Author Interview

Wednesday, 08 April 2020.

Interview for the Yours2Read newsletter with Clifford Thurlow, author of the following stories posted to the platform


The Little Black Dress


Tail Lights


Blood Stains Never Come Out

Thank you, Clifford, for agreeing to be interviewed for our newsletter. We’re grateful for your time, and I’m sure your insights will be interesting and helpful to our authors and readers.

  • You writein the thriller genreand there’s a gritty realism to your stories, particularly ‘Tail Lights’. I found this story unsettling and brutal in places, but strangely uplifting in terms of the triumph of the human spirit in very difficult circumstances. What inspired you to write these stories, and how did you approach developing the characters and contexts? Are they based, even if tangentially, on people or places you know or have known?
  • I was in a café called the Dôme in Chelsea when I saw a handsome black guy with a down at heel white girl with a tiny baby in a pram. What brought them together? Where are they from? What future do they have? I thought of them as Romeo and Juliet meeting across an invisible divide like the Montagues and Capulets. I didn’t want to plagiarise Shakespeare and gave the ending an unexpected twist. Most of my stories are about people struggling to find themselves and find answers in an indifferent world. My stories are morality plays with a darkness about thembut, as the question implies: I try to portray the triumph of the human spirit – even in chaos and disaster.

  • You’ve had published a number of books, including ‘Sex, Surrealism, Dali and Me’, ‘Gigolo: Inside the Secret World of the Super Rich’, and ‘Operation Jihadi Bride’, to name but a few. All your books are available on Amazon, and I’d certainly recommend them to our readers. How did you go about finding a publisher, and did you first approach firms of agents? What is your opinion of self-publishing, sometimes called ‘vanity publishing’? This can result in high costs and remaindered stock: is this a route you would recommend to those who are not able to find a publisher but nevertheless want to see their work in hard copy?
  • I am lucky to have an excellent agent, Andrew Lownie – he is tough, exacting and sends stuff back to me if he is not 100% satisfied. I don’t take all his advice, only about 90%. I have not had to face the dilemma of self-publishing but would say, if someone has spent months, even years, writing a book and they are unable to get a traditional publisher, then go ahead and enjoy the thrill of seeing your book in print. It is the same as an artist framing his picture. I would also advise writers not to get sucked into paying for extras like PR and social media exposure. Book sales are generated by publisher promotion, reviews in traditional media and book signings. Mainstream publishers also know how to make the most of Amazon and have deals self-published authors will not be able to get. Agents are the guardians at the gates of regular publishers and manuscripts arriving over the virtual transom end up in the virtual junk mail.

  • What generally inspires you to write? Where do you get your ideas from and do you start with the characters first and then the context, or vice versa? Are there any hints you can give to our readers about how to develop a character in a short story context?How do you think up a ‘twist in the tale’, and is this always necessary or can a story instead come to a ‘gentle halt’?
  • I used to visualise myself as a member of Pink Floyd, or a Royal Shakespeare Company actor pursued by Hollywood. But lacked theessential ingredient: talent. I am stuck with writing and keep my mind open for ideas to drop in from the universe. They’re out there. Waiting. You just have to grab them. An idea (10%, they say) is a dull little stone that you polish by running it through the centrifuge of your mind. When it starts to shine, you seize the eruption of light and get the story’s essence down on paper – mechanically on the keyboard or, better still (you should try this) – by hand on paper like a Zen monk painting in ink, the tip of the lead pencil, your elbow and heart making a perfect triangle. Sounds like rubbish, but it works. An idea always carries a passenger: your main character. While all the thinking and polishing is going on, you have to get to know this alien presence. What do they want? What’s their problem? How are they going to deal with that problem? Writers are amateur psychologists dealing with other people’s complicated lives. That old cliché is true (that’s why clichés are clichés): characters grow and take over the story you are writing. Two sentences I have written before:I am my characters’ galley slave. Characters begin as your children andbecome your teachers. They are good lines and good lines can always be used again. As for twists, they come, or they don’t come. It doesn’t matter. Don’t force it.

  • Do you write on impulse- when you just feel like putting pen to paper- or do you set time aside during the day or week to do this? Have you ever suffered from that unmentionable author affliction, ‘writer’s block’? If yes, how did you deal with it?
  • I work every morning from 8.00am to 12.00pm, seven days a week, then walk in the park for an hour. In those 4 hours, I may have managed to accumulate 400 words. In the afternoon, I pull those 400 words apart and end up with 300 words. Then I am content. I have a glass of wine and don’t interrupt my wife when she’s talking. Sometimes, when I read through a finished chapter, about 10 pages, I get struck with an idea, write PTO on the hard copy and, like that Zen monk, with a pencil, I scribble like mad until my wrist aches with carpal tunnel syndrome. When I type this new material out next day, it is the best of which I am capable. I recognise these short sections as flashes of sunlight when I read the bookin its published formor listen to the audible version, a vane thrill having your own words read back to you. These moments of inspiration are rare. You can’t sneak up on them by sitting down with a pencil at the ready and expect the universe to cough up some gems. They come when they are ready. To avoid writer’s block, I follow Hemingway’s advice: never complete a piece of work; leave it unfinished so you have something to return to next day.

  • What would you say is the ideal length for a short story? Yours2 Read receivessubmissions which range from under a thousand words to six to seven thousand: we find that the length of a story, or indeed its brevity, is not necessarily an indication of quality!
  • Length and quality are not related. There is no ‘perfect’ length. Stories have their own length – the story tells you when it is over. One thing I would advise, when story is finished: read the last paragraph again and see if you really need it. It is where writers feel tempted to tie up loose ends and loose ends are better left loose for the reader to make their own decisions. If the couple in your story get married, you don’t need to say: And they lived happily ever after. Especially as they probably won’t.

  • Have you ever had to dealwith rejection of a book or story? If you write a book and get bad reviews, how do you prevent these from spoiling your enthusiasm to continue writing?
  • This is my favourite bad Amazon review: I didn’t order this book. I don’t like it. And I don’t want it. This is my second favourite? The book arrived in two daysand I was pleased with the condition. Bad reviews are painful. Good reviews lift the spirits. It is part of the game. Have I had books rejected? Yes. I have two complete early novels I have never been able to place and looking back at them now (I just did), I can see they are faulty. I have unpublished short stories. When I read them through, I think: mmm, yes, that’s good enough. When you have that thought: “good enough,” you know it is not good enough.

  • Who would you say are your top three favourite authors, and what is it about their stories or style which you like? Which would you say is your ’all time’ favouritebook, and why?
  • Milan Kundera, Gabriel García Márquez, George Orwell. The first two are Nobel laureates, the third should have been. Kundera wrote about life under communism in Czechoslovakia in a way that made you understand that world, while using tangents that took you inside the heads of characters finding intellectual freedom in their own way. Márquez in One Hundred Years of Solitudecaptured the microcosm of a small town in Colombia that revealed the macrocosm of all human life. Orwell believed in ‘common human decency’ and reveals this through enlighteningsocio-political scenarios over nine short novels. One’s favourite book changes. In the present corona virus climate, I would have to choose 1984. My most recent book is Operation Jihadi Bride, the true story of John Carney’s rescue of hundreds of young women and their children from the ISIS Caliphate. It was not inspired by Orwell, but the subtext is Orwellian – it’s about common human decency, about Carney’s growing confidence to stand up to the CIA and MI6, organisations eager to get intel on ISIS arms dumps and escape tunnels, while reluctant to allow the young jihadi brides who had changed their minds about ISIS to return to Europe. The book is about the brides, but just as much about the lead character, being beaten as a child, joining the army as a boy soldier at 16 and finally finding his true worth in a society still riven by class and privilege.

  • Your books are written in many different settings and contexts. How do you approach researching a particular era or location? Do you use internet sources alone, or are there others?
  • When I can, I go to the place where I have set a story. Tail Lights takes place in West London, where I live, but I took a day trip on the train to Ramsgate to look at the sea and taste the air Sharon Brown, the lead character, would have seen and tasted before she left for life in the city. The internet is a blessing. When I was writing Operation Jihadi Bride, I could see film and photographs of the very towns in Syria and Iraq where John Carney and his team of three Kurds were working. I had the strange and rare privilege of John being on the internet (God knows how) and turning his laptop so I could see what he was seeing – buildings collapsing in plumes of dust, women shedding their black abayas as they ran with their children over the rubble.

  • Are there any aspects of your earlier career in journalism which provide sources upon which you can draw for your writing? Can you give some detail of people in the news who you’ve met in the past? I urge readers to see your previous interview, with Iris Gioia, on the BBC programme Pebble Mill to have an insight into where some of your inspiration comes from. The interview concerns your visit to Eastern Europe in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. Here’s the YouTube link:
  • Brief Spring,written with Iris Gioia (we’re still together), began as a newspaper article and grew into a travel book as we discovered we often had different opinions on what we were seeing and who we were meeting on our journey through the crumbling walls of Eastern Europe. For me, it was liberating to write my own opinions and emotions, the opposite of journalism. Journalism is factual, to the point: who and when more important than why and how. The liberation turned me from being a reporter to becoming a writer and I began to learn the craft writing short stories. Short stories – like short films – allow you to be experimental. Both make use of suggestion, atmosphere, the subtly implied gesture. Both are a puzzle, every word having to carry its own weight, justify its existence. The short story weaves fine lines more than broad strokes. Explanation is death. To return to Tail Lights. This is the story of a young man and woman who have a baby and can’t cope. Scratch below the surface and readers will find it is about class, education, race, reverse racism, abandonment, the hidden advantages of perceived beauty – a society that values all the wrong things. Short stories, I believe, should entertain but also make people think.

  • If you were asked for four bullet points as to what makes a good short story, what would these be? And for balance, do you have four points for what makes a bad short story?
  • • Character • Conflict • Plot • POV – point of view A bad short story fails to grip the reader and doesn’t bring the elements together for a satisfactory resolution.

  • Do you have any new stories in the pipeline? If yes, can you give us a hint as to what these are about?
  • I am always jotting down ideas and a new story will probably drop out of the sky when it’s ready. If I may add, I am always happy to hear from other writers. We write alone to be read alone and, as such, belong to a club that’s so private we rarely know the other members. I can be found at and mailed at

Many thanks, Clifford, for taking part in this interview. We look forward to seeing more of your work on the platform soon- the reviews have always been excellent, and I for one will be amongst the first to download your next story!