The creator of the shocking and outrageous Frank Friendship series shares little with the larger-than-life characters in the books, bar location. Edinburgh-based writer RG Manse says he’s a decidedly smaller-than-life character who’s so vanilla, he’s practically a milkshake.
[Note from Liis] – We recently read about the literary origins of Frank Friendship and now it’s time to shed some light to the author! If you are a writer, or thinking of becoming one, then you should read this interview. RG shares the pain and gain of being a creative writer who stepped out of the boundaries of a “genre”.
How did the idea for “Frank Friendship Series” form?
I was writing standalone books but every reader I knew was into series. The book I was working on was about a train wreck of a woman who meets this no-hoper, Frank, working in a cafe. I liked Frank and he had legs. And grew arms. Driven by a desire to interest more readers, my (probably highly marketable) bittersweet romantic comedy developed into Frank’s Amazon-category-defying epic. Fragments of that original tale were used at the start of Pursue Friendship. Screw Friendship grew out of Frank’s pre-existing back-story. A separate (unpublished) standalone provided the core plot and some of the characters in Deny Friendship.
Tell us about your writing process- any (strange) rituals you always follow while writing? A certain band you listen, a certain food you always nibble on? A place?
I’m a plotter. I write the end early on, and work from an outline. Once the first draft is done, I revise like mad. I can’t listen to any of the music I love (Nick Cave, The Tiger Lillies, Ron Sexsmith, Aimee Mann…) because I’d be singing along. Otherwise, I can zone out and write anywhere, including on the bus, which I’ve done a lot. Like a lot of people, when I’m in the zone, I sometimes forget to nibble on anything, until my stomach reminds me I’m human and lunch is four hours overdue. Also, I have a problem that stops me doing serious writing in public: I get so caught up in the emotions of my characters, I start grinning or crying or making faces, even during revisions. I must be a Method writer.
It goes without saying that Frank is my favourite character. As a writer how do you feel about Frank? Does he irritate you sometimes? Or do you have a perfect understanding in between yourselves?
I love Frank. He’s all heart in his own insensitive way and is the dream protagonist because he’s such a loose cannon. He’ll say or do things nobody else would ever imagine. At this stage, I just let him have his way.
What did you find to be the most difficult part of writing the Frank Friendship books?
Screw Friendship was the hardest book and took ages. Even after countless revisions, I still feel that story starts slowest and is the weakest, which is a pity since so much rests on the first book. Rosy is young, innocent and female, so it was hard to ‘be’ Rosy. In general, I find dialogue easiest and action sequences need the most effort.
The series can be described as controversial alongside the fact it is a dark, fun crime mystery. Having read the books myself I can see where a reader may develop a serious case of pale-face and horror. Was it your intention to shock readers? To lure them in? And have the strong twists in the story backfired?
Being cryptic to avoid spoilers, the most controversial aspect of Screw Friendship wasn’t in my original outline; that arose purely from research. It seemed like a gift and I made the most of it. I suspect that loses readers who (if they stuck it out) would come through it with Rosy, so—yes—that’s definitely backfired. On top of that, I have a warped sense of humour and want reader’s toes to curl in embarrassment at the situations my characters manage to find themselves in. I don’t censor characters’ thoughts and Findlay’s are vile.
That means the books will be too crude for certain readers, even though there’s far more disturbing content in the average crime thriller. Murdered and mutilated bodies don’t seem to upset readers half as much as live ones that think or do inappropriate things; that’s one of the bizarre learned attitudes towards genres and in (British) society more generally.
I find you also have a big learning curve around relationships to offer through the series. I think it’s a beautiful message that I received- always listen to all sides of the story and don’t jump to conclusions. Did writing about relationships come naturally to you or did you do a lot of people-watching, observing?
Like the majority of writers, I’m an introvert, so I’m naturally always trying to decode other people’s feelings, but I couldn’t have written that material convincingly when I was younger. Although the books aren’t based on real life situations, they draw on certain life experiences and my own observations about good and bad relationships. You only see these patterns emerge over time. Inevitably, certain of my own lessons learned and philosophies come through as themes.
Any tips for aspiring writers? Do you feel that the more books you publish the easier the process becomes?
Yes, definitely: the more I write, the easier it is to write. Tips? I have a peeve more than a tip. It’s petty but it does drive me nuts and big name writers are guilty too. It’s the overuse of sentences like this: “She lifted the keys, putting them in her pocket and turning the light out.” In some books, you’ll see that -ing pattern in every frickin’ paragraph, sometimes every other sentence. “’Yes,’ she said, blowing on her coffee.” It’s like a fungal infection unwary writers catch from others. Of course, sometimes it is important to communicate that actions are happening at the same time, so it does have a place. “She lifted the keys, put them in her pocket, and turned the light out.” “’Yes’, she said, then blew on her coffee.” Breathe in… and relax.
What in your own opinion makes you unique as a writer and as a person?
I’ll reference the end of my favourite episode of The Simpsons (“Lisa’s Substitute” – thanks, Google). When Lisa’s temporary but best ever teacher has to leave, she feels like her world has ended. As his train is about to depart, her teacher writes Lisa a note and says, “Whenever you feel that you’re alone and there’s nobody you can rely on, this is all you need to know.” When he’s gone, she opens the note and reads: “You are Lisa Simpson.” That teacher had a lesson for everybody.
What kind of books do you read? And do you believe they have made you a better writer?
As a kid, I read sci-fi then overdosed on fantasy to the point where I couldn’t bring myself to open another fantasy novel. These days, I read everything (bar fantasy), and the poorer the book, the more I seem to learn from it. I’m bad at analysing books I love, because they switch me into reader mode. There’s nothing like a great book or film for making me want to try harder.
Frank Friendship series is quite extensive in terms of genre, themes and characters. Is there any aspect to writing, genres and characters you feel you have yet to experiment on to create something entirely unique?
I thought ‘unique’ would be a selling point for the books. In fact, the closer you can come to something that’s already out there, the more likely you are to attract readers. That’s not sour grapes; I made a newbie mistake.
The Frank Friendship series would never have found a traditional publisher. It’s plenty good enough but there’s no shelf for it. Even on Amazon, that’s a big issue. I have to put it somewhere, and it’s closest to mystery (although not really) so it’s jammed in there, ready to disappoint the hard-core murder mystery fans. I‘m sure lots of readers out there would love the Frank Friendship series, but how the heck are those particular readers ever going to find it?
What smart writers do is, find a genre niche with readers and then write the best book they can in that niche. Sadly, that does limit creativity and produces more predictable books (because they have to fit the genre, or they won’t resonate with those readers), but good writers can still write fantastic novels.
What awaits your readers in the future?
I hope to write something more genre in future, which will be under a different pen name. I still believe in Frank, though, so I do intend to complete the series per my original plans. Book four will take a darker turn as the remaining pieces of the overall story arc come together and book five will bring it to a resolution.
I could write about Frank for the rest of my career and never run out of material—he’s such a great protagonist—but barring Oprah picking up the series, book five will likely be the end of the road.
Perhaps you have a message you would like to pass along to your current and future readers?
To my current readers: thanks for your awesome support; you’ve given me a reason to write books four and five. To my future readers: Those sci-fi novels got it all wrong, didn’t they? Bet you wish there were more Frank Friendship stories.
[Note from Liis] – If you missed RG’s recent guest blog, then you should go check it out. I personally don’t think I can ever get tired of recommending the Frank Friendship series at every chance I get because these books are and give so many things to a reader. Each of the books can be read as a standalone, yet if you really want to get to know Frank, I suggest you start from Book 1. And when you start reading, don’t give up and run for the hills! Yeah, it can get a bit “Say, what??” but if I can, hand on my heart, tell you that you’re in for an adventure of your life filled with snort-laughs, “aww”-moments and equally as many shocking twists then just trust me- you are going to love it!
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