Say hi today to Jonathan Gould as part of the GIR 12 Days of New Year blog hop! Jonathan is the author of Doodling.
Terry C. Simpson: How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?
Jonathan Gould: Not really very long at all. I just happened to be in that mood where I was looking for a story to write. I’d just completed a year of studying creative writing and was really tired of doing writing for classwork assignments rather than writing for myself.
It must have been around 10-11-ish at night when my wife made a comment about how she felt the world was moving so quickly. That got me going. I’m not sure I had a lot of sleep that night. My brain just wouldn’t stop. What would happen of the world was moving so quickly that somebody actually fell off?
The next morning, early on, I was sitting at the computer, writing what at that point was little more than a short piece about a man falling off the world. I had no idea at that point that it would actually turn into something more. It felt to me like I was just doing a bit of Doodling, but of the literary kind, rather than the drawing kind. That’s why I decided, when this strange little piece actually evolved into a genuine story, I decided to retain the title Doodling.
Terry C. Simpson: How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?
Neville Lansdowne (the main character – the one who actually falls off the world) is very much like me. A quiet sort of person who spends a lot of time wondering around, observing things, and never quite understanding what is going on. Then again, Neville seems a lot better at organising people than I am. He actually manages to get people to pay attention which is something I’ve always struggled with.
I can also see myself in most of the other characters in the story. Their irrationality is something I can definitely relate to. Like the Toaster People, I’m sure if I was marooned on an asteroid in the middle of nowhere, I’d also have a totally illogical need for some sort of appliance that I’d really have no use for. And like the Aimless Girl, I do spend a lot of time being led from here to there without any sense of where I’m going.
Terry C. Simpson: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
Jonathan Gould: Writing characters is always one of the most enjoyable parts of writing to me. Especially when my characters are usually quite simple and clear – a bit like cartoon characters – where they often have a single defining characteristic.
Once I’ve figured out what that characteristic is, I’ll think about how that can best be expressed. It could be something about their appearance, or the clothes they’re wearing. But most likely it’s going to be in their speech. I’m a very wordy writer and writing dialogue is what I enjoy the most (coming from a sketch comedy background). It’s really important to me that each character has a unique voice. That could involve some catchphrases (like the “spoilsport/party pooper” used by the Party People) which are really fun to play around with and vary so they don’t get stale. But it’s also more generally in the things they say and the way they say them. I try to hear the dialogue in my head so I can get a sense of how each character sounds.
The other important thing about the characters is that each of them must have their part to play. Over the course of writing Doodling, I came with a bunch of characters I liked a lot, but who I eventually discarded as they did not have a role to play as the story developed.
Terry C. Simpson: Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?
Jonathan Gould: Apparently there is according to most of the reviews I’ve had. It’s funny because as a writer I definitely don’t try to put messages into my writing. I just think of ideas that interest or amuse me (like a man falling off the world). I think because the ideas I work with are so rich, the “messages” just seem to emerge naturally. For example, most readers suggest that Doodling is about getting away from the hustle and bustle of modern life and taking time to enjoy the little things. And they’re not wrong. I’d be lying if I claimed that I was totally ignorant of the presence of these “messages” but they’re not the primary motivator for my writing.
Ultimately, what is important to me is story. Getting readers engaged and involved through strong characters and a clever, well-constructed plot (as well as a few laughs), are what matters most. If readers want to pull more out of what I have written, then I know that I’ve managed to create something that has a bit of depth to it, which makes me feel like I’ve really achieved something as a writer.
Terry C. Simpson: Do you have any rituals that you follow before sitting down to write?
Jonathan Gould: One very powerful ritual. It’s called procrastination. I’ll spend lots of time doing other things, avoiding the actual writing. Often I’ll go back and read a bunch of other things I’ve written. I claim it’s to get me into the right frame of mind for writing. I could be lying to myself. Ultimately, writing can be a bit frightening. What if that idea that was so great in your head is crap once it’s on the page? Sometimes you don’t want to know.
Terry C. Simpson: Are you writing to reach a particular kind of reader?
Jonathan Gould: One with lots of money and an insatiable appetite for books.
Seriously, I suspect my “ideal reader” is someone a lot like me. Someone who enjoys a laugh, doesn’t take themselves too seriously and spends a lot of time being confused about how little sense the world in general makes.
My experience is that people like that can be any age and either gender. There’s a lot of them around. I just need to figure out where they’re all hiding.
Terry C. Simpson: What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process?
Jonathan Gould: As I mentioned previously, I think the hardest bit is trying to translate the ideas in your head into something that works on the page. My brother-in-law pointed me to a great Lou Reed lyric – “Between thought and expression lies a lifetime”. I think it sums it up beautifully. You can have the greatest idea in your head but if you can’t figure out how to express it on the page, whether that’s through characters, description or dialogue, then it’s just not going to work.
It’s about communication. You have to get the best bits of the idea in your head into a form that will put it into the heads of your readers.
Terry C. Simpson: Do you have mental list or a computer file or a spiral notebook with the ideas for or outlines of stories that you have not written but intend to one day?
Jonathan Gould: I have so many notebooks filled with lists of thoughts and ideas, I’m pretty close to needing a separate notebook to list out all of those other notebooks. Ideas always come and go. I’ve lost some pretty good ones over the years. And some pretty bad ones won’t leave me alone. Alas for the difficulties of the creative life.
Terry C. Simpson: Who gave you the best writing advice you ever received and what was it?
Jonathan Gould: This is where I get to quote my hero, Douglas Adams. It’s in a wonderful, non-fiction book he wrote called Last Chance to See where he and a zoologist went around the world searching for endangered species (and goddamn it, that’s exactly why I want to be a famous writer too).
At one point, they were traveling with some German backpackers who so fit the stereotype of what you’d expect German backpackers to be like (ruthlessly efficient and scornful of all others) that Adams became quite upset – he felt that as a writer, you should never reinforce stereotypes. So he didn’t. He decided they weren’t German, they were Latvian, and described them as such for the rest of the book.
Anyway, that’s a round-about way for getting to the actual advice. Never reinforce stereotypes. It’s a rule I try to follow – when I feel like my characters (or ideas) are veering into cliché, I’ll always try to work out a way to subvert them.
And a bit of extra advice – read Last Chance to See – you won’t regret it.
Terry C. Simpson: Have you written any other books
Jonathan Gould: Yes.
I have had two children’s stories published as school readers – titled A Right Royal Day and Madoop and the Mountain Mower. They’re both about short kings but unfortunately I don’t think they’re generally available – certainly not on Amazon.
In addition to Doodling, I have another self-published ebook titled Flidderbugs. It’s kind of a fable/satire and again, I’d by lying if I said I didn’t think there was a message there. But mostly, it’s meant to be a funny story about a bunch of insects with some strange obsessions.
Am I also allowed to mention upcoming work? I have a novel I’m planning to publish soon (Doodling and Flidderbugs are more novella length). It’s called Magnus Opum and is a kind of epic fantasy with a twist. I like to describe it as Tolkien meets Dr Seuss.
Terry C. Simpson: Where can people learn more about your books?
Jonathan Gould: At my blog: http://daglit.blogspot.com
And at my sell pages: