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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, children’s book author GR Dix shares the inspiration behind his latest release, Brian Brackbrick And The Menace Of Mr Sparker.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed GR Dix about his life and career, what inspired him to write his latest children’s book, Brian Brackbrick And The Menace Of Mr Sparker, and his creative writing process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Garry Dix, and I write children’s books under the name GR Dix. I have a dual life, with a day job as a freelance scientific consultant for hire – this set up gives me flexibility and time to write and work on future projects and so on. I love to visit schools and give talks on creativity and how to write stories – and about my books, of course.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to write books of my own. I’ve always been a keen reader, with discovering books and comics being one of the few high points of my childhood. I wasn’t ready to start writing myself, though, until relatively recently, in terms of having the tools to do so, and also being at the right point of my own life journey.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I rediscovered my love for children’s literature through reading to my own family, all the old classics, and also the amazing books that have been released in the last few years, it’s a thriving scene. This reawakened in me the desire to write, and I was now at a point where I was ready to make a serious attempt. The idea that sparked off the Brian Brackbrick series came from the kids shouting out alliterative names – Brian, my main character, sprang into life almost fully-formed in my head, and the rest naturally flowed from there. I then set about constructing the other characters, the stories, the world they live in, and the over-arching plotline for the series.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
This is one of the dreaded questions that I get from the schoolchildren on school author visits – How long does it take to write a book? For the first book, Brian Brackbrick and the Hazard of Harry Hatman, it must be around two years or so. Quite a lot of that time was spent submitting to agents and publishers, trying to go via the ‘traditional’ route; eventually I decided to take the leap and publish independently, which has worked very well for me.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
This is not a straightforward question to answer! The last book I published was book 6 in the series, Brian Brackbrick and the Menace of Mr Sparker, the conclusion of the series. I had this book (along with the rest) plotted out before releasing book 1, so I would know exactly where the story was going and which clues to drop in along the way. So, strictly speaking, I had the idea and the basic plot mapped out right at the beginning of the whole process, more than 5 years before this final book was released.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Brian Brackbrick And The Menace Of Mr Sparker?
Thinking about book 6, Brian Brackbrick and the Menace of Mr Sparker, this is the book that serves as the conclusion to the whole set, and so this one needed to draw everything together, and to show the protagonists’ final battle with the series villain and his henchmen. It was a lot of fun to write.
I should also mention my latest project which is with my agent (Caroline Wakeman Literary Agency) for a more traditional publishing route. This stars my other protagonist creation, Annie Arclight, genius scientist and inventor. I wanted to write a story with a girl scientist as the main character, and Annie fits the bill perfectly.
Brian Brackbrick And The Menace Of Mr SparkerWhat were your biggest challenges with writing Brian Brackbrick And The Menace Of Mr Sparker?
With the final Brian Brackbrick book, the main challenge was keeping track of what has happened previously, and making sure that everything made sense while also keeping the action moving and creating a fun concluding story. After being revealed in the shock ending to book 5, the big villain Mr Sparker must be confronted and defeated here, and the way this is achieved calls back to previous plot points – which is why the whole series needed to be plotted out very early on.
Who or what inspired you when creating your protagonist?
As I always say when I visit schools, inspiration can come from anywhere, once you are open and ready to receive it. The name Brian Brackbrick came from a silly discussion around alliterative names, and I immediately visualised Brian the way you see him in the illustrations. It was like flipping a switch, and from then I would take inspiration from all around. I pictured Brian as always wearing a hat, as being extraordinarily clever, and never using contractions in his speech. Brian’s best friend, George Bum, is also integral to the stories, and they make a perfect team – George provides the thoughtfulness and consideration for people that Brian sometimes lacks.
Who or what inspired you when creating your antagonist?
A good starting point here is to think of your protagonist and some defining features about them – what do they like, what is important to them, and so on. Your antagonist should then be someone who somehow gets in the way of what your protagonist wants to have, do or achieve, and the conflict runs from there. With Brian, his love of hats gave me the idea of centering the plot around Harry Hatman, a mystery new person who has appeared in the hat shop.
What is the inciting incident of your first book?
In the first book, the incident which sets everything off, and puts Brian and George on the trail of Mr Sparker, is a simple one – Brian’s dad sits on one his hats and squashes it! This leads Brian and George to the hat shop, where the old and kindly Mr Hatston has been suddenly replaced by the eccentric Harry Hatman. Brian and George investigate, and each step leads to the next, towards the concluding book.
What is the main conflict of your books?
Each book in the series is a stand-alone story, and each has its own villain or conflicted character for Brian and George to investigate and confront. As they investigate, they uncover the mysterious Mr Sparker, the mysterious villain who seems to be behind all the scheming and goings-on. The main conflict of the series is the identity of Mr Sparker, and this is not revealed until towards the end of the series.
Did you plot Brian Brackbrick And The Menace Of Mr Sparker in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
All my books are plotted out in detail, for me that’s an essential part of the writing process. I need to know what’s going to happen, what I’m leading up to – even if that’s 5 books later!
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Brian Brackbrick And The Menace Of Mr Sparker need?
I tend to make small edits and revisions as I go – so, rather than it being a clear division being writing a draft and then doing an edit, I will do multiple read-throughs of an initial draft, constantly tweaking and refining. I find that the plotting out beforehand helps greatly with future editing requirements.
With my independently-published work, I am my own editor. I do everything myself except the illustrations. I do always ask other author friends to read through and check drafts for me, and do the same in return if needed – it’s still important to have someone else’s eye on it. For my agented work, I have a very talented editor (Lil Chase) who supports me, we’ve developed a great understanding in a relatively short space of time.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Most importantly – read. Read, read, read. You will learn the greatest lessons from your own reading journey, which you can then start to formalise and put into practice.
Find and join a local author group – this will be a great source of support for you.
Hit social media hard – follow and engage with other authors. For children’s writing, also engage with teachers and librarians – a great network, and I’ve made some good friends there.
A writing course may also be very useful, and will formalise the tools and methods you will need.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
As well as the Annie Arclight project, I’m working on a second series of Brian Brackbrick books, which I’ll publish independently. These books involve time-travel through different eras, including the Wild West, the age of piracy, and Ancient Egypt. I’m very excited to take Brian and George on their next adventures, and it’s great to get the historical info in there too.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am very, very proud, but more than that, the whole thing of being a children’s author is extremely rewarding. To be a part of the reading journey for kids, the way my favourite authors were part of mine, is an amazing feeling. I have also had parents telling me that their child is now an avid reader because of my books, and there is no greater reward than that.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Brian BrackBrick Book 1: https://amzn.to/3QFV9DI
Brian BrackBrick Book 2: https://amzn.to/3QQnYOX
Brian BrackBrick Book 3: https://amzn.to/3QRLbA7
Brian BrackBrick Book 4: https://amzn.to/3SHGn1w
Brian BrackBrick Book 5: https://amzn.to/463UEst
Brian BrackBrick Book 6: https://amzn.to/3srHRm4
Facebook (page): GR Dix Author
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