I was recently asked by friend and fellow writer Tim Atkinson if I would be interested in hosting one of the legs of his August blog book tour. Always happy to help a friend, when I can — especially one as talented as Tim — I said yes and was pleased, if a little daunted, when Tim enquired if I would like to be the first “visit” on the tour.
So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to Tim Atkinson — author of the novel Writing Therapy.
Tim cut his teeth writing for the Yorkshire Post as a contributor on the old ‘This World of Ours’ and on ‘The Dalesman’, ‘Railway Modeller’ magazines, and has had several poems published in regional arts magazines.
He was a schoolteacher for over twenty years, teaching RE, history and geography in secondary schools in the north of England. He was Assistant Headteacher at Boston Grammar School, Lincolnshire until July 2008 when he resigned to be a stay-at-home dad to his young son, Charlie, and to write. His progress changing nappies and keeping a toddler entertained is recorded on his blog.
His first novel, Writing Therapy, was published in November 2008 by YouWriteOn, the Arts Council-sponsored website for new writers. It tells the story of a teenage girl confusing fact and fiction to the extent that she believes she is a character in a book that she is writing.
1. When did you start writing/Have you had anything published before?
When I was twelve I had a model railway – scenery, houses, landscape, the lot. In fact, it was a miniature model world; my pride and joy. I wrote a letter to ‘The Railway Modeller’ magazine asking if they’d like an article about it. They said ‘go ahead’ and so I sat down at the dining room table and began to write. I got paid £12, and I’ve been writing ever since!
2. How long did the book take to write?
Writing Therapy too the best part of five years from first ideas to completed manuscript. It was very stop-start at the beginning, because I knew what I wanted to do but didn’t have the confidence or skill to see it through. I actually signed up for a Creative Writing course with the OU mid-way through the novel. That helped enormously.
3. Is writing a full-time occupation now?
Now (my fifteen-month old son) Charlie has started walking he’s my full-time occupation, and I love it. I get time to write while he sleeps which is nowhere near enough, but in a funny way the pressure of getting words down quickly before he wakes can be quite liberating.
4. How long did it take to find a publisher?
There was another publisher interested in Writing Therapy – in fact, the one I’d always had in mind when writing it – but there were a couple of things about their terms I didn’t like. I never even bothered with any of the ‘big boys’ so-to-speak. I figured they’d all be far too busy throwing money at the likes of Simon Cowell to be interested in an unknown with an article in ‘Railway Modeller’ in his resume.
5. Can you say a little about your development as a writer?
Flushed with the success of my ‘Railway Modeller’ commission I did what all teenagers do and started writing poetry. I actually had a couple of things published in small arts magazines, and went to Hull University just to breathe the same air as Philip Larkin. When he stopped breathing (he died in my third year there – which had nothing to do with me, I hasten to add!) I started doing bits and pieces of freelance journalism, and was a regular contributor to a column called ‘This World of Ours’ on the Yorkshire Post. In fact, when I graduated I was going to be a journalist. But then I’d also quite fancied teaching, and someone said I’d better do a PGCE before Mrs Thatcher closed down all the teacher-training colleges. Twenty-one years later, I was still in the classroom.
6. What are you writing now?
I’ve just written a school text-book on the UK for a publisher called Wayland, part of a series covering countries of the world. I’m doing India next. I’ve also got a young adult novel almost finished. It’s about a boy with a passion for prehistoric mysteries, who leaves home looking for his mother.
7. Any tips for people wanting to be published?
Buy a model railway! Seriously, there’s probably some connection between making model worlds and writing stories. I was once told by a teacher at school that my essay-writing technique resembled throwing as much mud as possible, in the hope that some of it would stick. And he added, ‘it seems to work’. I think that’s my philosophy of writing. Just do it, and – you never know – some of it might ‘stick’!
8. What are your views of the publishing industry in general?
I’m amazed at how ‘industrial’ and old-fashioned publishing can be. Those huge advances for celebrity tat, the ‘deals’ with bookstores, even the old-fashioned ‘print-runs’. Will a few big names go under, like the banks? Will commissioning editors who’ve paid over the odds for some ghost-written drivel fall on their swords? I doubt it, but I’ve a feeling the whole business is about to change: e-books, Print-on-Demand, not to mention Amazon. And yet much of the industry is still stuck in the last century.
9. You’re donating 10% of the book’s royalties to the charity, Young Minds. Why?
The book deals with issues I’d seen first-hand as a teacher. In one of my roles in school I was responsible for pupil welfare and I was seeing a rise each year in the number of pupils suffering mental and emotional trauma. Young Minds exists specifically to support young people suffering from mental health-related problems. It also supports parents and other adults involved in the care of such young people. As a teacher I’d found Young Minds invaluable; as a writer I’m keen to do anything I can to help.
10. What are you currently reading?
Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, by Roger Deakin. I read his ‘Waterlog’ and fell in love with it. He has (or had – he died last year) a poet’s eye for vivid detail, which I’ve subsequently discovered is because he often wrote what was to become his prose as poetry first. Oh, and The Mortdecai Trilogy, by Kyril Bonfiglioli.