Hi Andy! Thank you for offering to feature on my blog…and another one of my Britain’s Next Bestseller colleagues to boot!! So, your debut novel ’26 Miles to the Moon’. Tell us a little about it?
Hi David - great to be here and thanks for the opportunity!
26 Miles to the Moon is a comedy about a guy going nowhere in life who gets a random email and ends up in a crazy competition, resulting in him running the New York marathon for a chance to win a trip round the Moon.
26 Miles’s main character, Jon Dunn is a very relatable character. How much of him is you, how much people you may know and how much was created for the story?
I guess there's a bit of me in Jon, although I like to think I'm a lot more ambitious at work. I didn't consciously model him or any other character on people I know, although my ex-manager is convinced Jon's ridiculous boss, Henry, is based on him!
I know you are a keen runner. Was that your main inspiration or did the idea behind the story and its motivational elements come first and the marathon wrapped around it afterwards?
When I started thinking of ideas for a novel, the marathon was the core concept. I'd run the New York marathon a few months prior and it was such an amazing experience that I knew I could work a story around it. But I wanted something different, a bit wacky, so I added a competition element and the Moon prize.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Its premise is something like: "Take a chance in life and go outside your comfort zone - it may be the best thing you ever do."
And nominated for a Costa Book Award! You must be excited and thrilled? Especially as it is your first novel.
Yeah, it was pretty awesome that Britain's Next Bestseller put it forward as their nomination, especially with the other great books they've published this year. I know the odds of being shortlisted are small, but it gives me a chance to enjoy one of my favourite pastimes: daydreaming about winning!
’26 Miles’ is your first novel. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
At school, my stories got a fair bit of praise and I've always had an overactive imagination. Although I went on to study and work with computers, about seven years ago I realised my creative side was bursting to get out. I thought back to my school days and began to get the writing bug again by writing short stories and reading how-to books.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing 26 Miles to life? High points and low points.
Forcing myself to write 1500 words a day was a challenge!
Also, the last part of the book is the marathon, and although I'd run New York twice, it was very difficult to get all the logistics of the runners, locations and timings right. I didn't want seasoned runners pulling it apart, saying it wasn't realistic.
The high point was writing "The End". I had planned to go further with the story, but realised then and there that the story had been told. I'd finished my first book!
I had low points occasionally when I lost faith that the story was any good. You just ride out those dark days and keep believing.
If you were going to go out of your comfort zone, what genre would you like to try?
I'd like to write a young children's book. I've read a lot to my daughter over the last year or so and I'd love to have a crack at writing one myself. Just a shame my artistic skills are probably worse than hers.
What is your favourite genre to read?
Humour and sci-fi. Give me something to laugh at or to satisfy my inner geek. Both, preferably!
Do you have a special time to write? How is your day structured?
I tend to write on the train during my daily commute if possible, but when I had time off to write 26 Miles I sat down in the morning and kept going, usually in fits and starts, until I'd done my word count.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
If I started and just saw where it took me, it would be like me walking out the door in a foreign city without a map. I'm hopeless with navigation - I'd end up lost, down a dead end and whimpering in a corner. I'm definitely a planner - spreadsheets, software, diagrams - to make sure it's all going to work, albeit with some room to manoeuvre.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I've recently evolved and grown a new head, so I've got one brain for writing, and one for editing. It's great, but makes jumpers hard to put on.
No, I think the main lesson I learned during writing 26 Miles to the Moon was to think as a reader. Some early criticism was of scenes that people couldn't picture, metaphors that looked forced, jokes that were too narrow. On editing, I began to look at it with a mindset of a new reader and see the flaws.
Do you have any advice for other writers who may be starting out?
1. Write and don't worry about the quality at first - you can perfect it later in editing. We all have days where we write a load of crap, but it's amazing how crap can be turned into brilliance with some good editing.
2. Get others to read your manuscript early. It's hard, and you need to brace yourself for criticism but you'll capture problems early on before they're too costly. It's the start of you growing a thick skin - absolutely vital if you want to survive as a writer.
3. Don't give up! What have all the books on the shelves in Waterstones have in common? Their authors never gave up. It make take years (4 for me) but stick at it and you will get there.
What are you working on at the minute?
I'm working on the plot for my second book. Although it's not a sequel, it's going to be another zany comedy. The storyline is under wraps at the moment until I complete the plot, but it has two elements I've been dying to write about and I can't wait to start.
Do you have any special message you would like to say to your readers?
Tell lots of people about 26 Miles to the Moon!
If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Einstein. I'd like to discuss some time travel ideas I have.
And to finish off…
1. Favourite movie?
Back to the Future.
2. Favourite colour?
Blue. Unless it's football-related, then definitely red.
3. Favourite song?
Purely for some old skool, dance floor action: Let Me Be Your Fantasy.
4. Favourite food?
A great roast chicken dinner.
5. Favourite Superhero?
I'd like to say somone really cool, possibly a cult figure, but I don't really have a favourite. Sylar from Heroes had my favourite power - absorbing everyone else's - but he wasn't exactly a nice guy.
6. Favourite Doctor (as in Doctor Who though you can go all House if you wish!)?
It always used to be the legend Tom Baker, but David Tenant took the title for me. I haven't watched it since he left.
7. Favourite drink
8. Favourite TV show?
Red Dwarf. (Btw - I recommend reading the books of Red Dwarf's creators, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, too.)
9. Favourite place?
Maldives. Its paradise, although I do have bad memories of running 14 miles on a treadmill there in ridiculous heat during training for the New York Marathon that was a few weeks after.
10. Favourite word (swear or otherwise!)?
(I was looking for another word, but as luck would have it, I came across that one)
Huge thanks to Andy for taking the time to chat with me. 26 Miles to the Moon is available here and you can check out the Costa Book Award site here with the shortlist being drawn 17th November. I'm certain you'll all join me in wishing Andy the best of luck!!