An interview with Graham Thomas

Graham Thomas

London based author, screenwriter and filmmaker Graham Thomas is the gentleman behind Hats off to Brandenburg, one of our Books of the Month for July 2012. In fact, we loved his book so much we just had to catch up with him and ask him some questions

Hi Graham, and welcome to Fantasy Book Review! You are a part of TheNeverPress, a London Based independent publisher of fiction novels and a collaboration of friends. Can you elaborate on what your role is and what we can expect from TheNeverPress in the future?

I founded TheNeverPress in 2010 as response to writing my first book and failing to secure a publisher for it, which isn't surprising as the book is an existential journal that takes place entirely in the precise moment of the main character�s death. Not exactly marketable! But I didn't want to have written a book and have it sit on a hard drive, or in a box under my bed. I have written loads of screenplays in my time and they are all in my desk drawer. Fortuitously nowadays, anyone can get a book out there in digital and physical form for a relatively small cost, which is wonderful. The big downside, of course, is quality control and so I set up TheNeverPress to try and be as legit as possible in putting the best possible incarnations of my books out there � well edited, well designed� basically I want the indie author to be viewed alongside �established� authors on a level playing field where the book is judged, not the formatting or proofing. So we have worked hard to get our standards up� admittedly, they are a few leaks we need to plug but that�s a workflow issue. We have things in place; great coders, designers, editors, and proofers � everything a publisher needs really.

I kinda view my books as testing the waters, so to speak. We have every intention to get our practices right, and then start looking for other authors whose work we believe in, whose voice we think should be heard. It would be wonderful if we could build a stable of great authors who have the freedom to come to us with a project that we can help realise. Protection and freedom do not have to be mutually exclusive. I want the freedom to write my books my way, and if I have a mental idea to insert screenplays, or dwarfish sonnets then I don�t want to be denied that indulgence. Similarly, I don�t want a cover designed for one of my books that I don�t have any input into. I don�t want a derivative jacket that�s designed to formula to look like other bestsellers. The book is what matters to me, not the returns and so I want to protect them from being turned into a device to make money. They are songs, not radio-friendly unit shifters. I hope that one day, an author can come to us with an outlandish idea that they can justify artistically and we can help them follow it through.

Financially, who knows in the future? I won�t kid you, right now we�re not exactly Harper Collins but that in no way is dissuading or influencing us. If we sell just one copy of a book, but that one copy is true to the author�s uncompromised vision, well that, to me, is worth fifty bestsellers. But that�s the stupid artist in me talking, I am sure a million marketers out there are facepalming because we are not capitalizing on whatever actuary table we should be capitalizing on. Don�t care. Maybe one day when we have some cash lying about, we can get someone on board who actually has an ounce of business acumen. I don�t know, it�s a tricky one because I don�t want to sell-out or jeopardise the ideals we started with by going all corporate. I�d quite like TheNeverPress to be a bit punk, a bit cult� we make the books we want to make, and they�re going to last forever so we�d better make them genuine.

Hats of to Brandenburg focuses mainly on Archie and Benjamin. Can we expect to see the spotlight on more of the other Roxy Irregulars in the books to come?

Yes, most definitely. The books come under the banner of The Roxy Compendium for a reason. They are not a saga chronicling a single giant storyline but a mish-mash of adventures that belong together. There will hopefully be large �tent-pole� books along the way that prop up the compendium and they will feature all the main characters, like the Avengers Assemble movie. These tent-pole books will be interspersed with stand-alone stories and spin-offs concerning other characters. I took great care in constructing the world in Hats off to Brandenburg and imbuing the characters with as much life as possible so that you may want to learn more about them. I hope that they are not there simply to serve the plot of one book, but that they are whole and relatable. I wanted every character to have their own goals, their own histories, agendas and dreams. I like the idea that it is a world with its own mythology and that we can go anywhere we want and maybe meet some old friends along the way, or make some new ones. We won�t see the world solely through the bloodshot eyes of Benjamin Ananas only, that�s for sure. Probably get a bit boring if it did. I hope you might find a little character in one book that you love and then, later on down the line, get to read an entire book focusing on them.

Hats off to Brandenburg is not your typical �heist� novel. We were pleasantly surprised by the plot change a third of the way into the book. Why did you want the book to go in this direction and not stay with the Roxy Irregulars struggling to pay off their debt?

SPOILER ALERT. Well for one, the heist story, much like the revenge story has a pretty limited outcome. They either get away with it, or they don�t. I wanted to present an aura of reality to proceedings insomuch as that the characters (heroes and villains) are not plot devices; they are �real� people going about their own business. The main premise of the book is about a bunch of people trying to blag their way through an environment that they don�t know anything about, despite the fact that they believe they do. I wanted them, once they had their target, to suddenly come up against something huge that they never could have factored into their plans. They really have bitten off more than they can chew and it�s in dealing with this sudden change of environment that their true characters are revealed. Why should it be so easy for the heroes � go in, rob some dudes, pay some debts, happily ever after. Surely their target hasn�t been sitting around waiting for someone else�s agenda to come into their lives so they can have meaning. Surely the villains don�t exist in the world only to service the plot of this heist adventures. No, they have their own schemes and plans in action. I wanted a feeling that the world was bigger than the heroes, that in some alternate reality the story could just as easily have been about the villains trying to get shit done but coming up against a band of outsiders whom they could not have possibly factored into their equation. The heroes must stumble into something bigger and grander than their schemes. I also wanted them to rise above their own, admittedly selfish motivations and put themselves on the line for a cause, for something right and selfless. It was a big risk, expanding the story outwards at that stage. There was danger of jumping the shark, but I threaded in some through lines to make the transition seem pretty organic. A nice WTF for the audience and the Roxy Players at the same time - you�re all in it together. Something like that anyway. I hope it�s more like a hard right and a gear change, rather than a sudden handbrake turn.

If you have to compare yourself with one of the Roxy Irregulars, which one comes closest to your vices and virtues?

None per se � there are shades of myself in every character, just as there are shades of people I know pasted throughout. I suppose some of my ideals and anxieties crop up explicitly in various characters from time to time. The way the world is presented is pretty close to my vices and virtues I guess. Things are a bit grubby, ragged, dangerous and murky but there is also beauty and spirit (and booze) there too. The world in the book is both how I wish the real world was, but also how I see it at the same time. It�s a duality that I wrestle with every day. Bit of an evasive answer, for sure. I�m too vain to put myself into just one character, so I put myself into everything.

It is mentioned that the Roxy Compendium will run to several books. Can you tell us a little something of what we might expect?

Yes, it�s going to be a biggun. Like I said, a few big Avengers style books and other spin offs and stuff. I am currently writing the 4th book in the series. This is a direct sequel to Hats off to Brandenburg, the 2nd and 3rd books being spin-offs. They have already been written and are being edited and designed. �Phase 1� of The Roxy Compendium will run to 7 titles. I have mapped these out and they should be finished by early 2013. Then I�ll take a year off to write other bits and bobs and maybe get a haircut. After that, if I am feeling indulgent, I will begin �Phase 2� of The Roxy Compendium of which I have the broad strokes down. This second phase runs to a further 9 books so what�s that�16 books in total? Most of this depends on whether or not I can keep it fresh and interesting. I don�t want to tarnish earlier books by re-treading old ground, I have to keep developing the characters and finding new things to explore. The law of diminishing returns weighs heavy upon me, all the time. For me, the writing has got to remain exciting and dangerous or else I will get bored and you can spot a bored author a mile away. For Phase 2 I have some really exciting villains that I am keen to bring into the world. The thought of putting the characters through the wringer (and the readers too) motivates me to keep going. I also know how the whole thing ends and, for me, knowing the ending is half the battle. Just got to keep focus, keep motivated and not get bored/side-tracked. It�s a huge task, but don�t worry, I have some drinks still in my drinks cabinet that I think you�ll really enjoy.

Are you working on anything other than the Roxy Compendium at the moment?

Apart from releasing Roxy Compendium books 2, 3 and 4 this year, I have a supernatural Western called �Maria & The Devil� that in its final proofing stage. We hope to release that in October 2012�which is actually just a few weeks away. Jesus. I am also collaborating with an extremely talented writer on a collection of short stories and poems and we may, or may not, get this book out in time for Christmas. 2013 will be, for the most part, �The Year without a Brandenburg Book�For The Most Part� and I�ve lined up 5 or 6 projects that I�ve been delaying for too long. I quite fancy trying my hand at a land/sea/air trilogy of World War Two stories, there is nice family drama I want to write and I�ve got an idea I need to get done which will be a novel, a screenplay, an experimental album and a film all at the same time. A freewheeling, multi- media crime spree with a brilliantly pretentious title. Then 2014 is back into the world of the Roxy Players I would imagine. Lots on the go - different styles, new ideas, same voice.

Are there any books and/or writers which you recommend to our readers? And what are your all-time top 3?

All-time top 3 books. Set eyes to roll.

  • Love in the Time of Cholera and 100 Years of Solitude (joint first) � Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Magical realism is my brand of vodka. These books taught me so much about writing, but also about the world itself. Like when Rowdy Roddy Piper puts on the glasses in �They Live� and sees the true nature of the world, these books helped me see things the way that one should. The world is strange indeed, but that is not always a bad thing. I love these books like one loves their first record or their mum�s cooking. For me, these books are home.
  • Moby Dick � Hermann Melville. This is the single greatest book that I have ever read. It was revelatory in the truest sense. After reading it, I was euphoric. It has it all � scripts, technical manuals, lyrics, poems. It taught me two things � 1. You can do anything in a book, so stop kicking about and go be free. 2. Whaling is not the profession for me.
  • Asterix (the ones both Gosciny and Uderzo wrote). Beautiful characters, a great sense of wonder and adventure in travel, tight buddies and gloriously anarchic and anachronistic style. Point of fact, my favourite joke of all time comes from an Asterix book. Asterix and Obelix have to sneak into a garrison. They dress as Legionnaires and get inside�only to find all the soldiers in civilian clothes. They�re having a Dress Down Friday. I have tried to wash the Roxy Compendium in that sort of humour.

For more information on Graham and the wonderful work TheNeverPress are doing, please visit www.theneverpress.com

Graham Thomas books reviewed

Professional Reader 10 Book Reviews