Gordon Brown was born and lives in Glasgow, having spent twenty-five years in the sales and marketing world, working on everything from alcohol to global charities and from TV to lingerie. Married with two children he has been writing for twenty years and Falling was his first novel.
Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?
Falling is a crime thriller set in Glasgow where, hunted by a vicious criminal gang, three innocents have a choice - run, die or fight back.
What was your motivation for writing it?
I was inspired by the story of a man in the nineteen twenties who, having lost all his money in the depression, tried to kill himself by jumping from a skyscraper. He survived and fifty years later wondered what would have happened if he had died instead of surviving. He set out on a journey and discovered that his life had impacted on a far wider range of people than he would have thought possible. As such I started my book with one line – ‘Falling is the last thing I wanted to do’, and only a rough idea of a plot. Everything else flowed from that point.
How long did it take you to write?
I run my own marketing consultancy and was working at STV as Marketing Director on a contract in 2008. When the contract concluded in June I gave myself until the kids went back to school to write a book. I set myself a target of 1500 words a day and worked on it through the summer. I finished it the day before the school term started – roughly three months.
How much difference does an editor make?
One word answer – massive. It becomes almost impossible to read your own work in an objective manner. I find an editor helps on everything from the smallest typo to identifying plot holes. You also need someone to make suggestions and give guidance and encouragement where required (and to slap you on the wrist at times). Fledgling Press were a great help with my first two books.
Who designed your cover?
It was the result of a bet. One day I was chatting to Richard Bissland, the owner of 999, one of the UK’s largest design agencies. It was the month before I started writing the book and I told him of my plans. He looked at me and uttered that dismissive phrase - ‘Aye right!’ I told him I was serious and he promised that if I got an offer from a publisher, he would have his agency do my book cover design for free. I think he thought his cash was safe but when I received an offer from Fledgling Press he kept his word. I worked with Sean, one of the designers, to create the cover.
How much difference does a good cover make?
Night and day if you’re relying on impulse purchases in shops. Good design draws people in. The big question is will the ‘art of book cover design’ decline as we move to eBooks?
How important is a good title?
I’m not sure on this. If I think of the books I buy the title doesn’t influence me as much as the author, reviews, cover, word of mouth etc.
How important is a book's central character?
I’m a firm believer that the reader has to empathise with the central character. Even the most extreme of characters has to have something about them that the reader buys into. It’s not just about relating to them – you have to connect with them, feel, in some way, that you know them and believe in them. When you consider characters such as Dexter or Hanibal Lecter and how both Jeff Lindsay and Thomas Harris work them it’s not always about liking them – but they’re gripping and draw you in.
What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?
Using an adverb means you haven’t worked hard enough to give context to what is going on at that point in the novel. Lose them where you can was the best bit of advice I was given. I find that it forces me to go back and bring more colour to the section leading up to the adverb.
What's the best piece of business advice you've been given?
‘If you don’t ask you don’t get.’ I used to work for a major company and when I quit and set up on my own, ten years ago now, I found this to be the greatest truism of them all. Often it’s when you least want to ask i.e. when it’s awkward, embarrassing or because you are shy/out of your depth – in all cases I still ask. I’m amazed how much business I have picked up by just asking.
What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
My weakness - I want to finish everything too quickly.
My strength – tenacity to get the thing done.
What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?
All of it. Given it’s what I do for a living Fledgling were kind enough to let me get fully involved in the whole process. For ‘Falling’ I created the strap line, had poster/mobile ads created and briefed the media companies about where I wanted stuff to appear. I undertook the PR, arranged the signings and had the web site built. But deep down I like the readings or the events. I used to hate presentations but now I get a kick out of them. Talking to a crowd is both fun and energising.
If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?
Nightmare Blue by Gardner Dozois and George Alec Effinger. It’s the most off the wall crime thriller I have ever read. The world is invaded by an alien race that develops a drug – Nightmare Blue. One dose and you’ll die if you don’t keep taking it. The aliens are injecting political leaders and the only person who can stop them is the last private investigator on the planet – with a little help from an alien prisoner.
What makes you keep reading a book?
If I’m not conscious of the outside world then I know the book is good. But I’m not sure what the secret sauce to make this happen is. As W Somerset Maugham once said – ‘There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.’
Where do you find out about new books?
I have a bank of authors I will keep a look out for and this keeps me in books for a lot of the time. Other than that it is by browsing in the bookshop and online. The strangest thing is that I find personal recommendations from friends and family rarely work.
What are your views on eBook pricing?
They should reflect the medium in the same way that music does. That means line pricing with the paper copy for new books – unless there is no paper version or the paper version has been in the market for sometime. In which case I’m a big believer in making them as affordable as possible to encourage people to read them.
What are the biggest problems facing writers these days?
Making sure that kids keep reading. This is not a short term issue but a longer term one. We need to encourage children to keep reading. Without readers there is no need for writers.
What are the greatest opportunities facing writers these days?
eBooks. The world of self-publishing is now much more credible and accessible. As such it is a lot easier to get your work into the public domain. However it’s a new skill set to get your work to stand out from the crowd online. I think a lot of writers see eBooks as an easy option but as the market develops the marketing of the online book will be crucial.
How do you feel about the ease with which anyone can publish?
I like it. Choice can only be a good thing. It should give new authors access to a market that was previously closed to them.
Which author should be much better known?
Do you read outside of the crime genre?
Yes. I used to be a big Science Fiction fan. I love thrillers and I’m addicted to reference books. The more nonsense the reference book the better.
What was your favourite book as a child?
‘The Fog’ by James Herbert because it changed what I read. Up until then I had been a fan of the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift – real boys own adventure stuff. My grandmother brought me ‘The Fog’ back from the library when I was 14. I never looked back.
What's the oddest question you've been asked in an interview?
Do you ever write in the nude? The answer – of course.
How do you feel about reviews?
Authors need them. You may not like what they say but people read reviews and they influence purchase. Given that most reviews are now ‘user generated’ through Amazon etc they are becoming thicker on the ground. As such their individual value may fall away but the collective value will increase. Just look at what Trip Advisor has done to the holiday world.
How do you feel about awards?
They are great if you get one and supply the oxygen of publicity. The big awards, Diamond Dagger etc, keep the public’s attention on books and this is good.
Do you have any other projects on the go?
Apart from my work I am on the board of the company behind Bloody Scotland – Scotland’s first dedicated crime writing festival. Due to be held over three days in September 2012 in Stirling we are at the planning stage - but so far the reaction has been amazing. As a festival designed to celebrate Scottish Crime Writing (and beyond) we have had a tremendous level of support from authors, publishers, the local authority, commercial companies and more. Watch this space.
Falling by Gordon Brown