Written by JJ Barnes
I am proud to bring your my interview about It’s Not Never, by Louise Gregory and N.G.K. Louise Gregory shares her experiences with writing their book, and offers advice to others.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m an author (I can actually say that now!), wife, mother of two daughters, and I also work full time in communications. Though I’m pretty well educated (I’ve got 3 degrees in psychology), I grew up on a council estate and was the first person in my whole extended family to go to university. Education was the silver bullet for me, and I was lucky to be a quick learner. I never pursued my early interest in languages (I wanted to be a Spanish interpreter) but instead fell in love with psychology and studying people, and haven’t stopped ever since.
When I’m not writing, reading or wasting time on Instagram and Twitter, I run. Not fast, but often quite far. I have my second half marathon planned for September. I live in the Cotswolds, but the suburban part, not the rural, chocolate box cottage part!
When did you first WANT to write a book?
For as long as I can remember. In school English lesson I loved writing stories. I remember we were writing our own version of The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler and just writing page after page in my small, lined exercise book. Then I dabbled in writing, starting with a blog which I wrote for several years, interspersed with a couple of NaNoWriMo attempts.
When did you take a step to start writing?
About ten years or so I was regular on Mumsnet, and they started a blogging section, and I thought I would give it a go. I adored the process of constructing a post, though it was non-fiction, you still had to tell a story to compel people. I would mull it over for days in my head and when I finally found the thread of the story it would all come pouring out. I wouldn’t edit it, I’d just press send. My first post-education foray into fiction was a NanoWriMo story not long after, where I wrote 50k words in a month. It was a story about a mum who is also a spy for MI5, and I wouldn’t mind revisiting it.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
It probably took around 2 years, but in all honesty I could have done it much quicker. I write with a partner and we were just getting started, finding our way and then lockdown happened. Although we suddenly had more time, we had lost our face to face connection, and building that writing partnership suddenly took a lot longer. My partner was also busy working on existing projects, plus we were managing the impact of the pandemic on our family, friends, work etc. We think we can complete book 2 in half the time.
What made you want to write It’s Not Never?
We knew we wanted to write a love story. I’ve been reading these sort books forever, and thought it isn’t N.G.K.’s usual genre, he’s an incurable romantic. We brainstormed various settings, before settling on space, because it’s something we both love, and we knew we would enjoy writing it. I wanted something that would be gorgeous to read. Some books have gripping storylines, but they aren’t lovely to read. Other books, I’m thinking of Edith Wharton’s, the stories don’t always end well, but they are so beautifully written you love being on the journey.
What were your biggest challenges with writing It’s Not Never?
Learning how to write with a partner. N.G.K. and I have known each other for years, but this was a new dynamic for us. We went into it naively thinking we’d share all the work 50/50, but it became apparent that wasn’t practical, or really even the right way to work. We are better at different aspects of the writing. He doesn’t like drafting, but I love it. I get bored with all the fiddly stuff at the end and all the formatting, but he has a great eye for detail and a can do attitude.
Finding our groove took a while, especially when we couldn’t meet in person. We had grand plans of standing in front of white boards together, then writing side by side. What happened was we mostly worked and communicated via a Google document. But as well as being the biggest challenge, it was also the biggest joy. Being able to share the work with someone, to talk to some about this fictional characters as if they were real, and having someone be your biggest cheerleader when you are threatening to delete big chunks because you think it’s rubbish, it’s just glorious.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t something of me and N.G.K. in our two protagonists. Jessica is sort of an idealized version of me. She is serious and academic, but I’d love her drive and determination, I’m pretty lazy really. There are aspects of N.G.K. in John. They share a paradoxical combination of disregard for rules, yet an unfailing sense of politeness and a hatred of being late. But a lot of our inspiration comes from the stories we’ve read or watched of real astronauts. Commander Chris Hadfield’s auto biography is one of my favourite, he is so humble and dedicated. I’ve also read the autobiographies of Michael Collins, who recently died, and Mike Massimino, as well as Moon Dust, a story of all the men who landed on the moon and the impact it had on them. I learned that these people were smart, driven, hardworking, and had a real sense of duty. And above all it was important that they got with their crewmates and worked as a team. I never want to go into space (though N.G.K. does) but I admire the people who do immensely.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
The antagonists for my protagonist are themselves really. They are both their own worst enemies. They get in their own way, and each creates problems in the relationship because of their own deep seated insecurities. You don’t have to look far to find inspiration for that. We are all often our own worst enemies. We don’t need people to berate us, bully us, or tell us we’re not good enough. We do that for ourselves. I would contend that even when we do have an antagonist in our lives, they are often a projection of our own worst fears about ourselves.
What is the inciting incident of It’s Not Never?
This is a difficult one to pin point. I read so much theory about storytelling, I wrote beat sheets, character profiles, but you have to hold these theories lightly sometimes. You could say the inciting incident was both the protagonists starting at the space agency NARESA, but it’s when they both get selected for the mission to Mars that everything changes for them.
What is the main conflict of It’s Not Never?
The main conflict of the book is the love story. The two astronauts fall in love but they can’t be together because a relationship isn’t allowed between crewmates. John with his disregard for rules cares less about this, but Jessica cares a lot, and John cares about her. Much of the story is how they manage their intense feelings for one another, feelings they can’t act on. Ultimately though, the conflict is within themselves. Jessica believes she loses everyone she loves, and it’s her fault. This makes her push John away. John fears that he isn’t good enough, that he’s where he is because of his family name, and ultimately that people will find him out, that he’ll never be good enough for Jessica. His insecurities lead him to sabotage himself at times. So the conflict is between love and fear for them both.
Did you plot your book in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
About 95% plotting. I really like to have things clear in my head to get a good run at writing. But there were some scenes I just couldn’t make work until I wrote them. I was never a believer in characters having their own minds as some authors claim. But actually having a bit of faith in the writing process actually pays off. For example, there is a scene with John and Jessica at the beach. I didn’t have my usual step by step plan for that scene, I just had a feeling I wanted to evoke, and it just wrote itself, and became one of mine and N.G.K.’s favourite scenes. Writing with a partner means you have to be more of a plotter, because when you are writing scenes separately you both need to know where you are trying to get to.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did It’s Not Never need?
We actually did have an editor. I’m really lucky that N.G.K. is already a bestselling author and saw this book as something he wanted to invest in. We just got an editorial assessment though, which is cheaper but less thorough than a line by line edit. But our editor Holly McCulloch, someone we found through Reedsy, was fantastic value. She was far more thorough than we had expected. It didn’t need huge amounts of editing, but there were some fairly consistent things that she picked up. “Add more movement and feeling” was a constant comment throughout (to the point where N.G.K. even bought me a mug with it on!). There were places where she forced us into brevity. While circular ongoing arguments are realistic, they are probably quite dull to read.
We did a lot of self-editing though. Before the book went to Holly I did a lot of research and picked up some great tips that I could apply throughout. One of my bad habits was to distance the reader from the story with phrases such as “She saw” “He noticed that” and “she thought”. You don’t need any of that because you are in the protagonist’s head, so of course it’s them noticing or seeing. Once I picked that up I was able to fix it throughout the book. Self-editing is great, but if you can at least stretch to a professional editorial assessment it is more than worth the money.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Be prepared to write whenever and wherever you can, don’t wait for the perfect writer’s desk, for solitude, for the perfect notebook. The biggest gift to yourself will be to learn to write in the midst of noise and chaos, in a car parked in a carpark, at the kitchen table. Noise cancelling headphones are another great investment too.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
While N.G.K. and I are committed to writing together, we are not committed to a genre, and our next book is probably going to be a whodunnit, but one really centered around relationships, because that’s what fascinates us. N.G.K. is the story teller of our partnership and has at least 10 stories in his head, I’m just furiously typing to keep up with him!
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Oh, I’m so proud. By the end I really started to believe It’s Not Never is a good book and that perhaps I’m an ok writer. I learned so much in the process and hope I can keep getting better and better. But this one will always be special. It was worth all the effort, I enjoyed every moment of it. Even if it doesn’t go on to be successful, it was a great journey. Most people believe they ‘have a book in them’, some might even write one. But fewer people get it over to line to publication. I have, nothing can take that away.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Read the first three chapters for free at http://itsnotnever.com/