What brought you to write this book?
A lot of ingredients went into the pot. One was reading Horace Walpole’s assertion that the world is comic to those who think and tragic to those who feel. Initially, I wanted to tell a tragic story from a comedic perspective, with Jimmy as a feeler and his twin as a thinker. Once I began to write it, the tragic and comedic elements quickly became entwined and inseparable.
What inspired you to create these characters?
While none of the characters have real counterparts, all of them are informed by what I’ve observed in the people I’ve known. Every character was inspired differently. I designed Grace’s life to be a series of traps, with no solutions – as I was writing about her, that felt increasingly cruel but I tried to see it through without flinching. There’s a line in Timothy Findley’s The Wars about how it’s impossible to dislike a man who frequently blushes, and that provided the starting point for Eamon. I wouldn’t have given Art the back story he had if I hadn’t read George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. A big part of the fun of writing a novel is imagining characters with contrasting personalities and then putting them in a room together and seeing what sparks fly.
Which passage or scene inspires you the most?
For me, the most important section of the book is the final chapter. The situation is a dark one, and traumas have accumulated for Jimmy, but his twin is earnestly making an argument for seizing life anyway.
If you could give Jimmy a piece of advice in the beginning of the book, what would it be?
I would urge him to be a better communicator with his loved ones. Deep regrets tend to come more from leaving something unsaid rather than from having said the wrong thing. Also, whenever possible, it’s wise to steer clear of dangerous dogs and gangsters.
What did you learn by writing this novel?
The more I wrote about Jimmy, the more I wished that he would treat himself better. This somehow helped me to turn a corner in my own life and I learned how to be kinder to myself than I had been before I wrote the book. Through the good fortune I’ve had in getting Jimmy Dice out into the world, I’ve learned that I wasn’t delusional during all the years I spent thinking I could be a published writer one day, which is good to know.
What motivated you to become a writer?
When I was nineteen, my closest friend died and I was broken up about it. I wrote down every memory I had of our time together and this unlocked something in me. I became determined to write a novel I could dedicate to her and, by publishing Jimmy Dice, I’ve been able to do that. Now, my primary motivation to keep writing is my absolute love of it. I’ve been incredibly lucky with the support I’ve had from others and that’s motivating too: I feel indebted to anyone who has believed in me and I want to prove them right by writing the best books that I’m capable of.
When you’re writing what objects do you always have close by?
A mug of black coffee. My phone – I keep it in flight mode so I won’t be distracted and I set my alarm to take a break after a block of three hours and fifteen minutes, although I’ll push past that if the writing is going well. A stack of four poker chips – having them to fidget with helps me to concentrate.
What are your Top 3 books and why did you choose them?
I’ll cheat here and say The Complete Works of Margaret Atwood, T.C.W. of E.L. Doctorow, and T.C.W. of Marilynne Robinson. None of these writers have had their books collected in a single volume, but I could solve this problem with a supply of glue and duct-tape. Atwood, Doctorow, and Robinson, in their own distinct ways, are daring, smart, and funny, and they each make me care when I read their books.
If you could spend a day with a fictional character who would it be?
I believe in facing my fears so I’ll go with Pennywise from Stephen King’s It. Actually, that’s a terrible idea. Instead, I’ll choose Rachel from Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel – I suspect that this story would be very different if told from her point of view and I’d like to hear that.
What advice can you give to aspiring authors?
I think there are four key factors in building a career: talent, work ethic, luck, and originality. These are interrelated, i.e. you’ll find that the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get. Having a strong work ethic has to be a given, but don’t worry too much about luck or talent. Talent is overrated – it’s only what you start off with and it’s not fixed in place. Originality is everything that makes you a little different to other writers. You don’t need to have led an unusual life, but it’s important to figure out what’s off-kilter about how you see the world and embrace that in your writing. If you can get your sense of humour on the page, you’re on the right track. You published your debut novel.
Write and publish ten more novels, take a short holiday, write and publish another ten novels, short holiday, and so on.