Wordy Wednesday with Greg Jenner

Have I mentioned I'm an author groupie? Well I am and this leads me to stalk follow numerous authors and other clever folk on twitter. Luckily for me most authors are also very happy to chat about their books! And this week the rather super Greg Jenner has agreed to answer some of my silly questions. He's used to silly as he writes Horrible Histories! And so also he's pretty good on the historical fact front, and is well worth a follow on twitter for that!

He also writes history for adults

A Million Years In A Day: A Curious History of Everyday Life is a fun, accessible history of daily life that tracks the evolution of many routines and rituals back to the Stone Age. It's the story of how your life came to be the way it is. Unlike other history books, it's not about kings and queens: it's more about putting on underpants, going to the toilet, walking the dog, and getting drunk with your mates. 

So let's quiz Greg!

When did you start writing?
I first dabbled with comedy sketches at university in 2004, but it wasn't until 2008 that I plucked up the courage to try again. I was working as the resident historian on the new series of CBBC's Horrible Histories, and my producer kindly let me have a go at writing a few sketches. It was a steep learning curve, but as the historian I had access to every sketch written by the writing team - about 250 in all - so I learned a huge amount by studying how they constructed their jokes. All the while, I was reading about 200 books per year to research the series, so I was learning the craft of writing through both passive absorption and practical experience. In 2012 I started blogging for the Huffington Post, that did pretty well, and I realised that I wanted to write a book. So, I got an agent, signed a book deal, and sat down to write full-time for 15 months!

What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?
I am an obsessive Tweeter, so I'd need access to Twitter - it steals a lot of my time, but it also inspires me to be funnier,or more succinct, or more interesting. It's a great testing ground for ideas.

I'm a workaholic, and I have tunnel vision once I start, so I'll easily work for 10 hours without stopping for food or a loo break. That said, a nice pack of biscuits always helps! Oh, and I get terrible backache from not moving, so a stack of comfy cushions. Biscuits, cushions and twitter, those sound like all the essentials I need for blogging too!

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 write every day of the week, though I'll do 10 hours on Monday-Friday and more like 5 or 6 hours on Saturday and Sunday. I've never had writer's block, but I do constantly rewrite and edit stuff. For me, writing is an obsessive duty - I feel guilty if I haven't done at least a 60 hour week. I'm also a perfectionist, which is awkward because I'm not very talented! But I enjoy it, and it was really rewarding to feel my technique improving over those 15 months. I'm hugely proud of the end result, and I'm relieved to see that people seem to like my writing style, so hopefully all the hard work was worth it.

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 was really lucky to receive a decent advance for my two-book deal, but the money gets spread over 5 years, so it's not quite enough to live on. I probably earn 50% of my income from book writing, 40% from my TV career, and 10% as a freelance writer for magazines. To everyone's surprise, I earn less than almost all of my friends, despite having two outwardly glamorous jobs: being an author and making Horrible Histories. But I love what I do, and it's thrilling to play a small role in helping children and adults fall in love with history. Oh that's such a lovely answer. I agree that seeing people enjoy work you've done is the best feeling! And kids certainly love Horrible Histories.

What are your favourite biscuits?
Chocolate Bourbons or Custard Creams. Either packet will be destroyed into tiny crumbs if left in my vicinity. Or even just in the same house.

Where do you do most of your writing?
I have an office in my garden, but I actually mostly work in the bedroom. I find it a very tranquil room, and it's fun to lie on the bed with a laptop - it feels less formal and contributes to a more playful feeling of experimentation. I imagine it's the cushions too, unless your garden office resembles a seraglio...

What book are you reading at the moment?
There are 14 books by my side at the moment. I'm doing preparatory research for my next book, so I'm just trying to get my head around a new area of historiography. But the book I most recently enjoyed was Andrew Roberts' superb biography of Napoleon, which is a fantastic read. I've probably read 20 books about Napoleon, but this one somehow felt fresh. 14! Now I don't feel so bad about having three books on the go

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?
I'm on Twitter because I utterly love it, but obviously the fact I communicate with so many people has really helped me with my book - not just in marketing it, but in actually writing it. The 12 historians who fact-checked A Million Years In A Day are all Twitter contacts, and I'm glad to say I've since become friends with several of them in real life. I also used Twitter to test jokes, express ideas, ask advice, and cheer me up when I was going a bit doolally. Writing a book full time, 7 days per week, can be a lonely experience. Twitter kept me sane! Nice to hear that Twitter can be something other than a time suck!

Do you own an e-reader? and do you prefer to read digital or paper copy?
I do, but I barely use it - it's only for holidays and work travel. I vastly prefer the tangible texture of paper, and I find that I remember so much more when reading is a tactile experience that involves a physical book in my hand.

Do you dream in colour?
I do. Mainly I dream about playing football for Spurs; but being a typical Spurs fan, I very rarely win a match... even my wildest fantasies are drizzled in crushing disappointment.

If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?
I would campaign to get them unbanned - there is nothing more sacred than the discovery of new knowledge. Communication is the essence of humanity.

What is your ideal holiday?
A city break to somewhere historic, (why am I not surprised!) preferably a place that boasts loads of museums and Nutella-flavoured ice cream. I adored Florence, that ticked both boxes! My honeymoon to the Riviera Maya in Mexico was also amazing - it was the first time in 10 years my wife had seen me properly relax. It was weird, but a nice weird!


A Million Years in a Day by Greg Jenner is out now!  As of May 14th it's also available in audiobook, if you want to hear him read it...

Thank you to Greg for some excellent answers. 

Wordy Wednesday

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