Eamonn Griffin – Historical Fiction [Author Interview]
This week sees an interview with Eamonn Griffin, a professional writer who has published two novels, as well as writing for other people. Eamonn Griffin’s third novel, Juggernaut – a sequel to Jekyll & Hyde, is due out in November this year.
Eamonn Griffin Interview
1. How long have you been writing for and what made you start writing?
I’ve been writing seriously for about 14 years. I’d always had the ambition to write someday, but up until a decade ago, I’d convinced myself that I didn’t have the time for it. The first thing I wrote with serious intent was a screenplay which I collaborated on with a work colleague. The central idea had some promise, and we had a great summer working on the project, and on sending it out and getting the first rejections back. One day, we’ll go back and finish it off in some way, to put the project to bed.
Then I started writing short stories, and things began to develop from there. The final impetus for writing fiction on my own was twofold: first was finishing an Open University course (an MA in film studies), which gave me the time, and then the opportunity, which came out of the screenplay work and the first stories, to teach a little creative writing.
2. Do you write for a living, or do you also do other work?
I write for a living, though not all of that is creative work. About half of my work day is on freelance writing work for others, and the other half is on my own creative output.
3. How did you get into being a professional writer, and how much effort did it take to be able to write full time?
I got into novel writing through academia. Another work colleague (I was at the time lecturing in a college which had a mix of degree and further education courses) had recently completed a PhD, and was enthusing about the experience. I reckoned that the discipline of a doctorate would support me in writing a novel, so I applied for a creative writing place at Lancaster University, and was successful. As part of the qualification, I was able to complete my first novel, The Prospect of This City.
Going full-time relied on an alignment of the planets. A freelance opportunity was offered to me, plus I was able to leave the college with some travelling money, as this coincided with a call for voluntary redundancies at my place of work. I took the redundancy, and started writing full-time.
4. Were you always good at telling stories, or has it come to you as an adult?
I think I’ve always been good, though I’m sure there are those who’ve heard some of my terrible jokes and would disagree.
5. Were you good at English in school?
Yes. Not brilliant, but certainly solid enough. Plus I’ve always been a big reader. That, more than anything else, and more than any competence at English, is the most important thing for a writer. You have to love stories, and you have to love reading.
6. What do you read for enjoyment?
Lots of stuff: history, pop science non-fiction, easy philosophy stuff. Genre-wise in fiction, I love historical fiction, crime procedurals. Nature writing and travel accounts are always interesting too. I read a lot of cinema history material, being a bit of a movie buff. I’m interested in psychogeography too, so I read around the subjects of place and psychology.
Lately, I’ve been locking onto certain writers and reading their back catalogues, or whole series of their books, interspersed with others. This means that lately I’ve been reading a lot of Lawrence Block (the Matt Scudder novels particularly), Joe R Lansdale, and Michael Connelly‘s LA-set Bosch novels.
7. What advice would you give someone who wants to be a writer?
Do some writing. It’s cheap. You don’t need special equipment. Just an imagination and something to write with.
And do more reading. You’re not reading enough. I reckon that for every hour you write, you should read for an hour too.
A couple of how-to books can be useful as well. I prefer the nuts-and-bolts kind of instruction manuals rather than the more inspirational sorts of writing memoirs, but a mix of the two can be useful. Remember, though, that these are guides as to how the author writes, and not necessarily how you should write.
That said, pay attention to at least the basics of grammar, spelling and punctuation. These are your starting tools as a writer, so don’t abuse them.
Also, be familiar with your word-processing program. You only need to know the straightforward stuff, after all.
8. What is the most useful advice you’ve been given?
Finish what you start. Write, redraft, polish till it’s done. Then wait. And check the story again. And then find a place for it to go (a journal, a competition, a magazine). Finishing is key, though.
9. What is the strangest advice you’ve been given?
That I should pay a vanity press to have some work published. Never pay to have your work in print. Money flows to the writer, not away from them. The sole exception is in competition entry fees, but then again, be satisfied that the entry fee isn’t excessive.
10. How do you deal with the stranger reviews?
By not thinking of them as reviews in the traditional sense. If it appears in print in the book pages of a newspaper, then it’s a review. If it’s in the Amazon comments box, then it’s just an opinion. Nothing more. If the opinion is fair, then even if you don’t like it, that’s OK. If the opinion is weird, wrong, mean-spirited, or otherwise strange, then that’s the opinionator’s problem, not mine.
11. Who do you write for?
Myself, ultimately. I write some of the sorts of stories that I’d like to read.
12. What sort of things do you write?
A lot of the work I’ve done to date has either been historical fiction in some form, or else speculative. If place can be a genre, then I’ve worked on four London-set novels, even though I’ve never been a resident there.
13. Do you do much research? If so what is your favourite source?
For historical fiction, then I probably do too much research. I’m learning as I go with each book, and I do consequently less directed research each time; I’m getting better at blasting through a first draft, and only researching what I need at that point in time, while leaving notes to follow up later.
My favourite source is personal experience. I find it very useful to visit the locations of my work, and I try to do that wherever possible.
14. What do you have in the drawer? (i.e. what have you written but not yet published)
An awful lot of short stories, and fragments of two novels. There’s also another idea that I’m as yet not sure will be a screenplay or a novella.
15. Describe your writing process, what, where, when and how please?
1500 first draft words a day, which takes about two hours, if I’m in first-draft mode. Half my work day is on freelance writing, the other half on creative work, which usually means two hours writing and two hours admin, research and the other ancillaries that come with being a writer.
I can first-draft anywhere. If I’m at home, then I tend to sit at the kitchen table. I don’t have a dedicated study or writing shed. I’m good at working in libraries, and I find writing on long train journeys very easy.
Ideally. I’ll write early in the morning. This can mean doing the two hours between 5 and 7 am.
One trick I use is to have two laptops. One is for writing only, the other is for everything else. That’s how I keep the creative work separate from everything else.
If I’m struggling, then I’ll use time-management methods like the Pomodoro technique to force me to concentrate. That’s writing against the clock in 25 minute bursts. Four repetitions of 25 mins, with a 5 minute breather between them, and that’s the two hours done.
16. What is your best method or website for promoting your books?
I’m not very good at self-promotion, and as I find that other people relentlessly hawking their books gets a bit tiresome, I’d imagine that others would think the same of me. I use Twitter a lot, and mention my stuff there, though I try not to overburden folk with adverts. I’m in this for the long haul though. If it takes a few years, then that’s what it takes. Word of mouth remains the best way for a book to get promoted.
17. What question do you wish I’d asked you?
I like technical questions about particular aspects of writing. Problem solving, that sort of thing.
18. Where can we read your words?
My novels The Prospect of This City (a thriller set in the immediate context of the 1666 Great Fire of London) and Torc (a YA timeslip novel set in Scotland at both the time of the building of the Antonine Wall, and the present) are available in paperback via Amazon. Both novels are available as ebooks via Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo.
A new novel, Juggernaut, which is a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, will be out in November 2016 from the same outlets.
Eamonn Griffin on social media
Eamonn Griffin’s website and blog is at www.eamonngriffinwriting.com
Eammon Griffin on Twitter at @eamonngriffin
Reviews of Eamonn Griffin’s novels
A sample review of each book (both taken from Amazon UK). Links take you to the Amazon UK pages.
I bought this after enjoying Eamonn Griffin’s earlier book, The Prospect of This City: Being a novel of the Great Fire. Thankfully, Torc did not disappoint. The same meticulous research, engaging plot and well-drawn, convincing characters feature in this story too.
The book is written from the points of view of two young girls, whose stories run in parallel. One is the present-day daughter of a hotelier on the west coast of Scotland; the other, daughter of a clan chief from two thousand years past. Chapters alternate between the girls’ two worlds and, as the story progresses, their lives become entangled through ‘an artefact that binds them together across the centuries.’
Often, in books where the story is told by different characters, I always end up favouring one voice, and rushing through the other. In this story however, both protagonists are equally engaging, and I was desperate to get back to each one to find out what was going on in their story.
I intended to give this to my 12-year-old, but ended up reading it myself. So although I would say the book is suitable for anyone from a 10-year-old good reader upwards, it is definitely not a children’s book per se.
An absolute, unqualified five-star read. Buy this – and The Prospect of This City too.”
“This is a compelling read; a new twist on the well worn tale of how a simple fire in the King’s bakery destroys the city. Set against the background of political intrigue, family unrest and the squalor and poverty of post plague London, Eamonn Griffin creates with words a visceral world, engaging at once the readers senses on each page.
Very much in the same vein as C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake books, one ends the book both sated but eager for more. Will we meet Challis again? Will Tom, who doesn’t seem exactly set to live the rest of his life as a mere baker of ships biscuits? Highly recommend this book and look forward to more by this author.”