Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Author Interview ~ Andy Shackcloth

Today I’m interviewing author Andy Shackcloth. In a previous post, Do You Keep A Journal?, I reviewed his site and the ambitious project he’s embarked on. He’s currently serializing the outcome of research he’s done on the benefits of using a writer’s journal.

~~~Andy - Italy

Welcome, Andy. Let’s start by you’re giving us a bit of your background and how long you’ve been writing.

Hi Alexander, I was born in southern England in the late 1950s. I first worked as a computer programmer, telling them what to do in ones and zeros. After a while I left that to do some travelling and when I tired of that I became involved with research for an electrical engineering firm; which I must have been good at since they made me chief engineer. However that didn’t last and now I’m living in Italy and writing.

I have been writing as a hobby since 1990 or there abouts. It all started as a need to get the stories out of my head, and writing them down solved that.

So, what would you call your style and do you do genre writing?

Well I’m as technical as they come, so it may not be a surprise to find out that I love science fiction and so I tend to mostly write science fiction. Yet despite my love of technology, I always make the technology support the story which will be about the characters that live with there, for me it must have a strong emotional path, one that follows a characters struggle. Preferably a struggle that looks dire and hopeless until I turn it around in the very last sentence of the book.

On your site, you’re currently serializing your work on journaling for creativity. How did a fiction writer start working on such an ambitious “non-fiction” project?

Really it is the fault of my creative writing lecturer and my scientific training, also being obsessive about things might have some bearing on the matter. Like all creative writing teachers and lecturers, my lecturer spent time selling the need for writers to carry a notebook with them in order to jot down things of interest. I think most of the class thought this to be a sound proposition and duly purchased themselves a pocket notebook.

It was noticeable that some of them took to filling in their notebooks at every opportunity, treasuring the time spent with them, whilst for most of the other students their notebooks were more forgotten than remembered.

Clearly some of them were getting far more value from the practice than others. The scientific half of my mind found this intriguing and I started to investigate the notion of keeping a writer’s notebook, what works and what doesn’t. I found that many of the greatest thinkers and creatives; Da Vinci, Glaser, Einstein, Twain, Tharp, all used and swore by their notebooks. This intrigued me more.

Then the obsessive part of me stepped in and I kept digging, kept learning. Even after I stripped away all other forms of journaling and concentrated solely on the part that appears to enhance the user’s creativity I was kept very busy.

What would you say your motivation for writing is?

With writing fiction there is a pleasure in carefully crafting the words so that they transport the reader to a richer place, where for a while they get pleasure themselves whilst there. In a great part I am an entertainer, my story is my travelling show, my characters are my actors. The reward comes from putting on a great show.

With the non-fiction project the motivation is coming from knowing things that others do not, in being able to help others that can benefit from my new knowledge.

On your blog, the serialization on journaling for creativity is clearly mapped out and freely available. What are you trying to achieve with that work?

I want to change the practice of creative writing teachers of proposing the writer’s journal/notebook as the equivalent of a glorified shopping list of; names, places, ideas, snippets of conversation, actual shopping lists and dreary self-indulgent negative personal ramblings.

When teachers propose the writer’s journal/notebook as an access route to our creative-minds, our path to unified logical and creative thoughts, then I will be happy and able to shuffle from this mortal coil with a smile.

What do you feel has taught you the most about “how to write”?

The “most” would be:
Learning awareness and awe

There are other things, like courses in creative writing, writer’s groups, etc. But these are all like learning to ride a horse from a book, it’s not until you put your arse in the saddle do you learn the nuances of the beast.

You have to read. Read lots and across a wide range of styles and genres. Good books and bad books all have lessons to impart.

Awareness and awe, to be really aware of the world around you is a good start, but more than that you need a childlike awe of everything. To be in awe and curious of your world allows you to write the words that will provide memorable insights to your readers.

Oh! You must write, regularly, feel like it or not, you must write.

Do you write from a plot or from the seat of your pants?

I learned a valuable lesson from one piece of creative writing course work. It was a descriptive exercise about someone who was troubled. It should have been about 500 to 1000 words. It passed the 8000 mark by the next lesson and after 50,000 words without a visible end, I decided that I need to apply some constraints to my exuberance.

I outline, I know the start, I know most of the cafés along the way, I know what I intend to achieve at the end. This doesn’t mean that I know the actual end or that the path between the cafés isn’t going to snake about horribly, but I do know my outline and, importantly, my pacing so that the finished work is readable.

How do you get your ideas?

From the simplest things; really simple, stupidly simple, things. I saw a fern growing half way up a wall, directly out of a tiny gap in the masonry. The image of this plant forcing its way through a solid wall seeded a story about a convict escaping through the outer hull of an airborne prison. Within that image came the convicts hair, from the leaves, how the hole was made, from the roots, even that the convict was on a vertical surface far above the ground.

If we were to watch you writing, what would we see?

Me checking social networks and tidying paperclips.

To be truthful I’m not sure. When I’m in the zone, time disappears, I just write. However, just outside it and anything and everything can become a distraction.

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned that you’d like to pass on?

For writing: Write!

For journaling: Always repeatedly review your entries and learn from them.

Andy, I deeply appreciate your taking time from your work to share your writing life with our readers :-)

Thank you Alexander, for the interview, your interest in the blog, and especially in the journaling project. If any of your readers have any questions they’d like answered, I will be happy to answer them in the comments here, or on Shack’s Comings and Goings, or on either of these social networks:
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

Select as many as you like:

2 responses to “Author Interview ~ Andy Shackcloth

  1. Jane Watson July 4, 2013 at 3:38 am

    A really interesting interview, thanks Andy. I went over to your blog and looked at your Creative Journaling page which was interesting, to say the least, and when I read your ‘MindTraining Paradoxically’, which using paradoxes as writing exercises, you had me. I subscribed :-) I love the way you are exploring journaling! And btw, I also love the question asked here: ‘If we were to watch you writing, what would we see?’ What a great, seemingly simple, but deep question ;-) I wonder what people see when I write!


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