Welcome to the one hundred and thirtieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with supernatural mystery, historical and short story author Geoffrey Guiver. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Geoffrey, lovely to ‘see’ you again. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Geoffrey: I started writing when I was in the armed forces. I don’t think the Services were quite ready for me; I became very bored on long, tedious deployments, and picked up a pen. I kept writing in civilian life. Corporate pressures resulted in several false starts to books, until one day I fell out with my boss, and took a career break to write. Fool that I was, I thought I could dash off a book in six months. Four years and multiple re-writes later, the career break has become a way of life. The ex-boss, by the way, will bear no resemblance at all to a particularly nasty character in my next book.
Morgen: I believe you Geoffrey. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Geoffrey: I like to write material that has a strong emotional or spiritual dimension. Saxon, the book I’ve just finished, is a supernatural mystery at the ethereal end of the scale, with just a hint of sulphur amongst the roses. I’m told my writing has a powerful sense of place; I can trace that back to an inspirational Geography professor who could see history written in the landscape. I set Saxon in the village of Allingley, which would have been Aegl-ingas-leigh in Anglo-Saxon, the clearing of the folk of Aegl.
Morgen: Historical is very popular – three agents I met at Winchester in July all needed more. 🙂 What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Geoffrey: I live in hope!
Morgen: Ahh… well, in the meantime, how much of the marketing do you do for your writing?
Geoffrey: Social media publicity is an art I’m learning.
Morgen: It is. And it’s hard work but fun and often rewarding (although, like you, my books aren’t available yet so I’m hoping). I know the answer to this one but I’ll ask anyway; have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Geoffrey: I won the ‘Get Writing 2011’ conference prize for a short story, and that certainly helped. I sense that even an unpublished writer is taken more seriously once they have independent recognition.
Morgen: You did, I was there (and a shortlist, second year in a row)… well done again. 🙂 Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Geoffrey: Yes! And for good commercial reasons. I still depend on a trickle of business consultancy to pay the bills. My clients would be less disposed to hire me if they realised how obsessed I was with writing fiction.
Morgen: Or maybe they’d be jealous / delighted / curious (delete as appropriate). I’m glad to hear you use the word ‘obsessed’ as that’s exactly how I feel. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Geoffrey: Not yet, but I’m looking. I think a good agent can multiply sales, but I sense the market is polarising between the big name, big publisher deals and the new entrants. The middle is being squeezed.
Morgen: I think every corner is being squeezed but as you’re obsessed I know you’ll just keep going. Are you involved at all with eBooks? Do you read them?
Geoffrey: I had an offer to publish Saxon from an American, royalty-paying, e-pub/print-on-demand publisher earlier this year. We disagreed about the contract, but with hindsight the book wasn’t ready, even with the help of their excellent UK editor. The great advantage of the e-pub revolution is that if you define publication as having a valid ISBN, the barriers to publication are coming down.
Morgen: They are, and I think it’s incredibly exciting.
Geoffrey: The downside … is that the barriers to publication are coming down. Stuff can be published that could never get into traditional print, and the easier it is to be published, in some form, the harder it is to be heard amongst the noise.
Morgen: That too (and that’s a hot topic in the LinkedIn forums) but I still maintain that good reviews will out… an author (of any calibre) can only have so many friends and family. What was your first acceptance?
Geoffrey: Having a short story, Muse, accepted for publication in the Litopia anthology. That was quite a buzz.
Morgen: Ah yes, you’re on Litopia (http://litopia.com). I’d forgotten. A great site / show. 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Geoffrey: Haven’t we all? The hardest one for me was an agent who turned me down earlier this year. We’d been introduced by a published author, he’d seen me win a writing prize, and he wanted to like the book. That rejection hurt. Six months and much rewriting later, I’ve absorbed his feedback and have a much finer work. That particular door has closed, but if I met him now I’d shake his hand and thank him.
Morgen: Something good came out of it. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next, Geoffrey?
Geoffrey: Another supernatural mystery, again a present-day plot that’s grounded in English history (in this case the 14th century) and the English landscape. I’ve provisionally titled it Guardian.
Morgen: Ooh, there was a TV series called that (nothing like yours; modern day lawyer – played by the same guy as The Mentalist, which I also love – two great flawed characters) Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Geoffrey: I wish. I write in spurts in between consultancy projects. I don’t think I’ve ever achieved more than 2,000 words in a day, and if you measured SAXON across the time it has taken to write, rewrite, polish, edit, etc., it would average nearer to 200.
Morgen: Ah but 200 words a day is 73,000 over a year – just about a novel-length project. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Geoffrey: Yes, I get stuck sometimes. The best cure is to be locked into an environment where your mind can float free. A long, steady, motorway drive. A boring sermon in church. (Sorry, vicar!)
Morgen: 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Geoffrey: My first attempt at a book evolved with the characters. It took me 100,000 words to realise that the absence of structure made it unsalable. Saxon was plotted, but diverged into interesting by-ways as it was written.
Morgen: Oh dear. You mention characters, do you have a method for creating them, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Geoffrey: I try to make the name fit the character. There’s a strong, fey, female character in Saxon who runs a stables. I called her Eadlin Stodman, after the Anglo-Saxon for ‘little princess’ and ‘keeper of horses’.
Morgen: Ah bless. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Geoffrey: Online, to like-minded authors. Litopia has been good for that. Some friends offer reciprocal full-book reads and that’s immensely valuable.
Morgen: I need to explore Litopia more – I show up on a Friday and Sunday night and then go again. It sounds like you’ve written a lot over the past few years, do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Geoffrey: I edit over and over and over again, and still I miss errors because I’m too close to it or have lost the will to live.
Morgen: I know that feeling (four edits of my 117,540-word 2009 NaNo novel which I pared down to 105K, which was rejected by 9 agents, but now I’m ripping it apart into a novella and anthology so the fun begins again). What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Geoffrey: Lots of time staring into space, or at the garden. I have an arbour where I write when the weather’s fine – it’s also a great thinking spot.
Morgen: How lovely. One of my neighbour’s is having a/an (monstrous) extension built so mine’s hardly a haven at the moment, but was an inspiration for one of my Story A Day May pieces called ‘Over’ (they’re coming out as an eBook shortly by the way… sorry, shameless plug). Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Geoffrey: Big, scrawly, mind-map stuff on paper, then move to a computer when the architecture of a chapter is fixed in my head.
Morgen: What sort of music do you listen to when you write?
Geoffrey: Natural birdsong. The garden’s song thrush can be distracting, but he’s wonderful for my mental state.
Morgen: How sweet. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Geoffrey: I tend to write short stories in the first person; it’s easier to convey immediacy. I’ll try to keep Guardian in first person for the same reason. Saxon’s plot required two points of view, so that’s third person.
Morgen: Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Geoffrey: Not normally, but I did finish Saxon with an epilogue. The plot is resolved in the penultimate chapter, but I wanted to leave the reader with a final, ethereal ‘sting’.
Morgen: Ooh intriguing… Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Geoffrey: Loads. Some of them are still in my head.
Morgen: So they’ll get written sometime, that’s good… I guess? 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Geoffrey: Creating something you know is good, and having others enthuse with you. I just wish you could bank enthusiasm.
Morgen: But hopefully that’s an ongoing thing. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Geoffrey: How much there is to learn.
Morgen: There is, isn’t there. I’ve been on loads of courses (the latest being Helen Hunt’s http://fictionisstrangerthanfact.blogspot.com women’s magazine short story course, which was great, yesterday!) And even top writers say they’re still learning. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Geoffrey: If I ever stop being an aspiring writer, I’ll be qualified to say.
Morgen: Ah… see “Even top writers…” Having used the word ‘obsessed’ I don’t think you’ll stop. 🙂 What do you like to read?
Geoffrey: Stuff with human depth. Isabelle Allende, Paulo Coelho, Tracy Chevalier, Kate Mosse.
Morgen: One of my friends (who’s a reader rather than writer; one of the few!) LOVES Paulo Coelho. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Morgen: I love horses (and your picture :)). My mum was one of Stirling Moss’ (British racing driver) sister’s (Pat) grooms so I guess it was inevitable. 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Morgen: I concur. 🙂 In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Geoffrey: Based in the UK, but the online network of beta-readers includes writers in the USA and continental Europe. Location doesn’t seem to be a factor.
Morgen: Absolutely, that’s what most interviewees say. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Geoffrey: A lot of hard graft. Online marketing seems to be a skill that’s as important as writing.
Morgen: It is, but not as fun / creative / quirky (delete as appropriate). Is there a question you’d like to ask me?
Geoffrey: Can you introduce me to a tame agent?
Morgen: The only ones that spring to mind are Litopia’s AgentPete (who I think takes new authors on very rarely but does get submissions), John Jarrold (http://www.johnjarrold.co.uk) who’s been at Verulam the last two years but I’m pretty sure he only takes fantasy and sci-fi. I met three (female) agents at Winchester in July (Jane Judd, Lorella Belli and Judith Murdoch) but they’re predominantly after crime and historical. I’d been warned that Judith was scary but she was really pleasant to me, but then we both know Sally Spedding so that broke the ice. I met Scott Pack (HarperCollins) at Verulam in February and he’s really friendly so you could try him. Well, thank you for this interview Geoffrey and hope to see you at Verulam next February. 🙂
I then invited Geoffrey to include an extract of his writing:
The mind can do a lot of thinking in its final moments. Some strange corner of Fergus’s brain had time to know that the stag in the middle of the road was magnificent. Shaggy-maned and bearing its antlers with all the poise of a medieval jousting helm, the beast had been staring downhill with its nose into the wind as if the last gust had carried the sound of a distant call. At the first thump and shudder of the brakes it turned its head towards them, and did not move. It merely glared at them over its shoulder so that the grizzled, moisture-matted pelt folded into its neck like the stole of an ancient king.
That same part of Fergus’s mind, the bit that wasn’t panicking and bracing his body for impact, wondered at the infinitesimal detail of the scene. A light fog snorting from a greying muzzle. Foliage, crystal sharp in the autumn patchwork of yellow-and-black, leaf-and-bark. The vibrations in a raindrop on the windscreen as the ABS shuddered beneath them and they side-slipped over wet leaves with almost no check to their speed.
Geoffrey Guiver has been both a serviceman and a businessman, forging a career in international marketing before taking a career break to write. The career break has since become a way of life. He was the winner of the ‘Get Writing 2011’ prize and has just completed his first novel, Saxon. Geoffrey lives with his wife in the Chiltern Hills between London and Oxford, and divides his time between writing and business consulting. He is also an amateur musician and keen horse rider, passions which sometimes creep into his stories.
Update 2012: “Since our interview I have signed with an agent – Ian Drury of Shiel Land Associates – and at his request ‘Saxon’ has been renamed ‘Swanmaiden’.” Congratulations Geoffrey. 🙂
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