An Interview With
GRANT P. HUDSON is a published author and poet, has over 5,000 items of merchandise available featuring his artwork, has edited and published many books, taught many people, made many more laugh, and has delved into Life on many levels. His work covers a wide range of topics including how stories really work and how to write them in order to attract readers, the secrets of English literature, how to succeed in business, what education is all about, and so on, including articles on Doctor Who, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, comics, film and television and much more. He maintains a daily blog full of a variety of information and experiences, including items about running a business or making a career as a writer or artist.
He was born in Sheffield, England, but migrated with his family to Australia when he was still a child. He attended university in Adelaide and returned to the UK in the early 1990s, becoming a successful small business consultant in the heart of London, then later worked as an English Literature teacher in Sussex, becoming a Head Teacher for several years. Now he lives in Yorkshire, on the edge of the Peak District National Park, with his family. Here he concentrates on his real passions — thinking, writing and drawing — and manages Clarendon House Publications, an independent publishing company which has helped almost 200 authors achieve publication and published close to two million words.
Check out his articles before you get to know Grant?
Hi Grant, I’m thrilled that you are here with me and about to share some of your deepest secrets. Let’s start with the most important question. You’re a hard-working man, and clearly possessed by the love of stories. You’re both a writer and a publisher, an admin of a fantastic group, and your enthusiasm of literature is also evident from the newest offering from Clarendon House Publications: the Inner Circle Writers’ magazine. What drives you? Are there any specific things? Or vague philosophies? Tell us everything!
Thank you! I’m driven by three fundamental things, I suppose: the first is my passion for writing and art, which has been with me for as long as I can remember. (I was writing stories or drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil.) The second is sheer necessity — my lifestyle is such that I need to produce a vast amount in order to make whatever meagre income I can in order to continue to support my beloved family. The third is my very specific philosophy as a Christian, which demands that I do the best I can for those around me. Put these three together and you have an idea of what gets me out of bed in the morning.
Often it is in our childhood days that we realize what we’d like to do when we grow up. Stories are now an essential part of your life. When was the first time you fell in awe with a story, and consequently, the art of storytelling?
Good question (as are most of these questions, come to think of it). I’d have to go back to my early childhood and to comics and television, I think. Marvel Comics were just taking off in the early 60s when I was beginning to read, and there was also a series of British comics with onomatopoeic names like Smash!, Pow! and Wham! which were full of ingenious and inspiring stories and art.
Television played a big part too. I recall ancient BBC shows like Andy Pandy, The Flowerpot Men and Tales of the Riverbank — all black and white, but all with an innocent enchantment of their own in which the element of Story played a key part.
A bit later, Gerry Anderson television programmes like Fireball XL5, Stingray and Thunderbirds appeared on TV, and they had a spin-off comic called TV21, in which versions of these television series appeared in a magazine which pretended to be from the 21st century. (Back then, the ‘21st century’ was the far future, when most of the world’s problems would be solved: shining cities with monorails and spaceports were everywhere and we would all be jetting about in flying cars.) And then, when I was 4 years old, a programme called Doctor Who made its appearance. I was utterly entranced by all of this.
Can you recall your very first story? When was this? What was it about? Also tell us about the first story you published. Who wrote it? Why did you feel compelled to publish it?
The very first story I wrote? The earliest one I can remember was to do with a character called the Dart. When I was very young, I invented over 150 superheroes along with secret identities, hometowns and so forth — you can see the Marvel influence — and the Dart was one of these characters. He was just a normal guy, but when he donned his jet skates, missile-firing helmet and dart-shooting gloves, he became a superhero. This story was a pretty mundane one: on patrol in his home town (Leeds, I think) he foils a bank robbery.
The first story I published of my own was at university when I was quite a bit older and living in Australia. I was too shy about everything in those days, so approached the university newspaper with a comic strip called Blue Star (heavily influenced by Star Wars, which had just been launched) but told them that it had been written and drawn by a female student. They loved it so much that they published it and then published a special edition of the remaining episodes after their newspaper ran out of editions. It was a real thrill wandering around the campus seeing people sitting reading my comic strip.
In terms of material I have published for others, I think the first was Condor: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group Inaugural Anthology 2018, which was published at the end of 2017. I had no idea what to expect and the book is full of very varied stories.
Please introduce us to your books!
Gosh, there’s rather a lot. I suppose the starting point is my key book How Stories Really Work.
Then the best bet would be to go to the anthologies page:
But make sure to explore the website for the individual author pages as Clarendon House now has quite a ‘worship’ of writers (‘worship’ being the collective noun for a group of writers).
Don’t forget to check out these gifts:
But there’s much more to see and do on the website.
In your book How Stories Really Work you have developed an interesting idea called ‘Story Vacuums.’ Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Of course, as this is part of the core of my passion. For many years — particularly after I began teaching literature to teenagers in school — I had been noticing similarities between stories of different kinds: you know the kind of thing, how Star Wars is like ‘The Lord of the Rings in space’, and so on. But as I looked deeper, and over a period of some years, I began to see that these similarities were not superficial. By this time, I was teaching classics of English and American literature to classes of teenagers in school, as well as holding classes in Film and Media Studies in which we examined great movies and television shows. I started seeing patterns everywhere — some of them went right to the heart of what storytelling was doing. I began to realise that ancient stories like The Odyssey had things in common with mediaeval tales of knights and dragons, or early novels, or indeed later novels, or…
In brief, I began to see the Matrix code behind all fiction. This was much deeper than Campbell’s book The Hero of a Thousand Faces, as it answered the big question: Why? Why does the hero set off on a quest? What is his or her connection to the antagonist? Who are these companions who crop up all the time? It wasn’t just a case of noticing them — I wanted to know why they were there, why they were so similar, why they did what they did.
I drew charts and grids to keep track of it all. One fateful day, after a long walking trip in the snowy dales of Yorkshire (about which you can read elsewhere) it all came together. Sitting on the train on the way back to Sussex from Yorkshire, I filled a notebook with scribbled diagrams and connections. I developed what was then known as ‘The Circle Theory’ of the four basic genres. Further study enabled me to take this further and further, until I found the basic building block of all fiction.
I felt like a physicist discovering the Higgs-Boson particle. I had it. Vacuums. Vacuums lay at the heart of everything. Gaps, holes, missing things, losses, mysteries — anything which smacked of ‘incompleteness’ was a vacuum. Vacuums divided up into types and shapes and resolved to five basic kinds.
It all unfolded from there. Everything in the world of fiction and art — and plenty of other things too — fell apart in front of me. I understood it all. I remember the first class of students upon whom I inflicted these theories. Collectively and individually, their jaws dropped; silence fell; they were in awe. Class after class of students then began to demand that I write a book. I eventually did, but the final version took many more years to finalise. It came into being eventually in 2016 as How Stories Really Work. That book contains the basic knowledge including the Four Basic Genres, the Five Vacuums, and much, much more besides. The secrets of the master authors are there.
Is your family supportive about your creative endeavours? Who do you think stood with you and your dreams? Who is the one person you turn to when it seems like the world is not working in your favour?
Oh yes. My lovely wife is that fabled person ‘without whom none of this would have been possible’. She is the one who has stood with me and the one to whom I turn. She has given me everything, including my daughter, who is the most amazing person — I can’t think how I survived 51 years before my daughter came along.
Part of the reason I work so intensively, as I mentioned above, is to try to give back what they give me every day.
Which authors do you look up to? Whose works do you enjoy the most? Your favourite quote?
This is fairly obvious. I look up to J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis most, but there are many others on this list, including Ursula Le Guin and Dickens, and of course Shakespeare. So many heroes and heroines, though: Austen, Hardy, Marvell, Larkin, on and on. I don’t know if I have a favourite quote, but one that comes close is Tolkien’s verse:
All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes, a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king
Though very ‘story-specific’ in one sense, referring to a ‘blade that was broken’ and so forth, it is also highly evocative of Tolkien’s themes of spiritual renewal and rebirth: the world may appear to be dull, cold, dying and full of shadows, but that is not the whole picture. Depth exists; strength exists; there is goodness, and it shall be woken like a fire.
I first encountered Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was about 6 and absolutely loved it. I have tried every wardrobe I ever owned since to see if it led into Narnia, even the ones from Ikea that I built myself. Then when I was about 14 I read The Lord of the Rings and was ‘smitten’ by it. What was it about these books, I asked my teenage self, that was so powerfully attractive to me? Then to my astonishment I discovered that the two authors, Lewis and Tolkien, were best friends. In fact, Tolkien was a spiritual mentor for Lewis. At that point, I decided to go to university to find out more about that. And I did.
Did you always want to become a writer and a publisher? If perhaps things would have gone differently, which profession would you have chosen?
Writer, yes. I also wanted to be a comic book artist. Briefly, in the Space Race 60s, I wanted to be an astronaut; always, I wanted to be a superhero. For a while, after getting glasses, I wanted to be an optician (I liked the clicking lenses of the optical machines and the technical competency of it). But I never really thought about being a publisher until I saw that, for my book to be a success, I had to Think Bigger. See below.
What are your proudest and most embarrassing moments?
Proudest moment? I have a new one each day every time I look at my daughter.
Most embarrassing: at school in Australia in the 70s, we had what was called Charities Week in which the whole school put on a week’s worth of stalls, shows, games etc to raise money for charity. My teacher at that time came up with two ideas that he thought were great: he would advertise around the school that he was showing a ‘blue’ movie (i.e. the suggestion being that it would be pornographic — it would draw in the crowds, he thought) and, during the intermission, I would perform a demonstration of Jackson Pollock doing ‘action painting’ — i.e. splashing a lot of coloured paint around onto a canvas. It was supposed to be funny.
It was a disastrous afternoon (though as I’m writing this, it strikes me as a good basis for a humorous short story). The gang that turned up to watch the ‘blue’ movie were shown a clip from the 1966 Ashes cricket test between England and Australia, but with a blue cellophane filter over the lens and a lot of grunting superimposed over the soundtrack. I peered through the curtains anxiously at the severely aggravated youths who had been expecting something quite different. Into this maelstrom of anger, I stepped to do my demonstration — but the teacher had decided that actual paints would be too messy to clean up, so I only had crayons. That’s right: a performance of ‘action painting’ with crayons in front of a baying mob. Basically, me throwing crayons at a piece of paper. I left the stage humiliated after about twenty seconds.
Is there anything about you—strange likings or personality quirks—that no one knows yet? Would you like to share them?
There is a great deal about me that no one knows, as there is about you or anyone reading this. Part of our nature as human beings is to have shared and unshared aspects: some of the shared bits perhaps shouldn’t be shared, and some of the unshared bits are better left where they are. We are walking Venn diagrams, we humans, walking around in the Venn diagram of the physical universe.
Well, we just found out your most embarrassing (and perhaps humourous) moment, so I won’t press XD. Anyway, besides writing, what are your other hobbies? Do you watch TV Shows? Name your favourites.
Easy favourites: Doctor Who (especially the earlier stuff) and Catweazle, a lesser-known gem from the late 60s.
I also absolutely love certain British sit-coms from the 70s and 80s like Dad’s Army, The Good Life, Man About The House, Porridge, Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads and many others.
But (gasp) I hardly ever watch TV these days. Most of what I occasionally glimpse I find derivative, shallow and depressing. Technical production values have improved, but the quality of understanding life seems to have declined.
Hobbies? Walking in Paradise, otherwise known as Yorkshire.
Now the most important question: are you a foodie? What sort of food do you love?
I’m not, I’m afraid. Like Tolkien, my food tastes are ordinary — a fine roast dinner with Yorkshire pudding, or good old fish and chips will do me.
What are your goals? What do you aspire to achieve?
Goodness me! I would love to make a lot of other people’s dreams come true in a way that they found lasting and satisfying. More specifically, I’d like Clarendon House to be a self-sustaining enterprise which could go on to support my family into the future. The specific goal rests upon the non-specific one.
Do you think that the future of the writing field is bright? Or must certain measures be taken to ensure progress in the field?
This question makes certain assumptions. I don’t believe that there is such a thing as ‘Progress’, at least not in the sense that I think this question means. C. S. Lewis talks about something called ‘chronological snobbery’ and I’ve discussed this at length in my blog: it’s the idea that the past is somehow inferior and that we are moving towards a better future which implies that we are ‘improving’. In order to avoid writing a book to answer this, then, I will simply say ‘The writing field is probably as bright as it has ever been’ and ‘No, I can’t imagine what such “measures” would involve.’
Do you have any dreams that go beyond the field of writing and publishing?
Yes, of course. In a nutshell, I would like Heaven to arrive in Earth. Not in a crazy religious fundamentalist way, but in a very real and tangible way for every individual. I hope that ‘light from the shadows will spring.’ I hope to help it to do so.
You’re an author and a publisher, and you review dozens of stories every week. The writing wisdom you would have developed from your career must be brilliant. What writing tips would you like to give to upcoming writers? What is the most important rule of fiction? What makes a story brilliant?
OK, one of the most important pieces of wisdom I have gleaned is that there is really no way to answer this properly for everyone, but I’ll give you some thoughts.
Many writers need to understand that there isn’t a great deal of interest out there in what they commit to paper/screen just for its own sake. There’s a therapeutic value in that kind of outflow of ‘stuff’, but that’s about all. If you want to write so that readers — real, living human beings — are attracted and inspired, you need to understand readers in general and your readers in particular (there’s a difference!) What makes them tick? What are they looking for? What are they NOT looking for?
You can do this most successfully by looking honestly into your own heart. When you find the crossover area between what you absolutely love writing and what YOUR readers absolutely love reading, that’s the ‘sweet spot’. Then you’ll find your fanbase and get sales.
The most important rule of fiction? I wouldn’t presume to know what that was. But I can tell you that an important rule is the above, and that another important one is to keep writing until you confidently find your own voice. That may take 10,000 words, or it may take a million words, but you’ll know it when you hit it. It’s that moment when words are flowing through you like Niagara Falls and you are proud and joyous and know that you’re reading something you’ll be happy with, even if no one else is. And the magic? Someone else will probably be happy with it too — you just have to find them.
As far as what makes a story brilliant, that very much depends on who the reader is. I know that what impresses me when I read a story comes in a kind of sequence: firstly I have to feel in capable hands. This comes in the first few sentences when you sense that this writer has reached that point described above when they are confident in their own voice. It’s as easy to spot as it is listening to a song sung in the right key by a good singer. No matter what the subject matter of the story, part of me relaxes a little and I say to myself ‘Ah, this is going to be good.’
Conversely, when reading something by a writer who hasn’t yet reached that ‘sweet spot’ point, I am thinking ‘OK, let’s get through this and see if it gets better.’ Some stories do; others fail within the first few sentences.
Then, while in competent hands, the next step is when the writer surprises me. Not like ‘Oh, I didn’t see that disappointment coming’ but in a good way like ‘Wow! That was cool!’
I remember reading a book by a well-known author some years ago and thinking ‘OK, this is reasonably well-written’ but feeling that the writing was telegraphing to me who the bad guy was going to be. I said to myself, ‘Nah, this author has too good a reputation for the bad guy to be that bad guy — it must be someone else. This will be a cool surprise!’ And then it wasn’t: the bad guy was the character who I thought it was going to be. Flop, even though the author’s name was big.
On the other hand, I recently read David Bowmore’s The Magic of Deben Market and was caught off-guard several times — I thought I knew what was going on, but I had absolutely no idea. And then smash, pow, wham! the stories kept hitting me like that all the way long, including one really big whiz-bang moment towards the end. That book left me with a kind of electricity which still tingles. Just an example — I get to see a lot of really cool writing by many authors, and I usually try and grab them and publish their work so that others can experience what I have experienced.
When did the idea of founding CHP enter your mind? Would you please narrate this life-changing incident? Why the name Clarendon House?
I wrote How Stories Really Work over a couple of years and published it in 2016, figuring that it would just sell and that was that — I would be rich and satisfied that I had contributed goodness to the world. It did sell, and has continued to sell, but not as much as I had naively hoped. So I went deeper (it’s what I tend to do) and figured out some of the fundamentals about marketing, which turned out to be similar to the fundamentals of storytelling. I saw that to just write and publish one book would not be enough — I needed loads more. And to wait for someone to come along and publish them would take years — I could do it myself. Hence Clarendon House, which was a vehicle for my own works at first.
Then I read a key piece of advice somewhere: if you want to make your dreams come true, make others’ dreams come true first. I realised that Clarendon House could be a vehicle for others too. And so it began.
Why ‘Clarendon’? The house I grew up in as a child, from which I was torn to travel to Australia at the age of 8, was called ‘Clarendon’. (Sort of like ‘Rosebud’ in Citizen Kane, yes?) After 26 years (to the day) I came back to England and a few years later I now live within a few hundred yards of that original house.
What difficulties did you face in forming CHP? How did you overcome them?
The difficulties were and are the same facing everyone trying to build a dream: cashflow and bills. It’s like trying to build an island in the middle of an ocean surrounded by sharks. You stack a brick above the surface and lose a limb below. The tricks are persistence and creativity: I am still here, when on paper everything should have collapsed some time ago; I’m still in super-create mode to outwit the sharks. Clarendon House is expanding and becoming a stable island.
Please tell us how you decide which stories and books to publish from the mountains of submissions you get every year. What procedure do you follow? What are the common things that are a deal breaker (common errors most writers keep repeating)?
See my above answers on the ‘wisdom’ question above. I open up a submission, and let it do its work. It either grips me, holds me, guides me and fulfils me to some degree or it doesn’t. Evidence of the Five Vacuums usually needs to be present. I am asking these questions: Is the story moving me forward? Is the story holding my attention? Is the story engaging me as a person? And is it all holding together technically so that overall I go ‘Wow’, even a little. In my book How Stories Really Work I talk about linear vacuums, mystery vacuums, morality vacuums and core vacuums. These have to be there to some degree for any story to work — they don’t have to be fully there, or even expertly there, but they have to be there. I’ll forgive common patterns of errors if the storytelling is good enough.
I love that magic moment when I have read a couple of pages and lost track of time — the story has done its work and I have been ‘drawn in’ and spent time in another world.
Another important thing: I don’t read from the viewpoint of ‘What would I do with this story?’ and I don’t edit from that viewpoint either. The writer’s work is the writer’s work. I take the approach ‘What is this writer going to do with me or for me in this story?’ not ‘What has this writer done wrong?’ From the feedback I get and see elsewhere, this is not always the case: some editors seem to be in the game to tell writers what to do. That’s not my game. I’m interested in what writers can already do and how effectively are they doing it.
What are your future plans for CHP?
I’d like CHP to continue to expand so that it became fully viable within the next couple of years, developing a reputation for creativity, quality and fun, new ideas and colourful projects, and perhaps the unique ‘wisdom’ contained in How Stories Really Work. I’m currently developing the Clarendon House Master Authors’ Programme to train writers; I’m also looking into doing video workshops and even live workshops which might involve writers coming to see me in Yorkshire for a weekend or something like that. As ever, stay tuned!
Wow, that sounds really cool! I’m sure many writers would love to participate. Maybe even ICWG writing retreats?
Okay, now the final question. Every writer is a thinker. Today’s society is plagued with many problems: discrimination based on caste, gender, race, colour; pollution, dying nature…What are your ideas about the current picture of the world? Is our future bleak, or there is still hope?
The future is very bleak. But then it has always been thus — see my answer above regarding the myth of ‘progress’. I can perfectly understand people feeling down about the state of ‘things’. I even consider that existential atheism is a fairly rational response to the world as it is presented to us through our screens.
But ‘The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost.’ There is more to this world, this universe, than we can see — and our current society, going through an Ironic phase as it is (see my book), tends to exaggerate despair and darkness and to underplay or neglect hope and light. But to know more about that, you’d have to come on a journey with me outside the confines of this interview.
I’m sure someday I definitely will, possibly in person. Thank you so much, Grant, for patiently answering every question. With so much going on, I know your schedule must be crazy, and I’m very grateful for your time. I wish you all the best for your upcoming endeavours.
Many, many thanks to you too, Aditya! It has been a pleasure exploring my own world in this way and I hope our readers get some benefit from it.
I’ve some exciting news! A dream is coming true. This Sunday is the launch of my publishing house The Great Void! I couldn’t do this for a long time because of limited funding. But last few months were quite productive, and I’m spending all my savings on The Great Void. Submissions to first three anthologies will go live next week. Posting more details soon. You’re, of course, with great love, invited to this exciting adventure in my little writing world 🙂