Welcome to the one hundred and seventy-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s novelist, non-fiction author and ghostwriter Andrew Crofts. 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, Andrew. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Andrew: I left school at 17, (the same school as Evelyn Waugh, David Hare, Tom Sharpe, Christopher Hampton and Tim Rice) and went straight to London to make my fortune as a writer. Over the following years I was a business writer, a travel writer, a novelist, a women’s page writer, a comic strip writer – you get the idea.
Morgen: I do, plenty of experience (looking on the positive side). What genre do you generally write?
Andrew: Mostly I write memoirs and general fiction, but I have tried virtually every genre imaginable.
Morgen: Me too (other than sci-fi/fantasy). What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Andrew: I have been working as a writer and ghostwriter for forty years now, and have published more than eighty books. I can’t now remember the first time I saw one of my books on a shelf, which is odd now I think about it.
Morgen: I would think so only having electronic books but I’m sure the lines would blur after eighty… that’s amazing. Have you ever seen a member of the public reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Andrew: I was once on holiday and wandering around the hotel pool I spotted three of my ghosted titles being read at the same time. That was a good and slightly comical moment.
Morgen: I guess with so many the odds are more in your favour, but a shame you couldn’t jump up and down and say “I wrote that!” – as I would – somehow, looking at whoever was on the front or back covers they may not believe you. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Andrew: For years I had a small add in Bookseller magazine headed “Ghostwriter for Hire”, but in recent years my website has done nearly all the marketing for me. That gets me the commissions and then I have traditionally left it up to the publishers to market the books after that.
Morgen: That does make sense seeing as your name isn’t on the product (which is a shame). 😦
Andrew: Now, with electronic publishing, all that is changed and I must put my mind to the marketing myself – an enjoyable experience.
Morgen: That’s refreshing to hear… with many other interviewees, it’s been their ‘least favourite’. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Andrew: I have never been involved in competitions, but anything that pulls a title to the notice of potential readers has to be good.
Morgen: It does. 🙂 Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Andrew: Because of my ghosting work I am very used to being invisible. That means I have never really been able to build a brand. Maybe that can change with electronic publishing.
Morgen: Let’s hope so after all this time being incognito. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Andrew: I have worked with a number of agents on a variety of projects over the years. They are certainly a great help, but sometimes you can manage without them.
Morgen: A lot of us who are going the eBook route are hoping so (some succeeding very nicely). Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Andrew: I have an Ipad so I read a lot of ebooks and thoroughly enjoy the experience. I believe some of my books have been made into ebooks by the publishers, but I have just gone out on a limb and published a novel myself “The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer”. So far I have found it an exhilarating process. It is wonderful to be able to select your own cover, for instance, and to see things happening almost instantly instead of having to wait months for publishers to do all their preparations.
Morgen: Isn’t it… I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to get my first sale (just yesterday). They’ve been up less than a week and three out of four are free but to-date I’ve sold four of the fourth (a writer’s block workbook) so am just $3.92 in the black but it’s SO thrilling and I’m so grateful to everyone who’d downloaded them and to the two ratings I’ve had. To get back to talking about you… sorry, you can probably tell that I’m still on a high. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Andrew: My first acceptance was probably a book called “Hype – the essential guide to marketing yourself” – a book which predicted much of what was to come with celebrity culture and reality television. It is always a pleasant feeling to have a customer for your work, or at least a backer.
Morgen: It is. OK, I’ll take this silly grin off my face now. 🙂 Mr Crofts is here to conduct a serious interview, Morgen. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Andrew: More than I could ever count. The secret is to have a great many projects on the go at once so that if one collapses you have other things to distract you and to be getting on with.
Morgen: Absolutely. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Andrew: At the moment I am ghosting a number of titles for a variety of clients around the world and working at the same time on promoting “The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer “ in any way I can.
Morgen: Which presumably you’ll be good at having written a book on it… although I’m sure a lot’s happened in between. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Andrew: I write most days, usually about 3,000 words. I think 5,000 is the most I have ever done, which is too much for comfort.
Morgen: 3,000 a day… wow. I often say 500 words = 182,500 a year but that’s astronomical, no wonder you’ve penned 80+ books. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Presumably you don’t ever suffer from it.
Andrew: It is my belief that writer’s block simply means you haven’t yet done enough research or enough thinking. Once you are ready to write a book it will just flow out of you. If it doesn’t do that then you need to go away and do some more preparation.
Morgen: You do, just get through it or come back to it afresh. A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Andrew: My inspiration generally comes from a telephone call or email commissioning me to write something.
Morgen: That would do it for me. 🙂
Andrew: At other times it simply comes from life or the media. There are stories everywhere you look.
Morgen: There are, I probably have more than I could ever write, unless I go at Andrew-Crofts-warp speed. I’m so impressed, can you tell? 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Andrew: I usually get a number of ideas that I find mesh together and create a story as a result. The plot then begins to fall into place.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Andrew: I think about people I know or people I have met and I amalgamate their characters, a little of this and a little of that, until I have someone completely new. The names just seem to come. Concentrating hard on listening to them in your head as you write will make them believable.
Morgen: 🙂 If you write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Andrew: Someone commissions me.
Morgen: Do you write poetry?
Andrew: I’m afraid I am rather ignorant about poetry, but I would love to be able to write song lyrics like Ray Davies or someone like that. Is poetry that popular? I rather think that it is an elite taste, a bit like opera.
Morgen: I must admit it’s a bit over my head but I’ve never been sat down and taught how to write it. I have too many ideas for prose as it is but it would be nice to ‘get’ it… or at least be able to contribute more when the four poetry writers (two just poetry, the other two a mixture) are reading their out. And I’m sure they’d say that poetry is very popular but, like short stories, woefully underrated. Speaking of which, do you write short stories?
Andrew: I don’t tend to write short stories simply because they are so hard to sell,…
Morgen: my point exactly
Andrew: …but I have a feeling that ebooks are going to change all that and make length much less important.
Morgen: Oh I hope so. One of my freebies is just 658 words long (partly why it’s free) but I think having eBooks that fit coffee breaks are one of the best things about the format, that and it’s no gamble for a reader to take on a new author. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Andrew: I sometimes lecture if I am asked.
Morgen: Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Andrew: Sometimes the first person is the client if it is ghostwritten. Sometimes the agent if there is one involved, sometimes the publisher.
Morgen: It must make a change going from solitude to dealing with so many people. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Andrew: I’m quite good at getting it right first time – practice I guess.
Morgen: <laughs> I’d say so. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Andrew: Most of my material comes from the mouths of my subjects so I am spared doing too much research. I get a great deal of feedback on some of my books. I wrote one about twenty years ago entitled “Sold” for a lady called Zana Muhsen and because my name is on the cover beside hers I receive emails from readers most days.
Morgen: Wow, even after all that time.
Andrew: We have sold around four millions copies now, I think, which is very gratifying.
Morgen: I’d be happy with that, but then I’m easily pleased. 🙂 What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Andrew: I simply listen to people. I tape and I think and then I sit down to write, fuelled with a lot of espressos.
Morgen: Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Andrew: Always on the screen now.
Morgen: Me too, although I tend to edit on paper, certainly with longer pieces. 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?
Andrew: I need peace and quiet, although it doesn’t have to be complete silence. I need to be in my own space at home.
Morgen: I work best here. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Andrew: I always find the first person much easier, even if I am writing as a third world dictator or an inner city streetwalker.
Morgen: Now there’s an image. 🙂
Andrew: I have never tried second person.
Morgen: Oh I love it. I put a load in the workbook (and there are more in my blog’s exercises section) so I’m hoping more people will try it. It lends itself to quite dark pieces, which is so my style of writing… either that or I’m just weird. It’s not favoured by editors which is a shame but then this is where eBooks come in again (and yes, one of my freebies is second person). Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Andrew: I’m not that bothered with them. I like to just get on with telling the stories.
Morgen: I get the impression that’s how editors feel too. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Andrew: There were a lot in the early days that have long since vanished. Now most things get out there in one form or another. The Internet makes it possible to make everything available.
Morgen: Isn’t it great. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Andrew: I love everything about it. I love finding things out and I love writing about things and telling other people. I love meeting interesting people and I love the seclusion and I love being my own boss. The actual typing can get a bit painful after a few hours of course, but there is tedium in every job.
Morgen: At the rate you type I can’t say I’m surprised… which leads me nicely on to my next question: if anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Andrew: I was surprised how hard it was to make a living at the beginning.
Morgen: A lot of authors have said that, I guess you’re the proof that you just have to keep going. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Andrew: Never, never give up trying.
Morgen: Absolutely. What do you like to read? Any authors you could recommend?
Andrew: I would recommend everyone to follow their own instincts and to read widely. Don’t feel that you have to plough on to the end of a book if you find you have made a mistake.
Morgen: I can’t do that. Some people do to either see if it gets better (often it doesn’t) or to prove something but I don’t have that much spare time. That said I struggled with Kate Atkinson’s first book ‘Behind the scenes at the museum’ because there were SO many female characters but I was doing it for the first part of a three-part college course and I was so glad by the end that I’d persevered (the characters were all related so I ended up drawing a family tree). Kate’s now one of my top favourite authors (and how would I love to interview her!). Roald Dahl is another.
Andrew: There are so many books I want to read but never seem to have the time. “Perfume” and “Love in the Time of Cholera” are both pretty special, but then so are “Lolita” and “Gatsby”. There is a lot of good stuff being written in places like India. Too many books in the world and not enough hours to read them.
Morgen: Oh, tell me about it. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Andrew: “You’re number one in the charts this week”.
Morgen: 🙂 I’ve been #7 but sadly that was in the Smashwords submission queue but it was a good feeling seeing it on the screen even if only for a second. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Andrew: I have a large garden and many splendid children. That soaks up whatever time is left.
Morgen: I have no excuse then because I have a gardener (one of my Monday night writing group, we swap skills) and a dog. 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Andrew: I can’t think of any. “Read and google widely” would be good advice for anyone.
Morgen: Sounds good to me. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Andrew: I am based in England which is sometimes a problem with selling to America. Hopefully the Internet will make borders irrelevant and then the only limiting factor will be language.
Morgen: I was going to be very English tourist then and say that at least everyone speaks English but it’s true, we’re very lucky speaking what must be one of the main internet languages. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Andrew: I have tried most of them and find LinkedIn the most useful. Again it is a problem finding the time to utilise them properly.
Morgen: Sorry Facebook and Twitter but I’d favour LinkedIn too, although they’re great for different purposes. I love the ‘family’ unit on some of the threads on LinkedIn. It’s more ‘contained’. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Andrew: Have a look at my website www.andrewcrofts.com and from there you can get onto another site for two of my novels, “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride” and “The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer”, which are interlinked, and also to my blog.
Morgen: Great titles by the way, I’m a big fan of titles and love being intrigued. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Andrew: I think the future is very promising as far as outlets go, the biggest problem is competition – there are far more people now educated and equipped to enter the market, which makes it hard for customers to sort the wood from the trees.
Morgen: Again I think it’s down to reviews. People won’t spend the money unless enough people have said it’s good. If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Andrew: Absolutely nothing.
Morgen: How lovely… a happy man. 🙂 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Andrew: A few years ago Robert Harris wrote a book “The Ghost”, and quoted me at the start of each chapter. Roman Polanski then turned it into a movie starring Ewan McGregor as the ghostwriter, which was exciting.
Morgen: I saw the film. It was very good (except I guessed the ending). I’m going to have to go and find the book now to see what he wrote about you. 🙂 Thank you Andrew.
I then invited Andrew to include an excerpt of his writing…
On that forty-five minute train journey to London I transformed from fifteen-year old Maggie Mitchell into eighteen year-old Maggie de Beer like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. I would be eighteen for about six years after that.
It hardly seems worth lying about where or when I was born any longer, not in these times of Heat Magazine and the bloody Internet, when everyone can find out everything about you at the touch of a button. No chance of retaining an air of international mystery and glamour these days, which is what I was trying to do when I used to tell people I was a child of the Empire, conceived in Monte Carlo after a successful night for my parents in the casino, born in India and brought up in Kuala Lumpur. I used to talk about how my father was in the diplomatic service; ‘all terribly hush-hush,’ I would say, ‘not even Mummy was allowed to know what he did’.
In fact my father worked for the council in Haywards Heath, inspecting things, and the closest we ever got to lives of international mystery was a couple of package tours to Majorca in the 1960’s, the stress of which seemed to almost blow my mother’s entire nervous system. But I could hardly build a career as a global superstar and icon from those beginnings, could I? So, I changed everything about my past the day I sneaked out of the house with the best family suitcase.
Andrew Crofts is one of Britain’s most successful ghostwriters with more than 80 books in print, many of which were Sunday Times number one bestsellers. He has also written novels including “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride”, the new e-book “The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer” available at Smashwords and “Maisie’s Amazing Maids”. He is also the author of “The Freelance Writer’s Handbook” published by Piatkus and “Ghostwriting” published by A&C Black. Andrew will also be returning as my guest blogger this Tuesday evening, 8th November, to talk more about ghostwriting.
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