Monday 28 March 2011

Iain Rowan interview: Nowhere To Go

Nowhere To Go by Iain Rowan 
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Eleven stories of murder, obsession, fear and--sometimes--redemption. Featuring stories published in Alfred Hitchcock's, Ellery Queen's, and more, Nowhere To Go is a collection of Iain Rowan's best short crime stories.

Iain's short fiction has been reprinted in Year's Best anthologies, won a Derringer Award, been voted into readers' top ten of the year, and been the basis for a novel shortlisted for the UK Crime Writers' Association's Debut Dagger award.

What was your motivation for writing Nowhere To Go?

I love reading short stories, and I love writing them.  It's not practice for novels, a set of writers’ training wheels; it's a form in its own right. Each story in the collection has come about because an idea, an image, a character or a phrase has wandered into mind and hung around long enough to end up being worth writing about.

It's always felt a shame to see a story that I'm proud of go out (particularly in print) and then a month later disappear into history, never to be read again. Putting together a collection like NOWHERE TO GO and publishing it as an e-book is a way of pulling those stories back from the ether, and leaving them on a virtual shelf so that new readers can find them, and – I hope - enjoy them. The buzz you get from the occasional email from a stranger telling you they enjoyed a story - now that's a reason to write.

What do you look for in a good book?

Voice. Voice is what does it for me, what makes a book with flaws worth persisting with, and what turns a good book, into a brilliant one.

Other than that, I want it all. I have little time for the ever-revolving argument that genre books have all the pace and plot, and literary novels all the character and good writing. A good book has it all, and I don't care what the publisher decides to put on the cover, or which shelves the bookseller decides to stack it on.

I want vivid characters, an interesting plot (which doesn't necessarily mean twist on turn on twist, although it can do), and a turn of phrase that does something that ordinary prose doesn't. None of which means it has to be stained purple with ornate and descriptive prose; quite the opposite at times. I like spare, restrained writing, because it's like music: the gaps are as important as the notes, what’s not said is as important as what is said.

I also like books where things blow up.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

The times when you are writing first draft, and it's been a long week at work and you are tired and distracted and not in the mood, and you sit down anyway and something shifts, and you hit it like a runner does, when everything just comes easy and you feel like you could write forever.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

Thought several times about whether to pick this question, as bragging and listing flaws are equally painful.

So, to be brief: I think my biggest strength is voice. I think my biggest weakness is plotting at novel length.

What are the biggest problems facing writers these days?

The song on that advert, what was it? I'll google a snatch of the lyric. Ah, of course, them. They supported that band I saw in Leeds once. I wonder if they're still they've split. Fancy a couple of songs off iTunes though, for old times sake. Reminds me of that party that - I wonder if those two are on Facebook. Excellent, will be good to see what difference the passing years have made, and - ha! - man, that cat *does* look like Lenin. I should send him the link to the cats that look like Hitler. Or the dogs dressed as bees. Can't find it, I know, I'll send a tweet, see if anyone else - oh hell. Time to go to work.

Apart from that, it's interesting times. A publishing industry, which is going through hard times and often responding by playing it safe, when it was always difficult to get in the door anyway.  Rising sales of e-books, which give opportunities that the traditional publishers might not, but which can raise issues of credibility, quality, and simply being seen above the rising tide.

All of which can leave writers torn. Many aspiring writers will believe that print is still what it takes to think of yourself as being really published, a proper writer, but at the same time they can be disillusioned by the slog of query, wait three months, re-query, start again, wait six months, happyhappyjoyjoy, wait for agent to send it round, wait for agent to hear back, not what the market is really looking for, can you start again. Or getting there and ending up with a cover you don't like but the focus group does, and a promotional budget that will buy two balloons with your novel's name on, a packet of biscuits, and a seven posters, but only small ones, and you start to question where all the revenue is going, because it doesn’t feel as if it is to you.

The notion of swerving round all that and getting your work into readers’ hands in just a few days is seductive. The thought - for published writers, as well as the aspiring - of the outliers who are making lots of money through e-books is also seductive. But then again, so is walking into a bookshop and seeing a stack of books with your name on it.

I think that one of the biggest problems facing many writers is reading the right way to jump. And then doing it.

What are the greatest opportunities facing writers these days?

Exactly what I've written above.  Apart from the first para, that is.

It’s not just opportunities for writers, either. I can see good times ahead for smart, talented people who could put together services for writers who are going the self-pub route: an agency that offers formatting, cover design, editing, PR and publicity and rights sales in a way which doesn't just rebuild the existing tensions. Of course, there will be unscrupulous sharks circling that particular part of the ocean too. Writer beware.

We live in interesting times, where unknown care workers are read more than best-selling novelists, and where dogs get dressed as bees.

Which author should be much better known?

Not a crime writer, but my favourite novelist, and a man that can write so well that it makes you want to just give up writing and take up flying kites or something instead: Rupert Thomson.

What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?

I've been lucky enough to be given lots of good advice, from good people who are kind enough to take the time to give it.

But in many ways, the best advice for me comes down to this.

Nowhere To Go by Iain Rowan £2.12/$2.99
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  1. Smashing interview but where would we be without the internet? I mean, if I wasn't on Facebook, how would I know which Bowie song I am (Sound & Vision), which Bond I am (Connery) or which member of Twin Peaks I am(Audrey Horne)?

  2. Sure, it's a wonderful thing. If you have willpower. And I have willpower.

    Most of the time.


  3. Hi Al, Iain,

    Another great interview, you ask the best questions.

    Iain, After reading what you think makes a great book I'm buying your collection, Nowhere To Go and I'm going to check out Rupert Thomson. Anything else I should buy? :)

  4. Hi Susie,

    Thanks very much, and I really hope you enjoy the collection - would be really interested to know what you think.

    You may well have read it already, given your interest in Eurocrime, but I was really impressed by Jan Costin Wagner's Ice Moon. Wagner's German, but the book's set in Finland, and it doesn't seem to have as much press as it deserves.



  5. Hi Iain,

    You're a man after my own heart. I think Jan Costin Wagner is great, I love his books. I agree, I don't think he's getting as much press as he deserves either. He might have written three books I know of, I hope he has another coming out soon.

    Are you a big fan of Scandi crime fiction? I'm asking because I wonder if you've noticed a difference in those books when there's a German influence. I can't articulate the difference, it's very subtle and I haven't found anyone that can put it into words for me. I've only come across a few, I wish I could name a couple now, but nothing's coming to mind.


  6. Have you seen any other than Ice Moon in translation?

    I do like reading crime from round the world, Scandinavian or elsewhere. Although there's some excellent UK and US crime novels (our host here's books for one), others can feel a little familiar and jaded. It's not just setting, it's cultural outlook. Some of the best books in translation feel *different*. As you say, hard to articulate how.

    I'm not enough of an expert though to pick up the difference you're talking about though, but I'll look out for it from now on.