My author in the spotlight today is Charlie Laidlaw whose latest novel, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead, was published by Accent Press in January. I don’t know about when we are dead but I have learned from Charlie that the City of Oz in The Wizard of Oz was inspired by Edinburgh Castle! As he encourages us all to buy from bookshops while we still have them, I am almost reluctant to give you an online buying link. However, if you would like to buy an e-copy of the book, you can do so by clicking here.
Welcome Charlie and thanks for joining me. First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?
First of all, I’m the author of two novels, The Herbal Detective (Ringwood Publishing) and The Things We Learn When We’re Dead (Accent Press). Assuming we don’t experience nuclear Armageddon in the immediate future, and I’m not betting against it, a third novel, Darker Matters, is due to be published by Accent Press in January 2018.
I was born in Paisley, brought up in the west of Scotland and graduated from the University of Edinburgh. I then worked briefly as a street actor, baby photographer, puppeteer and restaurant dogsbody before becoming a journalist, staring in Glasgow and ending up in London.
Surprisingly, I was approached by a government agency to work in intelligence, which just shows how shoddy government recruitment was back then. However, it turned out to be very boring and, craving excitement and adventure, I ended up as a PR consultant, which is the fate of all journalists who haven’t won a Pulitzer Prize. It’s what I’m still doing.
What inspired you to start writing?
I don’t think there was ever any inspiration. I wrote my first “novel” at about the age of fifteen, which I then burned at the age of sixteen. My second “novel” (still hand-written) was completed about a year later. I still have the manuscript, but nobody is ever going to read it! In the years that followed, I must have started on numerous projects, but never finishing anything. I suppose, as with most writers, life gets in the way. It wasn’t until a small handful of years ago that I got a grip and made myself write with greater purpose.
I’m sure there are many people out there, who can genuinely write and who have a compelling story in their head, who would love to write a book…but haven’t, because there are always other things to do. My advice: you can only procrastinate for so long!
Tell me about your journey to publication
Like many authors, I could paper my house with rejections and, at times, it was dispiriting. But I knew that what I had written was good and persevered. Many others don’t, and I honestly believe that the best books ever written are mouldering at the bottom of landfill sites or circulating as bits of incinerated carbon – all because the authors gave up and threw their manuscripts away. My advice would be: honestly appraise your work and, if necessary, get someone professional to appraise it. If you/they have confidence in it, keep trying.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
It’s about love and loss. It’s about the small decisions we make and how they can have profound consequences. It has humour, but it’s not a comedy. It is, certainly slightly surreal and, in essence, is a retelling of the Wizard of Oz – how a young woman comes to look back at her life and find a new beginning.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
In the Wizard of Oz, at least in the film version, The Emerald City is a place within Dorothy’s head; she too is looking back at her life before realising that there’s no place like home. In my book, the central character thinks that she’s dead (she isn’t) – so the title really flowed from that.
How did you celebrate publication day?
The book had two launches – one in East Lothian’s last remaining bookshop and another at the lovely Edinburgh Bookshop. While I do buy stuff off Amazon, I also think that everyone who loves reading should make an effort whenever possible to buy from a bookshop. Once they’re gone, they’re gone, and we’ll all be the poorer.
Do you have a work in progress just now?
I do, and it’s due to be published early next year. It’s called Darker Matters and is a dark comedy about love, death, family and particle physics. It’s also a satire on the unintended consequences of celebrity.
It’s a tragic-comic story, aimed at both male and female readers, but I hope it has heart, humour and warmth. Its central message is that, even at the worst of times, a second chance can often be just around the corner.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
Oh God! So many! Different Class by Joanne Harris. She is my favourite author and seems incapable of writing anything that’s less than brilliant. Also loved The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon.
What are you reading just now?
This week (June 2017) I’m reading A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. It’s a strange thing. I’m a fan of her books, but I’m more of a fan of the way she can almost write a complete stand-alone short story as part of the overall narrative. If anyone wants writing inspiration, read Kate Atkinson.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
Probably one of the ones I’ve started to write but haven’t got anywhere with. I can’t help but feel that a desert island would be a good place to do some serious thinking about plot, narrative and dialogue. There again, if it’s a nice desert island with lots of food, I might just sunbathe.
Is there a book you’d like to see made into a film? Who would be in your dream cast?
It sounds terribly vain, but I’d like my book made into a film. I think it would work on the big screen and, because the book features non-famous young people, it would be nice to have non-famous young actors in it.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
I suppose, because I did once work in intelligence, it would have to be anything by John le Carre. However, if you mean being in a film, I’ll have to pass on that. I did do a short stint as a street actor in Edinburgh, including a part in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, but I was useless. I would therefore ruin anything I was in. I much prefer to read books; I would hate to be in one.