Interview: Andrew Birch (writing as The Birch Twins)
Book Name and Description: Book one: The Life of Lol
Book Two: Poohsticks Bridge
This Book is Available for Kindle and Print on Amazon: Click Here.
What gave you the idea for Poohsticks Bridge? Or what inspired you to write it?
It started in 2016, when I was told by family that I originally had a twin sister, who didn’t live. In fact, for a short time, we both died, as our mum couldn’t support both of us. Helen gave up her chance so that I could experience life.
And so, searching for an outlet for this grief, Helen gave me Poohsticks Bridge. It was the story of a lonely little boy growing up on an old ranch house, who meets a special little girl. And so begins a friendship that will last their whole lives. Their closeness and fierce protection of each other throughout all the tribulations in their lives is what I’d been denied. Put simply, John is me, and Melissa is my Helen.
The inspiration to write it, have it professionally edited, to seek an artist to do the cover, and to market it in the best way I could, all came from my twin. The desire to get people to see the dedication to her at the start of the book was a motivation. Back in 2016, she was only a forgotten name from 1974 that nobody knew. And now, everybody who buys the book knows who she would have been and what she would have been capable of. She remains the driving force in my life, and my inspiration; hence the author branding is “The Birch Twins.”
How did you come to write Poohsticks Bridge after The Life of Lol?
I’ve always thought of each book as a reaction to the previous one. The Life of Lol was loud, action packed, brashly fun, and the locations vary from coast to coast. By comparison, Poohsticks Bridge is still, quiet and only features one house at its location.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for my whole life. I started as a child writing little stories, and coding quests for my videogames. That led to proper stories, poems, and eventually novels.
Tell us about your past books and stories?
Between 2000-2005, the company I worked for held a short story writing competition every year. I won it three times and was featured in an anthology of stories. Sadly, I no longer have copies of any of them. My first completed novel was Travels with a Barbarian, a fantasy epic dealing with the relationship between a female warrior and an apothecary in a changing world. I decided against publishing it in its then-current form. Travels will appear at some point, but it’ll be rewritten first.
My first published novel was The Life of Lol, the story of an orphan girl that grows up to be a gangster and con artist. Violent with plenty comedy and action, Lol was a learning process. What to do next time, and what NOT to do.
And then came Poohsticks Bridge, my current novel. Three years in the writing, it was inspired by Helen, my twin sister that was lost at birth. Helen has been with me throughout the process of making Poohsticks Bridge come true.
What is the writing process like for you? What is your writing day like? What have been the biggest influences on your writing?
I plan quite extensively. I’m a detail-planner, and I always leave gaps in case another story needs to come into this one, or a sequel is planned. So the world always has spaces open.
When I know what’s going on, I write the novel in my head. I’m a massive fan of sitting staring out of the window. At first glance, it appears that I’m doing nothing, but in fact I’m playing the story through in my head and checking to see whether it makes sense and it holds together well. Sometimes, new things come to me, and they get jotted down.
Only when it’s watertight does it get committed to paper for a first draft. As I work at a job as well, writing time can sometimes be limited. I’m better in the mornings, rather than at night, so I can get up between four and five if serious writing needs to be done.
What is your favorite book, as a reader, and why? What book has disappointed you and why? Has any author(s) influenced and inspired your work?
The biggest reading disappointment for me has to be Treasure Island. I’ve always loved pirates and pirate movies and TV shows, but never managed to read this classic, until recently, and sadly it’s left me cold. I was hoping for rich description and characterization, but it really isn’t that good. The plot doesn’t make that much sense. I’m a lover of what used to be called “adventure stories for boys”, my favorites are the H. Rider Haggard tales, and I’d hoped this would have been the same.
My favorites have to be the Fleming Bond novels. I love the lengthy descriptive passages. I love the way he spends twenty-five pages on a game of golf, and always gives us a description of what’s on the characters’ sandwiches. I love that so much. I can’t write that way, I’m much faster paced than that; but for relaxation, that’s my guilty pleasure.
Other than these, I’m a massive fan of Golden age comic book stories. I’m a fan of Gotfredson’s Mickey Mouse detective, Bark’s Disney ducks, Segar’s Thimble theatre Popeye, and Marston Wonder Woman stories. I love them, especially if they’re episodic, long-winding tales.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I have more confidence now. I don’t try to be something I’m not. I’m just a normal guy from the back end of Manchester, I’m not some super-intelligent professor type. That used to bother me, and I never felt I fit in with writers and the writing crowd, but it’s different. Some success with the second novel gave me enough confidence to say, “I don’t give a shit what people think, I’m me, and I write my own style.” Apart from that, I’ve spent time listening to and reading writers that I admire. I even enrolled in a writing academy to tighten up my skills.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Well a PC with a copy of Word helps. I’m also a fan of notebooks, spreadsheets, and even a sketchbook for drawings and maps.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
I’ve done everything possible for Poohsticks Bridge, from going on a blog tour, to appearing in the local paper, being on the local radio, posting in Facebook groups, and even advertising at work. Links to books and The Twins’ website are always included on short stories that get published. I think a brand name is important, too. Most of the time on Facebook, I usually operate as “The Birch Twins” and try to get the brand name out there. It’s important to know how Facebook postings work and to make the postings aspects work for you. When talking about my work, I never say “the book”; I always use the title.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
Poohsticks Bridge is the piece of work that I love above all others. There are still things I’d do differently if I were to write it again, but it’s my best writing, to date.
For those who haven’t read any of your stories, what story/book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?
The work that best represents my work is probably my short story, “The Coyote.” It’s violent, atmospheric, funny, and fast-paced; plus, you can get through it in under ten minutes. Most of my main characters are female, and this story is no different. It was published by The Literary Yard.
What are you doing next?
Next, I am doing a prequel to Poohsticks Bridge, entitled Tales from Belle Starr House. In fact it’s the first of two prequels to Poohsticks. This book goes back to the days of the Yukon gold rush, and will feature actual people who were around Dawson and Skagway at the time, who will interact with the ancestors of the characters from Poohsticks Bridge. Apart from that, whenever I get time, there are always short stories and flash pieces over at The Birch Twins Facebook page
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Keep writing. Learn the rules, but never be afraid to go your own way. Be the best version of yourself that you can possibly be. Remember that no creature on earth has a greater right to life than any other. Always be courteous and polite, but remember to be firm. You’re a special person, too, with talent. Listen to advice, but be prepared to disregard it. Apologize when you’re wrong. Be humble, but never too humble. And if you drink bourbon, always drink it neat. Most of that was from Helen, but she’s wise and worth listening to.
Andrew Birch is a forty-four-year-old professional artist, writer, poet, designer, and one-half of the creative duo known as “The Birch Twins.” His interests include comic books, action figures, machinery and engineering, sitting looking out of the window, and having picnics in the rain.
© The Literary Librarian 2019