Welcome to my weekly slot – Author Interviews.
This is where I look at the person behind the novel and gain some valuable insight on being a writer.
This week I am very excited (air punching) as author and blogger Geoff Le Pard is sat in my red chair.
If you have not checked out his blog please do so, it is an excellent read with a coffee!
1. Tell me about yourself and the book / books you have written?
I’ve managed to achieve nirvana and call myself a writer but it has been the usual struggle to get my head aligned with reality. Before that I wrote reams and reams of dully repetitive screed whose sole purpose was to send the reader to sleep – I was a commercial lawyer – now I hope my prose keeps people awake and ready to turn/swipe the page.
At this point I have written and published 2 books, I have another 4 completed in draft form, one of which is just back from the editor pre publication, 3 more three quarters finished and a book of short stories I wrote during nano last year that have been edited and which I need to review to publish.
2. When did you write your first book?
July to November 2006
3. How long did it take to write your first book?
First draft, 4 months; I’m still editing it.
4. What was your motivation to write your first book?
Oh, that’s really interesting. Well to me, anyway. My wife used to take our children to a summer school at Marlborough College. They run dozens of courses for all ages and the three of them had fun. In 2006, both children had offers to holiday with friends during the chosen week – my wife wanted to go because the course she had spotted on printing suited her artistic plans. ‘Why don’t you come?’ Generally I stayed at work, ploughing the legal furrow. I didn’t have hobbies beyond some exercise, gardening and watching sport and reading. ‘Try creative writing’ she said. I did. In a week we wrote a ten minute radio play. For that final piece we had to come up with five titles and a line of synopsis and the others chose what we wrote. One title and synopsis – Right to Roam – was a buddy story of three friends who walk the Cotswold way together to reignite their old friendship. It wasn’t chosen but was my favourite. The week after Marlborough, we took a cottage in Devon and our returning brood brought two friends each for a fabulous week. In the evenings they sat in the hot tub or dominated the DVD player, my wife made a quilt and I sat at my computer and typed out a first sentence and then a few more. I was hooked. It just flowed. Months later, when I had begun a second book someone asked why I started writing by which they meant, why now? I didn’t have an answer. My wife smiled her knowing smile. She pointed out that a year before my father died. My father wrote poetry and prose and was the family laureate. It was the thing he was most proud of. Could I have done something that might have seemed like competition – the two of us were highly competitive. I wonder. Maybe a psychologist might have a view.
5. What writing issues did you encounter along the way and how did you overcome them?
My job was time demanding. Rarely did I get home back then before 9/10 pm and I’d need 12 hours over each weekend to do other work – management and financial work – that I couldn’t squeeze into the week. And when not at the coal face (all these silly analogies, sorry) I thought about work things a lot. So finding the time was crucial. I’d come home and sit with my wife and eat; we would talk about our days and then I’d open my laptop and type until midnight and fall into bed. It was the best way to remove work thoughts from my head. I did a fair bit of travelling; sitting on a plane, previously, gave me time to prepare for whatever meetings I had. Now I wrote and winged a few too many meetings. Oddly I didn’t really encounter any writing issues; I had no idea what I was doing. I evolved a method that suited the constraints I had and made it work. That’s always been me and one of the best things about a legal career; it makes you very practical with how to manage time and process.
6. Did you go through any bad writing patches during writing your book – what kept you going?
If I look at the first book I published – Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle – it aims to be a comedic coming of age story. It had autobiographical notes ( in the same way a wine has notes when you taste it – or so I’m told). Writing comedy, things that make people laugh, comes reasonably easy to me but to do that successfully over a novel length work is hard and that’s because the funnies must support and enhance the plot and not just be grafted on. The reader isn’t buying a joke book. So I had to excise some scenes that were brilliant (well, they were ok) because they just acted as a brake on the novel. It was a constant fight to allow the story to develop at pace. The other issue with comedy is the pieces have to work like a beautifully Swiss watch, each cog clicking into the next. Sometimes the funnies needed oiling. And finally I love my characters but I often fail to describe them sufficiently differently to enable the readers to remember who they are, to differentiate between them – I even find myself starting their names with the same letter. I will always fight those failings.
7. Are you a plotter or do you just write / see what happens?
70% pantser. I’ve thought about why a lot. I think my legal training makes me a natural pantser. If you have, say, a commercial agreement of 100 plus pages and 70 plus separate clauses you need to be able to understand what a change in one place does to all the rest. You have to learn to hold the whole structure in your head. Over 30 years you do that. Bit like me wondering how Benedict Cumberbatch can learn all those lines. It’s a technique and I’ve done the 10,000 hours.
8. What is the best thing about being a writer?
Oh goodness. Creating something tangible and lasting that is just my work. Everything else I’ve done that is creative has either had the input of someone else or is ephemeral
9. What is the worst thing about being a writer?
Working on your own and not really being able to explain to anyone else what it involves and where you are at any one time. I suppose it is the point where glorious solitude tips into gut gnawing loneliness
10. Have you ever considered quitting writing and if so how have you worked through this?
Nope, never. I came to it late (just before I turned 50) and I ain’t stopping now
11. What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Up at 7.30, check emails over breakfast. Think about writing. Get domestic and plan food for evening (I do the cooking most evenings). Reply to urgent emails, things I’ve promised. Walk Dog – my muse and shop for food (I prefer to get what I need on the day). Return home and open laptop. Try and check other blogs I follow and be disciplined to limit time spent. Fail. Start to write in pm, probably for between 1 to 3 hours if other stuff doesn’t intervene. Cook. Maybe watch a catch up programme with wife – no more than 1 hour. 8 pm start to write seriously. Find it’s 12.30 and I need to go to bed. Debate with wife who makes final cup of tea/waters Dog. Bed by 1 am. Dream big, dream often. Repeat
12. Do you suffer from procrastination and if so how do you handle it?
Another issue with being a lawyer is prioritising what needs to be done rather than doing what you’d like to do. I’m good at shovelling the sh*t out of the way and getting on with stuff. So if I see I’m avoiding writing a scene or finishing a read through I bollock myself. I tell my wife about it so someone else will ask me if I’ve done what I need to do (she acts like a really annoyed client for these purposes) and that has worked so far.
13. Which is more important – plot or characters and why?
Characters are critical to enjoying a good book but without a great plot I couldn’t give a toss about a well drawn character. If they are multi dimensional people where nothing happens then it is not for me. Anne Tyler for instance is a great crafter of characters but geez are some of her books dull. Nothing happens. I’ve tried three and loved one. Nope that sort of stuff isn’t for me. I can forgive a wooden one dimensional character if the plot is great but not vice versa. But even here I’d be unlikely to go back to read the follow up if the characters don’t work well.
14. What have been your 3 biggest learnings during your writing career?
The first draft is maybe 10% of getting a book right. There is only one rule – there are no rules, whether it’s show don’t tell or whatever. Once you ask someone else to read your book it is no longer yours. Always listen to what someone says doesn’t work in your book: they are 90% likely to have found something; never listen to what someone says about how to correct a problem: they are 90% likely to be absolutely wrong. That’s four, sorry.
15. How do you manage social media as a writer?
Badly. I read too many other blogs and waste writing time. But I love it so it is a small indulgence for a man who, frankly, is living a week of Saturdays.
16. Do you have any tips or advice for budding aspiring authors?
Just write. Don’t over analyse, don’t compare. It doesn’t matter if the first thing is rubbish. Diamonds are shit until cut and polished. Meet up with writers and share. You will learn.
17. Do you suffer from writer’s block and if so how do you overcome?
No, not yet. I do get stuck on plots from time to time but so far I’ve always had a window out of which my trapped hero can escape.
18. Do you ever think of the next book whilst writing?
Heavens, yes. I’m working on three things as we speak. I can’t not.
19. What do you wear to write?
Cheese and coffee stains.
Yay great interview answers Geoff Le Pard! I really enjoyed that!
I LOVE the writing analogy about diamonds being shit until cut and polished. I just need to keep cutting and polishing – sigh!
I love the sound of your writing day.
I agree about the need for good and strong characters. Even though I have always shied away from bold and interesting characters I am going round to the idea.
Thank you so much!
Next week Don Massenzio takes a seat in my chair.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/79577679@N00/5448848999″>the chair in the attic</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>