Interview with Neil A White, author of “Closure”

How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?

Well, after the first ten years it was all downhill.  The storyline for Closure, literally, had bounced around in my head for over ten years before I finally said “it’s now or never” and began the process.  And even though I had the complete story laid out in my head, completing that first page was interminable.

Did you ever think you would be unable to finish your first novel?

Not once I’d started.  I did write myself into a plot line corner once or twice, but usually after a day or two of thinking through all the possible permutations an answer would materialize.

What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?

I like to think of myself as a student of history.  Whether through formal education or in the novels I seek out, the subject has always fascinated me.  I then like to begin my novels based on a solid factional historical event and then, from there, fabricate a plausible storyline.  I’m also intrigued with the way established institutions have often times throughout history “played both sides of the ball.”  For example, the inner-workings of the Catholic Church during WWII.

How important is research to you when writing a book?

Extremely important, especially when writing an historical fiction novel.  I took only one small liberty in Closure when describing events in WWII, the rest of the storyline ran very close to actual events.  It’s also very important, I believe, if you’re going to be describing actual locations and/or persons.  In Closure, I featured a number of Australian bands that were on the music scene back in the 1980s.  No one wants to read about a band they grew up with playing a song at a concert in 1980 that wasn’t released until 1986.

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?

I’d like to be disciplined enough to have a set schedule, but I find my writing flows better when those sparks of inspiration strike.  My novels usually involve two or three different plot lines, so I jump from one to another as my mood suits.

Do all authors have to be grammar Nazis?

Definitely not, that would be taking work away from editors (l jest).  A good chunk of Closure was written in conversational form with a smattering of Australian colloquialisms thrown in for good measure.  I thought my editor was going to have a stroke.  Seriously though, I think it is more important to have an interesting story that can be polished up later, than one that is grammatically correct (yet incredibly boring).  Did I mention English was my worst subject in school?

Is it true that authors write word-perfect first drafts?

I certainly hope not.  If that was the rule, it would take me fifteen to twenty years to complete a novel.  I’d rather get my thoughts down on the page first, then add to it, make corrections at a later time, etc. as I go along.

How long did it take to write Closure?

All told, about nine months. However, I can’t tell you how many times I kept going back over and over every single page aiming for perfection. Looking back, though, I think it was partly due to not wanting to let go of “the baby” and being nervous of what my editor would make of it.

Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long did it usually last?

Regarding ideas for future projects? No. In completing a current manuscript? Yes, but never for more than a few days at a time.

Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?

My wife and I have a wonderful Australian Shepherd, that Ioves to be taken for a walk. It is usually during these walks that storyline conundrums have a way of working themselves out, or ideas for future projects pop up in my head. So, if one project bogs me down for any length of time, I jump over to something else. I find the break of putting down, say, the basics of a short story helps to reinvigorate my mind so that I can then get stuck back into the original project.

What did you want to become when you were a kid?

Any sporting figure that represented Australia would have been fine. I actually started playing football (Australian rules) as a youngster until a couple of broken bones prompted a change of mind. Cricket was next, but as I hit my mid-teens I realized it wasn’t the “coolest” sport for meeting girls. So I switched to tennis and, for a time, hoped to make it my career. Actually, that was how I landed in America, via a tennis scholarship to University.

When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?

I actually started my first novel when I was around ten years old. That episode proved so traumatic that it actually scarred me for the next four decades. Well, not exactly. I’d always wanted to write, felt I had fascinating tales to tell, but it just seemed that this thing called life kept getting in the way.

Also, I may be the world’s worst procrastinator. I’ve been meaning to apply to the appropriate authorities for the official title but just can’t seem to get around to it.

Do you like traveling or do you prefer staying indoors?

Travel, most definitely. I love to get home to Australia every chance I get. And my wife is from Poland (her home town plays a large role in Closure), so travelling throughout Eastern Europe can’t occur often enough. There is nothing like exploring and experiencing new places and cultures.

Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

Constantly. I always have a book at the ready. Currently, I’m enjoying the novels of Paul Cleave and Michael Robotham. Long-time favorites include; Thomas Keneally, Roddy Doyle, Robert Drewe, Tim Winton & Richard Flanagan. You’ll note a heavy emphasis on Australian authors there.

Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?

I’d love to disprove the theory, but it actually describes me to a tee.  Friends and acquaintances would probably describe me as outgoing, but it is all an elaborate act.  Drop me anywhere in the world with a steady supply of books and cold beer and I’d be in heaven.  And food, food is good too!

How did it feel when your first book, Closure, was in print and available for sale?

Actually, anti-climactic.  I was awaiting word from my publisher as to the release date and updating folks on social media, when I received a message back telling me a friend had already purchased it.  It appeared I was almost the last to know.

Do your novels carry a message?

Only in so much as I would like to challenge the reader to think outsize of their comfort zone.  I like to place my characters, and established institutions in many cases, in moral dilemmas.  Can we ever justify good people doing bad things?  And, of course, vice versa.

Who are your books mostly dedicated to?

Much of the storyline in Closure plays very close to my heart.  Without giving away too many secrets, or being too maudlin, the book is predominately dedicated to my parents and my wife’s grandmother all of whom are no longer with us.  The other dedications are to close family members.  My hope was to not just write an engaging story, but to pay tribute to a host of people that helped shape my formative years.

Can you tell us about your current projects?

My new novel also takes place in Melbourne, Australia, this time in current times.  Plus, a handful of chapters are based in Dublin and Rome to help build the back story.  It is more of a straight up thriller than an historical fiction piece.  And, even a few characters from Closure make a reappearance.

The plot?  The main character, having just graduated University, lands an entry-level job with a small private bank.  Soon after he stumbles upon an elaborate fraud scheme that unveils the murky world of money laundering and the various individuals and institutions involved.  Then the fun starts.  And similar to Closure, poses the question, “do the ends ever justify the means?”