Working with Words: Sam Cooney

Sam Cooney is a writer and editor who has recently become the editor of The Lifted Brow. He is also one of our crack team of VPLA reviewers; you can read his review of Wayne Macauley’s The Cook right now.

Speaking to us for our Working with Words series, Sam reveals why it’s important for a writer to ‘eat little’, and that he wishes he could pay his writers chests of cash via limousine helicopters.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

What is ‘published’? I still don’t know. I probably should know by now, or try to find out. The first time I felt published was when Voiceworks printed a short story of mine called ‘Fires’. It tingled me like I’d never been tingled before. Voiceworks: such a crucible.

What’s the worst part of your job?

As a writer: the need to complain (which in turn leads to complaining about the need to complain, which in turn leads to etc etc).

As an editor: not being able to pay people what I think they are worth. I ask a lot of the people who work with me and of contributors too, and I always have to apologise that I cannot give them a chest of cash delivered by limousine helicopter. (But maybe this is okay, maybe the best ones are the ones who don’t work for money.)

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

Not for me to say! Everything that I’ve ‘achieved’ has been significant to me, because it’s about me and I cannot help but think of myself as significant (even after I go and watch this clip which I do maybe once or twice a week). But now I think about it, probably the most important moment in my writing career was a few years ago when I actively decided to spend the rest of my life having a right royal crack at it.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

Best: ‘Eat little’ (Tolstoy)

Worst: ‘Stealing is okay’ (lots of writers)

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?

Someone met me recently-ish – this person became a friend and is still a friend – and after speaking with me for a few minutes, told me that they thought I would be far more zanier and funnier and jovial than I was turning out to be. I think it’s because I use exclamation marks a lot in my casual writing. I used to hate exclamation marks so much – and keep your enemies closer, right?

If you weren’t making your living by writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I’m still only making a semi-living by writing, because woe is me. I have no idea what I’d be doing if I wasn’t writing and editing. I’d be a different person. What would a different me be doing instead? Everything different. Maybe I’d be a landscape gardener who drinks six Coronas every afternoon after work. Maybe I’d be a high school teacher who is married to a concert violinist. Maybe I’d be a financial advisor. Maybe I’d grow tomatoes.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

Sure it can. Anyone who says otherwise is a hoarder, protecting their stake. Writing creatively is thinking creatively, and creative thinking is learnable. ‘To teach’ simply means giving someone more than they had before, e.g. skills, knowledge, confidence. Our minds are our brains, and our brains are soft clay.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Do it your own way, because there’s no right way. (Ipso facto there’s no wrong way.) If writing one hour a week in a solitary text window on your sleek silver MacBook is your thing, or filling supple leather journals full of scribblings is your thing, it doesn’t matter. Just don’t do anything because someone else says it’ll be good for you. Do everything because you are good for it. END OF SAGENESS.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Both. I have no system. I am without system.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?

Rowan from Rowan of Rin. (Dragons.) Patrick Oxtoby from This is How. (Choice.) Mr Hoppy from Esio Trot. (Perseverance.) Funes from Funes the Memorious. (Focus.) Patri from Ghosts. (Family.)

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

No single book has done this for me. Books as a whole have given me a lot though. I think that’s obvious.

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