Neil J Hart Interview
Posted on 14 August 2007. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to Neil J Hart, debut author, whose novel Spritz is out now
Tell us something about your background.
My first novel ‘Spritz’, which came out earlier this year, is a black comedy / crime fiction about striving for success when everything around you is falling to pieces. It’s primarily about hopes, dreams and the human condition but played out against a backdrop of farcical scenes, comic book villains and the hum of everyday banality. I wanted to create something that was touching and heartfelt whilst bordering on the ridiculous. I use ‘what would happen if Jerry Bruckheimer produced an episode of Eastenders’ quite often to describe it. Spritz has just been signed up to an audio book deal and should be out later this year.
I’m currently working on three other projects. A sequel to Spritz, working title ‘Spritz: Uncovered (The Curse of Captain Moonblood)’, a screenplay with fellow writer Cally Taylor (who’s currently finishing her novel ‘Diary Of A Dead Girl’) and ‘The Madison Chronicles’. The latter is the furthest along and can be described as ‘His Dark Materials’ meets ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest’ with a bit of Nietzsche / Greek Myth thrown in. It’s a psychological thriller about childhood memories, imaginary friends and psychiatry. It’s really challenging but that’s what I love about writing. There are no limits.
How did you start writing?
I was probably around ten years old when I first knew I loved writing. My early hatred of reading was placated by the Ian Livingstone Fighting Fantasy books in which you ‘choose your own adventure’. This didn’t feel like real reading to me as I was fighting hobgoblins and rolling dice to see if I would live or die! From there I would draw pictures and create my own Fighting Fantasy adventures using huge sheets of paper to plot all the possible outcomes. It’s tricky stuff. I even made several board games with outcome cards and characters plots. I started writing properly some years later after dabbling in life as a professional musician. Short stories came first, then a documentary, some gothic poetry and finally initial ideas for Spritz. It wasn’t really planned. I just got caught up in it and now it’s everything to me.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
Douglas Coupland is a living god. I read his books as if they were bibles. I’ll read pretty much anything but I always get the latest Terry Pratchett book as he was the first author I got into when I was sixteen and reading proper books. I love the work of Clive Barker, Bret Easton Ellis, Neil Gaiman, Scarlett Thomas, Phillip Pullman and David Mitchell. There’s an air of escapism and shifts in reality which I really love.
Music plays an important part of my writing too. I have loads of playlists on my iTunes for writing different types of scenes and characters. I find that creating the right atmosphere in the room is essential for connecting emotionally with the characters and scenes. I’ll light incense too if I think it’ll help.
What's the worst thing about writing?
The hardest, and therefore I suppose the worst thing about writing, is not knowing whether what you’re writing is any good. Are the characters interesting enough, will people connect with the plot, will they get it, do I get it, has this all been done before? It’s important to challenge yourself and your writing, otherwise how can we evolve as writers? I keep a small group of close friends and writers that give brutal, honest feedback on ideas and writing work but essentially you’re on your own.
And the best?
When your writing connects with somebody and they write to tell you how much they enjoyed it. It’s quite humbling to receive great feedback and it spurs you on to create better work for yourself and your readers. I saw somebody reading my book on a train once - it was great to just sit anonymously and watch them giggle their way through an hour of my work.
Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.
My short stories normally leave people a little hollow as the subject matter is normally quite dark, abrasive and to the point. I’m not usually one for happy endings. I’ve had some great online feedback from readers of Spritz, which is amazing. Because the book is filled with characters we can all identify with, people tend to tell me that they know somebody just like Bob Flint or Johnny Davies. This is not to say that I’m merely playing on archetypes but a grounding in the everyday helps lend weight to the characters. Adding loads of fun idiosyncrasies that make them wholly original is the best part.
What was your breakthrough moment?
As far as ideas for Spritz, I made a documentary about a fictional pop star called Johnny Davies and his manager Bob Flint with some colleagues at University. We workshopped the characters and produced a ‘talking heads’ style interview with each of them interspersed with clips from music videos that I made. The characters then went on to form the basis for the novel albeit with considerable changes to the story.
As far as publishing, Spritz had been languishing on my hard-drive for a few years and one day I just decided that I’d had enough of dreaming about writing for a living and drew up a plan. ‘I love it when a plan comes together.’
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