Stuart Turnbull, Interview
My guest tonight is not a well-known writer, not a published author, hasn’t even tried on the celebrity coat. But he’s warming his toes at my virtual fire and, with true Scots parsimony, I’ve handed a stiff Scotch across cyber space to help loosen him up.
Stuart Turnbull’s main claim to fame is that he’s our son-in-law and has held that position now for some fourteen years or so, having married our older daughter, Elizabeth Ann—to give her her Sunday name. He’s taken to calling her Liz and I suppose I have to admit, grudgingly, the name suits her. She never was the sweet, old-fashioned girlie-girl I’d thought would follow her two older brothers; always the tomboy who literally followed them into whatever scrapes and escapades they led her. She found her own way into the marriage adventure with Stuart, though, and they have three children, Kurt, who’s twelve, Casselle, ten, and Anneliese, eight. They often do sit around our hearth, but tonight they’re all safely tucked up in their own house in Crieff, some 50 plus miles North-West, a bit far to feel the heat of our fire.
Nepotism apart, I invited Stuart to join us for a chat because he may not be famous, he may not be published, but he is a writer.
Stuart: A wanabee writer!
No, you write regularly. You share your writing in your blogs. I reckon that makes you a writer. A wanabee published writer maybe. But a writer, certainly.
I know you worked in financial services for some years, but now, since Liz’s health declined, you’ve become her carer and house-husband and you home educate Kurt. A full-time job along with all the cooking and looking after the family, so I’m glad you still find time for writing and I know you enjoy an occasional game of golf and an even more occasional run on your bike. It’s very picturesque up your way, beautiful for cycling, Crieff being in rural Perthshire.
Stuart: For golfers it’s close to Gleneagles where the 2014 Ryder Cup will be. For film watchers, it’s Ewan McGregor’s home town. It’s a small country town of about 8,000 that is handily placed to commute to Edinburgh or Glasgow if you don’t mind the drive. But a lot of the population are retirees who come for the beautiful scenery and plentiful golf courses.
With my parents & a brother who is 4 years younger, I have lived up and down the United Kingdom, having attended schools in Scotland, England & Wales. Although a good chunk of my youth was spent on a council estate in Telford, Shropshire, my happiest childhood memories are all from times where we were living in the country. I guess I am a country boy at heart, just without any desire to be a farmer.
Must say, I’m a country girl myself. As you know, we live in a tiny village in West Lothian, just the Main Street with a garage, a pub and a corner shop and a Crescent round the back, where we live. Nice and quiet, lots of country noises to call the creative muse forth. So, you may never have wanted to be a farmer, but when did you realise you did want to be a writer?
Stuart: It started with poetry at some point in my early twenties and for many years it was only poetry I wrote, mostly free verse, but with some sonnets and the occasional haiku. Eventually I found I wanted to expand what I was writing and moved on to some prose and then some (very) short stories. For quite a while I wasn’t really writing anything due to working and having a young family, but the desire and ideas still floated around my head. A change in work circumstances a couple of years ago freed up some time and I have been able to start writing again, but wanted to develop further and so I am currently doing an Open University Creative Writing course (A215) which has been helpful in looking at forms and layout and how to develop ideas, and I will probably do the Advanced course (A363) which will add writing scripts.
I also have a project underway to write a 5-10k word story for each of the 50 states of the USA. The stories will be individual, although characters may re-appear. I am trying to capture flavours of places I have never been to, but hope to visit some day. At present I have stories for Delaware, California & Alabama underway and in advanced development. I also have the ideas I want to develop for Montana (my favourite state), Texas & New York State.
I hope to have a designated website for this project up and running in the next few months, and would love for any US readers to forward me either ideas for their own state or, when the stories are available to offer any corrections or amendments to help create a more authentic US feel.
You seem very drawn to the wide open spaces of the United States and I’m sure you and the family will get the chance to go for a holiday or something sometime. Meanwhile, you seem to draw inspiration from researching each different state. When it comes to the creative process, what else inspires you?
Stuart: No set thing – it can be a word, a phrase, a dream, a view. A recent poem was inspired by the numerous wind farms that are being built around us, while a short ‘detective’ story I wrote came from the phrase, ‘The Jawline of Julie-Anne Moore’. I also have a suite of poems that are either literally based on dreams or have a loose dream like feel to them.
Is there a food or a drink, a place or an hour that helps you feel ready to write?
Stuart: Not really, but if any wine producers read this I am more than willing to try writing in the evening with a glass of decent wine to hand and would be a willing guinea pig for new bottlings.
That being said, I have just built a little desk in my bedroom and it is nice to sit and write at that while Liz – whose health is poor, rests in bed. I will write and listen to music, she will knit and listen to the radio and we companionably get on with our own activities.
What a good idea. Sounds cosy. Writing can be such a solitary occupation, even a bit antisocial sometimes. That’s a good way round that.
‘You Know Who’ and I have desk areas at right angles to one another, elbow close, which is probably too close, but I find I can’t write when he’s working at his computer. I do need the solitude. I like the idea of companionably working together, but, in practice, I can’t do it. When I’m ‘in flow’, if anyone comes into the room, the phone rings, the house goes on fire, I just hate to be interrupted. I love when the house is empty or asleep and I can just get all those words and ideas that swirl around in my head out onto paper or screen. I love it! Love it! Love it! What do you love about writing?
Stuart: Getting an idea out of my head, and having it read as good as I imagined it. I seem to work best when I am writing to a deadline. Without the goad of failure prodding me, I am capable of sitting trawling the internet while ‘writing’ or even jotting down a line or two and then wandering off to do something else. Even in writing this I am meant to be working on the last 1000 words I need for my next Open University assignment! It is always easier to not write than it is to write, and if I allow it the inertia builds and I lose the writing rhythm.
Know what you mean.
I hope you get your assignment done…or I’ll feel guilty luring you away to sit with me by my cyber-fire. It can be hard enough to get going sometimes, even when you know you’re going to love it once you do.
What do you consider to be the most challenging part of the creative process?
Stuart: Writer’s ‘block’ and procrastination. Coming up with ideas, writing them and then editing them. I hate proofreading my work as I generally only see what I meant to write and therefore miss silly errors (like punctuation).
So that would be all of it! Yet still I find myself compelled to write. I wonder if this comes from the love affair I have had with books and reading since I was four.
Probably! Like you, Stuart, I home-educated one of my children, my younger daughter, Aimee. When she was about three years old, I remember thinking that it would work out okay if I taught her, not only to read, but to love reading. I knew if she enjoyed reading, she would enjoy learning. There wouldn’t be much she couldn’t teach herself from a good handbook or internet site. The better quality the books she read, the better quality her vocabulary and communication skills would be, and it certainly worked out that way.
Reading is so important for anyone, but especially important for any aspiring writer, isn’t it? Read any writers’ handbook: they all stress the absolute necessity for writers to read, read, read!
So, which authors do you like to read & why?
Stuart: Matthew Reilly – over the top goofball thrillers for guys who like things that explode, and a writer unafraid of killing off a key character. Iain M Banks & Alistair Reynolds – sublime sci-fi writing – to a standard in some of their books that I am tempted to never write again as I don’t believe I will ever reach the standard they have. Marian Keyes – far cleverer than you initially think and while some bits are laugh out loud funny others will make your heart sore.
I also re-read John Galsworthy’s The Forsythe Saga every couple of years. The scene where Old Jolyon dies makes me cry every single time.
I am not a literary reader, of all the Booker listed and winning books since 1969 I have only read 3 books (Staying On, Schindler’s Ark & The Remains of the Day); however I do enjoy the 19th century Russian authors and 20th century existentialists. However I am more likely to be found reading popular and science fiction (Grisham, Banks, Reilly, Sansom, Keys etc). I also have a fascination with cold war espionage and have built decent library of my own with biographies and writings on the subject.
What do you hope to accomplish as a writer?
Stuart: To write something I am not ashamed to say I wrote
Where can we find more information on you and your writing?
Stuart: At present I have three neglected blogs. One for short stories and two for poetry
http://diamondsanddross.blogspot.co.uk/ – stories (pretty rough stuff as mostly early writing and need re-edited)
http://cdatd.blogspot.co.uk/ – poetry – all a series under the title Come Dream a Thousand Dreams’
COMING SOON ‘These United States’ (probably as a .com) where I will be laying out my US cycle of stories.
Thanks for the examples of your work. I’ll pop them on your page under the ‘Fireside Chats’ heading on my menu. I’ve enjoyed our blether, Stuart. I hope you enjoyed your cyber-Scotch. I’ll let you back to your assignment. Stretch, yawn…and I’d better get this posted on my blog before the heat of the fire makes me too sleepy.