In 2003 I negotiated the sale of our family business to a PLC. It was an intimidating experience which I was totally unprepared for. Leading a team forward and motivating them to achieve great things is very different from selling the business and the people in it. The very idea made me feel like a Judas. Looking for guidance, I realised there were few books that explained what was involved in layman’s terms or how to succeed. Without the help of one man, an incredibly professional advisor I found by accident it would have been a disaster. He guided me through the process, constantly stopping me from making silly mistakes. Without his guidance I would have sold for a much lower price or possibly failed to sell at all.
I decided to write about how to sell a company to help others in the same situation but had no writing experience. My wife suggested a correspondence course for creative writing and I signed up. One of the first assignments was to get a letter published in a woman’s magazine. I felt silly writing it but the exercise and the other lessons that followed did the trick. The first edition of ‘Exit Strategy – A practical guide to selling your business’ was published as a paperback in 2006. A second edition and eBook versions have followed.
What’s the first story you ever wrote?
An embarrassing tale titled ‘Birth of a Salesman’ based on my own experiences. At the time, I was very proud of it and sent the first three chapters to a well know writer asking for his opinion. I was expecting a reply congratulating me on my style and wit. What I got was a lesson that brought me down to earth. He wrote back saying, ‘I was writing rubbish and should stop immediately.’ Fortunately he went on to add some more practical advice including my favourite, that you should write a piece, leave it to ferment for a few days, go back to it and cut, cut, cut. Since then I have reworked ‘Birth of a Salesman’ and published it in 2012.
What made you choose Welsh legends as a subject?
We live in a rural community on the Black Mountain where there are several local legends. I began to collect and record the stories for fun and as an excuse to explore the Welsh countryside. When I showed some of the stories to a publisher he wanted more. So far he has published five books containing eighty different legends from across Wales. When they were published as eBooks, I was surprised and delighted to find there was interest from around the world. ‘Welsh Legends and Myths’ is being read as far away as America, Germany and even Japan.
How do you write?
I start with an outline for a book to give me a clearer understanding of what it’s about. If, like the book I am currently working on, it’s fiction I create a cast list containing some details of each character. Things like age, temperament, physical characteristics and motivation all help to develop the people. The next step is to build a timeline. I use an excel spreadsheet to map out the chronology of events and the plot. Without it I would soon be lost. Then, the book is divided into bite sized chunks so I can measure progress and I start writing. I read somewhere that Enid Blyton wrote six thousand words a day. Incredible! I find a thousand words a day is a comfortable speed for me, maybe two thousand with a strong tailwind. At one hundred and twelve thousand words, my current book ‘The Iron Masters’ has become a bit of a marathon. It takes time to check historical facts and devise a plot that is constantly changing as it progresses. The characters come alive and fight to go their own way. My timeline is the chart that keeps me on course heading to the end of the book. Having written the first draft, I leave it for a few days and then do a primary edit remembering the advice to cut, cut, cut. It’s a frustrating process but has to be done. I find it impossible to edit my own work for typos. My mind reads what it expects to be there so I delegate the job to someone who is more observant. The exercise is repeated several times to polish and improve the writing. It’s a chore but is very necessary. Finally, when I believe the book is ready, it is time to publish and start the process all over again.
How do you decide what to read?
I belong to a book club that meets once a month and reviews a book we have all read. I’m currently reading ‘Fever’ by Mary Beth Keane. The book list has introduced me to writers I would not normally entertain. Some like Nien Cheng ‘Life and Death in Shanghai’ I have really enjoyed. One of my favourites was ‘On the Black Hill’ by Bruce Chatwin. I also devour biographies and historical books. David Howarth’s books describing the Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo are masterpieces. A biography of Siegfried Sassoon by Jean Moorcroft Wilson is next in the queue.
Do you use an e-reading device?
I love the feel of a real book as you turn the pages. I’m not technically minded and find most gadgets a pain in the neck, there isn’t always a small boy to tell you what to do, but I do use a Nexus 7 for eBooks. It is so compact and convenient particularly on holiday. Judging by my own book sales, I sell more eBooks than paper ones, electronic books are the future although it’s an argument that hasn’t been settled yet.
What are you writing next?
A sequel to the ‘The Iron Masters’ will be next, dealing with the adventures of the Vaughn family between 1833 and 1880. The Victorian age was an incredible time for the iron men. The world was being connected with iron rails, iron warships were being launched and the British Empire was painting the globe pink. There was war with Russia. The six hundred rode into the valley of death with cannon to the right and cannon to the left. But the Iron Masters face a new threat; the invention of steel.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out as an author?
Write about something you are passionate about. Let your enthusiasm shine through the words and, as someone once said to me, ‘you should write a piece, leave it to ferment for a few days, go back to it and cut, cut, cut.’