Graham Whittaker asked for friendship on Facebook and the decision to grant him entrance was the Hippy Flowered Van that just happens to be on the book I am in the midst of reading. Once a Hippie always a Hippie – atleast in attitude of an overwhelming joy of life. His answers reflect what I expected
1.When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Answer: I was nine years old when I submitted a story to Enid Blyton. Every year I got one of her annuals for Christmas. She wrote a lovely letter back telling me that writing was a ‘noble art’. Hooked from that day on!
2.How long does it take you to write a book?
Answer: Oh! Heavens! I have books in my “trunk” as Stephen King puts it, that have been languishing there for twenty years! One of the great joys in life is to empty a tea-chest out, look at all the bits and pieces, jottings and beginnings, and think ‘Maybe it’s time for this one”. Research though, is everlasting! I travel and take photographs. The photographs often become the catalyst for the story. It might be a colourful lady in Cuba, or a child who has dropped their ice-cream. My methods can be a bit odd. I put photographs into a ‘story board’ and jot notes below them. Though the ‘plot’ may be in my head from the beginning, the photographs give me depth, and place. Setting can be so important for me. Then, given a tiny bit of peace, and ALWAYS pencil and paper, I usually write the guts of a book in about six weeks. Then it goes away in a box for several months to ripen, and be read at a later date. Books for me just happen.
3.What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Answer. I usually get up at about 7am, and write until about 3pm every day. Sundays are just writing days as usual. A day will end up with a 64 page hard-covered notebook filled with unintelligable scrawl, which I throw aside and follow on with another notebook. It is an undisciplined method, and my writing can be impossible to read even for me! There are more and more times these days when I have entire chapters in my head at 2am and there is no reason NOT to get up and write them.
4.What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Answer: Quirk? Oh! Lord! I’m told that I have many! One in particular is trying out dialogue out loud, often involving several characters. So I might be rabbiting away (often in dialect). Probably the most commented on is sentence structure. As a young man I read just about every Mickey Spillane book available. I loved his way of writing so much that I wrote a fan letter, (as one does). I loved the way he wrote. “The curtains moved. My gun was on the table. Too far. That’s when someone turned out the lights.” Short, tight, writing in a similar manner to the simplicity of Hemmingway. But then there is the ‘romance’ which seems to require longer, flowing sentences, with peaks and troughs as is the case with lovemaking. Yes, I suppose that must be quirky.
5.How do books get published?
Answer: In the USA alone there are between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published each year. Half of those are self-published, and they sell on average, about 250 copies each. From 2009 to 2018 the number of books published has tripled. Traditional publishers are now becoming more demanding of their writers. They expect much more from the author in terms of marketing, getting out to talk and entertain, visiting libraries, and getting interviewed on radio and TV. This is a bit of a problem for many because writing is solitary. Nowadays unless you are dead lucky as E.L. James was, (and perhaps Joanne Rowling too,) it is rare to be offered a half-way decent deal from a big trad publisher. Even less chance if you are not prepared to self-promote. I have seen writers with gofundme pages. I do strongly disagree with this, but it is a valid methodology I suppose. Just not for me. My books now are published by Th’Ink Tank Publishing in Australia. Th’Ink Tank began as The Ink Tank some twenty or so years ago, and has published most of my work since then. As with most small imprints, they struggle, but at least I get to write and even get paid now and again.
6.Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Answer: As Douglas Adams might have put it: Life, The Universe, and Everything!
7.When did you write your first book and how old were you?
Answer: My first book was not a published work. It was a home-made book created from a Christmas present. It was a hardback ‘book” with blank pages. I carefully wrote until it was full of ‘bits’. Poetry, paragraphs, ideas, stories, and photographs that I described in detail for my career. I was convinced I would have a career of course! It was for my mum, and when she died at the grand age of 96 five years ago, it was still in her box of treasures. My most successful work! Writing though became a career when I was 22 having served seven years in the RN. (Left school at the earliest opportunity). At the age of 13 I began work in our local newsagency in a small town in Yorkshire, The owner was also the local newspaper publisher and he sent me out on ‘hatch, match, and dispatch’ stories. From then on I wanted to be a journalist.
8.What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Answer: Bliss out! I take my camera out with me and photograph anything that looks like it has a story to it. Including macro pictures of insects, children playing in water fountains, and old couples helping one another to traverse the warm soft grass in the park. I travel a lot. Masses! Travel is everything, and it always makes for wonderful stories. Last year I spent some time in Cuba at Hemmingway’s house, in a state of pleasurable wonder at the work of the great man and how he wrote. I am an author’s fan! Whether it be Emile Zola or Tolstoy, or James Joyce, I study and read their work voraciously. (As with Dean Koontz and Stephen King, and Kathy Reichs, and …. oh! You get the picture!.)
9.What does your family think of your writing?
Answer: My son wants nothing of an inheritance except my tea chests! My partner of 20+ years now is a wonderful editor and inspiration, who brings me endless cups of tea, and sandwiches.
10.What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Answer: Editing is a difficult job and should be exeptionally well-paid. Sadly it is not, and books even by trad publishers are littered with spelling and grammatical errors, and even continuity errors. Because my partner is an editor, I can discuss freely my thoughts and intentions. Sadly that is not the case for many people. It surprises me that good proofreaders and good editors garner so little respect. They are who make our books readable!
11.How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
Answer: Probably about fourteen of my own, but ghostwriting and advertising promotional books and pamphlets would take it into the hundreds. To be perfectly honest my most favourite piece was a 48 page advertising book about how bees make honey. It was called “None of Your Beeswax!” It paid very well. My second favourite book went into over 40 reprints and was little more than a book on how to purchase and leverage Real Estate. It was called “Real Facts” and was created for a Real Estate Agency called L.J. Hooker.
12.Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Answer: I don’t have one. All I could ever say to anyone is Be a Storyteller! Forget about grammar, spelling, and all that other stuff people say you should do. Just tell the story and get a GREAT editor. If you want to publish with a small press, then talk to them personally about the work and write a decent synopsis. I don’t always go with the adage that one should only write what you know. My method is often to use photographs that spike my interest. It might be a period piece. If so, what is s/he wearing? Is she married or stepping out with the person with her or him? Are the children theirs or are they simply carers? Why has that Pelican got a fish hook through it’s beak? Oh look! There is a one-legged seagull! These are all ‘snippets’ and I would say keep a small dictaphone or notebook handy. Or even a smartphone. When something happens to grab your attention, make a record of it. You will probably need it sometime.