An interview with Peter Bunzl about his stories in Tales From the Blue Room

TFTBR Peter reading Foyles
Peter giving a reading from Tales from The Blue Room

I wanted to reblog this from the Blue Room Writers website, but wordpress wouldn’t let me, so I’ve had to copy and paste the article instead. The questions were originally from the Indie Review Website.

What is the book ‘Tales From the Blue Room’ about?

The book is an anthology of short stories by eight writers. A mix of contemporary characters and settings, magic realism, humour, LGTB stories, and literary fiction. We each wrote about what interested us most and did not try and impose an overarching theme on the collection.

What are your short stories in the book about?

‘The Little Bother’ is about the sibling rivalry between two young brothers who move to Italy with their parents. Away from everyone they once knew, Ryan the older of the two, takes his resentment out on his little brother.

‘Whisky Chasers’ is about Samir who has a crush on Joe, a boy in his class at school. One weekend Joe takes Samir out binge drinking with his friends, and it doesn’t end particularly well.

When did you start writing the book?

Our writers group has been meeting for three years now to review each other’s work and share our writing experiences. About eighteen months ago we decided to create an anthology of short stories as a way of learning about self-publishing. So far it’s been an enjoyable and educational enterprise. The advantage of being a collective is we can split the costs and tasks of self-publishing between us according to our time and skills.

How long did it take you to write it?

The book took a year and a half, from the first idea to the first print run. We each submitted two stories to the group, and these were discussed and critiqued before the authors reworked them. We then handed the collated manuscript over to a copy editor for a final edit, and incorporated those changes into the finished book.

Where did you get the idea from?

We are a novel writing crit group principally, but one of our writers, Fleur Jeremiah, attended a talk on self-publishing and suggested we collaborate on a book of short stories to self-publish. The name Tales from the Blue Room, was suggested by another of the writers since we meet in the Blue Room at the Royal Festival Hall.

Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?

Short stories are so different structurally from working on longer pieces and we all found it a challenge to get across an idea in relatively few pages. Some people favoured brevity and conciseness in their stories, and others wrote more meandering and character based tales. There are challenges to both approaches, and we learned from each other’s writing. What’s good is that it makes for a varied selection for the reader.

What came easily?

Personally, I think description and detail is easier to write than character action, interior life, or dialogue. And plot is the hardest thing of all. In a short story you have to be concise about plot and yet still not be too obvious with surprises, or tie things up too neatly at the end.

Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?

They’re a mixture, parts from real people and things I’ve made up. A Frankenstein’s monster of influences. I imagine the other writers would say the same about their characters too.

We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?

In adult fiction, my favourite contemporary author is Colm Toibin. I love the concise simplicity of his prose. The way he expresses his character’s feelings and emotions without using flashy or intrusive language. It seems simple technically and yet there is such thoughtful observation to his writing.

Do you have a target reader?

Not really. I would say anyone who enjoys dipping into varied short stories and voices. The book is like a taster menu where you can sample a few different things at a time!

Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?

The ideas come from different places: things I overhear in restaurants or on buses, characters I see, an anecdote from someone, or maybe a juxtaposition of a few images or words. From there I might write a page inspired by those sparks, and hopefully that page has a character, intrigue, and a setting that can develop into a story. Then it’s just writing a draft, putting it away, re-examine it and re-drafting and re-drafting, and so on, until it feels close to done, or until time runs out!

Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?

For short stories I don’t bother to outline. I might just write beats for a scene or the whole thing first before filling it out. With a first draft you don’t know the whole story anyway. For longer pieces, like the Middle Grade novel I’m working on, I always outline. Though seldom stick to it, which can be a problem. But I think best practice is: outline first, then write free-form, then re-outline according to the draft, then rewrite according to the revised outline, until it seems to stand up as a whole. Or you could just ‘pants’ it. Do whatever works for you.

Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?

I edit as I go. I can’t stop myself, but I wish I could for the early drafts.

Did you hire a professional editor?

We did hire a professional editor and she was a great help spotting the small errors we’d missed. I find every time you rewrite a sentence you can add in more depth, but you also add in more errors and that’s why it’s important for outsiders to read your work. If we self-publish again we would probably get a proof-reader because that’s such a big task to take on, and impossible really with your own work.

Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?

I like to listen to film scores while I write, it’s good if you can pick a piece that matches the mood of the scene your trying to get down. If I’m writing rather than editing I can’t really listen to music with words in because it interrupts my flow of thoughts.

Did you submit your work to Agents?

I have submitted my novel to agents, but not these short stories. I don’t think agents are really interested in short stories, are they?

What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?

We decided to self-publish, rather than go with an indie publisher, because we wanted to control every stage of the book production, from proof reading, to design, to typesetting, to printing. We particularly wanted to try and keep the printing and the design with someone in the UK who we could easily contact, and that didn’t seem an option with many of the online packages.

Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?

We got the book cover and typesetting done professionally by a lovely design company called Drew London: They did a great job with the printed book, making it look very slick and professional and they also arranged a small print run for us too. I really recommend them. 

Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?

We did not have a particular marketing plan. Two of the writers Paul Yates and Annette Caseley organised a fantastic launch party at Foyles Southbank, which fed into the fact that we meet there as a group and that helped us shift quite a few books. The book is still available there, and we are also currently selling through Amazon, both Kindle and paperback book.

Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?

Go for it, but if you’re doing it alone get as much advice from other self-published writers as possible. Google all the print and publishing options out there, and read the reviews about them, not just their own publicity, before you decide how you are going to self-publish your book.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in South London.

Where do you live now?

Now I live in North London. As you can see, I didn’t move very far! Most of the writers in the group are London based.

What would you like readers to know about you?

I enjoy all kinds of stories and read eclectic work for different genres and age groups. I love film and animation and have worked commercially in both those mediums.

What are you working on now/next?

I am currently working on a Middle Grade Fantasy novel, it’s about two children on an adventure set in a Victorian Steampunk world and features murder, mayhem, and mechanical robots. It’s quite different from my short stories.

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