September 27, 2012

interview with indie author Graham Guy

Today, I have an interview with Graham Guy, fellow indie author:

So, who is Graham Guy?

After a series of bizarre and improbable coincidences threw me into the world of film-making I soon realised that in order to make films I would have to have scripts.  Despite having no intentions of ever becoming a writer I therefore started producing occasional screenplays, some of which I then turned into either short or full-length films.  Several people asked me if writing was where I saw my career going, but I continued to deny this, insisting that my writing was only a means to a more film-related end.  When, however, it was pointed out to me that with more than a dozen screenplays to my name and a fair number of short stories (along with the occasional poem) my insistence that I was not a writer was starting to look a bit implausible I finally admitted to myself that maybe I was a writer, and maybe I actually enjoyed it.

A couple of the screenplays that I had written turned out to be more suited to the book format than film, and so as an experiment I took the basis of one of these - Through the Square Window - and re-wrote it from scratch into my first novel.  Much to my surprise it was received well and people actually started buying it, so I started writing more.  My second book “AB: Abnocto Bibere” was published in Jan 2012 and I’m now working on the next two. 

Although it may not sound like an ideal training ground for a writer who pens stories about vampires, a background in engineering, science, and quality assurance, has proven invaluable.  I am very used to analysing things to find out how they work then writing about them in a way that people can (hopefully) understand.  Even my old school motto “Know the Reason” helped to drum this into me and it’s how I approach everything.

The genres I like to read are also the ones I like to write.  I grew up on Agatha Christie, Arthur C Clarke, and Isaac Asimov, so perhaps Crime and Sci-Fi / Fantasy is not too surprising.  I try to keep my writing accessible and relatively light as not everyone wants to read the ‘darkest’ or the ‘most shocking’ book ever, but that’s not to say that I don’t challenge a few conventions along the way.  Some of my writing has already started to garner controversy, and to be honest I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How did you get started as a writer?

Other than a few short stories I wrote for myself when I was still at school, my first real attempt to do any serious writing was when I started to get involved in making films.  I soon worked out that in order to make any sort of meaningful film I would have to have a script, so I started to teach myself how to write them and what conventions to follow.  I had written a few when people started asking me if I was planning on concentrating on the writing side of things but I assured them that I had no intention of ever becoming a writer and that my scripts were simply a means to an end.  Of course by the time I'd written more than a dozen scripts, a fair number of short stories that came from ideas not really script-worthy, and a large pile of outlines, the whole 'not being a writer' thing was starting to wear a bit thin, so I began to admit to everyone - and myself - that maybe I was really interested in writing after all.

This had two immediate effects.  Firstly I started to take my script writing more seriously and almost immediately became better at it.  I stopped writing scripts that were simply intended to (hopefully) look good on film and started writing scripts that looked good on the page.  The other thing was that I started to seriously consider writing a novel.  I had always shied away from anything of that length before, but I knew I could write shorts, and I knew I could plot for feature films, so why not give it a try?  I started with a story that had never quite worked as a script as it was more television series than film, and over a couple of months at the end of 2010 I turned it into my first novel.

What was your first complete story (published or otherwise), and what inspired you to write it?

That would have to be something that I wrote whilst I was still at school, and I can't even remember what the title of it was.  I certainly don't have a copy of it any more - and to be honest I'm pretty glad about that as it was awful!  I wrote it when I got my first proper computer, an Acorn Electron which came with a word processor that I think was called View.  I'd never had a word processor before and wanted to use it for something, so I tried to write a short story.  I suppose these days it would be called Fan Fiction as it was based loosely in the same universe as a Sci-Fi story I had read, but like I said... it was awful.

Whilst answering this question I went back and had a look at the early stuff I wrote whilst teaching myself to write scripts.  The first completed short story I can find since then was written back in 2008 and was called The Lecture.  That one was inspired by a discussion on scientific research methods and someone questioning what was valid to research and what was not.

Why did you decide to self-publish your work?

Initially I have to admit that the decision was purely a practical one.  Like many first-time authors I was pretty convinced that no-one would like what I had written and so the chances of getting it published through the traditional route were slim to none.  Fortunately by the time I was ready with my book the self-publishing route had just started to become accessible, and so the idea of publishing without the traditional outlay of having to buy hundreds of paperbacks on the off chance that someone might buy them was very attractive.  I thought it would be worth a try, and found to my amazement that people actually liked what I wrote.

Now I understand the process a lot better I know I made the right choice back then, and that I will continue to make the same choice in the future.  By self-publishing you get to keep a better percentage of the royalties, but that's not all of it.  You get to keep control of your work.  You know exactly how much effort you are putting in to marketing it and publicising it because you are doing it yourself.  You can write what you want without a publisher trying to guide you or dictate what you can and can't write about.  Of course not having a publisher does mean that you're out on your own if it all goes wrong, and that you are the only one you can blame if your marketing isn't good enough, but at my stage in my writing career it really feels like the right option.

I won't say never, but right now I can't see myself doing anything other than self-publishing  for the foreseeable future.

What is your favourite part about writing?

It's a clich├ęd answer I know, but the thing I really enjoy is the chance to get inside a character for a while and do things I couldn't do in my normal life. 

What inspires your writing?

Simple answer... everything.  I might hear someone ask an unusual question, or see a headline on the news.  I might watch a film and think that although the writer had found a really good story, there might be a better one in there somewhere if we changed the point of view.  When I wrote Shuttle the news was all about the final flight of the space shuttle Atlantis.  We all knew how the mission was supposed to go and what was supposed to happen, but what if things had not quite gone according to plan?  The Lecture was the result of someone trying to tell me that being a scientist meant discounting all the crazy and concentrating on what we know to be true.   I get inspiration from everywhere, I just don't have the time to write it all down.

Do you have any advice for writers planning to self-publish?

Firstly, don't let anyone convince you that self-publishing is second rate.  To be honest I'd almost like to see the term 'self-published' disappear out of use and be replaced by something like 'micro-publisher', but I suspect we are stuck with it for a while.  Some people seem to think that self publishing is what you do only when you can't find a 'real' publisher to take you seriously.  Ignore them.  Self-publishing is just like traditional publishing, only the catalogues tend to be smaller.

Secondly, don't rush it.  Only publish your book when you know it's ready.  If you haven't got a professional editor then find a friend that will read it through critically and cover it in red ink.  You might have to shop around a bit amongst your friends to find the one that isn't afraid to tell you what's rubbish and what's good, and anyone who hands you back a manuscript with no red pen or sticky notes probably didn't do their job properly, but a second (or third) opinion is essential.

Thirdly, check your work on your target platform.  This may sound obvious but I've read a number of ebooks by new authors where the book itself was fine but the formatting on the page was truly awful.  It makes what might be a gripping page-turner into an annoyance best avoided, and any readers will probably never buy another of your books again.  So if you are writing for Kindle then beg, borrow, or steal (ok, not steal, but you get the idea) a Kindle and download the files to it before you send it to Amazon.  Then read it.  Properly.  And check to see if every time your characters speak they say something like “Hello”; instead of 'Hello.' because your software got the character set wrong.

How does your experience with film-making affect your writing?

That's an interesting question as they are both very different things but strangely related.  Teaching myself to write scripts certainly helped me work out ways of getting plots in order and everything to make sense especially as scripts are far more compact than prose and so it is easier to spot inconsistencies and continuity errors.  Having said that they are almost entirely centred around dialogue and are written in the present tense so you get no chance at all to work on your descriptive techniques.  You learn about character-driven plotting very early on or your scripts make no sense and you find out how to make dialogue sound real (hint... read it out loud, and carefully listen for the contractions, pauses, and inflections that happen without thinking).

The actual film making process also helped, although I didn't really realise that until you asked the question.  Before you film a scene, before you even turn up on set, you have to know what the set will look like.  You start with the bare dialogue and work out what the audience will be looking at in the background, where the lighting will be, what the characters will be wearing and how they will be standing.  All that information can be put into a book just as well as through the lens of a camera, and so by thinking in terms of what would interest the viewers at the cinema can also provide the backdrop or the environment to your prose.  Someone once said that they preferred radio to television because the pictures were better, and the same can be true of books.  Describe the scene as if you are filming it, and let the reader fill in the detail and the colours with their mind's eye.

Do you think you'll ever go back to writing scripts rather than novels?

I never really stopped.  At the moment I'm not writing any scripts because I have no plans for any film projects in the immediate future, but I do have something lined up for WebTV, and I may well start writing for that fairly soon.

When you aren’t writing, what do you do?

I do so many things that this is actually a surprisingly tricky question to answer.  I'm a regulatory and quality consultant for a large corporate; I take photographs, sometimes at events where people pay me, and sometimes of girls in waterfalls where people do not; I make films - I'm working on my third feature so far, all very low budget indie films that are unlikely to see much of a release but were fun to make and taught me a lot; I build things, including a boat which is now sitting on my front lawn.  Recreationally I run, dance, play occasional musical instruments, and when my other boat isn't broken I go dinghy sailing.  Basically I'm quite busy, but I enjoy (almost) every minute of it.

What is one random or strange fact about you?

I lived in a tent in south Wales for almost a year once.  I was on a contract down there and it was by far the best accommodation option, although it was a bit chilly in the winter when the canvas froze solid.

Any books or projects you want to plug?

I have two books out now on Kindle, with another couple due soon.

Through the Square Window is a crime drama, and is the first of a series featuring Detective Inspector Peter French.

AB: Abnocto Bibere is a story about vampires, and what it might be like to be turned into one even though you don't believe they exist (this will probably change its name soon as no-one can spell it).

In progress now and coming soon are Painting by Numbers (the second DI Peter French) and an as-yet untitled Sci-Fi/Fantasy epic where science and magic collide.

You can find more about Graham at and on his Google+ page.

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