Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My Interview with BILL CONDON!

Today, my excitement is on, possibly, the highest level it could ever reach. Scarily high levels. Yet in contrast, today's incredibly special guest tells me he is not excited. In fact, it's dangerous if he gets excited, because there is potential he might explode.

YAtopia peeps, I am beyond delighted and honoured to introduce today, the talented, the successful, superhero author, Mr Bill Condon!

My excitement is likely to force much babble from my mouth, so I will hand over to the man himself!

Bill, your publication list is seriously impressive, but do you have a favourite book? Or maybe one closest to your heart? Which was your favourite to write? Go on, tell us a little about you!

Thanks, Kate. I’m almost speechless after that incredible introduction. Superhero author? You must be a really nice person!
To be honest, most of the time I feel more like a Superzero author. I spend a lot of time failing in my attempts to write, but I think that’s probably true of many writers. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had a lot of time to try to I work out the nuts and bolts of the writing game. (I’m definitely one of the nuts.) I had my first books for children published in 1983, so the Law of Averages dictates that along with my many misses it’s only natural that there are a few books that pass muster.
When I first began I wrote lots of poems and plays, short stories, non-fiction – anything at all that helped pay the rent. It wasn’t until I was 50, in 1999, that I tackled a young adult novel. I wasn’t brave enough to do so beforehand, because I didn’t think I was up to it. But I wanted to try it before I died, so I had a go. That book was called Dogs. To my great surprise it was shortlisted in the CBCA Awards. That year Judith Clark won the Book of the Year with Wolf on the Fold. Dogs was named an Honour Book together with Fighting Ruben Wolfe, which was written by some young bloke called Markus Zusak. (I wonder whatever happened to him?)
So, to answer your question, no I don’t really have an out-and-out favourite book, but I think Dogs was the game-changer for me. After that I concentrated on young adult books.

Where did it all start for you? Were you a child writer, good at English at school? Or did writing come later on in life? If so, what set the wheels in motion?

Alas, I got almost no encouragement about anything at school, but somewhere buried in my cobwebby brain, there is a memory of a teacher who once praised a short story I wrote. She said it was ‘enthralling’. At the time I didn’t know what that meant, but from her tone I guessed it was something positive. I was probably 12 or 13. From then on I wanted to be a writer, and thanks to her, I believed I could do it. Wanting to be a writer was akin to wanting to be an astronaut back in the 60s, so there were many twists and turns before my fantasy became a reality. Sadly, I’ve long ago forgotten that teacher’s name.

Can you tell us a little about that first offer of publication? (If you can remember!) All aspiring writers dream of it being magical; was it like that for you?

When the publisher replied about Dogs she thought it had some merit, but as I’d only written for younger kids before she somehow assumed this was more of the same. If it was to have a chance, she said, it would need to be re-written so all the violence and swearing was taken out. Fortunately, once I’d explained things to her she had another look at it and decided the violence and swearing were okay after all. But in regard to acceptances in general, yes, they are magical. Not always, but usually, when you get a letter or an email back from the publisher it means a rejection. When they really like something, they ring you. Then it’s like hearing that you’ve won the lottery.

Are you involved in the publication process of each of your novels; from cover design and editing to marketing? You're published with many different publishers; are they all different, or is the process very similar across the board?

I think the process is similar with all publishers - at least the ones I’ve dealt with. Mainly my role concerns working on the text. I look at it several times after it gets accepted and it takes all those viewings to weed out the mistakes. As for the design, publishers usually show me the various covers they’ve come up with and I’m asked for my opinion. That’s more of a courtesy than my right. The publishers know far more about design than I do, so I basically leave it to them. As for marketing, this mainly comes down to taking part in any interviews the publicist can arrange, which I’m happy to do.

It's well documented that authors have to be prepared to market and promote their own books, more so than ever before. Seeing as though your career has spanned some years, do you have any insider tips you can share with us? Anything that's worked particularly well for you, and things that definitely haven't! 

One upon a time marketing was the job of the publisher. Now, as you point out, more and more, authors are expected to promote their own books. No doubt if I was just starting out, I’d be doing the same, because I’d have no choice. But as I’m much closer to the end of my career than the start, I do have a choice. My take on it is that if the book is good enough it will sell. No amount of fancy wrapping will make it a success if it’s badly written.

What's been the highlight of your career so far? And low-point?

The highlight is winning the PrimeMinister’s Award for young adult literature in 2010. I went to the award’s ceremony thinking I had no chance at all. The book, Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God, had lost out in every award it had been nominated for. It didn’t even get on the Notables’ list in the CBCA Awards. When it won, my wife Di screamed and I was so shocked I was unable to move. Hard to forget that.
As for the low points, there haven’t been any. It’s just been a joy and a privilege to have been able to work at a job I love for so many years. One of the great things has been to have received many reviews. I’m thankful for all of them, but this one gave me the biggest smile:

'Last week was the finishing pages of Dare Devils and I was quite exited about it because I wouldn’t have to read any more'.

Too funny! For all aspiring writers currently trudging through editor and agent slush piles, can you offer some 'hang-in' there advice, or ideas that might make their manuscripts stand out from the crowd?

The ‘hang-in there’ advice is simple. Believe in yourself and keep going. I had a friend who told me, ‘Nothing just happens. You make it happen’. Your book won’t get written unless you do the hard slog. Always remember that if you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t expect anyone else will. As for making your work stand out from the crowd, I’d forget all the bells and whistles. Write the best book that you can and that will speak volumes for you. However, one of the key things you can do is to begin your story well, hopefully with a memorable opening line. I spend a long time working on that opening. If it gets readers to keep going, all that time is well spent.

Which authors inspire you? What kinds of book do you like to escape with? Do you have one particular favourite? Something you read over and over again?

I have to confess that as a child there were never any books in my house. I read comics and watched TV. For many years my favourite book was the 1965 Nude Photography Annual, which I stole from the library. No one told me you could actually borrow books. To my eternal shame, these days I still prefer books with pictures, but not such racy ones. However, you’ll be pleased to know that I read novels, too. My favourite young adult novel of recent times is The Protected, by Clair Zorn. Such a great book! The list of good y/a novels is huge and I don’t wish to offend anyone by leaving out their title, so I’ll just name one more of my favourites, The Dead I Know, by Scott Gardner.  It won the Book of the Year in 2012 and richly deserved it. Oh, there is one more that is not too shabby – The Book Thief - by that young upstart Markus Whatshisname.

If not an author, which career path might you have taken? Do you have any secret talents that you can share with us?

If not an author I’d have been working in a factory somewhere. When I met my wife Di (Bates) in 1983 I was driving a forklift in a milk factory. I’d done that for seven years, on the graveyard shift of 11pm to 7 am. With Di’s encouragement I left that job, and eventually found my way into writing. If I have a secret talent it’s good luck. Meeting Di was the luckiest break I ever had.

And finally, what does the future have in store for you and your fans? Are there any new books on the horizon? What are you currently working on?

My latest book is The Simple Things. After it was accepted it took another two years for it to be published. That means if I get another book taken I’m going to be ancient by the time it comes out. For a few years now I’ve been working on a sequel to A Straight Line to My Heart, which was published in 2012. I write every day, but I delete much of what I produce so it’s a painfully slow process. Because of this I just don’t know when, or if, there’ll be another book. But I hope so.

Thank you so much for joining YAtopia today, Bill. We count ourselves extremely lucky to have had you. And I do hope you've remained decidedly under-excited. We wish you so much luck in the future with everything you do, and hope one day you might pop back and see us again.

If you'd like to learn more about Bill and his books, or stay up-to-date with his new releases, here is a link that might help with this.


1 comment:

  1. I can verify what Bill says about writing being hard work. Bill is a hard worker, constantly writing. But constantly, too he is re-writing. And then starting again. I've never met a writer who is as conscientious as he is about writing the best book he can write. And of course I think he's marvellous! Having three CBCA Honour Books of the Year, plus winning the Prime Minister's Award for Youth Literature, also being short-listed for CBCA awards numerous times is testament to the fact that his books are GOOD! Very good! (So says his wife...)