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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Gary Kruse talks about his new novel, Badlands, and his creative writing process.

JJ Barnes editor of The Table Read online creativity, arts and entertainment magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed Gary Kruse about his life and career, what inspires his writing, and the work that went into his new book, Badlands.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

My name is Gary Kruse, I’m a multi-genre author of novels, short stories and flash fiction from Hornchurch, Essex. Married with two teenage sons, I write alongside my day job as Membership Manager for an educational charity, and when I’m not writing I’m listening to rock and heavy metal music, playing the guitar and of course, reading!

Gary Kruse on The Table Read
Gary Kruse

In November 2022, my short story “Hope in the Dark” won the Writers’ Forum Monthly short story competition, and my short fiction has been published online and in print anthologies.

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When did you first WANT to write a book?

In top school juniors (what would now be called Year 6) we had to write a three chapter book as a school project. It had to have a beginning, a middle and an end plus we had to draw a cover, write a blurb and then put it altogether in a red card folder. It was my favourite school project. I loved the whole process of writing then bringing it all together and from then on I wanted to write a “proper” book.

When did you take a step to start writing?

When I was seventeen, I went to see “The Craft” at the cinema. I’d recently seen “The Lost Boys” and when I came out of the screening I started wondering what would happen if the witches from “The Craft” met the vampires from “The Lost Boys”. Around that time, I saw an article in FHM magazine about writing a novel, and that, coupled with my witches vs vampires idea set the ball rolling.

I wrote four stories in a sequence I called “Hidden Talent”, and eventually combined the best of these into a novel called “Blessed Be” (unpublished and now thankfully lost!).

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How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

About five years. I made the first set of notes for my debut novel, “Badlands” on 28th August 2017 (I’ve got a note on my phone with the exact date!), started writing the first draft in June 2019 (the day after my 40th birthday) and the book was released on January 21st 2022.

Badlands was the tenth novel I’ve written, but the first that made it to publication, although an earlier book called Siblings came very very close and I’m toying with the idea of self-publishing that one.

What made you want to write Badlands?

I’d visited Cornwall for family holidays and been inspired by its rugged coastline, its coves and beaches and its smuggling past and surf culture and after several trips, I knew I wanted to write a story set in St. Agnes on the North Coast. That part of Cornwall was nicknamed The Badlands by the original surf crews that dominated the area in the sixties and seventies, and I wanted to build on that nickname when creating my story. The first notes already had the title and the basic storyline laid out, and it was just a matter of fleshing it out from there and finding the characters.

What were your biggest challenges with writing Badlands?

Coming up with the main character. I had the basic plot and storyline almost from the start, and developed the Antagonist and their network of smugglers pretty quickly, but I really struggled with creating a protagonist. I wanted either a stranger to the area, or someone who had a link or a reason to come to the area but no-longer lived there, but the ideas I came up with never really fit together with the storyline.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

To this day, I don’t know where she came from, or what inspired her, but I was writing the first draft of another project, and in that, there was a scene in a back-packers apartment in Sydney, Australia. Off the cuff, I described a girl with wild red dreadlocks who called herself Willow.

As the scene played, she began to speak, and as she did, I realised that she wasn’t just a walk-on character, she actually had a story to tell. I just didn’t know what that story was. I tried to write her into that project, but she never quite fit and that project fizzled out into writer’s purgatory, where it remains to this day.

Badlands by Gary Kruse on The Table Read

Then, when I was having the problems with finding the protagonist for Badlands, I realised that Willow, with a few minor changes to her back story, fitted the novel perfectly. Once I realised that, writing the first draft of Badlands came pretty easily.

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Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

A dream! I had a dream about a vicar running a gang of petty thieves in Newquay, Cornwall. I’d been tinkering with Badlands for a few months at this point while working on another project, and when I woke up the following morning, I sketched down the basic idea from the dream, but had the vicar running a smuggling operation out of St. Agnes rather than Newquay, and over the course of the next few months I fleshed out his back story to reflect the idea of the road to Hell being paved with good intentions and called him the Reverend Richard Goddard.

What is the inciting incident of Badlands?

The inciting incident actually happens before the book starts when Willow receives a coded message that she thinks is from her estranged sister, so comes home to help her, only to find that Ellie is missing and apparently involved in a local scandal.

What is the main conflict of Badlands?

The book’s tagline is Deception, Betrayal and Conspiracy and those pretty much sum up Willow’s main conflict as she tries to find her sister. She’s also haunted by her past, by things she said to Ellie, by things Ellie did to her, and the break-down of their relationship with each other, and with their parents. Willow’s standard response in bad situations is to run away, which is how she ended up backpacking to Sydney, but in Badlands, there’s nowhere left for her to run, so she has to face herself and the web of lies around her to find the truth.

Did you plot Badlands in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

I had the key plot points in mind, but otherwise I just “pansted” the whole thing! When I’m writing the first draft I like the story to surprise me because if it surprises me, it will hopefully surprise the reader too (although there is a lot of back tracking when these surprises lead me down a dead end!).

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Badlands need?

Up until querying, I edited the book myself, using a mix of Grammarly, editing guides, and various techniques that I researched. In the end I worked through nine drafts, then three further drafts between acceptance with Darkstroke, my indie publisher, and publication.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Love what you write and write what you want to read, because to finish it, you’re going to have to read it A LOT!

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

I’m on draft three of another dark thriller called Bleak Waters. There’s stronger a supernatural edge to this one. It’s set in Hickling on the Norfolk Broads and features a twenty five year old mystery and a stranger to the village who dredges up long buried secrets and dark deeds. I’m also making notes on a couple of future projects, one of which may or may not be a follow up to Badlands, not a sequel as such, but maybe a follow on.

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

One hundred percent! I’ve been writing for years, and to finally get a book published and to get some many great reviews of it has been a phenomenal experience and so worth all the effort and struggle that goes in to writing.

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