Welcome to the four hundred and twenty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-elemented thriller novelist David McGowan. 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, David. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
David: Hi! My name is David McGowan, I’m based in Liverpool in the UK. I came to be a writer because I started to write a short story one night when I couldn’t sleep. I’d always been a voracious reader (big Stephen King and Dean Koontz fan, even at 14!). Over a number of years later and with several jobs and a degree in English language and literature gained, it became The Hunter Inside, my debut novel.
Morgen: I blame Stephen King for me wearing glasses (book and torch under duvet in my teens). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
David: I think my preference is thriller, but in my own inimitable style! The Hunter Inside is a serial killer thriller, packed with suspense and psychological horror and a huge twist of the supernatural, so as you can tell I don’t like to be pigeon-holed! The feedback I have received is that I have managed to cross over the genres successfully!
Morgen: I’m the same. I’ve written four novels and they’re all different. I say I write ‘dark and light’ but it’s usually the darker side of light. Writing a story a day (for story a day may then 5pm fiction) lets me write whatever genre I want. I eBook my work anyway so it’s far more flexible. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
David: Just The Hunter Inside at the moment, but I’m just over 23,000 words into my second novel and it’s flying from my fingers! I would only write under a pseudonym if I tried a totally different genre. For example, I’ve written 6000 words of a children’s novel that I think is really good, and I might think about pursuing that in the future, but it would be under a pseudonym, as I wouldn’t want a ten-year-old buying The Hunter Inside for their Kindle thinking it was a children’s book – it will scare most adults half to death, so god only knows what it would do to a child!
Morgen: That’s a good idea. Many established authors do the same (Barbara Vine = Ruth Rendell, Caroline Harvey = Joanna Trollope etc.). If you’re self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
David: I tried to go down the traditional route at first and prospected several agents. The waiting time is ridiculous, the costs are prohibitive, and the rejections are highly likely due to the amount of unsolicited manuscripts agents receive. I understand it perfectly and I sympathise, but self-publishing for me means that I have total control over my work, pricing, editing, marketing etc etc. It just means working 16-hour days and never leaving the house at weekends!
Morgen: I know that feeling. You’ve self-published so presumably your book is also available as an eBook? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
David: The Hunter Inside is only available as an eBook. Currently just on Kindle or Kindle App. I have done everything, including the formatting for Kindle, which isn’t as simple as you would imagine! For anyone writing a novel who intends to format it themselves for Kindle, one tip – do not EVER use the tab key for an indent! Use the ruler at the top of your Word page – it’ll save you a LOT of hassle!
Morgen: I did a talk on creating eBooks on the Kindle and Smashwords to one of my writing groups recently and even the technophobic realised it’s not that hard. I’m thinking of eBooking the handout I wrote (probably expanding it and probably for free). I went with Smashwords first because of their daunting 70+ page guide (which was just that long because it was so thorough) but they gave me an ISBN and submitted to Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo etc. Then I went with Amazon and it’s so similar I wondered why I’d left a 5-month gap in the middle. Do you have a favourite of your stories or characters? If any of your pieces were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
David: My, and I think most people who have read The Hunter Inside, favourite character is Sandy Myers. Sandy is in her early thirties, struggling to run a home, raise twin seven-year-old boys, and is living with the huge shadow of a tragic past that has been touched by evil. Now she is being hunted by someone, or something, that is intent on killing her. But the only thing she cares about is her family. She will move heaven and earth for them.
I’m not sure who I would have play her in the movie. Probably Uma Thurman!
Morgen: She is good. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
David: Yes! I commissioned a professional graphic designer to design my cover and gave him a brief. He is a friend of a friend, so he did it at a very reasonable rate, and he did an absolutely wonderful job, I’m sure everyone will agree. If you would like him to design a cover for you then let me know and I’ll see if he’s available. Mine was the first book cover he’d done – can you believe it?
Morgen: It’s a great cover. What are you working on at the moment / next?
David: I am currently working on my second novel. As I write this I am just over 23 thousand words into it, and I’m delighted with it. It is called From the Sky, and is about how a small town in Northern California, in the shadows of the giant redwoods, is affected by the arrival of visitors from the sky, and the pilgrimage 6 men, 1 woman, a 12 year old boy called Tucker Turner and a dog called Samuel must go on across land, over mountains and over horizons. Are they running away from, or towards, their destiny? You can read the first 10,000 words here.
Morgen: You mentioned your 16-hour days, do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
David: There’s no such thing as writer’s block! It should be called ‘commitment block’, and yes I do suffer from it sometimes. I work full-time as well as write, so I leave home at 7.30am and arrive back at 6.15pm. Then I have to cook, clean, and all the other things that come with running a house. My secret is to prepare a meal that can be frozen to last a couple of nights, or cook something that goes in the oven for an hour like baked potato or casserole, and that gives me an hour after work to write before I eat. If you sit on the sofa after dinner, I can guarantee you won’t do any writing! When I am on annual leave from work, my day is filled, and normally twice as long as a work day. I get up at 6am and write until noon, then I do all my social networking, blogging, emailing, interview requesting, and others like Goodreads etc until about 6pm. Then I will have dinner and try to switch off in front of the TV, but I invariably grab my iPad and catch up with other people’s blogs, find some new blogs I like, tweet, and then I’m working again!
Morgen: That sounds like my day minus the day job (having two lodgers pay the bills) but I still struggle for time. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
David: I plot, but not the classic A to B where A = Once upon a time and B = And they all lived happily ever after. I might have an idea of big scenes that I know will happen at a certain point, and then I’ll plan how the character(s) reach that point in their journey. I planned the first 20,000 words of my work in progress that way, and it will likely reach 30,000 by the time I get to the end of those notes. Plus I’ve been visited by my muse today who has helped me write my plot notes for the next 20/30,000 words, so I’m feeling very happy!
Morgen: I love that. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
David: One of the hardest things is finding names for characters! It must be something with the human brain that makes it want the characters names to all begin with the same letter! Out of the six men who are all main characters in my work in progress, two of them are called Jim! I might have to change that! I like to know them aswell – their backgrounds, morals, habits, values and how they were raised – in my own head before I commit them to paper (or MS Word!). It gives them depth and makes them believable. They also have to be consistent in their outlooks and actions, unless influenced by a higher force (wink).
Morgen: I have an A-Z strip blue tacked to the based of my monitor so if I have a character called Charlie, I can pick another name from further down the alphabet. I went through a phase of wanting to call them Elliot (first or last name) but I’ve not done that for a while (I’ve not yet written today’s 5pm fiction piece so I might now I’ve mentioned it ). Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
David: From my first novel to my second, I have found that my writing is a lot more developed, but I think editing your work well is as important as writing a good story. I also find that editing the last couple of scenes I have written when I sit down to write pulls me back into the story and helps me to focus and feel part of the world I have created.
Morgen: That’s a good idea. Do you have to do much research?
David: Totally. I don’t see much glamour about where I live, so I set my work elsewhere. From the Sky is set in Northern California, so I have to research EVERYTHING! It’s a fun and very educational experience though. I’m now planning a hiking trip there in the summer (if everyone buys The Hunter Inside that is!).
Morgen: I hope this helps. We are very lucky being writers today as the internet gives us such wealth of information. I love it. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
David: Third person is the way for me. I find first person too limiting. I don’t think a little use of second person as anything too bad. It’s not popular and that’s probably because it’s very difficult to do, but I think in short-ish narrative sections it can be really useful for pulling the reader even further into the story. I’m gearing myself up to slip into second person for the end of section one of From the Sky.
Morgen: Oh yay. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
David: I wrote a lot of poetry in my teenage years and am lucky enough to have been published in the UK and USA, but I don’t currently write any short stories or non-fiction, as I don’t have enough hours in my day!
Morgen: That’s probably why I write short stories more than anything else (it’s what I read too – short attention span, not reading regularly and wanting to read the whole story in one go). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
David: I have three or four novels that I started and abandoned. They’re all pretty good actually, but I don’t want to get pigeon-holed into one strict genre like crime novels. I’m more like Stephen King, who writes a broad range of work. People think King writes horror, but he really doesn’t. When you read a book like 11.22.63, The Stand, or Under the Dome, you really see that King is a master storyteller who pretty much has his own genre! As a big fan, my work has been influenced by King, and I think he will be studied at universities in fifty years time.
Morgen: I read some months ago that Stephen King hates being called a horror writer but sees himself more as science-fiction… if my memory serves me right. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
David: Yes. I tried to get an agent for The Hunter Inside and got about half a dozen rejections. By the sixth one I just cried and gave up for several years. Then someone told me I could self-publish on Amazon, and I’ve never looked back. Why torture myself with rejection when I can have full control, higher percentage of royalties and connect directly with my readers?
Morgen: That’s why I do it (I tried the agent route too, a dozen by email and four in person). Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
David: Again, time restraints prevent me from doing the fun things I would like to do with writing!
Morgen: One day, maybe. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
David: All of it! Facebook, twitter, blogging, website design, author interviews, guest blogs, review requests, publicity finding, QR codes – the list is endless and growing all the time, which is why I have no time to write short stories or enter competitions!
Morgen: QR codes… that’s a new one on me (she says turning to Google)… oh yes, those square squiggly bar codes (thank you Wikipedia). What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
David: I hate that moment when you feel your focus waver and you know you’ll get nothing else that’s decent written for that day. That’s why I like to start writing at 6am when I can, so I can get 4 or 5 hours in before that dreaded moment arrives. It takes such concentration and effort that even doing 4 or 5 hours is punishing on the old grey matter!
Morgen: That’s pretty good going. I’m more of a morning person and usually write my short story on the first dog walk. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
David: Don’t give up. Keep pushing. If you think you’re working too hard, work harder. When you have a success, don’t relax. Step it up. Also, if you want to write well, you need to be educated. I can stand reading a novel where the author shifts tense between scenes, but not one where they shift tense during a sentence, or don’t punctuate the commonest of things. It stands out, and puts me off reading. So take an English class if you need to – you’ll enjoy it and it will improve your writing. None of us are ever too old to learn (me included!).
Morgen: My Deputy Chair at one of my writing groups is a retired English teacher so we have some really interesting conversations when we’re critiquing each others’ work… ooh we’ve just launched our H.E. Bates short story competition with crime writer Stephen Booth as judge, that could be something for you to write a short story for! We have a theme for the first time: ‘A walk at midnight’… perfect for a ‘dark’ writer such as yourself). If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
David: My famous chilli would be the dish. I would invite Johnny Cash and June Carter. Then I’d spend all night being in awe of them! If I invited anyone else they would only get annoyed, because I’d be wrapped up in Johnny and June – they’re my heroes!
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
David: Only you can stop you.
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
David: I host a blog at http://davidmcgowanauthor.com/blog with tips for writers and motivational pieces to help people hone their skills and get the words down on paper!
Morgen: Oh great! What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
David: I normally just about have time to cram 6 hours sleep in! But I am partial to a night in the pub and a pint (or 6) of cider!
Morgen: I used to love sweet cider (Woodpecker), and still do but never really think of drinking it, but it goes to my head really quickly. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
David: There are thousands of great blogs for writers written by writers out there. Here are some of my favourites:
http://rachelabbottwriter.wordpress.com – Rachel is the bestselling author of Only the Innocent, and has some great tips on her site for writers self-publishing their first novel.
http://poetaofficium.wordpress.com – Vee is always exploring her own attitudes to writing and hosts a very inclusive blog. She has a little community going.
http://msfowle.wordpress.com – Mel is a very talented writer and is also someone who has a very inclusive approach to writing. Why struggle alone when there is someone out there who you can share your journey and experiences with?
http://jaylt.wordpress.com – Jay is committed to helping people become better writers, and her blog is full of useful tips, author interviews and exercises to help people develop their writing.
That’s four, but I could name forty! Apologies to those I haven’t named. Other people could name four hundred!
Morgen: I interviewed Rachel back in April. I haven’t interviewed the others… yet. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
David: Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter are the main ones I use. You can’t be too focussed on making yourself into a brand if you want to get the most out of these sites. You have to connect with people, have fun and reach your audience by befriending them!
Morgen: I think even for that reason alone it’s a great time to be a writer. What do you think the future holds?
David: The future is bright for good writers who market themselves correctly. Things have changed around in the 21st century, and while I think there will always be a need for traditional booksellers and the publishing industry, writers now have better opportunities than ever to get their work out there without the approval of agents or the big six publishers and without having to print 500 copies and then wonder how to sell them!
Morgen: With two lodgers I wouldn’t have the room. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
David: Please visit my website at http://davidmcgowanauthor.com.
Follow me on Twitter @dmcgowanauthor
You can also visit The Hunter Inside’s Facebook page at http://facebook.com/thehunterinside.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
David: I would just like to thank you for the opportunity to take part in this interview Morgen (with an ‘e’!). Yours are the best and most in-depth questions I have been asked in an interview!
Morgen: You’re very welcome. Thank you very much. :*) You didn’t have to answer them all but most interviewees do and am delighted you enjoyed it.
Update November 2012: With a lot of hard work and inspiration, and a LOT of research, From the Sky (on November 28th 2012) is now almost at 76,000 words. I’m so excited about this novel – it’s the 21st century version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the moment Spielberg reads it, he’ll want the movie rights! There’s a lot going on in California, and my little band of characters are right in the middle of it all. It’s a long trek filled with extraordinary experiences that are quite literally out of this world, and a voyage of discovery for the characters involved. The ending is going to be explosive, and I can’t wait to hear the feedback of readers. I am currently recruiting some beta readers (mainly Americans, as that’s where it’s set and I’m English!), and currently have two on board. I have also contacted the fabulous CL Smith about designing my coverart (check out his amazing work at goonwrite.com). The Christmas release date has been pushed back until probably closer to spring now, but you’ll be hearing a lot about this novel, I guarantee it!
Morgen: How exciting… perhaps an author spotlight or guest blog when it does come out?
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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