Sunday, 9 September 2012

Interrogating Alan McDermott

Interrogating Alan McDermott, author of Gray Justice

How do you strike the balance between writing something you want to write and writing something that people want to read, in terms of the compromises you make, if any?

The simple answer is: there is no balance.  As an indie author I get to write what interests me without an editor or publisher telling me to re-write a character or remove certain scenes, and I think that enables me to get me story across the way it was intended.  I could fluff out my characters a little more, explaining how big their feet were and what they had for breakfast, but unless it adds to the story I don’t see the point.  When I’m reading a book I hate to go through four or five pages detailing someone’s past when only one line becomes relevant later on, so I give the reader the bare minimum information.  This also lets the reader visualise the characters in their own mind, which gives them more of a connection with the story as it is their version of Tom Gray and their version of Andrew Harvey that are locking horns. 

I wanted to leave it to the reader to decide if they like or dislike Tom Gray without me insisting that he’s the good guy and everything he does is right.  In fact, I intended him to be just another father, with flaws just like anyone else.  The idea of him being the perfect hero was never an option, because that has been done to death.  Tom could have come up with a Justice Bill that made perfect sense and would be a real improvement on the current judicial system, but I thought it better for him to have misguided conceptions guided by anger rather than any true political insight.

If I tried writing a different way I would soon get bored, and I know my readers would, too.  Tom Gray has built up quite a fan base, with a couple of thousand coming back to read the second book in the series, and to change my style now would be a disservice to those readers.

What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in.

I’ve always had a fascination with the SAS, and I wrote a story based on them over 20 years ago.  Sadly that was lost, but I was always going to create a character who was either a serving member or recently retired from the regiment.  If someone is going to go through tough situations, it is important that they have the background to enable them to cope, and I just couldn’t see an accountant going through Tom Gray’s experience.

Do you have a box, drawer, folder etc where you keep thoughts and ideas for future stories? Such as names you have come across, bits of dialogue, ideas, characters - even if you have no idea when you might use them? 

It’s a Word Document called Next Book, and I add to it now and again.  If none of the ideas fit in the current work, I think about how they could be used in future stories.  At the moment I have several ideas for book 4 but haven’t yet decided on the main theme.  My plot bunnies also go in here, otherwise they’d just bounce around my head all day long.

How much of you is in your characters? Which of your characters is the you that you’d most like to be? Or be with? 

I think the only resemblance between myself and Tom Gray is that he’s just an ordinary man, the kind of person you could bump into in the supermarket.  He isn’t arrogant, and he isn’t perfect, but the comparison ends there.  I don’t think there are any characters I would particularly like to be, but I would enjoy an evening in the pub with Tom and his mates.

Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters?

With Tom having flaws and being capable of overlooking the simple things (like the air-freshener), I think my wife would say we were one and the same.  I haven’t changed since I began writing, but I certainly haven’t spent as much quality time with my wife as I used to.  It was only in the last week that I decided to cut out social media for a while to concentrate on family life and writing, otherwise I would still be spending four hours a day on Twitter and getting nothing done.  I still get up at just after four in the morning, but now I spend all of that time writing rather than on Twitter, and my evenings are clear to take the kids to the park and watch a movie with my wife.

What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write?

I love reading thrillers, especially ones involving the military or security services.  Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six is one of my all time favourite books, and I’ve read the entire Jack Ryan series.  I need a book to be realistic, flow quickly and keep me hooked throughout; otherwise I get bored and give up.  This is something I try to apply to my books, too.

What lengths do you go to to convince us readers that your book has the X factor?

I’ve never been one to blow my own trumpet, but I do let people know I have one!  I will quote from reader reviews when trying to get the message out, because their opinion counts the most. 

How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made?

I am so grateful when this happens.  As an author you get so close to the book that even glaring mistakes seem invisible, and it takes a reader to spot them.  When I first published Gray Justice I rushed to make it available to the public, and it hit the shelves with a couple of hundred errors.  Readers have pointed some of them out and eventually I had it proof read by a fellow author.  Even this didn’t catch everything, and I have had three glaring whoppers pointed out since.  The good thing is that where once my reviews mentioned the need for a proper edit, more and more people are complimenting me on the lack of errors.  I did get a negative one recently but that was from a copy that was purchased prior to the major edit.

I already have some author friends and some Tom Gray fans waiting to go over Gray Redemption with a critical eye, so I am hoping that between them they manage to eliminate the vast majority of the mistakes before the public get their hands on it.

What do you like most about visiting KUF/forums?

I’ve met some wonderful people and have found a few gems, but it also gives me an insight into the readers and their thoughts on everything from pricing to the perfect length for a book, as well as the dilemmas faced by other authors.

What is on your near horizon?

I am currently writing Gray Redemption, the final part of the Tom Gray trilogy, after which I shall take a short rest from writing while I develop the idea for my next book.  I would quite like to create a series based on Andrew Harvey, the MI5 agent from Gray Trilogy. 

Will I bring Tom Gray back in a future book?  I haven’t decided yet.  Even as I write a book, I have no idea how it’s going to end, so even I don’t know what’s going to happen to Tom.  It’s going to be exciting finding out, though!

Where can we find you for more information?

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