Hello Sam, can you please introduce yourself?
I’m Sam Lenton and I’m currently based in Southampton but I’m originally from Norwich.
Ah Norwich, a very lovely city. How long have you been writing?
I wrote poetry in my teens as a way of expressing ideas and emotions and dabbled in scriptwriting whilst studying my A-Levels, after being inspired by a performance of An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde, but it was at university that I began to take writing seriously, producing short stories and scripts. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to co-direct a production of one of my plays at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and this gave me a real spur to continue and to develop my craft.
Do you attend a writing group? Why/why not?
I tried a local writing group once but it was a little inconvenient to get to and I wasn’t convinced it would help me that much. Although I like putting on productions of my plays and showing my work to people, I find writing quite a private activity and so I’ve never been sure that I would benefit from a group environment.
What genre(s) do you write? What drew you to this/these genre(s)?
I have two main directions my writing takes, as I write materials specifically for communicating the narrative of the Bible (often for performances within a church environment) but I also work on novels and plays for a wider audience. Writing for the church appeals to me because I get excited about being able to bring a fresh approach to stories and characters and, in doing so, communicate the incredible message of salvation that has the power to transform lives. My novels, on the other hand, are undoubtedly influenced by the modernists and by more recent authors such as Ian McEwan and Margaret Atwood. I love their style and enjoy reading character-based novels and so I find this is what I most naturally write as well.
Are there any genres that you don’t enjoy writing? Why?
I’m not interested in doing significant research for a novel and so Historical fiction doesn’t appeal. Similarly, although I’ve enjoyed reading Fantasy novels over the years, I don’t feel I would have the discipline and creativity to create these alternative worlds in sufficient detail.
Have you ever had anything published?
I’ve had a production of one of my full-length plays put on for a five night run at Cambridge University and two other scripts were chosen for workshops with a professional director by The Marlowe Society. I self-published my debut novel, Accidental Crime, in May 2012 (available on Amazon Kindle and in paperback) and a collection of monologues, It was the tree’s fault, in December 2011 (available on Amazon Kindle and in paperback). I have recently had two short stories accepted for inclusion in What the Dickens? Magazine. I am planning to approach publishers with my next novel, as I believe it has the commercial potential that Accidental Crime perhaps didn’t.
Have you sent your writing to agents/publishers? Have you received any rejections?
I have approached Christian publishers with a proposal for my monologue collection and have received positive feedback but ultimately rejection due to the product not being considered sufficiently marketable.
You mentioned earlier that your books are available on Kindle. What are your views on self-publishing/e-books?
I’ve enjoyed self-publishing and have completed the whole process myself, including design, editing and marketing (see an article I wrote on the process here). I think eBooks are great – I own a Kindle and use it regularly – but I hope we never lose paper-made books! I’d like to think that we now have more options available to us and so this is, in many ways, a great time to be a writer.
Who/what influences your writing? Where do you get your inspiration from?
My Christian writing is influenced by my faith and my mainstream writing is influenced by the interactions I have on a day to day basis, the books I have read, the films I have watched, the music I have listened to and the bizarre ideas that pop into my head every now and again!
How do you come up with your characters’ names and personalities?
I find I often base characters on myself or those close to me and then I make significant changes or stretch aspects of their personality to the extreme. If you know me well then you can see aspects of my character in my creations but they will almost always be quite distorted and certainly not a direct mirroring of my attitudes and opinions.
What is your writing routine?
Unfortunately, I have a demanding day job (sixth form English teacher) that gives me little time to write but I have tried to establish specific routines to enable me to make progress. I try to write something once a week where possible but sometimes work doesn’t allow it and then at other times I write every day and really get into the flow. Sometimes mornings work best for me but I often find that I annoyingly have moments of inspiration and drive just when time is running out late in the afternoon or evening!
Do you start out with a complete idea for your stories, or do you just start writing and hope for the best?
I tend to have a rough idea that I want to explore but it can begin with as little as a single line. For the play Radically Traditional that was performed in Cambridge, all I had was the opening line of the play and then I worked from there as I felt it established an intriguing premise that was worth exploring. With the current novel, I did write out a summary of what might happen but I’ve deviated a fair bit and I find that this makes the work far more interesting and exciting as the characters take on a life of their own and the plot moves in unexpected directions.
Do you have an editing process? Do you have someone else read over your work? Do you read your work aloud to yourself in front of the mirror?
I have a few people that I trust to read my work and provide me with honest appraisals and so I often go to them with what I have written. With Accidental Crime, I gave the first draft to a group of people from different backgrounds and received written feedback that enabled me to make crucial changes for the final draft.
What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
Writing is probably the thing I enjoy most in life and it’s a hard thing to explain as the emotions involved are quite hard to pin down and can range from great frustration to passionate joy, sometimes within the course of the same paragraph! As a scriptwriter, I love coming up with dialogue that makes me smile and I can take great pleasure over a single phrase that I’m proud of and that marks out my distinctive writing style.
Have you ever attended an open mic night for spoken word performers as either an observer or performer?
I’ve read poetry at an open mic event in Cambridge and have enjoyed the contributions of others but Southampton doesn’t appear to have the same opportunities. Or, to put it another way, I don’t really have a lifestyle now that frees me to go to this sort of thing. Oh to be a student again!
Have you ever entered any writing competitions? Have you ever won?
I’ve submitted two short stories for What the Dickens? Magazine and have been successful in having my work selected. I have only ever entered one short story competition and I don’t feel particularly driven to enter others.
How important is it for you to share your writing?
As a scriptwriter, I expect the words I write to be performed and so it’s important to me that I seek out and secure opportunities for this to happen. Fortunately, my plays have been very well received over the past few years and so I’ve always had a way to share my writing. Self-publishing also gives us a great opportunity to share our work and I was pleased to make Accidental Crime available to give readers a taster of what I’ve been doing and what I will hopefully go on to do even better.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given with regards to writing?
I think the most valuable advice I’ve been given is to take myself seriously as a writer, to claim that role as something I am worthy of and to not feel intimidated by it. By doing this, I then approach my writing with greater professionalism and adopt a mindset that is focussed on producing the best I possibly can.
What advice could you give to a new writer?
As with many crafts, you get better at writing by doing it as much as you can. New writers need to be aware that they are unlikely to be producing their best work at the start, however good the work might seem at the time, and yet this work is not wasted time but is actually essential to honing your skills and finding your voice. Try different styles, experiment with ideas you’re not sure about, and take a plunge by getting others to read your work. Don’t be disheartened if people don’t like it but try and learn from what they say. Criticism is hard to take but often people have said something helpful, even if they don’t say it in the most helpful way!
Apart from writing, what are your other hobbies/interests?
I’m a big football fan and have collected music since my early teens. I don’t buy as much as I used to but I still follow a wide range of bands.
If you could have written anything, what do you wish that could have been?
Although it’s not necessarily the best novel ever, I remember feeling fed up when reading Saturday by Ian McEwan that he’d got there ahead of me and already written the sort of thing I’d wanted to write!
What types of things do you read? Do you think your writing reflects your book tastes?
I mainly read literary fiction and the books that I need to teach my classes. I enjoyed American Literature at university and so I read a few American authors from time to time. I wish I could read more but my job doesn’t make it all that easy to read at home for pleasure.
Do you have any favourite lines from novels/plays/poetry/songs, or any favourite literary quotes?
Yes but I’d have to go away and look them up as I can never remember quotations...
Do you have a website/blog/twitter/facebook dedicated to your writing?
I have a personal website – www.samlenton.co.uk – that provides news of my writing projects and a place for people to buy products, while I blog at www.samlenton.blogspot.com and have a Facebook fan page at https://www.facebook.com/samlenton84 and can be followed on Twitter: @samlenton
What are you working on at the moment?
My main focus is my latest novel, which I am really pleased with and hope to send to publishers by the summer. It’s in a similar style to Accidental Crime but is more of a conventional thriller and so should prove to be a gripping read! Alongside this, I am working on the draft of a screenplay for a Christian film and have recently made an important contact in the film industry who will hopefully help make the dream a reality.
Would you be able to provide a short piece of your work?
Excerpt from Accidental Crime:
Their hands met. The first contact. In that moment, Jarrod pictured future hugs, long-familiar embraces, deep, sensual kisses, the all-enveloping celebration of flesh entwined, two unified as one, the glimmer of rings, the incessant screams of unwanted children, the decaying of frail, aging bodies, the funeral he would stagger through as a man defeated, heartbroken as the last whisper of life’s breath passed through his watery, wrinkled lips.Or, perhaps that was it. One handshake, and a rather statesmen-like one at that, defining the everlasting boundaries of their relationship. Janine? Oh yes, she was someone he met at the canteen once. Works in reprographics. Talks funny. You know the sort. Nice girl though. Nice girl.He did afford himself a glimmer of a stroke of the finger tips as their hands withdrew. It wouldn’t be enough to provoke uneasiness but at least it was something, a sensation to replay throughout the afternoon whilst his now-lonely fingers skipped across the already-tiresomely-familiar keyboard.‘Have you worked here long?’ she inquired, continuing to fulfil the role of lead-questioner with a surprising confidence that defied the gentle blush that had arisen on her delicate cheeks.‘Oh, er, no, no, not really,’ Jarrod responded, offering the occasional glance upwards at her steady stare while his fingers continued to grabble with the plastic encasing his tuna sandwich. ‘First week actually. Feels like my fiftieth, of course, but no, it’s just been four days so far. Well, three and a half. I guess this would be the fourth day. Yeah. But, you know. I don’t expect to be here long. Just a stepping stone and all that. Something to tide me over for now. I mean, no-one ever intends to stay somewhere like this do they? How long have you been here? A couple of weeks? Three perhaps?’‘Five years, actually,’ she responded, before tucking into the bagel.
Accidental Crime is available now from Amazon and from Sam’s own website.
© Sam Lenton
Thank you very much Sam.