Nathan O’ Hagan is the author of The World Is (Not) A Cold Dead Place, his debut novel published by Armley Press, an independent publisher based in Leeds. He has been dubbed by some critics as being a literary voice akin to Chuck Palahniuk. Geekzine editor-in-chief, Andy Jamieson, caught up with Nathan to discuss his book.
Andy Jamieson: How personal a story is your debut novel? Have any of your experiences found their way into protagonist Gary Lennon’s tale?
Nathan O’ Hagan: It’s very personal in the sense that it’s the first novel I completed. Writing the initial draft was a very intense experience. Not much sleep, some very heavy drinking, chain smoking, not much talking to other people. For a few months I sort of threw everything into it. It was, at the time I started writing it, a very cathartic and therapeutic experience. In terms of how autobiographical it is, it certainly does contain a lot of me. A lot of Gary’s issues are my issues, albeit exaggerated for dramatic affect, and I think, and hope, the appeal of Gary is that, no matter how extreme his views seem at times, you can always see where he’s coming from. But many of the views Gary expresses are certainly not mine.
AJ: What challenges did you face in completing this book?
NOH: The initial completing was the easy part. The real hard part, as you know, is when you get to the editing process. That was something I found hard. I knew I had a good story in there somewhere, and a strong and believable character, it was just about making it work. There were a lot of passages that I was very attached to which I eventually had to accept didn’t work from a dramatic viewpoint.
Also, purely in practical terms, when you work full time and have a young family, it’s very hard to find the time to write.
AJ: This novel follows on from your short story collection, Purge. What did the experience of creating that collection teach you when it came to writing The World Is (Not) A Cold Dead Place?
NOH: Well, I actually wrote the novel first. Purge was written in a very short burst after I’d spent a long time editing The World Is (Not) A Cold Dead Place and finishing my second novel. So writing the novels actually informed the writing of Purge in that, after a couple of years of trying to be so precise, I just wanted to throw something on the page and, for better or worse, pretty much leave it as was, barring a quick spell check. The whole process of self-publishing Purge (available on amazon for next to nowt – Ed) was sort of experimental, to see whether self-publishing was a route I wanted to take with the novels. The difficulty in finding an audience for Purge as a self-publisher certainly taught me that it wasn’t something I wanted to do with The World Is (Not) A Cold Dead Place.
AJ: How difficult a journey has it been from completing the initial draft to getting it published?
NOH: Extremely difficult. Like most writers, I’ve had my share of rejections, some where you know they have not read past the synopsis, to a few that loved it but felt it wasn’t right for their list. That was the most frustrating part. If everyone had told me it was shite I probably would have accepted that and given up, but I got enough praise to convince me I should probably keep going. Then when I came across Armley Press via twitter, I just had a feeling we’d be a good match for each other, and I was right. Their DIY, punk approach is something that appealed to me greatly.
AJ: And what is next for you, in terms of writing projects?
NOH: Well, as I mentioned, I’ve completed a second novel, which I probably need at least one more rewrite of. I’m also in the early stages on novel number 3, which is proving to be the hardest thing I’ve written so far. I’m about halfway through the first draft and I can’t see myself finishing it this year. After that I’ve got, so far, two further novels I want to write, as well as at least one screenplay idea. I also need to polish the first screenplay I wrote last year. So I’ve got plenty to be getting on with over the next couple of years or so. As I said before, it’s just finding the time to do it.
AJ: What influences you as a writer?
NOH: Human behaviour. I’m absolutely fascinated by what motivates people to act the way they do, to do the things they do. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt on the outskirts, looking in, and from that point of observation I think I’ve developed an insight into what’s going on just underneath the surface of people, regardless of how they appear on the surface.
In literary terms, I certainly have my influences. I think it was a spell of six months or so on the dole reading James Ellroy’s entire back catalogue that first made me think I might want to write novels. But the holy trinity for me are probably Chuck Palahnuik, Irvine Welsh and Kevin Sampson. The way Palahnuik will gleefully take on almost taboo subject matter, Welsh’s ability to find humour and pathos in the grotesque, and Sampson’s amazing ear for dialogue, and ability to truly write how people really talk in a way that few writers can. Those are really inspiring things.
AJ: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given as a writer?
NOH: To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever received any that stands out. I’ve never taken any creative writing courses and I’ve never been lucky enough to find a mentor. I did get some advice from an online writing community that I think helped, but I think the old adage ‘write what you know’ is a good rule of thumb, at least when you’re starting off.
AJ: What was the last good book you read?
NOH: I loved The Honours by Tim Clare and I recently read The Given Day by Dennis Lehane, which was immense. I also just finished Blowback by fellow Armley Press writer John Lake. It’s the second part of his Leeds 6 trilogy and I’ll be reading the third part soon.
AJ: Any advice for aspiring writers working on their first book?
NOH: Get started! Don’t sit around around thinking about it, get something on the fucking page. Even if it turns out to be shit. Read as much as you can, especially in your chosen genre. Learn from writers you respect, learn what you think works, but also what you think doesn’t work. Be utterly ruthless when it comes to editing. And, to paraphrase a quote from Bruce Springsteen, don’t be afraid of your own greatness, but admit it when you suck.
Thanks to Nathan for his answers. You can buy his novel from any decent bookstore, and amazon.
Check out his page on the Armley Press website: http://www.armleypress.com/#!nathan-ohagan-books/c16jd