Friday, August 5, 2011

Writing for a living's all in your head by Gary Corby

Gary Corby is the author of a mystery series set in ancient Athens, starring Nicolaos, the elder brother of Socrates.  The first in the series is The Pericles Commission (2010).  The Ionia Sanction is scheduled for November 2011. 

Why does he write in the ancient world?  Because what those guys got up to thousands of years ago was just as exciting and even more bizarre than any modern thriller, with the added fun that it really happened.  

He lives in Sydney, Australia, with one wife, two daughters, and four guinea pigs.  Even the guinea pigs are female.  As the only male in the house, he is, of course, the one in charge.

You can catch him on his blog at, on twitter where he's GaryCorby, or on GoodReads


Writing for a living…it's all in your head
by Gary Corby

Writing for a living is like a bizarre dream.  What other grown-ups get to live in make-believe worlds?  Not only that, but we get paid for it (well…sort of...enough for a cup of coffee anyway). 

There's a ritual played out by men when they're thrown together at parties, kids' sport on the weekends, school events etc.  It goes something like this:

Man A:  "So, what do you do for a living?"
Man B:  "I'm an IT analyst at Big Corporation.  What about you?"
Man A:  "I'm an accountant at the well-known firm of Dodgy, Screwge & Penny-Pincher. "

And then they talk about the football.

This doesn't work for me. 

Man A:  "So, what do you do for a living?"
Gary:  "I'm an author."
Man A:  "Er…"

I've tried varying my answer.

Man A:  "So, what do you do for a living?"
Gary:  "I kill people.  But only on paper."
Man A:  "Er…"

This does however have the advantage that no one tries to get me to talk about the football.  Inevitably I'll be asked, "What was your name again?"  They're wondering if they're supposed to have heard of me.  I'll prattle on about my books.  At some point Man A will tell me he likes to read. 

A few days ago I was throwing a baseball back and forth with a fellow dad while my daughter was at her T-ball practise.  He's a seriously good baseball player (not a major sport in Australia) and I was amazed at the strength and distance of his throw.  It caused me to wonder what would happen if you filled the ball with Semtex and added a remote-controlled detonator.  This probably isn't the first thought that would occur to most people while learning to catch a baseball, but it's most definitely what a mystery and thriller writer will think of. 

It seems to me too that most people don't tend to self-analyze, whereas a writer is always on the lookout for material, and it comes quite naturally.  To go back to throwing that baseball, I'm a good catch, but that's with bare hands, and that actually made it harder for me to learn.  In baseball you're supposed to catch the ball in the sock of the baseball glove: I had to put my left hand in the wrong place.  Decades of ball catching reflex went out the window.  That's the sort of life detail I store away for use in a story.  Maybe it'll be a clue in a mystery some day.

I'm interested by the number of people who've asked me how I cope with the isolation of sitting on my own in a room day after day.  Apparently the people who ask this find the social interaction of working in an office stimulating, even therapeutic.   Um…okay.  Whatever. 

It's very hard to explain.  If I told them the truth—"I find the inside of my head endlessly fascinating."—they'd reach for the phone to call in emergency psychological help.  Which I don't want because I'm very happy with my current mental state, thank you very much.


Stephanie Thornton said...

I'm so glad to know I'm not alone. I much prefer the weird meanderings of my own mind to life in a cubicle with *gasp* other people.

And really, I can control all the people in my head (most of the time). Why wouldn't I prefer to hang out there?

Nice post, Gary!

Gary Corby said...

Thanks Stephanie.

Yep, I'm sure mine's a standard writer state of mind.

Lexi said...

Yes, people tend to pity Jane Austen because she died a spinster; but once I started to write, I realized she spent her days with the best company in the world. Especially Mr Knightley, my favourite Austen hero. Though I can see the appeal of Mr Darcy...

Gary Corby said...

Hi Lexi,

They say Dorothy Sayers fell in love with Lord Peter Wimsey, a figment of her own imagination, technically, but a real person if you're the writer.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Gary, Welcome!!

This is a subject I find endlessly interesting.

People of a more "social" nature do not understand those of us who are wonderfully content within our own worlds in our own minds. I've given up trying to explain myself to people who look at me with pity when I'm excited about being able to spend several days at home without having to leave for any reason. oh well. It's always nice to discover that there are others of us out there - Rejoice!

And thanks Stephanie and Lexi for dropping by - always nice to see new faces at Meanderings and Muses. I hope you'll come again!


Gary Corby said...

Thanks Kaye, and thanks too for running such a brilliant blog!

Maybe there should be a club for people who like being alone. Except no one would turn up. But I guess that would be the Diogenes Club in Sherlock Holmes, wouldn't it?

Bill Kirton said...

Nice posting, Gary. You highlight a very familiar experience (as the other comments show). I sometimes feel guilty that I spend hours on my own having a very good time and wonder whether I have some chromosome missing or something. But of course, I'm not on my own at all - I'm being invaded and (unlike Stephanie) controlled and dragged all over the place by my characters. Mind you, I also quite like talking about football, so I'm obviously not a real writer.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Bill! I really don't know the first thing about football, so you'll have to cover for both of us.

I wonder to what extent all these social networking thingies have reduced the total isolation writers used to have?