Welcome to the two hundred and fifty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with crime novelist Graham Smith. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Graham. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Graham: I’m a 39 year old hotel and wedding venue manager. I’m happily married with a young son and I have been an avid reader of crime fiction since being given a Famous Five book at the age of eight. For the last two and a half years I have also been a reviewer for the highly respected review site www.crimesquad.com. I guess that the next logical step was to try my own hand at writing so I made a few tentative submissions to blog sites and when they received nice comments my confidence grew and I stepped up my writing.
Morgen: I love reading (and writing) crime and it’s great to see former interviewee Matt Hilton at no. 7 of the Crime Squad Top Ten. And how great is the friend / relative that gave you the book that set you off. What genre do you generally write?
Graham: My first love is and always has been crime fiction and that is where my writing is firmly rooted. Write what you know is the advice given, right? Having said that I tend not to respect genre boundaries too much and have written shorts which cross into psychological thriller territory, satire and gentle comedy. My stories all tend to fall under the noir / hard-boiled umbrella though. I’m not one for cosy crime; I leave that to others of a nicer nature.
Morgen: I don’t stick to a genre at all so an agent’s nightmare so I went the direct eBook route, with a great editor, and loved it. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Graham: I have had two short story collections published under my own name. The are ‘11 The Hard Way’ which are 11 random hard-boiled stories…
Morgen: Music to my ears (short stories are my first love :))
Graham: …and ‘Harry Charters Chronicles’ which all feature a gumshoe detective who occasionally climbs out of the bottle to dispense his own brutal justice.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections?
Graham: I have not yet tried the traditional route to publishing but I am conditioning myself for many rejections from agents and publishing houses.
Morgen: Or not, you never know. I met crime novelists Mark Billingham and Michael Robotham at Oundle Festival of Literature in March 2011 and they were both picked up with their first submissions. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Graham: I was entered by a friend into the Preditors and Editors poll for Harry Charters which came a very respectable third in the short story category. To be included was thrill enough for me and to come ahead of some great writers whose work I respect was great for my ego.
Morgen: Absolutely. And http://pred-ed.com is a very well-respected site. I mentioned eBooks earlier, are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Graham: My books are Ebook only and I was involved in the creative side with my E-publisher. I will read anything, including the side of a cereal box. I don’t have a kindle but do have kindle for PC on my laptop. In my role as a reviewer I am constantly sent and given paper books and my “to read” pile would make Sir Edmund Hillary think twice.
Morgen: Oh dear. I have one like that (called ‘my house’) and it’s just increased dramatically: by buying a Kindle. How much of the marketing do you do?
Graham: I do a lot via Facebook and more recently Twitter but my E-publisher is also very on the ball in terms of marketing.
Morgen: That’s great, doubling the impact, halving the work. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Graham: I love writing the Harry Charters stories and find myself really getting into character. I’d love for Bruce Willis to play him as he is an excellent actor and plays the part of a drunk better than any other actor I’ve ever seen. He can also do comedy which is something I use to leaven the darkness which surrounds Harry Charters.
Morgen: I love Bruce so I’d definitely watch it. Did you have any say in the title / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Graham: I have a lot of say and my E-publisher always asks me for my input before any cover designs are drawn up. I think that they are very important although there definitely seems to be trends in cover design.
Morgen: There are, and having to (or rather, choosing to) design my own certainly made me think more about them. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Graham: I have a novel which centres on a team of detectives in Cumbria (North West England). Each brings something different to the table and they give me room for creating conflict and tension among the group. Once the first draft of that is complete, I plan to write a bunch of short stories which I’ll submit to various online sites and competitions. I am also planning to write more Harry Charters stories.
I am currently re-writing the novel after an agent took a look at it and was kind enough to give me some pointers. I have also released a second collection of short stories called Gutshots: Ten Blows to the Abdomen. My day job is very demanding as I’m the General Manager of a very busy hotel and wedding venue. Once we get past the summer season I will have more time to dedicate to writing, so I hope to finish the re-write of my novel before Christmas but it’s tough juggling work, family life, my reviewing for Crimesquad.com and my own writing. Deadlines help me manage my writing time as they force me to keep going and ignore all distractions like Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and Ezines.
Morgen: Yay short stories. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Graham: I try to write every day but some days I just can’t get to it. I tend to share this time equally between promoting and procrastinating on Facebook and Twitter.
Morgen: <coughs> networking whilst subtly marketing on Facebook and Twitter. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Graham: I just run with it and see where it goes. Having said that I will never start a story if I don’t know where I want it to end up. How I get there and where I start from is always a mystery to me. This means that I get to make discoveries along the way too. An author friend told me that she writes each chapter and then maps down key points so that the editing is easier. I plan to do this with my work as it makes such good sense and will saves hours of scrolling back. I do confess to having a “cast list” for my novel so relationships, eye colour and other traits are kept consistent.
Morgen: No confession needed. I’d say it’s the best thing to do because if there’s any inconsistency it’ll spoil it for your reader and they will invariably notice. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Graham: I sketch out the basics as I’m throwing the first draft down and then refine when editing by dropping hints and foreshadows of abilities which pop up later.
Morgen: The joy of threading a novel. Do you write any non-fiction or poetry?
Graham: No. I tend to stick with making stuff up as it’s my comfort zone.
Morgen: Oh me too, unless it’s talking about writing. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Graham: My style is to really throw down the first draft and then edit it down after a week’s pause. I have found that as I grow as a writer my work needs less editing.
Morgen: Writing crime is probably the genre that you have to be most accurate for, do you have to do much research?
Graham: My research assistant Mr Google is very helpful and I can usually trust him to find out whatever I need to know.
Morgen: What a moonlighter! He’s my assistant too.
Graham: I have a good friend who is a policeman so I’ll get him to point out any practical mistakes I make with my novel. Other than that I tend to trust my own instincts as to whether things are real or not. Having read crime fiction for over thirty years I believe I have a good handle on what can be made up and what needs to be true.
Morgen: Oh, that’s really useful, having an expert. I went to an open day at my local police station last summer and gained a contact in CID so I hope to make use of that before too long. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc., do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Graham: I write sitting on the sofa with the TV or radio on quietly in the background.
Morgen: I’m OK with the radio but I do find with the TV that I’m stare at it too easily stopping me typing. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Graham: I will use any perspective I think fits the story. I like first person for the immediacy and the ease in which tension can be created. Third person is better for bigger projects which require more exposition and are grander. I have even though of combing the two in the way that authors like Matt Hilton have. With regards to second person I have written one piece as an exercise as I want to tell Harry Charters’ back story in the second person with an accusatory voice in his head tormenting him with the mistake he made which subsequently sent him on the road to alcoholism.
Morgen: Ooh, I’d love to read that (regular readers of this blog will know that second is my favourite pov). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Graham: I have shared most of my work so far and if I think something is not good enough to share after I’ve edited it, I then delete it from computer and memory and move on.
Morgen: Oh dear. I tend to keep everything because I never know when I might use it, although I’m pretty sure some will never be revisited or at least not be good enough to be aired. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Graham: I love the throwing down of the first draft when my fingers can’t keep up with my brain. At times my fingers can take over and what they produce usually blows my mind.
Morgen: That’s my favourite too.
Graham: I dislike the close editing but accept it as part of the process and I recognise its value. The biggest surprise to me has been the openness and the friendly receptions I have received from the whole of the crime writing community. From bestselling authors to newbies like myself, everyone has been supportive, encouraging and willing to share advice and tips. One author I was interviewing even lead me into a side discussion (I had asked her what questions she had for her readers and then wrote down my answers) where I was explaining a technique I’d noticed in the writing of other authors.
Morgen: That’s where reading comes in. Some new authors say they don’t read (I haven’t been reading enough due to lack of time although I’m pretty sure I’ll find more snatches of time now I have a Kindle) and it’s so vital to read other writers to give you an idea of what works or doesn’t. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Graham: Read a few books of the genre you want to write in and then write a review of the book where the review covers all aspects of the writing style. As a reviewer I have found that when I read I can now recognise many other qualities to the novel.
Morgen: Doing a review is a great idea as it makes you study the book. I was prompted to join Goodreads recently (although I’d planned to anyway as I’d heard good things about it) because a Google Alert told me the site had picked up one of my books (I need to get the others picked up now :)) and although my number of friends outweighs my reviews (not difficult as it’s still zero). If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or invite three people, hiding the takeaway containers)?
Graham: I would invite Ian Fleming who was a great raconteur, J.R.R. Tolkein whose Lord of the Rings I loved and Alistair MacLean who is one of the finest thriller writers in my opinion. I would cook my speciality dish. Pork, leek and apple chilli stir fry served on a salad bed.
Morgen: Yum. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Graham: A quote attributed to Groucho Marx I really like is “If a man wants to fight with you, try walking a mile in his shoes. If he still wants to fight you after that, then you are a mile away and you’ve got his shoes.”
Morgen: I love that one. He also said “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Graham: Just the reviewing for Crimesquad.com. I have also conducted face-to-face interviews for Crimesquad.com with such stellar names as David Baldacci, Lee Child, Joseph Finder, Dennis Lehane, Jeffrey Deaver, Matt Hilton, Mark Billingham and Peter James.
Morgen: Ooh then you might like my interviews no.200 (with Mark) and 86 (Matt) (and Adrian Magson and Stephen Booth and Howard Linskey and…). I met Peter at a library talk a few weeks back, he was very entertaining. :) I understand that you have also put together a weekend of crime writing courses. Can you tell me more about it?
Graham: That’s right. In association with Inga McVicar of Full Paper Jacket I have set up four crime writing masterclasses and a fifth event where budding authors can pitch their novel directly to an agent. Allan Guthrie is the agent in question and he represents Blasted Heath and Jenny Brown associates. Matt Hilton and Sheila Quigley will be taking a class apiece and Allan Guthrie and Inga McVicar will be taking the final two.
Morgen: And it’s very reasonably priced (from £75)?
Graham: It is very important to me that the courses are affordable to all and there are accommodation packages available as well as the masterclasses will take place in the hotel I manage near Gretna Green, near the England / Scotland border. More information about Crime and Publishment can be found at http://www.themill.co.uk/crime-writing-courses.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Graham: I socialise with friends and family, play games with my son and read.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Graham: I don’t use any of the traditional methods of help. Instead I seek guidance from those I respect such as Col Bury at http://thrillskillsnchills.blogspot.com, David Barber at http://theflashfictionoffensive.blogspot.com and Darren Sant at http://www.close2thebone.co.uk/wp. These guys are all good sounding boards and have given me great advice.
Morgen: Col Bury’s a Facebook friend (as you are Graham :)) so I should invite him here. You mentioned Twitter and Facebook earlier, how valuable do you find them?
Graham: I think that both are great for networking. Without them I wouldn’t have sold many copies at all.
Morgen: Same for me, definitely. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Graham: I think that we are currently experiencing a revolution in the way that books are brought to the reader and that the major publishing houses will need to react quicker and better to the surge of Ebooks which are being brought out. It’s a brave new world and those of us on the cusp can enjoy great success providing we have the skill as an author and marketer.
Morgen: Absolutely – tell people without feeling like they are being touted to. I don’t market enough (if that’s possible) and remember every now and then to mention my free eBooks in the hope they’ll enjoy them then buy one of my others. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Graham: I currently do not have a blog or a website although I do plan to create one when I’ve done the first draft of my novel. Other than that my Amazon author profile is http://www.amazon.co.uk/Graham-Smith/e/B006FTIBBU/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1.
Morgen: I’d heartily recommend WordPress. Everything I’ve done here has been for free and they’re currently taunting me with a ‘Go Pro’ button I’ve tried to find out (without pressing the button – just Googling) what the advantages would be (I guess it’s more widgets and guaranteed advert free, although I’ve only ever noticed them putting an advert on one of my pages – can’t remember which one now). Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Graham: I’d just like to say a big thank you to all those who have supported and encouraged me in my fledgling writing career.
Morgen: Oh you’re so welcome – I’m having the time of my life. Or I would be if it wasn’t a cliché. I live and breathe writing so always love talking about it. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Graham: No, I just want to say thank you for having me over and talking to me. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation.
Morgen: Oh thank you, Graham. Me too. It’s amazing (well, it amazes me) how, despite asking pretty much the same questions how different these interviews can be. All the best with your work-in-progress.
I then invited Graham to include an excerpt of his writing and this is from ‘Lonely Nights’ which features in ‘11 The Hard Way’.
Since Mike’s death, bed had become a haven. She was safe there, surrounded by the smell of him on the sheets. His pillow was her comfort blanket and each night after taking a sleeping pill, she cuddled the pillow to her body and dreamt of him, smelling his aftershave and the salty tang of her tears.
Susie awoke, bleary eyed and confused. Her subconscious had heard an unfamiliar noise and had prodded her awake. Unsure as to whether it was a dream or not she sat up and listened intently. Nothing. No strange noises, no unknown sounds. A cow lowed in the distance but that sound was familiar. Now awake, she decided to get up and check the house anyway. Although not timid by nature she was still unnerved enough to creep around checking doors and windows, until she had determined the house was secure.
As she’d made her way around the house she’d grabbed her mobile from the coffee table and now it rested on her bedside table next to the lamp, alarm clock and the ever present glass of water.
Sleep came harder a second time, but it eventually returned and she retreated back to her ever present dreams of Mike. The time when he’d proposed, their first meeting, their first kiss and their first glorious weekend away together.
Graham Smith is married with a young son. A time served joiner he has built bridges, houses, dug drains and slated roofs to make ends meet. For the last eleven years he has been manager of a busy hotel and wedding venue near Gretna Green, Scotland.
An avid fan of crime fiction since being given one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books at the age of eight, he has also been a regular reviewer for the well respected review site Crimesquad.com for over two years.
When not working, his time is spent reading, writing and playing games with his son. He enjoys socialising and spending time with friends and family.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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