This interview has also been posted at my new blog home http://IdeasCaptured.com/blog. Please go and follow me there.
Greg is a great new friend that lives in the same country as I do, which I am finding rarer and rarer in the cyber-world. He has been great to talk to and even recently liked a photo of my home-made pizza. Got to love that.
Greg Barron’s first novel ‘Rotten Gods’ received rave reviews for its style and story. In fact, here is one of the newest ones.
‘A searing critique of Western greed and consumerism; of the atrocities committed in the name of some deity or another; and of action and suspense there is no shortage.’ ‘What makes Rotten Gods so compelling is the originality of the plot, the intelligence of the writing, the believability of the setting and the electrifying pace with which the author constructs his story.’ ‘Rotten Gods is a superlative political thriller, with a cast of characters who swarm across the pages, leaving death and destruction in their wake as well as questions of right and wrong and moments of love and remorse.’ Rob Minshull, host of ABC Radio’s Weekend Bookworm
Greag will also be appearing at the Crime and Justice Festival. Melbourne, November 16 – 18 with Ian Rankin.
Whilst he is busy on his second, he took some time out to give this interview.
What genre would you like to write a book in (that you haven’t yet)?
To me the holy grail is when you become so good at what you do, that publishers and booksellers no longer have to market you within a genre. That you become a genre of your own. Bryce Courtenay. Stephen King. They are no longer historical fiction or horror, but sit apart from other books. Having said that, I am keen to blend historical fiction and thrillers.
Where do your ideas come from? Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to you as a whole construct?
No formulas, ever. My ideas come in bits and pieces. Often from reading, research, travel, or just everyday life. Sometimes the strangest little detail. A historical fact that doesn’t make sense. Extraordinary selflessness or courage. Forbearance. Sacrifice. It’s all out there, and one thing is for sure, I’ll never run out of novel ideas. I have them stacked up in my mind. Some probably aren’t very good, and will never get past a few chapters, but others will go all the way.
I should add at this stage that even though Rotten Gods is my first published novel, I have been writing for many years and have seven or eight other manuscripts in my bottom drawer. If you want to read the whole story you can find it at http://gregbarron.com/resources/my-writing-journey/
When you start a new story, do you have a title for it? Does that trigger the story?
The title usually comes much later. With Rotten Gods I had been working on the book for a couple of years before I thought of that title, and it definitely brought a new focus to my writing, helped me decide exactly what I was trying to write.
Occasionally the title comes early, usually for shorter novels that are quite coherent from the start.
Are movies of books ruining the book?
No, some movies actually provide publicity for the book. They are a very different medium, and can only rarely present characters and situations in as much detail as a book, which is often why readers are disappointed in the screen version.
Do you see ebooks threatening traditional publishing?
No, I see ebooks as a new outlet for traditional publishing. There are obviously concerns, such as piracy, but there will always be a place for professionally edited and published works, and trad publishers are a brand that people can trust to deliver that. Trad published ebooks will continue side by side with self published ebooks, but, I imagine, at a higher price point.
I think increasingly sophisticated smartphones are a bigger threat to publishing than ebooks. They are mobile entertainment devices, and fill in some of the time people used to read.
Do you prefer to read established authors or debut authors? How do you choose which ones to read?
I read both, but tend to read debut authors when I’ve met or connected with on social media. In general, I read books recommended by friends, or that I’ve read positive reviews for.
I buy books. Probably twenty or more a year. Every author and aspiring author should buy books, in print or ebook form. That’s what makes the whole thing work.
Do you have a group of people that you show a new story to? How much impact can they have on the whole story?
Yes, I have a number of friends and relatives who are good readers and some also have expertise in specific areas. One was in the navy for many years, owns a yacht and is an expert navigator. One is a doctor. Mostly I am just looking for their reaction to the story, some general comments about what they liked and what grated on them.
Their impact on the overall story is not huge, but it can be vital. The skill of storytelling is mainly in the little things, and readers help get those little things right.
Do you set yourself a word limit for each book?
The three novels I am doing for HarperCollins are supposed to be 130 000 words each. Rotten Gods was 133 000, and the second book, tentatively titled The Savage Tide, is currently 136 500 words. I have written several around 70 000 words, but I find that ‘big concept’ books take much longer than that to develop properly
Do you have a target each day?
Yes. If I’m writing a first draft and I have all day to work I aim for 2000 words. Sometimes, if I’m on fire I’ll go a little further but generally stop by 2500 words as I find that the quality of my prose drops off after that. On days where I have work or family commitments I will try to get about 700 to 1000 words down. Sometimes just grabbing ten or fifteen minutes here and there.
When I’m editing later drafts I will put in up to twelve hours at my desk. Obsessively trying to get it right. Having a family and working a part time day job makes this hard, but those ‘outside’ elements give you fuel, and that’s important too.
Do you write constantly or have breaks between books?
I write constantly. I finish a draft and work on something else, usually the next book, straight away. My two week publicity tour in July, when Rotten Gods came out was the longest period I have not written consistently in well over a decade. That was hard. I felt guilty. It took a few weeks to get back into my full writing routine.
Do you have characters running around your head? Do they dictate events and their histories to you?
They do run around in my head. Dorothea Brande says you should find a quiet place, close your eyes, let your characters run loose in your head for a while, then go to your desk and write down what they did. I’ve tried this once or twice, but generally I sit at the keyboard and take on my character’s persona, whichever one has the Point-of-View at that stage, and I slow their pace to my rate of typing, which is not that fast.
What is your biggest (self-imposed) time waster?
Twitter and Facebook, but they are also great networking tools. Using them is fine. Obsessively checking them is a time waster, and sometimes I’m prone to do that. My latest technique is to allow myself a little peek at social media on the hour, every hour. That works pretty well for me, though when the writing comes hard, any distraction will do. When the writing is going really well, I’m too focussed to stop.
Do you remember the first time you saw your book in a shop?
June 29 this year, on the shelves at Dymocks Coffs Harbour as I arrived for a book signing. It was an exciting moment, but nowhere near as exciting as strangers writing to tell me how much they loved the book. For people to have really connected with the world you so painstakingly created, that is such a huge buzz.
I’m still dying to find someone reading it on a beach or a train.
Do you read other people’s writing?
I read fiction and non fiction every day, the balance depending on whether I am heavily researching at the time. I do occasionally read unpublished writing by friends who want me to have a look, and I am happy to do so provided it’s not too long, and they can wait until I have the time. No one has yet asked me to read a novel length unpublished work, and I would probably do so to return the favour to friends who have done so for me.
Would you read mine?
Er, how long is it?