Mike Gerrard has added another notch on his writing belt by writing and publishing a (as he calls it) crime novel. I think you will enjoy reading about his journey into the world of publishing as I did interviewing him.
I was born in the north of England, in St Helens, which is a few miles outside of Liverpool. I am old enough to have seen the Beatles live on stage, at the Liverpool Empire. After training as an accountant, and changing my mind, then training as a teacher, and changing my mind, I ended up in London working for a literary agent before becoming a freelance writer. I have concentrated on travel writing for about the last 15 years, and have written for people such as National Geographic and American Express. I have authored dozens of guidebooks. I now spend half my life in the UK and half in Arizona, “the winter half”.
Tell us about the genre of your work.
I would say that Strip till Dead was crime writing rather than mystery. There is a mystery at the heart of it, as two people try to track down the killer of a stripper, but I was more interested in portraying the world of striptease in London, and the people involved, than in trying to write a mystery puzzle book.
Why did you choose this genre?
This is my first novel, and the story had been in my mind for a while. I knew someday I would do something with the story, so as it is a crime story and I also read lots of crime writing, it is inevitable what it would be.
What are some of your books, stories that have been published?
I have published a lot of travel writing, including guidebooks for publishers including the AA, AAA, Fodor’s, Dorling Kindersley, Insight, New Holland, Michelin, Thomas Cook, and National Geographic. Strip till Dead is my first work of fiction, and I have never written any short stories. I love short stories, I wish I could write even one good one, but the ideas that come to me (and I have tons of ideas, far more than I have ever time to write) are always for full-length stories. That said, I have had an idea for a short story featuring the two main characters from Strip till Dead that would act as a kind of interval between this book and the next one that I am thinking about - but at the moment it lacks a vital element: a crime!
Strip till Dead is only at the moment available for the Kindle in the USA (http://tinyurl.com/4fv32zf)
http://tinyurl.com/48vgygc) However, I am getting the print edition ready through Amazon’s CreateSpace, and that should be available sometime in April.
How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?
The places are all real, so that bit is easy. The names of characters are really important, I think. In my first draft, I just gave the characters combinations of names of people I knew. That made it easy for me to remember them. I was more concerned in the first draft with working out the plot. The characters developed as the story moved on. Then for the next draft, I had a better grasp of the characters, as I had not initially based them on any particular people I knew. So, by then the names were not right. They were just holding names anyway, as if you might give something a working title, even though you are not planning to use it. (The book was first called Stark Naked, by the way, but I never really liked that as a title.) I did then spend a lot of time working on the characters’ names, trying different ones, writing down lists of possibilities, until I hit on names that seemed right. You usually know it when you have it.
How did you develop the character of your protagonist in this book?
In order for the plot to work, I had to have someone who was slightly naïve, but not shy about becoming a stripper. She had to be new to the world, so she could investigate it, and learn about it along with the reader. For a while, she was American, partly to make her an outsider and partly a cynical move to try to make the book appeal to American readers. However, I am not really a cynical person so she had to revert to being what was right for the book. I made her from the north of England, where I am from, and a student, so she would seem more young and vulnerable, and would learn a lot about the city, stripping, and most of all about herself as the story unfolds.
What about an antagonist…is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?
There are several bad guys hanging round the stripping world, where of course you do find some sleazy characters on the fringes… and sometimes not on the fringe but right in there. It is a colorful world, all right. However, to say any more would reveal too much - and like the skillful stripper, I will not reveal all.
What’s your favorite thing about your book?
I am pleased with two things in particular. Three if you count the fact that I managed to finish it. It is one thing to write a guidebook of 60,000 words or so, because you are working to a format and a page plan - and also to a deadline! With Strip till Dead, I was doing it in my spare time, never knowing if it would be published, and never having written a novel before. So, the simple fact of getting it done - after several drafts - was to me an achievement.
However, the first thing I am most pleased about is the way I hope I have portrayed strippers as real women. People tend to make assumptions about them, that they are all tarts or have no morals, or whatever. In fact, they are all different, doing what they do for different reasons. Some are working class, some are posh, and a lot of them are just ordinary women doing an unusual job.
The second thing I am most pleased about is the final chapter, and in particular the ending. I did have a rough idea of where the book was headed, but not the specifics of how it would work out. I was very happy with the way the last chapter was written, and especially the last few sentences. I did not know that was going to happen, but when it did, it seemed absolutely right.
Why and when did you begin writing?
I knew I wanted to be a writer from the age of about 8 or 9, when I discovered that some of my favorite comedians were not making things up as they went along, but had scriptwriters who wrote the jokes for them. From then on, I knew I wanted to be a writer, preferably a sitcom writer, but any kind of writer really. It has been a circuitous route. The first things I sold were some poems to Lancashire Life magazine when I was in my early 20s. Then I sold them a few articles, did some general feature writing for newspapers and magazines in the UK - in my spare time, that is. I was in my late 20s and working for a literary agent in London when I decided to have a go at full-time freelance writing. I finished work one Friday, and on Monday morning sat down in my flat with a typewriter at the kitchen table and thought: OK, what now? Having all day and every day in which to write was both liberating and scared me stiff.
What is your writing schedule?
It varies enormously, depending what I am doing. When I was writing Strip till Dead, I was doing it alongside my regular travel writing. I have been lucky in that I have always made a living from travel writing, which a lot of people do not do. They have to have another job or source of income to support their travel writing, as it is not a very well-paid profession for most people. So, when I started my novel I would get up early, maybe 6am or so, sit right down at the desk and work on it for maybe 2-3 hours, before switching to my regular paid work, the guidebooks and so on. It was extremely hard, having to get up like that every day, but if you do not do it, the book is not written. And, I really wanted to write it. So, you do get up, day after day after day, until it is done. It is a long, hard slog, and I respect anyone who has written a book in their spare time.
What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?
Right now, I am working on publicizing Strip till Dead, which is vital if you go the indie-publishing route, as I have. I got tired of waiting for publishers and agents taking 4-5 months to get back to you, and sometimes never getting back to you at all. I can take ‘no’, you have to be able to do that as a writer. What I cannot take is the bad manners of asking to see something and then never, ever, responding to you again.
Anyway, I am thinking about a short story concerning the two main characters of Strip till Dead, which would take them into the next novel. I know where I want to set it, and have been doing some background reading for story ideas and atmosphere. However, while I was trying to sell Strip till Dead to publishers and agents - and failing - I did start another crime story, and have the first couple of chapters written. That is set in Alabama, and very different from Strip till Dead. Nevertheless, as with my first one, it was just a story that came along and I felt compelled to write it, or at least make a start.
What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write (especially mystery)?
Whatever you want to write, I think it is vital to read examples of some of the best writers in that genre, whether it is non-fiction like travel or fiction like mystery, or romance, or anything else. You cannot be a writer if you do not read. The only other thing you have to do is sit down and write. That is the hard part for many people. You often hear people saying they would like to write a book but they do not have the time. Well, people like John Grisham and Scott Turow did not have the time either, but they made the time and did not stop until they had finished. I think it was P.G. Wodehouse who said that the secret of writing is applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
Personally I am a sucker for ‘how to write’ books. I do feel that if I only read just one more ‘how to write’ book, I will find the secret and be successful. I know I am not the only one. Nevertheless, I have learned a lot from reading those books, and there are some very good ones about mystery writing. I have read them all! I especially recommend the books by Lawrence Block and David Morrell; both fine crime/thriller writers who know what they are talking about and have written books that are full of great advice.
Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?
I have had countless emails over the years from people asking how they can become travel writers. I used to give them all long, individual replies, trying to help them. I did until a travel writer friend of mine said he now summed it up briefly - travel as much as you can, write as much as you can, and send it to as many editors as you can. And, I think that is very simple but sound advice.
What do you do when you are not writing?
My wife says I would be happy to sit at the keyboard all day, every day, and write. She has to drag me out to do the garden, or go shopping, or anything else. Then, when I am not writing, chances are that I am reading - books, magazines, newspapers or listening to music. Then again, I may be cooking, eating, and enjoying the alcoholic beverage of my choice. Being travel writers, we do of course travel a lot too.
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?
Does any writer or any artist ever think they have made it? Maybe you do if you really have made it, but I think no matter how successful you are, you never feel you have made it. In fact if you write something that is brilliant, and well received, is praised to the skies and sells in millions, you probably think - oh ****, what the hell do I do next? I will let you know if I ever feel that I have made it!