Ali George

How to Write 12 Books in 12 Months – An Interview with Writer/Illustrator Ali George

Most writers are faced with a difficult decision as October draws to an end – whether to take part in NaNoWriMo (more details below). I’ve never managed it myself and having tried and failed to write a novel when I was younger the thought brings me out in a cold sweat.

So for the next in the Clear-Minded Creative Types series I looked to local writer Ali George for advice and more info on what drives her to work so hard.

As well as being a NaNo veteran, the level of output she maintains on her own blogs and in a variety of other outlets is hugely impressive, and oh yeah, there’s that small challenge she set herself for 2011 – writing a book every month. I hadn’t even realised that she is also an illustrator.

Creative Types Catch Up

Pears in bowl - by Elizabeth Destouches

Hello! No, I haven’t forgotten you, I’ve just been a bit disorganised recently.

Firstly, thanks very much to Elizabeth and Paul for sharing their creative work on Facebook as part of Share Your Wares Sunday. Now I know full well that a lot more of you are doing good stuff (hint – blog posts count as creative too), so feel free to share what you’re up to either over on Facebook or in the comments. I’ll not limit it to Sundays but that would be the best day as it allows me to keep track of it.

Ten Top Creative Types

There are now 10 Clear-Minded Creative types featured on this blog, not to mention the Four Creative Types that I interviewed for www.gaseousbrain.com (who were the unwitting guineapigs for the series).

And although there’s plenty more interviews with inspiring creative people to come, I’ve not had the chance to get them online for a couple of weeks (apologies) so it seems like as good a time as any to catch up with what our ten creative types so far have been up to.

Japan

I’m still reeling from what’s happened in Japan, it’s almost unimaginable what people went through when the earthquake and tsunami struck and are continuing to go through with the aftermath, especially the truly terrifying nuclear power station problems. It certainly puts things into perspective in my own little life, where I often complain for the sake of complaining, forgetting how truly fortunate I am.

  • Hande Zapsu Watt and her friends at the Istanbul Review are asking people to make 1000 folded cranes to send a message of hope to the children of Japan, it’s a really nice idea and I hope you consider getting involved as it is definitely an opportunity to do something creative and feel you’re making a contribution. Of course you can also help in other ways – Google’s crisis response page is a good place to start, and Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen also has suggestions of how to help out.
  • Andrew Eaton is still posting some of his more obscure recordings on his ‘Might Make a B-Side’ blog, and through his label Biphonic Records (which he runs with Swimmer One bandmate Hamish Brown) he’s releasing a new album by a band called Luxury Car which is worth checking out.
  • Mr Thom Chambers has released the most recent issue of In Treehouses, called The Profit of Free which is all about using free content to build an audience. As always, it’s beautifully designed and acts as a teaser for his new product, the Free Fans Kit which looks very useful indeed.
  • Our most recent interview was with Mary Gordon of Creative voyage who’s got an interesting post on ‘the joy of part-time work’. I would agree, but I’ve only actually had two of my Monday’s free since going part-time as I’ve been working freelance or travelling back from family visits all of the other days. But yes, in theory, I agree  :)

So, what creative stuff have you been up to? Let me know in the comments!

* Affiliate links – if you buy, I get a cut. I only recommend things I own myself and have found useful.
Dougie takes his time getting into a cab, NYC

Broadcaster & Writer Douglas Anderson

Dougie takes his time getting into a cab, NYC

The third in this weekly series of interviews with clear-minded creative types is my old pal Douglas Anderson. It was a no-brainer to include him here because Dougie is probably the most determinedly creative person I have ever met. I’ve seen him go from making daft DIY videos about the A-Team for a laugh to interviewing Dirk Benedict (aka The Face) himself on live national breakfast telly (I nearly choked on my Cheerios!).

All the way though he’s worked on and developed his own creativity, whether it be by scripting and directing his own short films or writing regularly on his website.  He was most recently spotted performing as top Scottish band Belle & Sebastian’s manager (more on that below) and is a regular on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Fighting Talk.

Hey Dougie – tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a broadcaster and writer primarily but also try to keep doing my personal creative projects in my spare time such as short filmmaking. I’ve worked a lot for the BBC and Channel 4 as well as other broadcasters, production companies, bands and writers.

Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now?

From my mid teens all I really wanted to do was be in a band and play music. I went on to play in several but although coming close at times never got signed.

It was all a valuable experience though and I went on to work with some good independent music producers and contribute music to short films and independent features. I became more and more interested in short filmmaking and along with some likeminded friends, started to make my own. It was all very DIY, no budget but a lot of fun and creatively gratifying.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do professionally and the whole TV world seemed an impenetrable place, a bit like the Death Star. However, I filmed a short about what you can get up to in the summer if you’re skint, edited it in-camera (who knew where edit suites were?) and sent it to the BBC. They saw something in it and that’s how I got into presenting and the media world.

I would quickly find out that this was not a typical entrance as other presenters seemed to be either ex-models or former researchers who wanted to appear in front of camera. This contributed to me feeling like I was slightly in my own world due to my creative background but that’s not necessary a bad thing.

I also enjoyed not having to rely on other musicians who can be, shall we say, unreliable at times. I liked knowing that I could rely on myself to get stuff done. Obviously, I needed the work opportunities as well.

Have you organised your life in a certain way/made  sacrifices in order to continue to be creative?

 

I’ve made quite a few sacrifices but that’s what you have to do at times. Someone in my position needs to be focused and I think I have a good work ethic, as old fashioned as that sounds. One of the biggest things I did was moving to London from Edinburgh without a job at the other end. It was a risk in some ways but one I was prepared to take.

You can look at these type of things as part of life’s adventures but when you’re on the overnight bus surrounded by drunks and not knowing how things will pan out, it can feel a bit nervy.

Sometimes it’s good to take a leap in to the unknown. Other sacrifices are simpler but still important such as deciding not to go to the pub and instead try and start a script you have the seed of an idea for. The pint will always taste better after you have got somewhere with an idea.

I’ve met some people over the years who seem to have a Bukowski-esque outlook to creativity ie, get drunk, talk about what they are going to do artistically but never get around to it. The thing is, Charles got drunk but he never forgot to write.

 

How do you define success?

If success means having loads of money then I’m in trouble. There’s no doubt that it’s nice to be paid well for your creativity but I’ve never taken the quick buck for the sake of it. Maybe I should have done but you go with instinct. I suppose success could be viewed as being personally gratified at the body of work you have done. Or as I mentioned earlier, being able to do professional work as well as independent creative ventures.

I still do short films, they don’t make money but they are good to do. For example, last year I filmed my short Timber! Due to good will and contacts, I got professional actors in and a great crew. I ended up being producer, actor, director and a lot more besides but I saw it as a success as I got something from script to the finished article which I think looks great. It’s a cliche but it is surprising what you can accomplish if you put your mind to it, keep focused and put in the necessary effort.

Screenshots from Timber, featuring Dougie & Miles Jupp

We all have to make money and there are definitely times when you have to do jobs which whilst perhaps not being the perfect gig, are good for other reasons such as making new contacts, raising your profile and of course making money to pay the bills.

To give you another example, I worked with Belle & Sebastian recently, one of my favourite bands. They asked me personally and as a result, the show we made together felt very much like a successful creative undertaking. It didn’t make me loads of money but it wasn’t like I started looking at flats in Mayfair before filming began. I went record shopping instead!

What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

It’s important to have a web presence but more than that, a good web site. I see some presenters’ sites and at times it looks like a case of style over substance. For me, it’s great to have a site where I can have examples of my professional work, short films, articles I’ve written and a blog.

I guess some of the negatives are that everyone seems to have an online presence so there’s a lot of competition for views. My advice would always be to have a site which is easy to navigate. You don’t want to get to a site and have no idea where the blog is or examples of work and have to drag your mouse over loads of images in the hope they might link to something. As I’m bound to say, I think my site looks good, but it’s also easy to get around.

Do you collaborate with others or prefer to work alone, and why?

I love working with others. On tv and radio shows there are obviously more than those on-air working on the show. It’s also nice to be around fellow creatives to share and exchange ideas. Regardless of all that, it’s good to be around those with a similar outlook to yourself.

It’s funny as ‘media types’ have a certain reputation and there is some truth in it but there are many others who work in the industry because like me, they had an unquenchable urge to create in some form of artistic realm. It’s also important to have friends who don’t work in the industry as you don’t want to be submerged in it all the time. That would be counter productive and also bloody boring.

Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?

 

Well, as someone who lives in London, community in the traditional sense is not too prevalent due to the vastness of the city. It’s different online of course where geography goes out the window somewhat. Networking sites such as Twitter are certainly helpful as they can put similar minded people in touch and open communications.

I’ve often found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly – is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?

I’ve always been of the mind set that you never really master a craft, you just get better at it the more you do it. It’s all a continuous learning process. I think it’s good to learn as many crafts as possible but at the same time not spread yourself too thin.

You can undoubtedly learn many skills without at times knowing what they are. It’s a case of determining what skills you have amassed and how they can be used to greatest effect. That sounds like something a careers advisor would say and I’m not one of those, I’m still trying to determine my own!

You can hear Dougie on a recent Word Magazine podcast below.

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Andrew Eaton - photo taken by Hamish Brown

Musician & Journalist Andrew Eaton

Andrew Eaton – photo taken by Hamish Brown

The second in this series of interviews with inspiring creative people is musician and journalist Andrew Eaton.

Andrew co-runs Biphonic Records, an Edinburgh based independent label, through which he releases some great music including his own, both in the band Swimmer One and for his solo project Seafieldroad. And he’s even been brave enough to share some of his home demos on his new blog!

I asked him to introduce himself and answer some probing questions on his creative habits:

Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?

By day I’m an arts journalist for the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. On evenings and weekends I make music – with my band Swimmer One and as Seafieldroad (which is mostly me, but my bandmates are involved in that too).

I’m a slightly obsessive songwriter – I’ve recorded well over 40 hours of music since my early teens, mostly on a home studio. Recently I started sifting through all my old recordings and began posting them, one song a week, on a blog called Might Make A B Side.

A lot of them are terrible, but I’m putting them up anyway on the grounds that they’re sometimes terrible in a quite interesting way. Or a funny way. You should hear the way I sang as a 14-year-old.

Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?

I started writing songs at a very early age, without really intending to. I remember listening to Radio One as a child and thinking that particular songs would sound much better if there was a slightly different chord change in the middle eight. So I was sort of making my own versions of other people’s records, because I thought I could do it better.

If you listen to my old demos though, I’m all over the place – punky guitar songs, electropop, comedy songs, weird film soundtrack type music. I’ve never really had any idea what kind of music I wanted to make.

That’s still true now – Swimmer One are all over the place stylistically, especially on our second album. I don’t imagine there are many bands who get compared to both Belle and Sebastian and the Who. It’s probably not done us any favours commercially, but some people seem to like it, if they can get their heads around it.

How do you define success?

I suspect that success, creatively, is getting to do the thing that you really love doing for about two thirds of your time – and no more than that. If you do it all of the time, you probably end up hating it, or you stagnate, or you get stuck in a comfortable bubble. If you don’t get to do it often enough, you’re frustrated. It’s a fine line.

I suspect that, even though I’ve never made much of a ‘career’ out of music, I’ve been reasonably ‘successful’ at it, in the sense that I still love doing it and am excited by it. That’s what’s important.

 

What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

Technology has obviously made it much easier to make yourself visible to the world. The downside, of course, is that it’s much harder to make any money now – recorded music is no longer regarded as something you should pay for.

Even the most successful bands aren’t making the kind of money that they did a few years ago. Live performance and merchandise is the only way to make a living as a musician now, because those things can’t be downloaded. Unfortunately I don’t like playing live very much.

In terms of creating work, having spent years making quite complicated, ambitious, technology-based music with Swimmer One, I’m actually finding myself wanting to use as little technology as possible. My ‘solo’ project, Seafieldroad, is just me and a piano. That partly comes of wanting a simpler life generally. Technology is useful when it’s a tool for making life simpler, less so when it takes over your life.

Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?

I suspect I’d sound like a better person if I said yes to this, but the honest answer is no. The buzz idea these days is that musicians will thrive by collaborating with their fans – getting them to suggest song ideas via Twitter, or just offer direct feedback via the internet. That’s a lovely idea. But I’m still at my happiest making music on my own, or with a couple of other people, for ourselves and on our own terms.

Which is maybe one of the reasons why I’m not more successful – we’ve never been part of any ‘scene’, which undoubtedly helps you get along, especially in a place as small and community-spirited as the Scottish music industry – but you have to be true to yourself.

Swimmer One: Laura Cameron Lewis, Hamish Brown, Andrew Eaton. Photo by Jannica Honey

I’ve always found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly – is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?

I’m completely inconsistent, and all over the place creatively, possibly to my detriment. When I was younger I thought writing songs would get me nowhere so I should become a writer of other things. I tried to write a novel, was useless at it, and became a journalist instead.

In more recent years I’ve dabbled in theatre and in art installations, but rarely do the same thing twice. In the end I instinctively keep coming back to songwriting, and sometimes wish I’d focused more on that, and really pursued it, at an early age. I would have quite liked to be a songwriter-for-hire, someone like Eg White. I had no idea that existed as a living though.

Advice? Find something you love and are good at, and pursue that relentlessly rather than fall into something for the sake of it. You’ll probably have a more rewarding life. Then again, some of the most interesting, enjoyable and transforming experiences you have in life are the ones you have quite by accident. I’ve had a lot of those, and they’ve often made me very happy. So perhaps constistency is overrated.

That’s good to hear! Many thanks to Andrew for answering so honestly – what do you think? Say hello and add your thoughts in the comments.

Nine CMC

Clear-Minded Creative Types #1: Nine

Nine – picture by Emli Bendixen

This is the first in a series of interviews with creative types who are doing things a little differently to the norm, and I’m delighted that the first interview is with my friend Nine, who also happens to be one of my favourite writers. I asked her to introduce herself:

I’m a freelance editor, zinester, traveller, and member of the redundancy club. I work while I’m on the road, and avoid paying rent by finding house sitting assignments. My where-next shortlist changes weekly.

My zines are If Destroyed Still True (about stuff that happens to me) and Sex Industry Apologist (based on my years as a staff member at a support project for sex workers).

Abyssinia, Henry is my primary blog these days, documenting where I’m at, but my other one is called Everyone I Ever Kissed, which is exactly what it sounds like: it’s been on hiatus for a while, but I’ll get on with it eventually. I also used to edit the LGBT and subsequently Deviance sections of The Skinny magazine.

Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?

I pretty much always wanted to be a writer, though when I was a kid I wrote short stories and now I’m all about non-fiction. I like to read fiction by others, but real life is too interesting for me to make things up.

In my mid- to late teens I wanted to be a music journalist, and worked on that quite a bit, but eventually I got really sick of it – I felt like I was bluffing my way through it. I guess my motivation was wrong: I wanted to write about music because I loved music (and I loved getting free stuff, and getting onto the guest list reduced my chances of getting ID’d), but not because I loved writing about music.

I gradually realised that I’d been trying to sound like some sort of all-knowing observer with no discernible personality. I was writing in this voice because I thought that was what you were supposed to do. Then I discovered zines, and got more into punk and DIY scenes, and that kind of changed everything.

A lot of the zines I read had that confessional/memoir thing going on, which appealed to me. And I saw that actually, I could create something just the way I wanted it – I didn’t need to follow anyone else’s formula for what constitutes ‘proper’ writing or ‘proper’ publishing or whatever, and I could have full control of how it looked and where it went.

So then I wound up largely focusing on my own life, though often incorporating the personal-is-political approach. It’s always felt completely natural to me – I’m just writing in my own voice rather than taking a step back and pretending I’m not really there. Although I’m aware that my life might not be all that conventional by some people’s standards, it’s not actually about accentuating (perceived) difference. There are universal experiences to talk about, and I want to strike a chord with people.