20 Minutes with Gareth Powell

Gareth Powell
Gareth Powell

Gareth Powell – author of “Ack-Ack Macaque“, “The Recollection“, “Silversands” and many more novels, stories, and poems – continues to explore the diversity and nuance of creative expression.  With experience ranging from advertising copy to music to beat poetry and (of course) speculative fiction, Gareth brings a rare aesthetic to any project with which he engages. Ryan Stevenson and I discovered much writerly goodness in the 20(ish) minutes of conversation where Gareth explores his editing and revision process, his experiences with collaborative fiction, the genesis of “Ack-Ack Macaque”, and more! (and there’s more delights of a writerly nature awaiting you in Gareth’s Workshop Episode!)

PROMO: The “Journey Into…” podcast

Showcase Episode: 20 Minutes with Gareth Powell

[caution: mature language – listener discretion is advised]

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Episode Breakdown

01:30 – Gareth’s fabulous intro


07:50 – In an interview, you mentioned that you edit WHILE you write. How did you come to this style that’s so antithetical to the conventional practice of “Don’t look back” for first drafts?

  • 08:30 – I didn’t come to it consciously, really
  • 08:35 – I found when I sat down to write I had to read back a bit. Obviously when you go back to read you start to notice things
  • 09:00 – For continuity problems, I’ll nip back and make the changes on-the-fly
  • 09:20 – For the deadlines am writing to, it just makes sense to edit on-the-fly
  • 09:55 – That’s not to say when I get to the end I don’t go back and re-edit from the beginning. I just try and tidy things up as I go along


10:05 – Do you think that editing as you go improves your productivity?

  • 10:15 – I’m not sure about that but it helps me keep the entire book in my mind at one go
  • 10:40 – I DO outline… I usually do a 1K – 2K word outline as a kind of roadmap
  • 10:55 – It’s more of a recipe really… I need some eggs some flour some milk
  • 11:05 – I have an ending in mind but I take unexpected detours along the way


12:00 – A lot of your stories have dramatically different tonal qualities. Do you write those stories concurrently and are you aware of those tonal shifts as you write them?

  • 13:05 – I write them consecutively. Rather than write each adventure separately and then braid them together I just wrote the whole thing consecutively
  • 13:30 – That helps keep the tone and the pacing up
  • 13:50 – You can kind of complement and play it story against each other, weaving together like Miles Davis and John Coltrane
  • 14:10 – They can support and echo and foreshadow each other
  • 14:20 – I can’t write non-consecutively for some reason… my brain rebels


14:35 – Are those nuances in your outline or are you discovering them as you work your way through?

  • 14:50 – My outlines are very nuts and bolts
  • 15:00 – The actual character motivation and everything comes in as we go along
  • 15:10 – I’ve never written a book that completely follows the outline I sold it on
  • 15:15 – You can’t. Your characters take you off in slightly different directions and become different people… You just have to do the best you can


15:35 – PROMO: The “Journey Into…” Podcast


17:30 – Could you speak a little bit about what it is about the collaborative writing experience that appeals to you?

  • 18:10 – Aliette and I had become friends and one day we were talking and one of us said we should write something together one day
  • 18:30 – We started chucking ideas around and we ended up writing this 10,000 word story
  • 19:00 – It was a lot of fun, like a children’s party game where one person writes one sentence in the next person writes the next
  • 19:30 – Then we both took it in turns to edit it. When we were both happy with it we sent it off to the editor
  • 19:50 – It was a motivating experience… When you’re writing a short story there’s nobody waiting with bated breath for the next sentence
  • 20:05 – When you’re collaborating, you’ll get the next scene and your imagination is already fired to write the next part
  • 20:25 – I guess it’s kind of like jamming with another musician, trading riffs seeing what each other can do
  • 20:40 – I did another one with a friend Paul Raven and in that process there was a little more friendly rivalry… We constantly tried to stitch each other up
  • 21:55 – It’s called “Biz Be Biz” set in a post-greenhouse effect Britain with gangsters everywhere
  • 22:40 – It was more of a game of tennis, kind of like lobbing grenades at each other


23:15 – Can you tell us about the creation of Ack-Ack-Macaque?

  • 23:50 – He kind of snuck up on me
  • 24:00 – As a writer you kind of play with words in your head all the time
  • 24:05 – Growing up, I read a lot of WE Johns’s “Biggles” books and from those I was familiar with the term “Ack Ack” for anti-aircraft fire
  • 25:00 – That phrase and the phrase “macaque” (monkey) just kind of collided in my head and they stuck
  • 25:20 – I thought “I’m going to have to create a world where this thing exists”
  • 25:50 – I realized I needed a manga-esque character with a bit of oomph to him… and I turned around and he was just kind of standing there waiting
  • 26:15 – So I wrote the story and submitted it and it was very well received in some quarters (absolutely loathed in others)
  • 26:35 – I wrote a couple of novels and lots more short stories but everyone kept saying I should do something with that monkey
  • 26:45 – Last year when Solaris asked if I had another book I’d like to write, I said yes (obviously)
  • 27:10 – And I turned around and there he was standing behind me again picking his teeth saying “About time”
  • 27:20 – I’ve had notes for a couple years for detective story with wonderful alternative history goodness and he just slotted into that
  • 27:40 – The novel has absolutely nothing to do with the story
  • 28:00 – I didn’t set out to write a smoking monkey character


29:00 – What do you consider to be your greatest strength as an author and how do you do to foster that strength?

  • 29:20 – it’s probably the fact that I’m just too stubborn to give up
  • 29:30 – I could’ve walked away and bought the entire boxed set series of “House” on DVD and spent all my evenings watching that
  • 29:45 – This is what I’ve wanted to do, this is what I’m compelled to do, so it’s just arranging my life around that
  • 30:00 – Another great bit of training at had was working in the marketing department of a software company writing sales letters, writing brochures, writing case studies… Very dry stuff
  • 30:30 – It taught me to write very concisely
  • 30:40 – Advertising and marketing copywriters make every single word as vibrant as possible and carry as much freight of meaning is possible

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Comments (1)

Another great episode!! I learn so much every time I listen to you guys. And I laugh too–especially during the introductions. Planning to listen to the workshop broadcast sometime this weekend. Have a great day!!

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