10 Questions for Charlie Gallagher: The Masked Writer

Charlie Gallagher is a UK-based writer. He is also a police officer. His new book, BODILY HARM, has just been released and is part of a new crime series.

Charlie shares a publisher with me – the amazing Joffe Books. Like me, he is married and has two little girls.

But Charlie is not his real name.

I’ve been emailing with “Charlie” over the past four months while he's been working on edits of the Langthorne books with our publisher. And I started pestering him with questions.


TJB: You have a secret identity...will you ever let the world know who you *really* are?

CG: I really don’t know. It’s a strange one, that one. The reason is simple - I don’t want to get fired from the day job. I don’t like the idea of being ‘known’ either, I actually think I’m a more confident in the stuff I put out and a lot less bothered by reactions to my work because it doesn’t carry my face! Although writing in the face mask and cape is starting to become a little uncomfortable.


TJB: What do you write about?

CG: I write about what interests me and as a cop I will daily come into contact with people who are having their own ‘story.’ I’ll step off a road busy with people going about their business into of an ordinary looking terraced house where a man has overdosed on heroin and maybe his family are already on scene, already going through the pain and realisation. It's massive to them but just another call to me. That's what fascinated me most when I started the job, having your eyes opened just a little bit to what is really going on all around us. To those relatives, in that house it's a massive day - one they will never forget, to me and the other agencies involved it's another hopeless addict succumbing to his lifestyle and no longer a drain on our resources. That contrast really appeals to me and my creative side. 

I try and write drama and I think that contrast is the lifeblood of drama - good and evil, old and young, the worst day in a mother's life compared to the ordinary cop who's waiting for his lunch. I see life as a series of small stories and they can all be fascinating in their own ways.


How long does it take you to write a book?

6 years to write the three books in the series. But it would be an interesting (for me at least) graph. Four years for the first one, 6 months for the second and just over a year for the third. I take long gaps, do it in clumps. The fourth is the first one where I've felt the pressure to do it when I haven't really had the time or energy, but after signing with Joffe Books I wanted to get the series completed as soon as possible so I could concentrate on working with Joffe to make it as good as it can be. It will be interesting for me to see if the fourth book has suffered or benefited from a little pressure - in other areas of my life I seem to work better under pressure but forcing stories is a bit different. That said, for me writing is very much about momentum, I suit writing every day and once I stop doing that and I lose momentum I can fall very quickly back into watching Only Fools And Horses and Topgear re-runs on the tele box!


Sub-question: How much time do you spend on a rough draft, how much time revising, how many drafts, to what extent do you or don’t you outline?

I don't outline at all. Usually I'll be out walking my spaniel with some decent guitar music on and I'll suddenly picture a scene and I think, how cool would that be as an ending! Then I sort of write towards it. It's like being a very amateur captain of a big ship, you point it at a destination, go off course loads, abandon parts of it along the way but end up getting where you want and it looks a bit similar to what you thought you saw from a distance.

This method of sort of moving along from one scene to the next with a general direction in mind means that I revise as I go. I’ll get to a significant point and stop and edit it until it’s as good as I can get it and then take a break, think about where I want to go next - I’ll walk the spaniel with some guitar music - and then when I’ve got a clearer sense of direction I get back to it. I know authors who smash out a first draft in its entirety and then go back over it from the start. I couldn’t do that, editing for any length of time is soul destroying for me, I want to get back to steering the ship sort-of-loosely-forwards!


When do you write?

Whenever I can. I work shifts, have two little girls and a wife who needs some attention at least, so it's tough to find time. You have to love it, I definitely do so I make time. I've seen all the Only Fools reruns a thousand times anyway. 

I do try and write something every day now though. Even if it’s just a couple of hundred words of dialogue that will be central to the next part when written in full. It’s that momentum thing again.


Why do you write?

As above. I love it. Personally I start with an idea - maybe an end scene (which often moves to the middle) and move towards it using the characters to kinda evolve with it and push the story along. Or [I’ll have] the opening scene in my mind and then moved away from it. I genuinely find out what's happening as I go. I killed someone and fired another completely accidentally in one of the books - this was as much a surprise to me as it would be to a reader, but the scene was going on and I suddenly realised I had been building towards these outcomes the whole time. I should say, the ‘accidental death’ scene stopped me writing completely for a good month whilst I rejigged the ship's path in my head but it worked out really well. I think at least. And the spaniel got a lot of exercise.


Where do you write? As in, where do you physically arrange yourself to peck at the keys?

My favourite question! Mainly because this gave the opportunity to read it out to my wife and watch her roll her eyes!

I moved into the spare room once and converted it lovingly my office. My two girls were together in bunk beds in the larger bedroom (because they said they wanted to be). It lasted for less than a week and I lost the space, the little one move back in. Then I had a section of the utility room. This now belongs to the dog. Then I had visions of a cabin at the end of the garden. Now there’s a shed painted pink where the girls play in the summer.

So I type this sat on a corner desk in the dining room, facing the wall. Like some odd take on the end of the Blair Witch project.

When I can I like to work in cafes, libraries and public places. I find I’m a lot more productive. I think there’s a lot to be said for getting away from the house.


How has family life mixed with (or not mixed with) your writing life?

I could refer you to the question about writing space! The girls have taken over my life and in every sense. This isn’t something I have resisted and I absolutely love it. I tend to try and work when they’re in bed or at school/nursery. I know the wife gets frustrated at times, she wasn’t at all supportive to start with (by her own admission) but when you’ve got a new born kid mewing in your face, you’ve barely slept in days and your husband is sat at a computer because he 'wants to make his daughters proud’, I can understand her being miffed. She’s much more supportive now. We don’t get much time together - some days we get in bed with a cup of tea at 10pm and that’s our only conversation!


Do you feel competitive with other writers? If we’re being honest, do you ever envy the success of others? 

I hate J K Rowling. Everyone loves her, she should share some of her success out evenly right!!? In all seriousness I’ve never read a Harry Potter or seen a movie. I’m not sure if that’s jealousy - it probably is right?

I literally couldn’t be any earlier in a writing career as right now. I definitely envy those who write full time, that’s part of the dream for me. It might be that I can tread the same path but right now I'm working 40 hour weeks as a cop and whatever’s left as a writer. It's an interesting question for me - would I write better stuff if I was able to do it 8 hours a day as a job or am I better because I suck up an experience from work then hurriedly write the basics of what happened in a notebook I take into the toilet!? (Don't you judge! Maybe it was a scary experience!)


Would you agree that digital media (i.e. Kindle, tablets) have ‘democratized’ publishing? If so, what, in your eyes, are the pros and cons of such a publishing revolution?

Yes I would agree. I think it's great, a new author may not be able to get shelf space next to Stephen King or Lee Childs but people buying those books may be more likely to try less established authors based on price, good marketing and a hook. I just want to be read, to get feedback and to improve - the changes in publishing mean that anyone can do that. I was self-publishing before Joffe books came along and I was beginning to see how that could work too. It’s hard work from a standing start but I think the most positive summary I can give of publishing right now is that if you’re stuff’s good and you’re willing to put the work into the marketing side of things - you can get read. That wasn’t the case before the digital revolution - the big publishers are no longer able to decide what’s ‘good’ and what isn’t. For any type of art that has to be right.


In other words, what do you think it means to be a writer today? Are chances better at getting published (i.e. less cost prohibitive and so a lower barrier for entry)? 

Maybe the chances aren't better. There are probably more people giving it a go now, the fact anyone can publish themselves has its problems, of course. A good book with the right feedback and support can be made great and then released to a well-deserved positive response but on the other side of the bat a good book self-published straight off the first draft will sink and that author’s aspirations and reputation may go with it. 

I do think there's less emphasis on getting published - I wasn’t actively trying, I was committing more and more to the self-publishing route, it’s hard work but I’m confident I would have made an impression. That said, I am happy to be where I am now, where I can let Joffe Books do all the bits I’m not good at, I can learn off them and at the same time concentrate on writing stories.


Neil Postman said we're “amusing ourselves to death.” The typographic era became the era of television, and now it is the internet age. Where does reading fit in? What do you see in store for writers and readers in the future? 

One of my blogs is a frustration about social media and people choosing to take their phones to the toilet rather than me. I mean TAKE ME TO THE TOILET PEOPLE! 

There is still the demand for stories and there always will be. I read books on my phone too so you can see how the Internet age is providing us with choice but also with options to access great literature. I try not to think too much about spending a year writing a book which is then sold for less than a good coffee or an ‘ app' that swaps your face with that of your family pet. I mean who would pay for that? I looked ridiculous as a spaniel.






For more, see Charlie at writercharliegallagher.com