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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Alastair Gamble talks about the experience that inspired him to write his memoir, Looking Out For Me.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Alastair Gamble about his life and career, the experiences that inspired him to write his memoir, Looking Out For Me, and his creative writing process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I used to work as an architect in both private practices and the University of Warwick over a 14-year period. Allied with this professional path, I became very interested in Buddhism, spiritual teachings, and meditation from the age of 18. For a long time, these two paths complemented each other.
After having written my first self-published auto fiction book in 2016, about a manic and paranoid episode I experienced in 2014, I later established myself as an artist selling many works and taking on a few commissions. I am currently helping at a local charity art gallery in Leamington Spa, the town where I reside, by curating exhibitions, stewarding, and being responsible for the sending out of newsletters to members.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
The seeds were sown in the early part of 2014, just before my episode. I had given a eulogy at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre to a good friend, who was about to embark on an ordination retreat. Two senior order members told me afterwards that they were very impressed with my talk. They asked me if I did a lot of writing in my spare time, and have I ever considered writing a book. The germ of an idea was born in this moment, and later it blossomed into the belief that I was quite capable of undertaking such a challenge. This was aided by the compelling nature of my mental and spiritual journey that I embarked on in 2014/2015, which makes for a very illuminating read for those with open minds.
When did you take a step to start writing?
The initial and acute phase of my episode lasted about a couple of months, and when the symptoms had subsided, I started to properly write my book in November 2014. A couple of months previously, I was experimenting with what I should write about, and created a couple of early proposals, which I let my sister be party to. Her comments were that it was very readable, but a little revealing and critical of certain relatives and family, which could prove problematic for me. I decided to ditch this earlier attempt and properly start again, focusing primarily on my actual lived experiences.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
The first self-published auto fiction book took me from November 2014 to May 2016, so 18 months to complete.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
My memoir, which is an adaptation of my first book, started in August 2021. It will be released in July 2023. It took a while to find a publisher, so hence why the long timeline.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Looking Out For Me?
I got some very complimentary feedback from the release of my first book, so I believed that it had real appeal to some readers. However, I only made just shy of 100 sales due to it being self-published. I now completely understand this reluctance from the public to invest in a product, which has not been analyzed and amended by a team of specialists. I also wanted to change it into a memoir. This format is normally more powerful and helpful, as it conveys what the author thinks is the truth of his life, and not a slightly fictitious representation that an auto fiction is more prone to being.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Looking Out For Me?
One big challenge was how I was going to grip the reader in the first chapter. I decided to employ the services of a creative writing tutor for a 2-hour consultation. He told me that it would be good to have some kind of cliffhanger part of the story at the beginning. It made me then think that the start of the book could be a flash forward to when I abruptly left my office, because of a perceived threat to my life from a work colleague, who I thought was acting as a spy. I believed this reality would immediately immerse the reader in my narrative.
What was your research process for Looking Out For Me?
As I only experienced paranoia from the psychotic part of my episode, and not any accompanying harsh voices or other sensory hallucinations, I could therefore separate myself from the remarkable but fear inducing events that occurred in 2014. I could therefore write about my experiences more objectively. Also seeing a psychiatrist and writing about the consultation process added to my research. I also had had twenty-one years of Buddhism, which informed the story with anecdotes, and my own understanding of Buddhist teachings.
How did you plan the structure of Looking Out For Me?
I thought the best format for my book was to be a predominantly linear route. However, it would begin in crisis, and end up as a redemptive story with hope and healing. The opening chapter is my flash forward to my moment of crisis, and then the subsequent chapters reveal more about my journey with the causes and symptoms of my mental condition, spirituality, my appraisal of a couple of Buddhist schools, and my relationship and contact with friends, family, and strangers.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Looking Out For Me need?
For my first book, I got some editing done for me by friends, but not by professional copy editors. For my memoir, I wasn’t going to self-publish this time, and I held out until I had found a suitable publisher, or one that would take me on. I waited almost a year before finding Cherish Editions, who have done a sterling job. I realize now the necessity of copy editors and proof readers in turning a good manuscript into an excellent one!
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
When writing the first draft, don’t edit yourself and just continue with it until the end of the manuscript. I believe it would have inhibited my flow if I had edited the creation of my text so soon. It is also not a good idea to rush into traditionally publishing a book so swiftly. Allow for a period of at least 2 or 3 months, after the creation of the first draft, to put it away in a drawer, before commencing on your multiple edits. It helps you to view it with a fresh eye when you come back to it. It would also be good to send it out to friends, acquaintances, and family to get as much feedback as possible before submitting it to a publisher. Try to always remain open to your readers’ suggestions.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I was so emotionally and intellectually engaged with the writing and editing of my two books, and I felt my story was so enthralling that it just flowed effortlessly on the page. I might write a prequel or even a sequel, but my passion for doing this has not taken hold to quite the same degree! I am currently focusing on promoting this book, creating artwork to sell, and helping at a Local Art Charity in Leamington Spa than I am of writing my next novel.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes, I am very happy with my accomplishment, and it has been a long time in the making. What started out at the end of 2014, with a little trepidation, is finally coming to fruition in July 2023, with a product that I am incredibly proud of. I feel it has been gradually refined and polished into a beautiful gemstone. It was definitely worth the effort!
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Looking Out for Me: A Spiritual Journey from Paranoia to Acceptance – Will be available on Amazon from July 13th, 2023.
Facebook: Alastair Gamble
LinkedIn: Alastair Gamble
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