Author Spotlight - Adrian Laing
Today I’m delighted to introduce you to author Adrian Laing who’s going to talk to us about his novel Kosmos.
Great to be asked to contribute Shona, thank you.
My name is Adrian Laing, author of Kosmos, a wild fantasy tale of love and redemption featuring an old boy who thinks he’s Merlin. Finding himself caught up in a jury trial he is represented by a rookie barrister, George Winsome.
Kosmos took me ages to write, I can hardly bring myself to admit exactly how long. Years. I was determined to write a novel from a young age. I started and finished a play which is still hidden in a drawer somewhere which was nearly produced but not quite. That’s another story. I qualified as a barrister at quite an early age and after seven years or so felt I needed to move on from that world. Defending and prosecuting in jury trials is an incredible challenge to begin with; the excitement (i.e. terror) is almost overwhelming but the buzz from being successful is equally all-consuming, but like any drug the effects tend to wear off slowly but steadily.
After leaving the Bar I was eventually engaged in a senior legal position for a leading global publisher and dealt with all facets of the publishing world: lawyers, corporate executives, editors, agents, publicists and to some extent authors. My boss was always worried about me engaging directly with authors. Don’t ask why. I can be, let’s say, direct. Straight to it. No time for BS. ‘Come out with it’, I’d say. So, like a rather angry but well-trained dog I was carefully deployed to deal with crisis situations. That suited me as one of my many mantras was ‘I feel at home in a crisis’. That’s another long story.
But I always felt most closely aligned with authors, not my fellow lawyers or senior executives even though I was in a corporate sense ‘one of them’. So, the ambition to be an author as well as a lawyer burned quietly within me for years. It wasn’t a jealousy for their success – I understand that most authors struggle to be recognised and rewarded for most of their working lives (if ever) but an affinity with their position in the world, as creators of carefully crafted works which take a great deal of time and creative energy to put together.
Soon after I left the publishing company, I decided that I would start and finish a novel. I had by that stage written and published several non-fiction works and articles mainly of a legal nature and a biography of my late father, the psychiatrist R.D. Laing. The first time I was actually paid for a legal article (£75.00 in 1983) felt so satisfying and self-validating.
By the time I was writing Kosmos, I knew that writing a full-length work was hard work, really hard work, particularly the end-game of addressing editorial issues. I discovered that I am what is called a ‘pantser’, not a plotter. For certain types of works of fiction, particularly crime stories or the ‘who-dunnit’ genres it would seem wiser to start at the end and work backwards. But that was not my idea or ‘plan’, I simply wanted to write a book I might enjoy, and my reading is very eclectic.
I was working from home and had the joy of walking my kids to school across Hampstead Heath in London, every day. My route took me past a high mound where Boudicca was once thought to have been buried. The small grove of trees was cordoned off to deter people from literally camping out on the high spot which still has a certain mystique and sense of mystery about it. Walking back one day I had an idea (‘vision’ sounds a bit too pretentious) of an old man lying asleep in among the grove, who, when awoken, thinks he’s Merlin.
From that seed, Kosmos grew. Soon the ‘old boy’ was caught up in the legal system having been charged with a criminal offence. A ‘knight in shining armour’ (i.e. an arrogant young barrister called George Winsome) is needed to defend him. There’s a ‘big trial’ – an excuse for a glorious media circus - and of course a love interest. Interwoven into the story is the ‘evil’ of the gutter press trying to both ridicule and benefit from the apparent absurdity of it all. I ended up writing three stories intertwined: a love story, a jury trial and an element of fantasy which began almost to write itself.
And that, in brief is the ‘history’ of Kosmos except to say that the title came about due to a re-reading of the very old Greek concept of ‘order versus chaos’ which is the basis for the fantasy element - the spiritual world, in the work.
In a way, as odd as it sounds, the book took on a life of its own and during its development the work took a turn here and there that surprised me. That I think is the advantage of the ‘pantser’ style because the author can almost be a channel for the story as it unfolds. Of course, the disadvantage is that if the story does not reveal itself then there is no story and you’re facing a brick wall. But that never happened to me with Kosmos.
The difficult part of embarking upon a full-length novel is admitting to yourself what you’ve let yourself in for. The heart of Kosmos is the jury trial of Merlin. I realised that I needed to know each member of the jury intimately, so I created for my own purposes a clear back story for each juror. I could then allow the jurors to interact intensively and confidently.
I had great fun with George Winsome’s pupil master from whom he seeks internal guidance when he is under pressure in court (which is often). I had no concerns about the legal issues on that score – I sent my pupil master from thirty years back an early draft of the work – using his thinly veiled name and ‘characteristics’. His response was to take me for a splendid lunch in the Garrick Club. In fact, he’s waiting for a signed copy and a date for another lunch. He’s dead proud to be in the book – even though he is portrayed as ‘an extremely cultured middle-aged criminal hack of noble Italian extraction’, and that is a joy to me
Writing any book is a discipline, by its very nature. The process does not come naturally or easily to me. I’ve spoken with many professional writers (including journalists) each of whom have different strategies to get through the distractions, which are boundless. Some writers need deadlines and could not complete their work without the right amount of stress. Others need complete solitude. My number one distraction is what psychologists called displacement. It’s not a ‘distraction’ as such, it’s the resistance to getting into writing in the first place. I liken it to the hesitation you feel before you swim in cold water. You know you’re going to do it. But, if there’s any reason to delay the inevitable, you’ll find it. You must fight off this one and just jump in. Easier said than done.
I have just finished the first draft of a new legal title and I wait patiently for the editorial feedback which I am braced for. The book has been accepted but editors like to enhance the work and make all sorts of suggestions which require the author to earn their crust and address objective and constructive feedback. ‘Editorial concerns’ are my number one dread. But a good editor is a great asset to a book and the tougher the better, in my view.
Another novel is in the process of being developed but being an unreformed pantser a number of seeds have been planted and it depends which idea takes hold and becomes my next obsession. I have three front runners, one of them will prevail.
Adrian Laing can be found on Facebook and LinkedIn.