The Life of a Fabulist
1. What led you into writing?
Well, for as long as I can remember, I've always had a love for stories and storytelling. It was my favourite part of school, my favourite pastime at home, and the best part of going to bed. Then I started writing (and drawing) my own stories. I recall one of the earliest things I created was a comic book whilst I was at Junior School. It was full of silly tales and adventures featuring the teachers and my fellow pupils. This kind of thing developed at Senior School. I loved English lessons, particularly the creative writing aspect. And I even penned a few comic book adventures about Doctor Who, sending them off to the show's producer (John Nathan Turner) and getting autographs and the letter equivalent of a pat on the head back. I guess it just all blossomed from there.
2. How does a typical day look?
My day always starts early with making a tea for my wife and sorting the animals - feeding the sheep, and then out walking the dog for a couple of hours. Sometimes we see a fellow dog walker, sometimes not, and when I don't it's a great way to mull over ideas, problems, that kind of thing. I always have a notebook with me just in case. And the dog's a great listener - never criticises! Once I'm back home, after breakfast and the what-not, it's into the study. Now, I'm a dreadful procrastinator without a deadline, so I won't necessarily start writing or editing straight away. Usually it's an internet rabbit hole for a bit. Then it's on to writing (by hand for first drafts, or directly to the Mac for journalism and copy editing). I'll break for some food and to play with the dog at some point, maybe have a little snooze. I tend to stop around 5pm, sort the dog, and then start preparing the evening meal.
3. What helps you to write?
I am very inspired by visuals, more so than words I'd say, and I mean stills, films, paintings, that kind of thing. I write in a very visual way, too, which I guess comes from my film background. I think scenes rather than chapters. And one of my favourite forms of research and inspiration is Pinterest. I collect images on mood boards - you know, scenery, characters, costumes, settings, artefacts, props and then I'll do the same physically. I use a white cupboard double door at home in my study as my mood board and then I plaster it with a breakdown of my story using images and index cards with key events in a particular chapter, character breakdowns, that kind of thing.
4. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Now, that's a "how long is a piece of string?" question. Research can go on forever. And if it's a subject you are truly captivated by (and if it isn't, then why the hell are you writing about it?), the research is an utter joy, that rabbit hole again, one you can and will lose yourself down. But research takes the form of books, museums, articles, trawling the internet, visiting locations, photographs, films. So many avenues to explore. The trick is knowing when to stop researching and when to start writing. But, the better the research, the richer the story.
5. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Well, I know Ben Kane (he writes superb historical adventures - Roman and Crusades), and even though I don't see him that often, we always have a good banter when we do. And he helps me become a better writer because he's so bloody annoying, so bloody dedicated and disciplined. He's Stephen King to my George R R Martin.
6. What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I'd say focusing on too many projects rather than knuckling down and finishing one. (And, yes, I do still suffer from that at times). Also focusing on getting an agent, or getting a publisher before you've written and finished your book is a big mistake. Worrying about what is to come rather than what you are doing in the now. Not researching your subject, not stopping researching your subject, procrastinating, losing focus, and bad dialogue.
7. How do you wind down?
I love cooking - I find it so meditative. I bake my own bread by hand, too, and that is really therapeutic. I watch too many films and old TV shows, and I indulge in football and field hockey (watching, not playing, not anymore) when they're on - in particular tournaments, like the World Cup or the Olympics. And a bit of FIFA, as well. I love my music, and try and see live bands when I can. And I always have a book on the go, which I take time to read for a bit last thing at night no matter what.