An interview With Gary William Murning
Today folks I’m a proud to present an interview with upcoming author Gary William Murning. Gary is a novelist living in the northeast of England. His work, largely mainstream fiction, focuses on themes that touch us all — love, death, loss and aspiration — but always with an eye to finding an unusual angle or viewpoint. Quirky and highly readable, his writing aims to entertain first and foremost. If he can also offer a previously unfamiliar perspective or insight, all the better.
Hi Gary how are things with you?
Things are pretty good, thanks, Jim.
Can you give us some background information on your good self?
Well, I’m from an old ironstone mining village just on the outskirts of Middlesbrough in Cleveland. I’m forty-five, love books (naturally), music, and life in general. The simplest of things can inspire me – from falling leaves to steam from a coffee cup rising through sunlight. I have a sometimes dangerously irreverent sense of humour and I can be pretty cynical on occasion. But in a very cuddly and warm kind of way. Naturally.
In five words describe yourself?
Determined. Irreverent. Extremely intelligent. Modest (!)
And if you didn’t write what other creative outlet do you think you would do?
You know, I’m not sure. I don’t even like to think about not writing but… probably singing. Either that or crocheting.
And who would you say has been the biggest influence on your writing?
Because he got me started, I’d have to say Stephen King. It’s been years since I read any of his stuff, but his early work, especially, was extremely influential in my becoming a writer. Without novels like Salem’s Lot, The Shining and, especially, novellas like The Body, I might never have given writing a bash.
If you had to be pigeonholed what genre would you say you write in?
Cross-genre.… Is that cheating?…
My writing is extremely difficult to categorise. I tend to write different kinds of novels at different times, but I suppose most of my work has a “literary” element to it. By that, I don’t mean that it is overly high-brow or inaccessible. Quite the contrary. I always try to make my work readable and entertaining first and foremost – but I do like it to be character driven and thought-provoking, which probably means it fits “literary” more neatly than it does any other genre. Even though, strictly speaking, it isn’t!
Who are your favourite authors and what is it about them that you love?
These days I tend to list writers like Michael Ondaatje, Ken Kesey, Joseph Heller, John Irving, Salman Rushdie, Roberto Bolano (who I’ve just discovered – 2666 is mind-bogglingly masterful), Jonathan Franzen – writers like that. But, also, I’ve just revisited William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, and I was struck, reading it again after over thirty years, by just how incredibly well-written it was. Incredible pacing and still terrifying.
Why did you start on the journey of becoming a writer?
I had time to kill. I’d finished sixth form college early due to illness and whilst recuperating, I was reading just about everything I could get my hands on. Stephen King, as mentioned, especially. My disability meant that holding down a full-time job – or even a part-time job – was pretty much impossible, but I just couldn’t sit around doing nothing. When I was up to it, I would write bits and pieces, gradually beginning to realise that this was something I could do at my own pace, when I was able, and finally committing to embarking on that first novel – an extremely derivative horror novel about a girl with telekinetic powers (ring any bells?) that will NEVER see the light of day!
How easy or hard has it been to get to where you are today?
It’s certainly been a very long journey, with a great many rejections along the way. However, there has also been a lot of encouragement, too. It was extremely frustrating on numerous occasions. Especially when I reached the point where I understood that my work was publishable but was merely being rejected because of personal editorial preferences etc. But, you know, I love writing. I can’t really imagine my life without writing. In many respects, I make sense of the world around me through my writing. So the good far outweighed the bad.
What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome so far?
The industry itself, I think. As any author starting out will very quickly tell you, it isn’t really geared towards unknown authors. Getting your foot in the door requires a good, strong shoulder and a very sturdy pair of steel toe-cap boots. You have to be persistent and have a very thick skin. That first acceptance can be a long time coming.
And what has been the most rewarding thing you have come across so far?
Reader reaction. Having readers say to you exactly what you always hoped they would say – and I don’t necessarily mean praise, but, rather, picking up on themes and nuances that you wanted to get across – is pretty incredible. When you’re writing something, you inhabit the world of your characters alone. It belongs completely to you. And then you let other people in and you never really know if this world is going to make sense of them. When it does… well, the best feeling in the world. (Okay. Second or third best.)
You have Spinal Muscular Atrophy, can you tell us about this?
Yes, I have Type II Spinal Muscular Atrophy. It’s a genetic condition I was born with and, in a nutshell, it means that I’ve never walked and have very limited upper body strength (more limited now than it was, say, twenty years ago, though, blessedly, the progression of the condition is extremely slow and, in my case, not directly life-threatening/shortening).
You say you don’t describe yourself as a disabled writer, yet, obviously it does impinge on your writing? Can you tell the readers how you think your writing has been affected by this?
This is a difficult one, actually. It isn’t really something I think about all that much. I tend not to think, where possible, in terms such as disabled/not disabled. My characters are my characters, sometimes one of them might be in a wheelchair or have some other physical impairment, but, hopefully, it’s always secondary to “character” etc. But I suppose it’s that very thing that has been most influenced by my experience of living with my disability; it’s enabled me to see that disability isn’t a significant difference. Yes, it brings its own set of problems, but in many regards those problems are variations on very common themes – themes relating to making a living, individual identity, independence, the need to feel valued and so on. Themes, in short, that we can all relate to and which, I suppose, unites us, whether able-bodied or someone with a disability.
If I Never, was your first published novel, am I right in thinking this isn’t a horror novel?
You are, yes. If I Never is a cross-genre thriller cum love story cum literary tragicomedy. That more than any other novel was the novel where I said to myself “sod it” and just had fun. Very tongue in cheek in places and, also, pretty filthy at times.
In keeping with one of the themes of the book, what is the one question you wouldn’t to know the answer to?
What is superstring theory all about?
The book has gained a lot of good reviews, have these reviews translated well into sales?
Given that my novels haven’t had any real marketing budgets behind them, sales haven’t done too badly so far. Granted, I’m still very much setting the foundations in place, but they are building nicely. Word-of-mouth does tend to take a little time but definitely seeing real results, now.
Children of The Resolution, I take it you’re a fan of Marc Bolan?
Well, not a major fan, no – but, yes, that is a reference to his song Children of the Revolution. The early parts of the novel are set during that period and the variation of the title has a number of other meanings (Resolution in the novel is the name of a school, for example).
You’ve said this is your most autobiographical novel so far? Was it always your intention to make this such a personal story? Or was it something that grew out of the writing process?
It’s actually a novel I’d been trying to write for a number of years. Normally, my writing is quite removed from my own life. I like making stuff up, is the bottom line. But this was a novel I felt I had an obligation to write. It explores my own experiences of the introduction of integrated education for children with physical disabilities in the early 1970s/early 1980s. A very human, coming-of-age story (I hope) but with a fairly unique background – unique in fictional terms, I mean, since I don’t think anyone outside of academia has really covered the period.
How did you feel after writing it? Did the writing of the novel become a sort of psychiatrists couch session?
Blessedly, no. Any daemons I’d had remaining from that period had been well and truly exorcised by the time of writing and it was a pretty painless process. In many respects, even though I had to revisit some very sad events, it was surprisingly enjoyable. I was meeting old friends again, you know? Yes, old enemies, too, but that only served to reaffirm the friendships I’d known.
When you said so far, does this mean you are planning on writing another story of this sort?
Well spotted! Yes, one day, I hope to write another novel following on from Children of the Resolution. Not for a good while, though.
The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, is your latest novel, what is the significance of the title?
The title is taken from The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The realm of the hungry ghosts, in its original sense, is a realm where daemons referred to as hungry ghosts reside. They are daemons with huge, cavernous stomachs in need of filling but they have only very small mouths and, consequently, can never consume food quickly enough to satisfy themselves. It’s a thematic image that I found extremely powerful – one that resonates on so many levels. I’d been wanting to write a novel for quite a while that touched upon people who were in one way or another dissatisfied with their lives, constantly striving for more and, in the process, almost losing what they have. The title, I suppose, helped me find my way in. Once I had that, I knew what I had to do – I knew it had to be my take on a cross-genre supernatural thriller/horror novel.
How does this book differ from your previous two novels?
In many ways, I suppose. Though I much prefer to focus on the similarities. I think – or I like to think – that all my work has strong characters and a love of language in common. Also, like If I Never and Children of the Resolution, it’s very much a multilayered novel. It can be read as straight entertainment piece or you can take a peek beneath the surface and find even more going on there.
What was the inspiration for the story?
To be honest, I can’t remember. It was one of those stories that occurred in bits and pieces, over a period of months, if I remember correctly (it was actually written before my first two published novels, so it was a number of years ago). As I say, though, I had wanted to address the theme of “dissatisfaction” for some time – that constant need for “more”.
The book is up for pre-order at the moment, how have you gone about getting the book out there? And how easy has it been?
With this particular novel I decided to very much go it alone and control every aspect of the product. I wanted the final say on every part of the book – from pricing and distribution to book cover. So I opted to set up my own “micropublishing” company.
And it was actually remarkably easy. Yes, I do have a pretty good understanding of how the industry works – which certainly helped – but even without that it’s incredible what you can do from a tiny little bedroom/office in the north-east of England! The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, for example, now has global distribution and I didn’t even have to leave my computer to arrange it.
There has been a few “authors” lately bemoaning about bloggers / reviewers not wanting to read their books. Have you come across his and how do you deal with it?
To be honest, I’ve found that the vast majority of people (like you) extremely helpful. Generally, when I ask a blogger if they’d be interested in hosting/reviewing me, the response is positive. Yes, some magazines just won’t take books by new writers – or they’ll take them and not feature them. And occasionally some people just don’t want to know, either because they don’t like the kind of books you write (not everybody is going to) or possibly because they’re having a bad day. But I’ve found that if you’re polite, people usually respond politely and positively – and, you know, saying “no” is an option for everyone.
Publicly bemoaning the fact that people don’t want to read your books… well, it’s not exactly going to inspire confidence from others, is it?
Your books have been met with a lot of high praise, how do you deal with bad reviews, do you take it personally, or do you brush it off?
First of all, it might help for me to explain what the phrase “bad review” means to me. I don’t automatically consider a review from someone who hasn’t enjoyed aspects of my writing to be necessarily a bad thing. If the reviewer has thought about the book, questioned aspects of it, clearly given it a great deal of thought, and still has issues that they articulate intelligently and fairly, I’m perfectly comfortable with that. I may not agree with it, but as long as the reviewer has treated the work fairly (and shown respect to its author), it can actually be a good thing. People often read novels to see if there agree with reviewers like this.
The kind of review that does, still, annoy me, however, is the casual, poorly written customer review of the kind that one often sees on Amazon. I’m fortunate in that I haven’t (so far!) had any reviews like this, but I’ve seen it happen to fellow writers and it really does concern me. These particularly reviews will often take the very basic thematic form of “I didn’t like/understand this book; ergo the book is crap”. The reviewer mistakes subjective opinion for objective fact, shows no respect for the author (and let’s remember, even writing a really lousy novel requires a lot of hard work), and very casually posts comments that could actively damage the career of someone who may have been working for many years to try to get where they are. Of course, serious book buyers probably don’t pay any attention to reviews like that – I know I don’t – but still the casualness of it bothers me. And, yes, if I ever have to contend with it personally, I’ll simply look the other way and get on with what I’m doing. But I may have to stick pins in an effigy for a day or two. As one does.
So what does the future hold for you?
The immediate future? Another mug of tea. The not too distant future? Well, let me see… I have another couple of novels ready to go – a tragicomedy called The Legacy of Lorna Lovelost and a large literary family saga called As Morning Shows the Day – so you should be seeing those over the next couple of years. Lorna Lovelost is pencilled in for March 2013, but I’m in discussions with traditional publishers regarding As Morning Shows the Day, so that might come before or after. Difficult to say at this stage. As well as that, I’m just about to start a fairly hefty novel called Recalling Calloway Vaughan – a novel about individual blame and responsibility. The size of the outline suggests that it’s going to be my “magnificent octopus” as Baldric would put it.
Do you have any final words for the readers?
To those who’ve already bought my work, thank you. To those who might buy my work in the future, thank you and I hope you enjoy it. To those who say they will never buy my work…
You can find out more about Gary by visiting his website