Interview with Ian Creasey

Ian Creasey’s short story, The Goldsmith, appears in the Winter 2006 issue of Shimmer

Questions about the story

Where did the idea for The Goldsmith come from?
It came from a writing exercise. At the time I was part of a short-lived writers’ group that met at the house of a woman called Natalie. She gathered together a few miscellaneous objects and gave us fifteen minutes to write something inspired by them. One of the items was her ring — it was the first time I’d ever seen an inscribed ring. I think it took me five minutes to come up with a story based on the ring, and ten minutes to scribble down a rough draft. Obviously the time constraint made it a short piece: it’s only about 350 words. Afterward I wondered whether to expand it, but I decided it worked best as flash fiction. I polished it up a little, and sent it out.

Do you work with a critique or writers group?

I’m currently a member of two online groups: Critters and Codex. Critters is fairly well known, and I certainly recommend it as a good group for beginners. But after four years and a few pro sales, I’m starting to feel that I’m growing out of Critters, so I was glad to hear about Codex — it’s a group specifically for “neopro” writers who are past the beginner stage. If you’ve made a pro sale or graduated from a major workshop such as Clarion, you’re eligible to join Codex. We welcome new members: feel free to look us up.

I’m also an occasional attendee of the Milford UK workshop, which is held annually in Wales. It’s a week of critiquing and socialising with fellow writers: great fun and very energising. My account of Milford 2005 is on my website.

I’m a big believer in the workshopping process: I personally find it very helpful to both critique and be critiqued. I’ve written hundreds of critiques over the years, and I think that’s the main source of my development as a writer. After all, learning from your own mistakes is rather time-consuming — it’s much more efficient to learn from other people’s!

Questions about writing:

How long had you been submitting before you made your first sale?
Less than a year. But that was only because I was impatient for a sale and I submitted a story to a small new magazine. If I had followed the standard method of starting with the pro markets, it would have taken longer. After that first sale I became more rigorous about submitting on a top-down basis, so it took me another two years before I made my second sale.

What writing projects are you presently working on?
At the moment I’m trying to complete and submit all my half-finished short stories. Once I’ve done that, I plan to take an extended rest break. Then I’ll come back and make a serious attempt at writing a novel.

Does popular culture/entertainment influence your writing?
I’m not hugely inspired by popular culture, but even if I were, it’s difficult to use cultural references when you’re a British writer and most of the markets are American.

This was illustrated very well at the last Milford workshop, where two of the stories (neither of them mine) were about cloning celebrities. One was based on David Beckham, who is one of the most famous men in Britain, although I would hazard a guess that few Americans have heard of him. He’s the captain of the England football team. (Even that sentence illustrates the issue — I do of course mean real football, i.e. soccer, not the ludicrous American version.) The story was full of references to various elements of English pop culture, and to me it was very funny, but the two Americans in our group didn’t understand a word of it. At Milford we discuss marketing as well as critiquing, and we all agreed that there was simply no point in submitting this story to any American market.

The other cloning story was based on Elvis. (Notice that I don’t even need to give a surname.) American pop culture is the world’s pop culture — although I’m British, I understood every reference in the story.

I don’t personally want to write about American culture. It’s not my heritage. To the extent that I’m influenced by culture — and no-one writes in a vacuum — it’s British culture that most resonates with me. But when I’m writing a story, even the most tangential reference can be problematic. I’m constantly having to stop and think, “Will the Americans get that?” It’s another reason to workshop my stories — Critters has quite a few Americans who are swift to express bafflement at anything from beyond their shores.

What time of day do you prefer to do your writing?
Late at night. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I prefer to write in silence, without any distracting noise from outside, and the world is much quieter at night. The second is that I’m a dreadful procrastinator, and I often fritter away the entire day until about midnight, when I finally decide that I really must get some writing done before bedtime.

Random questions:

Do you believe in ghosts or the supernatural?
Not in the slightest. Having said that, ghosts or ghost-like entities crop up in my fiction more often than I might expect. I don’t know why that is — it’s a recurrent theme that must come from deep inside my subconscious. I guess immaterial beings are a useful archetype that can address a wide range of situations.

What are some of your hobbies?
I was in a band before I took up writing. I still enjoy playing guitar, writing songs and recording them at home. This is just for my own fun. It’s a relaxing contrast to writing for publication, because if you want an editor to buy a story, that puts certain constraints on what you can do. On the other hand, with music I can be self-indulgent and record anything I like, because no-one else ever hears it.

I love getting outdoors. I like pottering in my garden, and growing strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers. I go hiking in the countryside. I also do a fair amount of conservation volunteering: this includes things like planting trees, repairing footpaths, laying hedges, building dry-stone walls, clearing invasive weeds, and many other tasks. Recently I spent a week in a Site of Special Scientific Interest, maintaining an unusual habitat occupied by an endangered snail. I was a little embarrassed because I lost one of our tools in the bog….

All-time favourite movie?
My favourite film of all time is “Tom and Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl”. But when people ask about films, they usually mean full-length films rather than shorts. If I had to nominate a feature film, it would be a toss-up between “Airplane!” and “The Princess Bride”.

Do you have a secret skill that you never get to show off? (i.e. ambidextrous writing, blood-curdling screams, double-jointed, badminton champion…)
I’m surprisingly good at air hockey. Even though I only see a table once every few years, when I get on there I’m unbeatable.

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