In the spirit of reviewing a range of books and collections on my site, this week I bring you Tow Away Zone by Chris Towndrow, a self-published book that takes us to the USA on the tail of a down-on-his-luck travelling salesman.
At times the book feels like a moral tale, at others we veer into magical realism and on other occasions we find ourselves almost in the middle of a thriller. With memorable characters and a light-hearted style, its a book that certainly has some unusual twists and turns.
I talked to Chris about nostalgia, defying genre and publishing. Read on to find out more.
The appeal of the open road takes a twist in Chris’ book
One thing that really struck me about your book was its nostalgic tone. The characters, setting and plot seem to hark back to the 50s, although the book is set in modern times. Why do you think you were drawn to writing a book with this tone?
The idea for the story came to me about 20 years ago, so its inspiration is largely lost in the mist of time. It was originally a screenplay treatment and certainly takes ideas from the Coen Brothers’ canon. “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” has a motif of ‘hair’ and Tow Away Zone has an ‘eyesight’ motif. The quirky names and unusual feel are deliberately Coen-esque. The setting is deliberately ’small town America’, and I envisaged a place like in Virgin River, Doc Hollywood or Roxanne – something with history. Lolita’s 50s attire was purely an idea for character individuality.
At the centre of your book are lots of ideas about honesty and kindness and their importance. When you set out to write the book was this something you intended or did it arrive along with the characters as you wrote it?
There’s a nostalgic charm about the settings and characters in the book
Most of my lead characters are honest, well-meaning people who are caught up in adventures not of their own making. I deliberately counterpointed Beckman’s honesty with his underhanded rival, the unspoken secrets in Sunrise, and others’ less savoury tactics to get what they want. Beckman isn’t perfect, but hopefully readers will root for him as he embodies good qualities that most of us would like to have.
There are elements of magical realism in your novel. Is this something you include in a lot of your writing and why?
An influence for the book was a 1989 Italian film “The Icicle Thief”. This is a quirky romantic comedy – unpredictable, clever and visual. It blends real life and ‘the impossible’ – and does so by merging parallel back & white and colour visuals. I was subconsciously drawn to this fantastical element – an unexplained MacGuffin – to give an element of modern fairytale. Previously, I had only written sci-fi, so this was a very different book, although I had created a number of rom-com screenplays, so I had that desire to write love and laughter.
Eyesight is a powerful theme in the book
How did you go about publishing your book?
I never considered traditional publishing. As this was unlike anything I’d written before, I didn’t know whether it was ‘better’, and I wasn’t sure the quirkiness of the style would appeal to readers, let alone agents or publishers. It didn’t matter – because I loved writing the book and still love the style and story. I self-published and got a few hardcopies to people in my network, who largely loved it. This gave me confidence to publish more widely on various platforms as an ebook and paperback. I did retrospectively approach agents, but as it is unlike anything most people have read it’s a hard sell.
What is the best writing advice you’ve received/would give to other writers?
The best advice I received was to do an edit pass on a printed copy of the manuscript. I heard this a few times beforehand, but dismissed it as an unnecessary expense. When it was reinforced by an agent, I changed my mind. The benefits have been huge. I re-edited all my published books and found countless improvements and errors. I even re-published Tow Away Zone as I picked up things with ’new eyes’ – and I’m always keen that readers see the best version of any story.
Chris is a multi-genre author, with nine self-published books in romantic comedy, cosy mystery, sci-fi, and absurd humour. He is also a playwright, with 8 works performed to a total audience of over 5000.
His ideas are fuelled by coffee, and walks in Richmond Park.
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