My guest today is Geoffrey Gudgion, author of Draca, a sailing adventure and family epic I reviewed last week. We both love to sail so I chose Lymington, Hampshire for our meeting – a lovely harbor from which to sail – and the Mayflower pub (an homage to the Pilgrims) for a drink. Mine is a Guinness, of course.
Welcome, Geoff, to SaylingAway. I’d like to start with a general question: Tell me something about yourself and your background.
I spent over 10 years in the Royal Navy, and made my first attempts at writing a book while on deployment. Fortunately those efforts don’t survive. A subsequent business career was fairly successful, though I never truly fitted with Corporate America; I was the quiet Brit amidst colleagues punching the air and shouting “Awesome!” After a blistering row with my CEO I left, funded my way with consultancy, and wrote in the gaps. Now I just write. I’ve found what I should have been doing all along.
So where do you get the ideas for your books?
Wall-Mart? But seriously, ideas can come from anywhere. I once wrote a whole novel after staring at a 14th Century wall painting in an old English chapel. I like history, the interplay of characters, (particularly strong female characters,) and a hint of ‘otherworldliness’ – that whiff of sulphur among the roses.
The idea for Draca came watching the sun go down over an isolated, atmospheric anchorage, a place of screaming seagulls where the ebbing tide revealed the bones of dead ships poking through the mud. I wondered what stories those timbers could tell. What if they were really old? After all, the Vikings raided that harbour in 876AD. The idea took hold.
One of the major themes in Draca is sailing, something I’ve been doing since I was a preteen, and one of the reasons I enjoyed Draca so much. Tell me about your sailing experiences and how you plotted out the sailing sequences in the book.
I learned to sail as a fumbling 17 year old cadet off Dartmouth, though the only advice I remember now is being told by a bearded Petty Officer ‘always remember lad, when you see the seagulls walking it’s time to go about’. Years later a friend asked me to crew for him in a voyage around Brittany into Biscay. It became an annual event, either in the English Channel or the Baltic. It only stopped being fun once, when gale-force winds blew against a 5-knot tide off Alderney, and the sea went from moderate to brutal before we found shelter. The waves get higher every time I tell the story, but it was useful background for Draca.
I found the sailing sequences pretty breath-taking, reminding me all too well of my own death grip on the gunwales in some pretty high seas. I think a movie of Draca would be spectacular visually, especially with all the CGI effects possible now. Who would you cast to play the characters in Draca in a movie?
Charlotte is cool, sophisticated, and sexy. Natalie Dormer (Ann Boleyn in The Tudors).
Georgia, ‘George’, is innocent, even naïve, but strong as steel underneath. Maisie Williams (Arya Stark from Game of Thrones).
Jack I see as a younger Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn in Lord of the Rings); strong, brooding, Nordic. My wife thinks he’s hunky and calls him Viagra Mortensen.
I hate to cast an actor I admire as Harry, but Sean Bean could do the job, if he asked me nicely.
I love all those actors, especially Sean Bean. He’s been a favorite of mine for a long time.
Changing the topic – rather abruptly – are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you plot the entire novel and know who did it before you start, or can that change?
I once heard an author quote Michelangelo ‘I saw the angel within the marble and I carved until I set him free’, but anyone who claims to envision an entire novel at the outset is either extraordinarily talented, and pretentious, or blowing smoke. I usually have an end-point in mind but my angels start with three legs and ears for wings, and take a lot of re-crafting before they can fly. Eventually the characters become so real that they take over and shape their own destinies. Then I begin to think I might have a winner.
What are you working on now, Geoff?
I’ve finished a ‘historical fantasy’ novel, more Guy Gavriel Kay than George RR Martin, loosely based on 14th century France and with a female protagonist. My agent is wonderfully enthusiastic about it, but says that publishers are currently making very few acquisitions while so many releases have been delayed. Meanwhile he’s encouraging me to crack on with a sequel. I think there will be a third book in the series, possibly more.
So we’re just going to have to wait! What do you do when you aren’t writing?
I love horses. Last year I bought a competition show jumper who is forcing me to up my game. She is so highly trained that when I climb on she behaves rather like a princess trying to understand a yokel. Riding is the antidote for lots of time staring at a computer screen. Outdoors. Physical. And just a little dangerous.
I also rode, but with my parents when I was little. My daughter used to compete in the Hunter-Jumper class. I spent so much time grooming horses, I became allergic. I have to load up on antihistamines.
Here’s something off the wall: What makes you laugh?
The richest laughter comes from the chemistry with another person. It begins with eye contact that promises mischief, and erupts through a shared sense of the ridiculous. I like dry, British humour best.
That’s why I watch the BBC a lot!
Geoff, if you could invite anyone past or present to have dinner with you, who would you ask?
Only one? Joan of Arc would be interesting, (did she really hear angel voices?) but possibly too pious to be amusing. Ann Boleyn, the witty flirt who captivated a king, would be fun especially if she arrived in her Natalie Dormer persona.
I’ve really enjoyed our conversation, even though I did jump around a bit with the questions. I think my followers will get a good sense of who you are!
Noelle, thank you so much for inviting me. I’ve enjoyed the beer, and it’s been a breeze!
Don’t forget to let me know when your next book is out.
You can find Draca on Amazon (see my review, too):
Followers, here are Geoff’s previous books:
Corn Goddess – Short stories with a subtle, other-worldly twist
Saxon’s Bane – mixes ancient legends and wisdom with a modern adventure, romance and supernatural elements.