Since Andy hasn't written a new story in awhile he sent me a photo in which he is holding not his own book, but one he likes.
I asked, and he answered...
When did you start writing?
I always liked writing silly stuff at school. It was pretty out there – if I look back at what I was writing when I was eight or nine there’s very little difference between those stories and ‘Mr Gum’. I was always a fan of bizarre humour and pushing things to the limit and then a little bit beyond the limit and then a little bit beyond that. And then a bit further again. And then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any more extreme, I’d push it just that bit further. And then – well, you get the idea. Even the teachers who liked me would often ask me to rein it in.
There was one teacher I really fancied – Miss Yates. She was a big fan of my primary school writing and I listened to her. Once she commented that my writing was really funny but that, without any emotional content, it was getting somewhat tiresome. That was a good lesson and from then on I’d always try to leaven funny stuff with emotion. In a way she was my first editor. It wasn’t until many years later that I actually pulled together all the lessons I’d learnt and really decided to finish a piece of work.
I was twenty eight when I wrote the first ‘Mr Gum’ and it was mainly written in one night, after years of frustration… It all came flooding out. I forgot about it for a couple of years but eventually rediscovered it in a heap of papers in my room. Sent it off, and it was eventually published in 2006, when I was thirty two or so. So I took my time to get started.
What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?
Coffee, music (not while actually writing but between bouts) and a kiss from a pretty girl. At the moment I’m lacking opportunities for the third one so the writing’s not going so great.
Do you write to a schedule, eg every day or three times a week, set times, etc or do you write as and when the mood strikes?
I’m feast or famine. I go ages without any schedule, but once I’ve actually got my teeth into a story then I’ll work round the clock to get it done. I’ll try to get some sleep but two hours later I’ll jump out of bed with a new idea to add to the mix, or a way to fix a scene… It’s intense once I get to that place, it’s a real push to the finish line.
Is writing your main source of income, I read lots of articles saying writers make no money, and my readers asked this question a lot! Can you survive on book writing alone? if not, what else do you do?
I’m lucky, writing has become my full time job. Book sales and events are what keep me in Jaffa Cakes and CDs.
What are your favourite biscuits?
Jaffa Cakes and CDs.
Where do you do most of your writing?
Almost exclusively I write from home. Sometimes I’ll go to cafes to write but home works best. I mostly write on computer but if I get really stuck I sometimes switch to pencil and paper.
The first half of ‘Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear’ was written longhand, to break me out of a blank spell of looking at a computer screen and deleting everything I wrote. Writing on paper’s a good workaround sometimes because you can’t just delete an idea – you can scribble it out but it’s still there. It changes how you think and that can be a good thing. Once I’d hand-written the first half of ‘Dancing Bear’ I knew I’d broken the back of it. I came home, typed the thing up and did the rest on the computer.
I remember finishing the first draft in bed, at five thirty in the morning. As soon as I finished I knew it was a good one. And I knew what I was going to change for the second draft. There’s usually some major plot changes between my first and second drafts, I’m typically not satisfied with the first version, by the time I’ve got there I’ve had a better idea…
What book are you reading at the moment?
‘Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You?: A Memoir’ by George Clinton with Ben Greenman.
I’m a massive fan of Funkadelic and Parliament and the book is sensationally interesting and thought-provoking.
Other books I’ve read recently include ‘The Inheritors’ by William Golding and ‘A High Wind In Jamaica’ by Richard Hughes. The latter is hilarious and dark. It’s not a children’s book but it gets into the psychology of young children better than any book I can think of. It’s a forgotten classic.
Oh, and I just finished Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Charlie Chaplin. I mostly read fiction but I do like a good biography.
Do you use social media (facebook, twitter, instagram etc) to engage with your audience, do you think it helps sales and do you find it fun or a chore?
No, I was on Twitter for awhile but it became a distraction. I’m not strong enough to turn it off and get back to work, I have to keep checking to see if I got any retweets or mentions or whatever.
After I read ‘The Circle’ by Dave Eggers I came off Twitter for good (though never say never). Personally I’m not a fan of writers using social media as a sales tool. I think it uses up a lot of time which could be better employed elsewhere. If you’re not selling a lot of books, I don’t think social media will add many zeros to your figures. And if you are – then you don’t need it to sell books. But that’s just my stance. I’m sure there are plenty of writers who get a kick out of doing it, and perhaps it is helpful for some. If it works for you, do it.
Do you own an e-reader? and do you prefer to read digital or paper copy?
I have a Kindle and I love it. I also increasingly read on my phone. I like the instant accessibility of e-books, I often see someone reading an interesting-looking book on the train - and within a minute I’ve downloaded it and am reading it myself. In many cases I don’t care what I’m reading on, it’s the words that count. But there’s all sorts of added value that actual books provide.
For reference and cross-checking: hard copy. Picture books: hard copy. Graphic novels: hard copy. I could go on. Also, it seems that the growth of e-books is pushing publishers to produce really beautiful editions of books… It’s an ongoing balance and I hope that ‘real’ books never die out. I’m a pragmatic romantic. In terms of my own books, the hard copies are way better than the e-versions. We do stuff with fonts and design that haven’t been translated into the Kindle versions. I love seeing kids reading actual books and I love it at book signings when I get to sign some dog-eared copy of ‘Mr Gum’. The best ones are when the kid’s obviously been reading in the bath and it’s fallen in and the book’s now the size of a soufflé. That’s real love.
Do you dream in colour?
I think so but it’s hard to say for sure. I’ll try to observe my next few dreams and get back to you on that.
If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?
I’d read and write in secret. Others would be doing it too. Soon we’d come creeping back up through the cracks. You can’t stop something that powerful, or not for long.
A huge thanks for the answers, some really made me think, I like the idea that paper changes the way you write, I hadn't thought of that before but of course it makes sense. I also like the idea that there is something tangible to show the process, a historical record. The issues around printed books becoming more beautiful is also true, I've noticed gorgeous bound copies of both new books and classics in my local bookshop which make you itch to own them.
My favourite answer was the last, I love the idea of secret writers, and secret readers. Shades of the firemen in Fahrenheit 451 spring to mind. Here's hoping the muse strikes Andy again soon, (not with a frying pan) and a kiss inspires some new tales.
In the meantime, dear reader, if you would like to read some of the horrible adventures of Mr Gum you can find them here and in all good book shops.
*I'm not sure if that means Andy is lovely or the children he writes for are...you decide
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