Extras: Conversations on the Edge—Interview with Nick Fairclough
Extras are bonus content to complement the work in our issues. Nick Fairclough, author of 'Water' from Issue 18, talks to Nastasha Rau about being an emerging writer.
Nastasha: As well as really enjoying your piece ‘Water’ in Issue 18, I found it interesting how you describe yourself in your bio as ‘a writer on the cusp’. I was wondering if you find being constantly on the cusp frustrating, motivating, inspiring? What is it like being on that edge?
Nick: Firstly, thanks for saying you enjoyed the piece. It means a lot. I think readers shouldn’t underestimate how much confidence and encouragement positive feedback can provide a writer. To answer your question, my first response is that it’s frustrating. Frustrating because I would like to be an established writer. I don't want to come across as ungrateful, however. I love writing and creating stories and that in itself should be enough to motivate and inspire me. It’s good to remind oneself of that from time to time. When I’m focussed on the process and honing the craft and not so much on the end result, that's when I write my best stuff. I wish that were more often.
Nastasha: You must have been in that zone fairly often though, as you’ve had stories nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions, and been shortlisted and longlisted in various competitions. I imagine it can on occasion be a bit disheartening to come within a fingerbreadth of the top. Do you have any routines, or guilty pleasures, for when you are in a motivational slump?
Nick: I’ve never considered my stories to be competition winning. From what I know and what I’ve been exposed to, there are too many boxes to tick. I once received feedback from a writing contest from three judges. One judge loved it, one judge was indifferent, and one judge hated it. That’s how subjective it is! It’s a good feeling when someone sees something in your work and I think it’s totally amazing to be in the running, to be in consideration. It’s not a goal I have to win a comp or a prize. If one day I was actually awarded something it would be weird.
When I’m in a motivational slump, typically I stop writing. That’s not inspirational but it’s the truth. It’s not my day job, it’s not my source of income so I try not to put pressure on myself. When that motivation does arrive and the writing flows I’m totally aware and it’s difficult for me to ignore because I don’t know how long it will last.
Nastasha: It’s great that you maintain that enjoyable element of writing by not placing unnecessary pressure on yourself; I think that’s something many of us need to remember. Speaking of advice, Headland often describes itself as home to 'writing by emerging and established authors' and I'm sure lots of the Headland community would identify with that feeling of being on the cusp. Placing yourself between those things, what advice would you give to writers who aren’t on the cusp yet but who want to get there?
Nick: Persevere. Stay true to yourself. Don’t compromise. Don’t write something that isn’t you. Tell stories that only you can tell. Write something that you would like to read yourself.
I feel underqualified to offer advice and hence am reluctant. I can say, the more you put in, the more you get out. Last year I created a Twitter account because I found it the best place to find submission opportunities. I flooded all these journals from around the world and ended up being published in Ireland, The States, Berlin, and even Croatia. It was a lot of work and time spent reading submission guidelines and tweaking word counts yet I had a lot of ‘success’ on the surface. Most of the stories I wrote that year found a home in the end. But what you don’t see is the amount of rejection some of those stories had to endure. This year I have written and submitted one completed story. I am fond of this piece yet it got rejected. The rejection was accompanied by good feedback and that’s the next best thing to an acceptance. I have parked that piece and haven’t touched it. The point I’m trying to make is that had this happened last year, I could almost guarantee that this piece would be accepted now. I haven’t persevered.
Editors are often willing to provide feedback so don’t be afraid to ask.
As for more generic advice, the ones that work for me include:
Read aloud. That’s a big one.
Kill your darlings. It’s hard to sacrifice a great line for the greater good but sometimes it’s just got to be done. Don’t be rid of them entirely. Store them away to be used somewhere else.
Nastasha: Some more excellent tips (however underqualified you may feel giving them)! Coming back to your incredible piece for this issue, I also found that in ‘Water’ there is an underlying feeling of being on the cusp; the storm—both meteorological, personal and social—perpetually on the verge of breaking; the looming climate disaster which is central to the story. Do you find that being a writer ‘on the cusp’ often transfers into your work and its themes?
Nick: I think our lives in general are ‘on the cusp’. It might be a good description to describe the current state of affairs. It seems to me you can’t look too far ahead at the moment, that it’s difficult to plan because everything is so uncertain. The climate disaster is front row and centre and the obvious example. Subconsciously, this state of being on the cusp weasels its way into what I write for sure but also into everyday life.
Nastasha: One final question, ironically, the first one which occurred to me when I spotted the phrase in your bio. ‘On the cusp’ seems to me a transitory description, a feeling of potential motion about to unfold. Do you think you will always feel as if you are on the cusp of the next ‘thing’, whatever goal that may be, or that you will reach a point where you feel you have moved beyond that horizon? And do you want to move past it at all?
Nick: This is a great question. One I often ponder. I’ve read interviews with established writers and even they probably have a feeling of being on the cusp—once you’ve achieved one thing, you have to back it up. Musicians have this when their debut album is well-received and the next one comes with anticipation and expectation, a pressure they didn’t have when writing the first one. The famous ‘difficult second album’.
A writer told a friend of mine that because he knows no one’s going to read his words, there’s no pressure, and this gives him a freedom to write whatever he wants. I’m envious of that. The way I’m wired says if no one will read it, what’s the point!
To write a novel, or at least a novella, has for so long now been a goal of mine. I’d like to believe that if I ever do achieve this goal then yes I’d have moved beyond that horizon. But I don’t believe in that.