May 27, 2009 / 11:05 AM / 10 years ago

Grit and love in north England with Richard Milward

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Richard Milward began writing when he was only 12 years old and wrote his first published novel at the grand old age of 19.

Published in 2007, “Apples” went onto receive huge critical acclaim and propel a young lad from the northeastern English town of Middlesbrough into one of Britain’s hottest literary talents.

Recently graduated from Central St Martin’s Art College with a fine art degree, Milward spoke to Reuters about his new book “Ten Storey Love Song,” growing up in the north of England and the future.

Q: Your novels often tackle hard-hitting topics and describe grim realities of life — like drug-abuse and violence. How was your own childhood?

A: My childhood was grand. But I often use a lot of observations growing up in Teesside (an urban area of northeastern England). It’s not the worst place in the world but it’s a very wild place. When I started going out in pubs, it was the first time I’d experienced a different kind of life — people getting into proper fights and not just school yard brawls. At 15 I was quite a lot like Adam (from first novel Apples) because I was writing and half the week I was a recluse staying in my bedroom scribbling away. But I was beginning to get this taste for going out and getting drunk and what have you. It was a bit like a double life.

Q: Why do your novels veer toward the darker side of life?

A: The main reason for the depressing scenes in Apples was just the idea of slagging off the hyper-masculine male. All the distressing and disturbing bits of the book are the cause of a boy being aggressive toward men or women - it was just getting out my anger. I saw a little pocket of certain lads that I wanted to stick the knife into.

Q: Do you have a love hate relationship with Middlesbrough?

A: “I absolutely love it. In the press Middlesbrough often gets a bad reputation but I’d be giving it a disservice if I painted it in the most beautiful way, overlooking the fact that people are a bit mad round here. People from Middlesbrough recognize themselves in my books. Friends and family were sound about my books - even if a few people thought I was a bit of a pervert. Having a novel out though, everyone has been dead proud.

Q: Do you ever see yourself moving away from Middlesbrough?

A: I got disillusioned with London after six months (at college). I missed the sense of humor up here and like the way Middlesbrough has a small town atmosphere and everyone knows each other. London is dead anonymous and everyone seems so antagonized all the time — it’s mad. I appreciate it for being an exciting city but like to keep it at arms length.

Q: Ever suffer from writer’s block?

A: Never. But there are times when it goes badly or won’t quite come out. I make lots of mental notes but before I sit down to write a novel, I will have a good idea of what I want to do and write out a big structure. When I actually sit down to write I want to get the characters early but whichever way they go is often improvised. You set the characters on their day-to-day errands and see where they end up. It’s quite exciting when your characters surprise you.

Q: Any tips for young writers?

A: It’s difficult giving advice. The most important is just to try and sit down every day - put your graft in. It’s really hard to be disciplined. I love the quote by Jack Kerouac in “On the Road,” where he says as a writer you’ve got to stick with it with the energy of a benzedrine addict. Its like a drug - you’ve got to want to do it every day. I get withdrawal symptoms when I’m not writing and I do beat myself up about it. As soon as I finish a novel I just pick up the pencil again and carry on.

Q: You graduated in painting and drawing, and are currently writing a screenplay — is this your future direction?

A: I’ve always been into different creative things. But if someone asked me my job title, I’d definitely say novelist. Novels are number one for me and I think they always will be. I love the art form as it seems natural and is quite cathartic.

Q: What has been your career highlight so far?

A: Actually holding in my hand my first published novel — it seemed like a dream. It’s been grand going to swanky parties, getting served free booze and pompous canapes, but I much prefer it up here with my friends in the pub. Just the idea of being a writer. I wanted to be a writer when I was 11 or 12 and it took 10 years of graft to do it. The moment I held my own book in my hand was special — something like that will never be taken away from you - unless it’s pulped.

Q: What can you tell us about your latest book “Ten Storey Love Song?”

A: “It is pretty much a love story — a twisted love story like Apples. It’s got some macabre moments but there is an undercurrent of vibrancy, lots of psychedelic drugs but an optimistic book. If people see a book written about a tower block, people may turn their noses up thinking it’s all depressing and bleak but the intention was to paint this life in multi-color.

Reporting by Michael Taylor; editing by Paul Casciato

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