Tuned Out by Keith A. Pearson
What led you into writing?
I won a regional award for creative writing in school but I was a mischievous kid and struggled to concentrate in class. My writing career started and ended by the age of eleven, or so I thought.
Then, in December 2015, I was enjoying Christmas drinks with a few friends and the subject of New Year’s resolutions came up. I’d been threatening to write a novel for five or six years so I threw that into the ring. It probably says a lot about my friends they didn’t believe I’d fulfil my resolution so it evolved into a bet.
In March 2016, with spectacular naivety, I began writing. To this day, I don’t know how but by September I’d completed a novel. Bet won and a tick on a bucket list. I could never have imagined it would become a full-time career.
How does a typical day look?
I’m at my desk by half-eight and the first few hours of my day are spent on admin (and by ‘admin’, I mean trawling social media). I usually open my WIP around eleven and I’ll keep going until two in the afternoon. I’ll then take a two-hour break and go to the gym, and then I’m back at my desk for a couple more hours.
It’s rare for me to spend more than five hours writing, but I always aim to pen between 1,000 – 2,000 words and I write every day.
In what ways do your characters test your abilities?
I write first person and all bar two of my novels have a different protagonist. So far, I’ve had to get inside the head of a Conservative politician, three women, and a millennial—each one posing a different challenge.
Beyond the protagonist, I rely heavily on a strong supporting cast so I spend a lot of time developing relatable characters. I’ve no choice but to step beyond my comfort zone in order to create unique voices.
What’s your setup?
Prior to writing, I worked from home as a web marketing consultant so I use from the same shoebox-sized office.
I think there’s this romantic notion authors write in coffee shops or in wood-panelled rooms with a dramatic view. My workspace is a broom cupboard with a desk and a filing cabinet. There’s no view.
What lasting effects have your favourite authors had on your writing and style?
I don’t read in the genres I write so I can’t say any particular author has influenced or inspired my writing. I’m also paranoid about subconsciously picking up another author’s voice and using it in my work so I tend to avoid reading fiction.
I’m a huge fan of Bill Bryson, and I guess if there was anything I’ve learnt from his writing, it’s that humour works in every genre. Prior to Notes from a Small Island, I don’t know how many travel books were littered with witty anecdotes and industrial language, but I’d wager not many.
What do you do for inspiration?
I put on my walking shoes and traipse around the countryside for hours on end. For me, there is nothing more inspiring than being on my own with no distractions—just fresh air, views, and the chance to daydream.
There have been countless occasions where I’ve hit a brick wall in a plot, and the worst possible way to break through that wall is to sit and stare at a blank screen.
What repeating themes do you find yourself pulling into your stories?
You could loosely classify everything I’ve written as speculative fiction—a protagonist living a humdrum life is dragged into a miraculous situation. Beyond that core theme, I use the same basic elements in all my novels: humour, larger-than-life characters, poignancy, and a sprinkling of nostalgia.
It’s a formula which works for me, and my readers.
How do you wind down?
I visit the gym three or four times a week; something I’ve done for the last eight years.
As much as I love my job, it’s not healthy spending all day hunched over a keyboard. Fortunately, the job allows me to skive off to the gym in the afternoon, and it’s kind of become part of my working day. If I don’t go, I get cranky.
What sort of challenges do you regularly overcome while world-building?
The greatest challenge for me is research.
I’ve used nostalgia as a hook in several of my novels, and whilst I’m not world-building as such, I have to drag the reader into different eras. In some cases, I’m taking the reader back to a period in time before they were born so I need to build a picture whilst also setting an authentic scene for those who were around.
Large parts of my latest novel, Tuned Out, are set in 1969—two years before I arrived on the planet. I effectively had to create the world by watching old TV shows and documentaries. Getting my head around pre-decimal currency proved a challenge.
What’s the most useful advice you could give to an aspiring author?
It’s incredibly hard for new authors to gain traction and establish a loyal tribe of readers. There are three ways: write more books, spend a lot of money, or you could start by identifying a niche tribe right at the outset and writing a book specifically for them. If you write a book hoping to appeal to ‘everyone’, good luck. I fear you’ll need it.
My novels don’t sell well outside of the UK but that’s fine. My novels don’t appeal to readers under thirty, and that’s also fine. I know who I’m writing for and that tribe is heavily invested in my work because it resonates in a way I couldn’t hope to achieve if I had a broader target market.
Tell us about the book you’re promoting.
My seventh novel, Tuned Out, is the story of a disillusioned millennial; convinced life was so much easier for his parents’ generation.
He’s then offered an opportunity to discover exactly what life was like for his parents’ generation, courtesy of a journey back in time to 1969.
It would be fair to say life in pre-decimal Britain proves challenging on many, many levels.