Liam Roberts relives the six-thousand miles he travelled over sixty-eight days through his travelogue, A Eurasian Diary. Reminiscing about his journey through China’s Far West, onto the Silk Road and onwards to Europe Liam takes his readers on an adventure to unfamiliar places.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m a map-loving thirty-something Canadian fellow who relocated from Vancouver to London almost ten years ago (which seems to mystify almost everyone…). I’m a big lover of politics, history, hill-walking, photography, maps (as already mentioned), rickety old pubs, and of course writing. I’m a married man and am also a new dad – so I’m looking forward to dragging our young daughter on hill-walks to old pubs to discuss the state of the Labour Party just as soon as we can.
If you could describe the storyline of your latest novel to someone in just a few sentences how would you entice someone to want to read it?
If you’ve ever spun a globe as fast as you can, jammed your finger down on it to decide a random travel destination, and ended up landing on Xinjiang – and you actually liked the idea – then the book should be of interest. While the book is technically a piece of non-fiction, it’s also a story – it explores the enigmas of the Silk Road on the one hand, but it also illustrates how a solo traveller can actually go about a trip like this. I’m hoping that it opens up some less familiar corners of the world, and new ways the reader might be able to go and engage with these places themselves.
When and why did you begin writing?
I was actually writing in the womb. Mostly because I was getting a bit bored.
Writing helps me to think, which is great (all help is welcome). More than helping me to think, perhaps, it helps me to actually understand my own thoughts better. As you put pen to paper (or keystroke to screen), your own message ends up staring back out at you as you go, forcing you to kind of criticise it and cut into it a bit and get at what’s happening underneath. That can be quite meditative.
Plus, writing isn’t all about meditating, it’s about connecting to an anonymous reader and opening up with them. So, writing feels like a big, long, fantastic conversation with the world, in a “message in a bottle” kind of way.
What genres are you attracted to, and why?
I really enjoy reading and writing both fiction and non-fiction, and exploring the gradients between the two. No matter how much imagination you pour into it, fiction always draws on elements of your real-life experience, real thoughts, anecdotes, observations of the universe, etc. You need to build on your own foundations, which are not imagined things. And non-fiction, similarly, is never just a list of facts about the world – it has a voice and an arc, you have to decide what you include and what you assign relative importance to. Non-fiction pieces are subjective stories too, so that’s a hugely creative process. I find fiction, non-fiction and even journalism to be tightly related forms of writing.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Maybe it’s because I’m a naturally indecisive person (hence my cooking usually involves every spice and herb in our kitchen, much to everyone’s chagrin) but I love to edit. I edit my edits. I edit my edits and then delete them all anyway.
Editing plays with the impermanence of the decisions you’ve taken as you’ve been writing, and that’s a good thing. Writing isn’t linear – more than any other art form, I’d compare it to sculpting. While it can be momentarily painful to gut something you’ve written, as though all the effort of the original writing was for nothing, it’s actually very cathartic, and, anyway, it’s part of the art – peeling back layers, always questioning what you’ve done, digging a bit deeper. Once getting into it, it’s actually really enjoyable.
The hard part is knowing when to stop – things don’t always get closer to perfection the longer you mess around with them. You’ve got to step back and look at what you’ve done as a whole, from head to toe. That can require some time off from the process (which is also good for your general sanity).
What is the hardest thing about being a writer?
Making the commitment. Any piece of writing you take on, from a novel to a short story, is a big, big project, and it takes incredible focus and energy and time. It can be hard to have enough confidence in your idea to even begin the process. Am I really going to sacrifice time away from friends and family to write about this? Will I finish it? And does anybody care?
You have to think about those things to refine your ideas a bit, and to decide how best to approach them. But you can’t procrastinate on that stuff forever and wait for the epiphany to take you before you decide to start. The best writing emerges in process, so you have to push yourself into that process to discover it.
I like the school of thought that says, however not in the mood you are and however awful you’ve decided you really are, tough. Get your butt in a chair and write.
What inspires you to write?
I think everybody is inherently creative, and everybody wants to be able to produce unique things they can then go and contribute (or, err, show off) to the wider world. That inspiration to create takes lots of forms, and I happen to pick writing as one of my favourites. It’s the fullest, richest form we have to communicate. Notions of interconnectedness, alternative and possible worlds, removing yourself from your perspective and plunking yourself in another – those are all pretty inspiring concepts to me, and they usually end up as the driving force behind sitting and writing.
When working on a new novel, what is the first thing you do?
This is a common answer, but that’s because it’s a good one – go for a walk! It can be urban or rural, so long as it’s walking (and it’s not walking and talking – go on your own, or with a dog, or perhaps a deeply-sleeping baby). I don’t know how it works, but legs seem like levers for the mechanics of the brain. Move them back and forth, jostle things around upstairs, and follow all the “what ifs” to all their possible conclusions. Go as far as you can before you’re afraid you’ll forget what you’ve thought about. That’s when it’s a good time to start writing.
Which Writers do you admire and can you name a favourite book?
Kurt Vonnegut, all the way. He’s like The Beatles of fiction. He can be both very surreal and very observational, very critical, but never bitterly so. He’s energised by his sense of humour, which is often self-deprecating too – despite being such a huge talent, there’s nothing superior in his tone. It’s very uninhibited writing – Cat’s Cradle is my top choice from the back catalogue. It’s actually one of the few books I’ve read more than once.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Do it, and finish it! And, if you submit to agents and publishers, cherish your rejection letters like odd little trophies. Every successful writer has been rejected. So, rather than dwell on the disappointment, try to consider yourself in their company, and carry on.
Would you like to read more about A Eurasian Diary and Liam’s travels? Check out the following:
“A Eurasian Diary” general blog: http://eurasiandiary.wordpress.com
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Liam for taking part in our Author of the Week series.
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