Welcome to the second of my series of New Book Releases. This month I’m talking to Charles Harris, a best-selling author and award-winning writer-director, whose debut novel, The Breaking of Liam Glass, was published by Marble City in June 2017.
Please start by telling us about your writing. How would you characterise your fiction, and non-fiction?
I never intended to be a writer. My first love was directing film – the only problem was that to direct I needed scripts, and the only person I could afford to hire to write them was myself!
So I began writing rather reluctantly, feeling more than a little out of my depth, but gradually something seemed to work and at the same time I began to enjoy it.
The non-fiction rose out of my experiences writing the screenplays: two books on screenwriting and a little gift-book of police slang, which was a labour of love.
Your latest release is a novel, The Breaking of Liam Glass. How would you describe the book?
When it comes to fiction, I write what I like to read, which is literature with a good plot – but which also engages my mind. I like stories that entertain me and make me think.
The Breaking of Liam Glass is not so much a Whodunnit as a darkly comic What-They-Did-After-It.
The story of what happens after a teenage footballer is stabbed on an estate next to London’s Regents Park and, with an eye to the main chance, a desperate young journalist sets out to use him as a stepping stone to a job with the tabloids.
The Breaking of Liam Glass is a satire set in present-day London. Tell us about your research for this book?
I enjoy research tremendously. For Liam Glass, I spent time with journalists, politicians and police, learning how they worked and lived, and bouncing story ideas off them to see how they reacted. The most difficult, surprisingly perhaps, was getting into tabloid newsrooms.
I still can’t mention the name of one tabloid, where I managed to get in while the editor was away! I am, however, happy to thank the Daily Mirror who were amazingly helpful – from the lowliest junior to the editor himself.
I’m always fascinated by how authors find their subject matter. What inspired you to write The Breaking of Liam Glass?
I wanted to write a story about a tabloid newspaper. The red-tops are, at the same time, enormously valuable and often very dangerous – one day they can run wonderfully useful campaigns, such as the Mirror’s knife-crime campaigns, and then, the next day, they can vilify someone for no good reason, such as the Hillsborough victims or the McCanns.
I started by going back to one of my very first successful short stories, about a teenager who’s been mugged, and then added in the journalist, who begins to manipulate the story to make it more saleable, with devastating effects.
The comedy – and the tragedy – of it is that he’s clever enough to know the deep water he’s getting into, but not clever enough to stop it happening.
Your background is in film and script-writing. How do you think your previous experience has helped you in writing this novel?
Screenwriting can be very frustrating. You spend so much of your time dealing with idiots, having overlong meetings and waiting years for finance that never comes. You can spend your life never actually making anything. Looking back what it gave me was the freedom to make all my mistakes out of the public eye. The great thing about writing books is that you don’t need finance to make it and the only idiot you need to deal with (at least initially) is yourself.
Screenwriting is rewriting, and as I rewrote I was learning essentials about structure, character and storytelling that have turned out to be valuable in writing novels.
However, there are obvious differences. Screenwriting is collaborative. Writing a novel is like being the entire film crew yourself. You have to find the locations, build the sets, set the lighting, record the sound and act every single part. It’s a very different kind of challenge.
Which other writers have most influenced you?
How long have you got? I fell in love with Joseph Heller’s writing at an early age – especially Catch 22. Jane Austen is finally being recognised for the great writer she is. Dickens. I was put off him at school and have finally “discovered” him to my great delight.
Then there’s Tom Wolfe, Evelyn Waugh – and I’ve just today bought No Good Deed – the latest book by the wonderful John Niven, one of the very few writers publishing satirical novels here today.
What books do you have on your bedside table at the moment?
I’m reading a comedy – In the Matter of Isobel – by a friend of mine, Paul Mendelsohn, and He Said, She Said – a thriller about an eclipse that my local bookshop sold me when I told them I was going to the States to try to see this year’s total eclipse.
And Proust, which I’m reading a few pages at a time. It’s mad, overlong, ridiculously complicated, and yet there’s something that holds you – is it style? Acute observation? Characters? Maybe I’ll know when (if) I ever get to the end.
What is your experience of being an author of both non-fiction and fiction books? Do you have any good tips for aspiring authors?
Non-fiction is much harder at the start. You need to develop a really strong, saleable, writeable idea. But having done that, writing it and marketing it is, in my experience, relatively straightforward.
Fiction is deceptively easier to begin with, but it’s exhausting to write. And much harder to market.
Tips? Read voraciously. Write massively, enough that you discover what kind of writer you really are. Get the best feedback you can and listen to it. You don’t have to follow it, but you must listen to it!
What are you working on at the moment?
After the launch of Liam Glass, I’m finally getting back to my next novel, which is a more serious psychological crime-noir.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Aikido. It’s a martial art that I drifted into looking for something that was both a meditation but also active. I didn’t expect to stay, let along become a black belt. I thought black belts were a different kind of being, not normal human beings.
But when I step on the mat, I forget just about everything in the world outside. For two hours there is only aikido.
Where can we find more about The Breaking of Liam Glass and about Charles Harris, the author?
My own blog: www.charles-harris.co.uk has all about me, my writing and my books, as well as articles about writing, book reviews, etc. You can also follow me on Twitter at @chasharris and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/charlesharris008
Thank you for having me.
Books by Charles Harris can be found on Amazon and in good book shops.
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