An interesting Chat with author Chas Griffin – participant of Carmarthen Book Fair
Hi Chas Griffin, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
What were you like at school?
A bit of a misfit. If you didn’t go on to do Latin at Oxford, you were considered a failure. Not my cup of tea.
Which writers inspire you?
In fiction, I have gained a lot from Dickens, Steinbeck, Waugh and Rutherfurd. Nowadays I don’t read much fiction.
Non-fiction authors who inspire me are Ramacharaka, Brunton, Wilson, Bailey, Baba, Aurobindo, etc.
So, what have you written?
A prize-winning play called ‘So How Come I’m Feeling So Rotten?’. In retrospect, I wish I’d called it ‘Fishnet Tights and Cardboard Boxes’.
Two books on smallholding, and one on organic gardening for the terrified. The first book became a Waterstone’s Paperback of the Year.
A self-help book called ‘Guide Yourself to Happiness’, which I’ll try to get published one day.
Two novels… one available on Amazon Kindle, called ‘Your Dog as Philosopher’. Nobody knows it’s there, which is a shame, as the four reviews it’s had ‘average’ at five stars. I think more people would enjoy it if they but knew of its existence.
The other novel is called ‘Mr Grooby and Me’. My agent likes it but thinks he won’t be able to place it because it doesn’t fit neatly into publishers’/bookshops’ Genre Boxes. Maybe I’ll selfpublish, as our local Waterstone’s manager is keen to stock it. She wants to stock the Dog/Philosopher book, too.
My Grand Oeuvre is currently called ‘DarwinPlus!’. it shows via the simplest of logic how science, religion and the paranormal can be very simply reconciled. I’ve been working on it for 30 years now, and nobody has yet faulted my logic.
Where can we buy or see them?
The smallholding/gardening books all available from my website www.thirdleafbooks.co.uk
‘DarwinPlus!’ is also available from the website, as a PDF ebook.
‘Your Dog as Philosopher’ is currently an ebook on Amazon Kindle.
What genre are your books?
I hate genres! They are as constricting to writing as a piano with five notes is to music!
My agent is convinced that neither of my novels is marketable because they do not fit ‘genre’ stereotypes. But do readers actually want stereotype books? I don’t think so. The ‘genre’ boxes are there simply to help bookshops arrange their shelves. They are NOT there to stultify the imagination of the writer, or the reader. I’m glad to say that our local Waterstone’s is not hidebound by genre-boxes.
My ‘DarwinPlus!’ is also ‘unmarketable’ precisely because it crosses several genres. Taboo!, says my agent. Outrageous!, say I. How can we make sense of weird stuff like ‘the paranormal’ if we’re not allowed to discuss it in terms of, say, religion or science? The current situation is a straitjacket. Just wrong.
How much research do you do?
It depends. ‘DarwinPlus!’ took 25 years to research. I read hundreds of books on physics, biology, religion, history, philosophy, psychology, metaphysics, and many aspects of the wacky world of the paranormal.
My novels needed no research.
The smallholding books were largely memoirs, so needed memory work rather than research. The gardening book needed a bit of checking, but mainly was a question of organic principles and common sense rather than technical stuff.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I’d tinkered with odd bits since writing a couple of university revues, and went on to write quite a lot for local BBC radio.
I more or less gave it up when we moved to the smallholding as there was no time. But I got laid low by M.E. and couldn’t work. Gradually I came to realise that on good days I could read and even write, so I stumbled into it again.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
Just now and then. I need to have a real purpose rather than just scribbling for sake of it. At the moment I’m more concerned with getting the books I HAVE written out to a proper audience.
I do have one idea for another novel or play, though. I think it would be meaningful to people.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
It comes after all the duties and necessities. My wife is very supportive, which helps a lot.
Where do your ideas come from?
AH! Funny you should ask that! As part of ‘DarwinPlus!’ I look into the nature of intuition and the huge role it plays in the everyday life of each one of us. It even constructs our sentences for us, and tells us when we’ve got a sum right. More obviously, it is the source of all our ideas and inspirations.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
That was ‘Mr Grooby and Me’.
The plotting and timing were critical as the paranormal element needed to be handled really carefully. I had to have events occur and then offer just enough ‘explanation’ to keep the reader engaged but not bogged down in technical stuff. Have I succeeded? Only the reader can tell me that!
What is the easiest thing about writing?
Good question. I was inclined to answer ‘nothing’, but that would have been pretentious and, even worse, inaccurate. Mainly, I do find it hard, especially the planning and structuring. But the ‘easy’ part, or at least ‘the most enjoyable’ part comes when the material is organized and all I have to do is write it down. If it’s non-fiction, it is very satisfying to read it back and think ‘Yep. That says it about right.’ If it’s fiction it’s real fun to get into scene and then let the characters speak for themselves. If you’ve ‘constructed’ them right, they don’t let you down.
Do you ever get writer’s Block?
Sort of, if I’ve not prepared the material correctly. I don’t get the traditional form of writer’s block because I don’t write by the clock, as it were.
Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors
I read a lot, but very little fiction. I feel as though I’ve ‘been there; done that’. I know what fiction is for and how it works, so I don’t feel a need to read any more.
My reading now is almost entirely non-fiction, mainly in Esoteric Philosophy, trying to weave the millions of weirdo threads of the paranormal into a comprehensible pattern.
For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
I like writing and editing on-screen but prefer paper for reading. Paperback or hardback is irrelevant. What I value most is a decent spine-margin (‘gutter’) so I don’t have so bend the book in half to read it.
What book/s are you reading at present?
I usually have several book s on the go at once, and move between them as the mood takes me. Currently I’m reading a biography of Muhammad; two channeled books, which are saying surprisingly similar things from very different angles; a book on healing; some Sufi memoirs; and I’ve just finished reading ‘Blue Sky God’, written by Don MacGregor, a Pembrokeshire vicar, which is entirely compatible with my own ‘DarwinPlus!’, but written from a Christian perspective. This surprised me quite a lot, not because I was expecting a clash of ideas, but because I didn’t think a C of E vicar would ever write such a book! ‘The times, they are definitely a’changing’, I think.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
Just a personal view on the frustrations that the current ‘genre-box’ system is causing. If, as my agent insists, publishers are interested only on genres, then anything a little bit original is doomed. Who benefits? Nobody, as far as I can see. The tail is wagging the dog. Never a good idea.
But it does indeed seem to me from my own experiences that publishers like books such as ‘Fifty One Shades of Grey’ or ‘The Wayne Rooney Book of Microwave Pizzas’. Copycat junk or sleb ghost-writes.
However, the people I’ve spoken to at Waterstone’s seem to not be as wedded to the genrestraitjacket as the publishers are. Who should be calling the shots? Surely it should be the bookshops, and not the publishers? I think we are seeing more self-published books because of this issue.
The problem for self-pubbing is marketing. I would dearly like to meet someone who can explain to me in simple terms how to use the internet to publicise a book.
Are you looking forward to the Carmarthen Book Fair 2016? And if so, why?
Yes, very much so. I would like to meet other people who are concerned with writing and publishing, especially in the ‘renegade’, non-formulaic world.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
My website is the best place. But I don’t really understand how it works, so it’s not up to date. Any suggestions for how to make it work better would be very welcome!
Thank you for this interesting interview Chas, it has been a pleasure. Look forward to chatting more with you at the Carmarthen Book Fair, Saturday 1st October at St.Peter’s Civic Hall.