He lives in Perth, Australia, with his beloved wife and family, and believes that everything before dead is young. He has so many stories to tell, exciting projects to complete, places to visit and adventures to experience that he doesn’t plan to die until he is 150, and maybe not even then.
Welcome to BloggerNews, Greg. Tell us, when did you decide you wanted to become an author?
As soon my brain started working. There was no conscious decision point; as soon as I realized that it was words and stories and languages that were burning unstoppably inside me, I started writing stories. I had no idea what I was doing but I just loved the idea that the simple movement of ideas from my mind onto the page was the very same (and quite fabulous) ‘subcreation’ that Tolkien and Lewis were talking about. Making maps was part of that; the idea that drawing a place on a paper made it real was almost miraculous to a young boy. I was captivated by making and exploring new worlds and have been ever since.
Do you have another job besides writing?
I teach English as a Second Language, which I adore. For some strange neurological reason, I see patterns in things, and grammar is no exception. My boss thinks I’m working, but teaching grammar is really just like play, which is wonderfully fortunate. I also run a consultancy called Shoebox Grammar which helps school teachers and ESL teachers see these same patterns and use them in their own teaching. Even if I became rich through writing, I would continue teaching.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?
Absolutely! I adored anything that took me out of this world, so I devoured Tolkien, CS Lewis, Moorcock, Asimov, McCaffrey and superhero comics, and then set about copying them. My early work was awful! I was one of those kids who was terrible at sport but who had an absurdly advanced vocabulary. In my first year of high school, my favourite place was the library and I won an award for reading 44 books in a school term (about 12 weeks.)
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
Before I start a novel, I need to see its ending, and I knew the ending of Nine Planets at the very beginning. Once I had that final scene, I steered the story towards it and fitted into place all those images, story fragments and ideas that had been marinating in my imagination. I find outlines restrictive so I rarely write one before I write a novel, although found that I had to prepare a timeline for Nine Planets so I could see the sequence of events more clearly.
Usually, I just start the story at what I think is the beginning, write the story as it appears and stop at the end. On the way, if new bits of the story happen, I stop and add them. Often, midway through, I find that I need to add a new beginning, or change the order of chapters, or delete a character, although I always keep these fragments in case I need them later.
A looooong time. Eight years exactly, almost to the day. Four years for the writing, two years looking for an agent, one year of giving up and doing nothing until a publisher agreed to publish it, and two years getting it ready for press.
Describe your working environment.
I have two. Some of my best ideas arrive when I am not at the keyboard, so I am careful to keep in the habit of going out walking in the park, along the beach or anywhere where there is little sign of human presence. It tends to be there that my mind disengages from the demanding gears of the everyday machine and becomes freer to wander and imagine.
When I write, it’s in my home office, with all evidence of bills, work and daily life put well aside so I’m not distracted. In their place is a good sized screen and keyboard (I find tablets impossible for writing and rather counterproductive), the door ajar (I hate being closed off), coffee at hand, some fine instrumental music (voices singing their stories distract me from my stories) and time. I like to write in the evening when there isn’t a day in front of me making its own demands. The blackness outside is an invitation for me to fill it with stories. Sunlight already has its own stories. I write until the words stop then go to bed.
Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?
I edit as I go. I don’t have that authorial discipline to let things stand as they are as I write. I need to make sure everything lines up as I write so I work slowly and carefully. However, when I get to the end, I know the novel is finished. I just need to go back for an editing pass or two to cut the word count.
They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?
I’ve had to be strong about this. My stories are extensions of myself. They are bits of me on paper, so putting them out into the world is a daunting task, rather like going out in public dressed only in underwear. However, any story that can’t go out into the world alone is not really good enough, so it’s the job of the editor and me to make sure it is. Once we are happy with it, there’s nothing more we can do, so the published story has to stand or fall on its own merits. And once the book steps out into the world on her own, I accept that the reader is then permitted to say whatever he likes, whether I like it or not. Nine Planets has had mostly good reviews, although one person wrote some rather odd comments on Amazon, which made me think she didn’t really understand the book at all.
As a writer, what scares you the most?
Dying without finishing all my stories.
When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?
Most definitely a night owl. I need to put the day aside, with all its demands, close the door to the world and open the curtain into my imagination. For me, that’s borne both of the necessity to work for a living and preference.
Do you have an agent? How was your experience in searching for one?
I don’t, although I once did. I was in the right place at the right time as an agent was beginning his list as I was looking for an agent. It wasn’t a good match though and we parted ways. Finding a good agent is tough! I looked fairly continuously for several years after that first agent before eventually giving up, and it was only then that I signed the contract with Dragonwell to publish Nine Planets. Several of my writing buddies also are unagented and quite happy with it, so I’ll stay where I am at the moment and see how things go.
What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?
Membership in critique groups for new writers should be legislated by irrevocable Acts of Parliament. J If new writers are anything like me, they would benefit tremendously from the fellowship and critical support from a writing community. My writing would never have improved and I would NEVER have got published without spending years learning my craft under experienced writers, many of whom were published before me. Yes, crit groups can crush a novice writer, so tread carefully and slowly, but the help they offer seriously outweighs any disadvantages.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
No. For me, and I think I am very fortunate in this respect, writing is like breathing. There’s no stopping it. It just happens as a natural part of life. There is always a story at some stage of volcanic readiness in my head, sometimes two or three.
As to unleashing creativity, I ask a lot of ‘what if’ questions and see where those take me. I’m also careful not to limit the answers to those questions. In Nine Planets, for example, there is a four year old autistic boy who stuns the world with his amazingly detailed pictures of a comet he has never before seen. Could it happen in real life? Maybe not. However, that is no reason for it not to happen in my novel. If I can think it, I should be able to write it.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
When you have written something you think is just the most perfect bit of writing you have ever done, bundle it up with string, put it into a box, seal it and put it into a locked drawer for a month or three. Then take it out and read it. Stripped of all the emotional context of the time you wrote it, does it still look good? Does it stand tall in your new emotional context? If it does, well done. However, a lot of our writing only appears good because it sits within a context of happy writing emotion, good coffee and good music, and it needs to be good regardless of context.
Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
I do! Life is fairly busy at the moment with two jobs and a new business, but I’ve had this character called Ally Jones in my head for some years with a YA thriller that’s going to a huge amount of fun to write (and hopefully read!) Ally Jones and the Hidden City will be the first in a series, and will follow Ally, a teenage girl who is searching for her beloved but kidnapped father, an eccentric academic, but who is plunged into the final stages of a terrible catastrophe involving a hidden city, a grammatical mystery tied into old maps of London and the codes written into nursery rhymes. The story was inspired by Norse mythology, TH White’s classic ‘Once and Future King’, the French Resistance in WWII and WH Hodgson’s ‘The Night Land.’
I’d also love to return to the Ring of Calbannin, the high fantasy tetralogy I abandoned to write Nine Planets (I finished the first two books and was starting the third when Nine Planets ambushed me!) and I’d also like to write ‘Mouse,’ a scifi novel which could best be described as Romeo and Juliet meets the Ship Who Sang meets Sunshine.
Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!