Q&A With Pete Sortwell

Pete’s first novel So Low So High has recently been re-released. I was lucky enough to have a chat with Pete about his novel. Here’s what we spoke about:

1. Can you tell us a bit about how this book came about? Is it based on personal experience?

I started writing this book in April 2010, the first chapters were the first thing I’d ever written, before the short stories, or the comedy books. I’m not really sure that I had a full idea for a book before I started writing it. I just wanted to write. Although one of the things I did want to do was be able to put the reader in an addicts shoes. I wanted to dispel the myth that people choose to be injecting into their necks or living on the streets when they set out. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met a 16 year old who plans out ending up like that, it just doesn’t work that way. However you do have a bit of a Daily Mail attitude in some of society that really believes that to be the case and thus treats people with addiction in a way that isn’t really supportive and certainly doesn’t help solve the problem. Thankfully this isn’t the case in policies nowadays so it’s more of an attitude that I wanted to challenge. There is some personal experience in the book, however I need to point out my life wasn’t as interesting or story worthy as Simon’s, hence it being a fiction book. Most of the situations in the book are real events but very few are mine. I was able to eject the thought process, selfish attitude and the tiny bit of Simon’s brain that says ‘I don’t want this but I don’t know how to change’ which together with the story line pulls the story together quite nicely, I think.

2. How long did So Long So High take to write?

It was fully completed and ready to receive rejection letters inside two years. It took me that amount of time as I never wanted to end up like Adrian Mole and write a terrible book that no one (except me) would like. So I started to practice with short stories. The first one I had published (which incidentally was the first one I put my all into) was actually a little sketch about Simon sitting in a probation waiting room. Once that was accepted I grew in confidence more and more. One thing I’ve learnt about writing is that fear held me back on so many experiences, I needed to have some acknowledgement that I was doing the right thing and that what I was writing was readable by anyone other than me and my mum (once I’d actually told her I was writing – another fear). SLSH was written whilst I was also writing other short stories, all bar one of my shorts have been published in one publication or the other. I released them all in a collection which is free if anyone wants a copy. It’s called Who Likes Short Shorts? So yeah, two years is the answer to the question you asked. I’ll go on to say that I have re-released this book under my own name and not with a publisher. I signed for a small publisher which looked good at the time, unfortunately things didn’t work out and we parted ways, which was tough and took me almost a year to do but now it’s with me and I can use all the skills I learnt with my other books to get the word out there.

slsh3. So Low So High is quite a different novel compared to your other books which have very comical aspects. Did you find it harder to write?

I’m not sure, I think although this book has a darker theme to it, if you look at, say, Dating in the Dark: Sometimes Love Just Pretends To Be Blind, that is fairly dark too. I think there is always humour to be found in situations, it’s just how you present the humour. In So Low So High it comes out in Simon’s thoughts which as times are completely different or the words that come out of his mouth. Although that being said, it’s harder for me to write a serious crime book. I’ve tried a few times now and it just doesn’t come out without someone falling into some stinging nettles or something else childish that I find funny.

4. Did you have to do a lot of research for this book? 

I think the main bit of research for this book came from my teenage years then a little bit of listening to people who have also lived life with addiction. That was about it really I’m not that good with researching stuff when it is so much easier to make it up 🙂

5. Simon isn’t the most likable character – was this your aim whilst writing?

I wanted to make his actions those of someone who did bad things but wasn’t necessarily a bad person. Most people I have spoken to have been able to see the sick person within trying to get out, which was what I wanted, but yeah, on the surface I wanted him to be unlikable. I think going on the feedback I’ve had about this but also on Jason in Dating In The Dark, I need to work on making my characters a bit more likable earlier on in the books.

6. What did you enjoy most about writing this book? 

I think I enjoyed writing ‘the end’ although that’s just because it was something that I never thought i would be able to do. to finish an entire book and get it into readable shape. Seriously if I can do it, anyone can.

Huge thanks to Pete for taking the time to answer these questions!

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