Back in 2018, I was lucky enough to interview contemporary fiction author Nigel Cartner on my personal blog. You can read that interview, re-posted here, via this link. I re-posted that interview here in April to remind my readers of his expert advice and insight—now including some bonus content—to benefit the contemporary writers out there.
This year, Nigel was kind enough to update us on how life as a writer is for him in 2020, 2 years later.
But first, let's get to know Nigel.
Born and raised in Manchester and heavily influenced by music, film and literature, I’ve aspired to work in and around the creative arts since my teenage years. It was only when I hit my late twenties that life took a fortunate turn and gave me the opportunity to fulfil those dreams. I was invited to write for a local online music fanzine, naturally jumping at the chance to review and interview underground bands on the rock music scene. It quickly became apparent from feedback that I had a natural flair for creative writing within the industry, and I continue to be a writer and reviewer on the scene to this day.
There has always been a connection with the Manchester music scene down the years, whether that’s from the great bands that helped create the status Manchester currently sits upon, or the work I’ve done in helping little known local bands push a bit further towards achieving their own dreams. My main passion has always been for music from the 60s and 70s, and the rock icons that made that time so great. The wisdom and attitude shown by those legends played into my own mindset, and none more so than The Doors. It’s the chord striking lyrics of my favourite band, and of the many great songs of the times, that have always acted as a mantra to how I’ve tried to approach life.
Over the years, my involvement with music continued to progress and I now co-host and co-run the Sonic Bandwagon radio show on Stockport radio station, Pure 107.8FM. This enthusiasm for music has become an integral part of my writing, very evident in my first novel, ‘Lost in Manchester, Found in Vegas’.
I’ve always been drawn to novels that explore coming of age as part of the theme. The likes of Rex Pickett and Nick Hornby are personal favourites as they capture this idea of ordinary people thrust into dark times, who eventually manage to come through adversity improved by the experience. But it’s the extremities and intrigue of writers such as Hunter S Thompson and Charles Bukowski, and their use of brutal honesty, pushing boundaries into the darker side of life that really attracts me. It is their ingenuity, coupled with their depravity and rebelliousness which has me completely hooked.
The fascination and passion I hold for music and literature had to eventually come to a head. Sure enough, a holiday to Las Vegas with my friends acted as a catalyst for me to throw all these influences and ideas together. ‘Lost in Manchester, Found in Vegas’ is a story born out of the fires of such artistic influences, overlaid with my own voice and approach.
How important is research to you when you're writing your first draft?
I think it depends on what you’re writing. I can imagine that someone writing about something quite complex that involves police work or the law for example may need to do extensive research beforehand. For myself, I have only written travel-based stories where the experience itself was the research. Any research I need to conduct afterwards doesn’t have to be as extensive and can be fitted in where necessary after the first draft.
When did you realise you wanted to be a writer? In other words, why are you a writer, and how important is it to you?
From my late teens there was always this little voice in my head telling me that it was something I had to accomplish someday. It was only by gaining more life experience when ideas started to flow more freely. I began my first serious writing steps days after returning from a trip to Las Vegas, and I suddenly found that I was writing a novel. From there the floodgates opened and I got involved in writing within the music industry by reviewing gigs and albums. It’s now become a compulsion in life and I’m so happy I found my way to that point.
Journal Prompt: When did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
What inspires you to write, and where do you get your ideas?
Music and film are huge sources of inspiration, and they work together as I can use a specific song and visualise a scene from the story I’m writing playing out in my head and the idea runs from there. A lot of general inspiration comes from everyday living and what I’ve already experienced in life. I have a tendency to experience something or see or hear about something and either use it or go off on a tangent and completely embellish a ‘what if’ story around it.
...since being furloughed I’ve been strict and regimented in sticking to a timetable...
Do you have a schedule for writing, or do you write only when you feel inspired? How often do you manage to write and when you do, how many words can you manage in one sitting?
Pre-lockdown my day job has always made it difficult to keep to a schedule but since being furloughed I’ve been strict and regimented in sticking to a timetable and I’m hoping this is a lesson to take forward when we return to normality and I keep that work ethic and momentum going. I don’t tend to have a set word limit but once I finished a first draft I aimed to edit 20-25 pages of A4 a day which has been manageable.
Writers are often labelled as loners and introverts; in your opinion, is there any truth to that?
I think you have to have that element to your personality in order to be able to craft your work, but in general circumstances I don’t think you have to be a loner. Being more extroverted and social can be an invaluable tool for writing and generating ideas and dialogues.
Journal Prompt: are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you think this affects your productivity?
What would you say are the easiest and hardest things about writing a book? What do you love and hate the most about what you do?
The hardest is getting that first draft down. I always find that to create something that resembles some sort of story no matter how much editing is needed is the hardest part. Editing from there becomes easier, and I love the part which enables you to grow a story based on the first draft. I see the first draft exercise as seed planting really and the exciting bit comes when you see those seeds blossom and characters, descriptions and scenes start to grow, sharpen and take shape, but if you try and be a perfectionist like me, the 400th edit can get pretty tedious.
Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long did it last and how did you overcome it?
Plenty of times. Even when writing a page review on a band. Without fail, I always have a block when I stare at the blank page for a few minutes. Its like anything else. Overcome your fear. Just write and don’t worry if its bad. That’s what editing is for. Music helps to blow the cobwebs clear as does going for a walk or exercise…usually with headphones on.
The White Room Special: Nigel Cartner (YouTube) - 19/03/2019
When you finish writing a book, how long do you wait before beginning the editing process and why? Do you edit your own work, or hire someone else to help you?
Pretty much straight away, like the day after, I’ll go back to the beginning and edit as much as I can myself before passing it onto my editor. I do this while its fresh in my mind so any ideas I have I can add in. The process goes like this a few times till we’re both happy, but while it’s with the editor for a week or two, I do like to step away from the book having gone through it a couple of times.
Many people advise not to judge a book by its cover. As an independent author, what are your thoughts on cover quality? Would you say it plays an important role in sales?
I would say it depends where you buy your books from. If you’re browsing in a book store then a cover can stand out and make someone pick the book up. If readers are shopping online then I don’t think it makes as relevant. I would prefer to have a cool cover though.
Some people believe independent (self-published) authors produce books of poor quality in comparison to traditionally published books, often down to editing and cover design issues. What is your opinion on this; what would you say to those people as an independent author?
That might be the case regards editing and cover design which probably comes down to budget. But that’s not to say all self-published books have poor cover design or are badly edited. Books that go through publishers don’t always have great covers or edited well. I guess the scope for error is less with traditional publishers. What I will say, is that I think there are just as many, if not more, interesting stories and plots amongst the self-publishers than the traditional ones, and that is the most important aspect.
What is your experience of publishing so far? How have you chosen to publish and why? What do you feel are the benefits of this method?
I initially wrote to traditional publishers and was rejected from the twelve I wrote too. I then decided to self-publish, solely because I wanted to live my dream of getting a book out there and the people I trusted were confident that what I’d written would stand up against everything else out there. I have not regretted the decision at all. Mainly because I retain complete control. I hear stories from people who are published who complain about the publisher. Unless I happen to get one of the big publishers on board to throw some marketing weight behind the book, I’ll continue to self-publish.
I still remember two words taught to me at primary school...
If you were asked to give advice to primary school children about writing creatively, what top tip would you share with them?
At that age, probably to read as much as you can, and learn the basics of grammar, spelling, and sentence and paragraph structure. Broaden your vocab range as well. I still remember two words taught to me at primary school to this day that I still use. “Catalyst” and “Catastrophe”.
If you were asked to give advice to secondary school children about writing creatively, what top tip would you share with them and would this differ at all to the previous question?
It probably doesn’t differ too much except that it’s a progression on primary school level. Possibly writing more often to develop your own style.
Lots of authors struggle to market and promote their book/s. Do you have any top tips you can share with them, and what have you found to be most effective?
I would say organising book signings is the main one that’s worked for me. Getting out there and promoting your book and meeting people is fundamental to getting your name known. Social media is obviously a huge thing these days with its various channels. In the creative arts I believe that marketing starts with your immediate friends and family and can grow from there. Reviews/interviews/features are also huge, whether they are on amazon or on other sites and publications like what you’re doing, Rachael. People can have a reach that you can’t. Contact your local press too and try and build up interest that way. I’m sure there are many other avenues I’ve yet to explore that work for other authors, like placing your book solely on amazon and using their marketing tools. One thing I feel reluctant to do is to go down the paid review route. I tried Facebook Ads once in the run up to Christmas. As far as I could tell, it did nothing for me.
Putting pen to paper so to speak can be a powerful release and can help sift through emotions and thoughts that cloud your mind.
What is your opinion on the benefits of writing on mental health issues including anxiety and depression? Would you recommend it as a form of self-therapy; of looking inward and reflecting? If not, why?
I think it can be an invaluable method to help with self-therapy. When I wrote my first book, I had some issues going on and the writing experience proved to be rather cathartic in helping me overcome those issues. Putting pen to paper so to speak can be a powerful release and can help sift through emotions and thoughts that cloud your mind.
Do you believe that writing can be learned, or that you must be born with a passion and/or talent?
That’s a tricky question. Writing can be learnt for sure. But in order to pen a novel you need something extra than being a good writer. You need to have a warped passion and dogged determination about you because writing a book is not an easy process at all. But, I also believe you can’t learn to have a vivid imagination. That’s something that you’re born with or develop very early on in life.
Do you believe that it's more challenging to write about beliefs, morals and values that conflict with your own? How do you feel about books that explore unusual, 'risky' themes? When reading these books, do you feel at all uncomfortable?
I would say its more challenging for sure, because you’re going against your personality, but by the same rule I also think it would be highly interesting and rewarding. I don’t feel uncomfortable reading books that depict conflicting morals. I actually welcome the emotion it invokes in me. Writing should give you the freedom to write about anything and everything. I’ve seen reviews on amazon for books from my fellow peers that attack them because a character is a certain way and they were offended by it. I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous in my life. The way I see it, if you have made someone that uncomfortable with a character and his actions to the point the reader feels the need to be negative in a review, then you’ve done your job. You’ve invoked an emotion, and the reader is too small-minded to grasp that.
I also believe you can’t learn to have a vivid imagination.
World-building applies to all genres, even to those where it is not necessary for authors to create unique societies, landscapes and species. No matter your chosen genre, what top tip can you give aspiring authors when world-building?
Hard question for me to answer as my books have been based on some degree of truth so I have an image in my mind that I want to depict. I guess from that perspective I go down the Roy Walker, ‘Catchphrase’ approach, “Say What You See”.
How do you view and define success? What does it mean to you, and do you currently feel successful? If not, what would you need to achieve to reach success?
I think everyone has the same dream of becoming a bestselling author and to become a full-time author. The reality is that’s not likely to happen for most of us. Although they were my dreams initially, I’m not sure I would like to become an author full-time nowadays, unless I was offered something that would set me up for life. But I think if you manage to complete a book, that in itself is deemed a monumental success as it’s not an easy feat to achieve. I have the utmost respect to anyone who completes a book, and if just one person takes something from your story and gives you a pat on the back then you’ve done your job and that should be seen as success. Anything after that is a bonus and should be enjoyed. There’s no better feeling than someone you don’t know letting you know they loved your book and it resonated with them. That trumps any financial reward from writing.
There’s no better feeling than someone you don’t know letting you know they loved your book and it resonated with them.
What is the secret to becoming a bestselling author, if you believe there is one? Do you agree an Amazon bestselling status counts, even if that status was for a free or discounted book?
I don’t think there’s any great secret. Being with a traditional publisher will help a lot as they can market in a way an indie author can’t from a financial and time point of view. There are ways to be marketing savvy and become a best seller via amazon, which counts for something to have that status behind you, but that system can be manipulated so I don’t place too much emphasis on it and it doesn’t sway my decision to buy a book.
How do you deal with rejection, criticism and bad reviews from friends, family and strangers? What would you say to someone struggling with a lack of support, or worried about online negativity?
Constructive negative reviews and criticism I can handle and will take onboard as everyone has an opinion and some of them can be useful. I always tell my editor to be completely brutal with me on her edits though. I understand that my book won’t appeal to everybody and that’s fine. I don’t expect everyone to love it. What I don’t tolerate is rudeness and people crossing boundaries with their comments. I think there’s a deeper issue going on from the accuser if that happens, so I take no notice. I don’t get why people would feel the need to be rude on an amazon review to someone they don’t know. It really baffles me. The advice I give is to try not to take it to heart and never respond to them. Brené Brown has a good quote on this, “If you’re not in the arena getting your butt kicked too, I’m not interested in your feedback.” I find that so profound and she has been somewhat of an inspiration as a writer post release of my debut novel. Other quotes from unknown sources to listen to if you find it difficult to cope with negative feedback that isn’t constructive are, “You will never be criticized by someone who is doing more than you. You will only be criticized by someone doing less.” And, “When someone judges you, it isn’t actually about you. It’s about them and their own insecurities.”
Why not answer some of these questions yourself and post them on your blog?
BONUS: What question/ comment do you hate receiving in relation to writing? Why do you think it frustrates you so much, and have other authors agreed with you? What answer/s do you usually give?
I know people are genuinely being nice and interested but when people I know keep asking me how the sequel to my book was coming along. Eventually it started to annoy me and put me under a greater sense of pressure, which is probably my own doing and problem to overcome really.
Get to know Nigel!
Who is your favourite author and why?
I’m not sure I have a definitive favourite author or genre, but I like different authors from different genres, fiction and non-fiction. Nick Hornby and Rex Pickett are fictional favourites of mine who can tell a relatable story mixing humour and emotion. I love Charles Bukowski and Hunter S Thompson for their extremities, and they kind of fall under non-fiction in many respects. They’re so raw, and I’m attracted to that mentality of the times.
I do like a good fictional thriller too, Jillianne Hoffman’s, ‘Retribution’ is possibly my favourite from that genre. I do find myself truly gripped by Dan Brown novels too. Of course, being a lover of music I’m gripped by autobiographies/biographies of rock stars – with Jerry Hopkins’ ‘The Lizard King: The definitive Jim Morrison’ being my favourite.
Tea, Coffee or Hot Chocolate?
Stephen King On Writing
Last Book Reviewed:
Rock n Roll n That by Stephen Gill
Favourite Writing Food/Drink:
Coffee. I don’t eat while writing. That’s what breaks are for.
A quote you live by and why:
"You can ultimately fail at what you don’t want so you might as well do something that you love!” – Jim Carrey
Nigel Cartner is a British contemporary fiction author.
His latest book, Lost In Manchester, Found In Vegas (05/09/2017) is heavily influenced by music and takes place in Las Vegas, USA and can be purchased in paperback and e-book via Amazon.
You can read about Nigel and his work at http://njcartner.com/.
If you are interested in this book, you can find the details below:
"Ricky Lever’s life is thrown into despair following the break up of his long-term relationship, and with it comes the realisation that life is in danger of passing him by. Desperate for answers, he embarks on a soul-searching trip to Las Vegas with three of his oldest friends, hoping that a new direction in life will be revealed to him.In the midst of the excitement, madness and ecstasy of the city’s atmosphere, life changing revelations prove to be a little harder to come by than Ricky hoped, and he is pushed to take the ultimate gamble. Bringing the city of Las Vegas to life with a killer soundtrack running throughout, this uniquely told coming of age story twists and turns through euphoric highs and emotive lows. From excessive gambling to heavy drinking, strip clubs to the desert, the biggest hotels to the lowliest bars, ride along for the trip of a lifetime as these four ordinary lads from Manchester make the most of the extraordinary world of Las Vegas. Seen through the eyes of Ricky, ‘Lost in Manchester, Found in Vegas’ is a hilarious, honest, and emotional journey showing how six nights in Sin City can influence a man at a crossroads in life."
The 2018 interview was originally posted on www.erachaelhardcastle.com. It has been re-posted here by Rachael Hardcastle for your information and enjoyment.
If you would like to complete and submit an interview of your own for the blog, get in touch today through this website's contact form.