Author Q&A with Charlie Laidlaw

Today I have a Q&A with author Charlie Laidlaw whose book The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is out now and published by Accent Press. 

Welcome Charlie, can you tell us a little about your books?
First of all, I’m the author of two novels, The Herbal Detective (Ringwood Publishing, 2015) and The Things We Learn When We’re Dead (Accent Press, 2017). The first is a satire on superstition, the second a satire on religion. A third novel, Darker Matters, is due to be published by Accent Press in January 2018. It’s a satire, among other things, on celebrity. Quite why my books are satirical, I have no idea, except that the modern world does seem to be becoming a parody of human progress.

Tell us a little bit about yourself
I was born and brought up in the west of Scotland, graduated from the University of Edinburgh, and then worked briefly as a street actor, baby photographer, puppeteer and restaurant dogsbody, before landing proper jobs as a national newspaper journalist, intelligence officer and, lastly, PR consultant. Actually, being a PR consultant isn’t a proper job, but it pays the rent. I like it when you can summarise your life in one short paragraph.
Of more importance, I am married with two grown-up children, and am embarked on training crows in our garden. The idea is that I give them food and they bring me presents. So far, my training isn’t working.

Tell us a little bit about The Things We Learn When We’re Dead
The book is, I like to think, a modern fairytale of love and loss. It has humour, but it’s not a comedy. It’s about the small decisions that we make and how they can have unintended consequences. It’s about looking back and finding new beginnings. The idea for the book came to me on a train from Edinburgh to London (which is apt because, civilised place that Edinburgh is, it’s the only city in the world to have named its main railway station after a book). When I got home, I wrote the first chapter and the last chapter, so I knew from the start how the book would end. The first chapter has changed out of all recognition from that first draft, but the last chapter is almost as I first wrote it.

So what was the inspiration?
I’m not sure where the idea for the book came from, and that’s what made it such a powerful one. However, in setting out to write a book about a young woman coming to terms with her life and finding a new beginning, I realised immediately that it’s a well-worn refrain – and best captured in the Wizard of Oz. It’s something that we all, to some extent, experience in our lives – finding sense in the absurd or the tragic and developing coping mechanisms to move on – and so familiar, through numerous books, TV programmes and films, that we forget what a universal and recurring theme it is.

I decided to embrace the Wizard of Oz analogy because, I also reasoned, everything conceivable in human existence has been written about many times, mostly by Shakespeare – and even he relied on older sources like Chaucer and back to Roman philosophers and writers. So, if everything in the world has already been written, I concluded, why not make the book a modern retelling of the Wizard of Oz (if only for those readers who want to make the connection).

It does therefore have all the Oz ingredients from a cowardly lion to ruby slippers, from a yellow brick road to the Emerald City. But it doesn’t have flying monkeys, because that would be too ridiculous!

How did the title come about?
The title came from the film version of the Wizard of Oz. In the book, the Emerald City is a real place – and don’t forget that L Frank Baum wrote several Oz books – but in the film it’s an imaginary place that only existed inside Dorothy’s head. In a sense, we all have an Emerald City inside us: an imaginary version of ourselves and our lives; a place where everything is a little bit more perfect. In the original book, Dorothy gets banged on the head, looks back at her life and then realises that there’s no place like home. In my book, the central character thinks that she’s dead (she isn’t) – so the title really flowed from that.

How did you start writing?
I don’t think there was ever any starting point. Maybe, from an early age, I realised I was fairly hopeless at most things, but could write. I have also always been a voracious reader and, as far as I’m concerned, you can’t write if you don’t read.
I wrote my first “novel” at about the age of fifteen, which I then burned at the age of sixteen. It was probably for the best, as a Nazi plot to resurrect a Fourth Reich from a base in the Norfolk Broads seemed idiotic, even to me. My second “novel” (still hand-written) was completed about a year later. I still have the manuscript, but nobody is ever going to read it! (An accidental revolutionary falling in love with an angel is even more idiotic). In the years since, I started on numerous projects, but never finished anything. I suppose, life got in the way. It wasn’t until a small handful of years ago that I got a grip and made myself write with greater purpose.
I’m sure there are many people out there, who can genuinely write and who have a compelling story in their head, who would love to write a book…but haven’t, because there are always other things to do. My advice: you can only procrastinate for so long!

Was it easy to find a publisher?
Like many authors, I could paper my house with rejections and, at times, it was dispiriting. But I knew that what I had written was good and persevered. Many others don’t, and I honestly believe that the best books ever written are mouldering at the bottom of landfill sites or circulating as bits of incinerated carbon – all because the authors gave up and threw their manuscripts away. My advice would be: honestly appraise your work and, if necessary, get someone professional to appraise it. If you/they have confidence in it, keep trying.

Next book?
It’s called Darker Matters and is a dark comedy about love, death, family and particle physics. It’s also a satire on the unintended consequences of celebrity. It’s a tragic-comic story, aimed at both male and female readers, but I hope it has heart, humour and warmth. Its central message is that, even at the worst of times, a second chance can often be just around the corner. It’s due to be published by Accent Press in January next year.

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead Blurb

Intriguing and compelling… a tale that grips until the very last page – Jodi Taylor, bestselling author of The Chronicles of St Mary’s.

On the way home from a dinner party she didn’t want to attend, Lorna Love steps into the path of an oncoming car. When she wakes up she is in what appears to be a hospital – but a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery, she is served wine for supper, and everyone avoids her questions.

It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN. Because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain. She seems to be there by accident. Or does God have a higher purpose after all?

At first Lorna can remember nothing. As her memories return – some good, some bad – she realises that she has decisions to make and that she needs to find a way home…

A huge thank you Charlie for taking part in this Q&A! Find out more about Charlie and his books by checking out his website

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