As part of our new ‘Ask an Author’ Series we chatted with local writer, Tim Ewins, about his debut novel We are Animals, which features love, friendship, and a whole host of animals. In this interview, Tim speaks candidly about the process of writing a novel and how he fits writing into his everyday life.
Your novel, We Are Animals, was recently published by Lightning Books. Has writing always been a big part of your life? When did you know you wanted to write a novel?
I’ve always wanted to be an author…in fact, twelve years ago, I started writing a book called ‘How to Write a Book,’ but after starting the first chapter I realised that I probably wasn’t the right person to write that book. Then I realised that it probably already existed, and that I should probably read it.
Writing a novel has always been in the back of my mind. I embarked on a stand-up comedy career (alongside a more normal career) and then left it all behind and went travelling with my wife. When I came back, I started working on We Are Animals, which is largely set in the countries we visited. Before that, I’d written short stories, stand-up comedy sets and ideas for plays, so it’s always been a big part of my life.
What was your journey to publication with We Are Animals?
Like a lot of authors, I went through several months of rejection from publishers and agents. I was still receiving rejection emails when Lightning Books were designing the cover for We Are Animals a year later!
It has been a pleasure working with the people at Lightning Books. I was first assigned an editor, and we went through a structural edit which was exciting for me, as it meant that someone else was paying real attention to the book, and putting their own love into it. After that there was a grammatical edit, cover design and marketing strategy. It was all fairly overwhelming but in a good way!
How did you get the idea for the novel?
I decided to try to write a novel that encompasses the things I enjoy reading about – travel, a web of different people unknowingly affecting each other’s lives, comedy and emotion. Some of my favourite books as a child were about animals (Charlotte’s Webb, The Sheep-Pig etc), and I thought, maybe adults would enjoy the same kind of surreal escapism that animals can bring in literature. Hopefully We Are Animals manages that.
You have previously had short stories published in anthologies. Do you think this has helped your writing career? How does writing a novel compare to short stories for you?
I wrote a few short stories whilst writing We Are Animals. If I came to a point in the novel where I couldn’t yet work out what came next yet, I’d write a short story to take my mind off it. I used them as a way of clearing my mind. I entered a few into competitions and two were published. I don’t know if they have helped my writing career or not to be honest, other than that I could list them in my submission emails to agents and publishers.
The two that were published were the two that were most personal to me, so there is probably something there about writing what you know…
Your novel spans multiple years, countries and twenty-two different animals. Did balancing so many different elements make the novel challenging to write?
As the plot for We Are Animals grew, so did a spreadsheet. That spreadsheet terrifies me now. It has dates down the left, then the characters ages in the next few columns, followed by columns with events that happen in the book in each year and for each character. Finally there is a column that has context for each year in the real world (in ten different countries). My only real regret with the book is that I didn’t manage to fit in Abba winning the Eurovision Song Contest. Maybe that could be in the next one.
Most of the animals have their own plot-lines and personalities, and for some reason, I found these the easiest to remember and follow when writing!
What does your typical writing routine look like? Do you always work in the same place, at the same time, or do you fit your writing around other things in your life?
I wrote almost all of We Are Animals during my lunch breaks at work over a period of four years. I’d make sure I’d prepared a packed lunch the night before, so I didn’t have to leave the office. Occasionally I wrote on a bus or on a train. Reading that back, I certainly didn’t write it in luxury, did I?!
Now, I still write in my lunch breaks, but I do sometimes write in the evenings at home with a glass of wine, which fits much more into what I imagined it would be like to be a writer. I have a toddler and a full-time job though, so writing really is my hobby that has to fit around my other commitments.
How do you stay inspired to write?
When I think of an idea, it tends to stay in the back of my mind for a few months before I write it down. Either it will disappear, in which case I assume it wasn’t very good, or it’ll stick around and grow. My second novel was in the back of my mind for about two years before I started writing it. I was writing We Are Animals at the time, so I didn’t want to start a second.
I also read a lot which I think helps to keep up the motivation to write. I don’t force myself to write every day, I write when I can and when I feel motivated to do so. I guess if I run out of ideas, I could always try to write that book about how to write a book again!
What advice would you give to any budding writers who may be reading this?
My advice to a new writer (and I fully consider myself to fall into that category!) would be to listen to other writers and readers, take what everyone has to say on board because everyone’s opinion and advice is important. Be grateful for all the advice you’re given, but do what works for you, and write what you like to read. Just enjoy it!