The Ostrich Race tells the year in the life of Gordon Paige, a retired author. He has lost his wife and is quite lonely. His only respite is running the Ostrich Race, a game devised by his late wife’s family to keep them all in touch. This year, however, the race receives an anonymous entrant, and Gordon suddenly finds a new purpose, uncovering secrets both unknown and deeply buried.
Simon Birks has joined me today discuss the anonymous players and mysteries in his book ‘The Ostrich Race’. Simon, thanks for joining me today. Let’s start today’s interview with the start of your book, what was the initial inspiration for this book?
I initially thought of the title and went from there. I’m sure other people must do the same…!
Funnily enough I don’t believe that I’ve interviewed any other authors who started their book with title, but surely someone else must have run across this method at some period in time. Once you had your title down did you start researching the direction that you wanted to take the book in? Is research important for you as a storyteller?
I’m not the world’s greatest researcher and a lot of the book is drawn from either direct experience, or indirect. I drew on many different experiences when I wrote The Ostrich Race, but I also took on board situations I’d been told about, as well as making some of it up!
*Laughs*. I like that honesty. Is that honesty an approach that you bring when you are considering the themes that you want to centre the storyline around?
As I’ve gained more and more experience in writing, themes have begun appearing, almost automatically. I think it’s important to let the themes bubble to the surface, and then work on them once known.
That’s a good strategy. So what is the basic premise of what your story is about?
It’s a story about family and relationships most of us will be familiar with.
They are really strong aspects of everyone’s lives. And since you are focusing on relationships the character development must play a significant role in the progress of the plot. How did the characters themselves progress?
Developing characters is always an interesting experience. There are many characters in this book, and they all have an important part to play, so I had to make sure they were all distinct enough so I could help the reader understand what was going on.
Did you have one or more characters that really left a distinct mark on you? And have any of them left a distinct enough mark on you to follow you to your dreams?
Aunt Vee is one of my favourite characters. She tells things as they are, and is a lovely person to boot. I have never dreamed about them at all, which is great considering all the conscious time I spent with them.
Dreaming is just a tad too far then. How much conscious time did you spend with your characters writing this book?
It probably took me a year to write, and it was done in stages. I wrote the first draft, left it a year or so, then came back to it to finish it off.
A year of solid interaction and then a bit more when you came back, that’s a decent amount of time of character/ writer interaction. With this amount of history between yourself and the characters would you go out on the town with Aunt Vee, or perhaps another one of your characters if you had the chance?
I’d take Tony out for a beer, as well as Gordon, as these two don’t have it easy at all, and I can empathise with them well.
Has that empathy extended into another novel with these characters, or are you building up relationships with new characters?
I’ve just published my latest novel, The Ballad of Broken Song Book One – Death and Resurrection, which is the first part of a fantasy trilogy.
Good luck working through your new trilogy. Now that you’ve gotten some experience and worked through the process of writing a novel I am hoping that you can share how you approach writing and publishing as I find it amazing how writers differ on how they write. Do you have any specific techniques for the actual writing process that you use?
When I’m writing a novel, I try and write every day, and try and hit 1000 words, more if possible. I write on my train journey to and from work, and sometimes in my lunch hours.
So you’re really trying to make efficient use of your time by picking up and using little bits of ‘dead time’, I like that technique. Do you use a similar approach for editing?
For The Ostrich Race, I edited the book myself. Now, however, I use an editor to go through and point out all of my writing faux-pas!
Editors are great for picking those up! Did you also make your own cover for The Ostrich Race?
I searched online for the type of artist I wanted and found Peter Spells who did a great job. I knew what I wanted the cover to look like, and I was very happy with the result.
I agree, he’s done a good job. Do you have any tips for authors that you think might guide them through the self-publishing process with greater ease?
My tip would be to go for it. I’ve recently used a site to print my book, and they’ve been fantastic. I work in IT, so I have a reasonably good understanding of getting my book ready for printing, but there are services out there to help you with that, too.
It’s great that we live in a time when it’s so simple to get things like your own book printed. For you, what was the most fulfilling part of getting this book to completion?
I’m sure a lot of people say ‘finishing it’, and because it was the first novel, I’d have to agree. I write in many genres, and each has their own challenges, but novel writing takes a long time.
Getting it complete does seem to be repeated often, but as you mentioned it takes a long time and getting it done is really a great achievement. Now, I haven’t done a round of quick fire questions for a few interviews so I’m hoping that you’ll indulge me a little today Simon. After all the question bank is going be changed after the rapidly approaching 100th interview, and I’d like to take a few of these questions out for a spin while they are still around. So hold onto your hat and let me know what you think about the following as fast as possible:
What are you currently reading?
Necronomicon by H. P. Lovecraft
What was your favourite book as a child?
Can’t remember. I do like Dr Seuss.
Who doesn’t :)! Who is your favourite literary character?
Do you have any philosophies that you live by?
Is there a book that you wish that you would have written?
Something Wicked This Way Comes
What is your favourite quote?
‘I have shaken, never bitten, Every hand that ever hit me.’ Del Amitri – Last Cheap Shot at the Dream
What is your zodiac sign?
Fellow water bearer! If you could breed two animals together to defy the laws of nature what new animal would you create?
Not a unicorn. I really don’t like unicorns. I guess I’d create something fluffy, which could make tea.
A fuzzy friend who makes a good brew, I’d be done for that! Can you stand on your hands unassisted?
I can place my hands under my feet, but I’m guessing that’s not what you mean…
Not precisely, no, but I think you get extra points for trying to use that method. If you could steal one thing without consequence what would it be?
Lots of money.
Can you curl your tongue?
Only with assistance.
Duly noted. Which are cooler? Dinosaurs or Dragons?
Now that is awesome and a clear winner. What’s the most unusual name you’ve ever come across?
Benedict Cumberbatch. He wins every time.
What is your favourite line, quote or statement from your book?
“In all that we are, we are most, in love.”
What is your day job, and how does it influence your writing?
The day job is IT. It doesn’t influence my writing, thankfully!
IT isn’t that bad. Most of the time, unless you’re on Helpdesk and the IT severs are melting down, cause that is not pleasant. What is your best tip for authors?
Keep going, but don’t force it.
Who are your favourite authors, and do you believe that they have influenced your writing style?
My favourite authors are Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury and Terry Pratchett. I’m not sure how they’ve influenced my novels, but I know I’m a better person for reading their books.
How did you feel when you got your first book review?
The reviews have been great about the book, and it’s a pleasure to receive every one of them. To have strangers read and like your work is extraordinarily rewarding.
What is your favourite quote from another author?
Kill your darlings.
What is your favourite word?
Splatsch. Just made it up.
I like it, put it into wider use in your next book. Simon, thanks for joining me today, I really appreciate the time that you set aside a little time to talk with me today and I wish you the best of luck both with your promotion of The Ostrich Race and your work on the first volume of your upcoming trilogy.
Want to find out more about Simon? Connect here!