INTERVIEW: Aidan Martin on writing as a coping mechanism, going with his gut, and The Chair (Part One)

Euphoric Recall by Aidan Martin is a powerful, visceral memoir. In it, Aidan has laid his heart bare, told his truths with a staggering honesty, and in doing so tells not just his story but the story of so many others like him. 

It’s a truly incredible book, published by the bold and innovative Guts Publishing. We are big fans of them here at the Scot Lit Blog (if you missed it, check out our interview with John Gerard Fagan, author of Fish Town) and were absolutely delighted when Aidan agreed to give up some of his time to talk to us. 

The interview is split into two parts, in this first part he discusses the path to publication and what he’s doing next. In the second part (which I’ll publish immediately after because waiting is a pain in the arse) he talks more about growing up in Livingston and his thoughts on the future. 

Writing as a coping mechanism 

‘I’d always written poetry, it was a big coping mechanism for me as a young kid and a teenager,’ Aidan said, “But of course in that era, with lad culture and all that, you wouldn’t go around telling your pals you write poetry. But I was really inspired by Kurt Cobain and Eminem – just to get my pain out through the written word.’

It was after writing the eulogy for his grandmother, and for his little brother before her, that Aidan says he felt he had a book in him. He references a Higher Power often throughout the book and says it was this that made him write his story in the first place, ‘I just stepped down from reading my gran’s eulogy and had this feeling, it wasn’t even words, telling me “write a book, write a book, write a book.” It was like my granny was saying, “Right, you’ve taken me to my final resting place, now you have to go away and write something.” It’s the only way I can describe it. Some people think it’s far fetched but it’s really not.

‘I went home that day and started on chapter one but at that point wasn’t thinking about getting published. I just started writing it for me. Then, as I got the first chapter finished I kind of realised that I was writing an actual book here. I didn’t know it was a manuscript, I didn’t even know it was called a memoir.”

With the book not completely finished yet, Aidan turned to uni friend, Darren, to read what he’d written, ‘I said to him, “Don’t let me be that person on the X factor that cannae sing,” when they’re totally deluded because their friends and family have told them that they’re great, I said to him, “If it’s not any good please just tell me, don’t let me make a fool of myself.” But he said to me, “No mate, it’s really good, you need to do something with this.”

‘That’s when I discovered it was a memoir but I didn’t know anything about pitching or anything to do with publishing. I just thought because I had a book now people were going to come to me!”

Knock backs on the road to publication 

Pretty much all writers know it’s not going to happen like that, there’s as much work involved in finding publication than writing the book itself. 

Aidan continues, ‘I just started Googling one day and realised, shit, I’m going to need an agent to get in with a big publisher, or find an independent publisher that accepts unsolicited manuscripts. It was all like a foreign language to me. 

‘I started sending pitches out, completely randomly, not keeping track of anything. I had to learn everything – all the bits and bobs publishers needed and elevator pitches…all of that. If I looked at my first set of pitches I’d probably cringe so badly because they probably weren’t professional at all.”

After not getting anywhere with that first wave of submissions to publishers and agents, Aidan’s mum, who was fully behind him and believed in the book 100%, gave him the money to take the manuscript to a literary consultancy agency. The one he used took the book and passed it onto another author to give their critique.

‘The feedback was horrendous,’ he says, ‘The woman was lovely about it, she wasn’t trying to be nasty, but she was basically shooting me down. She said no-one would buy a book about addiction unless it’s by a celebrity, and that I glamourised drugs too much. I disagreed with that because the thing is, you need to tell the good parts before you tell the bad parts. That’s what’s real. People will call bullshit if it’s all bad. Of course it’s not all bad, you wouldn’t fuckin’ use drugs if it was all bad. 

‘But it really did my confidence in. I put the manuscript away for about half a year or something. Every single day my mum was telling me to send it out and my pal was telling me this author had gotten it all wrong…’

‘A million reasons to stop and give up’

With a renewed fight to get his book out, Aidan made his second approach to the market completely different. ‘I made a wee excel spreadsheet this time. I made a note of every agent I sent the book to, every publisher, and kept copies of every pitch. I was so organised, kept dates and times and email addresses just to make sure I wasn’t crossing over anywhere.

‘I got some nice feedback off agents saying it was quite good but not right for them. A few others were quite dismissive saying it’s a cut-throat business and “good luck getting in” kind of thing – I’m like fucking hell, man. There was a lot of rejection, a million reasons to stop and give up. The self doubt in my mind kept growing, telling me I’m not a writer and I don’t belong in that world.’

Then he discovered Guts Publishing, ‘I just loved what they had to say. It felt authentic, personal, no bullshit. They wanted ballsy memoirs so that’s how I pitched it to them. I took a risk. I wouldn’t tell people to swear in their pitch but I said, “This is a fucking ballsy memoir, this is what you’re asking for and I think you’re going to like it.”

‘At first they turned it down. They gave nice feedback but just said it was the wrong time for that kind of project but said I could put in something for an anthology they were working on.’

Going with Guts

As fate would have it though, Aidan found himself with an offer from another publisher just as Guts turned him down. He says, ‘But it was impersonal, they didn’t talk about their ideas or anything, they just said they’d looked at it and saw potential and sent a contract. It didn’t feel right.’ After a reminder from his mum that he’d always gone with his gut in the past, and thinking again of the Higher Power, he turned that publisher down, knowing they weren’t right for him. 

He says, ‘Then Guts got back in touch with me saying they’d like to take another look at the whole manuscript; and they really liked it. I met Julianne over Skype, who’d started Guts Publishing from scratch. She’s an amazing woman, and we just clicked. She made no false promises, she told me what was good and what areas needed work. She was very honest about it. 

‘She suggested we edit chapter one together first and see how we got on. If it worked we could talk about a contract. I thought that was really fair and it worked so well. When she gave advice I didn’t get wounded by it; I wasn’t a young person desperate for validation, I was ready to learn and grateful for the education.

‘I also got my friend Mark [Deans], who grew up in Ladywell with me, to do the front cover, then we had to pitch that as well. Julianne asked him to do thirty versions but then we went with the first one he did.’

The Chair

Now, while also completing his Masters, Aidan is also working on the follow-up to Euphoric Recall, a novel this time. He says, “The first book was my story, but this time it’s the story of my pals. It’s about how men, who can’t even tell each other what they’re feeling, would happily take a baseball bat to the heid for each other. That’s what I want to express in this novel.” 

The novel is almost finished, just a chapter and a bit to go, before Aidan starts getting it ready to send out to publishers and begin the process all over again. It will be set in the early 2000s, in West Lothian, “with the lad culture, the drug culture and the trance scene,” he said. “But it’s not going to be like anything I’ve seen before, I want it to stand out, I want to do my own thing with this.” 

As well as writing, followers of Aidan on social media (@aidanauthor on Instagram and Twitter) will have seen another project he’s working on: The Chair. He says, “So, the story behind The Chair is that I was looking to do a promo video for the book, I just needed something I could circulate on social media. 

‘I spoke to my friend Barrie Mulligan, a local guy, and said I had an idea for a photo shoot of me sitting on a computer chair but outside. He said he liked the idea but a computer chair is shit, we needed a proper fuckin’ chair – he sends me a photo of this Chesterfield and says this is what you need to be sitting in for it. That’s why he’s the photo guy and I’m the writer. 

‘Then Barrie just goes and buys the chair, gets it shipped from England, and we start looking at ideas for the photo shoot. Then I thought, what if we don’t make it about me? What if we made it about the local community and ask other people to sit in the chair. What if we make it a podcast where I’m talking to local people – they could be artists or people involved in local projects or anyone wanting to raise awareness of something…

‘Now, we’re making a series of mini documentaries, about all these different people sitting in the chair, talking, telling their stories. We’re starting it here in Livingston, we want to celebrate the people from here, but we’ll see where it goes from there.’

You can buy Euphoric Recall direct from the publisher. Find Part Two of this interview here.

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