In The Spotlight: the multi-talented award-winning Alan Gibbons
Just before I hand over to Alan I wanted to say hope you all had a fabulous Easter break — I kind of had a ‘bit of a’ break. I am ready to go never the less. I also wanted to let you know I now have a dedicated Author Page on Facebook in preparation for the release of my novel in October LINK and another Twitter address for book things rather than the publishing things @DebzHobbsWyatt so new followers most welcome please!
Okay now to business. I first ‘met’ Alan Gibbons (in the virtual sense) when I asked if he would like to contribute a short story to a Bridge House children’s collection for Together for Short Lives (then Children’s Hospices UK) which he kindly agreed to do. Here’s the book by the way Hipp-O-Dee-Doo-Dah . I later asked him to be one of the celebrity judges for the Paws n Claws competition for children which again he agreed to do for us. And now he has kindly stepped into the spotlight … so Debz, stop waffling and let’s welcome award-winning author Alan Gibbons …
Tell us something about yourself …
My name is Alan Gibbons. I am best known for my novel Shadow of the Minotaur, which won the Blue Peter Book Award ‘The Book I Couldn’t Put Down’ and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal. I am also known for novels like The Edge and Caught in the Crossfire which explore issues such as domestic violence and racism.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I can’t say I have always wanted to be a writer. When I was young I had a whole host of other dreams: to be a vet, a rock star, to make comic books, even to discover the source of the Nile then I found out some guy had already done it! Most of my life, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do or be. After university I trod a well-worn path of bumming around, doing all kinds of stuff: working in factories, travelling, doing welfare advice, even delivering the post. I had no sense of career or vocation. Finally, I started teaching and loved it. That was the channel through which I started to write. I made up stories for my class and one day a woman from the local college encouraged me to send them off to a publisher. After 23 rejections I was a published author.
Even after over two decades as a writer, I am still something of a rogue amateur. I have never had an agent. I once received a letter from Christopher Little, but I was happy ploughing my furrow, chatting to publishers directly so I never got round to taking up the offer. Similarly, I have never joined any clubs or networks. Though I am a pretty sociable type, when it comes to my writing I am very much the loner. I do sometimes share my work with my wife or one or other of my kids, but I am like those kids in school that put their arms round their work. It isn’t Terry’s chocolate orange It’s mine! The only place I tend to talk to people about my writing is in schools or on Facebook or Twitter!
How did it feel when you heard your first book would be published?
I think I heard about my book being published one Saturday morning in Liverpool. I was living with my wife Pauline in a horrible tower block down by the river. We only had the one son then. I picked up the envelope from J M Dent and scampered into the bedroom to share the news. Dent occupied an office above Lambeth Social Services in Clapham at the time. I went down to see Fiona Kennedy, my first editor and still my publisher. I didn’t have a clue how it all worked, but Fiona must have seen some kind of talent and has published me ever since. I don’t spend that much time discussing my work with her or the rest of the team at Orion, only when I mess things up big time. I’m not that much of a sharer.
So what’s your writing day like?
My writing routine is as odd as the rest of my life. I visit 180 schools a year so I only get down to it after a long day entertaining the troops. I do a lot of my writing in hotels so a typical day goes something like this. Up at seven for breakfast then a drive to the school. Give author talks and writing workshops until the end of the school day. Back home or to my hotel. Meal. Spend three hours writing. TV. Bed.
Some people would find this fairly austere, especially when they discover that I don’t drink or smoke, but I enjoy it.
What inspires you?
I draw inspiration from all kinds of sources. Obviously, I am a book-lover. What author isn’t? My earliest influences were Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte and George Orwell. Another seminal influence is Stan Lee, architect of the Marvel Comics empire. A final overwhelming influence is music from the Beatles to Rodrigo, Sam Cooke to Elgar, Dusty Springfield to Tchaikovsky. I suppose I write for several reasons. The first and most important is simply that I can’t help it. I feel driven to express myself. I also want to say something. Lots of my books are about issues that occur in people’s lives: racism, bullying, domestic violence, war and peace, but I want to describe these issues in as convincing a way as possible. That’s where the musicality comes in. I want to express myself lyrically and effectively.
How much promotion and marketing do you have to do, even being published by a big publisher?
Even with a big publisher there is a limit to what they can do for you. They have a large stable of authors and God helps those that help themselves. That is one of the reasons I spend so much of my time touring and speaking to students, teachers and librarians. The other is that I enjoy it. All that shlepping up and down the UK and abroad is part of the game. It is how you get yourself known and remind your existing audience that you are still alive. At the moment I am plugging my latest novel Raining Fire. The murders of eleven year old Rhys Jones and student Anuj Bidve focused my attention on gang activity and the use of firearms. It follows two brothers, Ethan and Alex, through their brush with guns. It should be in your local bookshop. If for any reason it isn’t there are always the mail order outlets such as Waterstones or Amazon.
Some people ask me what next? Well, that depends on how much time I have. I am sixty now and I don’t see why I shouldn’t still be writing when I am ninety. My attitude is: as long as they need me. I have just written a novel called Hate Crime about the real life murder of Sophie Lancaster. Orion will publish the novel in March 2014. I also have another book underway, but I haven’t discussed it with my publisher yet so maybe I should hang fire for a bit yet. I am just glad to be published. This, I suppose, brings me on to one of the commonest questions people ask me: what advice would you give an unpublished writer. Well, they need to get hold of the Writer’s Handbook and find out how to prepare a manuscript, synopsis and covering letter, but anyone could tell you that. Becoming a published writer is not technique. There is no ‘how to’ guide. We all find our own way to the devil’s doorbell. I think the key is to write something you believe it and keep on presenting your work to the market as long as you believe in yourself.
Tell us something for the pure hell of it …
OK, that’s the serious stuff over. So what about the weird and the wacky? Well, I sat next to Scary Spice on Blue Peter. I beat J K Rowling to the award. I once shook the Dulux dog’s hand and I had a furious row with oddball racing pundit John McCririck on a late night TV chat show. I’m not sure why I shared that. Maybe it is my way of saying I am as eccentric as any other human being on this spinning lump of rock in space. I am a writer, but before that I am a human being with all that entails.
Alan Gibbons is a full-time writer. His book Raining Fire is published by Orion Indigo. There is an excerpt from his latest book Raining Fire here:
The gun can make a weak man strong. The gun is the coward’s fist. It has no moral conscience, no will of its own. It can destroy close up or at distance. The gunman can choose to look into the eyes of his victim or avoid the stare of the dying. The gunman doesn’t have to feel the intimacy of death. The kill is the perfect remote act. It combines computer game morality and a fatal bullet. A shot to the head. A shot to the heart. Either way the gun delivers.
It does its job.
I was fourteen when I met the gun. It was the first time I’d ever seen one for real. It wouldn’t be the last. I would learn to love- and hate- the gun. I would struggle with its attraction and its power. I would look down the barrel and make others do the same. Everything happened in two years. Two short years from start to finish, from temptation to surrender to, well, wherever I am now.
© Alan Gibbons, Orion Books reproduced with kind permission of the author
Great interview, many thanks Alan for sharing your life with my followers and I hope it inspires.
Please do follow Alan on Twitter and get involved in his extensive campaigning to save the libraries
His website: http://alangibbons.net/
Next week we welcome to the spotlight Australian aspiring novelist Rebecca Raisin