Book Blast! Billy Riley by Adam Dickson

About Billy Riley

Fresh out of prison after five years, debt collector and one-time enforcer Billy Riley heads back to his council estate home with wife Eileen. But things have changed since he’s been away. The local kids run around in gangs, terrorising the neighbours with random drug deals and drive-by shootings. Respect for the old criminal hierarchy is gone. And turning 40 inside hasn’t helped. His best years are behind him, future opportunities slipping away.

A chance meeting with the daughter of an old friend provides an unexpected link with the past. Then there’s the documentary film crew that turn up on the scene asking questions, hoping to entice him into the glamorous world of reality TV. Pride and a strong sense of destiny make it hard to resist. He could give it a go. Have a crack at the big time that’s always eluded him.

But plans are harder to make than promises. 

People tend to resurface and get in the way.

Author Q&A with Adam Dickson

How do you switch between writing a screenplay and writing a novel?

I suppose I’m lucky in that I’m able to go from one format to the other without much of a problem. The two disciplines are different as regards what you can and can’t do, and have different boundaries. Writing a novel is in some sense more freeing, because you can indulge every whim and follow every tangent that comes up in your imagination. You can also explore your characters’ thought processes and hidden motivations to the nth degree, something you can’t do in a screenplay. But I find both methods are rewarding and ultimately serve the craft of writing equally well.

In terms of the technical side, screenplays are harder due to the strict guidelines which apply. You have to learn the basic format and stick to it, which can be quite restricting at times. Reading other screenplays gives you a general idea of what’s expected, but beware of picking up bad habits – especially from the pros!

You are launching your third novel, how do you avoid writer’s block and burnout? Do the ideas keep coming, or do you need to work harder?

I think it’s fair to say that my third novel, Billy Riley, nearly finished me off altogether. I’d written several drafts and couldn’t find the right voice for it. Finally, after much prompting from my then partner, who was sick to death of listening to me moaning about it, I shelved the idea and forgot about it for a few years. But, as is often the case, the characters and the story kept eating away at me until I dusted off the manuscript and started working on it again.

Thankfully, I’ve never experienced writer’s block to the extent that I’ve stopped writing altogether. Having said that, there are times when the work in progress has all the appeal of last week’s dinner, and requires a huge effort to keep going. I regularly trawl through the doubts and the insecurities that the process brings up, and counter this with a daily regime of caffeine and exercise, anything to offset the frustration. In the end, it’s the work itself that drives me on.

What would be your best piece of advice for any writer about to publish their first book?

Be professional. If your budget allows, hire an editor and a proof-reader and rid yourself of the curse of the typo, or the character you killed off in Chapter One who miraculously reappears in Chapter Seven. Failing that, go through the manuscript yourself rigorously, line by line, eliminating as many mistakes as you can find. All this assumes that you’re self-publishing. If you’ve been taken on by a mainstream publisher, the editorial process will be done for you, although you’ll still be expected to write up any suggested changes, and ultimately to promote the book yourself. 

The best advice I could give any writer would be to follow your passion. Don’t look for trends, or what seems to be popular at the moment. Find a subject that grips you and won’t let go. 

Do you ever suffer from imposter syndrome and if so, how do you combat it?

Writing is a lonely profession and writers are sensitive creatures by nature. To offset this liability there is only one solution: you have to develop a monstrous ego! Joking aside, feelings of inadequacy and failure can be crippling, causing many writers to give up. And success doesn’t always banish such deep-seated fears either, as many well-known writers will attest. I’m often comforted by reading quotes from authors I admire who’ve faced the same demons and come out the other side. 

Do you find writing workshops and weekends of value? Or do you prefer to work alone?

I’ve met some excellent writers and editors at workshops and weekend retreats, some of whom have helped with my development as a writer. The practice of sharing your work with others and receiving feedback is invaluable, whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting out on your journey. But there is a caveat to this. Unless you’re part of a team or working with a partner, writing is done in isolation. Writing groups and retreats can provide stimulation and encouragement, but they can’t do the work for you. You have to develop the discipline and your own routine and dedicate yourself to it.

Which famous book do you wish that you had written?

That’s an interesting question. I’ve admired many writers over the years and been in awe of their literary skills, but I’ve never really wanted to write someone else’s story. Having said that, there are certain novels which have stood out for different reasons – Dickens’, for perhaps the most memorable characters. Sometimes, a novelist can evoke a place or setting with almost photographic clarity. The opening of Graham Greene’s  A Burnt-Out Case, for instance. His description of the mosquitoes and the heat during a boat trip in Africa are superb and written with such economy. 

The great writers are there to be admired, their work a benchmark to which we can all aspire. Unfortunately, envy tends to creep in, which immediately calls for its antidote, a well-developed sense of humour. I think it was the Irish writer, John Banville, who said, ‘My books are better than everyone else’s but rarely good enough for me.’ 

What more can I say? … Happy writing!

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