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Written by JJ Barnes

www.jjbarnes.co.uk

I interviewed author Mike Booton about his debut novel, Too Good To Be Tru, what inspired him to write it, and his creative process.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

There’s a line in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen when Dorian Gray is unaffected by being shot and is asked, “what are you?” He replies, “I’m…complicated.” Sadly, I’m not immortal, but I do seem to have led rather an interesting life, and I can well imagine my parents have a picture in their attic that looks increasingly horrible!

 I was born in Singapore, where my parents owned a grand house, had servants and were proud to be part of the British Empire. I then went to school in Germany (BFPO) and only arrived in England in the late 70’s, just in time to study for my A Levels by candlelight as it was the three day week and the miner’s strike. Such a start in life gave me a lust for travelling that has never faded.

I grew up in a middle class household, my parents were both headteachers, so I gained a good education, although I consider myself working class now, as the definition is to be one payday away from broke!

I fell into a sales career after a brief stint in retail. The Jobcentre was above the Bejam branch I worked at. I didn’t know then that of course they’d take on anyone, but I was rather good at sales and it proved the foundation for a 35 year career, ending up in recruitment. I joined a recruitment company that specialized in headhunting around the late 90s and this segued into me becoming a specialist headhunter in the mining sector world-wide, finally forming my own recruitment company in 2005.

This took me to Africa where, amongst many other adventures, I met my now wife, in Kenya. This business declined and I was selling telecoms when in March 2020 the first Lock-Down was announced and my sales/recruitment career abruptly ended. Scratching my head as to what to do with a lot of unexpected spare time, I decided to finish a novel I’d been working on for years, and re-train as an HGV driver, as it seemed to me the only things still on the roads were trucks.

I got my HGV licence in December 2020, shortly after returning from Africa where I had finally married my beloved. I finished my novel only last Christmas. I’ve been an HGV driver for over a year now and I enjoy it, though it’s very physically tiring.

There’s a lot more to my life of course, too much to state here. Those that follow me on Twitter will understand.

When did you first WANT to write a book?

I’ve wanted to write all my life. I studied English at Uni and have published a short story and a few poems, but a whole novel is a big enterprise so although I’ve had it on my mind for decades, my life was so busy I never managed to finish it before.

When did you take a step to start writing?

It was the Lock-Down that, perversely, gave me the incentive and the time to collate all my thoughts and ideas into a coherent form. I’d had the novel in my head and parts of it on my laptop for years, but had never had the time to pull it all together. Prevented from travelling to see my wife and with no job as such, I had time to focus.

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

Oh goodness, I can’t say for sure, it might be seven years. I knew for ages what I wanted to write about and made several false starts, but although I had the plot, I struggled to find the correct voice. This completed novel is really the third of three attempts, the first two didn’t get beyond the half way mark. I binned them as my authorial voice sounded false, didactic.

Given the subject matter and the feminist viewpoint it wasn’t appropriate, it seemed like yet another man telling women what to think, so I was stymied. Then I thought of Tru and her character, and I started again, this time writing as if I was her, her voice. Suddenly my writing took off, and my ideas were easy to incorporate into the narrative as it poured out of Tru. Writing as Tru from start to finish took about 8 months.

What made you want to write Too Good To Be Tru?

Aye, there’s the rub. What did make me? I think I always wanted to write a “political” book, since I became a feminist at University in the early 80s thanks to some superb lecturers there. Of course, feminism has changed a lot since the 80s and I’m called an ally now, though I find myself more in accord with the Radfems of today and I am without doubt GC.

However, I’ve wanted as far back as I can remember to present the struggles of women and the things that affect them, in a way that might correct the injustice – but it was always just a nebulous thought, until I joined Twitter ten years ago, where such issues come up all the time.

Twitter is really eye opening, and that gave me the understanding as well as the motivation, and some valuable connections, to do something about what women suffer. However, being a man, I did not want to be obtrusive, I wanted to tell stories of real women in a real way, that were both entertaining and informative, not interpose my male voice. This is why Tru’s voice became crucial. The reader sees things through her eyes, her thoughts (and through the eyes of two other women, Janice and Elinah).

But everything they describe has happened to someone I know, or read about. If a woman reads my book I can guarantee there will be a moment of personal recognition.  I could reference every event that happens to my heroine, Tru, or to the other characters, and I do mention a few in the footnotes, but if I stopped to back up every instance with a reference it would make the book twice as long, and interrupt the flow.

There’s also the disbelief of others, which I find really irritating. It was the same when I said I would build a sports car or an extension on the house. Most people thought I was mad, and no one really thought I could do it – though I did ! But I’ve always had a positive attitude. I tend to plunge in and learn if I can do it as I go. Usually, I can. Even if I find out I can’t, I always learn something new – maybe a new skill, certainly something about myself.

I now know how to dig foundations and tile a roof, and that the wiring loom on a car is a real #### to get right. That’s how I became an HGV driver, I just thought, I can do that, and I put in the effort until I did. I guess I like pushing myself to see what I can do – and I don’t like giving up. It’s the same with my novel.

I’d tried to get it started and had made a number of moves towards writing it, but I got pushed back by events, I was misjudged, misunderstood, and it was a confusing time, as I was telling people I was writing this book and everyone was saying, “yeah, right,” but I didn’t give up on my dream. I knew I could do it, and in a way I was doing it, just not putting pen to paper – I was still gathering the life experiences to write about but it was there in my head. Then Covid happened and now the distractions were gone, and so I could focus on producing my work.

What were your biggest challenges with writing Too Good To Be Tru?

Finding the time to focus on writing. I’d always been so busy working in my sales/recruitment career I never really got stuck in. Whilst in the enforced unemployed interregnum instigated by the pandemic I found I had more than enough time. I hate being lazy, I’m always doing something, and so now I was free to write. I’d already had ideas, but now I could concentrate on the craft, putting the disparate parts together into a readable order, and sewing them together with words. 

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

Tru started off as a character based on a woman I know – as all my characters are – as many author’s protagonists are, I suspect. But within the first chapter she developed in my mind to become a character all her own. She grew and developed far beyond what I intended when I started. I fell in love with her, to be honest, and was myself interested to see how she would cope with the events I already had planned for her.

Writing her, I was surprised how often I would sit down to write one direction for her, and end up in a completely different place, as Tru’s character took me to places that were honest for her but ones I hadn’t originally plotted. As a new author I have no idea if this happens to others, but for me, writing Tru was like meeting a new friend, and growing with her as you get to know them, sometimes they show you surprising sides you didn’t know they had. She even brought her own friend with her, in the character of Electria who turned out to be pivotal to the plot, though we only see her through Tru’s eyes.

It’s always a thrilling journey though and I’m sure the reader will enjoy getting to know Tru and come to care about what happens to her as well.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

Ah, that would be telling. Let’s just say they are not specifically anyone I know, but an amalgam of several men, collated from things described on Twitter, the stories of women I’ve spoken to, and my personal experience. What I tried to do was not present a bad nor a good person in any one character, but to shade them as people are shaded in real life. An evil man is capable of doing good things, and conversely, a good man may occasionally do bad things. That’s how I reflected the male characters anyway.

The women are more nuanced as they are the narrators, so we understand their motivations and thoughts better. That’s not to say the reader always knows what drives them though, as often the character themself does not know. Isn’t this just what happens in real life? How self-aware are we really? How often do we look back on our choices, our lives, and wonder, why did I do that?  What I have done is present the choices the characters make, and their reasons for making them, and let the reader deduce what is really going on, to admire or question that choice.

This was especially so when the story deals with domestic violence, as in my experience, many women experiencing DV have been gaslighted, psychologically manipulated into believing it is normal, acceptable. So a character describes what the antagonist is doing to her matter of factly, it is the reader that might reel back in horror, as they have the perspective.

What is the inciting incident of Too Good To Be Tru?

There are three characters in the my novel, and they interact. Each has their own incident that moulds them, drives them. But it is Tru’s narrative that carries the book, her path at first seems straightforward, but violence tears her world apart and sets her off down a very different path to the one she and the reader would have imagined in the first chapter, into a world of pornography and vice and abuse – and her story ends with a murder.

I won’t give away the plot by saying any more, nor the ending by saying who ends up murdered, but the reader will, I hope, be pleasantly surprised by the twist.

What is the main conflict of Too Good To Be Tru?

The conflict in my book is the eternal war between men and women. None of the characters believe they are actually in conflict though, they think that’s just the way the world is, and of course, that is indeed how we tend to view the world as I’ve found most people are innately optimistic.

I brought in characters from Africa because there the war is rather more intense than here in the U.K. and anyway, drawing on one’s own unique experience is always interesting. I wanted to reflect different women leading different lives, yet bring them together to compare and contrast, and I think I’ve achieved this in the way the strands of their stories intertwine.

Parts of my book were heart-rending to write and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say there is rape and violence in it. Rape is a weapon of war too. I don’t want readers to think it’s all dark though, there is humour and goodness as well, lots of love, quite a bit of good sex and a very satisfying ending! But as I say in my Author’s Note at the end, with all the issues men shout about, trying to centre women and the issues that affect them today is like trying to hear birdsong at Passchendaele.

Did you plot Too Good To Be Tru in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

This made me laugh. I did both, and I defy any author to say they plan everything. The joy of writing is to sometimes create the unexpected, the insightful phrase, the plot twist and I loved it when that happened. But the plot framework I’d had in my head for years. In fact I probably had the beginning, a middle, and an end – what I needed was to stitch it all together.

The hardest work was trying to find a way to weave it all together so the reader accepts it as realistic, not to show the joins as it were. That took planning. The most fun was just writing and letting the character lead the story. You know the character, but you don’t necessarily know what they will do if faced with a situation, until you start writing. There’s a voice in the back of my head as I write a character that guides me as to what he/she would do or say, and the easy bit was just allowing the character free rein.

Later on, of course, you may have to come back to that part and amend it to ensure consistent plotlines or insert something so it makes sense what happens later. That was where I found my Editor really useful.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Too Good To Be Tru need?

Funny you should say that, as I’ve just mentioned it. Yes, I used an excellent editor and she was invaluable in pointing out inconsistencies and mistakes and correcting little errors. She also understood what I was trying to do, so she didn’t try to change the way the novel worked but to enhance it by working with the flow.

In fact, my novel didn’t need that much proof reading as I’m pretty good at English, but there were numerous instances where she asked me to explain more, where I’d overlooked something in my enthusiasm for the character or instance. This makes the novel flow better as the reader isn’t brought up short by wondering if they’d read it right, or thinking, but didn’t they say something different earlier?

Instant Grammar Checker - Correct all grammar errors and enhance your writing.

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

Just do it.

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

I’m already into chapter one of another book featuring Tru. I love her character and her friend Electria and it seemed such a waste to end it there, though it’s going to be hard to explain her re-appearance. A little like Bobby Ewing stepping out of the shower!

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

Hell yes. I love writing and am not going to stop now. I strive to do a good job in everything I do. As Yoda said, “do or do not, there is no try.” So I am proud of my craftsmanship in stitching together all the threads to make a beautiful carpet, but I am humbled by those threads being the very lives of women themselves. All the events described in my novel are true, they have happened to some woman, somewhere and recently, and I believe I’ve produced a good novel that is testament to those truths.

Was it worth it? Undoubtedly, as I believe a reader will come to my book for entertainment and enjoy it on its face value, but afterwards think more deeply about the issues raised, and hopefully want to do something about them. I’m trying in my own small way to change the world for the better, one book at a time.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

Too Good To Be Tru by Michael J Booton

Set in today’s confusing pandemic world, Trudy Toogood seeks a better life in London, but tragedy leads her to take a strange path, one that takes her into a world of pornography, power and abuse, to Africa and back, and leads to a murder – but whose?

This gripping and exciting story is told with gentle humour and empathy through Tru’s eyes, as the country enters lock-down. This is a tale of sex, sisterhood, abuse, hope and ultimately love. Sometimes dark, sometimes funny, but always intriguing, this first novel by a new author interweaves the lives of three women and two very different men in a fascinating way. The reader will feel for Tru and the women she meets, question what happens to them, and ultimately cheer their redemption.

Based on true events, this novel explores controversial contemporary issues concerning women and contains adult themes.

Follow Mike on Twitter @mbooton

My author page is mbooton on Amazon:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/~/e/B09PBQ9K2Q

Mike is on Linked In :

https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-booton-18596a11/

Mike’s personal FaceBook page is:

https://www.facebook.com/mike.booton.7/

Mike’s Editor is Steph:
Email bookshineandreadbows@outlook.com

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