In the Spotlight: Interview with Pete Sutton

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Let’s start from the beginning. Who were the writers who inspired you to become an author?

If it’s who inspired me to seek publication it’s a mix of my friend Gaie Sebold – when she got her publishing deal I realised that ‘real people’ could be authors  – and being ‘given permission’ to write by Barbara Turner-Vesselago in a workshop after which I started writing short stories with the aim of being published. If you’re talking about inspiration in writing then I think G K Chesterton, John Fowles and Jeff and Ann VanderMeer are some of my influences – with the VanderMeers it’s more the fiction they curated than Jeff’s writing per se.

What is the very first piece of fiction you ever wrote?

Lost in the mists of time I’m afraid. I do remember getting praised in school for a story about a baby spy whose sidekick was a teddy bear and who fought duels with a nappy pin. I also remember writing Young Ones fan fic to make my mates laugh. At age 13 I wrote a play that my class put on – that seems so weird to me now. But all that creativity was later crushed by a particularly inept English teacher and my discovery of roleplaying games which took up my love of story for many years – eventually in a professional capacity too. When I came back to fiction in 2013 the first story I wrote was called Steinbeck’s Pencil.

Think back at your debut book. How did you approach the ‘getting published’ process? Any tips, resources that you can share with our readers?

My first published book was A Tiding of Magpies – another short story collection. I tried lots of publishers, of course agents aren’t interested in short story collections and most publishers won’t take a chance on an unknown author’s first story collection. When a friend recommended Kensington Gore (later KGHH and now defunct) I sent them the MS. They got back to me to offer publication with one condition – that I gave them a novel too. The problem being that in the mean time I’d sold my first novel to Grimbold Books and didn’t have another finished novel. They wanted to bring both books out in the same year so I signed the contract and had to write Sick City Syndrome in about 3 months. I feel that it was a bit undercooked and now that KGHH has gone out of business and I have the rights back I plan to revise it and give it away free to people when I create an email list some time next year. I didn’t really use any established resource apart from Google and the existing network of writers I already knew.

Tell me about your book. What was the inspiration behind it?

The Museum for Forgetting is a collection of eleven stories on the theme of memory. I have a pretty poor memory truth be told and the subject of memory fascinates me so much so that it sneaks into many of my stories. I wrote “The Museum for Forgetting” (the story that gives the collection its title) in 2015 when the then Tory government were defunding the arts and I was very angry about that. Seems pretty quaint now! When it came to putting a new collection together I thought that this story was a good seed – it’d never been published before apart from on the Grimbold Patreon. Some of the stories in the book have been published elsewhere, some were written for the collection.

Is there a particular story in the collection, that it’s closer to your heart? What makes it so?

“Benediction” is closest to my heart I think – written for the collection it took several goes to get right – it’s in an odd format which came to me the third or fourth time I rewrote the story. A couple of readers have said it’s their favourite in the book and one told me it made her cry.

How did you find the publishing process, in general?

As this is my fourth book as an author and my fourteenth in total, if you count the books I’ve had published as an anthologist, there were no real surprises in getting this one put together. I really like the experience at small press of putting the cover together (Grimbold have done me proud with the covers of the three books I’ve written for them and the anthologies of mine they’ve published.) And I was working with a typesetter I’ve worked with before. What was new this time was working with a new copyeditor and one with a great reputation (deservedly earned) who made several of the stories much better with great suggestions (Thanks Amanda!)

What is your take on social media, when it comes to being an author? Do you think that an author should have at least one channel of communication with the readers?

I consider my website to be my ‘communication with readers’ which sounds a lot grander than it is. I keep meaning to get round to having an email list (next year honest!) and I’m fairly active on Twitter and Facebook but I’m pretty niche as an author and editor and ‘authentic’ (what you see is what you get) as I don’t have an extra ‘author personality’ as such.

What is the hardest part of writing, in your experience?

Getting out of your own way. I’m a terrible overthinker and procrastinator and it’s a daily struggle to give myself permission to write. I often (oh so very often) feel like I’m not a ‘real writer’ (whatever one of those is) and that no-one will ever want to read my stuff or that my stuff is awful hackwork. Recently when I announced the news that one of my stories was chosen for a ‘Best of the year’ collection a writer friend told me that I was living his dreams. I thought it’d be educational for him to see it from my perspective which was that I’d been telling myself the story was chosen by mistake, and was the worst in the collection. Thing is, I react badly to praise too – often belittling my own accomplishments. It’s a wonder I get any writing done at all! These questions were sent to me months ago and I’ve procrastinated about doing this interview too…

What do you think about Awards in publishing?

I have mixed feelings about awards. I’ve been shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award twice and have been a judge several times. I think the worst awards are just a popularity contest and even the mediated awards, with a panel of judges, can be very subjective. But on the other hand awards can lift up the right people and be a focus for change in the industry and can be celebratory. Ask me again if I ever win one 😉

What do you think is the status of publishing today? I’m referring to issues such as representation, diversity, etc.

I’m a white cis-het middle-aged man (I have a working class background but am now decidedly middle class too) so I’m not sure I’m in the best position to know. I do think it’s getting slowly better, or at least the lack of diversity is more acknowledged as a problem. It may take conscious effort to be more inclusive but certainly for the anthologies I’ve worked on we’ve tried to make that effort. I feel it’s a long road but we’ve at least started down it.

The Big Four Vs Small Presses. What are your thoughts in terms of strengths and weaknesses?

I’ve only ever been published by small press, which suits me – although I would like to see my books in bookshops some day so I wouldn’t say no to the big four. I like small press because you, as an author, are more in control (it seems to me) but at the same time it’s not the same workload as self-publishing (nothing wrong with self-publishing if you have the capacity to do the work yourself though). I feel that small press can put in a bigger effort on each book whereas it’s possible to just be one of the crowd in a bigger publisher. But I’ve not had the experience to back that up myself.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m revising a novel – The Certainty of Dust –  to be delivered to the publisher next year. I’m about to start a short story challenge where I’m going to read and use the prompt books I have and try and sell any completed stories from that process and blog about it at my website.

If you had to recommend an author and/or a book, who would it be?

I have so many friends who are writers and if I recommend one of them I feel like I’m letting the rest down. Also I’m a very eclectic and voracious reader. I read over a hundred books a year and choosing just one from a year’s worth of reading would be difficult enough, but choosing just one from all the books I’ve read? Impossible.

You can find Pete Sutton’s book on the Grimbold store page:

https://www.grimboldbooks.com/product/museum-for-forgetting/

And discover more about Pete on the official website:

https://petewsutton.com/