Posted by: inshin | June 1, 2010

Gary William Murning

Gary is a novelist living in the northeast of England. His work, largely mainstream fiction, focuses on themes that touch us all — love, death, loss and aspiration — but always with an eye to finding an unusual angle or viewpoint. Quirky and highly readable, his writing aims to entertain first and foremost. If he can also offer a previously unfamiliar perspective or insight, all the better.

Gary was born with a form of Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and whilst he has never thought of himself as a “disabled writer” it is nevertheless fair to say that his disability has in many ways contributed to his fairly unique perspective. If you’d like to know more about SMA, please click here.

His first novel, If I Never, is published by Legend Press and is now available from all major bookstores. Click here to buy If I Never.

Amazon Description: “If I Never centres on the growing love between two “social misfits”. Clearly “meant for each other” in a most unusual way, the world and those around them threaten to pull them apart… the two drawn into the complicated lives of friends, consumed by unfolding mysteries and dangers.”

——–  Your Interview  ——–

The Person

When or at what age did you first write something that felt like a story?

I can actually remember my first attempt at a story almost as if it were yesterday. I must have been about eight years old. I’m not sure quite where I got the idea, but I started telling my school friends about a headless horseman that haunted the area. This was a complete lie, of course, but the idea excited me so much – was so alive for me – that that night I started writing my first book. The Headless Horseman and Other Stories. That was the full title, if I remember correctly. Of course, I never got much further than a few paragraphs, but it was that initial feeling that I remember most of all – a feeling I still get today, thirty-six years later, when I start playing with a new idea.

Was there any tradition of writing in your family?

None whatsoever – though, when I think of it, I’ve always been surrounded by storytellers in the oral tradition. My parents would often make up stories for me, rather than read them from books, for example. My dad’s more often than enough leaning towards the gory endings I was rather partial to. And I can still remember Mam’s old favourite (not, I believe, original to her), Tina and the Chocolate House. There was a witch in that one, and the threat of bone grinding, so I approved.

When you’re in a book shop, do you like to browse, go straight to a particular section, or what goes through your mind as you pass through?

I actually buy just about all my books online, now, but I suppose I’m a bit of both. I read a lot about books, reviews etc, of course, so tend to have a good idea what I want at any given time – but I do like trying something new. I lean fairly solidly towards literary fiction but will often browse the science and biography sections.

How would you feel if someone told you that you need never write again for the rest of your life and all your material needs would be covered?

The material needs bit would be gratefully received! But if it was conditional upon not writing… you know, I just couldn’t do it. Funnily enough, this is something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently and… well, this might be a little controversial, but I so often hear fellow writers (not the majority, but enough to attract my attention) talking about how difficult writing is etc. And, don’t get me wrong, it can be. It’s work, you know? But sometimes it’s talked about as if it’s such a joyless task. And that always worries me because to me it’s something I love, even when it’s hard work. I actually saw Stephen King in an interview recently and he described writing as “a blast” — and that’s how I feel about it. I can’t imagine not doing it… actually no, I can! And I definitely want to keep doing it!

The Craft

When or how do you get the urge to write?

It’s no longer really about urges, for me. I have a well-established work pattern, now, and I rarely deviate from it.  I’m fortunate, I suppose, in that I’ve been doing this for so long that it’s almost as if a switch flicks over in my head. I open the chapter I’m working on, check my notes and off I go.

When you write, do you feel drawn to a particular genre? If so, would you like to write in a completely different context? If not, what are the areas you are writing in?

I’ve tried just about every genre over the years. I started off writing horror – a huge fan of the genre in my teens and early twenties – and then, as my reading broadened, tried other things. Today, I suppose my work is usually mainstream fiction or, possibly, light literary. I like fiction that surprises – as a reader and writer – so my work will often incorporate genre motifs and approaches, whilst also trying to do something on a deeper level. I like my work to entertain but also have a little substance.

Some say that you should write every day, do you find the need or desire to do that, or do you have a different approach?

I think that’s excellent advice, actually – especially for young writers just starting out. I’m a big believer in learning to write by writing. Even if you write rubbish for days on end you’ll still learn more by doing that than you ever will by reading a “how to” book.

My approach, these days, is to write five days a week. My projects tend to be pretty large so it’s extremely important that I pace myself. Five days on, two days off (though, I must admit, I do tend to edit and prepare notes etc during the weekend!)

How do you approach your own writing when it comes to reviewing it?

These days, I always have a very solid idea of what I want a book to be. I plan methodically and have a clear picture of what it needs to do to achieve that desired end result. So, before my editor gets to see it, this is what I am chiefly concerned with. I work through it with this in mind. Do the characters grow in the way I intended? Have I got the balance between text and subtext right? These and many other points are what I primarily consider.

Of course, the process becomes something quite different once one’s editor becomes involved. It stops being wholly about what I expect from the book. A potentially painful scenario but, blessedly, I have a good team at Legend. I actually find it extremely useful and enjoyable. But I’m weird that way!

The Audience

Who do you write for?

Me. It’s always me. That isn’t to say that writers can’t write with an audience in mind – but that just wouldn’t work for me. If I start thinking about my readers too much, I start trying to please everyone. Which is fatal. Write for yourself and hope that there are lots of people like you out there! That’s my approach.

Do you try to connect with your audience and if so how?

Absolutely. In the current highly competitive publishing environment, I feel it’s vital. Plus, it can be really great fun.

My main approach has been and continues to be the Internet. I’ve been using it (for other purposes) for probably about thirteen or fourteen years, so I’m really comfortable with the various platforms out there. I blog, I use Facebook and (occasionally) MySpace, and, top of the list, I use Twitter. I also reach out a hell of a lot to people like yourself – bloggers etc.

Is it important to you how people react to your writing?

Yes and no. Of course, I want people to like what I do. I can’t think of anything better for a writer than to have a reader tell him how much they enjoyed what he has done. But I am very conscious of not letting this impact on what I’m currently working on. I’m still writing for me and whilst it’s brilliant to find people who “get” what I’m trying to do, I don’t want to fall into the trap of writing to a brief. So, as fantastic as positive comments are, I try to keep them out of my head when working.

Have you received negative criticism and if so how have you managed that?

Actually, I’ve been pretty fortunate, so far. I’ve had very little in the way of negative comments. The vast majority of people really seem to have understood what I was trying to do with If I Never. But, yes, one or two didn’t like it (we can’t all like everything, right?) How did I manage the negative comments? Well, I read them, mumbled, swore, went over to to read my five-star reviews and then got back to work. That’s all you can do, really. It isn’t personal. In many cases, it isn’t even about the book. It’s about an individual reader’s preferences – what they’re looking for in a book. If the two don’t match up, it’s inevitable they aren’t going to like it. Nothing wrong with that.

The Business

There are so many published authors and more again trying, what has been your approach to the business?

The two Ps; perspiration and persistence. Getting published took, for me, over twenty years. Looking back, I should have been published sooner – and came close numerous times – but it’s a notoriously tough industry. Luck is required but it’s like the old adage says, the harder you work, the luckier you get.

The same applies to promoting your work, too, I think. It has to be a constant process. For those of us without huge marketing budgets (the vast majority), it really is a case of talking to as many people as possible, letting them know what you’re doing, phoning stores and libraries, supplying flyers etc. You can’t just sit back and wait for your book to sell itself. Just isn’t going to happen.

Do you feel that there are support mechanisms in place for a new writer?

Well, if the writer in question has a publisher – i.e. isn’t self published – he should receive some degree of support there. Doesn’t always work out that way, of course. I’m fortunate in that I know there’s always someone at Legend who will be able to answer any questions I have.

There is also quite a lot out there online. Writers groups and forums, various organisations. So I think there is plenty in place, but, of course, writing quite often being, initially, at least, a solitary occupation, many are unaware of all that’s available. They have to go looking for it.

What is your opinion of the printed product against the electronic medium?

I can see value in both but I definitely prefer the traditional, printed product. A book, I think, is more than just the words and worlds within it. It’s a sensual thing. The feel and smell of the pages, the crackling sound the paper makes when you turn the page. I love all that.

Also, other people can’t see what you’re reading if you’re using a Kindle! They can’t see the book’s cover. Think of all those “oh, I’ve read that!” conversations with complete strangers on trains you could potentially miss out on!

Do you see this as a business?

Yes. It’s a business I love. One I’ll continue to pursue even if it never becomes viable as a full-time occupation. But, absolutely, it’s a business. If I want to get my work out there to people it’s the only sensible way to view it, to my mind.

——–  End  ——–

Thanks to Gary for agreeing to take the interview, remember to check out his site and have a read of the sample – If I Never You can also follow Gary on Twitter

The next interview will be with Dave Moore, broadcaster with Dublins 98FM.

Excluding introduction, ©Denis Vaughan.


  1. […] Gary is a novelist living in the northeast of England. His work, largely mainstream fiction, focuses on themes that touch us all — love, death, loss and aspiration — but always with an eye to finding an unusual angle or viewpoint. Quirky and highly readable, his writing aims to entertain first and foremost. If he can also offer a previously unfamiliar perspective or insight, all the better. Gary was born with a form of Spinal Muscular Atrophy, an … Read More […]

  2. I really enjoyed reading this interview. I found the questions refreshingly different and Gary answers them in his usual engaging and witty style.

  3. I really got into this interview: it made me want to read the writer whom I’ve never heard of. Also I think it’s a fine start to a series. It’ll be interesting to compare the working habits of those you interview. Is there an audio version? I’m on iphone, may have missed it. Thanks & congrats

  4. Thanks you, Denis, for providing me with this opportunity. Very enjoyable! Also, thanks, Stephie! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

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