13th October 2018
Interview with Adam Inglis
Good afternoon Mr Inglis and thanks for your time. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a 34 year old sales manager who, in Feb 2016, decided he would have a go at sharing his writing. Since then I’ve started (and am halfway through) a Bachelor’s Degree in creative writing, and a Copywriting course. Needless to say, I am taking writing seriously.
My wife and I live thirty miles or so west of London, England. We have a cat, as is standard for a writer. His name is Oscar, and he makes frequent appearances on my Twitter.
Sadly, I write less often than I would like, averaging about three stories a year, but I keep reminding myself that this is a journey, and anything worth doing is worth doing well. For me that means taking my time, fitting my passion around the commitments that pay the bills.
What do you find appealing about writing short stories and poetry?
The appeal varies for each. Short stories are a great way to voice ideas, test theories, or just practice with sentence and paragraph. Trouble is, I’m not a big planner, so a lot of my work features self-contained tales within the suggestion of a larger world. I’ve found that writing anything longer than a few thousand words absolutely demands some planning. I’m fortunate that many readers have told me they would read ‘longer versions’ of the stories, so that is the next step.
With poetry, it either feels natural, or it doesn’t, and for that reason I am drawn to poetry far less than prose fiction. I cannot force poetry, and most of the pieces I’ve shared were written while recovering from spinal surgery. A considerable share of the drive and inspiration was born of the associated medication. Some of it I have no memory of writing (see: Burial at Sea - a poem about a Camel, based on a song about the ocean).
So I guess the summary is, short fiction is always there to dip in and out of. Poetry is for special, emotive circumstances when numbed by powerful narcotics.
I know that you’re working on something longer - perhaps a novel or anthology. Could you say a little about that?
The novel’s working title is ‘In Darkness, Light’, and details the struggles of a young boy living in secrecy within derelict buildings of a forgotten town. The country as we know it has fallen to what I’m calling a ‘soft-apocalypse’, government and civil order have failed, but there isn’t any pandemic. Things have just deteriorated to a point where familiar neighbourhoods are now lawless micro-empires belonging to the strongest, or most ruthless. I won't say much more than that at this early stage.
I completely understand that! Your acceptance rate with submitting stories has been very good so far. To what do you attribute this success?
A mix of luck, good judgement, and networking.
In terms of statistics, since Feb 2016, I’ve submitted five stories (total) to six non-paying markets. All six submissions were accepted, but I withdrew from one because I was unhappy with their online content. This is the trick, if you can call it one -- The first three stories I submitted to magazines I liked the look of, or was recommended by writing peers. When I came to withdraw an accepted story, I realised that I wasn’t doing my due diligence in selecting decent, upstanding publishers.
Since then, I’ve submitted each new story to a specific publisher because I believed it suited them, and their readers. For the writers that submit their story to hundreds of places in parallel, I harbour the unpopular opinion that it devalues their ‘product’. This is the important caveat for that broad stroke; I only think it devalues the story to the writer, not the market. So in that, it is a personal preference. The market doesn't care how many places it has been sent (although sending it to one place, and telling them of its exclusivity doesn't hurt).
If a short story gets rejected, and I’m fond of it, I will publish it on my own site. Makes little difference to me at this stage.
Of course, I have had rejection. A number of my stories were entered into competitions before submission to publishers. I didn’t win, so that is a rejection as far as I am concerned. I also submitted two poems to two publishers, one was rejected as unsuitable, the other I’ve not heard back from (and it has been a few weeks) so can assume that didn’t succeed, either.
I’m fascinated by your comment about ‘decent, upstanding publishers.’ Obviously without naming names, could you explain about what you felt was wrong with this publisher?
I think publishers have as much social responsibility as the rest of us. If they publish a story, I expect them to have looked at the writer and established if they are suitable to publish. I don’t care how good the prose is, if you are a hate-mongering xenophobe then you shouldn't be getting published.
I withdrew a story, because the site, its commentators, and at least two authors, displayed enough evidence of the above to make me reconsider.
It was my second acceptance, and a tough choice to pull the story. I thought I would be cursed to never get another chance.
Thankfully that story was accepted by the second place I sent it.
That’s an admirable moral stance, especially very early on in your writing career. Do you think there’s anything else that new writers should observe before approaching a publisher?
This is a tricky question, which in itself breeds a good tip for new writers. I wouldn’t want to be specific about what to observe, because every publisher will have their own unique quirks, their own soft spots, their own pet hates. If you want to do some research to understand what they are like to work with, ask other authors they have published. The writing community, on Twitter in particular, is phenomenally supportive.
Be polite, but direct. Tell them what you want to give them, and why you want them, and no one else, to have it.
I’m interested in your take on what makes a good short story. Some of my interviewees say that strong characterisation is critical and others insist that it’s the plot. What do you think?
You need many things to make a good short story, and getting bogged down in what is ‘critical’, and what isn’t, will drain energy, enthusiasm, and creativity... FAST. Of course you need well-developed characters and, of course, you need an engaging plot but the real trick is about moderation and harmony.
Given that short stories don’t usually have much time to develop plot or character as well as novels, what do you think the key is to evoking a believable world and credible characters in the minimum number of words?
You can develop a character by showing how they interact with their surroundings, like a desk, for example. It doesn't have to be paragraph after paragraph. Simple actions and thoughtful descriptions. However, to answer your question, and based on the writer not having many words to play with, all you need to do is make it feel familiar to your reader. They will have no problem filling the gaps if they think they recognise a character or a scene.
A short story about a completely unique creature with traits the world has never seen will take some explanation, but a story about a young mother, a school kid, a man living under a bridge, all of these will seem familiar to us in one way or another.
But linking what we write, to what people recognise, is not the same as writing something they have seen before. You can link a reader to a character through familiarity, and once you have them, take them to unfamiliar places (literally and figuratively) and produce a unique story.
My story ‘The Kringle’ is a simple example of this.
Everyone knows the ‘Night before Christmas’ story, so it is fair to say that many readers would start and immediately expect the unexpected (which I do deliver), but what I think is unique about this story is the way I give it to them.
If you were going to introduce someone to your body of work, would you choose ‘The Kringle’?
I am yet to write my best work, but sometimes I think I can feel it coming. I think that should be what drives us all, constantly searching for your next great sentence.
If someone wanted to read my work for the first time, to get an idea of my style, I would suggest they start with my first story, ‘Blue’. There are two versions available on my website, both are quite short, but it should give a new reader an idea of what to expect.
Save ‘The Kringle’ for Christmas, read it aloud to your children, then spend an uncomfortable time explaining what a carapace is, and what it's doing in their front room.
Your most recent published work - The Weight of Every Penny - speculates about an adverse fate for people who accumulate more than a particular amount of money. Is inequality an interest of yours?
Not especially. I like marginalised characters, and while I have some personal feelings about the dangers of wealth, the story wasn’t written to make a point.
What attracts you to marginalised characters?
It’s hard to put a finger on. Perhaps writing marginalised characters gives a greater scope for contrast, which can make a story more engaging to the side that isn’t marginalised.
Alternatively, the reason could be simpler than that. I people watch, and those living on the fringe are infinitely more interesting to me.
Outside of writing, you’re a fan of cinematic music. Any particular favourites? Do you use it to help you write?
Yes! Clint Mansell, formerly of the band Pop Will Eat Itself, has created the soundtracks for a few of my favourite movies. Check out the soundtrack to ‘The Fountain’, a Darren Aronofski movie about love transcending time.
Oh wow! I think you’re the only person I’ve ever met who’s seen that film! What did you think of it?
The Fountain has been one of my all-time favourites for a long time. The Aronofski/Mansell partnership is a match made in heaven.
The dialogue is particularly good. I own a copy of the screenplay and I plan to get it signed if I get the opportunity. Darren almost didn't make the film, and speaks about it being a passion project of his. I have to say it is one of his best, and he has an excellent eye for drawing out the darkness.
Like many authors, I struggle to write in total silence, but I cannot stand being out in public while writing, so coffee shops are a big no-no. I listen to post-rock / instrumental bands such as 65daysofstatic, or Maybeshewill. I need music I like, but don’t need to listen to, I’d prefer the music to just happen to me.
Do you use music to evoke a particular emotional state in yourself whilst writing?
Actually, no. Music is background noise to keep my thoughts on the writing itself. The only time music has directly influenced my writing is while on the medication, or following a few glasses of whisky. Music has that amazing ability to be able to drill directly into parts of you that might otherwise be hidden. Personally, it takes more than just music to open these doors. When I was younger, I could listen to certain tracks and elicit an emotional response, but that just isn’t the case any more.
I’m fascinated to read that you enjoy discussing post-apocalyptic survival. Could you elaborate on that?
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘that person should have been born during another time, or in another place’, like the huge guy who lugs the trolleys together in the supermarket car park, wouldn’t he be more at home swinging an axe into the face of his enemies? Well, I have the strongest feeling that I would do relatively well at the end of all things.
Are you more interested in more realistic apocalypses (for example, pandemics as in The Stand) or more fantastical ones (for example, 28 Days Later)?
If we are thinking about a line between real and fantastical, I’d have to argue that 28 Days Later sits far closer to realism than fantasy.
28 Days Later (the rage virus), developed in a lab, spread by blood contact. All perfectly believable concepts so far, and the thing that is most terrifying in 28 Days is the same thing that is the most terrifying in all apocalyptic movies.
The monsters are predictable. Sure, dangerous as hell, but only capable of mindless bloodlust. People are evil, people make plans, people can change and adapt and develop. The main characters arriving at what they think is a sanctuary (to discover the agenda is quite different) is one of the bleakest moments I’ve seen in a cinema, not because of the movie, but because of how absolutely on-the-ball it is.
If the world falls, it’s the people you need to be most frightened of.
When it comes to The Stand (which took me around 8 years to finish) we have similar, believable concepts: weaponized viruses, global annihilation, etc. But then we have the fantastical element. Say what you like about religion, but this is a story about biblical good and evil, told in a modern (familiar) setting. To come back to my point about people being the worst, if that guy had died on the base in the beginning, like he was required to as part of his job, then it would have ended there. People are the catalyst because we are familiar and relatable. We are all left thinking ‘what would I have done’.
In truth, the only story I’ve ever wanted to write is about someone doing their best to survive in a world that has no place for them. It doesn't need to be apocalyptic, but the setting does lend itself to emotive storytelling, and given that I quote Cormac McCarthy as my greatest inspiration (among many great inspirations); it seems a good place to start.
Did you think that the film adaptation of The Road captures that sentiment?
John Hillcoat does an admirable job of capturing the essence of the book. A lot of his time must have been spent getting the tone right, choosing his colour palette, adjusting which sounds he wanted, and which he didn't. After that, the dialogue does all the heavy lifting. I had a passage read at my wedding! Of all the romantic literature to choose from, I chose a passage of McCarthy.
“When he went back to the fire he knelt and smoothed her hair as she slept and he said if he were God he would have made the world just so and no different.”
In context, this is a fine way of saying ‘you are so perfect that no matter how fucked everything is, I would change nothing about this moment with you’.
The Road is my most re-read novel, and it would be impossible to write my own novel without it. McCarthy seems (to me) to set out to answer the question ‘Can beauty be found, even in the bleak’. That became a sort of mantra for my writing. If you can write devastation, beautifully, then you are halfway there.
John Hillcoat also directed one of the best episodes of Black Mirror so far: ‘Crocodile’. Charlie Brooker (who created the show and wrote this episode) absolutely masters the ‘bleak’, but I don’t think anything will touch McCarthy.
I’ve not seen the most recent season (my wife prefers our evening viewing to be a little more upbeat), so I think my personal favourite is ‘White Christmas’, although - admittedly - that feels like cheating because it’s a feature-length triple-decker. I suppose it’s time for the make or break post-apocalypse question:
Which is better - the book or the film of I am Legend? I should warn you that there is a correct answer and you may not confer with other interviewees.
I am Legend (film) is about a guy trying to survive against infected monsters while simultaneously trying to cure them and restore some normality. The DVD release did have an alternate ending (option) that was closer in its message to the original story, but for me it was too little, too late.
As a standalone product, the movie is good. It is well shot (I’m thinking of the 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 SVT screaming through empty, weed-covered streets). It contains some solid acting from Will Smith doing a slightly more emotive performance than usual (for its time). And it has a fairly heartbreaking scene with his dog, Sam.
The most significant nod to the original story, however, comes in an off-hand remark Robert (Will Smith) makes while listening to Bob Marley with a fellow survivor, it goes “He (Bob Marley) had this idea, it was kind of a virologist idea, he believed he could cure racism and hate [...]” The Matheson version isn’t so much about monsters and a search for a cure, it is about the end of one race and the beginning of another, and the question ‘who is the real monster’. To them, Robert seems to be capturing or killing them for almost no reason and they respond. They are either side of the same coin. Him killing during the day, them responding at night. They taunt him a great deal to try and coax him out and eventually he is captured and dies awaiting execution because he is part of the old world:
"[I am] a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend."
So, to answer your question, we shouldn’t compare, but I enjoyed the book more. I love action as much as the next person, but aside from the Bob Marley scene, and the Scene with Sam, this is just another action movie pitting man against monster. The book does this, but with meaning.
Matheson also wrote, among other things, ‘What Dreams May Come’, if there is ever cause for film vs. book comparison, always side with Matheson. (And I love that movie.)
If people want to interact with you online, what’s the best way to do that?
I love the interactions I have on twitter - @AWInglis - but if you want to truly make contact, my details are available on my website - www.adamwilliaminglis.com, and I look forward to hearing from anyone interested in discussing my work, the craft, or anything else for that matter.