The Man Behind The Diary Of A Man | Interview With Lance Cross

 

You might remember Lance Cross from a few years ago, with stories like Get Of The Grass, Nothing Good On TV and several others making their way to the shortlist. Now Lance has a book out, the incredibly titled Diary of a Man Being Driven Around Africa on a Truck with Some Other People.

Here’s part of the blurb from the back cover. It sums it up nicely:

Steve doesn’t do trucks. Steve doesn’t do tents. And Steve doesn’t do toilets without doors, or walls.

To see Sofia again Steve only has to survive on a truck for five months, with eight other passengers and a grumpy driver, as it bounces through 15 countries down the western coast of Africa.

What could possibly go wrong?

What indeed! We sat down with Lance to find out what went wrong, and right, during the making of his novel.


 

Diary of a man takes place in some pretty far flung settings. What were your main influences?

Africa was my major influence. Crazy stuff happens there so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to write a book with lots of crazy stuff happening.

It took around two years from start to finish. I didn’t think it would take that long but once I started I couldn’t stop.

That’s a big commitment. Tell me about your writing process.

My writing process is me sitting in front of my computer while thinking about stuff. And when I’m not in front of my computer I am still thinking about stuff.

Well, it’s probably more complicated than that. For this book, which is based on an actual diary of a trip I took through Africa, I kept the day-to-day locations as accurate as I could while fitting the story around it. This was handy as it gave me a framework from which to hang the story on so took some pressure off the ‘where do we go from here’ problem writers face but it also restricted what could happen on any given day.

 

Self Publishing seems a bit like the wild west sometimes. Tell us about the pros and cons of self publishing.

Once I thought it had reached the point where it was ready to be released into the world I had it proofread and engaged the services of a cover designer. I did the formatting myself.

I was lucky that at the time I needed a proofreader a member of an online forum I am on was calling for proofreading practice as she planned to be become a proofreader full-time. She was offering her services for free, which was nice, as proofreading isn’t cheap. The first pass wasn’t 100% but after sifting through it several times I think we got it looking there or thereabouts.

For the cover design I used 99designs. It’s a site where you explain what you want from a design (a book cover in my case) and set the price you want to pay then designers will post designs on the site and if you like one you’ve got yourself a cover.

The formatting was a bit of a pain in the neck but I got there in the end (mostly). The Kindle and Createspace sites let you see what your work should actually look like as a book or on an electronic device.

Createspace was easier to format as it was only dealing with one format but when you format for an electronic copy of your book it can look very different on different devices. I read somewhere that there is a way to getting it looking identical on all devices but I am not sure this is true so in the end I settled for slightly different variations, so it will look different depending on if you are reading it on a Kindle or an Apple phone. The content is the same though, which is the important thing.

Once I decided on a price (a very reasonable £1.99 for the Kindle version and £6.99 for the paperback version) I released it on to the internet with much fanfare. Well, not that much fanfare. I don’t have a large ‘on-line presence’ so wasn’t tweeting or blogging about it. People on a couple of writerly websites were informed and a handful of people on Facebook were told too.

The people who have read seem to have genuinely enjoyed it but it’s a comedy set in Africa, which is a niche market, so it hasn’t hit the Fifty Shades of Grey level of sales yet. (I really should have put in more blindfolds and sex toys. Vampires too. It probably needed more vampires.)

Have you been to all the countries in Diary of a Man?

Yes. Before the overland trip the book is based on I had been to Morocco and Namibia before although the overland trip went through these countries so I saw much of what I had seen before. Everything else was new.

So are the stories all based on your experience?

Not all of the stories in the book are made-up so the real world experiences of the 15 African countries of the book did play a part. It also showed me what fiction was possible as people who have been to Africa will probably believe most of what happens in the book could actually happen.


If people find mistakes in a traditional published work they’ll blame the printer. If they find it in your self published work they’ll blame you.

 

What advice do you have for authors who plan to self publish their own work?

I think one problem with some self published work is people slap up a first or second draft and think they’ve cracked it when they should have shown enough other people to know they haven’t.

So, my number one piece of advice is to get beta-readers. And not just family and friends (because if they think you’re writing rubbish they won’t tell you) but a good selection of strangers. I found mine on sites like NITH. Some people are happy to read your work with no reciprocation and others like to swap manuscripts.

And don’t just try and get people who prefer whatever genre you’re writing in to read it. For a start you’ll be surprised how narrow people’s reading habits are so you might be waiting a while, and you want as many varied opinions as you can get as everyone sees a book differently.

My second piece of advice is to try and get all spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes out of your work. A lot of readers don’t consider self published work to be as good as traditionally published work (although we’ve all read some traditional published rubbish I’m sure) so if they find any mistakes they’ll be more critical than they might be.

If people find mistakes in a traditional published work they’ll blame the printer. If they find it in your self published work they’ll blame you.

It’s a big job and you’ll need the help of a professional so start saving your dollars now.

And my third piece of advice is do not design the cover of your book yourself. You may think you’re a bit of a wiz on Photoshop but you’re not, so don’t do it. Just don’t.

Would you even consider publishing the diary on which the novel was based?

Never!

It’s a detailed record of events but that’s about all. It’s very dry and has so little entertainment value that it makes a trip through Africa seem incredibly boring. It was after I’d finished typing it up that I decided to write the book as an overland truck tour through Africa shouldn’t be something that has the ‘boring’ tag, it just shouldn’t.

What’s next for you? Thinking of writing another book?

I thought about it and started it. And stopped it.

Once I finished Diary of a Man I went straight to work on the sequel as one of my beta-readers wanted to know what happened to all the characters. I am about 10,000 words into, although it has stalled. I’m not sure if my brain is telling me it’s not really for that level of obsession again (because it does tend to take over large chunks of your life) or my goal was to write a book but not to write two books. I didn’t have a master plan when I started and Diary of a Man is a standalone book so we’ll all just have to watch this space to see what happens to it.


 

Pickup a copy of Lance’s book, and don’t forget to leave him a review.