Monday, April 22, 2013

Interview with Harry Bingham: Author of the Fiona Griffiths Books

Harry Bingham of Oxfordshire, England is author of various books on writing & publishing. Harry is currently writing a crime series starring a rather intriguing female detective.

I had the luck to talk him down from between two walls long enough to interview him.
TradeMark Remark: What camping job with Harry Bingham be given?
 Tarp Hanger & Coconut Picker (Why? Just look at the picture above.)
You were a banker before an author, what changed?
A couple of things. For one thing, I never really loved banking and knew I’d always quit at some point. Then, when I was in my late twenties, my wife became really ill.We tried hiring care assistants to look after her when I was at work, but that wasn’t at all satisfactory. So I gave up work to look after her, and started my first novel. That book became The Money Makers, and I’ve never really looked back.

Can you talk a little bit about your experience getting published?
I didn’t find it all that hard to get published, which is a little different from most people. On my side, I had three things, I think. The first was a totally perfectionist attitude to my manuscript. I never once thought that ‘good enough’ was the target. I always aimed at stunning, and worked through infinite drafts to get the book in shape. I think my background as a banker helped. Hard work and infinite redrafting was a big part of my training at the bank.

Secondly, I had a good concept: a strong elevator pitch, if you like. That concept was enough to carry the book over any immaturity in my actual writing. I was lucky really. I’ve probably never written a book since that had such a strong central idea.

And then third, the market then wasn’t as hard as it is now. I sent my book to a dozen literary agents all told. Two of them offered representation (plus one other, but I was never sure he’d actually read the book.) And that was that, really. We sent the book out to publishers and were quickly involved in a multi-publisher auction. The stuff of dreams! Those things don’t happen as much these days. It’s much tougher for new writers and it isn’t about to get easier either.
What kind of readers should pick up your newest book Talking to the Dead?
It’s a hard book to explain, in a way! Theoretically, it’s a police procedural, except that the central character, Fiona Griffiths, doesn’t spend much of her time bothering with procedure. And, although there is a murder story and an investigation, the reader quite quickly realises that Fiona Griffiths is herself something of a mystery, so the book ends up being a character study of a very strange but intense and gifted young woman. There’s nothing paranormal in the book, but it’s still edge-of-reality stuff. (You can read some more about Fiona Griffiths here, but I need to forewarn you that she likes to keep a secret, so she’s not the world’s best interviewee.)

On your blog you write about the main character of the book telling you what to write. Can you explain that more?
I’ve written Talking to the Dead entirely in the first person – and the person in question is young, female and odd. And she has a very strong voice. I suppose that her voice isn’t a million miles different from mine, but it’s certainly more her than me. And yes, she kind of takes over. My task as a writer is to find her voice, then just let the story unfold. With Talking to the Dead, I found that I dreamed about the book every night. So much so, that I mostly developed the plot while asleep: just went to bed having finished a particular section, then dreamed what happened in the next chunk, woke up and wrote it down. I’ve never written a book that way before, but it sure reduces the workload!

You have books published on writing and getting published. You also run the Writer's Workshop which runs a variety of creative writing courses and offers manuscript assessments to newbie writers. Can you talk some about that venture?
Yes, a few years back, I thought it would be a nice idea to do a little editorial work in my spare time. The idea was to help advise new writers on their manuscripts and hopefully lead them towards publication. There was obviously something in that concept, because we now have about eighty editors working for us on a freelance basis. With our manuscript assessments we aim to give honest, expert and constructive editorial advice, and since all our editors are themselves professional authors or commissioning editors, our quality standards are no different than they would be in any major publishing house. (You can see some of our editorial reports here.) We also run creative writing courses, which have turned out to be amazingly inspiring, as well as practically useful. Although we host the courses online, it’s remarkable how some groups really bond. These things keep me in touch with the reason I came to be a writer in the first place. In the end, it was always about passion. The money was always secondary. It still is. 

If you had a 25 floor elevator ride with a newbie writer, what advice you bestow upon him or her? (no cheating and pulling the alarm/stop button)
Be perfectionist. Write what you love. Write what the market wants. Find that sweet point where the two things intersect. And read lots of contemporary, debut fiction. That’s what editors are buying NOW. (I should say that I live in an eighteenth century house just outside the old market town of Chipping Norton, near Oxford. We don’t have too many 25-story buildings around here, so I’m hoping I’ve timed that elevator ride about right.)

What is a secret you covet about the writing business?
talkingtothedead_USfinal_sm.gifI’ve kicked around the writing game long enough now, that there aren’t many secret corners for me any more. I think the greatest mystery to a new author is the whole business of securing a literary agent, and in truth the real challenge there is simply to write a book that’s good enough. Getting an agent is hard just because writing a great book is hard. And as I say, the publishing industry is getting ever tougher on debut authors. I was lucky to start when I did.

How much do you pay attention to Amazon reader reviews, other reviews, and fan feedback?
Not all that much, which perhaps sounds arrogant. But there are a few things going on here.

For one thing, bear in mind that writers are normally about two books ahead of retail – so my first Fiona Griffiths novel is coming out in paperback now, and I’m just about to hand the manuscript of the third FG novel to my publisher. So comments online are a kind of historic document for me. What really matters to me now is what my editor thinks of the book I’m about to deliver.

For another thing, a lot of negative Amazon reviews are essentially saying, “This isn’t the kind of book I like.” Which is fair enough. We all like different things and I don’t aim to please everybody, or ever expect to. I’d prefer to please a few readers a lot, than a lot of readers a bit.

Then too, the act of creation demands a certain amount of self-belief. In order to write a single page, I have to have a belief that that page is worth writing. Perhaps what it comes down to, though, is this. I write for myself. If I like what I’ve written, then that’s enough. If some other people like it too, I’m winning.

Consistently, reviewers of your work have stated that you are a talented and powerful writer. What are the ingredients that got you to that point?
Gee, having just said that I don’t pay too much attention to reviews, it does look nice on the page, a compliment like that! But I’m quite experienced, which helps. And through all the stuff we do at the Writers Workshop – the writing courses and the manuscript assessments and so on – I’ve become much more self-aware as a writer. Why some things work. Why other things don’t. I think all that has filtered into my writing. I’m certainly way better now than I was when I started. I enjoy it more as well.

What occupies your time nowadays? Are you writing something? If so, what?
As mentioned, I’m putting the final touches to the third Fiona Griffiths book. But that’s a slightly evasive answer … because it’s now April and in August, my wife and I are expecting twins, our first children. That’s going to be a wonderful life-change. An amazing and much-wanted one. But what’s going to occupy my time for the next two years? Changing diapers.

What would you like to say to your readers and fans?
I hope you enjoy the books! I’ve been a writer for more than ten years, but I’ve never enjoyed writing as much as I have done with these Fiona Griffiths novels. I genuinely hope that some of that pleasure comes through in the actual text. I think it does!

Check-out Harry Bingham's books on Amazon! Fiona promises to be a character you will not forget.

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