Author Q&A with Peter Dudgeon
At Bespoke, we work with lots of amazing self-published authors. Have you ever wondered what inspires other authors like you to dedicate their time and energy to writing great fiction?
Peter Dudgeon is a part-time consultant, part-time writer, and full-time Stephen King fan. He has just published ‘Chance’, and has his next novel waiting in the wings. He talked to us about stopping writing fiction as a teenager, how his father’s death years later motivated him to start again, and how he often writes with his eyes closed…
Q. Peter, tell us about how you got into writing
As a teenager I had a ferocious reading appetite, devouring mainly Stephen King books; loving them. I dreamt of being able to write that well, of having an imagination strong enough to grip readers. So I wrote short stories, some weird, some ghoulish.
I recall writing a story about a man trapped in a disused amusement park with a homicidal maniac. I remember clearly a scene where the protagonist managed to get to his car. He had only a few moments before the maniac was upon him. His hands shook as he ‘fought the key into the lock.’ I remember the line clearly because I nervously shared my work, looking for feedback and was told that, “you don’t fight a key into a lock.”
In that moment all hope that I could write evaporated. It was so stupid, looking back on it: the pathetic fragility of my ego. I gave up writing fiction. I stuck to what I knew I could do: read and critique. Eight years later I was an English graduate. Then, sixteen years after graduation, two events converged, changing everything.The characters and story already exist. My job is to get out of the way... Click To Tweet
My father died from arguably the cruelest of afflictions: Motor Neurone Disease. Before he became ill he took a creative writing course, keen to achieve his ambition of having his work published. He died before he could realise this dream. My mother gave me all his course materials. I stored them neatly, forgetting they were there until two years later when I started consulting for a firm in Edinburgh.
I travelled north on Mondays, south on Thursdays. The Saturday before my first journey, I was sorting out junk in my garage when I stumbled upon those course materials. I picked out an A5 booklet entitled: ‘Writing Novels’. In that moment a thought poked me, ‘What if you’re wrong? What if you can write?’ I pulled out an A4 page of type, its edge bent, strangely protruding from the front of the huge course folder. It was written by my Dad: Assignment One entitled, “Why I Write.” I couldn’t bring myself to read it. Walking slowly, I carried the sheet inside, handling it as though it were ancient crumbling parchment.
On that first Monday, as I was being rocked in my seat by the hurtling train, I pulled out my Dad’s assignment, a single page of deep self-reflection. I learnt more about him, reading that assignment, than I had in the thirty years I’d known him. I remember frantically fumbling in my suit trouser pockets for a tissue.
A few minutes and several deep breaths later I stared at the screen of my Mac. I wrote a word that turned into a paragraph, paragraphs turned into a chapters … but then I hesitated… what if I was right in the first place? What if I didn’t have a talent for writing? I nervously emailed chapter one to my wife who sent me a response within half an hour. It read: “This is great. You should be writing, not consulting.” Those words changed my life forever.
And write I did, I set my alarm for five a.m., waking each morning to craft another chapter. I paused writing two hours later, to go to work. I spent my evenings reading. And so the pattern continued: write, work, read, sleep (always writing first) every day for nine months until I had done what I never thought was possible: I’d written my first novel. I called it ‘Ticket.’ That was three years ago.
Q. Where do you write?
Near a blank wall, is the short answer. This is usually in our tiny study (think box bedroom.) I can also write alone in hotel rooms, as long as I’m looking at a wall without adornment; no wall lamps, no pictures, no dubious wallpaper stains. Writing always starts with an intense visualisation – a waking dream if you like. For the dream to come, I need zero distracting stimulus. When it’s working I’m totally immersed in the world I’m creating. I’m probably a little weird in that I often write with my eyes closed. The moment I open my eyes, the dream drifts, sometimes beyond my grasp.
Q. Where do you get the ideas for your characters from?
This might also sound a little weird, but I am with Stephen King on this one: the characters and story already exist. My job is to get out of the way and let them do what they’re going to do. Characters are built through their reactions to situations. The moment you start thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a character who is like…” you’ve lost it. That’s how people end up with Donut eating cops named Murphy.
Allow me to give an example. In the book I’m writing currently: Circle: The Diary of Stella Moore, there’s a minor character called Izzy. She, along with her girlfriend, was supposed to get into a taxi, outside of Kings Cross. She broke away from her girlfriend and accepted a lift from a stranger. I didn’t realise she was that reckless, but she was. That’s how I found out what she was like. I have working titles for each chapter as I start them, and that chapter was entitled: ‘Taxi’. That’s how little control I have!
The only thing I do control is the premise. I always start with “What if …” My ‘what if’ for ‘Chance’ was “What if … a nine year-old-girl could see murders, which are yet to happen.” I hadn’t a clue what she was like at that point. I let her tell her story, and people tell me she’s really believable, and that they ‘will her along.’ I can’t ask for more than that.
Q. How have your life experiences influenced your writing?
That’s an interesting one. Both greatly and very little, at different times. I’m really lucky that my job takes me all over the country and into a vast number of settings: Banks, Hospitals, Factories, Warehouses, Labs, Central/Local Government etc. This had a big influence on ‘Ticket’ because it’s about someone whose career path has been similar to mine. With ‘Chance’ I felt comfortable setting it in London, because I’ve worked in London so much, and have friends who live there. I find the tube creeping into my work a lot. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve spent so much time on it, or because it’s always a potential melting pot of people, of incident, of the best and worst of human behaviour. Having said that, the story always leads, and experiences follow.
Q. How do you fit your writing in around your day job?
I spend 50% of my time writing and 50% as a freelance consultant. I’ve spent the past three years getting into that position, and I’m loving the balance. If I’m consulting, I’m usually in a hotel on my own. I wake early and write for at least an hour before spending the day with my clients. I revise drafts in the early evening and then read until eleven p.m. I try to have at least one free day each week, on those days I’ll write for at least five hours solid, then revise drafts for three hours or more. Over the weekend, I wake early to write. I was on holiday with my family when I completed my second draft of Chance. I was drafting on the plane, during our transfer, and each morning I got up up two hours before the kids to sneak onto the terrace, and write with the sun rising on my back. Bliss.
Q. Which book has influenced you the most and why?
That’s so hard to answer, there have been so many. If I had to pick one, I would probably say ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King. I wanted to say Misery, or Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, because both of these, like so many other amazing books, demonstrate what King advocates in ‘On Writing.’ He makes and illustrates so many important points, it would be impossible to even nod towards them here. Suffice to say, after reading (and re-reading) King’s book and Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Good Writing, I felt I had the guiding principles to start creating compelling fiction.
Q. What are you reading at the moment?
I’m sometimes a bit of a book-juggler, so I have three on the go: The Godfather by Mario Puzo, Mr Mercedes by Stephen King and Silent Scream by Angela Marsons. I try to read a mixture of modern classics and new – often Indie – authors. I spent three years at University studying English, reading five books a week and, to be quite honest, I had my fill of being told what to read!
Q. And finally, what would people be surprised to know about you?
That I write! I say that because I’ve been a writing recluse for three years and have only recently come out of the cave. Until this year, I’d only really published to share books with friends and family. This year I decided to tell some other people – what a marketing plan eh?
Oh, and I was once bitten by Rod Hull/Emu on Cleethorpes pier!
Peter Dudgeon’s ‘Chance’ is available on Kindle
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