Wednesday, 15 April 2009

A Free Man In Preston is my small stand against the unmysterious world.

PWN has been away stuffing her face with chocolate, admiring the skills at Jugglecon, having a nice rest and plotting lots of new blog-posts to tickle your fancy (sorry).

Over the next few days we've got posts lined up giving news of writing competition deadlines, local live lit and theatre events from Word Soup, Screaming Theatre and internationally successful thriller author - Lee Child as well as coverage of the slightly-further afield Bury Text Festival, and more in our series of interviews with high-profile authors of all ilks. You lucky folk.

But to kick it all off we're starting with an interview with 'Tim' who blogs over at A Free Man In Preston.

The blog's been going for years and in 2005 was picked up by the Guardian, among other places. In 2006, at the first Manchester Blog Awards, Tim won his category and was awarded the prize for Best Personal Blog. In 2007, he was nominated and shortlisted again - this time for Best Writing on a Blog.

(Funny - they seem to have a habit of awarding Manchester prizes to Preston Bloggers... not, of course, that we're complaining.)

Tim's unique brand of the mundane and the surreal is satirical, familiar and at least one-quarter absurd (you'll get it in a minute). He came along today for a few minutes to chat to us about fractions of absurdity, pheromone tablets and his part in the success of the world's first Doctor of Blogging.

PWN: Hello Tim. Why don't you start by telling us a little bit about your blog - how long have you been going? What inspired you to start?

AFMIP: I’ve been blogging for over five years now. I began after reading three or four blogs that the Guardian had suggested and liked the immediateness of it immediately. Pre-blogging, the only way to broadcast your important insights was by wearing a sandwich board and yelling into a megaphone, which is all very well but rather exhausting. With blogging you can reach a lot more people, and all while sitting down with a cup of tea. It was a no brainer then and still is.

PWN: You've had a lot of publicity along the way. What have been the high-points?

AFMIP: The best bit is when you realise that people actually read your stuff and apparently enjoy it, although you can never be quite sure about the latter. Blogs get publicity by word of mouth: blogrolls are blogging’s equivalent of “If you liked this, you may also enjoy...” and it’s very gratifying to have acquired a bit of a readership by people linking to mine on their blogrolls.

In the space of one fortnight in 2005 A Free Man In Preston was mentioned in the Guardian (who described it as absurd) and I was interviewed by BBC 5Live (who called it semi-absurd) which was a bit bizarre, but nice bizarre. It was strange to have that chink of light cast into my otherwise dark corner, and I was really hoping that someone else would come along and describe me as quarter-absurd, but it never happened. The blog saw a not unpleasant little bump in popularity that month, then settled back to normal levels soon after.

Perhaps the oddest thing that’s happened so far is that a very nice girl in New York wrote about my blog (and others) as part of her doctorate. She interviewed me over the phone and I got to approve a transcript and so on, and it was all very peculiar but enjoyable. To my knowledge she’s the first ever Doctor of Blogging, so I feel very proud to have been able to help her on her way.

PWN: What's the secret of your success?

AFMIP: Thirteen hours sleep every night and plenty of pheromone tablets.

PWN: How important is your anonymity to you? Have you been 'busted' yet?

I suppose the way I write could loosely be described as satire and as such, I’m far too big a coward to put my name to it. Busting my anonymity isn’t a very high item on right thinking people’s agendas, and I’m happy for it to stay that way. Though it’s not happened to me, I’d imagine that once you lose your anonymity, you lose the freedom to say whatever you like, and the integrity of your writing suffers as a consequence. I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody.

Also, being anonymous enables me to perceive myself as more enigmatic than I actually am, which is not very enigmatic at all. There’s not much mystique in the world and I suspect we all wish there was more. I certainly do. A Free Man In Preston is my small stand against the unmysterious world.

PWN: Preston Writing Network exists to promote the distinctive literary culture of Preston - do you think there's anything distinctive about the Preston voice?

AFMIP: I often like to try and guess a blogger’s gender from their writing, up to the point when they say something which gives the game away. That’s hard enough.

Guessing whether a writer is from Preston is, for me, practically impossible. If you subjected me to a hypothetical blind blog testing, with ten different blogs from different towns, then no, I don’t think I could single out the one from Preston. Could anybody? Which isn’t to say that I don’t think it’s great that there’s loads of good Preston bloggers, because it is great. The more the merrier.

PWN: Any words of wisdom for our readers on blogging, writing or anything else?

AFMIP: It’s really nobody’s concern how or why or when another blogger goes about their business, but might I suggest that writing, say, over six hundred words for a blog post is not the best way to hold a casual reader’s attention? My own ideal is to be able to get my point across in less than five hundred and ninety nine, a target I fail to achieve almost every time I try, but I think it’s good to have that goal.

Can I also suggest, while I’m telling people what to do, that bloggers smile while typing? As a reader you can tell. You really can.

PWN: I forget my last question. Something about favourite local blogs. Recommended reads.

AFMIP: There’s quite a few, isn’t there? I must say that I like Adventures of a Taxi Driver for reasons of brevity. He says his bit then gets out of your face. If I can read a post in the time it takes to eat a piece of toast then it helps a lot when I’m trying to keep my weight down.

PWN thanks Tim for a great interview and reminds her readers that he's available to answer questions either here or on his own blog. And reminds herself she needs to get out of the habit of speaking in third person, because it's just weird.