Yet again we have the chance to talk to a great writer with a strong passion for his writing and he talked to us about his writing career. Mr Charles Harris is an award-winning UK director and best-selling author. His debut crime-satire novel “The Breaking of Liam Glass” hit the top 6 in Amazon’s best-seller list for satire on the day of publication. Harris is also a guest lecturer at different Universities, film schools and film festivals both in the UK and abroad. In this interview, we spoke to him about his writing career and his responds are not just interesting but inspiring. Enjoy the interview and keep your eyes on the power of the written words.
Thank you, dear Harris for the time dedicated to this interview. Our first question is, how would you describe the starting of your writing career and how much are you satisfied with that choice today?
“I began when I was around 9, writing stories into a large blank invoice book that my grandmother had stored away. At school, I found I could write decent parodies, and get laughs, which was useful because I could get away with doing these spoofs instead of more serious English essays. These became comedy home movies and that lead me into professional film-making. But much as I enjoyed directing, I’m a bit of a control freak and writing gives me control that you can never have with film. I now find writing novels and stories the most satisfying career I could possibly imagine. Until Hollywood waves a large cheque at me, that is.”
One of your main works is “The Breaking of Liam Glass”. What is the story behind that story or better still, how did you come up with the idea of the story?
“Back in 2010 it was growing increasingly clear that not only did tabloid newspapers wield enormous power – for good and ill – but they were starting to put increasing pressure on journalists to bend the rules. I’ve always loved newspapers – but when I read stories about journalists lying about innocent people, exploiting the vulnerable and ruining lives, I decided to dig deeper and started talking to journalists. At the same time there had been a rise in knife crime here in London and a dramatic fall in public respect for politicians, following a spate of scandals. Journalists, muggers and politicians – probably the most despised careers (aside perhaps from estate agents!) – they all came together and suggested this mad, bad plot.”
Looking at London where you are located, how much would you say that influences the kind of stories you write?
“I can’t write without a strong sense of the place where the story unfolds. I was born and brought up in London, so it is a part of my life. I happen to believe that London is the best place to live in the world – when the sun shines (which it does more often than people think!). My book is filled with London, most of all the inner-city borough of Camden where everything takes place. I’m also a massive fan of Dickens, who must be the London writer to beat all. I wanted to write a story, like Bleak House, in which you could see all the levels – from the people at the top trying to run and police the borough all the way down to the people who live, play (and riot) in the estates. But with more laughs.”
What would you say is the “Real Why” of your writing; is it just the money or could there be something else?
“I’d never advise anyone to write just for money, unless it’s adverts or pornography. If you don’t love what you’re doing, it simply won’t work. You may as well stack shelves or deal drugs. But for me, writing is the best treat there is. To spend my whole morning with characters who become my friends (even the nastier ones) and then the afternoon reading my favourite books, and saying it’s work… what could be better than that?”
Now, you have published different books with a lot of success in the market and among readers. What would you say has been your most helpful marketing strategy?
“There really is only one effective marketing strategy, whether fiction or non-fiction. And that is to be open and honest. My screenwriting books try to tell people how it really is – how I believe writing really works – there’s too much bullshit around, much of it from people who’ve not actually written very much. The police slang book was a joy – I just found the most illuminating, funny, revealing slang and put it down on paper. That little book probably gives a truer picture of how the police really think than a hundred thrillers.
And when it comes to fiction, Picasso said it – “art is the lie that tells the truth.” You make up people and events that turn out to be more real than you ever could if you were doing non-fiction. In some ways, I start off like a reporter. I research in detail and then I create a world that is as true as I can possibly make it while still being as entertaining as I can make it.”
Just before this interview you told me you have delivered your latest manuscript. What can you say about that work, maybe just to keep up the curiosity of your adorable readers?
“The new book is a psychological crime thriller that I’m very excited about. The story centres on a police detective, investigating a murder, who discovers things about himself that he’d rather not know.”
Thank you so much for that short revelation. As for the topic to write on, how do you usually choose them?
“There’s no fixed process. I just find myself becoming obsessed with a topic. In the case of the new book, it’s what happens when you find out you are not the kind of person you thought you were. With “The Breaking of Liam Glass” the topic is truth and lying – and what happens when you start changing the truth, even if you are doing it for what you think are the best motives.”
In your writing career, what has been your hardest challenges so far?
“The hardest challenge is, as above, staying honest. It’s only too easy to reach for an untruthful plot point, a false character trait or a clever-sounding but empty line of dialogue. These can be seductive, but ultimately, they undermine the work. You have to fight to dig deeper and that often means facing the truth about yourself, your lack of ability, your flaws, your self-doubts. But if you get it right, there’s no feeling to match it.”
If in short sentences, you were to explain the importance of the Written Words, in today’s digital world, what will that be?
“The irony is that, before the internet, everyone was talking about the death of writing. We all watched TV, listened to the radio and to records. The rise of the digital has meant a return to the written word – in all forms, from the shortest text message or tweet to the longest series of novels. The series “My Struggle” by Karl Ove Knausgård weighs in at a massive 3,600 pages and yet has sold around the world. E-books have given new life to fringe writers and to unusual length stories. Blogs allow anyone to share their writing with the world.
Of course, that also means there is a lot of noise out there. But after 5,000 or so years, the written word is still the best way we’ve devised to express complex and subtle thoughts. And at a time when politics is becoming very angry and divisive, the ability to explore ideas with care is increasingly vital.”
Do you want to add anything else, maybe a message that I did not mention?
“How long have you got? There is nothing more important than writing, reading and sharing with readers. Most of all sharing. It’s not easy – but when it works you’ve made a few thousand friends you never had before.”
Thank you so much. Really appreciate your response and the time to share your thought with us. Thanks again and have a wonderful time,
Obehi Peter Ewanfoh