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?
For me the reader is king.
I see writing as a contract between the reader and the author. The author says: "Cross my palm with silver and give me some of your time, and in return I'll take you on an adventure."
The deal is a success if the reader feels that that their money and time has been well spent. Did they get the adventure they were promised? Was it an emotional roller coaster ride where they were thrilled, scared, elated, saddened?
But in order to tell a good story, the author needs to write about something that he is interested in, or the writing will come across as fake. The best writing has a good deal of passion in it. The author grabs you by the lapels and just has to tell you this story that is boiling inside him. The author might explode if he can't get that story out.
Authors also need to give readers something new, something they haven’t seen or experienced before. And that means that the author has to put a big chunk of themselves into the book. Because the new stuff isn't going to come from anywhere else.
So I try to write stories that excite both me and the reader. And if in doubt, I always default to trying to give the reader what I think they want.
What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in?
I tend to skip around the genres quite a lot. My first published novel was "Love, Death and Tea" – a comedy fantasy.
I followed that with "Global Domination" – a comedy spy spoof.
Then "Hero" – a comedy science-fiction story about a superhero.
I'm currently working on a non-comedy which is somewhere between fantasy and science fiction.
And the next novel on the list is a cross between science fiction and a political farce.
A common theme for me is exploring the difference between a good character and a villain. All of my books have main characters who aren't quite sure if they are good or bad. A pacifist zombie. A megalomaniac who wants to take over the world because he wants to fix it. A superhero who casually breaks the law while he is fighting crime.
I get bored with cartoon stereotypes of good and bad - the too-good to be true hero and the boo-hiss baddie. I get really excited when the readers don't know whether a character is on the side of the saints or the sinners, and maybe it's a bit of both.
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?
Nothing so organised! But I do have a head that is stuffed full of ideas, half remembered stories and plans. And at least half a dozen novels on my to do list.
How do you manage plot bunnies (ideas that invade your mind that aren’t usually helpful to the story you’re writing but breed like...er...bunnies)?
I shoot them. They're very good when pan fried with some shallots and a jus made from red wine and garlic.
Actually, that's not quite true. Plot bunnies can be useful when you are writing comedy. You can take a situation and then make it a little more absurd. Just when the reader thinks it can't get any sillier, you stretch it out a bit more. And then a bit more. Plot bunnies tend to breed more plot bunnies.
I did this in Love, Death and Tea. I started to wonder why only humans turn into zombies. What is the silliest thing I can turn into a zombie? How about a herd of cows?
Having invented a herd of cows, I had to think of something to do with them. So I wrote quite possibly the world's slowest ever car chase. A herd of zombie cows slowly shuffling after a VW camper van which was being pulled by a zombie.
What's the next silly thing that could be zombified? How about birds? Would zombie birds be able to fly? And that became the next challenge to throw at our hero.
Apart from that, I try to keep the plot bunnies under control. I tend to file them away as ideas for a future book.
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 ?
There is a little bit of me in all my main characters. I think that's true of most authors.
The character I would most like to be with is Lump. My second book "Global Domination for Beginners" tells the James Bond story from the perspective of the baddie. The main character is the Blofeld style megalomaniac who wants to take over the world. I wanted to make the point that no-one can achieve something massive without the help of their friends.
This meant that I had to surround my main character with supporters, colleagues, co-workers, friends. My main character's best friend from school becomes his personal bodyguard. He is known only as Lump, or when the story gets into top speed, OddLump. He is not very bright, but is very direct and unquestionably loyal. A real friend.
He would be a brilliant person to go to the pub with.
Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters?
The biggest issue for my wife is that she doesn't read the sort of genres that I write. She doesn't like fantasy or science fiction stories. For her, everything has to be set in the real world, either now or in history. It helps if there is a dashing Mr Darcy climbing out of a lake in a wet shirt.
And that can get a bit tricky because she is also my proof reader … and very good at it, she is too. I'm not just saying that because she will be proof-reading this!
What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write?
I don't read as much as I would like. I am trying to balance a day job, my writing and being a husband and a father. I have a fairly broad tastes when I do get time to read.
What lengths do you go to to convince us readers that your book has the X factor?
Probably not enough.
I don't much care for the marketing side of writing. I can't rush up to someone and say "You must read my book! You must! It's brilliant!".
Instead I'm far more likely to be the shy one standing in the corner, coughing politely. What I would really like is for my readers to recommend the books to their friends.
So I don't do anywhere near as much marketing as I should. I focus on just writing the best books I can, and let's see what happens from there.
How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made?
As a reader I hate spelling mistakes in books. They jar you out of the fictional world. They remind you that these characters aren't real. They were made up by an author sitting at a computer.
As a writer you know that those mistakes do creep in, no matter how hard you try. It is a constant battle to find them and correct them. I love it when someone points out a mistake.
It’s always good to receive feedback. It is by far the best way to learn.
What do you like most about visiting KUF/GR/forums?
When I first came to Goodreads I thought it would be a way to sell my books. I didn't realise it would be such a place to make friends.
I have managed to do some book marketing on Goodreads, but I tend to keep it fairly low key. I don't like it when people ram their books down my throat, and so I won't do that myself.
Now it's mostly about making genuine friends and a lot less about the books.
What is on your near horizon?
I am about a month away from publishing a new novel. Unusually for me, it is not a comedy. It's a serious sci-fi/ fantasy story about a relatively small enclosed world. Around 100,000 people live in a medieval-ish landscape with a domed sky that walls them in. They don't question their world because they have known nothing else.
This world is governed by strict laws. The population can never exceed 100,000. The inhabitants are not allowed to go out at night or to travel to other parts of the world. They are not even allowed to be curious or to read and write.
Kori is a young girl with innate powers to know the truth. She senses that the world is starting to go wrong. She challenges the laws, but doesn't know whether she is making things better or worse.
If all goes to plan, this book should be published in March as the first of a series. It's currently written and is being edited and tested with a couple of utterly wonderful beta readers.
Where can we find you for more information?
Probably the best place is my blog: Willonce.wordpress.com
Amazon author page Will-Once