Interview slots are now closed until September 1st, when I am opening the slots up for author book release and promotions.
Geoff is one of my favourite bloggers. I had the pleasure of meeting Geoff… actually I can’t remember how, but I am sure he can tell me, he has an astonishing capacity for remembering… well, everything actually. He tells fascinating tales of his and his families history on his blog… He also gives teasers for his books, blogs a novel in instalments. He is also a prolific weekly writing challengee, and without trying to give him a big head, he really is rather witty and a real advocate for the writing community, you simply must go look…
Geoff, what are you currently working on?
I always have a lot on the go. Right now I am in the final throes of preparing my second book for publication. It is called God Bothering but the title seems to confuse people so I may change it. Alongside that I’m writing a novel that I post weekly chapters on my blog – Buster and Moo – which needs constant vigilance; I have a third novel that I will thoroughly edit once God Bothering is out there – the aim is to have Salisbury Square ready for publication this year sometime; I started a novel that has a time line alongside the London 2012 Olympics – it starts when the bid is won and ends at the opening ceremony – it is called Legacy and is half written and I’d like to take that forward; and then there is my Nano 2014, a sequel to my first book and I’d love to get back to that this year too. Something will have to give!
When and how do your characters come to you? Is it in a moment of inspiration, an epiphany? Or do they grow in some murky recess of your mind?
I suppose there’s no one way. With my first book, Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle the lead, Harry Spittle came in a flash on an Arvon course when I needed to write something to hand to the tutor. I wanted humour and wrote a scene where he comes on his sister and her boyfriend having sex in a gazebo. His appalled reaction sets him up pretty instantly. By contrast the main female character in God Bothering has taken ages to come right. Sometimes the name comes first; in Salisbury Square two characters – Jerzy Komoza and George Storgen – are conglomerate names of people I came across in other contexts and their names helped me settle their characters.
There’s an acceptance that authors often write in traits or characteristics of themselves into their work, you have several books, is there any part of you in any of your characters?
Oh sure. In Dead Flies the hero is 19, back from university to a dull summer in the recesses of the New Forest. It’s 1976 and he has three aspirations: to make money, to get away and to have sex. That sums up my life back then. The rest of the novel is complete fiction.
To buy this book – contact Geoff Direct – every penny it makes goes to charity 🙂
How do you develop your characters? Do you let them brew in your subconscious, use character interview sheets, or something completely different?
I’m a brewer. I sketch them out in my head and write some dialogue. It is their dialogue that gets them going for me. Once I’ve let them loose on the page, god knows where they will take me. I wonder at the number of times I have had a chapter in mind, I start to write it and the characters – or my subconscious – make it clear they have other ideas.
Are you a planner, or free writer?
Very free. I try planning, get quickly bored and start to write. Only when I feel I’m getting lost do I stop, go back, pick up the threads or change them and start forward again. I know writing chapter summaries for instance would be so useful but truly I haven’t the patience.
When you are developing a book, what tools or techniques do you use, e.g. timelines, mood boards, character interviews, scraps of notes?
I read the last couple of chapters and set off again. Occasionally as above, if I’m not happy where things are going I might go back further but generally I pick up the threads quickly and carry on with the story, whose basic structure I have in my head. Take Buster and Moo. I have absolutely no idea how it will end. I’ve a couple of ideas but nothing certain. In the Dead Flies sequel I know the point at which it will end but not what will happen. The characters will let me know soon enough.
Has your technique changed over time?
Not really. The first thing I wrote came from a title. I come up with a simple premise – brother sees sister having sex in a gazebo and I wonder at their relationship. What might happen to them? I begin adding layers. Philip Roth, I think, said he just writes the story outline as quick as he can and then goes back and adds description, dialogue, detail and other plotlines. I’m a bit like that.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Do you actively look for it?
I’ll take it from everywhere but my own personal experience helps. I’ve told you about Dead Flies. Legacy comes out of my time working at the Games plus an insight into prison life from my wife’s volunteering; Salisbury Square is next door to my old office in Fleet Street. I saw a homeless young woman bedding down behind a contractor’s hoarding one evening and wondered at her life. Buster and Moo arose when we acquired our dog from Battersea; he had been handed in because his owners couldn’t keep him. I wondered what would happen if we bumped into those owners sometime and that’s where the book starts.
What kind of an environment do you write in? Day/night/ silence/music/desk/sofa etc
This is my desk and this link my work space. I have a set of Bose speakers that play a random play list from my ipod. Generally I write to female singer song writers from Carly Simon and Karen Carpenter to Florence and the Machine and Adele. I write at all ours but usually late into the night.
I’m 53K words into my first novel, it’s taking over my brain! What advice can you give me on completing it? Or maybe an easier question. What do you wish you had known about writing a book before you started?
Think of it like a marathon. If you’ve never done one it is an enormously long way but it is still on a series of individual steps. Do you know where the book is going? If so then what do you need to get from where you are to the end? Just the basics, nothing fancy. Just write that. Your first draft is your rough-hewn piece of sculpture. It will need countless hours more work but once you have the basic block the rest will follow naturally. If you don’t know where the book is going then write another chapter. Take your characters forward. Somewhere. Anywhere. And if you don’t even know that then introduce a new character or story line and write that. I suspect it is fear that holds people back. It suddenly seems too big, too important. Suddenly you want it to be right first time. You have 53k words and you don’t want to ruin it now. Thing is, your baby is still shit; it needs to do a lot of growing up. It is going to be great but whatever you have now is still dribbling gloop; so whatever you do from now will only help you get to the point where it is great. The more you do now the better it will become and the less you do the crappier it will be. It’s not like by writing more you’ll lose the 53k you have. That’s banked.
What do I wish I’d known? That writing a book is possible. Not easy but open to all who can write a sentence. It’s actually straightforward, just daunting because of the size. But you can walk the marathon; you can do it over a week if you want. Just keep taking each little step and don’t think of the end. I don’t.
The publishing industry is in decline across the board. Do you think things like the Kindle are bridging the gap, is there still the same love for the written word, or is it being diluted by the modern obsession with tech and gadgets?
My kids were not readers until the Potter sensation and then, boom. My daughter still isn’t but my son is though he prefer non-fiction. I barely read anything until I was about ten and nothing of any merit until I was at Uni. Sure there are more distractions but on the tube of a morning so many people are still reading even if a few are on Angry Birds or whatever. Our love of stories is not about to disappear.
50 Shades of Grey author EL James was reported to make around £100k a day at the book’s height, and the upcoming film will make her millions. Do you find it a shame that the most lucrative and famous book franchise of the moment is one so widely derided for its lack of literary value? Or is it just good to have a book going mainstream?
I think it is great she is being read; supposed experts scoffed at Enid Blyton but I loved her Famous Five. Ditto JK Rowling but we all owe her a massive debt of gratitude for introducing a generation to the joys of a big book. I’m pissed off by snobbery. I’ve not read her book, I have no intention but that’s because of the theme not the quality of the writing. It’s an effing book, therefore that’s great. Period. Anything else is just empty kettles rattling on the hob.
If a fascist regime was burning the worlds libraries, what books would you save?
I’d save knowledge not stories. Non-fiction, science, medicine. We can tell each other stories without writing but the freedom from want and disease to the extent we have it now is down to advances in scientific knowledge – the accumulation of wisdom. We stand on the shoulders of giants; let’s not lose their life’s works.
Which publishing route have you taken? Did you always know you were going to go down this route, and if so why?
I did try to find an agent but only halfheartedly. The reason I moved across to Indie so slickly has everything to do with the need to publish. I realized, probably before I began blogging that I would never stop tinkering with Dead Flies (and everything else) unless I found a way to finish it – actually someone said you never finish a book, you just abandon it. By publishing I hoped that I would feel that. And I have. I have so many books written and to be written I had to find a way to stop the tinkering to be able to get to the next one and I have. So Indie for me. For now at least. Never say never.
What do you wish you knew about the publishing process before you started?
That Indie is quite straight-forward and you shouldn’t hold back for fear of how difficult it is. Because really it isn’t.
What is the best advice you could give to aspiring novelists like me? Or what was the best advice you were ever given?
1. You started writing because you had this urge to. Keep that urge alive and don’t let anything in your own head or outside you put you off. Find whatever way works for you to keep writing. You can go back later and polish. 2. Kill your babies. Nothing is so good that cutting it out won’t improve your work. It bloody hurts though. 3. If someone is so kind enough to read your work and offer comments never ever argue with them. EVER. DO NOT JUSTIFY and ONLY EXPLAIN IF THEY WANT YOU TOO. All you are allowed to do is ask questions if you are not sure what they mean but be VERY NICE. They have done you an enormous favour reading your book. Treat them with respect. Because it is not only polite but if they point out something doesn’t work YOU HAVE A PROBLEM you need to fix. Every time. However, and this is just as big. If they offer you a solution, by all means listen but they are almost certainly wrong. Only you know your book well enough to find out where the injury is; the beta reader may be referencing the literary equivalent of reflected pain. Only you will know the source.
Is fanfic to be welcomed as it broadens interaction and the readers experience or a scourge that devalues the ability of an author? I see no problem with it. Sebastian Faulks’ newish Bertie Wooster story – Jeeves and the Wedding Bells – is both a great read and completely in the spirit of the original as well as appealing to a modern readership. Luccia Grey, a lovely and talented blogger, wrote the sequel to Jane Eyre that is fantastic. Both are fan fiction.
I am finding more and more, that writers often have several creative outlets. Do you? Or is writing your one source?
No I just write. I write all sorts but just that. Unless you count cooking? I love that too. And talking. And digging holes in the garden. And smiling. I do a lot of creative smiling.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
2006 at Marlborough College summer school
What authors do you admire, and why?
This is a rotten question. Samuel Trollope, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickins, Arthur C clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, HG Wells, PG Woodhouse, Stella Gibbons, Arthur Conon Doyle, Patrick Hamilton, John Steinbeck, Kingsley Amis, Evelyn Waugh, Grahame Green, Tom Sharpe, William Boyd, Sebastian Faulks, Ian Rankin, Iain Banks, Sarah Paretsky, Dorothy L Sayers, PD James, Sue Townsend, Herge, JK Rowling, John Wyndham… I’m missing so many but the common theme with these authors is I’ve read more than one book and liked at least two.
To find out more about Geoff you can read his author bio below: