Q: Bryan...what made you become a writer?
A: I was working as a product manager for an educational supply company and had to give talks and run workshops on various product ranges; this meant speaking in public. I had, therefore, to write speeches and instruction leaflets. There was also copywriting for some 500 pages of product. If you want to test your vocabulary try writing descriptions for more than two dozen types of tambourine without repeating yourself ad nauseum. In order to keep my presentation skills up to scratch I joined a speakers club and had to make speeches on a regular basis on whatever topic was given to me. To cope with this, my general knowledge needed to be up to date. As I drove all over the country the radio and books on tape and CD were a godsend. When my first granddaughter was born I decided to write a book just for her, and the Sprocket Sagas came into being. Since then three more charming, entertaining and enquiring little people have joined our family--so the first book became four. The fourth, Sprocket and the Heart of the North is due out in eBook and paperback on Amazon soon. Like many authors I have a head full of stories bursting to get out, and writing them down is better than going mad. Some will be good, some bad, and some will run dry partway. I wanted to leave some mark on the world; being too old and bald to be a pop or screen idol, and lacking any talent at any sport I have tried, I gave writing a go.
Q: What is your typical writing day like?
A: I don’t have a typical writing day. I thought when I retired there would be all the time in the world to bring forth a great work of fiction, but with four grandchildren and a wife who is determined that I will not fade quietly away, writing has to be shoe-horned into any available space when my talents are not required elsewhere. I did make one specific effort to keep myself on the straight and narrow: buying a pocket sized notebook computer which I take with me when I walk into the local area center for a coffee. This is a three-pronged effort to raise my level of fitness with a three mile walk, give myself some thinking time away from the distractions of home, and enable me to knock out a thousand words in a comfortable leather chair with a good cup of coffee. I have written three of the Sprocket books this way. As to my state of health? Well, I’m not dead yet!
Q: Do you outline? If so, how extensive are your outlines?
A: Yes, a very vague one. It’s more a timeline into which I add characters as they emerge and on to which I graft their ways, attitudes, back story, likes and dislikes. This has become more necessary as Sprocket became more than one book, and Sea Change has become Look to the Stars and became interplanetary and then intergalactic. Without the timeline and character list, people do things which are out of character and the timeline keeps things in chronological order so that cars don’t arrive before the invention of the wheel.
Q: How many revisions will you typically do on a novel?
A: I never stop. Something which sang on the page when I wrote it can become trite on second or third reading. I find no problem with revising; it’s when to call it a day and consign [the finished product] to Createspace and unleash it on an unsuspecting public.
Q: What is your best tip for editing a manuscript?
A: Give it to someone else. I read and correct as much as I can, but as I can’t spell to save my life and have at best a tenuous grasp on grammar, I have no doubts about my shortcomings. Add to this an ability to read what should be there as opposed to what actually appears on the page and you can see why I wouldn’t dream of letting a raw piece of my musings out unedited by someone else. If you think you are competent to edit your own work, try reading one of those bits of gobbledegook which turn up on Facebook. If you can read it as easily as I can, do not edit your own work.
Q: Which writing habits and/or tricks of the trade have made you a better writer?
A: A love of words. Widen your vocabulary whenever you can. Garner adverbs and adjectives, collect similes and antonyms by the bushel, and shamelessly gather unusual and inspiring pieces of descriptive and humorous writing. Writers such as Dylan Thomas and Alan Coren were masters of the slantwise look at life and pictorial language. Look for your own favorites and learn from them. Beware of favorite words and phrases which can slip in every second sentence and run your masterwork through a frequency checker program; then get out the Thesaurus. Give your characters individuality and a back story. This may not be included in your book, but it will give them an attitude to what happens and will bring up interesting conflicts which will color your scenes.
Q: Do you ever suffer through writer’s block? If so, how do you fight it?
A: Yes. I have a house and garden in constant need of attention; children and grandchildren clamoring for attention and entertainment; a wife, proofreader and editor (all the same person) who insists we go out for meals and take holidays. So there are sufficient distractions. Often the answer to a block is to deal with a totally different problem. It's like not being able to find the car keys; start searching for something else and they will magically appear!
Q: What drew you to write your preferred genre(s)?
A: The children’s books were for my grandchildren, and, in particular, the eldest, Sophie, who always has her nose in a book. One of my pastimes is haunting secondhand book shops and charity shops to keep her in reading material. So I decided to try [a children's book] of my own, and from there the Sprocket Sagas grew. From picking up the first of E.E. Smith’s Lensman series I have been an avid reader of science fiction. I love the way an author can take an idea to its logical conclusion and beyond. It’s the "what if" factor which keeps me coming back time and again. What if an ordinary man linked up with an artificial intelligence? Could he control it? Would it control him? Or could they reach an amicable working relationship? That is the basis of Sea Change and I am still exploring the possibilities.
Q: Do you utilize beta readers?
A: My sister has never been afraid to pull me up for being pompous or precious about something, so I trust her for honest comments and criticism of my work. I also have a friend from my days in teaching who has a surgically precise application for punctuation and grammar. He's not afraid to puncture my ego when it becomes overinflated. The daughter of a friend [of mine] has a love of stories and picks out the parts when the pace begins to slow. But my Alpha reader is my wife who has shielded my ignorance of written English from [our days in] college to the present day.
Q: What makes the main character(s) of your most recent novel so special?
A: They have become friends. Sprocket and the Heart of the North is the fourth Sprocket Saga and I have come to know the main characters well. They are ordinary people in extraordinary situations and the stories depend on how they react to and cope with the problems which arise. There are no superpowers for the humans, and even the dragons have logical reasons for being as they are. They are people you could meet on the street of any town, so it is easy to live with them. Even the villains are driven by the normal human failings: lust for money, abuse of power, rebellion against a perceived wrong which society has dealt them. Those capable of redemption are reformed; those who aren’t get their just desserts. The children have all the strengths, faults and bickering you would find in any close group. They accept the wonderful as only children can and expect justice to be black and white. They [have become] my family and I have grown comfortable with them.
Q: What is your best advice for author self-promotion?
A: Grab any and all opportunities to talk about your work. Whether it’s your books, how you write, what you think of the work of other writers, every chance to get your name in front of a potential reader. This is not the place for a shrinking violet. You are the greatest undiscovered author ever. If the idea of speaking to others in large or small groups fills you with dread, join a speakers club and practice in front of others who are there for the same purpose. There is a saying that everyone has a book in them, so if you can talk about how to write, others will listen.
Q: How do you deal with negative reviews?
A: I am extremely lucky that, so far, I have avoided any bad reviews; but they are bound to arrive sooner or later. Hopefully, I will be grown up enough to weed out the learning points from the vitriol after I have stopped stamping and swearing and throwing crockery about. I won’t be entering into any correspondence with the authors of bad reviews as my natural arrogance will allow me to consign them to the mass of those too ignorant to appreciate my art.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an indie author?
A: There is nobody to nag me except me. Deadlines are for publishers desperate to recoup their advances and boost their sales. I am in the glorious state of retirement and so the only phantom at my feast is the old guy in the black cowled robe who sits in the shadows running a stone along the glinting edge of his scythe. The other advantage is the opportunity to spring clean the web covered attic of my mind and consign it to paper in a vain hope of immortality.
Q: What is your least favorite aspect of being an indie author?
A: Everything is my responsibility. Writing is the enjoyable part; after that comes the ever-lengthening tail of promotion, requests for spending on books, advertising, the blurbs synopses, letters to reviewers, potential publishers, magazines, news media and all the other hangers-on to an author’s coattails. This is when I feel like Sisyphus, endlessly pushing a boulder uphill. But push I must, and there are just enough lovely people out there who will take the time to read my books and write a review.
Q: What is your current writing project?
A: I wrote a short science fiction book called Sea Change. Its first review complained that it should have been three longer books, so I have now reached sixty thousand words of the follow-up and may have to write a third book to complete the story. I love science fiction because the only limiting factors are my imagination and human frailty. Introduce a few robots and an artificial intelligence and even the shortcomings of humans can be overcome.
Q: What are three of your favorite novels?
A: I will start with Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett. This wonderful book, crammed with lovable characters, deals with discrimination and racism in a way which ridicules its basic premise and highlights the idiocy of those who indulge in it. I think even a member of the KKK couldn't take that organization seriously after reading this book.
My second book would be any of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series. These now-dated and class- ridden tomes were the books which spurred me to read and read and read. Five children could conquer the world with only a pack of sandwiches, lashings of lemonade and a loyal dog. I owe a debt to this fine children’s author for hours of entertainment...and the basis of the Sprocket sagas.
My third is J. R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. This book transported me into the realms of true fantasy with elves, dwarves and dragons and opened the door to Lord of the Rings and the panoply of Norse legend.
You will notice from my choices that a good story with plenty of pacing is my reading [preference]. You will find very few examples of "The Great British Novel" on my bookshelves. The only thing I find amazing in the likes of Austen and the Brontes is how they could string together so many words regarding the preoccupations of women with too much time on their hands. Oh dear, that’s alienated at least half of your readers.
Q: If you could have lunch with any novelist, living or dead, who would it be? What would talk to them about?
A: Terry Pratchett. His ability to take everyday modern existence and run it through the mill of his Disc World, highlighting the humor and stupidity of even the darkest of our doings, has kept me laughing for years. He has the magic ability to hold up a distorting mirror and point out what is really important, what is pompous and over blown. I have a feeling that the food would go cold long before the conversation flagged.
Q: What is your best piece of advice for budding authors?
A: Get on and write! Never mind the spelling, grammar, punctuation and paragraphing. That’s what editors and proofreaders are for. Get your ideas down and save them. Not just on your hard disk but on at least one other source such as a memory stick or flash card. Also email them to a friend and yourself then if your computer blows up or is stolen, as mine was, you can retrieve your treasures from a third party. But again write. I can’t stress this too strongly. If you don’t get your ideas down they will evaporate and be lost. Keep a notebook handy for those flashes of brilliance which will be gone in the blink of an eye. They may have nothing to do with what you are writing at present, but could be the seed of your next book. Write anywhere, anytime. Life is short, and if you don’t use every available minute you may find yourself sitting in eternity raging about the bestseller you kept putting off. SO WRITE!
Q: What is your favorite inspirational quote?
A: A maternal grandfather told me that if something was wrong, moaning about it achieved nothing. He said get off your backside and do something about it, [otherwise] it is your fault if the problem exists. I try to live by this.