Name Andrew C Ferguson
Where are you from
I was brought up in Glenrothes, in Fife; escaped to Edinburgh for five years; and ended up back in Glenrothes where I’m a Council lawyer by day. I’m married, with an 18 year old daughter.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
That would be the publication of my novel, The Wrong Box, by Thunderpoint.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I started as a teenager. Why’s a good question! I guess it was something I was told I was good at – I had an inspirational English teacher, my father was also a writer in his spare time, so maybe it was a way of getting approval too.
As life went on, my motivations changed, I guess – it was an escape from the day job, and, when I started performing my work, a means of getting raw material to experience the buzz of performance.
Part of it of course is the instant hit you get when you scribble something down that’s got the kernel of something, however rough it might be to start off with. Then there’s the usual reason most of us do it – it’s a way of making sense of the world around you.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I was 16, Fife schools packed a select few of us off to Hebden Bridge, to Ted Hughes’s old place for a week of creative writing teaching. That was where I was first told I could write poetry. Then when I was 17, I was one of the winners of a competition to read poetry at the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow – Kathleen Jamie was one of the others – and I realized that you could make people sit still and listen to something you’d written. After that, the bug was deep in the nervous system!
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first novel – still unpublished – was sf: about a woman who gets herself remade into a replica of Marilyn Monroe. It was pretty intense! I suppose I’d had a few short stories published by then – especially sf and fantasy – and I thought it was about time I had a crack at the longer form.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Not really. I try to be a simple and direct as possible: like the country music songwriters say, three chords and the truth!
I was very taken a few years back with Melvin Bragg’s book The Adventure of English: I recommend it to any aspiring writer, as it explains the language and its evolution. I was particularly impressed by the bit about Churchill, and how he used Anglo-Saxon words instead of Norman French/Latin ones – in almost any case where there’s more than one word for the same meaning, the Anglo-Saxon one’s shorter, more direct, and has a more immediate impact than the Latin-derived one.
The example he gives is the concluding passage of Churchill’s ‘fight them on the beaches’ speech, where every word is Anglo-Saxon in origin, apart from ‘surrender’ (French). So whenever I’ve written something, I go back over it and say, what’s shorter and more direct?
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Actually, when I submitted The Wrong Box, it was called Buddha Belly, after the weakness one of the main characters, Simon English, has for women with one. However, Seonaid at Thunderpoint rightly convinced me that it wasn’t actually the right title. The Wrong Box is the title of a novel Robert Louis Stevenson wrote with his step son, Lloyd Osbourne, and it forms a critical part in the final plot twist. I think I can say that without giving anything away!
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Amongst all the sex, swearing and lawyers behaving badly, there are a couple of messages, I think.
Firstly, in Simon English, I was deliberately creating a character who, as a man, is high functioning, is a supreme negotiator in his job, but is at times completely taken off-piste by his python, as he calls it. That creates many of the comic moments in the novel, but it’s also a serious comment on how some men think at least some of the time.
Bear in mind I wrote this in 2010, before Donald Trump came to the fore and made most issues of gender politics unfunny. But Simon isn’t Trump, by a long chalk.
Similarly Simon’s predilection for a buddha belly is meant to be a satire on the media and fashion industry’s obsession with the so-called ‘perfect’ body.
…and I also had some serious intent behind all Simon’s Jock-bashing. I’m proud to be Scottish, and Edinburgh is possibly my favourite place on the planet, but it’s not without its flaws. Having Simon’s point of view, as a stranger in a strange land, gave me a chance to have a pop at some Edinburgh attitudes in particular. Jekyll and Hyde was based in London, but RLS had the city of his childhood in mind too. I suppose that’s a point of similarity I hadn’t thought about before.
Again, looking back through the distorted prism of the 2014 referendum, an Englishman being disparaging about the Scots in the way that Simon does maybe seems to hark back to a more innocent time. If that makes sense.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
My role in the Council has changed over the years. However, from the early Nineties till the mid-Noughties I was involved in several of the biggest property deals the Council had on the go. That introduced me to the world of the commercial property lawyer, and in particular, the big city firms who do this stuff day in, day out.
I’m obliged (for legal reasons) to say that all the characters in the novel are fictional, but really, they are! However, anyone in that world will recognize the type of lawyer I’m describing. It may have changed, but back then it was a very macho world, and although the old school tie was fading, it was still dominated by Edinburgh merchant school FPs.
It’s the same with any high stress, high stakes job – the people who get to the top tend to be very driven, and given the long hours and special skills it involves, there’s a sense of entitlement to reward that goes beyond the salary. So you see some extreme behaviours.
At one point in the novel Simon says life is a negotiation. It is true to say that the skills I learnt in com prop deals – particularly negotiation methods – are transferrable to other parts of life.
Karen Clamp, the other main viewpoint character, is similarly not drawn from any single person, but if you work in a Council you do come across people with the most extraordinary theories about what Councils are up to and why. To be clear, none of the plot is based on insider information on some sort of malfeasance by City of Edinburgh Council – or my own employer, Fife for that matter!
That said, organized crime in Scotland is a bigger problem than most people realise, and the first thing criminals do once they become organized is to try and put their profits beyond the reach of the authorities by using ‘legitimate’ businesses, so it’s not as if it’s completely unrealistic.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
RLS is actually a huge influence – he’s kind of my old school hero. I think Hemingway’s due to come in from the critical cold. I could go on and list dozens, but the writer with the biggest single influence was Iain Banks. When I was a student I read the Wasp Factory and it blew me away: then I was lucky enough, in the early Nineties, to be part of a group of sf and fantasy writers that got together with Iain one cold January weekend in chalets near Kinross to get individual tuition from him. He wouldn’t take any payment from us, and insisted on buying all of us dinner in the pub on the last night. That’s the kind of guy he was – generous in every way.
Apart from his deceptively easy writing style, Iain also encouraged a lot of us to think outside categories, by making a success of a career that toggled between science fiction and so-called mainstream novels. He’s sadly missed.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Amongst established authors, apart from the people I’ve mentioned above Jo Nesbo, the Norwegian thriller writer, is always somebody I enjoy reading. I got into him late but I’ve just about caught up with his Harry Hole series of detective novels. What I really like about them is the way the Oslo setting is an integral part of the story – very similar in fact to the way Ian Rankin uses Edinburgh. That’s something that really chimes with me, as anyone who reads my novel will find out.
In terms of newer writers, there are so many I know from the Edinburgh scene that I could mention. However, aside from my Writers’ Bloc compadres (see next answer) I’m really looking forward to reading Dead Cat Bounce, by my Thunderpoint stablemate Kevin Scott, when it comes out soon. Another is Helen Forbes, who wrote in the Shadow of the Hill and, unknowingly, encouraged me to go to Thunderpoint in the first place. She’s working on something new, and I’m looking forward to seeing it.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
That would be Writers’ Bloc, the Edinburgh performance spoken word group. It evolved out of a mainly genre-based writers’ group I helped to get going in the late Eighties, and it has some pretty successful novelists as its alumni: Hannu Rajaniemi, Charlie Stross, Alan Campbell, and Jack Deighton. Plus others up and coming such as Bram Gieben and Louise Boyd. A great, award-winning poet in Jane McKie. Others may not be household names yet but have formed the hard core of the group – Gavin Inglis, Andrew Wilson, Stuart Wallace, Kirsti Wishart and Stefan Pearson. These guys all encouraged me to keep going whilst giving some pretty tough crits!
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Not really. More of a vocation, I suppose. I’ve just about written everything – novels, short fiction, non-fiction books (three published, two of them co-written) poems, you name it. These days my output is mainly daft articles for my blog and songs for the two bands I’m in.
That’s not to say I haven’t written for markets. It’s just that I’ve not focused my writing on any one genre or type of writing, as you probably should if you want to make a career of it.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Nah. It’s perfect! Only kidding. The truth is it was written so long ago I could see slightly different ways of expressing things, but when I was doing the proofs some of it was still making me laugh out loud. I just have to hope it’s not just me.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
See above – I was encouraged. I’ve always been good with words. My brother and sister are a bit older than me, so I guess growing up in a house of adults made me articulate things in an adult way at a relatively young age. Once it was no longer cute for me to pronounce ‘Volvo’ as ‘Wolwo.’
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I certainly can: links to extracts on my blog are:
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
So far as the blog’s concerned, it’s keeping it short and snappy: I’ll set off doing what I think will be a short review of something, and 2000 words later I’m still chuntering on!
Songwriting’s a different challenge. The music has to come first: but once I’ve got that, it’s coming up with an original lyric that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of other stuff.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
No, although my next book might be a travel book! I would love to write a quirky guide to all the different bits of Spain we’ve been to over the past 15 or so years.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Huw Francis, one of my publishers, designed the cover overall: the image is by Harvey Meadows (www.meadowsfineart.co.uk)
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Plotting it out. My friend and fellow writer Hannu was a great help with that. Before I committed to the long haul that is a 120,000 word novel, I wanted to be sure I had a structure. To a certain extent the fact that I was writing a crime thriller helped – there are certain tropes you follow.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead
My fellow alumnus of Auchmuty High School, Dougray Scott, would make a great baddie – there’s one called the Rottweiler he could definitely do. I would say Penelope Cruz and Helena Bonham Carter but that’s for all the wrong reasons.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
As above, keep going! Also, really listen to criticism. Really. Understand where that critic’s coming from, but if they think that, there’s probably other people that would, too. Try to get more than one crit so you can triangulate. If you can, get in a group of like-minded writers and share crits of each others’ work.
Always, always, leave stuff time to settle. The temptation to think your first draft is a work of genius is always unbearably strong. You can always improve it by laying it aside however.
Keep an open mind as to what kind of writer you are, and try different formats. That’s certainly worked for me.
If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success. Even an unpublished novel is an achievement if you’ve finished it.
Having said that, don’t give up. It took me five years to sell this novel.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Keep reading! Please! I have a daughter to get through Uni!
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I generally keep a number by my bed. I’ve already mentioned Jo Nesbo: I’m reading Police, one of his Harry Hole novels at the moment. Harry’s still in a coma at the moment but I’m guessing that’s temporary.
I also have Stephen Barnaby’s short story collection, ‘I Never Realised It Was As Bad As That,’ and Kevin Cadwallender’s latest collection of poems, ‘Polishing Demons,’ there for variety. They’re both superb writers I know through the Edinburgh scene, and they’re published by Red Squirrel Press.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
No. I remember my first literary prize, writing a story about Action Man for Smith’s Crisps. I won two Action Men and a Scorpion Tank. The rest of my writing career has tried without success to match that pinnacle!
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
I kind of resent stand up comedians for taking over the Fringe so that now, you might as well call it the Comedy Fringe. However, Peter Kay can have me literally helpless with laughter. Ditto Billy Connolly in his prime.
As I get older, I find the stoic Scottish stiff upper lip trembles more easily. Abba’s ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ makes me blub like a baby. Ditto one or two other songs. So, well-directed songs that get under the shell.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Although I’m not such a fan of his recent work, I guess it would still be Bob Dylan. His music and words has meant so much to me over the years.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
A link to my blog and Soundcloud site, as I plan to keep posting, although it
ll depends on whether there`s WIFI where I am goind .
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
That would be the two bands I mentioned earlier, Tribute to Venus Carmichael and Isaac Brutal. The first of these is an acoustic duo which is a ‘tribute’ band to a legendary (or just plain mythical, you get to decide) singer-songwriter of that name. There’s a blog and everything.
Isaac Brutal is a country punk legend in Edinburgh. In both bands, I’m blessed with brilliantly talented bandmates that help cover up my own musical shortcomings.
They made me write that.
Also, gardening. Cooking. The constant quest to speak fluent Spanish.
Wine. Is that even a hobby?
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Just tuned into Line of Duty for the latest series, and loved it. I do like a good cop show – Endeavour’s another one. Doctor Who’s starting to disappoint me, because the plots are becoming too clever for their own good, in my humble opinion.
I like Suits, the legal drama, although the problem with most legal dramas is I know too much, and start criticizing points of court procedure. My wife tells me that’s really annoying.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Food: Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian.
Colours: The colour of a Scottish summer sky; the colour of my wife’s and daughter’s eyes.
Music: Rock, modern country, Americana. It generally has to involve guitars.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Be a better guitar player!
That, or to have opened the batting and bowling for Scotland in the first Test against England at Lords. And scored a century and taken five wickets, obviously.
Actually, I’d trade a surprising amount of what I’ve achieved for that. Even if most of Scotland thinks cricket’s a game for cissies.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
www.andrewcferguson.com – tune in for random thoughts on life, the universe, and everything! But mainly music and supermarket wine reviews.