This week marks the official release of the astounding debut novel Abide With Me by Ian Ayris. We reviewed it a little while ago, but to celebrate its release publisher Caffeine Nights has reduced the price of the book to just 77p on Kindle. So, I decided to catch up with London author Ian Ayris to ask him some questions about the book, and how he feels now his debut is out.
Can you describe Abide With Me for us?
It’s the story of two boys – John and Kenny – growing up through the 70s and 80s in London’s East End. The book is narrated by John, a fanatical West Ham supporter. Through his eyes, the reader experiences the domestic violence Kenny is subjected to, as well as the bullying Kenny suffers at school. As tragedy unfolds in the lives of both boys, they go their separate ways, becoming re-united years later in a confrontation with a vicious local gangster. What the two boys have learned about friendship, life, loyalty and hope throughout their desperate years apart will dictate the outcome of the confrontation.
So your debut novel is out – how are you feeling about it at the moment?
I feel remarkably calm about things at the moment. I had no intention of seeking publication for the book when I’d finished it. The whole thing, for me, had become a huge cathartic exercise – much more than the writing of a story. The finishing of that story was enough. To have the book published is just a massive bonus, and one I am enjoying immensely.
Football plays a role in Abide With Me. Was it an important part of your life growing up?
Football was almost everything to me, growing up. My school days were spent playing football in the playground with a tennis ball in morning and afternoon breaks, and during the longer dinner break. Then there was football training for the school and for a local boys club during the week, plus matches on a Saturday for the school, if I was picked, and for the boys club on a Sunday. Whenever I could, I would go to watch my team – Dagenham – with my brother Stu and our mate Nicky. We’d get the 174 bus to the ground and grab a bag of chips from Nagi’s on the way back. Great days.
Your writing style is quite brave for a debut novel, using the East End vernacular and spellings. Was this a conscious decision in your storytelling?
The writing style is something I honestly never thought about whilst writing the book. For me, it was just the most natural way to tell the story. If I was telling the story of an East End lad in the first person, it had to be real. Obviously, there were some editorial decisions to be made. If I’d written the book entirely in phonetics, it would have been incomprehensible. I’m really happy with the balance we’ve achieved. I’ve yet to receive any negative comments regarding the use of the vernacular. In fact, it’s been entirely the opposite.
How much of the novel is true of your own childhood?
I grew up in the 70s of John and Kenny – a bit further out of London than the two boys, in Romford. The secondary school descriptions in the book are my secondary school in Romford, and many of the experiences are my own actual experiences. The references to music and toys and all the other cultural references are from my own memory. A description of Christmas in John’s house was, more or less, my own Christmas every year of my childhood. Indeed, John’s family and the relationships within it pretty closely overlay my own.
I described AWM in my review as more literary crime, than just crime. Was it your intention to scale back the crime element of the story?
I didn’t plan any of the book at all. I’d begin a chapter not knowing where it would end. And when it did end, I’d start the next chapter having no idea where it was going. There is even a point in the book where it looks like John has no way out of a very difficult situation. And I couldn’t help him at all, as I had no idea how he was going to get out of it either. Throughout the whole book I did nothing more than rip every word from my gut, uncensored, unadorned. It came together in the end, I think mainly because I let it be what it needed to be.
What’s planned for the future, have you started work on book two yet?
I’m in the process of completing my first novella – Jason Dean, for Byker Books. The plan is for the novella to go straight to Kindle some time this year. Other than that, I have tentatively begun another book. Where it will lead, I have no idea. But I’ve got a good feeling about it…