AMR: GX Todd meets Sara Garland

Article published on February 21, 2017.

Sara’s review of GX Todd’s debut title, Defender, led to an interesting I’m a Writer . . . and now we’ve been able to bring reviewer and author together to see where GX’s inspiration arose (she’s actually Gemma, which sounds a lot less scary!).

Hi Gemma

It’s great to have the chance to catch up with you about your writing and interests.

Firstly huge congratulations on the launch of your first book Defender, which as you know I loved. I am also really excited & eagerly awaiting the further 3 books in the Hear the Voices tetralogy. It strikes me as a series that pleasingly transcends genres being dystopian, horror, mystery, thriller, fantasy and then some. Consequently it offers something quite unique.

You must already be extremely busy being a mobile librarian as well as a writer, but I imagine things have probably gone off the scale since you launched your book. What’s it been like and are you still managing to keep your library work going??

I’ve actually taken the huge step and gone part-time at work. It was getting increasingly difficult as launch day approached – I’d started to write book 3 while editing book 2, promoting book 1, as well as writing numerous articles and interviews and trying to attend as many events as I could. For someone who’s intrinsically lazy, it all got a tiny bit stressful. Going part-time was a sanity-saving decision.

A series of 4 books is a mega sized story to create. I imagine this must be a labour of love. When did the green shoots appear and how long did it take to craft the fully formed  creation that we are now able to indulge in & enjoy?

I am going to run with the “green shoots” analogy! Pilgrim was very much the seed to the whole idea. Everything flowered from him. And the more I watered him, the more he bloomed, and the garden of his world—okay, I’m getting carried away. I don’t think of the series as a huge endeavour because I don’t plan overly much. A lot of it comes organically, which lessens the pressure; I don’t have to think about everything to the nth degree. Which helps keep the journey fresh and surprising. From start to finish, Defender took 6 months for the first draft, 5 months to find an agent, 6 months of edits before going out to publishers, and four days for Headline to offer on it. And then another few months of edits with my new editor. So yeah, a lot of months!

The strength of the characterisation in your book is what – for me – makes this such an engaging and memorable read. The main characters, Pilgrim and Lacey are not the most likely characters you might create and pitch together, but they complement each other’s flaws and traits really well. How did you arrive at creating these pair?

As I mentioned, Pilgrim as a character was the originating idea for the whole story. But because he’s so cantankerous and terse, I needed a foil for him. In part, Voice meets that criteria, but their dynamic wasn’t enough to propel the story along. So who would get the most interesting reaction from a loner such as Pilgrim? A teenage girl who talks too much, is completely naïve to the world, and even worse, needs him. Lacey was perfect.

Nice violent scenes! Immersive to write or extremely difficult to describe all the actions in a manner that sustains tension, is aptly described and authentic to the reader?

In a lot of ways, actions scenes are my favourite thing to write. They’re the sections that get written the fastest and need the fewest edits. If anything, I have to be careful to stop myself from letting them run on for pages and pages. Same with the violence. If you can believe it, I toned down the violence from what it could have been. There is a line where it becomes too much (for me as a writer as well as for readers). You need for it to be visceral because the environment calls for it. But you have to know when to stop before it becomes gratuitous. I’m not sure every reader would say I’m entirely successful with finding that balance.

Getting published as a new author, what do you wish you had known at the beginning of this process??

It wouldn’t change anything – I’d still be writing and I’d still want to be published – but understanding exactly how much editing is involved would have better prepared me. I mean, holy crap. Edits are gruelling. They feel wholly artificial and are the least creative part of the whole process. They are not my favourite thing.

I am fascinated as to how you make time to write around work commitments and life in general. Have you found you have needed to be very disciplined or has the passion to write meant it forms a habitual part of your days and weeks?

I think habit plays a big part. Mostly, though, I think I’m predisposed for writing. It’s a solitary endeavour and I’ve always been a lone wolf; I like spending time by myself. Sitting in a room for hours on end, living inside my head, has been something I’ve enjoyed doing since I discovered reading for pleasure at the age of 12. And when I wasn’t reading, I was daydreaming about being a character in the worlds I’d read about or living inside the movies I’d seen. Personally, I’ve never had to sacrifice any time for my writing. It’s always had a place in my life.

I read to escape and am aware that fantasy played an important part in your childhood /young adult reading and so a recent quote where you state writing for you is about ‘creating a bit of magic’ resonated with me. But as a writer how do you go about this?

Writing is as much an act of discovery for me as it is for the reader. Quite often, I don’t know what’s going to happen next in my story. It just appears in my head, I visualise it, and then make a lame attempt at using words to describe what I’ve seen. Later, I’ll read back what I’ve written and sometimes think ‘Jeez, that’s awful’ and have to rewrite it. Eventually, I get to a point where I’m reading a finished draft and at certain points think ‘Holy crap, there it is.’ The magic. I wish there was a formula for it all, but really it’s just hard work and rewriting.

You have also described yourself as a professional reader, but an author in training. What is the hallmark of a good read for you?

Man, that’s such a tough question because the answer is always different. For books like All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews it’s all about the writing. She writes so beautifully. Is there a strong plot or compelling action? No. For books like Dark Matter by Blake Crouch it’s all about the concept. Did I care about the Jason Desson much? Not really. Then there’s The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis and Elka, her main character, breathes life and jumps off the page. Yet I struggled with some of the dialect her character is written in. It’s completely rare for an author to achieve strong plot, compelling action, an original concept and unforgettable characters, all in one book. And, going by the above examples, you don’t need every single one of those things to make a good read. But, by god, it’d make it something special, wouldn’t it?

Finding time to enjoy motorbikes, does riding offer a chance for inspirational thoughts to pop into your mind, or maybe a chance to switch off completely??

I wish. You need all your concentration to ride (or drive) on today’s roads. Otherwise, I’d have been squished flat under an 18-wheeler too many times to count. Riding motorbikes is fun, but it takes quite a lot of focus. The only thing it’s helped with so far is knowing what I’m talking about when Pilgrim rides his motorbike.

Umm Lego? What’s this about??

God, I know. I need to stop talking about it BUT I CAN’T HELP MYSELF. I love the stuff. I think it’s genius. It’s like the equivalent of doing a 3D jigsaw puzzle, except jigsaws are kind of boring and you can’t play with them after you’re done. Not that I play with my LEGO… I assure you it’s for display purposes only. Ahem.

Future work – do you have any ideas formed and if so are you able to tell us what type of fiction feast might we expect?

I try to keep my creative mind away from anything not in the world of Defender, only because I have another three books to work through before I’m entirely free to explore other ideas. I’m always afraid a brilliant concept will spark my imagination and I’ll get drawn away from what I’m supposed to be working on. I would really love to write a standalone sci-fi at some point, though, with transhumanism as its centre.

Lastly Book 2 of the Hear the Voices series – how long do we have to wait??

You’re not going to like the answer to this and I’m sorry but it’s another ten months away. Release date is set at 25th January 2018. But, you know, that just means there’s time to re-read Defender!


Defender by GX Todd is published by Headline and is now available in hardback – 9781472233080



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