Welcome to the three hundred and thirty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author, journalist and thriller novelist Wilf Nussey. 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, Wilf. Please tell us how you came to be a writer.
Wilf: It just came naturally. I’ve been writing ever since I could read and put pencil to paper. It was the only thing I was any good at in school. From there I went straight into journalism and did it for 40-plus years, including 24 as a foreign correspondent and 12 as an editor. I love writing for its own sake, to express ideas, to describe, to invent situations and characters.
Morgen: I’m fiction through and through – the only non-fiction I write (so far anyway) is about writing. What genre do you generally write now?
Wilf: Apart from newspaper reports, most of my writing has been documentary and I turned to fiction only in the past ten, twelve years.
Morgen: That’s more than me (apart from limericks in my 20s), I’ve been writing fiction for six years. What have you had published to-date?
Wilf: I have had four documentary books published, two of them definitive books on South African game reserves and two coffee-tablers on the country, and two novels. One is a collection of stories, fact and legend, about life in a remote little South African village in the 1940s, the other an adventure-thriller about stolen nuclear missiles, international politics and intrigue, and general mayhem in Southern Africa.
Morgen: I think it’s great to have a mixture so you don’t get bored writing them and you attract a variety of readers. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Wilf: Many. I papered the wall of the loo in my last house with them and kept on trying.
Morgen: <laughs> That’s apparently what most people do, although I read someone the other day who shreds hers. I keep mine in a display book (just the one so far). Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Wilf: They are almost as difficult to find as a willing publisher. They’re useful but not vital and extraordinarily picky. I think they’re spoiled by a surfeit of authors.
Morgen: Apparently they’re more difficult to get now than publishers and a lot of publishers (the smaller presses certainly) are willing to deal directly. I’ve heard of agents becoming publishers which is interesting. Are your books available as eBooks?
Wilf: My documentaries and first novel are all “tree books”. Only the last is an ebook.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Wilf: I’m having to do much of the promotion for my ebook myself, with good guidance and added promo by the publishers. I’m no way big enough to attempt becoming a “brand” but do have a website.
Morgen: 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?
Wilf: A tough one. My favourites are a middle-aged, worldly wise woman who runs a bush pub, an ex-soldier who tackles a massive Russian plot to cause mayhem, and a lean, slick, suave head of secret police in Mozambique. Actors? Michael Caine, Al Pacino, Kenneth Branagh, Glen Close, Helen Mirren, Charlize Theron … among others.
Morgen: A great cast. Did your publisher let you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Wilf: They are certainly important. They must be punchy yet descriptive. I wrote the titles of my novels and one documentary and had a say in the others.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Wilf: I have another completed novel accepted and waiting for publication and two more novels simmering on the hob, exercising my imagination vigorously.
Morgen: Well done on your acceptance. You say “exercising my imagination vigorously”, does that mean you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Wilf: No, I can’t write every day especially while burdened with promoting. When I can I get down to writing for weeks at a stretch, then take a break for a week or two to avoid writer’s block.
Morgen: Your stories sound quite complex, do you plot or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Wilf: I start with a basic scenario and adapt and adorn as I go along.
Morgen: No doubt your characters taking over… do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Wilf: No specific method but I shape them very much from people I know or have encountered in my career, which makes them real, credible. Their names I invent or pluck from a phone book.
Morgen: A popular choice (along with baby name books). Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Wilf: After a lifetime of writing non-fiction then several documentaries I’ll stick to fiction. I’m no good at poetry. I like short stories but there’s little market for them.
Morgen: As a short story author myself, you’re sadly right (so I’m editing my novels as we speak… well, after we speak, obviously ). Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Wilf: I edit as I go along, starting the day by going over yesterday’s work, then at the end I go through the whole product again. And I’ve learned the value of having a damn good editor.
Morgen: Everyone should have one (mine’s great). Do you have to do much research?
Wilf: Luckily my two published novels and the one in the wings needed little research because they’re set in backgrounds and situations I know intimately from my work. I’ve had to do a great deal for the next two, however, and it’s fun.
Morgen: It’s good to hear you say that. Research isn’t my favourite although it’s much easier having the internet to hand. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Wilf: I like writing in the third person. I might try first person for one of the leading characters in my next book but I’m reluctant because the “I” feels like an ego trip. I’ve never tried second person.
Morgen: Oh do, I love it (and most of my writing comes out in it). It’s not to everyone’s taste but I’d urge every writer to at least find out. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Wilf: Yes, my autobiography.
Morgen: Hopefully for your family though. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Wilf: The least favourite? Being glued to a chair in front of a monitor and battling with temperamental software, with too little physical exercise. The favourite? Completing a book to my satisfaction and getting the thumbs up from my wife and my publishing editor.
Morgen: I’d agree with those. Computers are great when they work… although I’ve had a Mac for the past couple of years so there’s been less throwing toys out of prams. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Wilf: Build on situations, settings and personalities from your personal experience. Don’t be too proud to accept critical advice. Avoid adverbs. Don’t despair – the people who reject are not as bright as you.
Morgen: I love that. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook ?
Wilf: Einstein, Dickens, H G Wells, also Richard Dawkins and Mamphele Ramphele. I would give them smoked salmon followed by venison stew and strawberries with avocado sorbet.
Morgen: “avocado sorbet”… wow, that sounds nice. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Wilf: Advice I gave to gung-ho young reporters: “If you get yourself killed, you’re fired”.
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Wilf: Not really. I’ve been involved in nature conservation and local charity work.
Morgen: Me too (Red Cross volunteer). What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Wilf: Read a lot, enjoy pub lunches with friends, keep up with our sons and grandchildren, potter in the workshop fixing and making things.
Morgen: And I bet the time goes really quickly. Are there any writing-related websites that you find useful?
Morgen: Ooh, I like the sound of the latter. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Wilf: That’s moot. Depends on the kind of writing. I think there’s a big future for non-fiction like biographies, history, science and the like but there’s a big debate about whether the Internet and ebooks will boost or destroy good fiction writing.
Morgen: That’s true. There’s a lot of unedited work out there but I do think people are reading more. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Wilf: I have a website, http://wilfnussey.co.za, which I’m still tweaking.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Wilf: The name of my latest book, “Darts of Deceit”, available on Amazon.
Morgen: And Smashwords. Thank you, Wilf.
I then invited Wilf to include an extract of his writing…
The long chatter of the AK-47s and the whipcracks of double-tap fire from the FN and G3 rifles continued for a lifetime of ten seconds, waned to random shots as the attackers changed magazines, and rose again to a crescendo.
The man on guard was sitting in the radio room sipping sweet black tea and listening to Prokofiev on Radio South Africa when he heard the shots. Simultaneously bullets came snapping through the thin walls around him, spraying him with splinters.
He reacted with the reflexes of an athlete. In one fluid movement he dropped the mug, grabbed the Scorpion from the table and was on his way to the door before the mug hit the floor.
He banged it open and ran out. Five strides from it he spun around looking for targets. His mistake was not to switch off the light in the hut.
It streamed from the door and spotlighted him like a character on stage. Pencils of tracers probed from the dark and punctured him from head to hips, killing him instantly.”
Wilf Nussey was a newspaperman for forty years, all but four of them based in Africa. He was a foremost foreign correspondent for the Argus group of newspapers for twenty years spanning most of Africa’s transition to independence and its continuing upheavals. Before that he was a freelance correspondent in Kenya for various British and North American media and lived and worked in Britain and Canada. Assignments have taken him to the Middle East, Far East, Europe and New Zealand. Five years after being appointed editor of a small newspaper, he quit to write books and freelance and has produced four successful documentaries and a collection of stories in South Africa. Now he and his wife live within yards of the sea at Simon’s Town in South Africa’s Cape Peninsula.
Update October 2012: Rebel ePublishers will soon release my next novel “The Hidden Third” about an attempt to overthrow the new South African government after the first democratic elections in 1994 – fiction but it could have happened. I’m going to drop my website soon because I have started a blog at wilfnussey.wordpress.com which is much easier to run. It and other data can also be picked up Googling “Wilf Nussey”.
Congratulations, Wilf, especially on picking WordPress but then I could be biased.
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