Q&A with Tom Winter


Today I am pleased to share with you an interview with Tom Winter, the author of the wonderful 30 Days Of Wonder, which I reviewed here yesterday. This review is shared with many thanks to Tom Winter for taking the time to participate, and to Amelia Reid from Little, Brown Book Group for helping me to organise it.

What was your inspiration for 31 Days of Wonder?
I love the idea that everyday life is a form of Brownian motion: that we’re all constantly bumping into things that send us on entirely new tangents. I really wanted to write a book about two people who discover that the real meaning of their encounter isn’t in getting to know one another, but rather learning more about themselves.
What did you do before you became a writer? Have any of your previous jobs informed Ben or Alice’s experiences?
I’ve always made my living from words. I started my career in publishing – in a mad office where one of my colleagues did nothing every day but spray-paint model yachts, and we would all regularly take drunken five-hour lunches – and later moved on to advertising and public relations, where truth is always a secondary consideration to the client’s commercial needs. Over the years I’ve met some outrageous personalities; Geneva and Piers pale in comparison.
31 Days Of Wonder raises lots of interesting issues that are very pertinent to today’s society. How did you research the issues? Do you enjoy this part of the writing process?
I like to write about things that matter to me. In the case of this book, one of the over-arching themes is self-acceptance: how we see ourselves, and how we accept ourselves for what we are rather than what we, or other people, think we should be. I wrote the book while on my own journey through those issues. In that respect, you could say my research for the book was a long and slow process of introspection: it was only when I could let go of the idea that I was a damaged human being that I was able to write about Ben and Alice learning to like themselves too. With social media distorting everyone’s perceptions of reality, I think the message that we’re all fine the way we are is more important now than ever before.
What does your writing process look like?
It looks much like a person scratching words into stone with their bare fingers. Writing is an incredibly solitary, difficult process. It’s full of self-doubt, with only occasional highs that make it seem worthwhile. The truth is I spend a lot of time alone at home, staring at the wall. My friends have learnt to be patient.
Ben and Alice are characters that could be described as “outsiders.” How do you make sure your readers can relate to them?
The honest answer is that I didn’t care in the early stages, I just wanted to write both of them in a way that felt right to me. In that respect, I think a writer’s primary obligation is to create characters who are accessible rather than relatable. Having said that, it was important to me that both Ben and Alice were the kind of people we all see around us every day; just two more faces in the crowd, with their own hopes and joys and sorrows. Now that the book is long finished, it’s interesting to hear them called outsiders. I agree that they are, but inasmuch as they feel like old friends to me, it’s everyone else who seems like outsiders, not them.
The supporting characters, such as Alice’s mother and Ben’s grandfather, are all very different but easy to relate to in their own way. Are they based on people in your own life?
All my characters, in all my books, are inspired by my private observations, thoughts and experiences. I love watching people and would like to think I’ve become a pretty good judge of character. I hope there’s also something fundamentally sympathetic in my approach. I have no problem in labelling someone an arsehole if they are an arsehole, but I’m also interested in knowing why that person is an arsehole; not necessarily to excuse them, but rather to understand them in context. Our individual experiences are so kaleidoscopically complex, I think we should all try to cut each other a little more slack.
There were moments in 31 Days Of Wonder where I was laughing out loud and other moments where I wanted to cry. How do you strike a balance between humour and serious issues?
I think most humour tends to bubble from a dark place. To me, life is a fundamentally bittersweet experience: every day offers the chance to observe a million heart-breaking moments in the lives of others, if only we care to notice. My kind of humour doesn’t try to ignore that sadness, but rather attempts to reframe it in a way that injects some hope.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I love being outdoors. I’m not religious in any sense, but I often feel that the great outdoors is my cathedral. It’s where I go to reflect on life and commune with something bigger than myself. Here in Berlin, I can often be found wandering around the forest, listening to the woodpeckers and the sound of the wind in the trees. My great passions are mountains and the ocean, which is why it makes no sense that I live in Berlin: hundreds of kilometres inland, in a part of Germany that makes Lincolnshire look hilly.
If you could invite three famous people to dinner, living or dead, who would they be and why?
I think it’s a cruel and unusual punishment to limit it to three people! Spontaneously, off the top of my head, I would pick Christopher Hitchens, Oscar Wilde and David Sedaris. I’m confident that it would be a memorable, and astutely-observed, evening.
What is next for you?
I’m currently deep into a fun new book, which should be published next summer or the year after, and I have extensive notes on a much more ambitious book that I will start writing next year. I also write screenplays and have just had my first feature film produced in the US. It was an amazing experience to see my words brought to life – not just by the actors, but also the props department, wardrobe department, makeup artists, and so on. I’m now in talks with producers about further projects, so fingers crossed I’ll be spending more time on those too.

You can purchase 31 Days Of Wonder from Amazon.

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