed, beyond writing and reading as much as you can. I've never studied Creative Writing, although I'm available to advise and mentor other writers. I don't think not studying it has hindered me in any way although it will make it harder for me to teach it which is now one of the few ways novelists can pay the bills. The main advice I'd expect to get from a course is to read and write as much as possible. It's possible I'd have learnt that quicker if I'd had a professor telling me, but who knows?
SP: Where does the inspiration for your stories come from?
RP: Life. And other books.
SP: Your first book Animal Lovers, was this in anyway autobiographical?
RP: Animal Lovers is very autobiographical. Which is not to say it all happened- it shouldn’t be read as autobiography. It starts with my own life then rockets off. I knew I didn’t want to write a memoir, that I wanted the freedom of fiction. Like the main character, Stuart, I have experienced heartbreak and illness but then so have most of us - it’s what you do with it on the page that counts.
SP: Did you use the process of writing this book to help you with your own life experience?
RP: Not consciously. I was just aware I had some good material. It’s possible that the process of writing had some therapeutic benefit but that was never the point. I’d go as far as to say it should never be the point.
SP: Do you think that all write about themselves through the characters in anyway?
RP: Not necessarily. Some writers put a lot of themselves in to the work, some not at all. I don’t think either way is the right way.
SP: I’m researching publishing as part of my own MA. What has been your experience of publishing in relation to your book – getting it out there?
RP: How did I get it published? I sent to five agents a day for a month until a few got interested. I went with one and a few of the big four circled for a while but ultimately, I parted company with my agent and sent it to Sandstone. The whole process took around two years.
SP: What were the challenges?
RP: It's hard getting your voice heard but for this novel, despite the slowness, it seemed to happen pretty smoothly. There are some brilliant committed people in publishing and I’ve been lucky to meet and work with several of them.
SP: What did you need to learn?
RP: I’m afraid I’ve learned nothing.
SP: What have you done to get your book on the market?
RP: Sent it to publishers. I also showed it to people I know who are writers, partly for feedback but also so I could get quotes to put in my letter to agents/publishers. Otherwise I just let the book speak for itself. I understand the impulse to self-publish, especially for people excluded from the narrow circles of the publishing world but I was confident my stuff would somehow break through.
SP: Where/how did you promote?
RP: Twitter is a blighted inferno filled with the furious and stupid but it’s an excellent way of meeting like-minded people and promoting your work. Otherwise I had a launch at Kirkdale Books in London and am eager to talk and sign wherever.
SP: What are your hopes for your future as a writer? What are your dreams?
RP: I want to continue writing novels, one every two years or so, hopefully with each one a little better than the last. I’d like to write at least one book that will be read after I’m dead. I’d like to avoid getting a proper job.
SP: Are you working on another book? Can you share anything about this yet?
RP: I’m working on a second novel called (at the moment) The Great and the Good. It’s another comic novel, a quarter-life-crisis story and a love story, with sex parties and tramps.
SP: Do you think there are too many writers currently?
RP: Far too many writers. But if there weren’t so many of us, there’s a danger there’d be more artists and musicians and that would be so much worse.
SP: What advice would you give new writers?
RP: I’ve given it already - write as much and read as much as you can. Don’t avoid doing either. Be prepared to learn. Enjoy it too, it’s supposed to be fun for yourself and the reader. And don’t confuse being an artist with being an arsehole.
About the interviewer
Sandra Pollock loves fiction, fantasy and poetry and is taking an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.