Andy Elliott is the author of the terrific novella Composition, which felt like something Nick Hornby might write if he were reincarnated as Bret Easton Ellis. The book itself is essentially four independent, but interconnected, stories that come together in the end in a very satisfying Pulp-Ficiton-esque sort of way. Elliott lives and works in Wales, is a graduate of Trinity College, Carmarthen’s MA Creative Writing course, and he has contributed to the New Welsh Review. Without further ado, here are 10 questions for Andy Elliott...
It's unsuitable for younger readers. I dislike making sweeping generalisations on behalf of readers, because there might always be exceptions, but my book deals with some very adult themes. Also that it's mercifully short: it's nearer a novella than a novel in terms of length. I would hate someone to pick it up thinking it's a long book and feel shortchanged, so I'd want them to know in advance that it's a quick but satisfying read.
2. The premise for Composition is very unique. How’d you come up with the idea?
There are four intersecting stories at the core of the book and these originated in different ways. For one it was reading a weird detail in a newspaper article and another from sitting down and consciously writing micro-fiction for 2 hours.
3. Who are some writers that have affected your storytelling sensibilities?
For any Welsh writer Dylan Thomas' presence is never far away. As well as the obvious contribution he makes to part four of the book, I can hear his cadences in some of the passages throughout. Bret Easton-Ellis taught me to be true to my characters and brave when that meant exposing uncomfortable truths about them. Kafka proved irrefutably that short fiction need not mean insubstantial fiction. Every writer I've read who ever employed symbolism to good effect carries some blame: there's LOTS of symbolism in this book. I fantasise about there being a CliffsNotes.
4. What methods and strategies have you employed in order to promote both yourself as an author, as well Composition?
Considering I work in Media & Communications I've been pretty remiss on that front. I have zero costs but also no publicity budget to speak of. I did a run of promotional postcards and I tend to take those with me everywhere in case I get a chance to drop some off somewhere. Literature Wales have been helpful in getting it noticed within Wales; ditto the Bibliobabes on a more international level.
For me writing starts with a concept or even just a weird little detail. Initially it's not a linear process, just something I've made a deal with myself to explore. It's quite playful actually and can seem like something I'm just doing for my own amusement. I can stop writing for days to research and plan until I get things straight in my own head, then it's green for go again. I write best between 10:30pm and 4:00am, which means I've been really unproductive since I started cohabiting, but the bags under my eyes are smaller.
6. Did you have any concerns with how readers would respond to Composition, being that it begins with a taboo subject matter?
Not really, but then I tend to give readers a lot of credit. That said, I know I've asked a lot of them and it's been interesting to see how people have responded. One review noted that the opening chapters made for uncomfortable reading at times and it was only then I realised I've probably lost other readers during those chapters, maybe to their weak stomachs or to assumptions the whole book is going to be like that.
7. What drove you to write Composition?
The Devil made me do it.
8. Where do you see your writing career five years from now?
I'd like to see 'Composition' achieve its potential and for me to know it's been read in significant numbers. I know I need to put as much time into being visible as an author and making my work visible as I do to producing that work. I guess the important thing looking five years ahead is that I've established an audience and I'm not starting from scratch each time I promote new work.
9. What are you currently working on?
It took a lot of work to produce that odd, little book and I'll admit I'm a bit daunted by trying to take on the larger canvas of a full-length novel. I'm just playing with ideas for the moment, some nice short stories are coming from it but nothing I've wanted to explore in a longer form yet.
When I was talking to a London agency about 'Composition' they said it would be virtually impossible to place a novella-length book by a first-time author with a mainstream publisher; they wanted a full-length novel and asked if I could bolt another 25,000 words on to the book they'd already seen and liked. I started extending it but it felt dishonest. Yes the book was short, but it was already finished. That experience illustrates the choice any author, aspiring or established, faces, not just when it comes to distribution but each time they sit down to write: what is going to shape your book? Will it be the truth of the story you want to tell or the influence of the market? Both are legitimate, but the existence of a healthy independent publishing sector means right now you can be uncompromising without being unread. I hope that continues and that more writers choose this route; it seems to be how some of the most innovative, original and downright quirky books are finding their way into the world.