I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree G.J. Reilly to Layered Pages! By day, G. J. Reilly is a teacher of (mostly) ICT and Computing in the South Wales valleys, where he lives with his long-suffering wife and 2.4 cats.
He has an eclectic selection of hobbies, from playing a number of musical instruments with varying degrees of competence to learning the art of contact juggling and teaching sword-based martial arts. Having gained his degree, he spent ten years working in industry, before deciding to change career and head into education.
With an interest in high fantasy, contemporary fantasy and science fiction from a young age, it comes as no surprise that his first work falls into the young adult contemporary fantasy genre.
Why do you write?
I’ve always used writing as an escape, even when I was young. There’s something about being able to disappear into my own little world for an hour or two that helps to settle my mind. It’s like trying to think about an ear-worm – you know, those snippets of music that get stuck in your head, but can’t remember the name of for days … then suddenly it comes to you? No matter what the problem, a few hours writing and suddenly I’m so much closer to the solution.
What is your writing process?
So far, it’s always begun with a good long chat with my wife. Some of my best ideas have germinated from conversations over a glass (or two) or something nice at a restaurant or a café. Once those ideas have been given a little flesh, I write the outline for the first half of the story chapter by chapter, with a view to how I want my story to end. I won’t outline the second half until the first is on the page and I’m happy with it. Once the first draft is finished, it goes away for anything up to six weeks before I touch it again. Then all the work begins.
I’m not one of those writers who seem to effortlessly plow out a perfect first draft of their story outline. Heck, I won’t even look at grammar or pace until I’ve redrafted the manuscript to correct errors in the plot. The second draft also gets a cursory edit for anything obvious, then it goes to my wife for a first read. Inevitably there are changes to make before I go to work on the semantics and grammar.
Another two drafts later and it might be finished. By this time I’ve probably read and re-read it some fifteen/twenty times, so, for the sake of my sanity, it goes to my wonderfully patient editor. Once all of the edits have been completed, it goes out to the first set of beta readers who scrutinize it for any missed errors. Only once they’re satisfied do I begin formatting and aesthetics before starting on the blurb and other pre-release sundries.
How has writing impacted your life?
It hasn’t quite taken over completely … not yet anyway. I’m fortunate enough to have a very understanding wife who prefers early mornings to late nights. That leaves me a few quiet hours before bed to work. Family time has always been important to me, so I don’t let the writing interfere with personal plans … ever! Other than that, I pretty much obsess over characters, story arcs, ideas, covers … and everything else … every chance I get.
Other than the actual business of writing, it’s also helped me to meet some incredibly interesting people. Writing can be a very lonely pastime, especially when you’re at a passage that sticks, or if you suffer from a block, but I’ve found some wonderful groups where I can talk to other writers and readers who understand and offer the right sort of advice. They also offer an escape from the page and somewhere to blow off steam. If anything, writing has made me great deal more social.
When do your best ideas come to you for a story?
When I least expect them. I suppose it sounds a little corny put that way, but it’s true. I can be anywhere, doing pretty much anything and suddenly it’s there. Thank heavens for mobile technology because at least it means that I don’t have to carry a pen and paper with me everywhere I go. My next series, for example, is entirely based on the most ludicrous idea about a girl who … well, you’re going to have to wait, but it’s a lovely, playful idea that appeals to me as a storyteller. The idea for that series came from two words in a discussion about something completely different that caught my imagination.
When I first began the ‘Book of Jerrick’ series, I was terrified that it would be my first and last good idea, but since then, I’ve been introduced to flash fiction and drabbles in particular. I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve never heard of a drabble before, I hadn’t. They’re stories of exactly 100 words, which can be a challenge in itself, but after I’d read my first few to get the hang of the style, I found myself completely addicted to them and have since published some 20 or so in the last year through a fantastic online site for indie book lovers called BookHippo. As strange as it sounds, since I became hooked on them I see stories in just about everything. Whether they’d make good novels is another question, but you’d be amazed by how much you can pack into so few words. One of my favourites was a story about an old man who repairs books. The idea came to me whilst I was helping out at a school and came across a battered copy of the complete works of Charles Dickens that was missing its appendix – which really appealed to my sense of humour. But it just goes to show that even the ordinary and mundane can be inspiring if you look at it the right way. I’ve added it here, just as an example.
When I found her, her spine was cracked. All but broken, she was a real mess; dirty and dishevelled.
Wet from the rain, I dried her carefully, patting her down and laying her near the fire but not so close as to burn her. I wondered what she could tell me. I wondered what her story was, but I didn’t pry until she was ready.
It took a good few days before she was fit enough; but I enjoyed Rebecca’s company immensely, before placing her on the shelf next to my Dickens compendium, whose appendix had been so inexpertly removed.
How do you respond to positive and negative reviews?
I’d like to think that I respond to both in the same way, but I’m as human as the next writer and probably don’t. Everybody likes positive reviews. They help us to validate all of the hard work and efforts we’ve put into our writing. On the other hand, negative reviews can cut to the bone, making us feel inadequate and often frustrated that the reader hasn’t connected with the story in the way that we’d hoped. Positive or negative, I try to see constructive criticism in both (although, it takes a few hours before I can see the bright side of a negative review). What I try to remember is that these are people’s opinions and, good or bad, they are entitled to express them, which makes one review as valid as another.
Where they differ, however, is that I will try to leave a ‘thank you’ note for a positive review, to let the reader know how much I appreciate their comments. That’s not possible for a negative review, however well meant. No matter how hard you try, whether as a writer, artist, musician or chef or as anyone who opens up their work to public consumption, you will never please all of the people all of the time. As a writer, all I can do is take negative comments on board and decide whether I can accommodate them in my next publication. If I can’t, then at least I know that I’ve considered them and hope that the reader will consider joining me for a different story sometime in the future.
What advice would you give a beginner writer?
As a beginner writer myself, I’m not overly qualified to give advice, but this is what I’ve learned:
Read everything – pamphlets, leaflets, blogs, crisp packets (err … potato chips for those of you outside the UK), it doesn’t matter what it is. If it has information to give, study the way it’s offered to the audience.
If you’re set on a particular genre, read everything in that genre that you can get your paws on. Go back as far into the history of that genre as you can and pay attention as you go. Learn everything you can from them.
Admire other authors, don’t emulate them. Find your own voice and pace.
Don’t be afraid of what other people might think, write your story your way and find out what they really think. If it sucks, write another and another and another. Practice makes perfect.
Find a group of people somewhere, anywhere, who write in your genre and learn from them. Remember, when someone offers you advice, take it on board. Look at their back catalogue because they’ve probably written a whole lot more than you have!
And lastly: you’re only limited by your own imagination; nurture it, expand it, but above all, share it.