Here at Olympia we love hearing from our authors, getting an insight into their lives in writing and asking them what their advice would be to future authors. This week we had the pleasure of interviewing George Fairbrother about his book.
How old were you when you first wrote something substantial?
In my late twenties, I nearly completed a biographical and critical study of the final years of Elvis Presley (None of which survives). I also once wrote a protest song about social inequality that I was very proud of, until I realised that I’d almost completely plagiarised Jackie Brown, by John Mellencamp. The Banqueting Club was the first project I took seriously enough to set myself a deadline and see it through to the end, with view to submitting it for publication.
Did you ever have aspirations to become a writer?
Not in any serious way, quite honestly, but I’d always loved very strong and memorable characters, particularly in social, political and historical drama. The principal characters in The Banqueting Club evolved in my mind over a period of time, to the point where I felt they should be committed to paper, even though I never really thought they would be of much interest to anyone but myself.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
This advice was not received personally, but from a documentary about Paul Simon. He was doing a workshop for aspiring songwriters, and was addressing the issue of overcoming writers’ block. Essentially, his advice was that if you were struggling to make progress, not to back away from writing a bad lyric. Just let it come, and edit it and improve it later. This has been massively helpful if I haven’t been able to work out how to word a particular scene. I’ve just bashed on regardless, no matter how clumsy and incoherent, and from there have found away to express it in a readable way.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
I’m honestly not sure that I’m in a position to give much useful advice, other than pay very close attention to matters of plot and character identification. There were a couple of glaring mistakes in The Banqueting Club, entirely of my own doing, that I didn’t pick up until almost the final manuscript, despite having read it countless times. I still have nightmares about the consequences of letting those mistakes through. Don’t take anything for granted.
Also, having now been through extensive proofing of two novels, I realise how little I actually knew (and know) about punctuation. Had I been more competent in this area, a lot of time might have been saved for the poor editors and proof readers.
What did you find easiest and hardest about writing?
The characters themselves have made parts of the process easy. If I’ve been unsure of how to resolve a particular plot aspect, they’ve more or less taken on a life and initiative of their own, and resolved it themselves as the scene progressed.
In terms of difficulties, there were probably three main areas that took considerable thought as to how to approach them.
The book is set during periods in which widely accepted attitudes to race and sexuality were very different, and a number of expressions and epithets in common use then are deeply offensive by today’s standards. Knowing just how far to push this language to accurately reflect the nature of the times, and the characters’ own attitudes, has been a dilemma I’m still grappling with.
The characters are forced to deal with a number of real events as they contend with life in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. For instance, the bombing of Harrods in late 1983, the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in London in early 1984, and the bombing of the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton later that year. I’ve tried to be mindful of those who experienced those events in reality, and lost loved ones. I’ve thought very carefully about how to include those and other tragedies as an essential part of the narrative, without being exploitative or violating people’s privacy, in particular those who are not public figures.
The third area of some difficulty was the use of regional dialect in conversations. Specifically, just how much to include to be convincing and honest, without making it less accessible, and without allowing it to descend into caricature territory.
Was it faster to write your book or to have it published?
I think about the same. The editing process was probably longer than it should have been, as I was making a number of changes to accommodate plot and character developments in volume II. The published version of The Banqueting Club is a vast improvement on the initially submitted manuscript, and I appreciated the additional time to get it as right as it could be.
What was your favourite part of your book to write?
The robust political debates between the principal characters, and some of the (hopefully) funnier scenes when the characters show they are not always quite as clever as they think they are.
Do you have any plans to publish more work?
Olympia have very kindly accepted volumes II and III of the series; Armstrong’s Army and The Enemy Within, involving the same characters and exploring in more detail the politics and social conditions of 1980s Britain, and the dark family histories of the protagonists. Hopefully the series will continue beyond that, and as the novels are significantly dialogue driven, I would like in the future to adapt a play featuring the main characters, to see how they come to life. I’m also working on a standalone novel, based on the evolution of a fictional industrial city from World War Two to the present day, with a little twist. Perhaps one day I’ll have another crack at the Elvis book as well!
If you could review Olympia Publishers in just a few words, what would they be?
Initially, the warm and welcoming attitude to submissions by new authors, was a big factor for me. I felt a good vibe as soon as I read the submission terms and recommendations.
This is in stark contrast to a number of agents’ websites, who give the off-putting impression that they would be grudgingly granting you a massive favour by lowering their royal selves to even read your initial email. Creatively, I think the best results can only be achieved if there is a genuine feeling of mutual obligation and respect, as has been the case with Olympia from the point of the first submission.
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