5 Questions of Writing by Harry Hunter

I am pleased to be joined today by my friend, the British author, Harry Hunter. Harry Hunter is the pen name of a retired academic who lives with his wife (and cat) at West Kilbride on the Ayrshire coast. His ‘signature’ writing style is the rhyming acrostic, and you can read many of these on his website Holy Acrostics! https://harryhunteronline.com/ . The action in his two novellas takes place in the fictional town of Kilfinan on the west coast of Scotland. All Harry’s writings have a broadly Christian theme. His new book, The Kilfinan Treasure is out now.

When do you write?

Often, just in short bursts. Before I retired, I was an academic. Writing scientific papers and books went with the territory. I learned to write in spare moments, even just for five minutes. Broadly, I divided my writing into ‘creative’ work for which I needed sustained peace and quiet, and mechanical work such as improving drafts and adding references. I could parachute into the latter whenever there was a lull. This was helpful because I always felt I was making progress, however small.

During retirement, I have begun to write fiction for pleasure, but the principles are surprisingly similar. Some of the work is creative and I need to be undisturbed for at least an hour. As an early riser, it’s relatively easy to earmark odd hours here and there, anywhere between 6a.m. and 10p.m. Equally, I often find myself with ten minutes to spare – I’m not very good at ‘doing nothing’ – and will use these impromptu gaps to hone and refine a current piece of writing.

More importantly for me, is to set aside time for reading. I don’t read nearly enough. I want to be around the house or garden doing something active and it rarely occurs to me that I could just sit on the sofa for half an hour and read a novel.

How do you write?

I have been writing academic stuff – and occasional creative pieces – since the 1970s, so long before the digital revolution. Of necessity, writing was longhand, with lots of scribbling, crossing out, insertion marks, etc. Finally, I would type the manuscript on a simple electric typewriter. I was quite slow to adapt to IT, mainly because I like to synthesise ideas and have bits of paper spread around the table in front of me.

I have never completely got away from this habit and will almost always write out a fairly thorough longhand draft to begin with. Creating a computer file will happen at a fairly late stage. I was never a technophobe – indeed I was a competent scientific user of mainframe computers – but I’m also a great believer in working through manuscripts and even datasets longhand. It guarantees a slower and more reflective pace allowing better engagement.

The more I adapted to writing at the computer, the more my literary style changed, even in scientific work. When you are looking at a few inches of computer screen it is difficult to make the same cross-connections as when you are looking at drafts scattered across a table. I started to write in shorter sentences with more focused structure and meaning, in more compact paragraphs. In general, I think this was an improvement, certainly for the reader. It was an example of technology influencing style, by limiting my gaze to the frame of a screen. Increasingly, I write in short simple sentences. It aids clarity and minimises extraneous detail, even if there’s a loss of literary elegance.

What do you write?

At the outset, I concentrated on short stories, on any topic. Often, short stories are written to a particular brief which constrains the subject matter and length.

This has evolved over the past few years. To cut to the chase, as a ‘person of faith’ I now concentrate almost exclusively on faith-based material. However, I prefer to write in a way that will be accessible to people of all faiths and none. I want the content to be enjoyable, credible and pertinent.

Writing has been a voyage of discovery, strongly influenced by feedback from readers – either direct (face to face or written comments) or indirect (inferred preferences through visitors to my website). It is a privilege when people take time to read what you have written and I don’t want to spend ages crafting the perfect short story, only for it to languish unvisited in my website. The surprise ‘hit’, which has effectively become my signature style, is the rhyming acrostic, and this receives a disproportionate amount of my time. My original intention was to focus on short stories but, even when I kept these very short, they generated little traffic, even though I felt they were genuinely good.

I have been fortunate to find publishers for two novellas. Both experiences have both proved steep learning curves. The feedback I received from editorial staff, reviewers and readers has been utterly invaluable in developing my style and themes. Even if you are intending to self-publish, I would strongly recommend paying for editorial advice from someone with expertise in fiction.

Why do you write?

I had always been interested in writing from an early age, but life got in the way and other interests crowded in. Fortuitously, as I approached my agreed date for early retirement, I got involved in a research project which involved setting up creative writing groups in a post-industrial area in South Yorkshire. To make up numbers I actively engaged in one of the groups and found it enjoyable. I moved up to West Kilbride on retirement and enrolled in Val’s creative writing class. Previously I had considered ‘teaching creative writing’ to be a contradiction in terms, but I quickly discovered how one’s creative skills can be nurtured through lessons and structured exercises.

To begin with, I had anticipated being able to supplement my pension by penning short stories but soon realised that the very few outlets were more than offset by the large numbers of talented writers. At that point I realised the importance of Val’s inaugural question to her class: “why do you want to write?” I had to reappraise this and, after much trial and error, came to the conclusion that perhaps I could help people on their faith journeys. I didn’t want to add to the vast stock of what might loosely be called ‘religious’ texts and novels. I wanted to write short, accessible pieces which gave insights into practical applications of faith in day-to-day settings.

So, it has been a journey of discovery. I have completely revised my original aims in writing. I intended to make money but now any royalties are a pleasant but unexpected bonus. I intended to write short stories and even a novel, and now focus on rhyming acrostics and novellas. I expected to reach people in conventional published format, and now connect with readers mainly through my website. I’m sure it would be different if I were a twenty-something setting out with the intention of becoming a successful novelist. Now, with a decent occupational pension, my objectives can be less materialistic.

Where do you write?

Anywhere, but usually writing an early draft at a table and refining the later draft at a computer. However, decades of trying to complete scholarly articles has cultivated the ability to scribble down useful jottings anywhere – trains, boats, planes, cafes, buses. Preferably not whilst I’m driving, but it’s a close call.

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