As a self-published author, GD Harper released his debut novel Love’s Long Road in 2016, which received great reviews and won a Red Ribbon Award before he released the follow on novel A Friend In Deed in 2018, visiting the characters from the first book many years later. The final book in the trilogy, Silent Money, a prequel to the previous two books, launched in September last year, with GD Harper touring some of the WHSmith stores around London and the South East. With the psychological thriller trilogy now complete, GD Harper is changing genre for his next novel with it being set in the 12th century around rural Kent and Sussex. Meeting with GD Harper, he talked about self-publishing his novels, his book tour with WHSmith and his latest release of Silent Money.
Was there anything that inspired you to get into writing?
I’ve always liked telling stories. A few years ago, I was running my own business and I sold it. I was in my early fifties at the time and thought I was a bit too young to retire, so I went on a writing course for a couple of years and joined a writing group, and used them to get started on writing short stories. I started off with 500-word short stories, and then about five years ago, I stepped up to writing novels.
Your book Love’s Long Road won the Red Ribbon Award in 2016, how rewarding is it having your debut novel receive this?
It’s very exciting because one of the great things about being a writer these days is you get a lot of reviews. If you’re an actor, immediately after you’ve finished your performance, you get a sense of whether the audiences liked it or didn’t like it, but as a writer, when someone takes the book away and reads it at home, you have no idea what that person thought about it. Winning awards and getting reviews is very motivating, but it’s also very constructive seeing what’s working and what’s not working in your writing.
Can you tell us about the book and how you came up with the idea?
It was quite interesting. I was watching the TV series Breaking Bad and I was struck by the character Walter White leading a normal life during the day being a chemistry teacher, and then at night, being a meth dealer and manufacturer. I liked the idea of someone having a double life – being one thing during the day and something else at night. I took the idea of a double life and built that up for the basis of the novel. I then decided to base it on a female character because I’ve always had very close female friends, so I created the character of a composite of three very strong independent women that I’ve known in different stages of my life. This allowed me to create a character that wasn’t any of them individually, but was distinctive in her own right.
How long did it take from having the idea to publication and release?
It takes about a year to write a book, and then it takes another six to nine months to go through the editing process and getting the book into warehouses. So, it’s nearly a year after making the content that it’s finished from a production point of view in terms of proofreading and editing and cover design.
Can you tell us about A Friend In Deed?
Yes, this was the second book I wrote. It was a follow on to Love’s Long Road. The idea was that I had three main characters that were in all three of the books I’ve written, and I wanted each of the books to be from the point of view of a different main character. I wanted to set it in the present day and I looked around for inspiration. It was at the time of the Trump election when he was becoming President, and I tried to imagine that happening here but in an even more extreme way. I invented a new political party that was controlled by the Russians and I took it from there.
Did you find this book easier or harder to write than your first and did you already know the outcome for the characters before starting to write it?
Funnily enough, I found this book really easy to write. I think the fact that the main character is a Scotsman in his early sixties made it quite easy for me to put myself in the character’s shoes. He has a lot of similarities to me and I think he’s sort of an idealised version of myself.
I’m quite specific in how I write books. I like to plan books out in a lot of detail before I actually write a single word of the book itself. There are two types of people that write books – there are planners, like myself, who plan everything out and know where the story is going, and there are pantsers, who are called that because they write by the seat of their pants. Pantsers have a simple idea and go with it and see where the book takes them. I’m completely in awe of people who can write like that. I need to have structure and a sense of where the book is going, otherwise I think I’d be completely lost.
You’ve written and released your latest book Silent Money, had you always known you would write a prequel to your previous novels?
Yes, this was part of the idea of giving each of the three main characters their own book. I’d written the stories of the two likeable characters – Bobbie and Duncan – so I was left with the antagonist story of the bad guy in Love’s Long Road. Michael’s a crime lord so I had a very difficult challenge of trying to write a book about somebody who was, effectively, a very nasty person, and trying to get the readers to engage with that person as a sort of anti-hero. I had a backstory that made the reader a bit more sympathetic to where he was when he started out. Michael became more and more evil as the book went on and it was quite interesting to see at what points different people started to lose their sympathies for him. Hopefully by the end of the book, they’re still engaged and can see some of the justification for some of the criminal and immoral things he gets up to, but obviously, I’m not defending him in any way.
Why do you think Silent Money will appeal to readers?
I think people like the idea of a bad guy and I think a lot of people like to read books as a form of escapism, to visit a world they wouldn’t want to be in themselves or become a character they wouldn’t want to be. In Silent Money, Michael is turned down for a promotion, even though he thinks he deserves it, so he feels very bitter and resentful about it. After a lot of analysis, he feels the way he’s going to succeed is to become a criminal, and if he can’t succeed in a moral way, he’s going to succeed in an immoral way. I think all of us think about another side of life that would be interesting to explore, but luckily, most of us never actually act on these impulses. If you read Silent Money, you can imagine what it would be like to go down that road that you wouldn’t want to go down in real life.
Can you tell us about the main characters of your books and how have they changed over time?
The biggest change of course is the Duncan character, who was pro-dominant in Love’s Long Road and A Friend In Deed because he was in his early twenties in one book, and in his early sixties in the second book because of the time gap. That was quite easy for me to do because it fits with my personal timeframe. In 1978 I was twenty, and now I’m in my sixties.
When you first meet Michael in Love’s Long Road, he’s a fairly nasty person, but when you meet him at the beginning of Silent Money, you are sympathetic towards him, so that’s about somebody whose character arc turns into a negative one and becomes more evil. He turns out to be quite a decent chap in A Friend In Deed so he goes through a few stages.
The Bobbie character is quite flaky in Love’s Long Road, and a lot of people get a bit exasperated when they read that book about how annoying she is, and what terrible decisions she makes. She relies on Duncan to help her do the right thing. By the time it comes to A Friend In Deed, the roles are reversed and it’s Duncan who’s a bit out of his depth sometimes, and it’s his friend Bobbie who is now a lot more grounded and sensible and puts him on the right path.
All the characters change over time as I think us human beings do as well.
You went on a book tour last year, how did this go and what do you enjoy most about signings?
I think it’s wonderful that WHSmith gave me the opportunity last year and they supported me in doing a book tour across twelve of their biggest stores in London and the South East. When you sell a book to somebody face-to-face as an author, you make a better connection to them and hopefully, if they like your book, they are more likely to recommend it to their friends and say good things in reviews.
Another thing that was great about it was that it gave me the chance to have conversations with completely random strangers for five minutes. As you walk in the front door of WHSmith in Brighton, there’s a big poster of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, to celebrate the connection between Brighton and one of the greatest authors of the 20th century. I set my book signing up there and this woman came to me and stared at me for a minute and walked over and said, “wow, are you Graham Greene? I didn’t know you had a new book out!”. The fact that he’s been dead for twenty years and that there would have been a bigger queue there if it was him rather than me, did make me wonder how I should answer that question. Then when I told her that I was not Graham Greene, and gave her some reasons why, it was just really funny, and she found it really funny too!
Another one happened in Brighton. A lady bought the book because she said she had a lot of free time on her hands, I asked her why and she said she is a professional boxer and she’s injured and on a three or four month recuperation program. I was able to talk to somebody about what life is like as a professional female boxer. She’s boxed for Spain and she’s on the boxing circuit, so I was experiencing a lifestyle I would never have come across any other way and it was fascinating. I’ve really enjoyed the people I’ve met on the tours, as well as the opportunity to promote my books.
Your novels have received great reviews, how does it feel seeing these responses from your readers?
It’s wonderful. I appreciate and value every review that I get in, even the negative ones. There are some that you can’t really get much out of, but sometimes you get reviews and you realise that person has a point. Negative reviews, if they are written in a constructive way, as an author, I find them as valuable as positive ones. They’re not as nice to read and it does hurt you when people don’t like what you’ve done, but all reviews are a great thing. I’m very, very grateful to anybody who has left a review, no matter how short it is, it’s always appreciated.
Can you tell us about the self-publishing workshop for authors you hosted at Hastings LitFest and do you have plans to run any more?
I did that last year. I don’t have any more planned at the moment. The book events I’m doing this year are author panels, but that, again, is a big development in the publishing industry in the last few years. I have professional copywriters and cover designers who work on my books, it’s almost like I’ve got a virtual publishing house that I put together whenever I have a book to put out into the marketplace. More and more authors are going down that route as it gives you more control over the finished product. It also means your books have got more marketing focus, so rather than being just one of a hundred books in a publishing house, the person who cares about the marketing of my books is me, so I’m going to go out there knocking on doors and getting book signing events and personal appearances, setting up blog tours and so on. If I don’t do it, nobody else will, and I think that ends up with my books getting, in some cases, a higher level of marketing focus than they would if they were with a large publisher.
What advice would you give someone writing their debut novel?
The best advice is to keep writing. The one discipline I give myself when I’m writing is I set a minimum word count every day. I set myself 1500 words every day, ideally 2000 words, and I get them down, even if I think they are rubbish because when I come back the next day there will always be something there that I can salvage and work upon. It’s the easiest thing in the world to say I don’t feel in the mood, or there’s something better to do, or I need to wait until I do more research. If you just get down and write, you will be amazed at how quickly a book suddenly appears. A novel is 90,000 words, so if you write 1500 words a day, five days a week, that’s 7500 words by the end of the week, and then it’s only twelve weeks until you’ve written 90,000. It’s quite intimidating when you are on page one and you write your first sentence and know you’ve got another 385 pages to go, but if you take it in bitesize chunks, you get there in not a ridiculously long period of time.
What are your current and upcoming writing plans?
That’s an interesting one. I’ve written this trilogy and all three books are different types of psychological thrillers – one’s a coming of age story, one’s a political thriller and one’s a crime thriller. I’ve now decided to change genre for my next book and I’m going to write a book set in the 12th century around rural Kent and Sussex. I like giving myself that challenge of really pushing myself into different areas of writing. It’ll require different types of research and it’ll be quite interesting to see how that one works out.
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