Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Interview with Penny Grubb

Penny Grubb writes a crime series featuring PI, Annie Raymond. Penny won the CWA Debut Dagger for THE DOLL MAKERS and had a local best-seller with THE JAWBONE GANG. Her fourth book, WHERE THERE’S SMOKE, is just out. A writer all her life, Penny’s words have appeared in academic technical tomes, textbooks, non-fiction, radio features and newspaper articles as well as her crime novels. She has worked in academia since the 1980s. She specializes in active-reading and critical-writing techniques working mainly with nurses and health care managers, but also teaches creative writing to Arts students. 
Welcome to the RNA blog, Penny, please describe your journey as a writer. How did it begin?

It all began when I was four years old. I declared my intention to become a published novelist and I wrote my first book: almost half a page in one of those small exercise books where the lines are far apart. I was still at primary school when I won my first writing competition but it was four decades before my first novel was accepted for publication. This gives me a great opportunity to shoehorn in all the quips about overnight successes when giving talks.

Your latest crime novel is WHERE THERE’S SMOKE, the 4th Annie Raymond novel. Do tell us what inspired you to write this series. 

I began this series years before any publisher showed interest in any of my novels. In fact, I’d long given up on it and was writing other things. It was no easy task to get it out from the back of the cupboard and dust it off for publication. THE DOLL MAKERS was the one they wanted of course, because it had won the CWA Dagger, but it wasn’t the first in the series. I had one other novel written plus 20 pages of back story for another.

But apart from having to rewrite them from scratch because the early writing really didn’t cut the mustard, I also had to update them. I know historical novels take a lot of research, but at least the history stands still. When you leave a contemporary novel alone for 10 years, everything changes. When I wrote the first drafts, no one routinely used email (imagine that!) or mobile phones. Memories had to change. The 70 year old who had been a young adolescent in WWII had to have her whole life shifted by 10 years and was suddenly too young for all those memories that had popped up in the book.

The 20 pages of backstory worked just fine, though, and became THE JAWBONE GANG. My real worry was that I didn’t want to find myself rewriting the same novel again and again. I’ve seen it happen with series. So far, so good. I seem to have found a new direction for Annie with each book and as the series has progressed, so has she. From an inexperienced rookie, she’s become a respected practitioner. My research into the security industry and the world of private investigation has paid off.

As an academic you have also written text books and how-tos. 

Which came first, non-fiction or fiction, and which is your favourite? They both came together. As children we were constantly documenting everything we did. I don’t have a favourite because it’s chalk and cheese. Although that isn’t enough by way of comparison. Fiction writing, non-fiction writing and specifically academic writing – three very different things: chalk, cheese and cats.

Do you have to juggle writing with the day job? What is your work schedule? 

Juggle? I’ll say! When I retire from one or more of the day jobs I reckon I could walk right into a circus and wow them with a spinning-plates-on-sticks act. I don’t know how everything gets fitted in, but one way or another it does. I’d love to have a work schedule. I work better with a schedule. But my two day jobs don’t allow it. The hours are too variable. For example I know I can write better in the mornings, but if work is whisking me off somewhere that needs me to be at an airport at 4 am, then that peaceful hour or two at the keyboard is right out of the window. The upshot has been that I have become incredibly, nerdishly, well-organised. I love to write at home because of the peaceful view from my office, but many of my words first come out as a changing landscape races by through the windows of a train.

In addition to all of this you manage also to be chair of the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) For the benefit of new authors can you explain why it is important for them to join.

The ALCS is a multi-million pound not-for-profit organisation that collects secondary royalties for writers. Last year the ALCS collected over £30m. Writers’ work is used in all sorts of places around the globe and where it is used, writers should be paid. For example, educational establishments buy licences to allow them to use copyright works, works are borrowed in libraries around the world, businesses and governments routinely use writers’ work. These types of use are things that individual writers couldn’t possibly keep track of themselves so there is a worldwide network of collecting societies that does the job for them. The ALCS is one of these. With over 85,000 members and growing, it is the largest writers’ organisation in the world. If you have had a work published, broadcast or performed: fiction, non-fiction, article, book, film, TV or poetry, then you should join the ALCS.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer wishing to turn to crime, albeit with a touch of romance thrown in?

Rule 1: don’t get caught. Rules 2,3 and 4: read, read and read even more. Actually, I’m wary of anything that smacks of rules because things work differently for different people. But essentially, I’d say always remember that you have to do it for yourself. No one else will do it for you. Take the trouble to learn the craft because there’s no point trying to fight your way through with one hand tied behind your back and in the end one of the most important skills a writer needs is the ability to get words on paper – so don’t forget that one. Even if the words aren’t great; even if you might throw them all out and start again; words on paper (or the electronic equivalent) are a basic requirement.

Which three books would you take on a desert island with you, and why?

I can never answer this one. It’s like being asked what is my favourite book – the answer changes day to day. Often the favourite is the one I just read and really loved, but would I want it with me on a desert island? My three would have to include some huge tome that I know I can read and reread – Gone with the Wind or Wolf Hall perhaps. And harking back to that organisational nerdishness, I’d look out for a manual called ‘How to organise your way off a desert island and back to civilisation’.

What makes you laugh the most? 

Helpless with laughter usually means one of those daft conversations with family or friends which somehow takes off into some parallel universe and leaves everyone in a state of collapse. TV dramas that don’t take themselves too seriously can make me laugh, too, when they’re well done: early episodes of New Tricks or Shameless, old classics like Monty Python, but only the good bits. There was a lot of dross, too. I can still laugh out loud at the best bits in the William books or ditto Jane Austen.

So what next? Can you tell us a little about your work in progress?

I have quite a lot going on. The Doll Makers and The Jawbone Gang are due out as ebooks before Christmas. Also one of my How To books, THE WRITERS’ TOOLKIT. It’s one I co-authored with Danuta Reah where we picked apart the structure of a commercial fiction novel (romance, crime, any genre really) and then showed how all the components fitted together. It’s been out as a paperback for a while and wasn’t easy to rewrite as an ebook – it has a lot of things in tables and the publisher was quite strict over how it might be formatted. And of course, Annie number 5 is underway. I’ve kept her in a parallel world from police enquiries to date, but in this one she’s going to get tangled at the heart of things. It will be more of a police procedural than the others.

Thank you for sparing time to talk to us today Penny, it’s been fascinating. We wish you continuing success with your books. 

Best wishes, Freda 

If you wish to find out more check Penny out here: 
Website: www.pennygrubb.com 
Blog: www.pennygrubb.blogspot.com 
Twitter: @PennyGrubb 

When Annie’s arch-critic, Barbara Thompson, goes to extraordinary lengths to seek her help, Annie doesn’t have to play along, but curiosity wins and she has to know why. The unexpected reappearance of a guy Annie used to be crazy about does nothing to simplify the situation, especially as he’s now married and it isn’t clear why he sought her out. But it’s when someone knocks Barbara out of the picture Annie realises that Barbara was playing a dangerous game. And now it’s too late to walk away. She’s left with guesswork, supposition and the knowledge that whoever silenced Barbara now thinks Annie herself knows too much.

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me: freda@fredalightfoot.co.uk


April Taylor said...

I think a lot of aspiring writers think there is a magic wand or a trick to writing, so it is reassuring to hear from a successful author that reading widely and putting pen to paper are the two most important components.

I'm sure one of the reasons Penny's writing is so appealing is because she has to shoe-horn it in with the rest of her life and that must make her much more focussed.

Chris Stovell said...

Wow! What an example of 'ask a busy person'; you pack so much in! Your point about getting the words down is well-made... it's what held me back for years! Thanks for this fascinating glimpse into your life.

Penny Grubb said...

Thanks for the comments, Silversongbird and Chris. It's a sad fact that if I retired tomorrow I'd probably immediately fall foul of writers' block - a condition that currently I determinedly refuse to believe in. And goodness, that was a convoluted sentence!

Penny Grubb said...

I put a link to this blog on Facebook and I find a debate on book covers going on over there! https://www.facebook.com/dansbarn/posts/287171428066535 I like the WTS cover - suitably creepy.

Jan Jones said...

Great interview, Penny. Sounds as if the trick to getting everything done is not to stop moving!

Beth Elliott said...

Thanks for a most interesting interview and sound advice. Your organisation is breathtaking. I hope it leads to many more published books.

Penny Grubb said...

Thanks Jan and Beth. I think you might have something with that never-stop-moving philosophy.

Unknown said...

Are writers born or made? In your case, Penny, it seems the answer is both. I would like to have read your first novel, written at age 4.

Henriette said...

That was a very interesting interview, Penny, and I'm amazed that you manage to hold down TWO day jobs as well as writing - I'm struggling with just one day job and everything else. But as Jan says, the trick is probably to not sit still :-)

stuartaken.net said...

Having read the first 3 Annie books, and thoroughly enjoyed them, I must get hold of Where There's Smoke. I look forward to the read. And thanks for an interesting and informative interview.