Five Minutes with Sam McAlpine

  Who do you show your writing to first?

I'd never show a first draft to anyone until I've at least read it over a few times and had a while to sit with it. I do have a couple of friends who write as well so if I'm after technical advice I usually send my work their way. Other friends who are more into reading can be helpful too, especially in sniffing out plot holes or wooden-sounding dialogue. I'm lucky in that the friends I do have who are willing to read my work are honest above all else. If something isn't working, I can trust them to tell me and not to mince words, just like I can trust them to point out the parts that are good.

Where do you get most of your writing done?

At home at my desk mostly. If I'm going to sit down and try and write something I try to make it as much like a ritual as possible. Sometimes I'll take my laptop on an excursion to the library to try and get work done there. But I get distracted easily, which is why I could never write in loud public places like cafes. I find places like that better for  note taking or daydreaming. You'll find good dialogue every now and then by eavesdropping in cafes and restaurants. I always carry paper and a pen with me just for this reason.

What book is closest to you right now – don't lie!

Wolf by Jim Harrison, which I'm enjoying and would probably recommend. It's about this guy living in the woods. He wants to see a wolf, but spends most of his time getting lost and reminiscing about the failures of his life. It's quite funny.

What the best advice you have ever gotten about writing? And what's the best advice that you still ignore?

Probably the best piece of advice I ever got is to never apologise for your characters. I'm not even sure what this means, but I feel like if you try and stick to it you'll probably never be accused of sentimentality. Another good bit of advice I was given is to always finish everything you start, even if it means admitting defeat. Most people who try to write start things but never finish. If you can write something start to end, and then go back later and rewrite it and make it slightly better, then you're already on the right track, even if it never turns out the way you want it.

The best best bit of advice I still ignore is to write your first drafts quickly and then put them aside. I've found I just can't do this, and I end up going back and fiddling with sentences and paragraphs over and over again before I'm happy and move on. It takes me forever to write anything.

If you could be an animal, what would you be?

I feel like lions don't do too much of anything, just lie around in the sun all day. Maybe a lion in a zoo? That, or some kind of bird. A seagull.

How long did it take you to write your bio?

Twenty seconds. It's the only thing I've ever written in one sitting.

Top three songs on your writing playlist?

I get distracted too easily to be able to listen to music while I write, but I do take breaks often and when I do I usually listen to music. It depends what I'm writing, but I still like a lot of Bob Dylan. If I'm writing something moody I'll listen to Tom Waits. I love blues music too - Robert Johnson, Junior Kimbrough, Skip James. I actually think listening to pop music is good for writing too. Most pop songs are catchy and have hooks and I feel like good writing should have that kind of cadence as well.