An Interview with Debbie McGowan

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
One day I might write my autobiography and call it something like "If this was fiction it would be dismissed as too far-fetched", or perhaps something a bit catchier. Anyway, without digging too deep, I grew up in Southport, where I wasted my education before running away to London. I returned five years later with Nigel and decided to go to university at the age of 25, after giving birth to my two beautiful daughters. I'm a social scientist and a teacher, but I don't especially like humans as a species. Dogs are far superior - my dream of a perfect future consists of a house in Cornwall, with my dogs and my writing. And maybe some people, if they promise to keep quiet.

What do you do when you are not writing?
All the other things I have to do, whilst perpetually expressing my displeasure* at not having the time to write.

*Does not apply to walking my dogs (see above).

When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

At school I remember being given essay titles in English and thinking 'What twist can I put on this?', so I suppose I started writing then really, but I didn't start writing Champagne until around 1996 (the stage show was co-written and produced with Nigel two or three years before) and I finished it in 2002.

Where do you get your ideas?
Wherever they happen to spring from. Champagne was the result of a night at the theatre, too much Newcastle Brown and a stage musical written with the intention to shock, given as it treated gay relationships as normal, which was not at all how it was in the early 1990s. At some point I decided the characters deserved more, so started to write the novel. In retrospect, I'd say that at the time of Hiding Behind The Couch, I needed a therapist, so I created one and gave him some friends along the way. Other ideas are really more 'spur of the moment', kind of like 'Whose Line Is It Anyway', using props and scenery derived from anything in my direct line of vision (real or imagined).

Do you ever experience writer's block?
I've occasionally sat and pondered over a blank blog page, but more often I find that I have the opposite problem, with too many 'plot bunnies' bouncing around. The outcome is still the same, in that I can't quite settle on which one to tame next, so end up not being very productive at all. However, the worst writer's block I had was during Champagne. I wrote the first three chapters, then finished my degree and teaching qualifications. It was another five years before I finally got to completing the story and at least three of those were spent silently screaming in frustration and editing out virtually everything I wrote within an hour of committing it to screen.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?
It depends on what I'm writing. For National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I prefer to just write and see where the story takes me. The speed at which the narrative forms makes it feel a lot like reading someone else's book, in that I'll be typing a particular dialogue and all the while my brain is racing to the next part, wondering what might happen next. Having said that, November also sees me spending a lot of time staring into the mid-distance as I plot out the action in my head, so I guess that's kind of outlining. Otherwise I do have a few outlines ready for the next stage.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
'No Dice' is the fourth novel I've written that started life during NaNoWriMo, although it's obviously undergone some extensive editing since then. Without spoilers, it's about two teenaged boys, who are best friends, and it involves time travel. One of the boys (Ryan) buys a car with the money from his 17th birthday and the other (Saul) inadvertently ends up in 1987 as a consequence. The book was written with a teen audience in mind, although I'm told that it appeals to adult readers too.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Yes, there's definitely some real life in there! I used to know a real cool black guy with a flash car and a mobile phone, back in the eighties when hardly anyone had one. There were a few people about like that, but I also remember it being a much simpler time, at least in terms of young people having less need to conspicuously consume. That's a terrible burden for teenagers today - and their parents!

Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
I'd like to go back to the characters in Champagne, perhaps explore the future of Sammy and Champagne's relationship, although I also feel that it is complete as it stands and don't want to ruin it. I also really like the characters in Hiding Behind The Couch / No Time Like The Present; however, there are too many of them and perhaps they each deserve a novel in their own right.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
That I am a class traitor, for writing Hiding Behind The Couch, which is about middle class life. Maybe it's true of the book, but its creation served a therapeutic purpose and got me back on track with my writing, so it can't be all bad. The best compliment? I've been asked a couple of times to write people's biographies, which says so much more than words.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Keep doing it, even if it's only for yourself.

What books inspired you when you were a child?
Enid Blyton mostly - The Folk of the Faraway Tree was my favourite, but I read most (if not all) of the Famous Five books and really loved Charles Schultz's Peanuts comic strip books too. Alas I also have to admit to reading a couple of teen romance novels, the first of which, From Janie With Love, inspired the American bits in Hiding Behind The Couch.

If your book were made into a movie, who do you picture playing the lead characters parts?
This is a bit tricky, because I don't watch a lot of TV or film and when I do, it tends to be documentaries. Added to this, I also have a problem visualising my characters and see them more as emotions and intentions held together in some vague physical form. Nonetheless, I imagine that Andrew Lee Potts would make an exceptional Jack Davies (And The Walls Came Tumbling Down), against Alan Rickman's Professor Jericho, not that I'm one for typecasting!

No Dice is published September 2011 - visit for more information.

Champagne / And The Walls Came Tumbling Down - both available through