How did “The Bird Country” come to be? What inspired it?
“The Bird Country” was the first story I wrote after a long hiatus during which I’d been working as a musician. It started, as all of my stories do, with the words– the first few paragraphs appearing fully formed. As I wrote it, it became a sort of definition of who I was and what I now wanted to do as a writer.
Do you have daily writing goals?
When I’m actively writing fiction, I write between 500 and 1500 words per day. I’m disciplined to the point of fanaticism and keep little charts in notebooks. At the moment I’m not writing fiction; I’m working on a screenplay, so the goals are a little looser.
Gardens tend to crop up in your fiction. Do you garden? Do you see writing being in any way like gardening?
I don’t garden. I did as a child. The most powerful strangeness in my writing is always related to childhood. Gardens to me are slightly sinister places– inhuman and overwhelming, full of alien life. I suppose fundamentally I don’t like dirt, or that slightly frightening sensation of leaves brushing against you– because the leaves don’t feel inert; they feel like fingers, like there’s some intentionality behind them.
As for writing being like gardening… I would say that for me writing is not like gardening, but is like being a garden. I’m aware of myself sometimes planting seeds. And the process of writing is so technologically complex that it looks like magic, much as the science of plant life appears to me. Things grow: they come up out of the ground, and some are stunted, and some flourish, and I have no real insight into the nature of what’s happening. I suppose I’ve just inadvertently called my own mind inhuman and overwhelming, but that feels accurate as well. I stand by the analogy.
Favorite book you read in 2011?
I don’t really read much fiction, though I sometimes listen to it on audiobook. My favorite nonfiction book was Andrew Hodges’ biography of Alan Turing, which is challenging and sad.
What piece of advice would you give writers for the coming year?
Stop taking yourself seriously. Start taking syntax seriously. Read Russell T. Davies’ hysterically practical book, The Writer’s Tale, and then go about your work accordingly.