Sunday, 15 July 2012

AUTHOR INTERVIEW & PROMO - SEBASTIAN MICHAEL






What is your name, where were you born and where do you live now?
My name is Sebastian Michael, I was born in Manchester, UK, into a Swiss family who took me to Basel with them as a six-week old baby in a red wicker basket. I grew up in Switzerland and returned to England at the age of 21.  I've lived in London - my favourite city in the world - ever since.

Did you always want to be a writer? If not what did you want to be?
As a child I remember wanting to become a lorry driver, briefly a vicar and a hotelier. But I became a writer aged 17 when I wrote my first play. Since then there has not been any significant period during which I have not been writing.

When did you first consider yourself as a "writer"?
It was a slow realisation because at first I just took it for granted. But I started thinking of, and referring to, myself as a 'writer' (as opposed to, say, 'the person who wrote this piece'), from about my third play onwards. I knew I actuallywas a writer, professionally speaking, when I became aware that I could earn a living as a freelancer.

Did it take a long time to get your first book published?
Yes, it took an inordinate length of time. Many delays, many setbacks, many obstacles on the way. My book comes with an almost proverbial trail of often quite enthusiastic, but ultimately in their verdict deeply frustrating rejection letters.

Do you work another job as well as your writing work?
I also work as a director and/or producer (of so far two short films, one feature film and several stage plays), and I trained and for a while worked as an actor. I took a deliberate step back from acting about ten years ago, to concentrate on my writing and only just recently took on a part again, in my own first feature, The Hour of Living.

What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarise it in less than 20 words what would you say?
It's called Angel and it's the story of a boy who is so beautiful that everybody falls in love with him.




BLURB from Goodreads
Angel is the story of Damion, a boy who is so beautiful that everybody falls in love with him. This, his greatest advantage in life, gradually turns into his heaviest burden and so as he reaches adulthood, Damion, in an act half wanton, half heroic, destroys what for most people - but not for him - has come to define his essence. - A classic tale of a young man in search of his destiny.

Who is your publisher? or do you self publish?
I got so fed up with not getting anywhere that I cast caution to the wind and self-published, albeit under the Optimist label, which is the name of my tiny production company.

Do you have a "lucky charm" or "lucky routine" you follow when waiting for your book to be accepted by a publisher?
No I don't. Maybe that's why I so spectacularly failed at getting a publisher for this book...

How long does it usually take you to write a book, from the original idea to finishing writing it?
This is my first and so far only novel and it took a very long time. We're talking years, and I've lost track of how many. I can write a play in a couple of weeks if necessary, I've written screenplays inside two months, but the novel took forever. There are a lot of words in this book and to get each one of them exactly as I want it to be was a big, slow, gradual undertaking. It still isn't perfect, of course, but I can live with it now.

Which of your books were easier/harder to write than the others?
I've only written the one so far and I have a feeling the next one will be harder.

What can we expect from you in the future?  ie More books of the same genre? Books of a different genre?
I am beginning to formulate ideas for a new novel. I think, and rather hope, it will be quite different to Angel, but the story will dictate itself: I may be in for as much of a surprise as you... 

Do you have plans for a new book? Is this book part of a series?
It certainly won't be part of a series.  Angel stands, and has to stand, completely alone.

What genre would you place your books into?
It feels a little conceited to say so, but for want of a more appropriate one, I'd probably say 'Literary Fiction'.  ('General Fiction' just sounds too, well, general...)

What made you decide to write that genre of book?
I didn't decide on a genre, I just wrote a story. No sooner had I written the story than people wanted to know 'what genre is it?' - I had no idea about genres, but I've come to appreciate that much as I try to avoid thinking in categories, they offer something of a shorthand that gives people an idea of what, very broadly, they might be entitled to expect.

Do you have a favourite out of the books you have written? If so why is it your favourite?
This is by necessity my favourite, as it's the only one so far.

Do you have a favourite character from your books? and why are they your favourite?
I love my characters and I tend to greatly empathise with them, even those who are nothing like me, which obviously is the vast majority of them.  In Angel, I think my favourite is probably Burp. She gets a rough deal in life and I'm sorry for having dished that out to her, but I admire her stubborn independence and her intelligence.

If you had to choose to be one of your characters in your book/books which would you be? and why?
I in fact wrote a character vaguely based on myself into a play of mine once. The play then became part of a trilogy and with each new play, the character, Eugen, became more like me. The actor who played the character still enjoys telling people that he is far better qualified to be me than I am because he actually studied the part.  

In Angel, if I had to choose who to be, I would probably say Aileen: she seems to have her life sorted, she's successful at what she does and does it well, she is warm-hearted and generous, and she ends up with Ben, whom I adore. (If it came to which part I would play, say in a filmed version, I would probably end up with Brother Martin, simply going by casting type.) 

How long have you been writing?, and who or what inspired you to write?
I realise with some considerable consternation that I've now been writing for three decades. Having said that, there is no obvious reason why, all things being equal and fair wind prevailing, I shouldn't be able to write for another three decades...  

The inspirations are too many and diverse to name. I was fortunate in that the Basler Stadttheater - the municipal theatre in Basel - did a fantastic deal for students: you paid the equivalent of, today, about thirty quid and you got to see ten plays. You had to go on the nights the theatre specified (they offloaded unsold seats that way, but as a result they were often the best ones in the house) and because it covered most of the season, you got to see plays you would never have made the effort to go and see off your own bat. 

When it comes to writing the novel, I think without a doubt the greatest influence that I'm consciously aware of was John Irving.

Where do you get your book plot ideas from?What/Who is your inspiration?
Angel was inspired by two entirely separate incidents, one of which I won't go into here, as it would amount to a spoiler. The other though was very simple and straightforward: I was standing on the open platform of an old red Routemaster bus, going down Lower Regent Street, when a vision of a man caught my eye, walking up towards Oxford Circus, with an almost equally handsome dog attached to him on a leash. It was a fleeting moment, but it got my mind reeling: what would it be like to be that beautiful?

Do you have a certain routine you have for writing? ie You listen to music, sit in a certain chair?
No, I write as long as it flows and when it stops flowing I stop writing. When it's nice outside I take my laptop out to my little roof terrace and late at night I often write on my sofa. I generally do most of my writing late at night or indeed through the night, but that's by default rather than by design: it just happens that way. And music: that varies and depends. Sometimes I have it on full blast, sometimes I much prefer silence, especially in the very early morning hours, when the rest of the world is nearly silent.

Do you have anybody read your books and give you reviews before you officially release them? ie. Your partner, children, friends, reviewers you know?
I entrusted Angel to a writer and artist, Alana Jelinek, whose work I know and very highly respect, and asked her to be my editor.  To the immense benefit of the book she said yes, which is why I am forever indebted to her in gratitude.

Do you gift books to readers to do reviews?
I do. I think that's fair enough: reviewers who take the time and make the effort to write up their experience of reading a book and share it with the world do a great service to the book and its writer, and I think they should not be out of pocket in order to do so. It works the same way in theatre: reviewers get comps. I would never pay for a review though and I think the practice of some reviewers to accept money in return for a review is highly dubious.

Do you read all the reviews of your book/books?
I only just cottoned on to both the need for reviews and to this book review 'scene' that has sprung up in recent years. So I haven't got many yet. But I suspect I will. I'm by nature curious, I wonder what people think...

What was the toughest/best review you have ever had?
I can't answer this yet in the context of the book, but interestingly, in the context of my plays the categorically bestand worst reviews came for exactly the same production: it was a very avant-garde performance piece that some people absolutely loathed, while others thought it was the best thing they'd ever seen. It served as a fine and early indication that reviews are simply one person's opinion on the day and interesting and useful as they are, you have to, as a writer, keep a perspective on them.

Would you ever ask a reviewer to change their review if it was not all positive about your book/books?
No. Everybody is entitled to their opinion and every person's experience of a work of art - be that literature, theatre, cinema, music, an exhibition - is individual. You can't impose your taste on someone. I would hope, and expect, that anyone setting out to review a piece does so with integrity and a generosity of mind, but if they don't like it, they are perfectly within their rights to say so.

How do you come up with the Title and Cover Designs for your book/books?Who designed the Cover of your books?
The title has always been there, from the word go. I often thought about changing it, because it is in danger of bracketing the book in a genre or area where it doesn't strictly belong, but I could never bring myself to do so, because it's so inherently tied up with the principal character. And I designed the cover myself. I don't think that's necessarily a good idea, it was more a case of needing a cover and having a go at it. I could imagine there are many better covers possible for this book, but I think it does express what the book is about.

Do you choose a title first, or write the book then choose the title?
In virtually everything I write, including my plays and screenplays, the title stands at the very beginning. Only in one instance that I can think of did I substantially change the title of a play at the time when we started producing it, mainly because the director and the producer didn't think the original title worked. I don't know whether they were right or not, but as that play then became the first in the Love Trilogy, the new title for it, which was The Power of Love, served as a template for the titles of the subsequent ones: Love Hurts and Time After Time.

How do you come up with characters names and place names in your books?
Mostly they present themselves. I have no system, just a sense for what they should be. Sometimes they evolve a bit over time, but not always.

Are character names and place names decided after their creation? Or do you pick a character/place name and then invent them?
The name usually comes with the first manifestation of the character or place. Most places that feature in any of my works are either real or slight adaptations or amalgamations of real places, so their names just offer themselves, sometimes in greater or slighter variation of the original place name. But every character has a personality and with a personality immediately comes a name that it evokes. That name is the starting point, and sometimes, but not that often, it may change a bit as the piece develops.

Do you decide on character traits (ie shy, quiet, tomboy girl) before writing the whole book or as you go along?
I get to know my characters as they take shape. More often than not I have only a vague notion of who they might be to start with and as they act and talk and think, they become clearer all the time.

Do you basic plot/plan for your book, before you actually begin writing it out? Or do you let the writing flow and see where it takes the story?
I think this may go straight against what they teach you at writing school, but I let the characters take me where they need to go. (I'm not a very plot-driven writer; plot interests me far less than the characters and the dynamics between them.) But there comes a point from which onward it is absolutely clear where this is headed. And it's a point of no return. Once you're past it, the story is out of your hands: you have to finish it as it needs to be. WithAngel this was and remains a source of great sorrow to me, because I wish the story could pan out differently. But it can't.

How do you market/promote your books?
I'm really still finding my feet in this genuinely exciting but also quite daunting new world of self-publishing. At first I had not the faintest idea of how to go about it, but googling the matter and joining forums and seeing what other people do gradually seems to highlight a path: at the moment, I'm offering the book up for reviews to interested bloggers and readers, and I'm engaging with platforms such as this, which allow you to talk about the book and maybe get people interested in it.

What do you think makes a book a really good/bestseller ?
I don't know and I don't care. I would never set out to write a bestseller. I'm not sure the 'industry' knows what makes a bestseller. JK Rowling famously was turned down by several publishers who couldn't see 'a market' for stories about a boy wizard. People don't know what there is a market for, because a market may suddenly spring up. Readers don't know what they want until they see it and then they may suddenly fall in love with something that nobody in their right mind would have predicted would appeal to them. I think chasing the bestseller is chasing a bubble. Just write what matters to you and let the rest follow.

Have you ever suffered from a "writer's block"? What did you do to get past the "block"?
No, so far I haven't, thankfully. What I do when it stops flowing is get on with something else, that usually does the trick. Words, when they're ready, will find a way out.  

What do you do to unwind and relax?Do you have a hobby?
The concept of a 'hobby' has always been alien to me. My life is my work and my work is my life. I get a whole lot of rest when I'm asleep, and I love going to the theatre, the cinema, the Tate Modern; I love travel, I love going out with friends for drinks or a meal. But the best recreation for me really is walking: I regularly go on long walks, to clear my head and to think.

Have you ever based characters on people you know or based events on things that have happened to you?
Yes, both. All the time. Most of what I write is in one way or another - often very indirectly - inspired by something or someone I know. It then gets processed and turned into fiction that is often very far removed from the actual events, but it's nevertheless rooted in actuality.

Are there any hidden messages or morals contained in your books? (Morals as in like Aesops Fables type of "The moral of this story is..")
No. There are themes that interest me and there are maybe questions I ask myself, but I don't set out to teach.

Is there a certain Author that influenced you in writing?
Yes, apart from John Irving, whom I've already mentioned and whose earlier works had a great impact on me, I have no doubt I've been influenced by my exposure to, and great love for, Thomas Mann, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce.  

Which format of book do you prefer, ebook, hardback, or paperback?
For sheer practicality and making a title widely available at low cost, ebooks. They have opened up the whole publishing world completely. I still love a beautifully made hardback and certainly I don't think paper books have had their day, but ebooks are a wonderful, wonderful thing.

What is your favourite book and Why?  Have you read it more than once?
For a long time I would have answered, without hesitation, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I've read it three or four times. But I really ought to differentiate and say that I have varying favourites for varying reasons, at varying times. When it comes to an overriding all-time favourite, I imagine I'd have to say Ulysses by James Joyce. I've read that three or four times too and its depth and invention is just breathtaking. 

Do you think books transfer to movies well? Which is you favourite/worst  book to movie transfer?
Some do and clearly some don't. I have to say I was truly impressed by the Lord of the Rings series, I found the book virtually unreadable, but the films brought the whole thing to life for me in a magnificent fashion. I think one of the worst maltreatments ever handed down to a great work of literature was Troy, which turned Homer's complex, magnificent Iliad into an embarrassing American multiplex mush of over-simplified cliches. 

What are you currently reading? Are you enjoying it? What format is it?(ebook, hardback or paperback)
At the moment I'm reading His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, in a brick-sized paperback, and I am enjoying it, though I'm a very slow reader and it's so far not really gripped me, which means it takes me even longer than it normally would. I'm also working my way through Finnegans Wake, James Joyce's virtually impenetrable last book, very very slowly. I'm on about page 150 and can't make head or tail of it, but I reckon that's pretty much the point of the matter. I'm reading this in paperback too, and while there are phases where I'm entirely at sea with it, it is overall a very enjoyable process, because he just makes up language as he goes along, in ways you've never seen, heard or imagined before.

Do you think ebooks will ever totally replace printed books?
No, I don't think so. But I do expect they will play an increasingly significant part and become much more important, in terms of volume, than printed books.

Do you think children at schools these days are encouraged enough to read? and/or do Imaginative writing?
I suspect it depends very much on what school they go to. When I was an actor I went on two schools tours and the differences I saw in the standards of education, the settings of the schools, the attitudes towards learning, the sheer culture that prevailed, were so vast that between the best and the worst schools there may as well have been continents. What has been encouraging to observe from the outside (I don't have children) is that the whole Harry Potter phenomenon seems to have turned an entire generation of kids into avid readers.

Did you read a lot at school and write lots of stories or is being a writer something newer in your life?
I did read, but I was then as I am now a slow reader with eclectic interests. I didn't write stories so much as essays, and then discovered plays.

Did you have a favourite author as a child?
I grew up in Switzerland and there was a series of school kid detective stories by Swiss writer Heiner Gross, called AG Pinkerton, which I devoured.  

Do you have a treasured book from your childhood? If yes, what is it?
Not from childhood, no. When I was a teenager, I read Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) by Thomas Mann. I still have that; it meant a great deal to me and opened up a whole new world to me at the time.

Do you have a favourite genre of book?
I like books with substance that challenge me and that use language as an art form, rather than just as a means to communicate content.

Is there a book you know you will never read? Or one you tried to read but just couldn't finish?
There are many books I've started and not finished, but there isn't really a book of which I would say, upfront: "I'll never read this." In practice, though, there are any number of books I'll never read; in fact, there are entire genres - and here the term really does come in handy - that hold so little attraction for me that I'd probably rather sit quietly on a bench and watch the world go by than reading them. 

Are there any New Authors you are interested in for us to watch out for? and Why should we watch out for them?
I don't have my finger on the pulse enough to give you any tips. I think best is to just to watch out...

Is there anything in your book/books you would change now if you could and what would it be?
No there isn't. I wouldn't write the same book in the same way now, and I'm sure that the book, much as the plays and the films, is deeply flawed, but it's not possible to go back and change things in the past, it's only possible to go forward and create new things in the future, and strive for them to be better than what you've done before.

What do you think about book trailers?
I haven't really formed an opinion on them yet.  

What piece of advice would you give to a new writer?
Write. Write what you need to write and do so to the best of your ability. Don't worry about what everybody else is doing. There are millions, nay, billions of other people in the world.  There is only one you: find your self and your self will produce a voice and this, your voice, will be what makes your writing unique.

Do you or would you ever use a pen name?
It's a bit more complicated than that, but in principle, yes.   

If you could invite three favourite writers to dinner, who would you invite and enjoy chatting with?
Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf.


Where can readers follow you, and where can they find your books?

Angel is available here:


Your blog details? 


Your facebook page?

Your Twitter details?

And any other information you wish to supply?
No I think that pretty much covers the bases... :-)

Available at Amazon.co.uk

No comments:

Post a comment