Over his relatively short career as a bookseller, Gareth Ward has proven he can rap (okay, wrap), he can do magic, and he can come up with genius ideas (along with his wife Louise) to win his bookshop $5000 from James Patterson. But unless you know him personally, you may not be aware that he is also a writer. This is by no means uncommon in the world of bookselling – but not only is Gareth a writer, he can now say he is an award-winning writer: proving there is magic under that hat after all.
His manuscript The Sin Chronicles: New Blood has just won the Storylines Tessa Duder Prize for an unpublished manuscript. The book is intended as the first in a steampunk-inspired series of books, the first of which ought to be published some time in 2017 by award sponsor Walker Books. We asked him a few questions about this remarkable achievement, and how bookselling informed his writing.
1. Were you a writer before you were a bookseller? When did you begin writing with eventual publication in mind?
I began writing about twenty-five years ago. There were various interludes when life got in the way. Children, career changes, emigrating to New Zealand but I have always had a passion for stories. Early last year I decided to embark on a novel writing course and The Sin Chronicles is the result.
2. Can you give us a synopsis of the book?
I’m not really sure how much I’m supposed to say at this stage but I can say it’s a rip-roaring Steampunk adventure. I wrote it intending it to be the first in a series. I guess much will depend on how well it does in the shops. So if when it’s published next year my fellow booksellers could do the utmost to sell it I would be delighted.
3. How did your role as a bookseller inform your drafting of The Sin Chronicles: New Blood?
I think as a bookseller I have a feel for the market but perhaps more importantly I have a passion for books and a love of story. I think selling books for a living has helped me understand that at the end of the day I am producing a product that needs to be saleable. When I was considering what to write I thought about what books I enjoyed, what series I wished I’d written and what sells really well in the shop. This guided me into thinking ‘I wish I’d written the CHERUB Series by Robert Muchamore.’ So I guess the seed of an idea was ‘could I write a Steampunk CHERUB?’ After many drafts I think I ended up with something quite different and a bit special.
4. When did your fascination with steampunk begin? Can you point to any novelists that influenced your work?
When I’m in my magician persona of The Great Wardini I always imagine myself as a performer from Victorian times and so it only took a small mental nudge to kick me over the border to Steampunk. I loved the Mortal Engines series by Philip Reeve and also Leviathan by Scott Westerfield but once I decided on steampunk, I deliberately steered clear of the genre because I didn’t want to taint my imagination. Novelists that influenced me are undoubtedly J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman and Jonathan Stroud because the Lockwood books are my favourite stories ever.
5. What next – have you signed a contract with Walker Books?!
I haven’t signed a contract yet but I’ve met my editor from Walker who was delightful. The manuscript will now go through several more revisions and once we’re all happy it should hit the shelves some time next year.
We look forward to seeing The Sin Chronicles on our bookshelves soon.
Interview by Sarah Forster