Tom’s television credits include the likes of Being Human, The Palace, The Ghost Squad , The Runaway & more. He has worked both as a Producer & Executive Producer as well as a writer for the screen.
Now the author of début novel Sleepwalkers (and a new resident to Sussex!), we ask him how the transition has been and what’s next.
WBNW – Sleepwalkers is an idea you had for a while. What made you turn it into a book rather than a screenplay?
TG – Well, it was a tv idea I couldn’t sell, and while I’ve had many of these (sadly!) this was one that I felt very sore about. When I left the production company where I’d worked for the last ten years (Company Pictures, who make Shameless, Skins, Wild At Heart, George Gently, The Devil’s Whore, The Shadowline and many more) I asked them if I could write the idea as a novel. They owned the rights to my every thought, you see. They said yes, and so I got on with it. I don’t think there was a conscious thought – this would be a good book – it was more “this is a great idea and I want to tell it.”
WBNW – I read an interview in which you said writing a screenplay is similar to writing a book in that the feedback received from an editor is similar to that of a producer.
Are there other similarities?
TG – I have been very surprised by how many similarities there are, though the more I’ve thought about it, I shouldn’t really have been surprised at all. When I was writing the book, I was naively delighting in breaking all of the rules that had been imposed on me in drama by various executive producers and script editors. And then my book editor got hold of the manuscript and the same notes came right back at me! They’re couched in a different language but they’re demanding the same thing. And why not? Whether it’s a film or a book, we want interesting stories with characters that we want to follow and care about. And we want stories we can understand (a clear narrative) so you can see why the notes would follow a similar pattern.
But once you take away these basic similar needs, I think books and scripts are very different for one key reason. As I say this, I’m panicking slightly because tomorrow I’ll have thought of a completely different reason, so please don’t hold me to this, but… I think books are written from the inside out and scripts from the outside in. A book is often told from the inside of its characters’ heads whereas a screenplay is directing a camera on how to look upon an actor. An author can write “and it was then, after fifty long years, that he finally realised that he loved her with all his heart.” If a scriptwriter put that in as a stage direction, he’d have his lead actor up in arms! “How the hell do I act that?!”
WBNW – Are there any challenges that make it different?
TG – There is a long, marathon-like quality to writing a book. You need to pace yourself, hit a number of words a day etc. If you set out too fast, you can easily come unstuck. And you can work on a novel for a year without anyone else’s intervention or help which is a very isolating and a rather lonely experience. Right now, I’m trying to get through a first draft of a tv script for the BBC (a new idea of mine) and I’m busting a gut to finish it before I go on holiday. It’ll be a rushed first draft (basically rubbish) but I’ll have done it in three weeks and that will give me the foundations to go back, rip it apart and turn it into something half-decent. I rarely go more than a month on a tv project without some human contact. My second book, in contrast, is two-thirds finished and I will have deliberately left it alone for nearly two months before I start it again. I need to get away from it and think about it very carefully and very slowly I’m trying to do some complicated things and it needs real care and attention. And if it doesn’t work I’ve got months and months of re-writing so I want to get it close to right the first time.
I guess those two factors – time/length and human interaction and very immediate differences that you notice. I like being able to mix up writing the two – hopefully getting the best of both worlds.
WBNW – Now that you have done both, do you have a preference?
TG – Not yet. If SLEEPWALKERS and my second book (I wish I had a title so I could plug it!) both tank, then I guess I’ll shuffle back to scripts with my tail between my legs. I think… I prefer books and can imagine myself ending up as a novelist rather than a scriptwriter. But I also still think of scriptwriting as my day job right now.
WBNW – On finishing the book, I couldn’t help wanting to know more. Is there to be a follow up?
TG– Well, there might be… I know that you felt you wanted more but I’m quite happy with how much is left said/untold. My wife wants me to write more but – at the moment (and I’m very fickle) – I feel that the story is told. Yes, there could be a lot more plot, but the story, the message, the ‘point’ if you will, has been laid down.
WBNW – Are there other genres that you would like to write?
TG – Absolutely. My next book is a detective crime drama and I want it to be my “James Ellroy“! SLEEPWALKERS was my conspiracy theory novel, the next one will be my policier. And the third is going to be a love story. The only snag here is that a) I only have a two-book deal and b) I don’t know if anyone would want to read a love story by me! I think as I get older I want to write lighter and funnier. SLEEPWALKERS is pretty darn dark in places and the next one is very black too (so far). If readers will let me, I’d love to write something happier.
WBNW – What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
TG – All of it, except waiting. A friend of mine just sent out a tweet which said “I’ve just pressed ‘send’ on the latest draft of my script and realised I’ve actually pressed the ‘it’s utter rubbish’ button instead.’ That’s how I feel, every time. I send the script/book off and then hate myself and everything about the project. And then I get the notes and I calm down and get back on with it. I like getting notes, I just hate waiting for them. That’s the danger of an over-active imagination!
But I love getting up early and starting to write. I love the peace in writing, the places you end up, the feeling of creativity. And to be paid to do it as well, incredible. (This is very lucky, though, as I can’t think of anything else I could do.)
WBNW – As a new book author, what are your views on self publishing?
TG – Well, I hugely admire anyone with the gusto and fight to get their work published and do it themselves. I don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t have found a publisher myself and whether I would have gone down that road. I think… and I say this very cautiously, that I would have viewed my failure to sell the novel to a publisher as proof that it wasn’t good enough. But I say this very aware that this is a subjective view and one borne from accepting commissioners’ decisions as a routine part of my professional life. It’s clear that plenty of excellent books don’t find a publisher, so why shouldn’t they find a reader?
WBNW – If you could recommend one great book for others to read (apart from yours) what would it be and why?
TG – Only one? That’s not fair… I’m going to ignore your limitations and recommend Carter Beats The Devil by Glen David Gold, Bliss by Peter Carey (but go by his short stories – The Fat Man In History; oh my days, they’re amazing!) and more recently, Room by Emma Donoghue. Yes, I know, I’ve just recommended four. So sue me. And the next book I’m going to read is Joanne Rees’ A Twist of Fate.
WBNW – Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Tom. We wish you much success with Sleepwalkers and would love to hear from you when you have that title for book number 2!
Be sure to follow Tom on Twitter @tomgrieves