Interview: Graham McQuade
This week we sat down with author, Graham McQuade who told us how his mother has been his inspiration, the things that are difficult for him to write, and what makes a good story for him.
CJ: Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself.
Graham: I am married with 3 children and live in the UK (Essex). I work for a US company in Agriculture and I love to exercise. I’ve done a couple of London marathons and various mad events over the years. The bottom line is that I need to be doing something all the time!
CJ: I understand the need to constantly be doing something. I have issues just sitting and watching TV without doing something with my hands. What inspired you to start writing?
Graham: I decided to write around 6 years ago, I had a couple of ideas but was nervous obviously. A very close friend who is a renowned critic pushed me to do it. She also promised that she wouldn’t let me embarrass myself! The fact is, we all get ideas we’d love to share. I’m sure that most of the best ideas, whether it be for stories, music, or anything, never see the light of day. I found in this journey that the idea itself isn’t the hardest part… the hardest part is getting the idea out of your head and into the head of others. That’s why it helps to have inspiration, something to help you take the leap.
CJ: And what is your inspiration?
Graham: My mum. I desperately wanted to do something for her. She sadly never had the opportunity to fully express herself after dying at 23. Whereas most of us can leave our mark on the world, she never could. So, as she breathed life into me, I only think it’s right that I breathe life into her memory.
CJ: What are some ways you pay tribute to her?
Graham: Margaret Gwendolyn Johnson was my mother’s name, and I named the Johnson Trilogy after her. Margaret’s character is from what I learned about my mum over the years. According to family and friends, she was brave, funny, caring, and above all loving. My mum died tragically in January 1965, three days before my first birthday. I wrote Fifteen Days in May (the second book in the Johnson Trilogy) as a stand-alone tribute. The book evolved, and I realized there was a lot more that needed to be explained, especially about the characters, so the Johnson Trilogy was born. In a strange way, it gives me the opportunity to introduce you to the incredible woman that was my mum.
CJ: That all sounds amazing, Graham. What do you think makes a good story?
Graham: I think what makes a good story is one where you truly engage with the characters and care about them. It’s important to feel their pain and joy.
CJ: Absolutely. I feel that in everyone’s life there is a pivotal moment when they realize that words have power. When was that moment for you and how did you process it?
Graham: Such a good question. I’m going to say when I was at school and read Of Mice and Men. I don’t think until that point I had realized that a book could stimulate such emotion. Dislike for one character, etc.
CJ: I know you said that your mother was the inspiration for your books. Do you think that will be the case for any future books you write?
Graham: A third of the trilogy will probably draw a line under that as far as inspiration, as it will still feature Margaret as a key character. I have thought about other books and now have a few ideas away from the trilogy. I’m actually excited about it.
CJ: Can you tell us a little about these new books?
Graham: Well, one is dark, for me anyway, and is more of a crime drama. I base the other in a purely fictitious place during a brutal time of gladiators and honor. It’s actually a story of a farmer that tries to save a young man from himself and his own ambition. These are very early in the making! I have a huge book to complete first.
CJ: Those sound like some great ideas. In all of your writing, what was the hardest thing for you to write?
Graham: There were a couple of things, actually. Firstly writing as Margaret, I needed to be so careful with the style of writing as I so desperately wanted the reader to embrace ‘her’. There are a few times in Fifteen Days that she is talking to other women, so I worked at getting the balance right. Secondly, fighting scenes. These are tough. You need to impress upon the reader the agony and the effort that goes into a fight.
CJ: Looking at your process, not your actual writing, what is the most difficult part of it?
Graham: The timeline. I have a slight case of OCD and for me; the timeline has to be accurate. Getting it right and tying all the events together was and is hard. I have quite a lot of events happening all around the same time, so the sequence needs to be right for the story to hold together.
CJ: We’re running out of time, but I have one more question for you. Do you have a routine when you write? Perhaps a particular schedule?
Graham: Time is the precious currency for me, so I literally write when I can. Given that my son is 5 and I have a full-time job, you work out for yourself that there really isn’t a routine. However, I hit on ideas when out and about (running/driving, etc) and then dump the ideas down. I then structure from there. Early mornings work better for me, but when I’ve been on a roll, I could write late and into the early hours.
CJ: Thank you so much for sitting with me today, Graham. I enjoyed our time together!
Graham: You are so welcome. Thank you again. This was great.
You can reach Graham via these avenues