Our next interview is with, Raymond Soltysek.
Raymond Soltysek, is a Saltire-nominated prose writer and a BAFTA-winning screenwriter. In addition, he’s a Robert Louis Stevenson award and Scottish Arts Council bursary winner.
Raymond lectures in teacher education at Strathclyde Uni and his materials and courses support creative writing in schools nationally.
We first met Raymond around four years ago and can tell you first hand that his feedback and experience is priceless. So much so, we just had to share them with you. Here’s his interview:
What makes you want to write?
Ego. Pure and simple. Other people say “It’s just something I have to do” or “It’s a calling” or “I want to entertain others”. Some might even be a bit more honest and say they want to make money out of it. But for many of them – and for me – I think, honestly, it’s about the ego boost we get from acceptance. I want to see my writing in print, see my name underneath a title, have people say “Oh, I read…”. Even if they hate it, so what? That sounds flippant, and it is, but it’s also true: I think a little bit of posterity is what we’re all really looking for in a life of writing.
How did you start?
Well, I started at school – before school if you count the Gerry Anderson puppet stories I wrote when I was four – as most others did, but switched off during my twenties as I got caught up in a career and relationship. In my early thirties, things changed in all sorts of ways, and I found returning to writing seemed to offer me some means of catharsis. It’s a cliché, but I started writing then as a way of working out problems I had. Luckily, after about two stories, I realised that was just stupid navel-gazing, and I began extending myself into alleyways that were much more interesting and productive.
In terms of your career, what aspect do you like least?
I don’t really have a writing career as such: I’ve always worked in education and that pays the bills. I suppose, though, I kind of find it difficult the way that writing depends so much on networking. You need to be known to get noticed, you need to do the rounds of the readings and the conferences and the writers’ groups before you can even get on the slush pile. And, always having been a bit of a lone wolf, I probably find that quite difficult.
I have been concerned for a long time about the dominance of university creative writing courses: I think that’s the way many writers get started nowadays. I have no problem with that if they are good writers – and the majority are – but I’m also concerned that if there’s one avenue into writing that dominates, it will have an exclusionary effect, and we’ll end up with a whole load of people who write in a similar fashion and have similar beliefs about it. I don’t like the idea that I have to do a university course to progress my career, but I’m beginning to see that may have to.
What has been the highlight?
Undoubtedly, the film of my first screenplay, an adaptation of my short story “The Practicality of Magnolia”, doing so well. The whole process of working with a brilliant film crew and a wonderful cast – including Sheila Hancock – and a night at the Scottish BAFTAS where I had a nomination in the screenplay category and the film won in the Best TV Drama category and the Music category (which, of course, I can take no credit for) was a tremendous experience. I loved it. I was recently asked at a schools’ writing conference in Aberdeen what I was most proud of and why: I told them that any piece that gets you free drink and the opportunity to hob nob with the likes of Brian Cox (the actor, not the floppy haired physicist) and lets you roll home drunk calling yourself a BAFTA winner is definitely something to be proud of.
When do you find is the best time to write?
When I am miles away from home, the internet and the TV, preferably in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language. I’m not an effective planner of my time, and am far, far too easily distracted.
Where do you write?
See above. Bulgaria and France work for me…
What goals do you set yourself?
Working with a writers’ group is always helpful, because you want to get something in for the next meeting to see what people think about it and try to impress them. I do really well by setting myself rigorous targets when I’m on sabbatical: thirty thousand words in a month isn’t a problem if I’m in the zone. However, those zones only ever happen once every three years or so!
Who proofreads your work (professional/ family/friend)?
Writers’ groups. Always the best.
What do you think about getting an agent?
If you can, do. However, they should have a real commitment to you and your work, not just have you languishing on the books just in case you make them some money in the future off of your own hard work promoting yourself. The one who comes to you is always the best…
Which publisher are you with and why?
I was with 11:9, the imprint of Neil Wilson Publishing that brought out a range of new literature in the early noughties. They were very good with us, paying reasonable advances and promoting us well. However the project couldn’t sustain itself and the imprint went belly up.
For our members, what do you think is the most important quality to possess?
The ability to distance yourself from your writing. It is not the end of the world if someone thinks what you write isn’t very good. It’s not personal if someone says they don’t like your story or poem. It’s not a rejection of your whole existence if someone isn’t convinced by something your write that is highly personal. Use those reactions to make your work better. And perhaps don’t write so personally next time.
If you could give them any advice, what would it be?
Read, read, read your work aloud. The only way to know if it’s beautiful is to hear if it’s beautiful. And if it’s not, work on it some more because you shouldn’t settle for anything less than beautiful. Lots of people think get to their final full stop and think their work is done: there’s so much of my work I wish I could revise but can’t because it’s out in the public domain. Never, ever think a piece is finished: it only leaves home.
Regarding the group, what would you like to see us do in the future?
Try to get people involved. Encourage reports of book launches, reviews. Have reading events. Simply get out there and build connections to as wide a range of people as possible without sacrificing the basic premise that writing should be hard work if you want it to be good. Encourage real criticism of the potentially painful but always constructive kind.
Are there any questions we didn’t ask in this interview that you would’ve liked to answer?
If you would like to know more about Raymond or keep up with his work. You can find him here:
We would like to thank Raymond for this interview and wish him all the best for the future.