Saturday, June 9, 2012

Author Interview: Danny Gillan

"So many Scottish, and particularly Glaswegian, authors feel compelled to write gritty crime thrillers or gangland tales full of grittiness. And guns. And cynical coppers."

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’m still not certain that I do. I started writing fiction almost by accident, it was never a ‘dream’. I didn’t study creative writing or lust after the bohemian lifestyles of Beatrix Potter or Agatha Christie from a young age.

Basically, about twelve years ago this grey box with a screen and keyboard attached appeared in our house and I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. So, out of boredom and a sense of it being silly not to have a go, I started trying to fill the screen up with words. I know, profound.

When I was younger, what I actually wanted to be was a rock star. I only allowed that ambition to morph into ‘writer’ when I passed 30 and every inch I lost to my hairline seemed to result in two being added to my waistline. Plus, typing is less tiring.

Your first book, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, won a competition for “undiscovered authors,” which I’m guessing led to a publishing contract. Tell us about this book and its route to publication.

WYLMT was what I ended up writing while trying to fill up that screen. The idea for the story appeared pretty much fully formed one day and I’d got almost a third of the way through the opening paragraph before I realized writing books was hard and gave up. However, because I actually knew where the story was heading I kept going back to it and, after four short years, I had a 176,000 word first draft. It was awful. Another two years later and I had 130, 000 words which weren’t quite so terrible.

The prize for winning the Undiscovered Authors competition was a publishing deal with a small UK Publishers. It was very exciting. Given that the publishers had a habit of seemingly going out of business every couple of months I was actually pleasantly surprised when, in 2008, the book finally appeared in print. It sold in the tens of, oh, tens and made no one any money anywhere. That was when I first felt like a proper writer. Then the publisher really did go out of business.

I’m still very fond of the story and its characters. I was an unsuccessful musician long before I became an unsuccessful writer and WYLMT allowed me to write about music as well as other interests such as depression, suicide and bad haircuts.

I was actually genuinely surprised when I realized the book was becoming a comedy. I hadn’t planned that, particularly. I was just writing the story and hoping it made some sort of sense, and the jokes that kept appearing during the opening suicide scene were a little embarrassing and felt in poor taste. However, since I have dubious taste in almost every other aspect of life I figured I might as well leave them, in the interests of consistency.

Slightly more seriously though, it was important to me that I treated the more serious aspects of WYLMT’s plot with due respect and hopefully I achieved that. Both through personal experience and via my day job working in Social Care, I know how important humour is when helping people through tricky times, and the plan became to reflect that in the characters’ dialogue and responses rather than trying to find laughs in the circumstances themselves.

Every time I see the title of this book I think about the Carole King song, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, that was a hit for the Shirelles. I know you’ve also done a trailer for the book featuring this song. When you gave the book its title, were you thinking of the song? Did the title come to you early in the writing process or after the book was mostly finished?

I was indeed thinking of the song, in fact I was thinking of the specific version  used in the trailer. My friend Shonagh Frazer and I recorded it many years ago and I’ve always thought it was one of the strongest vocal performances I’ve ever heard. It fits well with the book’s themes and obviously, being a song title, reflects the plot. The title was there from the beginning and in fact I think the song (or Shonagh’s version) was one of the several things running around in my brain when it came up with the stupid idea of trying to write the book in the first place.

Your published your second novel, Scratch, as an indie. Tell us about it.

While WYLMT had, dare I say it, some depth to it (only some, mind), Scratch was really an attempt at seeing how funny I could manage to be while still telling a hopefully coherent story with believable, engaging characters.

Plot-wise, there’s nothing all that unusual or original about Scratch. In many ways, it’s a straight-forward romantic comedy. That was the challenge. So many Scottish, and particularly Glaswegian, authors feel compelled to write gritty crime thrillers or gangland tales full of grittiness. And guns. And cynical coppers. And grit. Although I love many of these writers I don’t particularly want to be one of them, and thought it would be interesting to write about Glaswegian characters who are just normal, everyday people making terrible decisions and messing up their lives in normal, everyday ways.

So, I came up with a very simple premise – a guy meets his first love again after twelve years. She’s now married. He still loves her. Her dad’s mental – and tried to avoid as many clichés as possible while figuring out what happens to them all.
I had great fun writing Scratch, in particular the supporting characters. I also had the lead character, Jim, go back to working in a pub like he had when he was a teenager, which allowed me to relive some of the fun I had back in the day.

Scratch seems to have resonated with a lot of readers so hopefully that means I got at least some of it right. I find it interesting that there are some readers who respond well to the plot twists, and especially the ending, and others who feel a bit betrayed by it – that tells me I achieved my goal of side-stepping the tropes and clichés while reminding me that some people like their tropes and clichés.

You have a lot in common to the protagonists in both your novels. How much of Bryan Rivers and Jim Cooper are actually Danny Gillan?

I have no idea what you’re talking about.

I think because Scratch is written from a first person point of view people tend to assume it’s more autobiographical than it actually is. Almost none of the things that happen to Jim in the book have actually happened to me. At least not in precisely the same way. (I have never met an Irish, Bruce Lee obsessed retired psychologist, for example.)

Similarly, with Bryan in WYLMT, people sometimes assume there’s a lot more of me there than they should. If anything the character of Adam, Bryan’s best friend, is a lot closer to me in real life than Bryan is. Apart from the fact that Bryan is uncannily, uniquely talented of course. That’s all me.

Who is the biggest wanker, Jim Cooper or Danny Gillan, and why?

Oh, Danny Gillan, definitely. He’s a dick. At least Jim develops some level of self-awareness by the end.

After publishing Scratch, you released a collection of short stories called A Collection of Meats and Cheeses. Tell us about this book and what led you to writing it?

When I finished writing WYLMT, I was conscious of that fact that my writing skills and experience were still very limited. I had written precisely one thing from beginning to end. It was quite a long thing and took bloody ages, but it was only one thing, nonetheless.

I set out, therefore, to have a go at some short stories. A Selection of Meats and Cheeses is the result of that ‘go’.

The twelve stories were written over a period of about two years, moist of them between WYLMT and Scratch. I enjoyed the opportunity to experiment with different genres, tenses, points of view etc and there is no real theme connecting the various stories other than they all feature Glaswegian idiots of some description or another.

Shorts allow you to play around in genres you might otherwise avoid if it meant a novel length commitment. Hopefully there’s a vein of humour and whatever ‘me’ is running through all of them, but the plan with the collection was to showcase their variety. I even had a go at crime, just to prove I really am from Glasgow.

Another project you’re involved in is the magazine Words With Jam. Tell us about it and your role.

Words With JAM was created by my friend JD Smith - a writer, graphic designer and all round talented swine. It’s a free online (and now in print) magazine written by writers, for writers. There are a bunch of core contributors and columnists who try to be funny, helpful or interesting every issue, plus we manage to get some pretty big name interviews and articles from the wider writing world, too.

While the aim is to provide aspiring writers with as much help and advice as possible, we don’t want to be po-faced about it, and think it’s as, if not more, important to have a laugh and show that writing doesn’t have to be so serious all the time, as it is to figure out how to be successful at it.

My job title on the mag is Contributing Deputy Editor. No, I don’t know what it means either.

What are your future writing plans?

Plans? I’m supposed to have plans?

Fiction-wise, I honestly don’t know. I haven’t actually written any new fiction for a couple of years and often think that if that remains the case then that’s okay. I got a couple of novels and some decent short stories out of it, and maybe it’s time to move on and do something else now.

I enjoy writing for the magazine and intend to keep that up, and might be looking to expand into more freelance writing at some point. All job offers welcome.
There is, however, a small but surprisingly vocal element of my readership who seem to think they have the right to demand a sequel to Scratch, like I’m some kind of performing word monkey or something. I may have to write that eventually just to shut them up.

What do you like to do in your leisure time?

Class-A drugs and prostitutes, mainly. I’m kidding, I gave all that up weeks ago. I’ve recently taken up myocardial infarction as a hobby. I had a wee heart attack last week and, while I may not choose to continue with it long term as a repeat activity, it’s certainly provided me with some unexpected free time and actual medical justification for my already inherent and well-developed abject laziness, so I can recommend it on that basis.

NHS-mandated bed rest aside, most of my spare time these days is devoted to music once again. A friend and I have an acoustic act called Tales of Jake, and we’ve been gigging regularly. We’re so in demand that we’ve played pretty much every venue within walking distance of my house. If things continue to go well we’re hoping that one day we might be asked to play somewhere big enough to require amplification, though that’s probably a few years off yet.   

Tell us one thing about yourself that you think would come as a surprise to most people?

I speak eight languages and work part time as a peace envoy for the UN, am a volunteer for Médecins Sans Frontières and do one Saturday a month with NASA training the next generation of Mars astronauts. I also never lie.

That last one was a lie.

For More Danny:

You can sometimes find Danny blogging here, and can like him on Facebook. If you missed the link above, be sure to go now and listen to the trailer for Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.

Visit the website for Words with Jam.


Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow        Amazon US UK  Paper

Scratch                             Review Amazon US UK 

A Selection of Meats & Cheeses        Amazon US UK


Anne Stormont (@writeanne) said...

I very much enjoyed this interview. I've been a fan of Danny's writing (and of the man himself) for quite a while now. It was good to read about his writing experiences. And, yes, he really does need to get on with that sequel. Thanks for this interview.

?wazithinkin said...

OMG! I almost started jumping up and down when I saw Danny Gillan was the author for today's interview! I dearly loved all three of his books, and I am going to claim another 'shout out'. I am one of those nameless thems that wants a Scratch 2 (tentatively titled Itchy Feet) from Danny.

I highly recommend all of Danny's books. He has an insight into human nature that is undeniable and he has a real talent for believable dialog.

I wish you all the luck in the world with your music and your writing, Danny! Thank you for such an entertaining interview!

Thank you Al, for another wonderful interview. :)

Walter Knight said...

I think it is very unfair that being follically challenged should in any way bar you from being a rock star. It's outragious, there should be a law. Bald people need love (and groupies) too.

On the other hand, being an Irish, Bruce Lee obsessed, retired psycologist musician should be an instant ban. The musicians guild has standards, you know.

Great interview.

Karla Gomez said...

He was so entertaining! And I feel the need to check out his books ;)

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Hilarious interview. Like Karla above me, I, too, feel the need to go check out his books. Great post.

BooksAndPals said...

Karen and Karla, I have yet to read WYLMT (it's been in my tbr stack forever), but can say with confidence that if you like the interview, you'll like Scratch.

Anonymous said...

Great interview. I have WYLMT on my TBR, but his Selection of Meats and Cheeses is excellent for short story fans. Frank Mundo

Vicki said...

"I speak eight languages and work part time as a peace envoy for the UN, am a volunteer for Médecins Sans Frontières and do one Saturday a month with NASA training the next generation of Mars astronauts. I also never lie.

Love it. :)

Good to see your name again, Danny. I remember you and Scratch from the old authonomy days.

Fun interview. Thanks for the smile.

Liza Perrat said...

Great post from the as ever, entertaining, Danny!

SM Johnson said...

I purchased Scratch because I enjoyed the interview. Danny, you are quite entertaining.

Danny said...

Thanks everyone for the kind comments and to BigAl for allowing me to act like an idiot on his blog, it was fun.
I hope you enjoy Scratch, SM (refunds available).
And Walter, I wholeheartedly agree - the bigotry and prejudice I experienced against us non hairy-heids in the music business was shocking, just shocking.