Greg Howard – Q&A

Greg Howard

Greg Howard

Greg Howard was born and raised in the South Carolina Lowcountry where his love of stories blossomed at a young age. Originally set on becoming a songwriter, Greg followed that dream to Nashville, Tennessee, where he spent years producing the music of others before eventually returning to his childhood passion for writing stories. Greg’s critically acclaimed, debut middle-grade novel, The Whispers was nominated for an Edgar Award and is currently being adapted for film. His second middle-grade novel, Middle School’s a Drag, You Better Werk! is being adapted for television by Harry Potter producer David Heyman, Heyday Television, and NBC/Universal.

Greg writes for and about LGBTQ youth, creating the kind of books he wishes he’d had access to as a young reader. Also, the author of the young adult novel Social Intercourse, Greg’s latest middle-grade offering, The Visitors, is in stores now. When he’s not writing books, Greg enjoys traveling, reading, hiking, and spending time with friends. He lives in Nashville with his two rescued fur-babies—Molly and Riley.

Greg can be found at:
Website: www.greghowardbooks.com
Twitter: @greghowardbooks
Instagram: @greghowardbooks
Facebook: @greghowardbooks

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

My debut middle grade novel, The Whispers, was inspired by my mother. She and I were extremely close – I was a mama’s boy – but she died when I was very young. The Whispers was also inspired by my childhood and growing up with that grief. I escaped into my imagination quite a bit, and the main character, Riley, is somewhat trapped inside his mind since his mother went missing. I wanted to tell my story through Riley.

What came first the characters or the world?

The character of Riley is largely based on me when I was his age, so for this story, he definitely came to mind first. The world around him was pieced together by my own experiences.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

I already had an agent, so I can’t say that it was “hard” to get the book published. I was very lucky. The waiting was the hardest part. There was about a four month period of complete silence after we went out on submission. We finally started hearing back from editors and the book ended up going to auction with five publishers bidding for the rights. I spoke to the editors from those houses, but really connected with Stacey Barney at Putnam/Penguin. It helped that Penguin’s UK imprint Puffin was also very interested in publishing the book. Eighteen months later The Whispers was out in the world.

How long did it take to write?

The Whispers took about five months to hammer out a first draft. Then, my agent and I worked on it for about another month or so, fine tuning and revising. I’m lucky to have a very talented editorial agent. The book would not be what it is without her guidance.

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

Sometimes I will create a playlist of music that “feels like” the story I’m writing. I did this for The Whispers and it included over 50 tracks and had a cinematic feel overall. Some of the artists on that playlist were Max Richter, Ólafur Arnalds, Chad Lawson, Celtic Woman, and David Arkenstone. I still listen to it from time to time and it puts me right back into the story.
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5CquIcStKRkivvYWmZgz7D?si=b66c015128a64d03

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

The thing I hear the most is about readers bawling their eyes out at the end. The Whispers is first and foremost a book about hope, but it seems to pull all kinds of emotions out of readers. I promise I wasn’t trying to make people cry! Others appreciate the representation of an eleven-year-old gay boy in the book.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

It wasn’t so much as reaction, but I received a video from a mother recently of her daughter reading a section of The Whispers and it made my heart smile. I had never heard a young person reading my story aloud. That was magical.

What can you tell us about your next book?

I’m writing a new middle grade novel in which a twelve-year-old boy finds a doorway to the past and attempts to alter history in order to save his family. The working title is The Travelers.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

Sparingly. I usually don’t read the negative ones because, nine times out of ten, they are not literary critiques of merit – which I don’t mind at all – but rants about how LGBTQ characters and stories don’t belong in children’s books or in schools. I don’t have the time or patience for those. Plus, it’s very emotionally draining to read them, because it’s the kids who are the real victims there, not me.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

Absolutely. I would love to write an adult queer lit mystery and I have several ideas for such stories. I will get around to it one day. But, I owe Penguin this new middle grade novel first!

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I was in the music business in Nashville, TN for over thirty years. I retired a few months ago. It’s nice to focus on writing now.

Which author(s) inspire you?

Pat Conroy is my favorite writer. I’m from the same area of the American South that he was, so his stories speak directly to my soul and his writing is just so beautiful. I’m also inspired by the works of Toni Morrison. She makes me want to be a better writer.

Which genres do you read yourself?

I mostly read adult genres – literary fiction, queer lit, mysteries, and thrillers. Depends on my mood.

What is your biggest motivator?

The young readers out there who don’t have access to books in which they can see themselves. Representation matters. It can save lives.

What will always distract you?

Great television. I devote way too much time to “my stories,” as my grandmother used to call them.

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

I have some say, especially in the beginning of the process and in choosing an illustrator for the cover. The final say is out of my hands, though. I have book covers I love, and a couple I don’t.

Were you a big reader as a child?

I wouldn’t say that I was a “big” reader as a child. That came later – when I was in my early twenties and I would read anything and everything. I didn’t know to be intimidated by a 900 page book then!

What were your favourite childhood books?

I absolutely loved the Encyclopedia Brown books and the Box Car Children series. How To Eat Fried Worms was also a favorite!

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

I’m lucky that my favorite bookshop is located in Nashville, TN, where I live. Parnassus Books was founded around eleven years ago by Karen Hayes and #1 New York Times Best Selling author, Ann Patchett. It’s going stronger than ever. The staff is amazing. The customer service is amazing. The book selection is amazing. The events are amazing. And the shop dogs – you guessed it – amazing!

What books can you not resist buying?

Anything a bookseller recommends to me while I’m shopping.

Do you have any rituals when writing?

For some reason I have to be on the sofa, on my laptop, with my dogs piled around me. And usually first thing in the morning is the best time of day for me to write, before my head gets clouded with life stresses.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

I just counted nine on my end table. But that doesn’t include my audiobook wish list.

What is your current or latest read?

I recently finished Lark Ascending by Silas House. One of my favorites this year.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis. I’ve never read one of his books. It’s time.

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

A film adaption of The Whispers is in the works. It’s being produced by Peter Spears who also produced Call Me By Your Name and Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Nomadland. The screenplay is currently being written. Also, my middle grade novel Middle School’s a Drag, You Better Werk! is being adapted for television by NBC/Universal and Harry Potter and Paddington producer, David Heyman.

Finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

As a gay kid growing up in the American South, I didn’t have access to books about boys like me. That made me feel incredibly alone, and like I was the only boy in the world who liked other boys. One book, one story in which I could have seen myself would have made all the difference to me. It would have let me know that I wasn’t alone. It would have given me hope. And I know from talking to kids today that there still exists problems of access and representation. So, my mission is to write the kind of books that I wish I would have had when I was young. I want to give those kids hope. And I want them to have their happily-ever-afters.

Sheila M. Averbuch – Q&A

Sheila M Averbuch

Sheila M Averbuch

Sheila M. Averbuch is a former journalist who’s interviewed billionaires, hackers and would-be Mars colonists. She holds a 2019 New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust and lives with her family near Edinburgh. The middle-grade thriller Friend Me (Scholastic Press New York) is her first novel.

Photo Credit: Rob McDougall

Shelia can be found here:
My Kidlit News newsletter comes out a few times a year and includes great recommended middle grade reads. Find that at http://bit.ly/SMAsignup
Or, find me online
Website: www.sheilamaverbuch.com
Twitter: @sheilamaverbuch
Instagram: @sheilamaverbuch
Mastodon: https://mstdn.social/@sheilamaverbuch
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sheila.averbuch
TikTok: TikTok.com/@sheilamaverbuch
YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/sheilaennclick

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

My son, then thirteen, scoffed at my suggestion to phone his friend to say happy birthday: he’d just text him, he said. I realised it’d be feasible for a young person to have a completely online friendship, never speaking or meeting. That, plus a horrible family experience with bullying, set my brain-wheels moving on the story that became my debut FRIEND ME: it’s about a bullied girl whose bully has a mysterious accident, and she starts to worry that her new best friend, who she only knows online, might be involved.

What came first the characters or the world?

The characters: I saw Roisin sitting alone at lunch; the most popular girl in school deciding to befriend her; and a third girl getting jealous as she watches this unfold.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

It was horrendously difficult to get published: I got 122 rejections across six manuscripts, all for middle grade. I’ll never forget the email from my agent in May 2019: “I’m thrilled to say that we have an offer from Emily Seife at Scholastic (US).” Jennifer Laughran, my superb agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, has been a stalwart support throughout.

How long did it take to write?

I wrote the first draft of FRIEND ME in seven months and by the ten-month mark had revised it enough for submission to publishers. My revision process is based on the workbook NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS by Darcy Pattison.

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

No…I listen to river sounds via YouTube.

How many publishers turned you down?

Friend Me

Friend Me

I got 122 rejections across the six manuscripts I wrote; for FRIEND ME alone we got more than a dozen rejections. Getting published involves luck, and it’s a battle, but it’s one you can win. For me, key tools were joining SCBWI, studying plotting (mainly PLOT & STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell and SCREENPLAY by Syd Field) and revision, and researching agents via PUBLISHERS MARKETPLACE – watch for their occasional sales where for $15 you can spend a month searching their vast database of deals, agents and which editors have acquired what.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

Thank goodness the pro reviews were all positive (Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Horn Book), and School Library Journal gave the FRIEND ME audiobook a starred review. I watch Goodreads but not too closely: I’m most tuned into what booksellers and librarians say on there, and I find it easy to ignore bad reviews that aren’t from those types of reader.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

The most gratifying reactions are from young readers: one so enjoyed the story of FRIEND ME that she read the whole book aloud to her mom.

What can you tell us about your next book?

It’s another techno thriller for middle grade. This time it’s about a shy 12-year-old who dreams of changing the world with technology, but whose life gets turned upside down when her family wins a jackpot of tech and cash from a generous billionaire.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

I enlisted my best writing buddy to look at Goodreads for me at first, but once I realised that most readers, including professional reviewers, enjoyed FRIEND ME I stopped worrying about the odd negative comment. With more than 100 written reviews on Goodreads, the book is holding steady at 3.9 stars out of 5. Please drop me a review there if you do read FRIEND ME at http://bit.ly/SMAgrfm — many US libraries pull in Goodreads reviews to show patrons.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

Yes

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I’m a technology journalist by training, now a tech copywriter, and divide my day between the two kinds of writing. I sit at different desks and use different computers for each, and whenever possible, I write my fiction outside.

Which author(s) inspire you?

Hilary Mantel, Jason Reynolds, Louise Erdrich, Frances Hardinge, Jonathan Stroud, Kelly Yang, Jandy Nelson.

Which genres do you read yourself?

I love contemporary realistic middle grade and YA but secretly dream of writing historical fiction

What is your biggest motivator?

The thought of writing a book that keeps a young reader glued to the pages is my greatest motivator.

What will always distract you?

Screaming.

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

Scholastic Press New York were brilliant with the FRIEND ME cover and I trusted them to come up with the concept that would work, especially because so many of their sales are direct to reader via their book fairs. The design team agreed to change the body language of one character on the cover as it wasn’t in keeping with the story. Shout out to my editor Emily Seife; the art was created by Mike Heath and the design is by Elizabeth B. Parisi and Yaffa Jaskoll.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Yes, and I was probably the only 11 year old in Massachusetts in the 1980s reading all of Enid Blyton and The Chalet School; we bought them in Ireland on our regular trips there to see my father’s family.

What were your favourite childhood books?

STUART LITTLE, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, THE FIVE FIND-OUTERS, THE CHALET SCHOOL.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

Portobello Bookshop in Edinburgh is my go-to: fantastic children’s section and super helpful staff.

What books can you not resist buying?

I’ll buy anything by Frances Hardinge or Jonathan Stroud

Do you have any rituals when writing?

I mustn’t sit at the desk where I do my day-job copywriting. I need my Pomodoro timer, and when it’s on, I won’t move away from the keyboard for anything (except screaming).

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

About five, all middle grade and YA.

What is your current or latest read?

I’m re-reading Frances Hardinge’s UNRAVELLER. The first read was for fun, and the second is to examine her stitching: plot clues, character introductions, scene setting and other craft details.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

I’m waiting for Torrey Maldonado’s next middle grade, out in January 2023: he also works as a schoolteacher and his middle grade voice is flawless.

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

I’m counting the days till I go to Moniack Mhor in the Scottish Highlands in Feb 2023, where I do a yearly retreat. For me there’s no better place to think sustained thoughts, over days and nights, about my work in progress.

Any events in the near future?

I’ll probably volunteer again to offer some free school visits as part of World Read Aloud Day in February 2023, organised by Kate Messner. As well as doing a reading from FRIEND ME, the themes in the book allow me to do a cool show-and-tell with students, where they can vote on whether new robotics technology that I show them is cool or creepy.

And finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

I believe that, if I’m good with words, the single best thing I can do with that is write stories for young readers. Turn a young person into a reader and it can change their life. As an ex tech journalist, I finally realised, I have something unique to say about how tech is impacting childhood, and I think that (plus good luck) is what finally got me published.


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Jon Barton – Q&A

Jon Barton

Jon Barton

Dive is a gripping crime thriller about the murky world of Metropolitan Police divers and the River Thames, London’s deadliest crime scene. When his daughter disappears and bodies surface in the river matching her description, workaholic diver David Cade and disgraced detective Naomi Harding join forces to uncover a sinister crime that will change the course of everything.

Jon can be found at:
Website: www.jon-barton.co.uk/
Twitter: @jnbarton
Instagram: @jn_barton
Facebook: www.facebook.com/j.n.barton

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

My side hustle starting out was pulling pints at the Captain Kidd, next to the Marine Police in Wapping. Those guys would sometimes come in to unwind after a shift and share war stories with trademark black humour. It struck me that divers are neglected characters in crime fiction, yet they have one of the diciest jobs in the Met. Sitting down to write ‘Dive’, I wanted to explore this shadowy world of policing, with the Thames at the heart of the action.

What came first the characters or the world?

The world came first in this case. The river holds secrets and has a habit of exposing them. If you’re lucky you’ll find treasure on the foreshore; if you’re not, you could see a body being dredged from the mud. I just felt it was the perfect setting for a thriller exploring a part of London that’s rarely glimpsed, this undertow of criminality concealed beneath the surface. It also felt like a great way to get under a character’s skin metaphorically.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

Dive by Jon Barton

Dive by Jon Barton

I submitted the novel to agents during the first lockdown, and it was then Kate Nash Lit that picked it up. I spent six months developing the book before it went to editors in Spring 2021. It was a painful ten weeks, and a lot of rejection. It went to acquisitions with two other publishers, before it was picked up by Joffe Books for a three-book deal. I’d spent four years working on Dive on-and-off at that point, so it was hard not to take it personally. When you know you’ve written the best book you’re capable of, and people still don’t like it – that can take some getting used to.

How long did it take to write?

‘Dive’ was a screenplay before it became a novel, and I spent six months writing that before I thought of it in another form. All told it then took me a further six months to write the first draft. I easily spent a further two years revising and editing. I’m happy to say the second book didn’t take as long to write, but there’s something about that first novel. I was learning to write a novel the first time. I was teaching myself how to do it. Writing the second book meant I was trying to carry over everything I learned the first time round.

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

I have a playlist of movie soundtracks, although I do only put it on when I’m editing or have hit a snag and need inspiration. I’m jealous of people that can write to heavy metal or on public transport. I have to be totally immersed. I need silence when I write.

How many publishers turned you down?

Twenty publishers turned ‘Dive’ down, and it went as far as acquisitions elsewhere before Joffe Books acquired it.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

I’ve had the full gamut. Some people (my agent and my friends) give me the biased response. There were definitely some publishers that said they wanted something more conventionally commercial. I get the strongest reaction from people that actually like crime fiction. While I’ve had nice responses in reviews on GoodReads and Netgalley, I’ve also had blank stares and muted reactions. You can’t please everyone.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

I don’t think I have a favourite. It’s gratifying when someone reads it and totally invests in the world and the characters, and they can see the same potential I saw listening to divers and their stories.

What can you tell us about your next book?

The Thames is the world’s biggest crime scene. There’s huge scope for criminality and darkness as I discovered in the research phase. The idea behind the ‘Dive’ series is that it explores the kind of crime with each book. The first story is about the drugs trade. There is a second story exploring human trafficking. The backdrop to all that is a long-running story about city-wide police corruption. But it all depends on whether Dive sells well enough to justify another story featuring those characters.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

Yes I do. Though I’d love to say I have the willpower to ignore them.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

I’d really love to write a children’s story. I have an idea that’s been burning a hole in my head for about a year now. Sooner or later, the time will come when I won’t be able to do anything but write that. On the other hand, all my new ideas are psychological and destination thrillers. We’ll see which comes first.

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I’ve done a lot of things. I graduated in 2011 when there were no jobs to be had thanks to the aftershock of the financial crisis. I found myself working in pubs, theatres, bookshops… anything that paid the rent. I’m lucky enough to teach creative writing now and I love it.

Which author(s) inspire you?

I loved Michael Crichton when I was younger. That mix of science fiction and science fact and fast-paced action just ticked the boxes for me at that time in my life. I’ve always loved children’s writing. Lately I’ve been digging into Michael Connelly and Jean Hanff Korelitz. Anything that I find propulsive an exciting inspires me one way or another.

Which genres do you read yourself?

I don’t discriminate if I can help it. I gravitate to commercial fiction. I really like good science-fiction if it’s grounded, and I have a lot of time for horror. Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend was a seminal moment when I read it the first time, but I would say the same of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and Roald Dahl’s The BFG. I like to think I read widely.

What is your biggest motivator?

I love telling stories. I love breaking them, finding a way into them, spending time with the characters. I write because I often struggle to express myself. Writing is a way to articulate that lived experience. Stephen King has a great quote in On Writing that I can relate to: “Writing is not life, but sometimes, it can be a way back to life.”

What will always distract you?

I have a cocker spaniel that basically finds it insulting I’d have other interests besides her, so she does distract me often when I’m at my desk. I also have a prolific writing partner who can write much faster than I can. We’ve always got something in the air, but it’s nice to be spinning more than one plate.

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

I had a lot to say about the first cover design for Dive. I heard a statistic somewhere that 90% of authors don’t like the covers for their books. Make of that what you will.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Yes I was. I read a lot of Roald Dahl and Terry Pratchett, and because I loved movies I read a lot of novel adaptations for the films I enjoyed at the time. I think that’s why I found my way to Michael Crichton when I was too young to really understand what he was writing about.

What were your favourite childhood books?

I really loved one of Terry Pratchett’s early stories called Johnny and the Bomb. Almost nobody has heard of it now, but at the time, it was incredible. This bombastic adventure about a kid with a time machine in a shopping trolley being pursued by men in black… I’d never read anything like it because this was pre-Harry Potter.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

Can’t say I do.

What books can you not resist buying?

It’s all about the story for me. If I write a blurb that grabs me, I’m all in.

Do you have any rituals when writing?

Cup of strong coffee, total silence, and I really like to be by myself if I can help it. I find it difficult to write in public spaces.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

I don’t really buy books I don’t read if I can help it. I’d say about five at the moment, but I don’t tend to buy books if my TBR pile is too high.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

I really liked Josh Winning’s first book The Shadow Glass so his second book, Burn the Negative, really appeals to me.

Any events in the near future?

I’ll be recording some podcasts with Chloe Timms and Yvonne Battle Felton, and I hope to attend one of the book festivals like Crimefest or Harrogate.

And finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

The story came first and the genre made sense after that. It didn’t feel like anything other than a crime thriller. I also wanted to tell a story that wasn’t strictly procedural or a mystery, but something else, something people haven’t read before. Ultimately, I’ve written the book I think I would like to read.


If you want to help and support this blog and my other projects (Indie Publishers and Big Bearded Bookseller) you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

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Jeff Evans – Q&A

Jeff Evans

Jeff Evans

Journalist, author, beer expert, pop culture historian.

Jeff Evans is a freelance journalist and author with more than 30 years’ experience in writing – and talking – about beer and pop culture.

Jeff can be found at:
Website: https://jeffevans.co.uk/
Twitter: @PoliticalCompdm
Twitter: @insidebeer
Twitter: @RockandPopTV
Twitter:@TheTVCompanion

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

I don’t write novels: I write non-fiction, mostly reference titles. The inspiration, right from the start, has been the many wonderful reference books I devoured as a child and teenager. I’m thinking here of things such as Halliwell’s Film Guide and The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles, plus loads of lesser-known books. From them, I have a developed a passion for digging out facts and figures and presenting them in an attractive, orderly fashion. Most of my own works are in the field of popular culture, including The Penguin TV Companion (four editions) and Rock & Pop on British TV (a narrative history, published by Omnibus Press).

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

Compared to many other aspiring authors, not too hard. It obviously helps to have a track record. Before I submitted the proposal for my first television reference book, I was working for CAMRA, as editor of the national Good Beer Guide, so I suppose there was an element of trust on the publisher’s part that I would be up to the job and deliver the goods. That didn’t mean there were not rejections, but one publisher – Guinness – decided to give me a chance and I’ve always been grateful for that. Once you’ve had a book publisher, it becomes easier to interest publishers, but it still has to be the right idea at the right time.

How long did it take to write?

The Political Compendium

The Political Compendium

My latest work is The Political Compendium. It’s a new direction for me but still completely within the parameters of the work I love and have had success with. It’s basically a wide-ranging collection of lists, facts and figures from politics from all around the world, but with an emphasis on politics in the UK and the USA. Collating the information took a number of months but there was another dimension to this book, too, in that I also typeset the book. Anyone who knows the amazing work done by Ben Schott with his Miscellanies will know that the best factual books have a crisp, clean, engaging layout. I felt this book needed just that and that handing over control to a third-party designer or typesetter would have undermined what I was looking to do here and also would only complicate matters when it came to making subtle edits and other adjustments to ensure the correct layout and fit.

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

I’m one of these people who simply cannot work with any kind of music in the background. I get drawn too much into the music and start thinking about it too much (probably figuring out how I can work it in to some future reference book). Silence is golden, for me.

How many publishers turned you down?

For The Political Compendium, I knew which publishers would be most likely and so the number of proposals I sent out was relatively small. The reactions were mixed – most liked the idea but figured it wasn’t for them. In the end, I weighed up two good offers and went for Zymurgy Publishing because there was more freedom on offer to do the typesetting and be more hands-on with the book.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

Everyone who has seen the book has appreciated the layout and the concept. Getting space in the print media and airtime on radio and television to discuss it has been tricky, though. There has been so much dynamic breaking political news in recent weeks that more light-hearted offerings such as The Political Compendium have struggled to get a look in but Times Radio gave me some time to chat about it and the presenter Matt Chorley was very complimentary.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

Of course. Any review is worth a look. Obviously, you like to read something favourable but, even when it’s not, there can be something in there that you recognise as being valid and worth bearing in mind for future works.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

Yes, but I appreciate that I would be starting almost from the beginning again. Fiction is a different beast to non-fiction and demands different skills. That said, the dedication and commitment that are needed when writing a book are the same so, if I came up with the right idea, I would certainly give it a go.

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I was working in publishing as an editor and a writer before turning freelance more than 30 years ago. Before that I worked for a while in radio and as a coach tour travel guide. All of these things proved invaluable in learning how to collate, package and present information, whether it be on paper or through the spoken word. A great grounding for what I do know.

Which author(s) inspire you?

I love well-written biographies, ones where the author has really put in the research and fills the book with intriguing facts rather than just recycled partly-true stories. I’m always hugely impressed by Mark Lewisohn. The work that he puts into his books on the Beatles is phenomenal and he presents it so well, too.

Which genres do you read yourself?

At home, I’m constantly dipping into reference books and can lose myself for hours at a time. I find biographies inspirational, in terms of both exciting me to write something similar and also learning how really interesting people have changed their lives or risen to some immense challenge. If I ever need something to kick-start me when I’m feeling a bit uninspired, I’ll pick up Michael Palin’s Around the World in 80 Days again. That book (and the TV series) always makes me want to get out and achieve something. On holiday, I need a complete change of scene, so that’s when I will pick up an easy-to-read page turner, something enjoyable but undemanding like a Lee Child or a Michael Crichton.

What is your biggest motivator?

Being interested in the subject I’m writing about. I’ll be honest, I would struggle to write a book about car engines or stamp collecting but every book I write is about a subject I genuinely take a great interest in. Classic television was the driver for The Penguin TV Companion, for instance, while I had the best time ever researching and writing Rock & Pop on British TV, digging around in archives, watching videos and speaking to many of the people who have made the great programmes over the decades. It’s been the same for The Political Compendium. There are so many intriguing angles to politics, so many arcane traditions and so many points of etiquette to learn about, that it was fascinating to bring all these together.

What will always distract you?

Not much when I’m immersed in a particular book I’m writing but, being self-employed, I do have the luxury of scheduling when I work so, if I want to watch Wales play football in the World Cup, for instance, I make sure my work fits in around this. That comes first.

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

I’ve always been allowed to have my input into cover designs and sometimes my comments have been acted upon but it’s usually the case that publisher and the designer have a fixed plan and whatever I add to that is mostly marginal. It can pay to get in first with your own rough concept of the cover, but you then have to trust the designer to deliver the goods, which may be completely different to how you see things. For The Political Compendium, the cover decisions were shared between myself and Zymurgy. We both wanted something very simple that said very clearly politics. We saw no need to over-complicate things.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Yes, of reference books; not so much of novels. I’ve got into that more as I’ve got older.

What were your favourite childhood books?

The Narnia novels of CS Lewis stand out, as they do for many people. I also loved going to the library and taking out the next in the series of Will Scott’s novels about ‘The Cherrys’ – a family of kids whose father used to devise adventures for them to pursue.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

I live in a town that does not have an independent bookshop. We once had three but now we only have a small branch of Waterstones.

What books can you not resist buying?

A really well-presented reference book – visually attractive and clearly researched in depth. I’m a sucker for a series, too. I like to complete sets.

Do you have any rituals when writing?

Just focus and dedication. I tend not to break for drinks and I hate interruptions when things are flowing well. I also reread the whole text time and again, allowing a good period of time between each reading so that I’m coming to the book almost fresh each time.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

I have loads of reference books that I’ve only partially read, but that’s the joy of reference books. You pick them up when you need to or when you feel like, read as much as is relevant or as you want, and then return to them another time.

What is your current or latest read?

I’m currently working my way through Dominic Sandbrook’s excellent modern histories. I’m currently on ‘Who Dares Wins’, covering the period 1979–82.

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