Today I have Lee Farnsworth as my Author in the Spotlight. His book Odd Bird is published by Farrago and available from 15th October. Have a look at the Farrago website for buying options: Odd Bird
Welcome Lee and thanks for joining me today. First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
I grew up on a dairy farm and that must be where where my love of the natural world comes from, though at the time I thought I was only interested in football. I studied Genetics at Newcastle Uni and then went on to get a PhD studying, ironically, a bovine gene. In fact I inserted a cow related limerick in my thesis, to the dismay of my supervisor. After completing one post doc I went into the corporate world. I had a fairly successful corporate career but gradually I was becoming duller and grumpier and I felt like I was losing sight of myself. When the opportunity arose, I fled.
Now I divide my time between writing fiction and helping business leaders to tell their story. I write speeches and scripts and presentations and stuff. It’s a creative life and who could want more than that?
What inspired you to start writing?
Like all authors I am an avid and passionate reader. Like all authors I told people I would write a novel one day. But I realised recently that it was crises that finally inspired me do it. Back in 2003 the relationship with the mother of my daughter ended. I attended creative writing courses in order to distract and lift myself. And I started writing Odd Bird when I fell victim to, to quote my boss, ‘an act of random corporate violence’. Sometimes it takes a crisis.
Tell me about your journey to publication
It was long! When I finished the first draft of Odd Bird I started reached out to agents. Most of them didn’t respond. Maybe Odd Bird is still in their slush piles. Then I went to the Festival of Writing where I met several agents who liked what they read, which was wonderful. I decided to go with James Wills and Watson Little because he loved the premise and was so enthusiastic about the voice of my protagonist. Odd Bird was still a bit raw back then. We worked together for another couple of years before we were ready to submit. And then we found Farrago which has turned out to be a great fit. Again, it was their passion for Odd Bird which won the day.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
Odd Bird is about a nerdy scientist called Dr Simon Selwood who studies the mating strategies of birds but is bewildered by the females of his own species.
Simon is fascinated by pied flycatcher in particular. He learns more about their behaviour but fails to see the similarities with what is happening in his own private life.
Odd Bird offers an alternative perspective on the battle of the sexes and highlights the surprising parallels between the mating behaviour of humans and birds. It’s a hoot!
How did you come up with the title for your book?
That’s a story in its own right. I think I probably came up with fifty or so titles and James came up with some too. Originally it was The Birdman of Acton which was a homage to the Birdman of Alcatraz movie, which I loved when I was a kid. James and Farrago both, rightly, felt that this would limit its appeal beyond the UK. We brainstormed a few titles and settled on The Mating Behaviour of Birds but to be honest I didn’t ever like it. I felt it didn’t capture the quirkiness or humour of the novel and it didn’t sound inviting. As time went on I became more uncomfortable and finally I said something. Pete Duncan at Farrago was very open to new ideas, but we needed to act quickly and so I was given a week to find a better title. I went through a few more rounds of brainstorming and then on the final day I came up with Odd Bird and we all liked it instantly. It works brilliantly because Simon’s friend Phil, a key character always calls him ‘Bird’. I’m so happy that we finally got it right.
How do you plan to celebrate publication day?
Well COVID has kind of scuppered things a little. I planned to have a big party including everyone who has contributed and all those people who have heard me make my wild publication claims over the years, but now I can’t.
The thing I’m most looking forward to on launch day is leaving my first copy of Odd Bird for someone to find. I met a guy called Lakshan on a flight just before lockdown. He told me that every time he once found a book on a bench and it changed his life and made him a reader. Now whenever he finishes a book he leaves it for someone to find. His story inspired me and I decided to leave one copy of Odd Bird a day for strangers to find. I’m hoping people will get in touch to tell me what they think. I’m also looking forward to meeting up with Lakshan to give him his copy.
[That’s a lovely idea!]
I am sure there will be champagne in the evening with Unette, my girlfriend, and a few close friends. We might do a zoom thing. I’m really looking forward to giving Mum her copy too. None of it will be Ernest Hemingway but perhaps this way is better. Perhaps I will be able to savour the moment properly.
Do you have a work in progress just now?
Oh yes. It’s another comedy about a nerdy scientist (an astrophysicist this time) who pursues immortality. It’s darker and it isn’t a love story. I want to laugh in the face of death.
I don’t know anything about astrophysics but then I didn’t know anything about ornithology either. For me a big part of the pleasure of writing is learning. They say write what you know, and that makes sense. But I also think you should write what you want to know. The downside is that the research takes time. I doubt I will ever be the kind of writer who can churn out a novel every year.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
I’m going to try to be disciplined. It’s a toss-up between The Adulterants by Joe Dunthorne and Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor. I’m going to go with… Reservoir 13. I love the hovering omniscient narration, the lack of a protagonist, the lack of resolution and the way that the lives of the villagers and even the wildlife are interwoven. And there are some very dry one-liners too.
What are you reading just now?
Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour. My girlfriend bought it after hearing him on the radio and I nabbed it. Since writing Odd Bird I have become more drawn to nature writing. I’ve read several books, like Featherhood, which feature people living with birds. It’s beautifully written and brutally, painfully honest about flawed human relationships and humanity.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
I’m not an avid reader of poetry but I think I would take Sailing Alone Around The Room by Billy Collins. My first ever creative writing workshop was opened with a reading of one of his poems. I’ve been hooked ever since. His poems are accessible, wise, funny and sad. If I was on a desert island I would learn them all by heart and then I would recite them until all the parrots on the island could recite them too. Actually, that would be terrible.
Is there a book you’d love to see made into a film?
Well that’s a tough one. I always squirm when I hear that a favourite book is going to be adapted. I was chatting with Audrey Niffenegger on Twitter recently and she admitted that she has never watched The Time Traveller’s Wife movie because watching it would have changed the movie playing in her head. I totally get that. They should adapt more short stories and novellas to reduce the compression.
Anyhow, let’s pretend for the sake of the question that I don’t have those reservations. I would go with City of Bohane by Kevin Barry. I am a huge Kevin Barry fan and CoB is my favourite. It’s dark, dangerous and funny. Plus, I would love to see those clothes brought to life. It would be a costume designer’s dream.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
Right now Twitter (@leefarniefarns) is the best way to follow me. Instagram is coming soon. I’m also constantly adding content to my website (leefarnsworth.com) and that’s where I will keep everyone posted on what is happening to the copies of Odd Bird I am leaving for people to find. My YouTube channel has various bits of homemade interviews, readings etc and, again, I’m constantly adding to that.
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
Jonathon Livingston Seagull because of the flying mostly.