Interview with Colin Garrow

When did you first start writing?
Like most kids, I wrote stories at school, but I don’t think it was until I left school that I actually thought about writing for myself. At one point, I tried to write a sci-fi novel but didn't get very far with it, so I turned to poetry: I’d read a biography of the poet Shelley and had a bit of a mad idea that I could be like him - write tons of romantic poems and die young leaving a legacy of fantastic work. Of course, I soon gave up on the idea of dying young, but I did write a lot of poetry and began submitting it to literary magazines.

In those pre-Internet days, everything had to be done the old fashioned way - typed out on a battered old Silvereed typewriter, then posted off to await publication, fame and fortune. Of course, no-one wanted my (mostly) self-indulgent rubbish, but I kept my rejection slips for years as if they were some kind of trophy collection. Eventually I threw them away, since they were just reminders that I wasn't very good at poetry. (Admittedly, some of them were really bad - one rejection slip said “this poem doesn’t rise above its own squalor.” Nice). I'm happy to say that I did get a few poems published many years later (in 'Envoi' and 'Staple' magazines), so it's not all bad.

At university (as a mature student) I studied Drama and wrote plays. The early ones weren't great, but eventually my writing improved, though it was years later before my first full-length play made it onto an actual stage. By 1998 I’d started to write novels, or rather, one novel, and I was experimenting with short stories too. My first story was published in 2000 by Scribble Magazine.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My latest book is the third in my spoof Sherlock Holmes series. 'The Watson Letters Volume 3: Curse of the Baskervilles' will be available on Smashwords in about three months, and features the intrepid due battling a gigantic hound, a ghostly locomotive and the world's worst villain - Hannibal Lecter. As usual, it includes manly characters, crude language and adult inclinations. It is not intended for persons of a delicate nature.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Good question. When I moved from writing mainly stage plays to writing novels and stories, I assumed that the sensible thing to do would be to pursue the traditional route of finding a literary agent, a publisher and so on. After completing my first book ('The Devil’s Porridge Gang' - available on Smashwords), I began sending it out to agents. After a few months of rejections, I’d finished writing ‘The Architect’s Apprentice’ so I started sending that one out instead. While there were a few agents who said they really enjoyed the novel, none of them wanted to take me on as a client.

By that time, I’d also started writing a lot of short stories and I’d had one or two published in literary magazines (mainly online), so I began to see how developing a ‘platform’ (one of the topics Smashwords founder Mark Coker talks about a lot), would help generate interest in my work. I started doing stuff to make that happen, but the rejections were still coming in and after two years of the darn things, I’d had enough.

During these two years, I’d looked at various options for self-publishing. I know a few people who’ve done it and some have had a reasonable bit of success, and others haven’t. One of the things that put me off the idea of eBooks was that anyone can write one. As a Twitter user, I’m often sent links for free eBooks and I always look at them. The trouble is, a lot of them are badly written, with clunky, clumsy language and crammed with clichés.

I suppose what I’m saying is that I wondered how on earth any author (any good author) could make themselves stand out among so many other books, but of course, it comes back to the ‘platform’ thing - if you want to get ahead you have to push your way through. So that’s what I’m doing. Look out!
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I’ve always loved playing around with words, and writing stories is just an extension of that. Although most of the short stories I write are aimed at adults, my novels up to now - apart from 'The Watson Letters' and a thriller 'Ariadne 7' due for release in May 2016 - are aimed at children. I find this younger audience is generally more imaginative than their older counterparts and are therefore more open to whatever I want to throw at them. I also think children are more likely to ‘buy into’ the worlds I create, so it feels like I can write about absolutely anything. Creating a piece of art, whether it’s theatre, a movie or a book, is a lot of fun and the thrill of knowing that the crazy stuff going round in my head is entertaining, is pretty magical.
How do you approach cover design?
Designing book covers is a pretty big issue, since the cover image is the first thing readers see. However, not all writers have the skills (or the inclination) to use programmes like Photoshop. I'm lucky that I developed a reasonable range of Photoshop skills a few years ago when I was designing posters for my theatre company, although having said that, I'm still learning new techniques all the time. For instance, I recently got to grips on with the 'clone stamp tool', and am absolutely loving it - don't know how I managed without it!

Approaching the design can be tricky. Sometimes I have a very clear idea of the kind of image I want, but occasionally I have absolutely no idea where to start. Generally, I try to come up with an image that relates to the story in some way, and usually utilise two or three different images and combine them in a way to create a new image. For instance, for the cover of 'Mortlake' I bought photos via Dreamstime (stock image company). I used one photo of a monk in a blue monk's habit, and another photo of a stone wall with an arched gateway on one side. By removing the original background on the monk photo and darkening the stone work, I created a suitably gothic image. I also added a scroll with the book series details on it (also used on 'The Architect's Apprentice).
What do you read for pleasure?
I swing between reading authors that are new to me and long-time favourites, such as Stephen King, Lee Child, James Herbert, Val McDermid, Margaret Attwood and Stuart MacBride. Indie authors I really like include Joy Mutter, Keith Dixon, Jacky Dahlhaus, Robert Crouch, Maggie James, AJ Griffiths-Jones and many, many more. I'll often have three books on the go at a time, so there'll be one on Kindle, another in paperback and one via Audible. I also read a bit of non-fiction, though that's mostly historical stuff relating to history and crime, such as Liza Picard's 'Restoration London' and Peter Graham's 'Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century'.
Describe your desk
I write on a laptop at my kitchen table, which I try to keep tidy, but rarely succeed.
What are you working on next?
I have three WIPs at the moment - book three in the Christie McKinnon Adventures series (currently titled 'The Phantom of Fiddler's Lane), the second Terry Bell Mystery 'A Long Cool Glass of Murder', and the second in my Skeleton Cove Horror series, 'The Curse of Calico Jack'.
What is your writing process?
I'm not a planner, so I need very little in terms of inspiration before I start writing. Usually, I'll have a title and often that's enough, but sometimes I'll also have a vague idea of what the story/novel will be about and the direction it might go in. However, the thrill of writing is in discovering what's going to happen - I couldn't write anything if I already knew how it would end.

I used to write and re-write/edit as I went along, but I've recently changed to a more continuous process where I'll concentrate on the writing without worrying about spelling, punctuation and so on. This allows me to write faster, which in turn, helps my enthusiasm and motivation. Previously, I'd spend a lot of time going over and over each section before moving on, and this meant it took much longer to get to the end of the story.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a former mining town called Bedlington. One of my childhood memories is of the old NCB (National Coal Board) houses near where we lived. When the street was knocked down I remember thinking I should have taken a photo of it. The area eventually became a new housing estate but in the meantime, me and my mates used to play around the old pit buildings, workshops and shunting yard directly behind where the miner's houses had been. This geographical area was a key element in my first children's novel 'The Devil's Porridge Gang'.
Published 2018-01-07.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Watson Letters Volume 3: Curse of the Baskervilles
Series: The Watson Letters. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 39,470. Language: English. Published: November 18, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Victorian, Fiction » Humor & comedy » Parody
Intrepid investigators Holmes and Watson continue their fight against crime in a not quite Post-Victorian, steampunk parallel universe. In three more adventures, the intrepid duo tackle a ghostly locomotive, journey to Dartmoor in search of a gigantic hound, and team up with bloodthirsty psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter in the hunt for a murderer. Adult humour throughout.
The Demon of Devilgate Drive
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 40,660. Language: English. Published: August 8, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Horror » Ghost, Fiction » Horror » Ghost
A murder in Nightmare Alley. A missing boy. A demon on the loose. On the hunt for the elusive Jimmy Brick, 12-year-old Jeff and his pal Suzi find more than they bargained for at Harry McSpawn's pool hall. But it's a mysterious business card that gets Jeff wondering what it is that Jimmy has got himself into. Haunted by a series of nightmares, Jeff sets out to discover exactly what 's going on...
How Green Was My Lovely Big Sleep
Price: Free! Words: 1,560. Language: English. Published: June 11, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Short Stories, Fiction » Humor & comedy » Parody
(4.50)
It was a classic pea-souper, thick with the stink of the Tyne and as sticky as an athlete's armpit. I wanted to go home, relax, tune into Channel 69 and open a beer, but something caught my eye through the gloom. Ordinarily, I'd have told Pussy Hideaway to go and lose herself, but I was behind with the rent...
Death on a Dirty Afternoon
Series: The Terry Bell Mysteries. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 58,540. Language: English. Published: February 24, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Amateur sleuth
Introducing a brand new murder mystery series set on England's northeast coast. When taxi driver Frank is found dead on his dining room table, ex-cabbie Terry Bell assumes his old friend died of a heart attack. But when Terry's former boss also turns up with his face bashed in, it starts to look like there's a connection.
Magic Man
Price: Free! Words: 3,400. Language: English. Published: January 3, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories
Striving to escape the shadow of his magician father, George decides to give his own failing magic act one last go - with unexpected results.
The Watson Letters - Volume 2: Not the 39 Steps
Series: The Watson Letters. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 39,990. Language: English. Published: July 16, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Humor & comedy » Parody, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Historical
Holmes and Watson continue their fight against crime in a not quite Post-Victorian, steampunk parallel universe... In three new adventures, the intrepid duo team up with Richard Hannay to do battle with Moriarty in Edinburgh's subterranean passageways, investigate a series of murders at Cold Comfort Farm and tackle the bloodthirsty Count Dracula in Transylvania. Adult humour throughout.
A Tale for Halloween
Price: Free! Words: 2,090. Language: English. Published: July 2, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories
When two children at a Halloween party, decide to go looking for their friend in the woods, they find something they weren't expecting.
The Very Grave Digger
Price: Free! Words: 1,920. Language: English. Published: July 2, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » General
When an old friend asks to meet up, lone worker Bobby wonders what she wants this time...
Shoals O' Herring
Price: Free! Words: 1,520. Language: English. Published: May 6, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Action & Adventure / Survival Stories
Tired of his day job, young Stevie joins the crew of a fishing trawler - but life at sea isn't as romantic as he expects: It was November and it was cold, and I wasn’t getting along very well with the skipper. We’d only been away from port a few days, but I knew I never, ever, wanted to go to sea again.
The Watson Letters Volume 1: Something Wicker This Way Comes
Series: The Watson Letters. Price: $1.31 USD. Words: 26,270. Language: English. Published: March 8, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Humor & comedy » Parody
In a not quite Post-Victorian, steampunk parallel universe, Holmes and Watson continue their fight against crime. Based on the infamous Blog of the same name, this indecorous take on the Holmes and Watson stories pitch the detecting duo into Whitechapel, the Western Isles and the Village of the Damned. Adult humour throughout.
Girlfriend Interrupted (and Other Fictions)
Price: Free! Words: 26,510. Language: English. Published: December 19, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Anthologies » Short stories - single author
Colin Garrow's second collection of stories hints at the darker side of life: a dead wife comes back from the grave, a sinister agency demands a lot from its workers, an unhappy lover yearns for a way out and a cleaner finds her employers have disappeared...
Writing: Ideas and Inspirations (or How to Make Things Up)
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 27,320. Language: English. Published: November 14, 2015. Categories: Nonfiction » Reference » Writing skills
As most successful writers will tell you, one of the hardest things about writing is getting started. In this collection of articles, Writer, Musician, Hermit, Pie-Maker and Time-Traveller Colin Garrow explores ways of generating ideas, creating characters and developing stories. Using examples from his own stories, novels and stage plays, he'll show you what to do, what not to do...
In Line for Murder
Price: Free! Words: 3,990. Language: English. Published: October 3, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Victorian
(5.00)
In 1890s Edinburgh, Inspector Angus Robertson has a problem: Sir Charles Foggarty wants him to investigate a murder, but the wealthy landowner's story about a mysterious dead woman is missing one vital ingredient - a body.
The Silk Woman
Price: Free! Words: 4,950. Language: English. Published: September 20, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Contemporary
(4.00)
Walking home from the pub late one night, Davey discovers something on the beach that changes his life...
Mortlake
Series: The Maps of Time, Book 2. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 59,600. Language: English. Published: December 15, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Historical / Europe, Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
London, 1630. Felch is back, and this time he's determined to get what he wants - whatever happens. But Tom and his friends have other things on their minds - when one of Deacon's maps is stolen, the ancient and mysterious library of Dr Dee seems to be the one place that holds all the keys... MORTLAKE is book #2 in this epic time-slip adventure series.
The House That Wasn't There
Series: The Christie McKinnon Adventures, Book 2. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 57,350. Language: English. Published: April 30, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Fiction, Fiction » Children’s books » Historical / Europe
There's a new trade in the city - one that deals in children. On a cold November morning in 1890's Edinburgh, Christie McKinnon and her pal Donal discover a young boy is missing from home. And he's not the only one - someone is stealing children and taking them to a mysterious house on Deadman's Lane. With an eye on a story, Christie investigates, but the house is not all it seems to be.
The Body In The Bag
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 17,240. Language: English. Published: August 7, 2015. Categories: Plays » European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Edinburgh, 1827. In their shabby lodging house, William Hare encourages his drinking partner William Burke to think about the future, about an easier way of making a living. When one of Hare’s lodgers dies, the scheming duo plan to take the body to the medical school where corrupt surgeon Dr Knox exchanges cash for cadavers...
Towards the Inevitability of Catastrophe
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 6,860. Language: English. Published: August 5, 2015. Categories: Plays » European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
It sounds like her, has her laughter and her pain. But it isn’t her. Or is it? This is a play about Suzy, though…not really. It’s a play about things that may, or may not have happened in her life. It’s her voice alright, the way she normally speaks. And it’s the way she moves. It’s definitely her laughter, her smile. And when she gets angry, maybe that’s real too. Or maybe not.
How the World Turns (and Other Stories)
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 18,940. Language: English. Published: August 2, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary
He thinks that when he walks, his own feet propel the earth: that his movements keep the world going round. Literally. Each stride supplies the momentum for another motion forward, the ground shifting backwards beneath him, away into the distance. Except, when he stops walking...(from 'How the World Turns')
Love Song in Sixteen Bars
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 12,240. Language: English. Published: July 31, 2015. Categories: Plays » European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Ever been in one of those relationships? You know - the ones that don't work? Whenever Shona embarks on a new relationship, she always ends up getting dumped. So when her latest one starts to hit the rocks, she decides to find out why.
The Devil's Porridge Gang
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 57,390. Language: English. Published: July 30, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Fiction, Fiction » Children’s books » Historical / Europe
(5.00)
1969. In a town where nothing happens, a gang of kids uncover a kidnapping plot. In the days following the excitement of the moon landings, a group of criminals plan to kidnap the son of a Government rocket engineer - but they don’t expect a gang of kids to get in the way...
The Hounds of Hellerby Hall
Series: The Christie McKinnon Adventures, Book 1. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 62,890. Language: English. Published: July 28, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Fiction, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Amateur sleuth
Edinburgh, 1897. Blood on the table, murder in the hall. Eleven-year-old Christie McKinnon is not happy - the editor of ‘McMurdo’s Weekly’ has once again turned down her story. But Christie determines not to give up and confronts the wily editor and offers a means of solving his dilemma. Meanwhile, Inspector Robertson investigates when a bowl of blood appears on a dining room table...
The Architect's Apprentice
Series: The Maps of Time, Book 1. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 67,960. Language: English. Published: July 25, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Historical / Europe, Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure
(5.00)
London, 1630. A boy searching for his father. A villain stealing books. Forced to work for the dubious Savidge, eleven-year-old Tom Fennel is desperate to find his father. Distrustful of what he's heard, he's sure Savidge is involved. Meanwhile, books are vanishing from architect Martin Deacon's library - books from the future.