A Snifter of Rum with G. D. Penman

Our resident author is the ghostwriter of more than 50 non-fiction books. Prior to his freelance writing career, he worked as a magazine editor, the creative director of a games company, the communications director of a national healthcare company and the VIP liaison for a national telecoms company. More recently he has worked with blue chip corporate clients and digital agencies around the world to produce copy, narrative design and editorial that you are almost certain to have interacted with.

But how many rude words did he know by the age of five? Which author would he turn himself into finger-food for? Why does size matter when it comes to publishing? We trapped him with a very small glass of Dead Man’s Fingers and forced him to answer the questions that matter. Brace yourself for some hard-hitting journalism.

Q: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A: Prior to the age of five my memory is a little spotty, but on consultation with my parents it seems that during that period I mainly wanted to be a bird. From five onwards, I wanted to write books, and I have fond memories of being thrown off the computer at about that age after the words that I was using in those books were deemed to be “rude.”

Q: How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?

A: I have written over a hundred books at the last count. Eight in my own name. Typically, whichever fiction book that I am working on at any given moment is my favourite, but if I had to choose from my ghost-written selection then the one detailing which US Presidents have been abducted by aliens was probably the most fun. The section comparing the “Men In Black” with their ill-fitting suits, fake looking skin tone and inability to communicate coherently with the current sitting president was probably my favourite.

Q: What would the title of your autobiography be?

A: The title of my autobiography would probably read “A Very Boring Man Sits at a Desk for 50 Years.” This is of course assuming that I make it to the age of fifty-five, which isn’t looking promising at the moment.

Q: Tell us about your first published book. What was the journey like?

A: My first published book was Call Your Steel, a dark fantasy story about the corrupting influence of power and why it is a bad idea to eat dead gods that you find in a cave. I did everything right, jumped through all of the hoops that were asked of me and it still sold like shit. Because as it turns out, having a competent publisher with a big marketing budget is considerably more important than writing a good book.

Q: Do you listen to any audiobooks or podcasts that you would love to recommend?

A: I don’t get to drive for eight hours a day anymore, so my audio-time has been greatly reduced. I used to be a fan of Welcome to Nightvale, just like everyone else, but I lost track at some point and the prospect of digging through however many hundred episodes are in their backlog to catch up is a little daunting. Hardcore History will need a mention, because it is endlessly entertaining. I’m also on the lookout for new True Crime podcasts as my old favourites have now been discontinued.

Q: If you could invite a famous wordsmith for dinner, who would it be and what would you cook them?

A: So many options, so many opportunities. I would serve sushi to Herman Melville, the most lethal vindaloo that I could concoct to Rudyard Kipling, bratwursts and donuts to Sigmund Freud, and myself on a silver platter to Oscar Wilde. Ernest Hemingway could get a smaller portion of that last dish, specifically, a knuckle sandwich.

Q: What are you reading right now? Is it any good?

A: I am currently reading Death and the Penguin by Kurkov, The Breakout Novel by Donald Maas, and Unnatural Causes by Richard Shepherd. All excellent books so far, but they still have time to let me down. I have been informed that I read books the way that Gordon Ramsay enters restaurants, desperately hoping for something good but prepared to scream about the bad.

Q: Do you collect anything?

A: Rejections letters. I have been trying to Marie Kondo (that is a verb now) my rather limited living space, so my old collections of miscellaneous crap have been greatly reduced. I still have considerably more books than is entirely healthy, but I try to get rid of them after I’ve read them. Either to friends if they are good or to the charity shop if they are not. I have it down to five shelves now.

Q: What other writers are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

A: Is this my opportunity to name-drop some famous authors so that I sound considerably more interesting than I actually am? Well I won’t. My social life, as limited as it is, is not for public consumption. There are several established and “up and coming” authors that I talk to several times a week. Primarily as moral support as we descend into the word-mines and wade through the arduous minefields of publishing.

Q: What’s your favourite word, and why?

A: My favourite word is no. Concise but efficient, and a word that every writer desperately needs to learn as early into their career as possible. My least favourite word is bureaucracy, which I have been writing for my entire adult life, yet still cannot spell without at least a half dozen attempts.