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.

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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Hanging with Vampires

Insha Fitzpatrick, Lilla Bölecz. Quirk Books. (128p) ISBN 9781683693413

Hanging with Vampires

Hanging with Vampires

As part of my raid on anything spooky and creepy to read in September and October from NetGalley I was given this to read.

A non-fiction book exploring all aspects of the vampire, from its folklore history to its representation in modern media, and looking at different kinds of vampires from around the world.

A fun read written in an accessible and relaxed tone full of fangtastic illustrations from Lilla Bölecz to complement to words.

Aimed firmly at a younger audience, 9-12, this has great snippets about how to make garlic bread, a brilliant interview with Vlad the Impaler, and a really interesting look at how disease and death were thought of in the Middle Ages.

All without getting too gross or gory, but having just the right amount to keep a person interested, impaling heads, nice aside about vampire bats.

The section about vampires in modern media is also quite good and does look at diversity and representation and doesn’t hold back from criticising Twilight for its lack of either and problematic representation of Bella.

Overall a fun read and as the first in a new series of books called the Totally Factual Field Guide to the Supernatural it comes out running and sets a nice high bar for the rest of them.


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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Stu Hennigan – Author Q&A

Stu Hennigan

Stu Hennigan

Ghost Signs – Poverty and the pandemic – An eyewitness account of the impact of the early days of the pandemic on those living in poverty in Leeds, as Stu Hennigan delivered emergency food and medicine to communities that had already suffered 10 years of austerity. It is a blistering exposition of what happened to a community in one of the richest countries in the world.

Stu can be found at:
Twitter: @StuHennigan

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

A tricky one to answer. I was lucky with Ghost Signs because I was already in regular contact with Kevin Duffy at Bluemoose, and he was very keen on the idea of the book as soon as he heard I was writing it, so this wasn’t one of those where I was having to hawk it around agents/publishers in the usual way. I think one thing that helped was that I’d submitted a novel to Bluemoose about four years previously; Kev thought the writing was great but didn’t want the story, which was fine, but it meant that when he found out about the work I was doing on the book that would become Ghost Signs, he knew I’d be able to do a good job of writing it. Before that, though, I’d got so sick of rejection letters that I actually gave up writing when I was about 24 (in the mid-00s) and didn’t go back to it until about 2018, so it’s been a long journey.

How long did it take to write?

The whole process from beginning to publication took exactly two years, but not all that time was spent writing. Once Kev and I had started talking about the book as a serious thing, we needed a timescale for what period the book would cover, and we decided on around 8 or 9 weeks. During that time, I made a lot of notes when I was out delivering food parcels, as well as keeping a daily diary of personal events during that time, and also trying to record as much as I could about what was happening nationally with the pandemic. I wrote the first draft in 9 days, getting up at 4.30 every day, writing for three hours, spending a couple of hours with the kids, then doing a full day on the van and another three or four hours in the evening when the kids had gone to bed. Because Bluemoose are more or less a one-man operation, it would take Kev a while to send it back with comments and suggestions, then I’d do another couple of weeks of really intense work and send it straight back. There was a lot of research to be done during this stage too – reading IFS reports, collecting poverty stats, trawling through press releases/newspaper articles for quotes from politicians etc. In January 2021 it went to Annie Warren, my editor at Bluemoose, and we spent nine months working on it but it was a leisurely pace; because the pandemic was still ongoing and we weren’t even sure when the book was going to publish, we had a lot of time to play with, and submitted the final draft in the September, although it still didn’t come out for another 9 months after that, during which time there was proofing, final copy-editing etc.

How many publishers turned you down?

None for this one! After I graduated from uni in 2002 I wrote an incredibly bleak realist novel called A Night In the Cells and had at least 20 rejections for that, so many that as I said, I gave up writing for publication for about 15 years.

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

Not these days. I like to write in absolute silence where possible, although with two primary age children it’s rare to get this, unless I work at night.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

The book seems to have been well-received so far. Pre-publication, ex-Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger commissioned a piece about the book in Prospect magazine, including 3000 words of printed extracts, and that opened it up to a much wider audience. After that, there was a brilliant review of it in Tribune, and a great one in the Yorkshire Post too. The public response has been extremely flattering and pretty humbling too – it seems to have really struck a chord with a lot of people who are pissed off with the state of the country. It’s interesting to note that a lot of people have said they were surprised and shocked at the level of deprivation and extent of the poverty that the book depicts; one of the main aims of the book is to raise awareness of how severe the problem is, and also how widespread, so I suppose based on those kind of reactions it’s doing its job in that sense, although it’s sad that it had to be written.

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

The most pleasing response, I think, has been from other people who have done similar work, or have worked with similar communities. I’ve had a lot of people say that the book captures the communities and people really well, so that’s always good to hear. It’s kinda difficult to celebrate in a sense though, given the content. It’s also difficult to know what to say to readers when they say they’ve bought it – I can’t say I hope they “like” it, or “enjoy” it, because that would be crazy. On a slightly lighter note, I had a message from one person that signed off with “You are a gem in fucking great boots.” I treated myself to a pair of nice boots for doing literary events and they’ve become a sort of running joke on Twitter, so that really made me smile.

What can you tell us about your next book?

I’m currently well into the second draft of a novel with the working title of False Friend. I don’t want to go into too many details but it’s about relationships and how they can fall apart, addiction, loss, death, family secrets/lies, trauma, and how lives can be shaped by events that are almost completely beyond our control. Definitely not a feelgood read, but it’s taking shape quite nicely at the moment and I’m very, very excited about it.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

Not really. I try to reply to everyone who’s kind enough to share their thoughts on the book via Twitter and obviously I really appreciate them all, but I hate A*azon with a passion so never go on there, and I’ve never really been on the GoodReads website either. As a general point, if you look at reviews for anything online you always get complete extremes, so even a book that’s had rave reviews across the board will still get slated by some people, and a book that gets panned will still have readers who think it’s the greatest thing ever. Once you’ve finished creating something, whether it’s art, music, literature, whatever, once it’s in the public domain it’s out of your hands and you can’t control the response, so there’s no point losing any sleep over it.

Which author(s) inspire you?

Ghost Signs

Ghost Signs

I’m constantly inspired by other writers. I read an article a couple of years back that compared a writer to a sampler, and I really like that analogy. You’re always looking at other people’s work to see what works, what doesn’t, how you can apply their techniques to your own writing. Ben Myers is a writer who I think a lot of people can learn from – no one ever talks about this, possibly because his stories are so well-told that they don’t notice, but he creates a completely different narrative voice for every book, and you need real chops to do that. He’s definitely someone I look at as an example of a complete writer – he’s technically brilliant, and that feeds into everything else, so his dialogue is great, as is his characterisation, plotting, pacing and everything else. Heidi James is another writer from the current crop who I take a great deal of inspiration from as her work is all about the same themes that pre-occupy much of my fiction/poetry – time and memory, the distortive symbiosis between the two, the mutability of personality, humans as method-actors, the masks we wear. She’s so precise, doesn’t waste a single word and her work is deceptively complex when you start digging. I love the way she weaves ideas from different thinkers into her work but buries them so you’ve got to get right down into it to find them. The great Denis Johnson is someone else I’ve always had a lot of admiration for, and in the last couple of years I’ve been introduced to Percival Everett by the lads at Influx and he’s blown me away completely. Need to get hold of everything he’s ever written, sharpish. The Trees is the best novel I’ve read this year so far by a country mile.

What is your biggest motivator?

Now, my biggest motivator is lost time. I wasted 15 years when I more or less completely stopped writing and I’m determined to make up for it now. There’s a lot of anger in my work too, and that’s another motivating factor, especially with the current shitshow of a government and the untold damage they’ve done to this country. It’s going to take decades for the mess started by that pair of cunts Cameron and Osborne to be cleared up, and by then it’ll probably be way too late. People can’t be allowed to forget that, as odious as Boris Johnson is, those two were the diabolic progenitors of the current clusterfuck and they shouldn’t be allowed to escape responsibility.

What will always distract you?

I have ADHD so am very easily distracted, especially if I forget to take my medication!

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

I had much more input into the book cover/design than I was expecting, although I have Fiachra McCarthy to thank for bringing it all to life. If you’d asked me at the beginning, before the book was even finished, how I’d like it to look, it would have been pretty much what you see in the bookshops now. Fiachra was brilliant to work with and it was a surprisingly easy process – I gave him the gist of what I thought would work, he sent some samples and we went from there. Didn’t take long, and I think it nails the vibe perfectly.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Yes – voracious doesn’t even cover it. I taught myself to read before I started school and was never without a book from then on.

What were your favourite childhood books?

The first series I remember reading that really blew me away was The Worst Witch books, which I read when I was about 7. I’ve read them as an adult with my children, and last week we were listening to the audiobooks in the car when we were on holiday. They still stand up – a masterclass in storytelling and characterisation without any gimmicks, frills or fancy stuff. Miss Hardbroom is one of the best antagonists is children’s literature for me, and Jill Murphy achieves it pretty much singly through the way she speaks to the girls, especially Mildred. Great, great writing, and the illustrations are wonderful too. Children of Winter by Berlie Doherty was another one I loved when it was read to me when I was about eight. Read that with my eldest last year and that was still brilliant too.

Do you have a favourite bookshop?

If so, which? The Old Pier Bookshop in Morecambe is a treasure trove if you like digging for hours through crates of second-hand stuff. I’ve literally spent whole days in there.

Do you have any rituals when writing?

No. Just shut the study door, fire up the Mac and crack the fuck on!

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

About 15 at the moment. I’ve never understood when people say they have hundreds of unread books and still keep buying more – it seems pointless to me. I’ve always been a very quick reader and have generally been able to keep on top of mine, but it’s so hard to find time to read these days. I work full-time, have two kids, I’ve a novel to write, plus a lot of other shorter pieces, not to mention events and all the promo/publicity stuff for Ghost Signs. Before I had kids I used to get through about five books a week; after kids it went down a bit, but these days I’m lucky if I can read one, and that’s a source of real chagrin. It’s rare for me to have 15 unread books, and it’s stressing me out tbh, especially as ARCs keep landing on the doormat, plus books from the indies that I subscribe to…….

What is your current or latest read?

I took four books on holiday but I couldn’t get into any of them, and ended up buying a copy of A Brief History of Seven Killings from a charity shop for a couple of quid. Read it before, but loved it all over again. Marlon James is a genius writer, and this book is every bit the same big, bad, beautiful motherfucker it was when it first came out. Essential reading, kinda like a Don Winslow pulp thriller but written like a Faulkner/Tarantino mash-up, in Jamaican patois. Next up is one by Dennis Cooper, a writer who’s been on The List for years but I’ve never had time to check out.

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

I’m going to be super-annoying and say that there are lots of things afoot, but I’m not allowed to talk about any of them. I’ve a couple of short pieces (mixture of fiction and non-fiction) coming out before the end of the year, all being well, and you may get a sneak preview of some of False Friend in the autumn, but that’s all you’re getting!

Any events in the near future?

Loads. Won’t list them all here, but anyone in London who’s interested in hearing me speak about the book can see me on Friday 16th September at 6 p.m. at The Social, in conversation with the great Heidi James. It’s going to be a brilliant night, and it’s FREE, so come along and join us if you can.


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.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

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Four Thousand Weeks

Oliver Burkeman. Vintage. (288p) ISBN 9781784704001

Four Thousand Weeks

Four Thousand Weeks

Not really the kind of book I normally read, not into self-help or time management books but I’d heard that this book was different from the run of the mill books in those genres.

Right from the start Oliver sets out his stall that this isn’t a time management book in the conventional sense of the theme, but goes on to state that we have to approach time with the view that it is finite, as we are finite and we are time.

In his progress through the book to his conclusion he throws out many of the old time management and self help theories about making your life better through better approaches to productivity and those ‘do this one thing before breakfast and your life will be much easier’ mantras, and focuses on us realising our finite time on this earth as a way of realising what is important to us.

This was refreshing and was confirming a lot of things I was thinking about the way I approach my own projects.

Though the book talks a lot about our finality and how we only have four thousand weeks to live (on average) it is a very positive and life affirming approach to living, it is actually about living not being productive and how to approach this on your own terms.

Lots to digest and the ten tips at the end are excellent, really enjoyed this read and will think about it when being me.


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.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.