"You think alone, you write alone" - Keith Gray on being a writer

"You think alone, you write alone" - Keith Gray on being a writer

Young Post cadets Millie Dang and Julia Cheung met author Keith Gray to hear about his path to success, and why being a writer is tough

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Author Keith Gray reveals what it's like to be a writer.
Author Keith Gray reveals what it's like to be a writer.
Photo: YP cadet Henry Lui

Most authors describe themselves as long-time book lovers and were often enthusiastic readers as children. British writer Keith Gray, however, was different.

As a child, he was a "reluctant reader" - he only read when he was forced to at school.

A turning point

But this all changed when he was 13 - he read The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall. Immediately captivated, Gray finally understood the enjoyment of reading and wanted to be a writer.

But his path to success wasn't smooth. Both Gray's first and second books, written alongside day jobs, were declined by publishing companies. His father lived a simple life as a fisherman and didn't understand his dreams. His parents' doubts were only cleared after he found success.

Being a 'yes' man

Speaking to Young Post at this month's Hong Kong Book Fair, Gray, 43, said: "Creepers holds an important place in my heart because it wasn't just my first published book, but also proof of how never taking no for an answer paid off."

From then on, he wrote many more, including The Fearful and Warehouse, as well as his most popular book to date, Ostrich Boys. When asked for his favourite of all the books he had written, Gray said it was a tough choice.

"They each hold a sentimental meaning to me. You Killed Me was the first book I published as a father. Warehouse was written just after I moved to Edinburgh."

Where it's at

Many of his books contain dark themes. Gray's style is influenced by the historical fiction and sci-fi he enjoyed reading as a teen.

He wanted to write books that he would enjoy, and that readers would relate to.

Asked why he didn't write for adults, Gray replied: "Teen fiction is the most exciting type of writing; you could even say that teen fiction books are in their golden age right now."

On the downside

He explained even being a famous author isn't easy: "The worst part of being a writer is the loneliness.

"You think alone, you write alone, you travel alone. It's not like being a celebrity, where you're surrounded by people all the time" - though a bit of alone time isn't always a bad thing when you're an author.

A cheesy inspiration

Gray shared some of his own personal writing habits and needs. "When I'm working, I always listen to music," he said. "What I listen to depends on the scene I'm writing. If it's a romantic scene, I'll listen to some cheesy love songs. If it's an intense scene, like a car chase, I'll listen to some fast music."

Gray also said he first uses a pencil to write a story.

And for every page of writing, he leaves a blank sheet where he can make notes.

Where to begin

Young Post cadets were even lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a draft of Gray's next book.

He told aspiring authors in Hong Kong to make use of social networking to start a writing career. "By writing online, you can potentially make a relatively solid fan base for yourself before attempting to do anything professional."

A parting shot

He left us with some wise words: "Write a story you'd like to read! There's no point writing unless you enjoy reading what you're writing. Yes, you should be writing for other people, but above all, remember to write for yourself."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
A lonely

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