Jim Murdoch is a Scottish poet-turned-novelist and chocolate enthusiast. He loves cats, hugs, and the physical act of making words appear on a page. He’s a fussy reader, likes a clean desk, and cannotz stand gooey desserts like rice pudding. He sold his first poem to Aberdeen University for £1.50 and hasn’t looked back since.
Describe yourself in one tweet (140 characters).
JM: A hirsute, middle-aged, slightly grumpy Scottish poet who ended up writing novels by accident.
Tell us about your book. What’s it about, and where did the idea come from?
JM: Picture, for a moment, Jonathan Payne, probably the last person in the world you would expect to be the lead character in anybody’s novel, a faded old bookseller nearing the end of a wasted life. We meet him alone in his flat in a seaside town in the north of England just waiting on Death to knock at his front door. But life has something else in store for poor Jonathan. Instead of Death he gets to spend an infuriating two days with the personification of truth who opens Jonathan’s eyes to not only what his life has become but what it might have been. He discovers what he’s missed out on, what other people are really thinking and the true nature of the universe which, as you might imagine, is nothing like he would have ever expected it to be. By the end of the book, having learned far more about himself than he ever wanted to know, Jonathan discovers that it’s usually never too late to start again. Only sometimes it is.
For the first twenty years of my writing life I thought I was a poet, however, after suffering from writer’s block for three years I sat down one day and tried to write something else. I had no plan, just an idea. Three months later I had written my first two novels, Living with the Truth and Stranger than Fiction which have now been bundled, on on Smashwords only, as The Whole Truth.
Fill in the blank: readers who hate ________ will love my book — and explain your choice.
JM: Readers who hate books that fit neatly into a genre will love my book. When the first reviews went up for Living with the Truth the writer Kay Sexton had this to say: “[T]his is one of those novels that bookshops must hate: not ‘hard’ enough to be spec fic, not ‘weird’ enough to be fantasy, too realistic for the humour section and yet too humorous to shelve easily with the lit fic. And that, I suspect is going to prove to be its charm; for those who do read it, it’s a singular take on the world, and it will either resonate with you or leave you cold. […] But I can recommend that you try it — if you like distinctive fiction that rings no bells and blows no whistles but creeps up on you with its absurdities, this book will satisfy you, as it did me.”
She did slightly better with the sequel: “I tried to come up with one of those pithy one-liners that you are supposed to use to encapsulate a project for the movie industry (which is popularly supposed not to be able to cope with more than a sentence of information at a time) and what I decided on was Alan Bennett meets Douglas Adams! [...] I loved it.”
Why did you choose the indie publishing route, and how have you found it thus far?
JM: It was actually ill health of all things. I’d been writing novels for almost twenty years (albeit not quickly – Proust I am not) and basically because my life was so busy with work I just stuck them in the proverbial drawer. I fell ill a few years back and ended up off sick for a long time. Since I can’t sit still for a minute I decided to start and blog and see if I could publish a book. I’ve never held out any great hopes of finding a traditional publisher because I don’t fit neatly into any marketable genre – Kay puts it very well I think – and even if I were to find a publisher for, say, the first two books, the next three are different again as are my short stories. Self publishing seemed the inevitable choice.
As for how I’ve found it, it depends what you mean by that. The process of getting the books into print at first and then creating the ebooks was basically just a matter of being able to follow instructions to the letter. Luckily my wife took care of that and left me to the blogging and promoting. Marketing is something I knew would task me but it’s far harder than even I imagined. If LA if full of actors it feels like the Internet is awash with writers – everyone you come across has something they’re plugging and so the competition is fierce.
What future projects can we expect from you?
JM: Later this year I have my third paperback coming out, Milligan and Murphy, inspired by the writings of Samuel Beckett and next year, if everything goes according to plan, a collection of thematically-linked short stories, Making Sense, based around the other senses, sense of humour, sense of justice… you get the idea. Then I have two more novels and who knows what else I’ll have written by then. The thing is not to rush to get everything out at once. Each book deserves its moment in the spotlight even if Warhol’s fifteen minutes has shrunk to fifteen seconds these days.