Today I’d like to welcome author Graham Downs to the blog. Graham has written 5 books in a range of genres including mystery and paranormal flash fiction. Thank you Graham for taking part, lets begin:
1. What was the first piece of fiction you wrote and what was it about?
When I was still at school, I “read” (played) a lot of Gamebooks. My favourite by far was the Lone Wolf series by Joe Dever.
At the age of about eleven or twelve, I wrote one of my own, on my father’s computer, in an old version of WordPerfect. This would’ve been around 1991 or 1992.
I can’t remember very much about it, and it’s unfortunately been lost now – no Dropbox back then. What I do know is that you, as the protagonist, played the role of a contemporary secret agent. I distinctly remember one scene where you had to follow a trail of “stompies” (cigarette butts in South African slang) to track someone down.
I’m sure it was very bad, and it’s therefore probably a good thing that it’s been lost to the sands of time!
2. You say in your blog that you published your first book, Petition to Magic, at the age of 32. What led you to write and publish it at that stage of your life?
I’ve always been interested in storytelling, from those humble beginnings in Primary School, right through High School and beyond. After Gamebooks, I graduated to tabletop roleplaying. My first foray was a game called AmeriCHAOS 1994, and later I discovered Dungeons & Dragons and eventually GURPS. I’ve experimented with many other systems since then as well – far too many to count.
I used to lament the fact that I always ended up being the Game Master in our sessions, but in truth I wouldn’t have had it any other way because it gave me the chance to do what I loved best, which was to tell my stories.
Despite all this, I never ever considered actually pitching a story to an agent and trying to get it published. It just seemed like far too much effort, for very little gain.
In 2012, I happened to meet a man on Twitter, by the name of Ryan Peter. He was (and is still) a Christian, like me, and we hit it off. I discovered that he was in the process of self-publishing his book, When Twins War. Once he was finished, I went out and bought an e-book copy, and really enjoyed it.
The rest, as they say, is history. I mean, what a pleasure! Here was this technology that allowed anyone to tell any story they liked, put it out into the world in a matter of hours, and get instant feedback. No hoops to jump through, and no-one to tell you whether your story is or isn’t good enough to reach readers.
As an added bonus, I realised that the process was a little bit technical (he self-published first on Smashwords, which admittedly isn’t the simplest platform to use). Me being a computer programmer by trade, it seemed the perfect combination of my two great loves.
I was hooked, and I don’t intend to stop anytime soon.
3. In your opinion, what are the best and worst things about being an author?
The best part of being an author is telling my stories, and having complete strangers post reviews. Even if those are one-star reviews, it makes me swell with pride to know that someone out there, whom I don’t know and will likely never met, took the time to read my story and tell the world what they thought of it.
The worst part is the slog – pushing yourself to keep on writing, and to keep on telling those stories, especially on days when you’re not in the mood. But I have to – my readers are counting on me.
The most difficult part is the marketing. I have learnt so much about marketing in these three years. It can be fun and rewarding, but it can also be the most frustrating thing I’ve ever done. And it’s just so time consuming.
4. What is it like being a self published author in South Africa? Is there a market for indie books or do sale come from elsewhere?
That’s an interesting question, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer. I’ve met precious few indie authors from South Africa, and we all feel like we don’t get much support. All the writing groups I belong to are overwhelmingly American.
Traditional publishing companies are still very big here, and many traditionally published authors can make you feel second-rate for self-publishing.
That stigma doesn’t seem to exist with retailers, though. The two biggest booksellers in the country, Loot.co.za and Exclusive Books, have no problem selling our books. Having said that, e-books really haven’t taken off here yet; I’m yet to find a South African company that sells indie e-books, and there certainly aren’t any that allow indies to submit their books.
We have a long way to go, I think, before we’re at the level of acceptance of the UK and US.
5. Who or what has been the biggest influence on your writing?
I read a quote the other day. I can’t remember who said it or the exact wording, and I can’t seem to find it on Google at the moment. Perhaps I dreamt it. If not, I’m sure one of your readers will jump on the comments and clarify.
Until they do, I’ll paraphrase:
“It’s impossible for me to tell you who my influences are. My influences are every person I’ve ever met, and every author I’ve ever read.”
Something like that. Anyway, ja, I’ve never liked that question. If I had to think of a couple of my favourite authors off the top of my head, I’m thinking Stephen King, the late Terry Pratchett, Terry Goodkind, Rebecca Cantrell, J.F. Penn….
6. How much of yourself and the people you know end up in your books?
I’m sure quite a bit, but I never consciously think of it like that. I know a few writers do, and there are blog posts out there about writers coming up with ingenious ways to write people whom they don’t like into their stories, and kill them.
I’m not one of those people. I write what’s on my heart. When I read it back, sometimes, I can see inspiration from my real life, but I never felt that inspiration while I was writing.
7. Which author do you aspire to be as successful as and why?
Wow, what’s another tough question. I would have to say Stephen King. That man is just so prolific – he’s written in so many different genres, and for so many different mediums. I’d love to be able to claim a portfolio like his, one day. And of course, the money wouldn’t hurt.
8. What is your favourite genre to write? Why do you enjoy it so much?
I don’t really think I’ve found it yet. I started out writing fantasy, because that was (and still is) always my favourite genre to read. Then I wrote a mystery/romance/thrillery type thing called Heritage of Deceit, which I still struggle to define. I’ve released two paranormal/horror type works, and I guess I enjoyed those the most. But I think that, much like Stephen King, I find it very difficult to come to terms with the idea of genre, and being put in a box, so to speak.
I’ll write a story in whatever genre I feel best fits that story.
9. Is there anything in your writing journey that you wish you could have done differrently?
I’m not really sure. People say you should stick to one (maximum two) genres, but that’s not me. People also say that short-form fiction doesn’t sell. I might write a longer piece one day, but short-form is still my favourite thing to read, and so it will always have a special place in my heart to write.
Maybe if I could go back, I would’ve started earlier, before the Kindle really exploded. It would’ve been nice to be among the first people to ride that wave. By the time I started, the market was already so saturated it was very difficult to make a name for yourself. Now? It’s damn near impossible.
10. Finally, what is your current work in progress or most recently published book? What is it about? Where is set? Please tell us about it.
The last book I released was called Heaven and Earth: Paranormal Flash Fiction. It’s exactly what it says it is. I discovered that I absolutely loved the flash fiction format (complete stories in no more than a thousand words, and sometimes as little as five hundred, or even less). It seems to be doing okay, sales wise, and so I want to do it again. I’m working on a book called Tales From Virdura, slated for release in 2016. It will be a collection of flash fiction stories set in the world of A Petition to Magic. Here’s the synopsis, from Goodreads:
Explore Virdura, a world full of fantasy, magic, and drama.
Find out what happens when a dashing young farmer’s son swoops a neighbouring daughter off her feet.
Meet Queen Tricia and the Royal Wizard Solon. Or Queen Celeste, her daughter, as she continues to struggle to come to terms with her new role as queen after the death of her mother.
Or read about Tobin the Bounty Hunter as he takes down Jarvis, a merciless criminal who brutally slit a blacksmith’s throat.
All these stories and more await you in Tales From Virdura, a collection of wonderful flash fiction stories that take you deeper into the world and the lives of the characters that inhabit it.
If you enjoyed reading A Petition to Magic, you’ll love this.
You’ll find out more about old characters and meet new ones. You’ll read prequels and origin stories, and you’ll read completely original stories taking place in new locales within the Kingdom.
This book can be read as a companion to, or separate from, A Petition to Magic and will delve further into the land of Virdura.
I’ve also been publishing a monthly crossword puzzle on my blog for the past few years. I’ve been toying with the idea of dipping my toes into non-fiction, by compiling some of the best of those into a paperback-only volume. So we’ll see how that turns out.
As always, thank you for reading,