Ed SiegleBy Sarah Hutchings
This interview with Ed Siegle by Julie Singleton was first published on The Deckchair website on 24/02/2011.
How did you get your first break?
There have been two important moments. The first was winning the V.S Pritchett Memorial Prize for a short story called 'Nine Lives, One Life'. A novel I’d written had just failed to find a publisher, and it was a great boost as I started writing a new novel.
The second was reading an extract from that new novel, Invisibles, at GritLit (a Brighton live literature night organised by Tim Lay and Amy Riley). Vicky Blunden, the editor at Myriad Editions, was there and invited me to send in the novel. Idiotically, I dithered for about six months before I did, fiddling with this and that, but thankfully she hadn’t forgotten when I finally submitted it. Invisibles will be published by Myriad in March 2011.
Could you describe your working day.
I work full-time in an office at the moment, so I tend to write in the evenings and at weekends. When I can steal a full day for writing, ideally I like to go for a run down through Queen’s Park and along past the piers to Hove lawns and back – which I find helps to clear my mind and stimulate ideas. Then I just sit at my desk and write for as long as I can. It’s a bit of a luxury having a full day to write, so I don’t have any trouble writing and writing.
But most of the time it’s a question of grabbing any time I can find. I wrote a lot of the first draft of Invisibles on the train, as I was commuting to London. It’s not how I’d imagined writing a novel, but it turned out to be good writing time and helped bring a dull journey to life.
How does an idea become a book?
Little by little, it grows and grows. I find I begin with a few simple ideas and start to run with them and see where they take me. I don’t like to have everything mapped out, as a lot of the pleasure comes from daily discovery and invention – sitting down with a notion of what I’d like to engineer and ending up with something new. With Invisibles, early on I had a strong sense of the two locations (Brighton and Rio de Janeiro) and the central quest of the protagonist (to go to Brazil to discover if his father was still alive). But the thing that really brought the story to life was the birth of three or four characters in particular. Once I had found the voices of these characters and developed a real feeling for them, I felt the novel changed from a concept and a plot into a proper story.
What are your favourite opening lines of a novel?
Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know. (L’Etranger, Camus)
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Watching, studying and betting on horseracing (jumps not flat).
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
You’d have to invite Jesus – there are just so many questions for him to answer – but as an atheist I’d not really expect him to show up.
Do you always finish reading a book you’ve started?
Not always. I do try to – some books you have to persevere with, of course, and get your reward for doing so. Not every good book is a page-turner. But after a certain point I think you can tell if a book is winning or losing the battle to sustain your interest and if it just isn’t working for you then I think it’s OK to stop. There are a lot of good books to read and it’s impossible to find time for all of them, so it’s fair to move on. In some cases it can be worth persevering with one you don’t like because there is a certain Schadenfreude from the experience, or because it can be instructive regarding your own writing.
Which book do you wish you’d written?
To write a book anyone else has written you’d have to be that person too, in my opinion, and I’m not sure I’d like to be anybody else. Not because being me is anything special, but because being me is the puzzle I’ve been set and I’d like to try and solve it. But setting that aside I would probably say Romancero Gitano by García Lorca. I studied Spanish and spent a lot of time in Granada, in Andalucía, and so Lorca was strong presence. I love poems like ‘Romance Sonámbulo’ and ‘Romance de la Luna, Luna’, which conjure a mystical version of a part of the world I have a great affection for.
If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to have done?
It’s a tough question, because in some ways I don’t really feel like a proper writer yet, because writing is still something I have to fit around a day job and a family. Until I can make writing more central to the day-to-day of my life, my working life in particular, I will always feel that I am still trying to be a writer. Which makes it hard to think about being anything else. But if pushed… When I was young I wanted to be an archaeologist. I can see myself happily digging up ruins in the South American rainforest.
Describe your perfect day.
I would wake up just before dawn, and watch light rise over Granada from a roof terrace in the Albaicín, where I would have breakfast with my family under a cloudless sky. I would then retire into an alcove with a view over the city and the plain, to write until midday. We’d go out for a little stroll for a small beer and a couple of tapas, then take lunch at a favourite pavement restaurant in a square by a church. Then I’d write again, back in the alcove, until the light started to colour with evening. Long drinks on the terrace with friends as the sun went down, dinner in the gardens of an old Carmen, then out bar hopping before finishing the night crooning badly in a Karaoke place.
What keeps you awake at night?
Worrying about the reaction to my novel Invisibles. Will anybody like it? Will anybody buy it? How will it go down amongst Brazilians?
Why did you choose to live in Brighton and Hove and what keeps you here?
I moved to be with my girlfriend (now my wife) and her son. But I had always liked Brighton, having been to visit friends who lived or studied here. I’d been living in London, which I’d enjoyed, but Brighton always felt like a good balance of big and small, local and cosmopolitan, and that is what I found. I stay because it has a bit of everything you could want: good people, good pubs, lots of writers, the Downs, the sea, lots to see and do. My stepson was born here and attended great local schools and I think it’s a wonderful place to bring up kids.
How does living here inspire your work?
Being in Brighton has been very important to my writing career. The location and character of the town and the variety of people within in it are great source material. But most importantly the existence and support of many fellow writers has helped keep me going and to believe in my capability, and has also helped enormously to improve my writing. I wrote my novel Invisibles here, had it critiqued at a Brighton writers’ group throughout its gestation, and read an extract of it at a local event (GritLit) which is how I met my editor at Myriad Editions. I would have written anywhere I might have lived, but whether such a set of circumstances would have occurred elsewhere one can never tell. It’s been the perfect place to be when trying to break through.
Ed's novel 'Invisibles', published by Myriad is available from Amazon.
For more information on Invisibles please check out Ed's website: http://edsiegle.com/
This page was amended on 14/01/2012