An interview with E.O. Higgins
With your novel ‘Conversations With Spirits’ being published at the end of last year, and having just been released in paperback this year, how has the process of getting your book out there been for you?
To be honest, I was very lucky.
My publishers – Unbound – have an unusual business model insofar as they are the first UK publishing company to use ‘crowd-funding’ to finance literature.
About two years ago, I added some chapters of my (then, unfinished) novel to a new writing community website – called Jottify.com – and they became very popular on the site.
As a result of that, it was spotted by one of Unbound’s Commissioning Editors and we met up with her in a pub in Soho – and I signed the contract there and then.
At the time, Unbound were only producing books by very high-profile authors – like Jonathan Meades, Kate Mosse and Terry Jones – so I really wasn’t expecting too much. But the book met its target in about four months.
So, happily, I didn’t have to go through the usual process of submission and rejection.
Of course, on the flipside of that, because it isn’t a ‘traditional’ publishing house, it’s treated with suspicion. Two years ago, when I was trying to explain to people what Unbound were doing, I think a lot of people switched off, assuming I was involved in some terrible vanity publishing thing…
‘Conversations with Spirits’ is an interesting book, and is full of some colourful characters. Which character did you enjoy writing the most, and why?
I like writing the protagonist, Trelawney Hart. He’s a bit of a prick, which is fun to write.
He’s an acerbic know-it-all, so it’s quite nice to throw him into situations where he’s completely out of his depth.
It’s cruel, really – the way I toy with him. But he probably deserves it.
Your book begins in December 1917 – what drew you to this era and inspired you to write about this period?
One of the themes in the novel is the rise of Spiritualism in Britain – and the heyday of that came, somewhat understandably, around the time of the Great War.
Every day, people were losing their sons, husbands and fathers with no more explanation than a short, impersonal message from the War Office. So a lot people were drawn to Spiritualism, I suppose, because it offered them hope and an opportunity to assuage their grief.
The novel also contains two real-life characters, who were very much involved in ‘paranormal’ activity during their lives; Arthur Conan Doyle, who was a famous advocate for Spiritualism during the later years of his life, and Harry Price, the self-styled paranormal investigator.
Which authors or books inspired you to start writing?
Well, because I’m writing a period novel, when I read it tends to be books by late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century authors – the likes of PG Wodehouse, HP Lovecraft, Patrick Hamilton, Charles Dickens, George Orwell, MR James, E W Hornung, Jerome K Jerome, George Grossmith, Graham Greene and John Buchan.
This way, I can convince myself that what I’m doing is ‘research’.
Since Arthur Conan Doyle is a character in Conversations with Spirits, I got to re-read his stuff too – which was obviously quite enjoyable.
You’re very active on Twitter, and I really enjoy your style of tweeting. How important do you feel it is for authors to embrace social media, and what do you think are the right or wrong ways to approach it?
I’m not sure how important it is for all authors to be active on social media. In my own case, I do find it mainly aids my procrastination.
That said, I also don’t think I use it that much. (My wife would disagree with this, I suspect.) I know some people that seem compelled to let the world know every time they have a cup of tea or a HobNob – and I don’t do that.
I use Twitter mainly to put up a variety of silly pictures, promote things I’m doing and keep in touch with nice people.
How was your time at the Edinburgh Festival, and what was your favourite part of your time there?
I had a lovely time in Edinburgh.
I was asked to appear at two events – both in the Guardian’s famous ‘Spiegeltent’ venue.
The first was a late-night recital of ghost stories – alongside authors Rebecca Mascull (The Visitors) and Lesley McDowell (Unfinished Creatures).
I also attended an event entitled ‘Fiction that Blurs Reality with Illusion’ with Canadian author Steven Galloway, whose excellent novel The Confabulist is about Harry Houdini.
I made a rather good job of deriding Spiritualism during the interview about my book – not realising that half the audience were actually local Spiritualists.
This made for quite a lively debate when they opened up the floor for questions.
Which was a bit fun and a bit scary…
What can we expect from you next?
Conversations with Spirits has just been nominated for the Guardian / Edinburgh International Book Festival ‘First Book Award 2014’.
I’m currently writing the book’s sequel – which will have less to do with Spiritualism and more to do with Black Magic.
So, you’ll probably find me upsetting Satanists and Black Magicians in the year to come.
Thanks to Unbound and Kickstarter, I think most people have a better understanding of the concept of ‘crowd-funding’ now.
Thanks to E.O. Higgins for taking the time to answer our questions.