Monday 6 August 2018

A Guest Post from Gavin Neale, Author of "The Price of Magic" (Matador Publishing)

We're delighted to host a guest post from Gavin Neale, author of the scintillating fantasy novel "The Price of Magic" which is published by Matador.

We're both suckers for an intricately woven fantasy tale, I've loved Fantasy books since I was a rather bookwormish tiddler who loved nothing better than digging through some of the incredible stuff published in the early 1970s. In some ways Gavin's awesome story took me right back to that era, and the sort of books that drew me in - and of course the sort of books I now delight in sharing with my daughter.

Gavin has cooked up a brilliant article talking up the importance of fantasy fiction, and also some great insights into his own writing process and how things all began.

So let's dig in! Over to you Gavin!

‘Abby grew up and remained true to her warrior’s spirit, but that’s another story.’
It’s over two years since my first book A Ghost Called Dogwas published. What had started as a determination to self-publish an ebook had escalated after talking to my dad about a business plan and so one evening, as we’re finishing up with spreadsheets, he casually mentions, “You know if this is a success then it would be good if you had a sequel with most of the same characters.”

The problem was that I hadn’t set out to write a series of books. I wrote a self-contained children’s fantasy adventure which neatly tied up everything at the end.

My name is Gavin and the reason you are reading this is that ReadItDaddy and C were willing to host a guest post on their blog because I have a new book out, The Price of Magic.

This is in fact a sequel to A Ghost Called Dog and whilst obviously I would be very grateful if you looked at reading or buying either of them, I thought I would write this post about the creative process so if you will indulge me a little, I’ll tell you a story about writing books and why you could do it too.

The initial idea for A Ghost Called Dog had come from stumbling over a garden whilst house hunting that contained an actual pet graveyard. There was an area sectioned off with a series of wooden crosses with names written on them. My partner and I discussed what to do if we did buy the house (we didn’t for various reasons) and the best solution we could come up with was to put the shed there because you can hardly turn a pet cemetery into the vegetable patch.

However, the story stuck and was re-told as we continued through the stress of house hunting as a way of letting off steam and my imagination being what it is thought, we all know if you build a house on a burial ground you end up with a haunting. If you put a shed on a pet graveyard… a haunted shed, a haunted play house – there’s a book in that.

Cut to sometime later and my nephew on having heard me discussing with someone that I had finished writing a book asked if he could read it. The answer was a very definite no as he wasn’t old enough, but having got the interest of a child of the right age I asked him about whether my idea of a haunted playhouse sounded like something he would be interested in reading.

He said yes.

The rest of the story of the first book involves lots of emails and writing to get a draft, and then more work as I polished my draft ahead of working with an editor and investing money in a self-publishing venture.

At no point in this process did I have the commercially sensible thought of setting up a series. So when my dad mentioned the subject, I muttered darkly about a standalone book, finished a nice evening with my parents and went to bed as I had work the next day.

One of the questions writers regularly get asked is where do you get your ideas?

I am very fond of Neil Gaiman’s answer, ‘I make them up… Out of my head.’

The answer is of course a little more complicated than that, but in essence not so much.

I am inspired by all sorts of things: books I read, films I watch, podcasts I listen to, museums I visit, but the process boils down to two things. An initial idea, a kernel of something be it a character or a moment or a question that pops into my head and then the deceptively simple question, what happened next?

In the case of The Price of Magic I was in the shower wondering about what my dad had said about a sequel the night before when it struck me that not everyone’s story was definitely finished. An idea popped into my head. What happened next for Abby? The rest grew from there.

Now at this point you might be asking yourself what does this have to do with me writing a book?

And then…

We all make up stories as children. Our imaginations run riot and many a parent has listed to their child explain at length what they were playing.

The space ship took off and then we were attacked by aliens and then we fired our lasers at them and the aliens were blown up.

Not a particularly great story or the basis of a book, but the drive is the same. What happened next?

As we grow up we change the ways we play and then a lot of us stop, but not all of us. A writer’s imagination keeps thinking up stories, wondering about things.

There is no one set way to write a book and plenty of disagreement about how to create a plot, how much description, action, or dialogue there should be, but as we practice and develop new ways of doing things at the essential level all writers are answering that simple question: what happened next?

As a child I would put myself in stories or write what could happen when I was waiting for the next instalment of a series. As an adult I’m still doing that, only now I get to turn this into books.

Now don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of work, making a book that people want to read is not easy and I wouldn’t claim to be a definitive expert. However, I am getting plenty of practice in and it’s never too early to start.

I wouldn’t suggest leaping straight into self-publishing. Writing books takes practice and showing your wok to other people, which is a big step. Getting useful feedback is not just showing it to a friend who says it’s great. You have to find someone whose opinion you value who is willing to sit down and read your work carefully, and then tell you what is good and what needs work.

I got a head start in this thanks to being a musician and playing in bands since I was fourteen. I’m used to a collaborative creative process but it took me time to get this way, and even now there are only certain people I show my early work to and I love being edited - people who know more about writing asking me questions and helping me to have a better story, what’s not to love?

The answer is that you might not be ready, and that’s fine too. I love writing and maybe one day you will as well so give it a go. Art can be its own reward, you don’t have to show anyone, but maybe one day it will drive you in the same way those of us who are compulsively driven to ask people to read things we have written.

Like anything a little talent helps, but it doesn’t trump hard work and practice.

It’s one of those things that people say, everyone has a book in them, but there’s only one way to find out if you do and that is to try. I suspect a lot of people would have more than one book in them as long as they practiced, researched a lot, but most importantly – kept asking themselves that simple question, what happened next?

Now if you don’t mind, I have another book to write.

I hope you do too.

Gavin's Book "The Price of Magic" is now available through Matador Publishing.