Ian Ayris is not new to the crime fiction scene, but he is on the cusp of being a debut novelist. Caffeine Nights Publishing will release his crime novel, "Abide With Me," very soon.


I'm always curious what it's like to be a novelist in another part of the world (Ian is from the UK). So I asked Ian if he'd be willing to have me interview him. Lucky for us, he said "yes." I found his responses interesting. Here's a guy who cut his teeth on short fiction in a pile of respectable crime 'zines, but couldn't find a home for his novel. But he kept his chin up, and luck landed on his doorstep.


Damn, you've got to admire a guy for sticking with it. And now the crime fiction world will be rewarded with "Abide With Me."




1) Tell me a bit on what "Abide with Me" is about.


"Abide With Me" is primarily about two boys growing up in the East End of London in the nineteen seventies and eighties. The whole book is told in the first person vernacular of East London, by one of the boys, John. John is a streetwise lad, and comes from a fanatical West Ham supporting family - the local football (soccer) team.


The other boy, Kenny, lives across the street and is timid and withdrawn, spending his days in a violent household. As John and Kenny grow up, each struggles to understand their place in a world that is crumbling around them by the day. 


Things come to a head, and the two boys go their separate ways through circumstances beyond their control. Years later, after mental institutions, petty crime, searing loss and prison have taken their toll, the two boys are re-united, facing up to local gangster Ronnie Swordfish in a single moment that will define their lives forever.


"Abide With Me" is a story of hope and endurance, how to boys walk into the darkness and emerge as men.



2) You're on the cusp of having a debut novel published. What are you most excited about?


I think the thing I am most looking forward to, Ben, is simply seeing what were once a million sheets of type-written paper covered in red ink, collected together and made into a book. Holding the finished article in my hands, blimey, can't even imagine what that's going to feel like.



3) Follow up to that question, what are you most worried about?


Worried. Mmm . . . To be honest, Ben, I'm not really one to worry. The book is written, it will now take off on a journey all its own. My main aim in writing this book was to make it real.


There is no shying away from the reality of the violence and the language inherent in the boys' experience. No shying away at all. People that have read my short stories know I am not one for shying away.


I know the manner in which the book is written will have its detractors. It is not what you might call, coffee table reading butI am hoping the reader will see beyond what is presented and be able to feel what is stirring beneath the words, for that is where the real story is.



4) I've read/heard that a debut novel is often the most personal. Not so much that it has a personal meaning, but that the author puts a lot of their person into the story. Characters, settings or plots might be based on the author's experiences. Is this true about "Abide with Me?"


Good question, Ben. To say there is a lot of me in this book would be an understatement. Because of the organic nature in which I write, there was always going to be a huge amount of my own experience, my own feelings, my own fears and hopes in the book. 


Yes, they are played out in the scenes and the dialogue of fictional characters, but they are there. I only realised how personal this book is when I recorded the whole thing onto my phone a page at a time in my final edit.  I could barely get through a paragraph without my voice breaking and tears rolling down my face. 


Actually, I've just stumbled upon a real fear I should have mentioned in the previous answer - book readings.  Breaking down in tears whilst reading my own book. Now wouldn't that be something . . .



5) Totally understandable. You write with passion. Before you finished "Abide with Me," what kept you motivated to continue writing? You were treading in unfamiliar territory, having not published a novel before.


I wrote the first half of "Abide With Me" in about three months, literally just making it up as I was going along. I never write to a plan. I just listen and watch what is going on inside my head, and write it down. It's a mad process. 


But the second half of the book, about thirty thousand words, I wrote in an absolute blur of two weeks. I just sat, and wrote, all through the night. There were no thought processes, just a need to tell the story of these two boys that had become so much a part of me, that had always been so much a part of me. 


It's difficult to describe those two weeks, except, at the end, I felt the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders.



6) It won't be your first published work, though. How has writing for "Radgepacket," "Out of the Gutter" and other crime fiction 'zine/websites played into writing this novel? Did you expand on a theme you explored only in short form before?



I've only been writing for a couple of years. One of the first stories I had published was in the fantastic "Radgepacket" series from Byker Books. The story was called "The Rise and Demise of Fat Kenny."


Buried within that short story, although I didn't know it at the time, were the seeds of what was eventually to become 'Abide With Me." When I finished writing the book, and it was doing the rounds with various agents and publishers, I went back to writing short stories to fill the time. I was fortunate enough to have about twenty-five short stories published in too many places to name. 


So when it came to editing the book, I found I'd become a much better writer, the voice I used honed to a much tighter degree. Hopefully, this has made the book even better than it might have been. Short stories are fantastic for honing your craft as a writer. Beginning, middle, end. Bang, bang, bang. It's like doing weights or  jogging or Yoga. Keeps you finely tuned, you know.



7) I never gave short work much consideration until I realized how much of a benefit it can be. That surprised me as both a writer and a reader. What surprised you the most about the road to getting published?


What surprised me the most about the road to publication was the ease with which I took rejection. I had interest from an agent in New York and another in London, both to end in eventual rejection, plus about rejections from almost every publisher and agent in the Writer's Handbook. 


Then, as sometimes happens, luck intervened.  A writing friend of mine - Nick Quanrtill, author of the fantastic "Broken Dreams" - mentioned "Abide With Me" to his publisher - Darren Laws at Caffeine Nights Publishing.


Although closed to submissions at the time, Darren was sufficiently interested to request the first three chapters. Three months later, having all but forgotten about it, I got a request for the whole manuscript. It got my attention, but by then I'd sort of resolved myself to starting another submission round in six months. I disassociated myself from the outcome, as it were. 


Three months later, I got the offer of a contract. And it blew me away. After all those rejections I got an acceptance from a publishing house I'd never even heard of. Serendipity. That's what has surprised me about the road to publication. Luck, fate, whatever you want to call it. It has a huge impact.



8 ) You're from one side of the Atlantic, I'm from the other. We're both involved in crime fiction. How is the genre different on either side of the pond? Or is it at all?


I really thing there is a difference between crime fiction on the different sides of the Pond. I want to stress I think neither one is better than the other. I enjoy them both. But there is a difference. 


For me, the stories Stateside tend to be more direct, visceral, lots of guns and drugs and bullets. Here in Old Blighty, the stories tend to be, I think, more character driven, slow burners. I also think there is more humour in the stories from this side of the Pond. The old English defence, eh?



9) Any advice for authors wanting to become a debut novelist like yourself?


My advice to authors seeking publication is to write with your heart. Write something you believe in. Write something that makes you tremble to the core, something that matters. In a sense, do not have publication as your aim, have truth as your aim. 


And when you've finished writing your short story or novel, send it off and let it go. Release yourself from the outcome, and begin something else.



10) I'll shut up now. The floor is yours. Anything you'd like to add?


I just want to thank you, Ben, for giving me the opportunity to appear on your site. It's a salient reminder of how this crime-fiction community I seem to have fallen into the last eighteen months or so comes together to help its own. And stuff like that, you can't ever put a price on.



Like I always say, I'm a fan of crime fiction first and an author second. Ian, I look forward to reading "Abide With Me" and the many novels to come. Cheers!


Find more from Ian Ayris at his blog, The Voices in My Head.

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