As I pointed out in my review of Geekhood over at The Awkward Magazine, there’s something about the main character in those books, Archie, which makes me wish they’d been around when I myself was going through that awkward period of life which…well, is still going to be fair. So when I got the chance to pick the brain of the books’ author, Andy Robb, I was glad to find out that there’s a little bit of that neurotic side in all of us.
Read on to find out what Andy had to say about the books’ beginnings, how he brings his own personality to them, and his efforts in going above and beyond for the sake of research.
Geekhood is certainly a title that stuck out on the bookshelf for me! Where did you come up with the title for the books?
The gang at Stripes Publishing have to get the credit for that. I’d originally called the book ‘IM/PS’, which I thought was clever and crafty and all that sort of thing. But then someone pointed out that it didn’t actually tell the reader anything about the story, so we ended up in an office for most of a day, coming up with ideas. Then there was a lot email-swapping over the following weeks and eventually, we all agreed on the title. It was the same process for Mission Improbable – but we knew roughly which ball-park we were playing in, this time so it might’ve been a little easier.
How did you first get the idea to tell Archie’s stories as novels?
I’d written a version of Geekhood, set in medieval Britain. It was originally a story about a teenage witchfinder who falls in love with a teenage witch. But when I showed it to my agent, her feeling was that it wasn’t going to resonate with modern teens, so I went back to the drawing board. Sarah came out of the witch character and Archie is an extension of myself; a lot of it’s a thinly-veiled autobiography!
What first made you decide to make a go of writing?
It was a personal challenge, more than anything. Until that point, I’d worked fairly steadily as an actor. But, in that trade, you have to take more-or-less whatever comes along. Which means that, sometimes, you end up in plays or TV shows that you don’t believe in. I wanted to try and write something I believed in. And it was while I was writing that I bumped into the author, Alex Garland, on a film-set. I asked him what I should be doing next and he very kindly put me in touch with his agent – who, I’m delighted to say, is now mine!
Is there any work that particularly influenced the Geekhood books?
That’s a hard one to answer, but I think the Bartimaeus books, by Jonathan Stroud, may have had something to do with the way the Inner Monologue turned out. In Stroud’s books, the lead character – a djinni – narrates and there’s a hilarious use of footnotes. Worth checking out.
Describe a typical day’s writing the books.
I haven’t yet achieved the dizzy heights where that’s all I do so, for me, the day revolves around my day job as a copywriter. By about 7pm, I get itchy fingers and start writing book stuff. There tends to be a lot of head-scratching and staring out of the window, but you can also get into a good run, where the story just pours out. I write until I’m too tired to do any more and do it all again the next day!
You really went above and beyond in researching for the LARPing elements of Mission Improbable. How did you find your day on the battlefield?
I loved it. It was hilarious and creative and beautiful, all at the same time. What really touched me was the way in which all these people – considered to be Geeks in their daily lives – had come together to create their own little bubble of existence for 48 hours, where the could be exactly who they wanted to be, freed from the tyranny of self-consciousness. But it’s not all heavy and worthy; some of it was really funny and that bit in Mission Improbable where Archie’s fighting an Orc and they both stop to avoid a cowpat is taken from my day on the battlefield. It was brilliant and the LARPers cheerfully trod the line between ‘total immersion’ and not taking themselves too seriously. If anyone’s interested, the group I went to are called Fields of Illusion; you can find them on Facebook. Really nice people and I will be going again, in August.
What were the most and least fun parts about creating Geekhood?
Most fun: I really enjoy writing the relationships between Archie and his gang, because you get to explore a slightly different avenue with each one. Friendships between boys can be very complex, even though, on the surface, they might just look like a group of lads hanging out.
Least fun: edits. I managed to massively overwrite Mission Improbable, which meant that there was a lot to cut out. I still mourn a couple of scenes, but maybe I’ll hang onto them, for something else.
What’s next for Archie’s gang?
I’ve yet to find out if there’s going to be a third, yet. The publishers are behind it, but the whole thing depends on how the first two books perform, commercially. Having said that, I know exactly what I want to happen and how it’ll finish up. Keep your fingers crossed!
What else are you working on at the moment?
Something without a title, but I’m tentatively putting my toes into the waters of Horror. But horror you can laugh at.
What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?
Write. Keep writing. And read. And don’t take knockbacks too hard. The way I see it, every story is an experiment to see if you can get the formula right. When that experiment doesn’t work, you play with some of the elements and try again. And it’s never over until you say it is; you might feel like you have no control in the early days, but that’s one thing completely within your power.
Dinner party. Five celebrities; living or dead. Go.
Bill Hicks, Keith Richards, Richard Burton, Tom Baker and William Shatner.
What is your Inner Monologue telling you right now?
To go to bed!
Andy Robb is the author of two Geekhood novels; both brilliant and both available in bookshops and online. Find his website here.