Bill Condon – Interview with CKT

Bill Condon

Q. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Dorothy Parker famously said, ‘Hate writing, love having written’. That’s pretty much how I feel. Writing is so hard, and it just keeps getting harder for me, no matter how many years I’ve done it. But when at last I’ve scaled the word mountain and I’m happy with what I’ve done, there are few better feelings. The sense of bliss doesn’t last long though, because no sooner have I typed The End, when someone reawakens the nightmare by asking, ‘What’s next?’

All those feelings are true for me, but it’s also a fact that writing is my dream job. It’s about the only thing in the world that I’m any good at, so, despite my occasional moans, I realise that I’m very lucky and priviliged to be able to do it, every day of my life.

Q. What advice would you give to up and coming authors?

Forget about it! I don’t need any more competition. Just kidding, of course. My advice is to believe in yourself, be prepared for the long haul, and, quite possibly, many rejections. Becoming an overnight success often takes years of hard work. As well as self-belief and perseverance, you must become an avid reader. You can’t expect to learn the mechanics of writing until you explore the efforts of those who have gone before you. Most importantly, you have to build up your writing muscles by putting words into sentence after sentence, day in, day out. Finally, choose the subjects you write about carefully. It will help you enormously if you really like the story and are passionate about it and the characters you create. Hopefully, this passion will keep you going, no matter how tempting it is to surrender.

Q. Tell us about your writing process?

Trial and lots of error, that’s me. I don’t plan things out. I just launch myself into it, and hope for the best. My latest book, A Straight Line To My Heart,  came about after I observed a teenage girl in the local library. She was alone in a corner, reading a book. I started wondering about her life, and what kind of girl she was. That led to the creation of my main character, Tiff. Physically, there wasn’t anything special about her. She was a little bit overweight, with plain features. But she had a very kind heart and a bubbly personality, and she loved visiting the library, often retreating into books for comfort and hope. I got to know her and like her, and then I gave her a family. Gradually the story took shape.

Q. What was your favourite book as a child?

I read comics as a kid and watched lots of TV. Alas, I didn’t read books. And then, when I was about 14, I was banned from the library. It was all a misunderstanding. No one told me you could join the library and borrow the books. I just used to shove them under my jumper and run for my life. But by the time I’d made it to my 20s the libary had forgiven me, and since then I’ve been reading books and loving them.

Q. How many rejections did you receive before you were published?

Very few, luckily. I was first published 30 years ago, and I suspect it was easier to get accepted then. Also, I was writing for educational publishers and school magazines. My submissions were usually short and funny pieces, which were sought after at the time. I’m sure if I’d tried to write a young adult novel way back then, I would have failed to find a publisher, because my work would not have been very good. I had to make a living, and that meant writing anything that was offered to me, from plays to non-fiction, short stories to poems. It was a great apprenticeship. I didn’t attempt young adult novel until I was 50. That was called Dogs.  Luckily, it was successful.

Q. If you could be any character from any book for a day who would it be and why?

I don’t know. I just enjoy a book at the time I’m reading it, and then move on to something else. I don’t totally forget the book or the characters, but nor do they don’t linger with me, I’m currently reading a collection of Ernest Hemingway’s letters. It’s a great dipping-into book. There are definitely some days of his life that I’d like to step into his shoes. They would be the good writing days, not the bull-fighting or big-game hunting days. To be Ernest Hemingway when the writing angels were on his side, that would be something special.

Q. And finally what’s next from Bill Condon?

I’ve written a junior novel, but still have to find a home for it. Eventually, fingers crossed, I’ll return to young adult territory. But it’s daunting. There are so many exceptional writers around now. Some of the reviews I’ve seen lately are to die for. However, like everyone else, all I can do is my best.


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