Five questions with: Graham Downs

I recently had the pleasure of working with Graham Downs on his cover for Memoirs of a Guardian Angel and he kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his book and his life as an indie author.

Here’s the blurb:

Have you thanked your Guardian Angel today?

I never did…now I wish I had.

I now understand the hard work and difficult situations they face every day. That car that veered off course, the knife that slipped or even the close call when you nearly tumbled from a tree.

It wasn’t good luck that saved you, it was me.

My name is Adam and I’m a guardian angel.

 

1. When did you start writing and what inspired you to write that first book?

I’ve always been a voracious reader. My mother made sure of that, introducing me to Dr Seuss before I could talk, and after I started primary school, encouraging me to read as much as possible. My favourites were Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five and The Secret Seven series. I think I’d read and re-read both series in their entirety before I got to standard five [seventh grade].

In junior high school, I discovered gamebooks, and I devoured everything I could find in the genre. Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series was my favourite there, and I played those to death.

That actually inspired my first “serious” piece of writing. A gamebook about a spy, which I wrote on our old 286 computer at home, in the MS-DOS version of WordPerfect. I think I was in standard seven [ninth grade] at the time. That story’s (thankfully) been lost to eternity, because it was written in a time before backups were really a thing, and long before The Internet. I can’t remember much of it, except there was this one scene where you, the main character, had to follow a trail of stompies (yes, I actually used that word) along the street to find your quarry.

Also in high school, I got involved in tabletop roleplaying, starting with an alternate history game called AmeriCHAOS 1994, and then graduating to Werewolf and finally Dungeons and Dragons. I always ended up being the Game Master, the one responsible for putting the story together and running the game.

After High School, I forgot about storytelling for a long time, and my reading habits slipped to practically non-existent. Life got in the way. It wasn’t until around 2011 or so (fourteen years after finishing matric), when my boss bought me my first iPad – an iPad 2 – when that began to change again. I discovered the Kindle app and e-books, and my love of writing was reignited.

A few months later, a friend of mine on Twitter (Ryan Peter, @RyanPeterWrites) started talking about publishing his first book, When Twins War. He complained that he was struggling to find a publisher and was going to self-publish. That got me thinking, “Hey, I can do that!”

I had a story that had been rattling around in my head for a while by that time, but I didn’t think anyone would want to read it, and I couldn’t see myself going through all the effort of querying agents and finding a publisher. It just felt like a total waste of time. 

So, I started reading everything I could about self-publishing, and discovered Smashwords. 

Well, A Petition to Magic was published a couple of months later, and the rest, as they say, is history.

2. Which of your characters is most like you and why?

Probably James from Stingers. He’s a thirteen-year-old high school boy who is mercilessly bullied because he’s not very athletic, doesn’t like sports, and spends more time socialising with his English teacher than his fellow pupils. That was pretty much me, in high school. Of course, things didn’t get quite as bad for me as they did for poor James in Stingers, but people have told me that, at the time I published it, they considered it my most authentic work.

As most writers will tell you, though, there’s a little bit of myself in every character I write, but if you want to know who is most like me, then ja, James from Stingers would be it (him?).

3. Why did you decide to self publish?

I never really considered any other way. As I alluded to above, I just didn’t think it was worth my effort to try and find a “proper” publisher. My story was too short, for one, and it was always only ever going to be just for me. Back then, I knew very little about how the publishing industry worked (I’ve learnt more than I ever thought possible since), didn’t think anyone would publish a short story, and had no idea that literary magazines existed whose sole purpose was publishing shorts.

Besides, once I discovered that it was possible for anyone to publish anything online, that was it. This is the twenty-first century, after all. I’m a computer geek, after all. Why would anyone want to ask someone else’s permission?

Seven books later, I still feel that way. 

Except for niche markets like re-publishing old, out-of-print fiction, and possibly non-fiction, I think tradition publishing is dead. There’s no reason for an author to put themselves through all those rejection slips, pathetically low royalties, a twelve month wait to get published if you are accepted… nope. No reason at all.

Get yourself out there, I say. Just do it.

4. If the main character of Memoirs of a Guardian Angel was witness to a bank heist. How would they react?

Hmm, that’s an interesting question. Since the main character in Memoirs, Adam, is a guardian angel, that’d depend on which side he were on, so to speak.

His human might be the robber, or one of the robbers. That would make for the most interesting dilemma, I guess. On the one hand, Adam wouldn’t be too happy about his human’s career choice. On the other, he’d have to protect him at all costs. So the safety of the robber would be his primary concern, the safety of the others secondary. If he could make the human’s gun jam, or figure out a way to have him fail at the robbery without getting himself killed, that’d be first prize. If not, then he’d have to let the human do whatever it took to survive.

If, on the other hand, his human was a bank teller or security guard (or even an innocent bystander), Adam would probably try as hard as he could to get his human out alive. If the robber could drop his gun in time for security to take him down, or he could miss a shot, that would be ideal.

5. What is the greatest piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

That’s a tough one, because I’ve been given plenty. Maybe the best advice, which it’s taken me a really long time to follow, is “find your voice.”

My writing voice is unlike anyone else’s, and for too long I’ve censored myself because I’ve been worried what other people might think, or because I thought I had to follow established “rules”.

I can confidently say that Memoirs is the first thing I’ve ever published, where I didn’t care what anybody else thought. If I wanted to swear, I swore. If I wanted to use a double contraction (couldn’t’ve), I did. It’s been the most difficult book to write, so far, but also the most liberating.

You can purchase Memoirs of a Guardian Angel here: