Q and A

Here are a range of questions I get asked on a pretty regular basis.


Where do your ideas come from?
1. I wish I knew. 2. And everywhere. Both of these answers are correct.
When did you begin to write?
Refer ‘writer’s biography’.
Are there other writers in your family?
Yes two of my cousins are published authors. James Allan writes for adults in books and magazines. Justin D’Ath is a celebrated children’s author in Australia. My sister Vivien Fergusson is an avid newspaper correspondent.
How do you write a novel?
I come up with an idea. A few characters, a situation, a setting then I set out on a journey of discovery. This journey is called the first draft.
What is the most important aspect of longer writing?
Structure. Without this the whole edifice can easily turn into a sprawling monster. Yuck!
What is the most important aspect of shorter writing?
Impact. Some would say tone. I guess both are true. I prefer impact.
Who are your models?
Refer to my list of novels/novelists who have made a difference. I don’t consciously have any models but unconsciously I am hurried along by everyone I have ever read and admired.
What is a writer’s block?
It’s when you get stuck. Sometimes people are unable to write anymore and they refer to this as a writer’s block. I don’t believe them to be the same thing.
Should you study writing at university to become a writer?
If you can afford it (time and money) I am sure it’s a great place to learn your craft. Creative Writing courses seem to be the growth area of the English Faculties in universities at the moment. They are good employers for writers ‘between books’.
How much money do you make as a writer?
Bits and pieces. It would be a lousy occupation if you had to rely on it. Writers get about 10% of the cover price of books sold. They get paid appearance money at speaking events. There are awards, prizes and grants. The J K Rowlings and Lee Childs are the lotto winners. Most of the rest of us collect at about the same level as people who score three correct numbers on their score card.
Why do you write?
It’s a bit like smoking. I began by experimenting and trying to impress people with my maturity and now it has become a compulsion. I suppose you could say I write in order to understand my world more fully.
Any tips for writers?
Refer Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for writers. They’re as good as any. My only single tip is never stray from your reader.
How do you get published?
To see how I got published, read my writer’s autobiography. Any abbreviation of this is pointless. For you to get published the first challenge is to write something that others want to read. Establishing whether this has been achieved is difficult. Your friends are often your most useless critics. With the internet there are any number of ways of being published, this is the best place to start. If you are making progress as a writer your feed back should be a clue.
What don’t you like in other writers?
Lots of things. Usually self-indulgence. Sounding off. Self-conscious writing. Irrelevance. Flat dialogue. Descriptions and other padding. Cliché is always waiting in the wings. Excessive use of patois. I could go on.
‘Thunder Road’ is about dope smoking boy racers, do you smoke buds and lay rubber?
The only drugs I take these days are the ones prescribed by my doctor. As for laying rubber, the nearest I come to that is dragging off buses on my Vespa.
What about prizes for writing?
I won best first novel and best YA novel in the NZ Post book awards. This was for Thunder Road. The money is nice but the publicity that these attract is the real benefit. It expands your readership.