Back in January 2013, I interviewed author Peter Jones for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the six hundred and twenty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author Peter Jones. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Peter. Please tell us something about yourself.
Peter: I’m a full-time author. I live just a few miles outside London with my cat. From my window we can see France and the Eiffel Tower (although there’s a chance it might be the Canvey Island oil refinery). I like long walks on the beach, and I have a weakness for flapjacks.
Morgen: I’ve never seen the Canvey Island oil refinery but I’d like a view like that if it looks like the Eiffel Tower. :) You write full-time, how did you come to be a writer?
Peter: I became a writer when it suddenly dawned on me that this was how books got made. I was probably about four years old at the time. Forty something years later I’ve finally been published.
Morgen: How funny. I was an avid reader (of Stephen King) in my teens yet it never dawned on me either 'til my late thirties when I went to a creative writing evening class. I wrote my first short story and was hooked… I still am. You write self-help, how do you decide what to write about?
Peter: I write about subjects that are important to me – things that I’ve struggled with personally, where I’ve embarked on a personal quest to find ‘the solution’.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
Peter: My first book, How To Do Everything and Be Happy, was originally (self) published in February of 2011 as an ebook, and as a paperback a few months later. It did pretty well. So much so that audible (the world’s largest provider of audio books) offered me a book deal for a 2nd Edition of How To Do Everything and Be Happy, and two more books. That led, in a roundabout way, to a deal with Harper Collins, who republished the title as an ebook late last year, and rushed through a paperback which will be everywhere on the 17th of January 2013…
Morgen: So it’s everywhere now – great timing, and congratulations, I didn’t know audible commissioned new books. You learn something new every day, as the saying goes. So you originally self-published? What lead to you going your own way?
Peter: Gosh. Well, the short version is this: I wrote How To Do Everything and Be Happy by accident. As I was already in the process of hawking my (as yet unpublished) novel round to various agents (and having it thrown back in my face). I didn’t fancy going through the same painful process with my non-fiction. Kindle books were just taking off, so I thought, “How hard can it be? I’ll have a crack at putting it out there myself!” It turns out that ‘putting it out there’ wasn’t quite as simple as I initially thought. But I did it. Learnt a lot. And the rest you know.
Morgen: <laughs> You wrote How To Do Everything and Be Happy by accident? How did that happened?
Peter: Darn it. I knew I wasn’t going to get away with the short version.
Morgen: I can talk for England, so it’s only fair.
Peter: Not that long ago, before the days of conjuring words out of the air and rearranging them into an entertaining order, I worked in banking. Credit Card Banking.
I was a fix it man. An ideas man. Wealthy men would ask me how to make even more money with the tools they had at their disposal, and I would tell them. Though it pains me to admit it the ‘credit crunch’ is partly my fault – not my idea, but I was there, pulling the levers and pressing the buttons that made it happen.
It wasn’t a bad way to make a living – the money was nice – but whilst I enjoyed the problem solving, and the company of the people I worked with, as the years rolled by I became less and less comfortable working in that industry. By the time I met my wife Kate I wanted out, and much of our time together was spent trying to find ways to use the few skills we had between us to create an alternative career. We tried everything from website design, to property investment. None of those things really worked. And when she died in my arms, three and a bit years later, it felt like my dreams of escaping credit card consultancy died with her.
How wrong I was.
What actually happened was that my focus changed. Instead of trying to dig myself out of the pit I’d spent almost twenty years getting myself into, I concentrated my solution-finding skills on seeking out the very thing that I seemed to lack; happiness. I read a lot of books, made a lot of lists, and tried anything and everything I could think of. Most of the ideas didn’t work. But some... did!
One day a good friend of mine suggested I ought to write down some of the quirkier ideas. Several months later I’d written How To Do Everything and Be Happy.
Morgen: The great thing about most self-help books is that the authors have usually been through what they’re writing about. Or at least you would hope that. The good thing is that they’re (you’re out the other side). When I left school I didn’t have a clue what to do so worked in my father’s photography shop. He also photographed weddings so I helped him with those (that was fun) and was his secretary. I went to day college and got my certificates (although I failed miserably at shorthand – I hated it – and only lost one contract because of it). So I was a secretary for over 20 years. Most of the companies I worked for were fine, some really enjoyable but I knew it wasn’t want I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I then I went to a creative writing evening class eight years ago… light bulb moment for sure. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Peter: Right now I’m finishing How To Survive Online Dating. It’s a heart-break-free guide to finding love via the internet – and yes, it’s written from personal experience.
Also, at some point I’ll be able to tell people when How To Eat Loads and Stay Slim (co-written with the-lovely-as-she-is-slender Della Galton) will be available.
Finally, some time later this year, I’d like to return to the novel.
Morgen: How funny. My debut novel is about a journalist who has to set up an online profile and date 31 men in 31 days… and yes, that was personal experience although a very condensed version! Jane Wenham-Jones (who I’m pretty sure Della knows) has just released 100 Ways to Fight the Flab. They’re both well-written about topics yet there’s still so much to say about them… like there being only seven plots. We just need to find a new angle. :) Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Peter: Pretty much. I find the fear of not being able to pay the bills quite motivating.
Generally I’m up sometime between four thirty and five thirty AM, and I’m at my desk shortly after that. I answer a few emails, post something on Facebook, tweet something on twitter, then I get to work – writing, editing – until midday, when I stop for lunch. In the afternoons I generally do something a little less taxing – perhaps some blogging – and by four PM I’m usually spent. I have a break, make some dinner, pour a glass of wine, watch a little telly, and then around seven return to my desk to do two hours of post and/or emails.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Peter: Pah! Fully formed!? Generally speaking all my writing goes through these stages.
- The initial draft. Where I bash away at the keyboard, one eye on my outline, in the misguided belief that it's the very best thing I've ever written, and that there's probably only a couple of minor things that need fixing.
- The first read through. Where I discover that’s most definitely not the case.
- First edit. Where I fix everything.
- The second read through. Out loud this time. Followed by much cursing and sobbing into my beer.
- Second edit. Where I fix everything. Again.
- Jules – my long-suffering assistant – reads it. Whilst I nervously bite my nails to the sound of her scribbling comments over every darn page.
- Third edit. Where I fix everything. Again.
- First readers. Where I send out copies to two or three trusted friends and fellow authors.
- Fourth edit. Where I fix everything. Again.
- Finally, I send it to Becky (my agent). She’ll read it in something like ten minutes and email me back something along the lines of “fabulous Peter. Only a few comments, which you’ll find attached”. The attachment will always run into pages.
- Final edit. Where I fix everything. Again!
Morgen: Four thirty to five thirty? Ouch. Great that you have two people to vet your writing for it. It’s so important to have that. There’ll always be things we miss. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Peter: My friends would tell you I moan constantly about my paperwork & email evenings. But then if that’s the price I must pay for having time to write, so be it.
Morgen: Just email evenings? I wish. :) What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Peter: 1) You have to write about a million words (most of which will be utter rubbish) before you start to produce anything worth reading. The sooner you’ve written those million words, the sooner you’ll be better. 2) Read. Read read read read read. And read some more. 3) Writers sell emotion. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, your stock and trade is actually ‘emotion’ – words are merely the delivery mechanism. Whenever I’m stuck on a scene or a point I’m trying to make I ask myself ‘what’s the emotion I’m trying to convey’.
Morgen: I’ve heard that. With five NaNoWriMos (well over 300,000 words) and hundreds of short stories, I’m pretty confident of having gone over the million. I do feel that, after eight years of writing and on / off studying that I kind of know what I’m doing but I’m still learning… I think it’s like life, we always will. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Peter: You’ll find me on Twitter and Facebook everyday. They’re both hugely distracting, but as I work from home with no company (other than my cat) I like to think of the facebook / twitter-sphere as ‘the other people in the office’. It’s also a great way to interact with existing and potential readers.
Morgen: It’s brilliant. I love it. I agree about them being distracting so I usually leave them on connect and my wall (respectively) so I don’t get caught up in the timelines. I looked on Facebook on Friday though and spotted some brilliant zombie snowmen (coming out of the ground in a graveyard – I had to share that!). Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Peter: My blog – peterjonesauthor.com – might be a good place to start.
Morgen: Thank you, Peter. Great to have you join me today.
I then invited Peter to include a synopsis of his book…
Every now and then a self-help book comes along that questions the very nature of happiness, shakes the very foundation of all the things you hold dear, and forces you to reconsider every assumption you’ve ever made.
This isn’t one of those books.
‘How To Do Everything and Be Happy’ is a book for ordinary people. With ordinary lives. It’s for people who have been ambling along and wondering why they’re not – well – just that little bit happier. It’s a book for most people. It’s a book for you.
Mumbo jumbo & jargon free, ‘How To Do Everything and Be Happy’ is direct, practical, occasionally witty, and stuffed full of ways to make your life just that bit happier. If you’ve got a brain in your head, if you can pick up a pen, if you’ve got half an inkling about what makes you smile, ‘How To Do Everything and Be Happy’ will show you how to fit those things into your life and, as a consequence, feel much, much happier.
Peter Jones started professional life as a particularly rubbish Graphic Designer, followed by a stint as a mediocre Petrol Pump Attendant. After that he got embroiled in the murky world of credit cards until a freak accident with a zip zap machine (remember those?) restructured his DNA at the molecular level and gave him entrepreneurial powers.
Now, Peter spends his days – most of them anyway – writing. He is the author of two and a half fabulously popular self-help books on the subjects of happiness, dieting and online dating. If you’re over-weight, lonely, or unhappy – he’s your guy. Meanwhile his debut novel, snappily entitled “The Good Guy’s Guide to Getting The Girl“, will be available any year now.
Peter doesn’t own a large departmental store, and probably isn’t the same guy you’ve seen on the TV show Dragons’ Den.
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