Saturday, February 3, 2018

Interview with Author Nicholas Sumner

The Herring Barrel

The shape of words more interesting than what a pronoun might be, the author spent time in his school library, booted out of class for contempt, to a place where the written word sat on dusty shelves and made sense. Into the Royal Navy age fifteen, a boy with a strong taste for adventure; subsequently never  afraid of risk or exposure to hard graft in dangerous places, prepared to take on whatever happened along. Only one rule, opportunity always grasped, failure dealt with and lessons learnt given a hearing, often ignored.

1. What really inspired you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and conveying it into a book?

Inspiration is not the right word. I’ve always enjoyed reading a good book, the way stories used to be told, y’know? With a beginning, a middle and an end. Well written, entertaining and above all, believable – and right there lies the skill. Conrad, Buchan, Innes, Shute and MacLean, those novelists  come immediately to mind, their work emminently readable time and again. The need to write, to describe, to construct an interesting story if you like, I can easily trace back to a navy youth sat in front of a clumsy microfiche machine in Singapore library, absorbing copy from the Straits Times, reading about the War Crimes trials not so long over at the time, reported in depth because that was where the crimes took place, a toil of research for a novel that of course never came about. The need to earn a crust has an annoying habit of getting in the way of creativity, in my case for many years. The Herring Barrel is a useful example.

The manuscript under a different title completed, adjusted, submitted to agents and publishers resulted in sufficient rejection slips to create a further if rather boring novel; the only conclusion it was clearly not good enough, although back then it was sometimes returned with encouraging remarks, sadly a rare courtesy today with agents and publishers entirely focused on the financial gains to be found with predictably successful titles. The manuscript often close to finding itself in a bin, chucked there by an aspiring (I dislike that word) writer with better things to do, I’ve often kept in mind the experience of Frederick Forsyth whose first and eventually very successful novel The Day of the Jackal was rejected, he said in a TV interview a good many years ago – seen by this writer, encouragement taken from it – that book rejected more than a hundred times before he insisted it was read in his presence, publisher or agent, I do not recall. He knew he had a novel well worth the publishing. I’ve recently read it once again, and the qualities that make it a classic of the type are outstanding, entertaining, amazingly researched, a story with a beginning and an end. If inspiration comes into this writer’s approach to the written word, it’s found in the effort necessary to hammer a sentence into a shape that looks just right for what it has to support. The completion of The Herring Barrel  undertaken when opportunity allowed creative writing to be a primary interest, without distraction, both plot and construction have been given the structural consideration needed to produce a book, in this writer’s opinion, worth reading.

2. What is it about and whom do you believe is your targeted reader?
When asked ‘what is your novel about’ most writers I imagine will find it difficult to sum up their work in a few lines. In fact, it’s a question that should never expect a worthwhile answer. Even a synopsis, cleverly written, is unlikely to present true value unless the tale is sufficiently hollow to allow a sentence or two to describe it. What would Conrad have said about Lord Jim if synopses had been a ubiquitous demand expected in his time? It’s about a bloke accused of deserting his ship, finds himself penniless in the Orient, becomes an oracle to a tribe of natives and destroys his life deliberately on a romantic gesture? Describing a beautifully written crafted novel, albeit with a style not frequently in use today but none the worse for that, subjecting its astonishing use of English written by a man who had no knowledge of the language before he went to sea, even attempting to describe that tale in less than its entirety is meaningless. It’s a fine story, an adventure, is good enough. For myself I prefer to go and walk the dog, my usual response, ‘just read my book and find out.’

The Herring Barrel a genre-crossing novel, the question of targeted readers is not a simple one, easier to suggest, at my risk, it falls into an area of fiction that will not appeal to preferences of feminine romance or fairytale immagination. Nor will it appeal to readers who find an essential technical detail in support of a narrative tedious - they’re much better off with Harry Potter and deservedly so. The Herring Barrel uses historical fact as a base for looking closer at rumours of a coup d’etat considered against UK Government at the turn of a revolutionary decade, the story set in the closing weeks of 1969.

3. What do you hope will be the everlasting  thoughts for readers who finish your book? What should remain with them long after putting it down?
After readers finish reading The Herring Barrel, place it aside, not back on the shelf, enjoyable entertainment within reach and more to be gained from reading it through again, not simply a story to be read but locations brought to life that will share participation in two journeys - one the search for accountability, the other a wartime journey, gross inhumanity that should in the minds of men never be forgotten.

4. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers?
If the quality of written words you produce compliment the art of writing, if you can see on the page in front of you evidence of that and it’s the very best you can do - my advice, you keep on writing. If you’re churning out words with no attention paid to the art of writing, and examples are more numerous than hairs on a worldwide population of dogs, do yourself a favour, give up displaying your lack of ability impossible to erase in digital print there for all to see. Spend your  time working at something worthwhile, you’re doing the art of writing no favours.

5. What trends in the book world do you see and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
This question leads from the last, and for me a worrying question. The ease of contribution to a recent digital eruption of ebooks (excuse me while I spit on the deck) has resulted in a profound poliferation of God’awful rubbish, described recently I noticed as a tsnami of crap. While caught up in there may well be outstanding work that deserves attention, assuming their title is a result of years of effort, the author is presented to a readership that expects free or 99’cent copies of that work, mostly in the interests of Kindle profits. It’s obscene. I totally understand it’s a route many writers are forced into because there is no other, forget those who go there because the credible routes to publication are closed to them, but it’s a chill wind blowing, this writer firmly believes for those of us who care to put quality before the results of sales on a chart.

6. What great challenges did you have in writing your book?
None, apart from finding time. The later part of my career spent with words of a technical kind, an offshore oil industry specialist in operations and procedures, written instructions for the safe operating of oil platforms in the North Sea, adjustment to creative writing no more than turning imagination into words, while keeping firm hold on credibility - with one eye on that well-worn phrase ‘suspension of disbelief’. That works for me.

7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?
Why would they not buy The Herring Barrel? Are there so many books around that can promise an extraordinary reading experience to the enquiring mind that will entertain, question the way things are going, offer the solution and put a book on their shelf they can talk about?

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. 

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