When it comes to influence, though, the biggest of all is my father. He isn’t a writer, but he took me to the local library every week as a child. He encouraged me to stretch myself when it came to reading material. He introduced me to genres and authors I’d never otherwise have entertained. Yeah, it’s all his fault. I’ll need to have a word
Danny Gillan - 7 March 2013
The Back Flap
Some aspiring musicians wait a lifetime for that elusive record deal. Bryan Rivers waited three days longer.
As if dealing with the suicide of her clinically depressed husband wasn’t difficult enough, to Claire Rivers’ amazement one of the biggest record companies in the country suddenly wants to offer him a contract.
When his ‘status’ is viewed as only a minor inconvenience, she begins to wonder if someone, somewhere, is playing a very distasteful joke on her.
Set in 2006, Will You Love Me Tomorrow is a comedy about death, depression, grief, loss, friendship, family, haircuts and the music business.
About the book
What is the book about?
Being a comedy, I wanted to keep things lighthearted, so … Bryan Rivers, a depressed and unsuccessful musician, commits suicide. Three days later, he gets offered a record deal and goes on to achieve posthumous fame. The book charts the effects these events have on his family and friends, focusing mainly on his widow, Claire, and best friend, Adam.
Those are the broad strokes of the story. If you’re asking what it’s about on a deeper, more metaphysical level (which I’m sure you’re not but I’m going to go with it anyway), I wanted to explore the effects mental health issues have on the family and loved ones of those suffering. Most people are aware of how devastating serious depression can be for the individuals with the condition, but there’s maybe not quite as much awareness of the level of stress, worry and trauma it can inflict on those trying to pick up the pieces.
At the same time, I had musical ambitions when I was younger and had more hair, and remember how difficult it was to accept that I was never going to be a rock god. Similar to many writers (or actors/artists etc), who don’t make the breakthrough to mainstream success, musicians reach a point in their lives, usually around age 35 or so, where, if they know what’s good for them, they stop pinning their hopes on fame and fortune and instead buckle down and deal with life as it is, as opposed to how they wish it could be. That was another area I was interested in exploring. Some people make the transition with relative ease, others struggle with it. I know plenty of both types. And no, I’m not telling you which I am.
On a more fundamental level, though, the book is about me finding out if I could write comedy while dealing with serious subject matter. While I love farce and idiocy as much as the next farcical idiot, I think the best comedy often comes from darker places. Many of the greatest comedians and comic writers are/were serious minded people with serious points to make. I suppose WYLMT is my vain and egotistical attempt to join that band. Or at least get a gig as the guitar tech.
When did you start writing the book?
Define ‘start’. Although it’s my most recently published (this time), WYLMT was my first novel. I started writing the first chapter back in the olden days when broadband didn’t exist and the internet meant waiting four hours for a page of guitar tabs (that counts as porn for musicians) to download. I’m going back to about 2002, I reckon.
How long did it take you to write it?
Not long at all. About five years, in total. And that was just the first draft. To be fair, if I exclude all the times I was busy/drunk/bored/scared/telling-myself-writing-is-stupid-and-I’m-even-more-stupid-to-think-I-have-any-right-to-try then, in actual writing time it was more like about a year. Long, unproductive breaks are something of a specialty.
Where did you get the idea from?
As I said, I have the whole ‘unsuccessful musician’ thing covered. No imagination required there. Regarding the depression/suicide issues, I work in Social Care and have a lot of experience both with people suffering from mental health problems and their families. Like most of us, I’ve also come across similar issues in my personal life.
I guess these things were swimming around my subconscious because I woke up one day with the idea of a suicidal musician who gets famous after he dies. I then looked at the grey box with the small tv on top of it, which up to that point had done nothing but tease me with half-completed guitar tabs for Nirvana songs (in the wrong key), and decided to have a go at filling up the screen with words.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
Is ‘all of them’ a suitable answer?
Some of the more serious sections, especially those detailing the relationship between Bryan and Claire, and between Bryan and his parents and siblings, were tricky.
There’s one scene, towards the end of the book, where I actually cried as I was writing. I won’t tell you why, it’s a bit of a spoiler, but yes, I sobbed onto my keyboard. In mitigation, I was pretty drunk at the time.
What came easily?
Surprisingly (or not, I’m not sure) I found the jokes and comedy set-pieces came fairly naturally. Obviously, I went back and deleted most of them because they were rubbish, but writing them was easy enough.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
Is ‘no comment’ allowed? It’s funny, actually. Lots of people I know assume I patterned Bryan Rivers after myself. Beyond the fact he’s ridiculously talented and handsome, that’s not the case. What I actually had in mind when creating Bryan and Adam, was an attempt to split the two sides of the unsuccessful artist/musician etc. One of them deals with the lack of success with pragmatism and good grace; the other, not so much. The reality is that it’s an ever swaying pendulum, sometimes one side is stronger and you feel like shit, other times practicality wins out and you’re just glad you can pay the rent this month. For the purposes of the book, though, I decided to turn them into two different people.
My sister once said that she secretly thinks Claire is the character most like me. I have no idea what she was talking about.
Obviously, it being my first novel, my parents automatically assumed that Bryan’s parents are avatars for them, which is actually nothing like the truth. Bryan’s parents are exactly the characters I needed them to be for the story, that’s all.
They then went on to read Scratch, my second novel. It also has parents in it. Now they’re really paranoid.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
Discovering authors like Christopher Brookmyre and Iain Banks was revelatory for me, in that they were/are Scottish writers who seemed able to write about Scottish characters without the need to water them down or make them more palatable to non-Scottish readers. Irvine Welsh was similar, although he tends to write mainly about East Coast Scotland and Edinburgh, whereas I’m from the West, specifically Glasgow, and even in a country as small as this that makes a big difference.
In terms of just being fascinated by the world of writing, though, and so being attracted to it, I could name a thousand authors who have probably influenced me. If I hadn’t been a regular reader all my life, I doubt very much it would ever have occurred to me to attempt writing. That means everyone from Roald Dahl to Terry Pratchett to William Gibson to Grant Morrison to Neil Gaiman to Michael Chabon is at least partly to blame for my affliction. The swines.
When it comes to influence, though, the biggest of all is my father. He isn’t a writer, but he took me to the local library every week as a child. He encouraged me to stretch myself when it came to reading material. He introduced me to genres and authors I’d never otherwise have entertained. Yeah, it’s all his fault. I’ll need to have a word.
Do you have a target reader?
I don’t think so, no. People a bit like me, I suppose. I happily read all sorts of genres, so I just assume everyone else does the same. If, at some point, you’re in the mood for some darkish comedy that doesn’t have many guns or bombs in it, then you’re my target reader. Although I hesitate to describe my stuff as romance, it does deal with relationships and regular, everyday life for regular everyday people. If you want pure escapism, I’m maybe not your best bet. If you want a laugh at how idiotic we can all be sometimes, I might fit the bill.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
This is the bit where I get into trouble for discussing how much I smoke and drink, isn’t it?
To be honest, as I write this, I haven’t been doing much writing of late. That’s something I hope to change. I do tend to write in the evenings as opposed to mornings. Mornings should be abolished as far as I’m concerned. Hellish things.
When I’m just playing around with ideas I tend to have no real routine. I’ll just potter about on the computer as and when the notion takes me. On those rare occasions when a story takes hold, however, I do become a touch more disciplined. When writing WYLMT, for example, I made myself a deal that I would start writing at 6pm every evening and wouldn’t stop until I’d written a minimum of 1000 words. I did the same with Scratch. Often I’d end up writing a lot more than a thousand, but that was the minimum target. Sometimes, if it was a real struggle, I’d tell myself I wasn’t allowed a drink till the first 500 were done. That usually works.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
I outlined both novels pretty comprehensively. I abandoned both outlines by chapter three. I found it a useful thing to do to get me started, and I’d keep those basic structures in mind as I worked my way through the story. But, both times, I was relieved when the plot veered away from those outlines as I wrote them. I don’t get to know my characters until I’ve been writing them for a while, and so the initial outlines were based on people doing things I assumed they might do as opposed to knew they would. Once I’ve actually met them, my characters tend to show me how wrong I am. Looking back, those initial outlines were very conventional. A did B which led to C. Boy met girl. Blah blah blah. Very boring. I much prefer to be surprised by what happens while I’m writing. Makes it way more fun.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
A little bit of both. I tend to go back over the previous day’s work before starting anything new. I’ll fix obvious errors there and then. The big edit comes once the first draft is finished, though. It’s only then that you can spot those entirely extraneous passages/paragraphs/chapters and get ruthless.
Did you hire a professional editor?
WYLMT was edited by the original publishers. It went from 145k to 130k words. My original first draft was 170k.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
I do, always. The world feels weird to me without a soundtrack. Thanks to the modern miracle that is iTunes, I tend to just stick it on random. Shockingly, I struggle to remember the last time I listened to an album all the way through. I like anything with a guitar in it, generally. Apart from Jazz (shudder).
Did you submit your work to Agents?
I did originally, yes. I got some encouraging notes but no takers. WYLMT then won the publishing deal in the competition so that kind of took agents out of the equation for that one.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
When the original publishers of WYLMT went out of business I was a little disillusioned by the traditional publishing process, to be honest. There had been a lot of bad communication, false promises and missed deadlines. They were a small press and I know the same problems wouldn’t necessarily occur with a bigger publisher, but I was pretty disheartened. With the advent of Kindle, and ebooks in general, I decided I might as well go it alone to see what happened. The plus side of going down the indie route is complete control of the process. The downside is complete control of the process. With great control comes great responsibility, as a superhero’s uncle once almost said. It’s something of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If I had gone back to subbing to agents and hoping for a mainstream deal, chances are I’d still be sitting here with two novels and a book of short stories sitting on my hard drive, being read by no one. Equally, no matter what we tell ourselves, there is very little validation to be had as an indie author. No matter how many readers say nice things about your work, there’s still the nagging suspicion that they’re only being ‘nice’, and you’re not a ‘proper’ writer.
Quite honestly, I don’t think of myself as a proper writer. While I’m happy with the route I’ve chosen, I wouldn’t for a second put myself in the same category as a successful mainstream author. I’m an amateur, pure and simple. It’s just that we now live in a world where amateurs can find an outlet for their work, where they couldn’t in the past. This applies to all of the creative arts. I see myself as very much the same as a band who sell CDs from a table at the back of their gigs. They hope for a record deal from one of the big companies, but, if they can sell enough CDs in the meantime to pay the rent, they’re happy enough.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did it you do it yourself?
Covers are vital. While I understand the temptation to go completely DIY, I’d advise all writers to hire a professional if at all possible. All my covers are designed by JD Smith. I’m very lucky in that I know Jane personally, and so get ‘mates rates’, but she’s a wonderful, fully qualified graphic designer whose work is of the highest standard.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
Oh, definitely winging it. Does Facebook count as a marketing plan?
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
Don’t do it for the money. There isn’t any. I’d still advise all writers to attempt to get their work in front of industry professionals first before going indie. It’s extremely tempting to tell ourselves that we’re good enough for publication and are just unlucky. You need to be very sure that’s true before going indie. The sad truth is, it often isn’t the case. Some of us just aren’t good enough. Despite WYLMT winning a publishing deal in the past, I’m only about three seconds away from admitting my stuff just isn’t of a high enough standard to stand up against real writing.
The bottom line is, if you go indie, treat it as a game. Yes, put the effort in, but be prepared to lose.
And, for God’s sake, stay humble. We wrote a book. Whoop-de-doo. Believe me, it doesn’t make us special in any way.
Don’t be a wanker, basically.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Glasgow. It’s a quaint little fishing village on the west coast of Scotland. It’s not a scary big city full of knife-wielding thugs at all. Honest. Some of our best known exports are Billy Connolly, knife-wielding thugs and Gerald Butler. I met Ewan McGregor once, but he’s from the East so he doesn’t count.
Where do you live now?
Still in Glasgow. Specifically, about three hundred yards from the tenement in which I was born. Well-travelled, me.
What would you like readers to know about you?
Despite not being religious, I was recently made a saint by the Catholic Church for all the charity work I’ve done with, eh, baby wolves and shit.
I can run the mile in two minutes, but choose not to compete at a professional level. I’m just that humble.
On Saturdays and alternate Tuesdays I adopt my alter ego, the super hero Captain Wanker. Sometimes I solve crimes, but mostly I just mooch about scaring old ladies at bus stops. I got rid of the cape after seeing The Incredibles.
What are you working on now?
Not an awful lot, being honest. I’ve had something of a hiatus from writing over the last wee while. I could blame full-time work, a recent heart attack, the stress of modern living etc. The truth is I’m just lazy. I am finally in the mood to start writing again now, though. What shape that will take I have no idea. I have three or four first chapters kicking about and I’m pondering whether any of them are worth pursuing. Decision pending.
A sequel to Scratch is also potentially on the cards. So far I have a title and a hilariously debilitating social anxiety for the main character. I’m not hopeful.
End of Interview:
And watch the book trailer.