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Book reviews ... Author interviews ... and anything else I think might be of interest to writers and readers.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Blog Interview - Gary Murning

Gary Murning, author of 'If I Never' and 'Children Of The Resolution' is my guest today, sharing some of his thoughts about writing.

What first inspired you to write?

Very early on, when I was still in primary school, I discovered the joy of exploring made up worlds. I'd always had a pretty vivid imagination, and once I learned the rudiments of writing, a little of my childhood play became connected to the act of putting words on paper. I started a few short stories – about headless horsemen, that kind of thing – but never really finished anything until, in my late teens, I decided to have a go at writing my first novel. I had quite a good deal of free time on my hands, having finished college due to illness, and I'd been reading a lot of really bad fiction in amongst the good. Can we say "radioactive killer crabs"? I think it was around that time that I uttered the immortal words, with which, I'm sure, many of us are familiar, "I can do better than this".

The jury is still out!

What would you say the main themes of your writing are?

I like characters who don't "fit" in the normal sense. I like to take someone who many of us might consider to be on the fringes in some way and turn it around so that they become the "normal" ones. I also like the play of power within relationships. The way it shifts and the way external influences impact on it. Also, secrets tend to feature quite heavily. The unknown and our constant need to push and push until we do know.

Tell us about your latest book ‘Children of the Resolution’.

Children of the Resolution is a very personal novel. It's by far my most autobiographical piece (I'm not, generally, an autobiographical novelist) and explores in fictional form my experiences of the integration of disabled children into mainstream education in the 1970s and 1980s. It was a pretty revolutionary period, and I was among the first to be on the receiving end of this new approach. A coming-of-age story, it explores childhood friendships under, I think, fairly unique circumstances.

Your previous novel ‘If I Never’ has been well received. What’s that about?

That's a tougher question to answer than the previous one! If I Never is a really difficult novel to pin down, even for me! As the reviews on Amazon.co.uk tend to support (flatteringly, thankfully!)

It has many elements to it, but at heart it's a love story about two characters who – in a very unique way – are meant for each other. It looks at how those around them (a very diverse, gritty and demanding a lot) threaten that. I tried to weave in certain genre elements – incorporating thriller motifs and Gothic influences – and… well, pretty much had a really good time with it. It has got serious themes, but I kept them just beneath the surface.

How long did it take you to research and write each book?

These days I tend to spend somewhere in the region of three months planning and researching – most of that taken up with outlining (I research as I outline, discovering what I need and then going off in search of it). Some books, If I Never, for example, I just write. I plunge in without much of an outline and see where I end up. Haven't done one like that for a while, though. Find it pretty scary.

The writing process is, for me, usually the easiest part. If I'm well-prepared, it feels pretty natural. Almost an organic process. I don't push myself too hard but like to get a minimum of 20,000 words down a month.

What response do you want the novel to invoke in your readers?

That's a really good question. I've encountered a few people (not very many, but some) who read If I Never and found certain sections somewhat uncomfortable to read – and when they tell me about this it's almost as if they think it's a bad thing. And, of course, depending on which particular section they're talking about, it can be! But it's always the sections that are intended to be uncomfortable to read. Still, most of them look a little surprised when I say "good".

The kind of novel I write is very much about creating (without seeming to) solid emotional and intellectual responses. I want people to laugh, cry, cringe, fall in love with one character, hate another – hell, maybe even get a little turned on, on occasion. As long as these responses occur at the right points in the novel, I'm happy.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of writing a novel but isn’t sure they have the necessary staying power?

Break it up. Don't think of it as writing a novel, think of it as writing small projects (chapters – but we won't call them that, right?) that may somewhere down the road come together as a big project (the finished novel). Set yourself reasonable targets and stick to them. Don't wait for inspiration to strike, just do it – even if it means writing nonsense (sometimes you have to write a couple of hundred bad/mediocre words just to get ten good ones!) The real biggie, for me, though, is try to enjoy it. Have fun with it and, you know, try not to let it become a chore. Oh, and accept that your first novel may not be all that good – whilst understanding that the process of writing that first one will allow you to make a much better attempt at the next one.

What’s the best advice you could give to someone who is writing a novel and hoping to get it published?

Don't write to be published. There's always this huge temptation to try to second-guess the market and it's just impossible. If you really want to write a novel that is publishable, forget about the publication aspect of it until you've written a novel you really want to write.

You are good at promoting your work online, how well is that paying off?

Bottom line? I think it's fairly safe to say it doesn't compare to a huge marketing budget – but given that the vast majority of us are probably never going to have a huge marketing budget (or any at all, for that matter!), it works much, much better than simply sitting around waiting for the books to sell themselves. My experience of it so far is that it tends to start off quite slowly. In the early days, you really are looking at pulling readers in one at a time. But as it gathers momentum and people start talking about what you're doing, you really do start to see the benefits. It does have to be an ongoing process, though. And, I expect, will have to be for a few years to come, yet.

What gives you most pleasure out of all the things you’ve achieved so far in your writing career?

Surprisingly – even with all the fantastic feedback I've had, all the enthusiasm and interest – the things that still gives me most pleasure is getting stuck into a new project. I just love writing novels. And I think it shows – by that I mean I actually think I'm a better person to be around when I have a project on the go.

What are you working on now?

I've just started writing a new novel (just over 3000 words in) called 'The Legacy of Lorna Lovelost'. It's a tragicomic piece about… well, let's just say sacrifices and the coming to an end of cycles and leave it at that, for now, shall we?

What are your writing plans for the future?

I haven't really looked much beyond Legacy, yet, but I have a few completed projects that I want to get out there – a couple that build on the tones and themes I played with in 'If I Never'. I think it's really important to, from a professional point of view, have a few decent pieces of work out there feeding off each other. So that's what I'd really like to achieve over the next year or two. Beyond that, just to keep writing, really. And to keep enjoying it.

You can buy 'Children Of The Resolution' here (UK) or here (US).

You can find out more about Gary here, or follow him on Twitter @garymurning

Thanks very much to Gary for his time.


Julie P said...

Thank you, Helen and Gary for a very interesting post. I love learning about how writers write as everyone has a different way of doing it.


Karen said...

Really interesting interview and definitely makes me want to read Gary's novels :o)

I like the idea of breaking the novel down while you're writing - I try to think of each chapter as a short story to make the whole thing seem more manageable!

Flowerpot said...

I agree - it's always fascinating to read how other people do it. So to speak!

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Thank you for such an interesting interview.

I love hearing how different writers work and how they feel about what they do.

Jen said...

Interesting what Gary says about not writing for publication which is the exact opposite to writing short stories...

Fab interview - I love hearing what lured other people into this crazy pastime :)

Sue Guiney said...

happy to read this. I know Gary's name from various Internet social networks, but never knew what he was all about. So glad that I now do!

Denise Covey said...

This is a very good interview Helen, and Gary sounds like a very interesting person and author. I confess I'd not heard of him before. I like his take on the writing process..:)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the nice comments and interest. I love the whole process of writing and always enjoyed sharing my thoughts and experiences – and hearing those of others. So many different approaches to reaching the same ultimate goal!

Kath McGurl said...

Great interview, thanks! I'm off to check our Gary's novels now.

joanne fox said...

Enjoyed the interview, thanks. Gosh - a novel sounds almost achievable when you put it like that.

Talli Roland said...

Great interview, Gary and Helen. It's always interesting hearing about how other writers write!

Bluestocking Mum said...

Some excellent advice there - especially the breaking the novel down bit.

Thanks to Gary and you too Helen


Denise Covey said...

Hi Helen! I came back again to thank you for responding to my 'disaster' post. I came through unscathed which is more than I can say for most. The river is now receding and more heartache begins.

I have started posting my Publication Party. Going well so far. Don't forget to pop over if you can!


Leigh Russell said...

Fascinating interview, Helen and Gary. It certainly struck a few chords - though I can't say I've written about radioactive killer crabs... not yet anyway... I totally agree that you should enjoy writing. If you don't enjoy writing, why are you doing it?

Amanda said...

Great interview, Helen and Gary.