How important is research to you when writing a book?
It varies by degrees, but, as a writer of Historical Fiction, it’s generally very important. I read countless books on whatever subject is of interest at the time, pore over sheaves of maps, and wear Google to a frazzle. If this still isn’t enough, I’ll hop on a plane, and go to where the story takes place. So far I’ve been to Cape Breton and Newfoundland for “Josiah Stubb”, and across Australia’s Nullarbor Desert for my latest book in the Charlie Smithers Collection, “Adventures Downunder.” Of course, in the process I gather far more information than I can use in the book, but far better that than to risk inaccuracy.
Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
No. Some days, when the path is clear, the pages roll by one after the other. However, some days, when research takes precedence, I get very little actual writing done at all.
Do you think writers have a normal life like others?
HAHAHAHAHA! Oh, that’s funny! My ribs are aching! No, the life of a writer isn’t like any other. There are no holidays, or any time off. In fact, there isn’t any escape at all. When not writing, a writer is thinking of writing, whether it be for the continuation of his story, or planning the next story, or reflecting on the last one, wondering if it might not have been improved somehow. But the worst, my friends, the very worst is the guilt a writer feels when the words stop for whatever reason, because you know that you’re not doing what you were intended to do.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
Oh yes, of course. Reading is the first, and most important, prerequisite for writing. There are so many great authors: George MacDonald Fraser, Bernard Cornwell, William Manchester, Will Fergus, Tawney O’dell, Zadie Smith, and many, many more, too numerous to mention.
What is your take on the importance of a good cover and title?
I would say that both are vital. Regardless of how well a book is written, the cover and title are the first and second things that catch a prospective reader’s eye.
Does a bad review affect your writing?
Which book inspired you to begin writing?
Two books – one written very well, inspiring me to excellence, was Richard Adams’ “Watership Down.” The other book was written very badly, presenting me with the idea that I could do much better. I can’t remember the name of the author, or the title of the book, which just goes to show.
Do your novels carry a message?
Although I don’t have anything particular in mind at the time of writing, there can be messages that the public may, or may not be, ready to read. For instance, with Josiah Stubb, I wrote the story as faithfully as I could as it came to me, to the very best of my ability. Much later, I realized what the message was – that this was a challenge to look at our heroes differently. We tend to place them above us, but we shouldn’t; they’re not perfect, and their imperfections should be forgiven. They walk amongst us in our day-to-day world, and were simply the right people who were at the right place at the right time. Villains are often similar, and, in fact, can be the same person under different circumstances.
How realistic are your books?
I think very realistic for the most part, and may very well have happened in real life. The exception is near the end of “Adventures Downunder,” when the story took me on a flight of fantasy. What a ride it was, too!
People believe that being a published author is glamorous, is that true?
That was good for another belly laugh! No, I’m afraid that my readers should content themselves with my books, not what they imagine is my everyday world. I’m quite sure that they would be very disappointed.
Is it true that anyone can be a writer?
In my opinion? No. Many (most?) people I know, friends or otherwise, wonder why I bother. The very idea of sitting down at a keyboard and dedicating the next year or two to writing a story is completely incomprehensible to them, as is the joy derived from doing such a thing. I think that I can safely say that they will never be writers, nor should they be; their talents, and preferences, lie elsewhere.
Did any of your books get rejected by publishers?
Oh yes, of course. Mine is not an uncommon story at all. Like most traditionally published authors, my rejection file is the fattest one in my portfolio. To the vast majority of the reading public, I’m relatively new on the scene, but the fact is I’d been hard at it for years, gradually honing my craft, getting short stories recognized and published all across Canada, and getting rejection slips for “The Adventures of Charlie Smithers” from a host of publishing houses, regardless of the fact that many of those slips were post scripted with handwritten notes of praise. It took four years from the time I wrote that book to the time that Wild Wolf Publications decided to take a chance on me, a relatively unknown writer outside of my country’s borders. So the road to getting here was anything but quick and easy.
Are you satisfied with your success?
Never. When the old dreams are achieved, new ones soon takes their place.
What does the word ‘retirement’ mean to you? Do writers ever retire?
No, I don’t think so. “Retirement’ is a word that applies to other people.
If you die today, how would you want the world to remember you?
It’s not important that the world remembers me. What is important is that they remember my stories.
Can you tell us about your current projects?
A little. I’ve just sent an eclectic collection of short stories and novellas, entitled “And Then It Rained,” to my publisher, so expect to see it out later this year. Next on the list is getting back to “Interim,” the second book of the Josiah Stubb trilogy.
What are your views about elaborate synopsis of books at the back of the cover?
I don’t think they’re a good idea. A prospective reader will scan a blurb. Make it too long and it won’t get read.
Do you think they reveal too much?
Possibly, but I wouldn’t know. If the blurb is too long, none have ever grabbed me long enough to read any more than a few lines.
How possessive are you about your work?
I confess that I’m very possessive. My stories are like children to me: they’re conceived in loved, fussed over countless times until, one day, they come of age. Then when they’re finally sent out into the world, I fret for their well being. An author will always want what’s best for his stories, and not just for his own sake, either.
Tell us about an interesting or memorable encounter you had with a fan?
It was in a small town during intermission at an awards ceremony that I’d decided to attend. It was the first time that one of my stories had been short listed for an award, and I wanted to experience what it would be like to be around people who didn’t think of me as a son, or a brother, or an uncle, or a carpenter, or anything else I was where I lived. This was a chance to meet people who only knew me as a writer, and I was terribly curious as to what that would be like. Up to that point it had all been very friendly and polite, with conversations about literature and so on, pretty much what you’d expect at an awards gala. Then suddenly I found myself confronted by a man who I recognized as having been one of the judges. He introduced himself, and then seized my hand in both of his, and began to tell me just how much my story (I think it was Highway Driving) had moved him, and he wasn’t whispering either! He had a rich, clear voice that carried over the quiet drone of the not inconsiderable room with ease. His praise was lavish, I must say, complete with tears in his eyes, and placing a hand over his heart to accent the depth of his emotions. All in all, it was the sort of encounter that I’d always secretly dreamt about. But the thing to understand is that I had never experienced anything even remotely like this before, and I had no idea how to react. Of course the right thing to do would have been to allow my pleasure to show, and offer him the warmest thank you that I could come up with. What I did, though, was to become terrified of the adulation, jerk my hand from his grasp, and mutter something incomprehensible, before turning and walking away, blushing furiously all the while. It wasn’t my finest moment, and I often wish that I could have it back again, but, of course, I can’t. It did teach me a valuable lesson, though – just stay calm, and be pleasant.