An Interview with Oliver Cable, author of Fresh Air and Empty Streets

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When we were married my husband and I had our honeymoon in Paris and we retuned for our silver wedding anniversary. Oliver Cable has recently written Fresh Air and Empty Streets set in that very city and the cover alone evokes many memories for me. As a result, I had to ask Oliver to tell me a little bit more about Fresh Air and Empty Streets.

Fresh Air and Empty Streets was published on 29th July 2016 and is available for purchase in ebook here.

Fresh Air and Empty Streets

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Fifteen years ago, Alexander left his wife and small child behind to pursue the life of an artist in Paris. Now all grown up, Felix travels to Paris to meet his elusive father. On a journey through smoky jazz bars, artists’ studios and along the banks of the Seine, Felix discovers more and more about Alexander, calling into question his long-held beliefs.

An Interview with Oliver Cable

Hi Oliver. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and Fresh Air and Empty Streets in particular.

Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

I’ve had a pretty international upbringing. I grew up in Holland but have spent time living in France and Malaysia too. For now, I’m in London. I’m 26.

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

Only after I’d been one for a third of my life! I wrote my first poem at the age of 14 but it was always a case of just writing individual pieces when inspiration struck, rather than any concerted effort to write. I followed a Creative Writing course at the University of East Anglia and made a promise to continue writing. Two years later, Fresh Air and Empty Streets was published.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

I read literary fiction on the whole. Master writers and master storytellers: Jack Kerouac and Haruki Murakami are two whose styles I admire. There’s so many classics that I can’t keep up with the new styles.

Does that put you at a disadvantage as a writer?

I don’t think so – I write what I want to write, not necessarily what’s selling.

If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

I love painting and music as two forms of expression, and by music, I mean jazz in particular. I think that’s why the two play just a major part in Fresh Air and Empty Streets. I drum, but I’d love to learn double bass or saxophone. It may be too late now.

(No, it isn’t Oliver! It’s never too late to try something new!)

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How and why did you choose Paris for the setting of your novella Fresh Air and Empty Streets?

On a trip to Paris with two friends (one of whom ended up painting the cover), a number of plot elements floating around in my head just fell into place, with the city as a natural backdrop. On one hand, it’s true to Paris, while on the other; it’s a Paris I hope once existed.

How did you go about researching detail and ensuring Fresh Air and Empty Streets is realistic?

I wrote intensively during that first trip, and drew heavily on those notes (scribbled notes of life from our days in the city) in writing the first draft. When I reread it, I realised the piece needed some accurate descriptions of Paris. So I booked a flight and an Airbnb, sat down and wrote what I saw.

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

Descriptions are my forte. A number of readers have commented on how poetic the descriptions are in the novel. It’s what happens when a poet becomes a novelist, I suppose.

What I found hardest (and this is more during the editing than the writing process), was knowing when the piece was ready. I went through it at least six times after I’d finished writing it, changing bits every time I went. At what point can you then say the book is finished? It’s procrastination coupled with fear – as long as you’re still editing, they can’t criticise. At some point you just have to say enough is enough and move onto the next stage. Reading back, there’s still bits I’d edit. But can a piece ever really be finished?

(I think that’s often something writers struggle with – the letting go of their work.)

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What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

My writing routine was a little unorthodox, in that I wrote the whole thing in a month alongside a full-time job. So my life looked like: wake up early, write for an hour, go into work, write on my lunch-break, come home, eat dinner, write for an hour, sleep, repeat. I mainly wrote at my desk in my room, but my office has meeting rooms with great views across the Thames for my lunchtime sessions. Wrong city perhaps, but it certainly helped me write.

Why did you decide to publish a novella rather than a full novel in Fresh Air and Empty Streets?

I didn’t ever really decide to! It was only when I was submitting to agents that the term ‘novella’ was used to describe it. They suggested extending it, but for me the story was finished. To add any more would be superfluous.

The cover of Fresh Air and Empty Streets reminds me so much of the paintings to be found in Paris where the book is set.  How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

The process of creating the cover took almost as long as the writing of the novel itself. It started off as a picture of a street that I took one morning. To cut a long story short, Ron, who was on that initial trip to Paris, painted it, and Mark Ecob took the painting and designed a beautiful cover for the book.

The painting mirrors the whole feel of the book: an artistic life.

(I think it’s certainly very evocative of Paris.)

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Fresh Air and Empty Streets should be their next read, what would you say?

Art, jazz and Paris. A hundred readers before you have flown through it in a day.

Thank you so much, Oliver, for your time in answering my questions.

About Oliver Cable

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Oliver Cable was born to English parents in Holland and currently lives in London. As a result, he’s not entirely sure where he’s from. In the ten years since writing his first poem, he’s written short-form poetry and prose, inspired and influenced by jazz, travel and the absurdity of daily life. After following a Creative Writing course at UEA, he turned his hand to writing longer pieces, but to this day still enjoys a good four-line poem. Fresh Air and Empty Streets is his debut novel.

You can find out more about Oliver by following him on Twitter.

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