I’m delighted to welcome fellow Newburian, Martin Strike, better known as The Newbury Short Story Teller as my interviewee this week. I first met Martin when he wrote a delightful tale about the cat he and his wife had just adopted from Newbury Cats Protection for The Cat Flap magazine (I’m editor of the magazine). It then came to light that Martin wrote short stories and had a blog, which I soon followed, and that he was a very talented writer. He’s appeared on my blog as a guest writer a few times with his hilarious stories. Here, he tells us about his collection of short stories and more about his writing:
Q. Your book of short stories, Preposterous Tales From The Newbury Short Story Teller, was released earlier this year. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
A. Of course! I moved to Newbury when I met my now-wife, Joanne, some 8 years ago. I love the town: it’s got its own identity, rich history. marauding swans, ghastly A339 yet open countryside less than five minutes in every direction. Having come from urban-sprawl, Newbury seemed its own world in which I could set Preposterous Tales from the Newbury Short Story Teller, sixteen of my gentle, humorous stories where characters are often bitter, twisted or just plain bonkers, let loose in recognizable local places.
The book is available from Amazon, but one of the stories that won the runner-up prize in the ‘To Hull and Back’ humorous short story competition in 2018 is on the following link:
Q. What do you most enjoy about writing short stories?
A. At risk of sounding conceited, I like making myself laugh. I like writing in all forms, it seems something I am compelled to do.
Q. Where do you get your ideas from?
A. Good question. I wish I had more – I’m always envious of writers who have ideas for their next 3 books. Most of my stories start as a modest thought or idea, or even a single word or theme. I mull this over until I get the germ of a story then start writing. I’ve usually no idea where it will go, but as I write the story builds in my subconscious and while I’m tapping away, I find myself giggling as I hear what my warped brain is coming up with.
Q. What writing are you currently working on?
A. I have a much-loved cousin who has worked as head of maintenance at a prestigious college. The things that have happened to him over the years are hilarious and he’s asked me to put some in a book. I’ve taken the ten best/most readable/least libellous of his adventures and am trying to create characters and a linked narrative course to what is effectively a set of short stories. I’m four chapters in, but put the first one on my blog to gain feedback. If anyone would care to read this and comment, it can be found here
Q. One of your spooky stories was read in a graveyard this Halloween by an actor. Can you tell us how that came about and how it went?
A. I am a Friend of the Newtown Road Cemetery, Newbury, which is a beautiful Victorian graveyard, where much research has been done on discovering the stories of its residents. This has led to some plays being written by the Friends, of which Joanne and I made our acting debuts at the Phoenix theatre in one, and an annual story read from its creepy, atmospheric chapel to an audience of kids and then again for adults on Halloween. I volunteered to write last year’s. It was such good fun. As well as being read out by a narrator, some of the parts were played by actors with sound effects for the Brussel sprouts provided by a fart-gun. Spoiler alert: Kids, who had made masks of the various animal protagonists and adults laughed at the right times, booed at the devil and cheered when he was chased off by an itinerate swan, thus allowing the narrator to recover the soul he’d sold as a schoolboy.
The story can be read here
Q. All of your stories could be described as a little quirky (which is great!) Do you ever write serious stories, or is that something you don’t enjoy?
A. Ah, here’s a thing. I hate war, have no interest in planes and a real dislike of the Nazis, but as a child was always fascinated with a stubby little German WW2 fighter plane, the Messerschmitt Komet, that hung from the ceiling on our annual trips to the London Science Museum. 40+ years on, it’s still there today, and reading about it as an adult, I found that the Komet is still the world’s only rocket-powered combat plane and had a design so cutting-edge it held the world airspeed record and nearly destroyed itself approaching the sound barrier. It dropped its wheels on take-off, which sometimes bounced back to fatally strike the plane, having exhausted its maximum 7.5 minutes’ flying time of fuel before landing in an unpowered glide on the grass like a glider. In the air, it flew so fast that making a hit with its modest guns on enemy bombers was virtually impossible, while its fuel was so explosive and toxic that the Komet killed far more of its own men on take-off/landing/re-fuelling than it ever did their Allied enemy. It was a true disaster. The more I’ve read about the plane and especially the stories of the brilliance and bravery of the designers, test pilots, manufacturers etc, the more amazed I’ve become. I am now a year (maybe 80,000 words) into a non-fiction book to celebrate them all.
Q. Do you get time to read yourself and if you do, what books do you read?
A. Yes, but I’d love to read more. I read in the bath after a hard day’s gardening (that’s my job – gardening, not bathing!) I also read before bed, but rarely get past 2 or 3 pages before nodding off , can never remember what I’ve read in the morning, and have been known to sleep- drop the book on my face or, once, Joanne’s.
My favourite authors are Graham Greene, John Irving, Patrick Hamilton, Annie Proulx, Evelyn Waugh and P. G. Woodhouse. I dislike books that are ‘too easy’ yet don’t have the intelligence to follow difficult stories which leaves quite a narrow band. I have no interest in crime/fantasy and detest poetry.
Q. When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A. I have an allotment as well as being a full-time gardener, which always makes me think I must quite like it. I am fortunate to have a wife who supports my twin-solitary activities of writing and gardening.
Q. Will we see a full-length novel from you in the future, or are short stories your passion and where you see your future writing?
A. Keep your eyes open for my Komet and college books! I reckon both of these projects have a least another year in them. A ‘propa’ novel would require too much planning for me, but I’d never rule out another short story of two should the inspiration strike; after all, I’ve written perhaps 80 so far.
I’ve recently had pieces published in books on the subject of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Catweazle and am always looking for similar opportunities. I write all sorts on my blog including stories and features such as the Watneys Party 7, Trump Cards and my anti-sleep alarm clock etc etc.
Q. Finally, what advice can you give to writers who are thinking about publishing a book, but haven’t yet taken that step?
A. While there are many self-publishing sites available, I chose Amazon Direct Publishing. This meant there was no upfront cost whatsoever and I had total control over cover price. It was really pretty simple and the final product looks fab. My daughter, Charlotte, drew the cover (and inside illustrations) which were also straightforward to incorporate. Preposterous Tales From the Newbury Short Story Teller won’t change my life financially in the slightest, but I’m very proud of it and so glad I did it.