Author Interview – Gahan Hanmer
This week’s interview is with Gahan Hanmer, the author of The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality. Gahan comes from a family of actors and has himself acted and directed, as well as working as a carpenter.
How long have you been writing for and what made you start writing?
I still have some very short detective stories that I wrote as a young child, the sort of thing a mother would save. They say I could read when I was three years old. I wrote some poetry as I was growing up. I wrote a novella in college featuring animal characters in an artist colony. It was quite talented but very immature and I discarded it at some point. After I outgrew my career in the theater and started living a more normal life, keeping a home and raising children, I started The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality with the intention of making some extra money. But my artistic standards have always been extremely high, and the book ran off with itself and became an unusual piece of real literature. I made it such a stirring tale, however, such an absorbing page turner, that very few people seem to realize what it’s really about, what it’s really trying to say. I’m sure a great many writers could say the same thing.
How did you get into being a professional writer, and how much effort did it take to be able to write full time?
I was working as a carpenter during the time I wrote The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality, and have never been a professional writer as such. Every evening after the girls were in bed, I evoked my cast of characters and recorded the tale as it unfolded in my imagination.
Initially, I had five plot points through which the story was going to move, five bases to run around before I got to the end. I got to the first base without much trouble, but as I started to move toward base two, my characters refused to cooperate. “No,” they said, “that’s not the truth. That’s not what we would do. Sorry, we’re not going there.” So I said, “Okay, you know what the problem is. Let’s see you solve it.” And so they did. Some of them got killed in the process, but you take your chances as a character in an adventure novel.
I don’t recall that it took any kind of strenuous effort to spend every evening for two and a half years to write the first draft. Nor did it require any particular effort to finish innumerable rewrites over a number of years. Creative writing, capturing the life of the human spirit in words, is very enjoyable if you relax into the mystery of the process and let the Creative Source work through you. If I could come up with a story idea that was half as good as the one that inspired The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality, I might try it again. Actually, I do have two very good story ideas in the “drawer” of my mind, but they are both dark and violent, and it would be unpleasant and also unhealthy for me to descend into the muck of either of those stories for as long as it took to develop them. I have my priorities.
Were you always good at telling stories, or has it come to you as an adult?
My father was an excellent story teller and observer of life and it would have been very worthwhile to have recorded his memories of his career in the theater and the depression and World War Two as he related them. My uncle also had a unique and fresh way of words in describing things. I think maybe it runs in the family to try to express ourselves skillfully and to make sure we have something worth expressing before we open the mouth.
Were you good at English in school?
When I was in high school I was one of the editors of the literary magazine and the faculty got a kick out of my critiques which were sometimes longer than the submissions. I was just trying to help the writers write better. English was my best subject, but this was one of those good schools where they tried to cram four or five times as much into your head as you could possibly absorb or enjoy, and it was not until some years after college that I began rereading English literature slowly with pleasure and real attention.
What advice would you give someone who wants to be a writer?
The actor Sir Lawrence Olivier was once asked what advice he would give to a young actor and he replied that if a person could possibly find anything else to do with his life, then he should do that instead; but if he absolutely had to be an actor, if nothing else would satisfy him, then he wished him the best of luck.
Art, any art, is a cruel mistress, and I think it’s only fair that young aspirants get warned that their chances of even making a living in the art world, let alone becoming wealthy and well known, are incredibly slim. If warnings won’t deter them for whatever reason, then I too wish them the best of luck.
On the flip side, someone who chooses an artistic life, if he is serious and determined, is pretty much protected against leading a humdrum existence. He has to keep an open mind, he has to be an assiduous observer of every aspect of life; his curiosity will introduce him to many interesting people and amazing situations, and he will have a host of amusing memories to dwell on in his maturity. He may have some very mixed feelings about his career, but he won’t come to the end of the road feeling like he wasted his time and threw his life away. The knife cuts both ways.
What is the most useful advice you’ve been given?
The most useful advice I’ve received as a writer, came from my editor, although I didn’t appreciate it at first. I was very touchy about the MS which I had finally finished to me own satisfaction, but the editing process turned it into a much cleaner and more cogent work.
What is the strangest advice you’ve been given?
My step-father, who wrote political and social protest books, advised me to write when I was angry, which is what he did. He was published several times, but his books reeked so badly of his anger that his close writer friends would only pretend that they had read his books. Eventually he was blacklisted by the industry for giving too many people too much of a hard time. I prefer to write with a smile on my face, and, if possible, my tongue in my cheek.
How do you deal with the stranger reviews?
I made the discovery that during the writing process, a book is completely under the control of the writer, but as soon as it is published, that control completely vanishes, and his work becomes the exclusive property of whoever is reading it at a particular time. I have had readers relate to me things in the plot that never occurred. Sometimes readers have changed the names of characters in their minds. Sometimes the way they react to aspects of the plot or to character’s personalities, or the way they interpret the meaning of the story is very baffling. There is nothing you can do once you finally put it out there into the world except to let it go, because it truly doesn’t belong to you anymore. If I don’t like a review, I don’t include it in promotional material and do my best to forget about it.
Who do you write for?
The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality spans several genres at the same time. It has the shape of a fairy tale with a saintly king and an evil duke and a prophecy and an unlikely hero, but the whole story is completely true to life with no magic or fantastic creatures. People tend to classify it as fantasy or science fiction, but to me it has always been a straight piece of fiction taking place in somewhat bizarre circumstances, but entirely realistic and entirely plausible.
My intention was that it should be suitable for readers of any age, and for that reason I kept the language clean. There is some violence but it is not gruesome. There is some sex but it is not graphic. It is intended to be an enjoyable experience for the reader and also to suggest certain ideas that might in some way help to point western society in a more positive direction. In general, I wrote it the way the classics were written, for everybody and for all time.
Describe your writing process, what, where, when and how please?
I write generally in the evening with a ball point pen on a legal pad, rewriting as I go with much scratching out and words inserted and arrows redirecting phrases or sentences. What I wind up with is a mess that only I could ever interpret, and when I’ve done enough for the session, then I type it up legibly. This is the most efficient way for me and frees me from the mistake of trying to type it out the right way the first time. This method gives the creative process plenty of room to unfold in its own way. I want a desk in a quiet spot and sufficient light. Sometimes I will wake up on the middle of the night knowing just how I want to express something, and then I will roll over in bed and write it down before it gets lost. Similarly, I always carry a pad in my pocket for the occasional flash of inspiration.
Where can we read your words?
The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality is available in bookstores and to all eReading devices and also direct from me at my website: thekingdomontheedgeofreality.com.
Links to blog, website, book sales etc. Maybe some good reviews.