I had the pleasure recently of reading a novel called The Mile, written by Craig Smith and published by Pilrig Press. When I learned that Craig had taken a creative writing course with http://www.writingclasses.co.uk I thought it would be a good opportunity for another author interview.
Hello Craig, your novel shows the characters Stuart, Ian and Euan on a boozy pub crawl down The Royal Mile in Edinburgh. However, on reading further, it’s not just about a pub crawl, is it?
It can be taken that way – I wanted to make it as accessible as possible, so it can be read as just a bit of a lark, with a load of booze and some banter as the three friends make their way down The Royal Mile. I’d hope there’s enough going on for the reader to be entertained. Behind all that though, I tried to use The Royal Mile as a metaphor for the journey Scotland’s taken since the Treaty of the Union was signed in 1707. From the castle to the crossroads at the Parliament, events in each pub loosely relate to key stages in Scottish history. We’ve got a bit of enlightenment, a medical revolution, industriousness, the war years, and eventually the post war decline. Luckily for me The World’s End pub was perfectly positioned (and named!) to indicate the start of this. The Canongate, the final stretch is a long, slow descent which suits the way Scotland’s been heading ending ultimately at the roundabout at the foot of The Mile a “which way now?” point for Scotland.
Did you feel pressure to write this book, and get it out in time for the debate and referendum in Scotland?
I did, and that was probably a good thing as it meant I was committed to finishing it. I’d probably rather spent a few more months fleshing it out but the pressing nature of the independence referendum was always at the back of my mind. I knew if it was to stand any chance of being published, I had to get it out there for review as soon as possible. The story was all there, in my head, it was just a case of sitting down every night after the kids had gone to bed and hammering away at it
The characters are all skillfully drawn. What does Jock, the man in the tartan trousers represent and what is his role in the book?
Again, Jock can be taken in two ways – he’s either a cantankerous old, foul-mouthed drunk, with some good stories to tell, or he’s Scotland personified – that was the intention, anyway.
I’d originally planned to make him more of a ghostly figure, not interacting directly exactly, but influencing events in each pub. However, it was easier to make him an escapee from a care home. He discusses his ‘real’ past in the book but there are also hints that maybe he’s been around a lot longer than his 95 years. He’s meant to represent Scotland under the union battling away the injustice of it all.
With regards to the independence referendum – are you hoping to inform readers or to sway opinion?
I think I’d be daft to think I could sway opinion. All I can hope to do is possibly make some people question things a bit more. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and we’re up against the bulk of the mainstream media, who are mostly pro-union. When you look at the papers everyday and there’s yet another scare story, placed there to sw more seeds of doubt in the minds of the Scottish electorate, it can get frustrating. We need alternative routes. Most of the work by the ‘Yes’ campaign is on the ground, knocking on doors and canvassing, but I thought an easy to read, mildly comical novel might have some appeal to undecided voters. If it gets them looking behind the headlines, that can only be a good thing.
Have you always wanted to write and are you planning another novel?
I think it’s been one of those things at the back of my mind. Friends had mentioned it to me a few times, but I never really had the time, the inclination or the inspiration. However, it was a combination of those things that led me to do an online writing course at the start of the year, with http://www.writingclasses.co.uk and that was the start of it. Halfway through the course, I started on the novel. I’d love to write another one, but I think I’ll wait until events combine in my favour again. I don’t think I could just force it. The idea for The Mile came about fairly quickly and I’d probably need to wait for inspirtation like that to hit again. Might happen, might not. Who knows?!
Do you have any advice you could pass onto new writers?
Download and print out Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 writing tips. The most important one to me was ‘every sentence must do one of two things, reveal character or advance the novel.’ That’s probably why The Mile is fairly short, I dispensed with any descriptive fluff. I’d also like to say that signing up for an online course is a great way to get into it. Like any creative, writing needs an audience, and the fact that your assignments are being read by a group is a great motivator. I liked the anonymity of the online course too, it meant if I was rubbish, nobody needed to know who I was!
Finally, where can people buy The Mile?
It’s on Amazon as an ebook here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00FIPT1GG/ref-cm
It also comes out as a paperback on 21st November.
Thank you, Craig for letting me interview you. I wish you the best of luck with your novel and any future writing endeavors.