Six Questions with James Hannah

We asked James Hannah, author of the Desmond Elliott long-listed The A to Z of You and Me, six questions about being a writer and his favourite books.

If you've not yet read this book, why not read our apprentice's review - click HERE to have a read!

1) What was your inspiration for writing this book?
“One key early influence was a book I got for Christmas 2007 about the American painter Chuck Close. He creates enormous portraits, but he paints them on a pixel-by-pixel basis, so that he – basically – doesn't have specific control over how the picture is going to turn out. I started to write a character using a literary equivalent, creating the character part-by-part, without the aim of controlling what story came.”

2) What were the main challenges that you faced when writing this book?
“The greater part of creating 'The A to Z of You and Me' was coming up with enough ways to present the 'support cast' without breaking the central 'body parts' concept. In the flashbacks everyone's story had to be presented in relation to a body part. It took some work to create reasonably rounded characters through the prism of recollection of someone who doesn't want to think about them.”

3) As a child or teenager, did you want to be a writer and if so, is it as you expected?
"I must say, I didn't. All I wanted to do was paint, draw and play drums. But I tended to get the best grades at school for English, and you get told you can't paint, draw or play drums as a job, of course. So I ended up taking the path of least resistance. I've grown to adopt artistic and musical approaches to writing though, so it's not like I've surrendered completely."

4) Who are the writers that have influenced you?
"Certain writers really make me want to write. Dennis Potter's irreverence. Derek Jarman's formal experiments. Samuel Beckett's appalled amusement. Maya Angelou and Kurt Vonnegut's easy humanism in the face of extreme circumstances. Stewart Lee and Douglas Adams for simple expression of complex ideas."

5) What's in your reading pile currently?
"'Born Standing Up' by Steve Martin, 'The Ship' by Antonia Honeywell and 'Hausfrau' by Jill Alexander Essbaum."

6) What's your favourite book of all time?
"Certain books have struck me at key times, and they stay with me. I often think of Roddy Doyle's 1993 Booker Prize-winning 'Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha', which managed the trick of appearing to speak directly to me as an individual. I've heard a number of people say the same thing about that book. But I've only read it the once. It's made its mark."

The A to Z of You and Me is available in hardback for £14.99. If you'd like to order a signed or personalised copy of The A to Z of You and Me, click HERE to be taken to our ordering page.

If any of the books mentioned by James Hannah caught your eye, order them from us by clicking HERE.