Interview: Gordon J Brown

Gordon J Brown – Any Day Now (Blog Tour)

Author Gordon J Brown

Published by Red Dog Press, available now in hardback (£14.99) and paperback (£8.99), ebook coming late September. Many thanks to Sean at Red Dog Press for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. You can order the book directly from the Red Dog website at: www.reddogpress.co.uk/product-page/any-day-now

First, the official blurb: Fate hinges on the choices we make… It’s 1982 and sixteen-year-old Catherine Day has been abandoned for good by her mother in their Glasgow home. Alone, in trouble, and desperate for money, Catherine is quickly ensnared by local criminals. In an attempt to escape a life of crime, she joins a local rock band. She battles hard to succeed in the fickle music world, aided by a mysterious, and ever-present guardian angel – a man who has connections to her missing mother and her unknown father, and who, it transpires, is hiding a secret about her family and the Cold War that could change Catherine’s life forever. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine meets Daisy Jones And The Six in this heart-warming, heart-breaking coming-of-age story filled with humour and pathos.

Gordon Brown is an official Friend Of The Blog, having been reviewed twice, interviewed and made my first Bloody Scotland Book Club experience plain sailing, as well as writing books that while away the hours effortlessly as himself and as Morgan Cry. He’s adopting a middle initial for his latest novel, Any Day Now, published by Red Dog Press, which also takes us back in time. I’m looking forward to reading it, but life being what it is right now, it has had to go on the TBR stack – in the meantime, I have a great Q&A with Gordon to share with you as part of the blog tour to celebrate publication of Any Day Now. I hope you enjoy it and that it whets the appetite for the novel!

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What was the last book you read that made a real impact on you?
That’s a toughy. If I had to pick one I’d choose November Road by Lou Berney. Set in America at the time of the Kennedy assassination it is a smart, smart idea that turns into a chase that turns into a road trip that is populated by a cast of great characters set against a background of threat and hope. A wonderful book.

Who were the biggest influences on you growing up that led you to be a writer?
The Fog by James Herbert. I can pinpoint the moment that this book changed my reading (and writing) life forever. I was a teenager on holiday with my family in my father’s home town of Fraserburgh; a fishing town on the north-east shoulder of Scotland. It was a Saturday morning and I was lying on my gran’s bed reading a Hardy Boys book. I was obsessed with the Hardy Boys and when my gran said she was going to the library she asked if I wanted any books. Being a lazy git, I shouted to her to get me a Hardy Boys book, but not one I’d read. How I expected her to know what I had and hadn’t read is beyond me. As a result, instead of bringing back a Hardy Boys book, she brought back the librarian’s recommendation for a teenager: The Fog. For those that have never read The Fog, it is no young adult book. The story is centred on a mist that escapes from a crack in the ground near a peaceful village in England. The fog is lethal and when it washes over people it drives them insane. Cue a book full of horror, bloodlust, violence and thrills. I’d never read the like before. I was amazed that an author was even allowed to write about such things. From that day on I left Frank and Joe Hardy behind and, it was at that moment, I wondered if I could write such stuff.

Tell us what inspired you to write this story?
The original idea came from a conversation on Zoom. I’d mused that during lockdown that millions, if not billions, of people were waiting to start their life again. Sitting in homes, locked in, unable to socialise, marking time. And yet that thought didn’t sit well with me. After all I could continue to write. Others were finding ways to beat lockdown. It occurred to me that it was a mistake to “wait” because life hadn’t stopped, it had just changed. I wrote down a line to try and make sense of the thought: “Life has always been a series of waits and while you’re waiting, life can pass you by.”
And bingo, the idea for a book was born. I mapped out the sort of waits that life is full off: waiting on your exam results, waiting on a job offer, waiting on your partner at the corner of the street for a first date, waiting on that important call, waiting, waiting, waiting. And I started with Catherine waiting on her exam results and the story grew from there – and, as usual, morphed into something very different.

What was harder, writing the book or choosing the title?
Writing the book. I find titles easy. In fact, most of my books have a title within the first few days – and often it’s set in stone at that point.

When do you do your best writing?
I’m an early morning person (most of Any Day Now was written at 5am during lockdown). However I’ve written at all times of the day and night and in every conceivable place. I once wrote an entire book while regularly flying between Glasgow and New York. I have a rusty old Mac (and it’s trusty) that travels the planet with me. I’ve written in parks, on beaches, in pubs, on trains, in libraries, in hotels, on buses, on planes, ferries, cars and heaven knows where else. I only need two things – music and my Mac. As to the music my go-to is Trance Dance

How important is the setting of your books in telling the story?
Setting is key for me. I love my characters but the setting has to spark something in me. It also has to be somewhere I’ve been. I find it easier and more atmospheric if I can visualise the setting in my mind’s eye. In the case of Any Day Now, Catherine lives in my old home and works in the hairdresser my mum went to. When Catherine hits London she plays at a club/bar I frequented back in 1985.

How thoroughly do you plot a book before starting?
I don’t – I’m a pantser, not a planner. For Any Day Now I had that single line in my head (see above) and that was all. However, I have changed my writing process a little in recent years. I’ll tend to write 2,000 words a day when I’m in the groove. I’ll stop and go for a walk. While walking I play around with where I am in the story and what might happen next. Not detail, just general direction. That means by the time I sit down the next day I’m up and flying quickly. Happenstance is also big in my books. I didn’t stumble on the story of Michael Goleniewski until I’d started writing Any Day Now. And then, with such a great back story, the book changed direction.

What do you do to shut off, or are your characters always talking to you?
When I’m writing they never leave me. As I walk and think ideas pop up, but most never see the page. Those that do survive to make it into a book morph and twist as I write. A phrase, an overheard snippet of conversation, an ad on a bus side, a Tweet – everything has the potential to derail my story and take it a new direction and with it go the characters.

Do you need a big ego to be a writer?
You need a thick skin. Critics are never far away in this digital age. More importantly, you need to listen to people you first give the book to read. If they say something doesn’t work, it probably doesn’t. So I need to throw out that ego and take on board the criticism.

Do you read your reviews? How do you cope with the good and the bad?
I’d love to say no, but I do. The good make you feel good, and the bad – well, the bad can add a little rain to your day. I recently had a one-star review and delved a little deeper into the reviewer to find that he had given a one-star review to a Harlen Coben book and a number of other authors – that made me feel better. Not everyone is going to like your work and you just have to deal with it.

What was the best money you ever spent for your writing career?
My 2013 Mac Book Pro – an indulgence when I bought it as I got it fully specced up. I’ve been a Mac person for a long time and blew my budget on a top of the range model. Nine years later it is still going strong (I’m typing on it now) and was worth every penny of the daft price I paid.

What distracts you from your writing most frequently?
“Homes Under the Hammer”? Seriously, not much. I lose myself in writing. I’m not one that puts it off, I look forward to it. I listen to music when I type and sometimes (OK, often) I’ll stop writing because I’m either singing, or worse still, dancing. When I was writing in the local library once I was listening to a Chicane album. One track, Stone In Love With You, featuring Tom Jones, is a cracker. Unwittingly I’d pulled my headphone jack out of the computer and was broadcasting the music to the library. It didn’t help I was doing a little chair boogie at the same time. The wagging finger of the librarian caught my eye and I realised what I’d been doing. That stopped my writing for a few minutes.

What do you want your readers to feel at the end of your book?
“I want to read another.”

Do your characters always do what you tell them?
No. I’ll write a sentence; maybe some dialogue from a character, or a slice of description or a new character walks in and since I don’t plan, this will take me down an unexpected path. Some characters are introduced as a bit player – and then hang on in there. In Any Day Now, one of Catherine’s friends, Daisy, was to be little more than a band member and is now in with the bricks.

What are your writing routines? Are you disciplined or freeform?
Freeform. I love the mornings but can write at any time of the day and in most places. I just need my Mac, headphones and music – and I’m away.

How many drafts did you do of this book?
It’s hard to say. While I’m writing I stop every 6,000 or 8,000 words and go back and roughly edit those words. I reach the end and leave the book sitting for a while on the hard drive. I’ll dig it out sometime later (a day/a week/a month) and go through the whole thing once or twice before sending it off to the editor. After that it depends on the notes I get back.

How do you know when a book is finished?
It tells me. Does that sound daft? I tend to aim for around the 80,000-word mark. Half-way through I always think that there is no way I have another 40k words in me. At the end I fly well past the 80k mark (once I went all the way to 127k). But somewhere above 80k the book cries out to me to be finished.

What is a dream scenario for you as a writer?
Sitting on a balcony, in the sun with a cup of tea, a biccie and the sea in the distance, writing. Oh hang on that’s what I do when I’m in Spain.

What are your biggest hopes and fears for your book?
Biggest hope – “Why of course Mr Spielberg, I’d be delighted to discuss a film project based on my book.”
Biggest fear – “Why of course Mr Spielberg, I fully understand you’ve dialled the wrong number.”

Tell us a secret about one of your characters.
Catherine joining a band is one of my bucket list items. Even if I only get to play with a band for one song, I want to stand on a stage and play music.

Which writers or books have inspired you to put pen to paper?
I recently had to choose five books from five decades that influenced me. In order oldest to newest they were:
1960s – What Happened at Midnight by Franklin W Dixon
1970s – Nightmare Blue by Gardner Dozois and George Alex Effinger
1980s – Christine by Stephen King
1990s – A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe
2000s – Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze? – The New Scientist

What’s your party trick?
My wife says my party trick is talking people to death.

What’s your go-to karaoke song?
L.O.V.E. by Nat King Cole.

Are any of the characters in your novel based on people you know, and would they recognise themselves?
Not that I can tell you.

What’s your guilty pleasure?
I’m a DJ on local community radio, Pulse 98.4, with my friend Scott. We have been doing a weekly one-hour show for over ten years. Called “Laid Back with Gordon and Scott”, we play the sort of music that’s better heard while horizontal. However, last year the radio station was looking for content to play out over Christmas (as a community station we don’t have the DJs to cover the entire schedule live at such times). I asked if I could do something a little less laid back and recorded a two-hour dance mix that went out at New Year. Now just give me a dance tent at a major festival, a twin deck and let me fly.

What’s next for you?
I’ve a new crime book coming out with Red Dog Press in early 2023, set in Glasgow called No More Games. It’s about two kids in the winter of 1973 (power cuts, binmen strikes and the rest) who get mixed up with a gang trying to take over the Glasgow crime world.

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Gordon Brown has eight crime and thriller books published to date, along with a novella and a number of short stories. Gordon also helped found Bloody Scotland, Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival (www.bloodyscotland.com), is a DJ on local radio (www.pulseonair.co.uk) and runs a strategic planning consultancy. He lives in Scotland and is married with two children. In a former life Gordon delivered pizzas in Toronto, sold non-alcoholic beer in the Middle East, launched a creativity training business, floated a high-tech company on the London Stock Exchange, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final.

You can follow the author on Twitter here: @GoJaBrown
Find his website at: gordonjbrown.com/

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