1 June 2014
Interview with Callum McLaughlin, author of The Vessel.
When I was about six, I hand wrote and illustrated (to the best of my limited ability) a book called Lucy and the Lettuce Monster. It was about a young girl whose dinner of lettuce (not a full salad, just lettuce) came to life, and so began an exhilarating chase around her home as Lucy tried to vanquish her foe before her mother found out. Needless to say it won’t be going into publication any time soon but I remember being immensely proud of that book and holding on to it for a long time.
2. When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That’s a tricky question because even now I have issues with it. I think the title, ‘writer’, comes with a lot of preconceived ideas and a pressure to see success. Though I have written and released a novel and had, upon last check, over 320 articles published on various blogs, websites and magazines, I still find myself clamming up and mumbling a half-hearted, awkward response whenever someone asks what my job is. That’s probably something I should work on!
3. What inspired you to write your first book?
I always loved books growing up and regularly planned out and wrote my own stories. Then throughout school, English was always the subject that grabbed my attention and saw the biggest reward for my efforts. I was lucky in particular in my last two years of high school to have a brilliant teacher that kept that passion for literature going in spite of exam stress and whatnot; it’s a period when I think a lot of kids unfortunately stop seeing books as creative forms of entertainment and simply a source to be picked apart for exam purposes but that was never the case for me. I think it also helped that my uncle is a playwright who has worked extensively with the BBC, as well as having brought many of his own productions to the stage and radio, as I knew that achieving a career in the creative world was possible, even for normal people with big dreams.
4. How did you come up with the title?
My first book, The Vessel, actually had a completely different working title during the entirety of the first draft but I just knew it wasn’t right. When I wrote the very last scene, I referred to the heroine as ‘the vessel’ and it was literally like a light bulb was triggered in my mind; I knew it was what I had been looking for. It fit in many ways and after that, I couldn’t even consider anything else.
5. What books have most influenced you?
I’m a big fan of Thomas Hardy’s work, especially Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The cinematic yet poetic nature of his descriptions is something I have long admired, as well as his willingness to take on subjects that were in his time largely ignored. The ambiguous intrigue of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw taught me that sometimes, less is more. I would also say that the sheer creative genius of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series taught me that your imagination need know no bounds, while her later efforts proved that you don’t have to limit yourself to only one genre or style. I could go on, because I think there is something to learn from everything we read, but I’ll leave it at that for now.
6. What book are you reading now?
I’m working on a couple at the moment; Perfect People by Peter James and Before I go to Sleep by SJ Watson. My ‘to read’ list is getting out of hand though. I am constantly getting distracted by something new.
7. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part for me was accepting when it was done and sending it out into the world for everyone to see. A story spends so long living solely in your mind that, as cliché as it sounds, it becomes almost like a part of you. To have it suddenly be out of your control and at the mercy of anyone who happens to find it is equally as terrifying as it is exciting.
8. Do you use an outline or just write?
I always make an outline of the major plot elements, usually using bullet points to walk me through them in chronological order to help keep me on track. Smaller details and sub-plots that add depth to a character or a story, I much prefer to leave to the actual writing process. If things were too overtly planned, I worry it would feel clinical and rigid; the exact opposite of what I think writing should be. A story sometimes takes an unexpected path and I like to leave room for that to happen where possible.
9. What are you working on right now? Tell us your latest news.
I’m working on a book that is very different to The Vessel. I’d say I’m about half-way through the initial draft, so still a long way off in terms of getting it out there in print, but I’ve got that same constant tinge of excitement I had last time when I hit my stride and the momentum began to build. The title as it stands will be False Awakening – I haven’t actually told anyone that yet, so I suppose you could call that something of an exclusive.
10. Is there any advice you’d like to share?
Every writer will tell you to keep reading and keep writing; I definitely agree. I would say above and beyond that though, the most important thing to remember if you want to write is that you should find your own voice. It’s too easy to compare yourself to other people or strive to emulate your idols but all you can really do is work hard to be the best version of yourself.
11. In your words, what defines a good story?
Something that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until you reach the end. If it can linger in your mind long after you turn the final page, even better.
12. What kind of questions do you ask yourself when you get an idea for a project?
There are lots of things I ask myself with regards to plot and planning but ultimately, I think there is one important question you must always ask yourself: Is this something that I would want to read? If your answer is yes, go for it!
If you’d like to see examples of Callum’s work, including his inspiring writing observations, short works and poetry, click here to visit the website.