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Ian Garbutt

Ian Garbutt

Ian Garbutt has worked in journalism and publishing. He was awarded a Scottish Arts Council New Writer’s Bursary and attended Napier University, in Edinburgh, where he obtained a Master of Arts with Distinction in Creative Writing. Historical novels are his speciality, and he has published two historical novels for Piatkus under the pseudonym of Melanie Gifford.

Getting to know: Ian Garbutt

1.     What inspired you to become a writer? As a boy I went through all the usual school textbooks and didn't regard reading as being different from arithmetic, geography or any other lesson. This changed when my mother signed me up to the local library and brought home a huge, full-colour book about an old woman who lived in a house in the forest with her cat. As a seven-year-old I found it absolutely enthralling. For the first time, reading was fun! After that I devoured everything I could get my hands on. I knew then that when I was “grown up” I would write books of my own. As it turned out I couldn't wait that long and wrote my first novel at age 14. It was only 40,000 words long and painfully typed out on quarto paper, but it was an enormous achievement at the time even though it will likely remain in my filing cabinet drawer.

2.     What keeps you motivated as a writer? I'm so passionate about writing that motivation is seldom a problem. In fact if circumstances prevent me from writing for more than a day or so I start to get a little twitchy! I've never knowingly suffered from writer's block.

3.     What’s your favourite book, and why? My favourite book is the Bible as it's been a shaping force in civilisation for centuries and doesn't hold back from portraying the very best and very worst of humanity. It has also inspired and supported excellence in art, music, literature, architecture, ethics, philosophy, science, mathematics and has founded innumerable charitable institutions. It's also a gripping read and has topped the bestseller charts for generations.

4.     Do you have a routine when you’re writing (i.e. silence, a particular genre of music, only working in the morning, only working in your underpants?) I have no specific routine though I'm very much a coffee house writer, especially an independent coffee house as opposed to the big chains. Usually they're full of students, fellow writers and business people. The buzz can be fantastic.

5.     What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be a writer? A passion for writing is vital as that will keep you going through the lean times. You have to understand that writing is an apprenticeship and it can take many years and a lot of hard work to perfect your craft. It's also important not to be too precious about your material. If a story isn't working you can always try to fix it or write something else. Improve your self-critical skills by seeking solid, constructive feedback.

6.     How easy was it for you to find a publisher? You hear all sorts of doom and gloom tales about how difficult it is for new writers to achieve publication but every year the bookshops are full of debut novels. If you write a good enough book then a publisher will eventually find you. In my case attending a major writers' conference helped as I was able to interact directly with publishers and agents, and the same thing occurred when I undertook a creative writing master's degree. Word gets about and if you have a genuine talent you will be noticed.

7.     What’s the best experience you’ve had while writing a book? The act of writing itself. If I'm “in the zone” and can compose a solid chunk of good writing I'm usually on a high for the rest of the day.

8.     Who are you generally writing for? Readers who are looking for an intelligent story but still want to be entertained. Also those who enjoy something a little different or quirky.

9.     If you weren’t a writer, what would you be? If I didn't write books I'd still want to be involved with their production. I had a ten-year career in journalism and publishing, which also interested me as a child, so I'd probably stick with that.

10.   What one thing would improve your life? A better sense of empathy!

11.  Where would you like to be right now, anywhere in the world? I've just been. My primary school class was shown a film of Brazil and its capital, Brasilia. I was so astonished at the space age architecture I made a boyhood vow that one day I would visit. I was 9-years-old at the time and it's taken decades to get there, but it was an ambition worth fulfilling.

12.  Are any or your characters based on yourself or people you know? I'd be worried if they were! Inventing people who've never existed is part of the fun of writing fiction.

13.  If you could swop lives with one of your characters, who would you choose and why? I wouldn't swap with any of them. Their lives are so challenging!

14.  Have you ever regretted how you ended a story and wish you could change it? I never regret anything I've written. Sometimes I've visualised the ending before I've started the story proper. I don't write in a linear fashion but instead craft scenes from various parts of the novel which I later draw together.

15.  If you weren't a writer, what would your 'dream' occupation be? A fiction editor or agent.

16.  If your book was a film, who would you cast for the lead character? Rosamund Pike as Nightingale, Ray Winstone as the Fixer and Gillian Anderson as the Abbess. The other parts are up for grabs!

17.  Why are books important in your opinion? They can entertain and inform at the same time. They've proved an ideal repository of human knowledge and can transport readers to other worlds, real and imagined.

18.  What are you reading right now? Pulp science fiction from the 1950s.

19.  Which authors do you particularly admire? Stephen King. He could write a menu for a Chinese takeaway and make it compulsive reading. Also J.K. Rowling who succeeded in showing millions of children that reading books is cool.

20.  If you had a superpower what would it be? I'll go with Robert Burns and say I'd like the power to see myself how others see me.