I’m taking a break from posting my own fiction to help promote and celebrate the work of Gary William Murning, who has seen incredible success with his book, If I Never, published by Legend, over the last year.
His latest book, Children of the Resolution, is now available and has been self-published by Gary after his publishers agreed it might not be a suitable follow-up to If I Never.
However, Children of the Resolution is just as addictive and compelling a read as If I Never, and takes the reader to new and often challenging places as it explores the world of disability and inclusive teaching practices in the UK.
I was really curious to find out all about Gary’s decision to put out this book, and his motivation for covering such a difficult subject (one that is still relevant today as attitudes to disability change), so I leaped at the chance to participate in the blog tour this year.
Congratulations on the release of your latest novel, Children of the Resolution. Judging by what I’ve seen on Twitter and around the web, the book is going down very well with your readers. You’ve already mentioned on your blog that it’s heavily autobiographical in content, and I was wondering if you could tell us what inspired you to write this book now, right after If I Never?
Children over the Resolution is a novel I’ve been trying to write for somewhere in the region of twenty years. There have been about three previous versions that I just didn’t feel I got quite right. With it being, in places, heavily autobiographical, I felt an added weight of responsibility to get it just how I felt should be.
I think it’s a story I, as soon as I started writing, knew that I had in some way an obligation to write. During the 1970s and early 1980s, I was among the first disabled children in the north-east of England to be integrated into mainstream education. Initially, it was a really exciting time. I embraced the whole idea of it – accepting it as the big adventure (which was how a number of the teachers spoke of it). But as with many first steps, it was faltering and, in many ways, a little off course.
It was actually written a little over a couple of years ago and, yes, was the novel I wrote directly after If I Never. The two are, in many respects, very different novels. If I Never is very concerned with presenting ideas and issues in a driven, fast-paced and entertaining way. Children of the Resolution, on the other hand, is a more contemplative, literary piece. I do still think it’s accessible and entertaining, but it does demand a little more from the reader. It’s unapologetically thought-provoking. I hope!
Could you tell us more about the experiences that inspired you to write Children of the Resolution?
As I’ve mentioned, it was a very exciting time. It had a real feeling of revolution. My first school had been what came to be known as a “special school” – a school for kids with physical disabilities. (Even as a small child, I remember I quickly learned to emphasise the word “physical”; back then there was still many who just seemed to assume that physical disability went hand-in-hand with mental impairment.) It was a school with caring teaching and nursing auxiliary staff, but, looking back, it was wholly inappropriate for my specific educational needs.
So when I was moved to a new school – still a “special school”, but one that had been purposely built between a mainstream primary school and a mainstream comprehensive, with the express intention of exploring staged integration – I really felt as if I were about to spread my wings. Especially when I learned of the idea behind the school – that I was going to get to do my sums with normal kids, just like the kids I knew when I wasn’t at school. (Looking back, even then the whole idea of being segregated at school just hadn’t seemed logical. It didn’t make sense to the young me when all my friends outside of school were able-bodied.)
During that period, I also made a really special friend. A feisty, ballsy guy who suffered with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This novel is dedicated to his memory. And I hope my fictional version of him does him justice.
Clearly, you’re very passionate about the topics covered. How difficult was it to strike a balance between conveying a strong message and developing a coherent story?
This was a concern. I didn’t want it to seem like I was proselytising, but I also didn’t want to shy away from the underlying social/political message. I think the real turning point in the planning of the novel was when I realised that, fundamentally, it was going to be a coming-of-age story. It would be, I saw, a novel that finished with a decision – and everything had to lead up to that. So, my priority was to not so much move the story forward but move the character forward. It is very character driven – and because it covers the characters’ school life from the age of 5 to 19, in a relatively short 112,000 words, I was very much aware that there was potential for it to lag. I do think I have managed to avoid that, though. The pivotal points in my characters’ developments, especially in my narrator, Carl, do entertain – and even though towards the end it becomes quite dark and angst-ridden for a while (can we say puberty on top of existing issues?!), I do think it’s a well-balanced and accurate piece.
And that was another concern, of course. I was very aware that I was writing a novel but I wanted a high degree of accuracy. If not in the detail, then, at least, in the portrayal of the general culture of the various schools. Hand on heart, I think I was actually willing to let the story suffer if I had to, in the name of accuracy. There are always compromises that we as writers have to make, even when we aren’t writing semi-autobiographical /autobiographical novels. And I did make a fair few with Children of the Resolution. But there were some that I just wouldn’t make.
Great books – fiction or otherwise – always leave readers thinking and even changing a little by the end. What would you most like readers to take away from Children of the Resolution when they finish the book?
I’m not really one of those disabled people who have this idea that those without disability don’t understand what it’s like to be in some way set apart. In real terms, I’ve never really felt that all that strongly. On the whole, I’ve been fortunate enough throughout my life to usually be accepted, the wheelchair quickly becoming a non-issue with regard friendships/relationship. And, of course, I know enough about people to realise that, as I’ve already implied, we all have something that sets us apart. So I don’t think Children is really going to introduce anyone to the basic idea of segregation/integration. It exists in so many forms and on so many scales. But what I would like it to do is to perhaps – and this applies to educationalists, in particular, and those who have influence over them – questioning our understanding of the issues surrounding the integration of disabled children into mainstream education. I think – the human side of the story apart – this is one thing that comes through strongly with Children of the Resolution; the need to avoid any kind of one-size-fits-all solution.
Beyond that, though, it would also be nice to perhaps reaffirm in my readers the sense that, deep down, whatever our differences, we are all incredibly similar.
I notice the subtitle to Children of the Resolution mentions that this is “the first Carl Grantham novel”. I take it you have plans to do more in the future?
Shall we say “tentative plans”? I think by the end of Children of the Resolution, however complete it is in itself, it’s pretty clear that Carl Grantham’s life has entered a new phase and that there are many more stories ahead of him (and a few more behind him that haven’t yet been touched upon). My initial idea was to visit him every ten years or so – in a similar way that of Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy. It’s very much a toe in the water scenario, I think. Children of the Resolution, because it’s quite different to my other work, is something of experiment. If there’s enough enthusiasm for it, then there will definitely be more Carl Grantham novels. Even if people hate it, though, I suspect I’ll still write more, though I may not publish.
I’m aware from reading your blog that you decided to self-publish this book, as your publisher, Legend Press, agreed that it wasn’t a suitable follow-up to the very successful If I Never. How are you finding self-publishing so far?
Remarkably easy. After toying with the idea for a while, I made a very quick decision just to give it a go. I’d initially agreed with Legend’s concerns that it wasn’t the right follow-up for If I Never, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt that I just couldn’t sit on the book. Yes, it’s different, but I still think it’s good – and, in many respects, more important and potentially affecting than If I Never. So I made the decision, spent a couple of weeks proofing and editing again, uploaded the finished file and the cover artwork (I bought the image and designed the cover around it myself, which was a new experience!) in a matter of minutes, bought a global distribution package (about £50) and eight weeks later it started becoming available on Amazon and other retailers. Very pain-free.
D’you think you’ll go back to Legend with any forthcoming books (I know you have others in the pipeline already)?
Oh, yes, I would think so. I still have a great relationship with the Legend team and would expect that I’ll be offering them my current work in progress, The Legacy of Lorna Lovelost – which is much more in the If I Never vein.
Based on what I’ve seen on Twitter, you’re big on planning. Tell me more about your planning and outlining process for new books.
I haven’t always been. If I Never was only outlined one chapter ahead – though I did have a fairly good idea where I wanted the novel to ultimately go. These days, though, I just find it too nerve wracking to start a project without a very solid outline ahead of me. I don’t always stick to it, but I do like to have it there.
Generally, depending on the size of the novel, of course, I spend somewhere in the region of three months outlining chapter by chapter. I leave plenty of room for riffs, improvisations etc, though! Always important to make sure you don’t stifle it by over-planning. I usually research anything that needs to be researched as I’m outlining. For example, for this novel I needed detailed information about Glioblastoma multiforme (a form of brain tumour), but didn’t actually do anything beyond check out the basics online before outlining. Once I reached that point in the outline, I shouted it out on Twitter, a friend mentioned that she had a neurosurgeon contact she could put me in touch with and bingo. I didn’t proceed any further with the outline until I had everything I needed regarding that specific subject.
Incidentally, isn’t it brilliant how much easier researching is these days?! Who said Twitter was all about self-absorbed individuals talking about what they’ve had for breakfast?!
Finally, what should we expect next from the mind of Gary Murning?
As far as the writing process goes, beyond The Legacy of Lorna Lovelost, I’m not too sure. There are always novels I want to write, but I never quite know which one is going to be next until I get to that point!
As far as publication, goes, I have another novel (also not appropriate for Legend’s list), As Morning Shows the Day, which is currently being read by another publisher. I also have a novel that I’m fairly confident I’m going to self-publish towards the back end of this year – In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts. This was a novel I wrote before If I Never. I re-read it recently and was surprised by just how happy I was with it. Stylistically, it’s pretty similar to If I Never and, in some ways, superior to it, I think.
So, lots to keep me busy!
Thanks, Gary. If you want to get hold of Children of the Resolution or If I Never, they are available from Amazon and there are also Kindle editions for those of you who prefer your books in digital format.