An Interview with author Russ Litten
By Nick Quantrill
Russ Litten talks to fellow Hull author, Nick Quantrill, about his forthcoming novel ahead of their appearance at the launch of the 2010 Humber Mouth programme on June 27th at Pave, Princes Avenue.
Nick : Congratulations on signing the deal with Random House for Scream If You Want To Go Faster. Tell me a little bit about the book - what's the story?
Russ : It's the story of three days during late October in Hull. Within that, there are about ten different tales going on. A lot of the people involved cross paths at Hull Fair.
Or live near each other, or know each other. Ten inter-connected tales is probably the best way I could describe it.
Nick : With the backdrop of the book set against Hull Fair and the floods of 2007, would it be fair to say that the city is going to be fairly central to the story? Is there something in particular which draws you to writing about your home city? Did it pose challenges you didn't anticipate?
Russ : The fair is central to the story, more so than the city. As far as the floods go, it's set a few months after it all happened. Hull is fantastic in terms of a backdrop for telling a story. It's a port, for a start, so there are ten million stories floating around the place on any given day to begin with. And there's a certain romance about the fishing industry, as hard as it was.
Also, I think Hull has a real credulity towards the supernatural, and I found that interesting. I just think it's a superb place to write. The place has got soul. As for posing challenges - not really, no. I didn't really set out to write about Hull, it was more about the characters that inhabit the city in these particular stories. But I do think more books could be set in Hull. Someone could do a really good historical novel.
Nick : The novel comprises twelve characters brought together through ten interlocking stories \u2013 how did you handle the mechanics of writing it? Was it conceived as a set of short-stories, or did you know you were writing a novel from the start?
Russ : I realised it was a novel after writing about three short stories that interconnected. At that point I realised I was writing a longer book. The original intention was to do a collection like The Dubliners, or Winesburg Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. But once I realised the fair was the main character, everything I wrote seemed to hang together as one narrative.
I liken it a bit to that police helicopter that hovers above the city, dipping its headlight here and there. That's what reading the book should be like. Once I'd sussed that, it was full steam ahead.
Nick : The book has been described as being simultaneously poignant and hard-hitting. That seems to be something the city of Hull does well in other art forms, particularly at the Hull Truck Theatre. What influences are you prepared to admit to? What do you read for pleasure?
Russ : I agree about Hull Truck. Especially the stuff by Richard Bean. Under The Whaleback I loved, both as a script and a production. I think all of his stuff is just outstanding. Whoever I read for pleasure is an influence.
When I was a teenager it was the Beats; Kerouac, Burroughs, and also Mark Twain and Hunter S Thompson.
All that typical American stuff. Bukowski came a bit later, then Raymond Carver, who is a big influence. As for British writers, I like Niall Griffiths and Irvine Welsh and Richard Milward. David Peace as well. Loads of other stuff \u2013 Haruki Murakami is good.
And I like people who write for music as well, like Mark Smith and Tom Waits. I like a good music biography as well. I'm reading Julian Cope's at the minute. Top entertainment. Good writer an'all.
Nick : Looking at your background, you've enjoyed success in radio, film and music. What drew you to writing fiction? Did you find it difficult adapting to working in a different discipline, or was there something which set the pulse racing when you first started to write the novel?
Russ : I've always written fiction. Whatever I'm doing it for, it all usually starts off as an exercise in making something happen on the page. But in film and music, recording etc, all the different other elements come into control, usually while you're writing. And most of them are collaborative. I don't mind that, but I'd been doing it for what seemed like ages and I fancied just doing something on me own.
I've always written stuff down, but because I wrote commercially for so long, I got used to doing it all for money, not really for love. So I decided to write something out of love. And something that would not involve anyone else until it was finished. Writing is a solitary pursuit, and I think I just wanted a bit of peace and quiet, to be honest. A retreat.
But I think it's the purest form, the novel or the novella or script or short story or whatever. It's certainly the hardest to pull off. And as for emotional force of impact, there's only really music that touches it.
Nick : Signing with Random House imprint, Heinemann, will obviously give the book every opportunity of succeeding in commercial terms, but the publishing business seems to be changing rapidly with much more emphasis on the writer to promote their own work.
Have you got a marketing plan in place leading up to publication in February 2011? Are you expecting to get your hands dirty?
Russ : I don't know about a marketing plan. I'm presuming Heinemann have got one, but I haven't asked to look at it. If they want me to read from the book or talk about it, I will happily do so. I want people to buy it so I can publish another one. But as far as promotion and all that goes, the industry is going through a trough, like everything else.
So there's no money for advertising etc. I don't think they do that for debut writers anyway. I could be wrong, but it occurs to me that there are a lot of things that publishers don't do in terms of standard marketing. But that's one of the things I like about them.
Nick : And lastly, what's next? What's the master plan?
Russ : No master plan. I'm just going to keep writing and see what happens. I've started the next book, which starts off in London and then goes all over the shop. There's a book of short stories as well. Keep working. That's the plan. Keep working, and only get drunk on a weekend.
Scream If You Want To Go Faster by Russ Litten is published by Heinemann (Random House),
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