Les Zig is from Banyule and is the author of Song of the Curlew (Pinion Press 2019), The Shadow in the Wind (Pinion Press 2019), August Falling (Pantera Press 2018), and Just Another Week in Suburbia (Pantera Press 2017). He has also had three screenplays optioned, and a number of screenplays shortlist in various competitions. His short stories and articles have appeared extensively in print and digital journals.
Les is one of our profiled local writers as part of the 11th Annual Booklovers Festival. To find out more about the festival view the program here
How do you describe your creative practice?
The most important thing is building the world in which the story will unfold. That means drawing up characters and giving them little histories. This includes *every* character that I might need -- from the main characters to the supporting characters, to peripheral characters, like waitstaff at a cafe. I'll also draw up all the locations I think that will be required. If it's necessary, I'll draw up blueprints of a house so I know where characters are placed. In Just Another Week in Suburbia, I needed to know where the protagonist was placed in relation to the neighbours, as there's a scene involving in voyeurism (something I'm exploring more extensively in a new story).
All this is word-building. It's like drawing a map. I then drop the characters into it, along with the premise. That construction of the world can direct and shape the way events unfold.
A lot of it may never be used. August Falling had over thirty characters I didn't use. There was also a company I invented that I thought may feature prominently, but were never mentioned. But it helps me get an idea of the landscape. It's like driving somewhere new. If you don't know the landscape, you'll drive around blindly. If you can look at a map, you'll get an idea of the route and what you may encounter.
I'd rather have too much information that I don't use, than get to a point in a story where I suddenly need to work out what's there, who the characters are, how they function, etc.
I think writer's block is often a result of the author not knowing their story well enough -- not the story itself (as in the plot) but the universe in which the story unfolds. It's like they come to this blank spot and they don't know what should come next, so this world-building is essential.
When did you start writing? What inspired you?
I enjoyed writing in primary school and read lots. But it wasn't until I read JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings as a twelve-year-old that I was inspired to want to write myself. With Tolkien, I marvelled at the depth and complexity of this world he'd created, and the respective heroic journeys the characters took. It was also interesting because a lot of high fantasy involves the characters going to find something. The Lord of the Rings is about characters going to lose something.
Building a universe from scratch, taking characters on a journey, and being involved in that discovery appealed to my imagination. I could do whatever I wanted. I could live in worlds full of wonder and hardship and heroism and anything I wanted.
In high school, I wrote epic stories. In Year 7 English we were tasked with writing a Choose Your Own Adventure story. I wrote one with over one hundred entries. In Year 9 English, I wrote a 60-page sci-fi short story. (I doubt the teacher read it.) I was always reading and writing.
At a sixteen-year-old, I began and hand-wrote a fantasy novel through two A5-sized exercise books. I ended up rewriting it on a typewriter, and then on a PC (just as PCs were starting to enter the market).
What are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on a new novel for my publisher, Pantera Press. I've had to rewrite the opening act, because I found a better way to set-up the story. It's close to sending off. I want to go through it a couple of more times. I'm also working on a sci-fi screenplay, which I want to enter into a competition. Finally, I'm working on a mockumentary pilot with some actor/producer friends, which we're filming throughout August.
Does anyone or anything influence your practice?
I set up the same way -- draw up the characters, draw up the world. Then I write.
I may start listening to certain music that I think identifies with the story. I listened to nothing but Mozart's Piano Concerto 21 when I was writing The Shadow in the Wind, as I thought the 1st Movement summed up the protagonist's (six-year-old Keene's) redoubtable spirit, and the second movement his mother's plight. For August Falling, I listened to a lot of Pink. She has great songs about struggle and fitting in. For the next one, I listened to nothing but Bon Jovi. Music can create the mood I want.
How do you define success? How do you celebrate your successes?
There are material qualifications of success -- money, sales, etc. Then there are milestone qualifications of success, e.g. getting published.But those are beyond any writer's control. You can write a book you think is brilliant, but it's still at the mercy of others accepting it. It can get published, but then it's at the mercy of marketing and readers and critics. There are tons of examples of great books that don't get published, or don't get the sales they deserve.
That whole criteria is beyond the writer's control, so it's not a great measure of success. It'd be like measuring a sporting career by all the endorsements and sponsorship opportunities they were able to score after their career was done. They don't have control of that. Those are somebody else's decisions.
Success is telling the story you want to tell. It's not easy writing. Finishing something is difficult. Writing a whole book is almost near-impossible. Getting it to work is nearly irreconcilable. Success is writing, rather than not writing.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Writing is about perseverance. I don't like the word, but it is a 'craft'.
The analogy I always draw is Roger Federer didn't become Roger Federer overnight. For whatever talent he has, he had to work hard at developing it. He had to work his way up, gain experience, and push himself to get better and better. Even when he begun winning, he kept pushing himself. He never took it for granted. When challenged, he found new ways to develop. He never reached an epoch and said, 'That was it.'
Writing's the same. People who don't write think it's just a case of spilling your imagination onto the page and there. It's done. But you have to think about structure, you have to think about characterisation, you have to think about plotting, you have to think about pacing, you have to think about prose, etc. -- there's so much that goes into creating a story. It's not just a single skill but a bag of skills you have to develop, and which you then have to learn to apply in the right measures.
It doesn't come easy. Movies and television often glamorise writers. It's not glamorous. It's often painful and frustrating. It's insular. It's needy. And then even when you can produce something, you're at the whim of publishers, readers, critics. There'll be setbacks. There'll be rejections. There'll be times you want to quit. This is all normal.
But persevere. That's the best advice. Persevere, because the journey won't be easy.
Do you have favourite author or book?
I grew up with a lot of fantasy. As a twelve-year-old, I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Then I read a lot of other high and historical fantasy, including books like The Scarlett Pimpernel, Ivanhoe, and various Robin Hood novels. I thought fantasy as a genre needed a lofty, sophisticated prose. I thought that was writing in general.As a fifteen-year-old, I read JD Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, which was so informal and irreverent in tone, and focused on a character dealing with issues, rather than any great physical journey. Holden Caufield takes a physical journey, but the story's really about what's going on inside his head.Not long after, I read David Eddings' Belgariad (fantasy) series, which also had a relaxed, conversational prose that was engaging.Tolkien taught me about world-building. Salinger and Eddings taught me to just write as myself, rather than trying to be somebody else or trying to duplicate a voice I thought would be successful. It was the first lesson I had in the value of voice.
Do you visit your local library? If yes, what do you love about libraries?
Libraries have always been magical simply because of books. Whether it was finding a new story to sink myself into, or some part of research, the library always held the answers.
For more on Les visit:
Find Les' books in our collection:
For more Community Creatives interviews click here.