I’d like to welcome Charles Harris to the blog today. Hello Charles. Thank you so much for joining me today. Your first fiction novel is called The Breaking of Liam Glass. Tell me a bit about it and what inspired the idea?
Hi Laura, thank you for having me.
The Breaking of Liam Glass is a crime-satire – not so much a Whodunnit as a What-They-Did-After-It! It follows the twenty-four hours after a teenage footballer, Liam Glass, is stabbed and in hospital in a coma, and the piranhas – the journalists, politicians and police – who all want to use him to build their careers.
The idea came from both seeing the rise in knife crime in our cities that seems unstoppable and also looking at the way newspapers play such a crucial part in our lives, and yet are almost unaccountable. Even the good ones. And to some extent they all can be good at times. It’s easy nowadays to attack the tabloids, but they have mounted important campaigns in the past and it would be a poorer world without them.
In Liam Glass, the central character, Jason Crowthorne, is a young wannabe journalistic piranha who first discovers Liam Glass’ case and realizes this could be his ticket to tabloid heaven. Yet at the same time he is honestly shocked at seeing kids being stabbed and wants to do something that will stop it.
As the story develops, Jason is torn between his better instincts and promoting his own career. In the process, he gets sucked into a dark yet comic spiral of lies and deceit, each step trying to escape the consequences of the one before. And soon discovers that there are bigger and nastier piranhas than him in the sea.
What do you think makes a good main character? Which elements are most important?
There’s no formula – I wish there were, it would make my life a lot easier. It’s like finding a partner – you can specify all the traits you want on Tinder but ultimately it comes down to a certain magic: you just want to spend more time with this person.
Some characters in the novel just arrived, fully formed, and were a joy to write: a nice but dim gym instructor; a local politician who is desperate to get re-elected but has no idea of her own; a put-upon detective constable who makes a single bad mistake and is urgently looking for someone to pin it on.
Whereas Jason hid himself from me and had to be slowly teased out.
Having said that, there are some rough guidelines – you want characters who are full of energy and contradictions, facing big dilemmas yet capable of taking action.
Jason finally revealed himself to be a great person to spend time with, which is a good thing as I lived with him for many years.
His heart is in the right place and yet he keeps doing the wrong things. You fear for him and yet in some ways you long for his comeuppance. In all, he turned out to be a wonderful comic hero to write.
What is your writing process like? Are you much of a planner? Edit as you go?
In theory, I try to plan, but not too much, and then not edit until I have a full draft. But each book tells you what it needs. It’s like sailing single-handed across the Atlantic – you start off with the best of intentions and by the end you’re clinging onto a spar, soaked to the skin and searching the horizon for dry land.
Are you working on anything at the moment that you can tell us about?
I’ve just sent my editor a zillionth draft of a more serious psychological crime story.
Which three books could you not live without and why?
More like three hundred, but currently my top three would be Scoop, Catch 22 and Bonfire of the Vanities.
• Scoop for Evelyn Waugh’s brilliant depiction of the values and contradictions of the newspaper business;
• Catch 22 because every line that Joseph Heller writes both makes you laugh and pins some human hypocrisy like a butterfly on a pin;
• and Bonfire for Tom Wolfe’s ageless and constantly funny depiction of the hubris that led to the social and economic car crash we’re living through today.
What’s your favourite word?
Once you’ve written the novel, what advice do you have for the next step of trying to sell it to an agent?
See previous answer.
I’ve written two books that are essentially about that in hundreds of pages, so I’m not sure how to boil it down except that you need to
• make the book as good as you can, then get feedback and make it even better
• research each agent so you know what they like to rep,
• approach each by name saying why your book is for them
• and what makes you the right person to have written it.
This last one can be tough for many writers, if you don’t have a track record, but as the old adage goes, the salesman doesn’t sell the product, he sells himself. What is your story? As you asked me, right at the start of this, what inspired you? Also, establish your expertise: how relevant is your experience? Mention your research or start an appropriate blog.
Can you tell me a little about your background as a writer? Did this experience help in writing a fiction novel?
I started working in film and theatre, working my way up to director, but I needed scripts to write and I was the only writer I could afford.
Screenwriting and directing, both for film, TV and stage has been enormously useful in that I got to write hundreds of thousands of words for films that nobody will ever see and direct actors to do things that no-one will ever remember. I highly recommend it. I learned from making loads of mistakes but was lucky enough to keep them secret.
Since then, I’m delighted to say, I’ve won awards for my film work, which helps when it comes to getting the attention of publishers.
On the other hand, writing a novel is very different – more like a marathon than a sprint. And it’s all down to you. I don’t have to convince some producer or financier, and the actors all do what they’re told!
What advice do you have for someone who is thinking of writing a novel?
• Read voraciously;
• write often enough that you find out what kind of writer you are;
• stop pressing delete until you have a completed draft;
• write the book you wish existed;
• make us care;
• break all the rules (except that last one) but knowingly.
More about Charles Harris:
Best-selling author and award-winning writer-director, Charles Harris is also one of Britain’s most respected script consultants, having co-founded the first screenwriters workshop in the world, London Screenwriters Workshop. Now Euroscript, it has become one of Europe’s most valued script training and consultancy organisations for film and TV.
His debut novel The Breaking of Liam Glass, is published by Marble City, June 2017.
He has won international awards for his documentaries, dramatised documentaries and his debut feature film, Paradise Grove. He has had short stories nominated for awards and his non-fiction work includes the best-selling Teach Yourself: Complete Screenwriting Course (John Murray) and Jaws in Space (Creative Essentials). Both are recommended reading on MA screenwriting courses.
He is married with two sons and lives in North London with his wife and two cats.
You can find him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/chasharris
For details on where to buy The Breaking of Liam Glass, head to http://www.thebreakingofliamglass.com
About The Breaking of Liam Glass…
The Breaking of Liam Glass is not so much a Whodunnit as a noir social thriller What-they-did-after-it that resonates in a blackly humorous way.
When the secret love-child of a famous footballer is attacked, ambitious and devious journalist Jason Crowthorne sees him as his ticket to saving his job and getting to tabloid heaven – only to find himself drawn into a web of increasingly fake news.
As everything spins out of his control and other powerful figures move in, risking the boy’s life, is it too late for Jason to put things right?