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

About Author

Dave Robison has indulged in creative pursuits his entire life. His CV includes writing Curious George fan-fiction at the age of eight, improv theater at age ten, playing trumpet at age twelve, as well as a theater degree, creating magazine cover art, writing audio scripts, designing websites, creating board games, hosting mythological roundtables and generally savoring the sweet drought of expression in all its forms. His years of exploration give him a unique, informed, and eloquent perspective on the art of storytelling.

1 Comment

  1. Alisa Russell on

    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!!