“You can be whatever kind of writer you want - a poet and a playwright and a lyricist" says novelist Sean Gregory
The novel fictionalises the life of writer and composer Anthony Burgess, focussing on four pivotal moments in his creative and personal life: The writing of his first novel, the death of his wife, Lynne, and marriage to his second wife, Liana, and the performance of his first symphony.
Sean’s book will launch with a special event at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester.
We caught up with the award-winning novelist and Salford graduate ahead of Three Graves’ launch to talk about his time at university and advice for aspiring writers.
Where did your love of writing begin?
I was always writing stories in my head but never writing them down, or at least never showing them to anyone. I had loved reading as a kid but didn't read a lot after I left college. A friend introduced me to Murakami, Henry Miller, Milan Kundera and others. The more I read, the more I wanted to understand how to write well. But I didn't know any writers and I would never admit to writing.
I ended up in a call centre job that I absolutely hated and writing was something I did to pass the time. After a few months in the job I had some short stories and pieces of flash fiction (not that I knew the term back then); I saw Salford had recently started a creative writing degree. I thought studying how to write at university legitimised wanting to write, so I got in touch with lecturer Ursula Hurley and sent over some examples
Do you have fond memories of your time at Salford?
Absolutely. Salford was the first place I was allowed to think of myself as a writer (or a would-be writer). The course felt geared towards allowing you to find your voice and experimenting with different forms of writing.
After finishing my undergraduate degree, I'd spent a few years writing for theatre and set up my own theatre company. When I realised I was more interested in writing prose, and particularly novel writing, I thought doing a PhD would make that more financially viable. With support from Salford staff, particularly Judy Kendall, I applied for and received funding to write my first novel as part of a larger research project at University of Salford. This became my first novel, Three Graves, which fictionalises moments in the life of writer and composer Anthony Burgess. Judy Kendall was my supervisor for the PhD and had a lot of influence on the book itself.
Until recently, I have been a visiting lecturer at Salford, mainly teaching on the Creative Writing BA, so the place is very dear to me.
How does it feel to have your debut novel in print?
It feels like the culmination of a lot of hard work! I'm delighted. I know what I'm like, and I could have spent the rest of my life editing and rewriting the book, so I'm glad it exists as a finished artifact. I can finally leave it alone. The journey from working on the novel as part of my PhD to this finished version has been really interesting, and the editorial team, Annie Warren and Lin Webb, at my publisher, Bluemoose, has been invaluable. But mostly, I'm happy to have a novel out that will hopefully be read and shared.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers studying at university?
Keep writing and keep reading. And read like you imagine one mechanic might watch another mechanic build a car - pay attention, try to understand what has been done and how successful it has been, and if you admire something, steal it and make it your own (though don't steal cars, obviously).
Don't feel you need to pigeonhole yourself. You can be whatever kind of writer you want - a poet and a playwright and a lyricist. I think a lot of new writers get in their own way by telling themselves 'I'm a prose writer' or 'I'm a scriptwriter', I know I did. The important thing is to do justice to the story you want to tell.
Buy your tickets for the Three Graves book launch here.
The book is available to purchase here.
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