Welcome to the five hundred and sixty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with debut novelist Andy Holmes. 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, Andy. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Andy: Hi Morgen, thanks for chatting to me today. My name’s Andy Holmes, I’m 32, I live in Buckinghamshire in England. I’ve worked in the media for most of my career, I’ve broadcast to most of The Midlands and the South West, but have always enjoyed writing and always wanted to write a novel. Four years ago I had some spare time when I moved down to Cornwall, so I wrote a first draft in a couple of weeks. Since then I’ve been polishing, polishing, polishing and doing more polishing until November 1st, 2012 when I was finally ready to self-publish my first e-novel, ‘Always the DJ’ via the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing format.
Morgen: It’s great hearing that you’ve always wanted to write a novel, and that you’ve done something about it already. So many people say they’ve always wanted to but left it until they’ve retired and then wished they’d done it earlier. 300 words a day is a 100,000-word novel in a year and really, we can all find the time for 300 words. 🙂 Which authors would you compare your writing to?
Andy: As this is my first self-published novel, I think it’s too early for me to compare my writing to others. I do have a number of writers I look up to, David Nobbs and Tony Parsons in particular, but like all writers I think I’m looking for my own voice and hopefully finding it.
Morgen: I’d not heard of David Nobbs until Jane Wenham-Jones said she was interviewing him at the Guildford Book Festival in October. I went to the festival on the Friday but unfortunately couldn’t stay until the Monday but I’m sure it was brilliant. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Andy: I’ve been really busy with trying to publicise ‘Always the DJ’ of late, but the plan is to probably be working on something new in early 2013. A lot will depend on the success or otherwise of ‘ATD’, if it’s a flop I certainly won’t give up, but I think as a writer if you’re given encouragement from others who tell you that they want to read me, well it’s certainly a bigger incentive to get back on the computer again. I’ve got ideas for a couple more novels at present, ‘ATD’ was very much focussed on my experiences from working as a mobile DJ, but I’ve got what I hope is a great idea for a novel based around the radio industry that I want to work on soon and develop.
Morgen: Please don’t give up. My sales are a trickle and whilst I don’t technically do much self-promotion (I’ve been waiting until I have a couple of novel out) I know this blog is great at getting my name out and I do hope it’ll push the sales up but I enjoy it either way, and like you, will never give up. We shouldn’t, because we just don’t know what’s round the corner. If we have the passion, we’ll find we couldn’t if we wanted to. 🙂 Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Andy: When I’m not working on something I tend not to write for weeks and months at a time. I make films for a living, write for a magazine called 72m (http://seventy2minutes.com/blog/72m), and do the odd bit of amateur dramatics on the side too. And I’m trying to get more media related work to boot, so I tend to scratch my inner creative itch on a regular basis anyway. But when I’m writing something I’ll do my best to add little bits on a daily basis, and then I often find (as with ‘ATD’) that the main body of the work tends to spew out quickly and then it’s a case of working out what’s worth keeping and what should be removed.
Morgen: I’m lucky in that respect, that it ‘spews’. 🙂 Hopefully you don’t have to remove too much. Whenever I hear authors say they delete huge chunks my heart sinks as I wonder whether it could have been used later, or elsewhere. This is where cut / paste should come in. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Andy: I’ve got better at planning as I’ve got older. Even at school when we were encouraged to plan essays I’d tend to just get on with, and kept up that approach at Uni. I’ve written enough, both professionally and as a hobby, to trust in myself in that respect that even if I just write with no real plan, then what comes out at the end will at least be something salvageable. But for ‘ATD’ I certainly mapped out a basic storyline, chapter by chapter, and as my experience of writing’s gone on I’m spending more time on fleshing out characters before starting to write.
Morgen: Most authors I’ve interviewed have been pantsers. It works for me too… besides, those who do plot tend to say that it goes off at a tangent anyway, usually because of the characters. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Andy: I find names the hardest part for some reason, I can’t imagine how bad I’m going to be when I have kids one day. I think it’s quite tricky to come up with believable names, so often characters end up being named after people I know, even if it’s an amalgamation of one’s surname and another’s first. So far, I’ve tend to at least base my writing on my own life experience, taking things that have happened to me, and then embellishing the tale to make a better end result and it’s certainly often been the same with character creation. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nobody in ‘ATD’ who is a carbon copy of either myself or anyone I know, but again there’s amalgamations based on the type of people I’ve met. That probably helps to make them believable and I’m always convinced it’s better to write about what you know than to dip into the unknown. However, this for me is the start of my journey as a writer, my first experience of producing something that’s viewed as a product and not just something I’ve written for fun. So hopefully the feedback I get from putting it out there, will help develop my skills and if I’m still writing in a decades time (and I see no reason why I wouldn’t) then I’ll certainly be a better writer and hopefully better at plucking new characters out of my imagination.
Morgen: They do say to write what you know but I usually have bodies in my stories and I’ve certainly only bumped people off in fiction but we’ve watched enough TV, read enough books and surf the internet enough to be able to imagine, and that’s half the fun. 🙂 Feedback is so important. I have two pages on my blog for this (https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/reviews for a list reviewers and https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/feedback for feedback from writers / readers, especially for works-in-progress – you’ll have to let me know if you’d like to be added to the latter for novel number two). 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Andy: In my view the hard bit is getting the bulk of the story down on paper. Once that’s done I actually quite enjoy the nitty gritty of the editing process. It’s the same when I edit films, the actual shooting is fine, but the real kick comes from chopping it up, ripping it apart and then slowly but surely putting all the parts in the right places for a decent end result. And I have the same approach to editing any written work I’ve done, it’s often a lonely process, no-one else can do it for you, but the more you polish, surely the more confident you’ll be in the end result, knowing that you’ve taken your time to make it as good as possible. Being still an amateur writer, agent-less and self publishing I also have a couple of people I trust to run a couple of edits along the way, which I also think is crucial as you need someone, who isn’t right in the middle of process, to be able to step back and view the material with fresh eyes.
Morgen: I found that when doing audio interviews for my podcast – the hard work began once the recording was done, and the same’s true for my novels; whilst my flash fiction is pretty much done when it comes out, I usually edit the novels between four and seven times because I invariable spot something when going through it (or someone else does). Do you have to do much research?
Andy: So far I’ve mainly written about things I have a decent knowledge of. However, I certainly have the web on hand to fill in any gaps or to give me details on anything I may have forgotten.
Morgen: Isn’t it great that we have that resource. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Andy: I’ve written the odd piece of poetry, it’s certainly a cathartic process to get the words down on paper about various experiences I’ve been through, but I regard those as very personal at this point so I’m not keen to have them as anything more than just for me. I’ve written for newspapers, fanzines and obviously for 72m magazine along the way, and have often had jobs where writing has been at the core of my work, be it copy for news bulletins, press releases or even writing jokes for a comedy prep services (didn’t make much money out of that one but good for the CV!!). I’ve also written a whole load of plays, sitcoms and other more acting based work, but again at this point most of that is more for my own amusement.
Morgen: I do think (and sometimes say) that writing, like playing the piano, like anything else, is all about practice. The more we do something, the better we get at it, the more confident we become and the more we enjoy it. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Andy: I’ve written a lot of different things over the last ten years and I never throw anything away.
Morgen: I’m so glad to hear that.
Andy: I guess I’m a believer that a half idea when you’re twenty, could well become THE idea when you’re thirty for instance, and certainly aspects of ‘ATD’ are taken from earlier work that I’d written, but then dismissed at the time. I also think there’s the argument, that various bits that you’ve written, should you ever hit the writing jackpot and become a ‘name’, will suddenly acquire a certain value in themselves so it’s always wise to have a back catalogue.
Morgen: You can certainly go back and see where a piece needs fixing. Like anything we’ve written, once some time has passed, we’ve forgotten it (and the intention behind it) enough to read it as someone else would. I wrote my second novel in 2009 so it’s fun going back through it… it’s also like meeting friends I haven’t seen for a while. 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Andy: Like most self-published authors, I’m no stranger to rejection, certainly ‘ATD’ has been round a few literary agents in the past couple of years with no success. That’s obviously never easy, but having worked in such a competitive industry as the media, I’m aware that the rejection is never personal, and it’s often less a case of the end product not being good enough, and more the fact that there are so many people jostling for publishers attentions that it’s very hard to stand out. I get the impression from talking to other authors that you need 99 percent luck to make it, and often the actual agents themselves won’t even see your manuscripts. You’ll have maybe one page to grab the attention of an intern and if you don’t, it doesn’t matter if the next 250 are world-beaters, you’ll end up on the slush pile. At least with self-publishing I’m the master, to an extent, of my own destiny, and if this method provides me with a chance to build up a following that will make me more desirable to agents, then that’s an added bonus.
Morgen: Absolutely. These days it’s all about marketing and having an audience listening to you. How much marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Andy: Having worked in the media and also public relations I’ve got, I hope, a fair idea of how the process works and also have, I hope, a number of contacts that I can get in touch with when I’m publishing a piece of work. I would say social media is making it a lot easier, certainly a lot cheaper for self-publishers to market their wares, the only drawback to that being, that again with so many self-publishers using Twitter for instance, it’s again quite hard to stand out. But at least, by scratching a few backs, you can quickly build up an online following, and a platform to promote what you’re doing. I’ve certainly put a lot of planning into the PR for ‘ATD’, I made sure I spent a month before launch teasing my potential audience in an effort to build up a bigger buzz. Only time will tell how effective this has been, I’m sure I’ll have made mistakes along the way, but also reckon I’ll have learnt for next time too.
Morgen: Word of mouth is probably the best form of advertising. If a reviewer loves your book then they have a captive audience who’ll go and check you out… apparently it’s how Fifty Shades got its break. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Andy: The hardest part is the loneliness of it all, needing the discipline to almost lock yourself away to get on with it. In that respect I’m lucky being single, as I’m not sure what the balance would have to be like if I had a wife and kids for instance, but those two things are certainly in my long term plan so I’d imagine at some point that will become an issue. But it does often feel like you’re climbing a mountain when you restart an edit for instance, but ultimately that’s a sacrifice all writers have to make, because you need an end product that you’re confident in being able to sell. My favourite parts are reading passages back, say if you haven’t looked at them for a while, and thinking to yourself, ‘Yeah that’s pretty good, and I wrote that’, I’m also looking forward to the buzz (even if it’s just from a few people) when readers contact me and say ‘hey I liked that!’
Morgen: Being single does help, although being so busy means not getting out to do anything about it. Since I’m so passionate about writing I have my heart set on meeting a writer; another excuse to go to conferences and festivals. 🙂 Another writer would understand why you have to shut yourself away and what you flinging your arms around and staring out the window means. 🙂 There’s nothing better than getting reader feedback. Friends will (probably) say they like what you’ve written but strangers don’t have to, and when they take the trouble to, it makes all the hard graft even more worthwhile. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Andy: In three words, go for it. In a slightly longer answer, if it’s something you have a passion for, there’s nothing to stop you. You HAVE to have that passion, and like most vocations relating to being creative and the arts, you have to be prepared to work VERY hard in the beginning for little or no money or professional regard. I’m at the start of the journey myself, in ten years I could be the next big thing, or I could be just someone who published a couple of e-novels before getting on with the rest of my life. But for all of us, we’ll never know until we try, so once you’ve polished, polished and polished some more, when you have a product that you feel is worth reading, get it out there and see what happens.
Morgen: Or somewhere in between at the very least; publishing more novels until you make it big. 🙂 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)?
Andy: This is a tricky one as I’ve met a few people I thought of as heroes down the years, and the end result has not always been a positive one. To that end I may just be dull and say I’d invite my best mate Neil, a literary agent who has a genuine interest in my work, and why not someone like Kelly Brook to make the place look a bit nicer. I’m working on my cooking, but with all my other creative channels, it tends to be neglected so I’ll probably hide the containers from the curry house down the road.
Morgen: I think Kelly would be a popular choice, and she’s always struck me as lovely. Nothing wrong with getting a takeaway, it would give you more time to chat. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Andy: My best mate Neil is also a broadcaster, it’s how we got to know each other, and a few years ago he was on a TV programme in the South West with John Nettles of Bergerac and Midsomer Murders fame. During the programme, for some reason unknown to him or us since, Neil uttered the phrase ‘you’ve got to power on basically’ when finishing the answer to a question from Mr Nettles. And it’s kind of stuck for both of us as being a motto for modern life, we’ve yet to get it trendy on Twitter though!!
Morgen: It’s all about the hash tags. I’m rubbish at remembering to add hash tags. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Andy: I’m definitely one of those people that can’t sit down for more than about thirty seconds so there’s always plenty going on. Work keeps me busy, there’s the Amateur dramatics, occasional bits of compering, having one eye on more media work, and I like to stay fit as well, so there’s normally a few games of football per week. When it comes to party tricks I’m fairly normal really, unless you count sober karaoke as a party trick.
Morgen: If you can sing, I’d say so. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Andy: The web and social media has changed everything. It used to be that everyone could be a writer, but it was hard to get the platform to do it, these days there are platforms everywhere you look and you can set yourself up as a blogger in about five minutes. It’s still hard to stand out and get noticed though, in the past that was due to the lack of opportunities, nowadays it’s the opposite and you very much need a gimic or a lot of luck to get attention. I’m tempted to say that the quality of writing has gone down now everyone has at least the chance to do it, having said that though, the really strong writers, as with all walks of life, will rise to the top eventually.
Morgen: When I first started blogging (with a .blogspot equivalent of this) I did nothing with it and therefore had 372 visits in a year and a bit. When I decided to set this one up, I deleted the other one and made sure I blogged at least once a week (the recommended minimum). Having so many guests involved means I blog 2-4 times a day so have just celebrated 100,000 visits in <20 months but it’s a full-time job (and then some). Something in between would be something to aim for. Blogs are great and are easy to set up, if you’re technologically-minded. I design them (especially for other authors) and some just don’t want to spend the time finding out so because I don’t charge much (£50) to get it up and running, it means they can get on with their writing, which is what we are all about. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Andy: The best place at the moment is on Twitter where you can follow me @andyholmesmedia. That’ll keep you up to speed with what I’m doing and any future plans that I have. You can of course, also get a copy of ‘Always the DJ’ by following this link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Always-the-DJ-ebook/dp/B009XRNO3Q (UK) and http://www.amazon.com/Always-the-DJ-ebook/dp/B009XRNO3Q (outside UK). Thanks very much for talking to me Morgen, best of luck with the website.
Morgen: You’re very welcome, thank you, Andy. Let me know if you create a blog / website and I’ll gladly add the link.
I then invited Andy to include a synopsis of his book…
What would you do if you were a part-time DJ, but the rest of your existence was like a record, playing at the wrong speed?
You’re pushing thirty, in a dead end job, your best friend’s living with a meathead, whilst your own romantic situation is more problematic than trying to play a CD on a turntable!!
Meet Alex Smith, available for weddings, parties and bar mitzvahs, NOT available for sorting his own life out!!
Andy Holmes lives in Buckinghamshire and has more than a decades worth of experience in the media, including print, radio and now video. He’s got a drama degree that he swears he’s going to use one day, and writes for 72m magazine when he’s not making films. In his spare time you’ll find him following Hereford United round the lower reaches of the football pyramid, and you can follow him yourself on Twitter @andyholmesmedia.
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