Gareth Crocker’s debut novel, Finding Jack, was published in New York to international acclaim. It was translated into several languages and featured in eight volumes of Reader’s Digest Select Editions. It went on to sell more than a million copies in its various formats. On the back of Finding Jack’s success, Penguin Books signed Gareth to a three-book deal. Journey from Darkness was published in 2012 followed by Never Let Go in 2013. Gareth’s latest novel, King, has just been published. Writing is done at night, in a dark room, next to a small window.

Q: Married? Children? Animals?
A: Embarrassing cliché. Married my high school sweetheart in 1999, we’ve been quietly at war ever since. Have two beautiful children, Jordann (8) and Jennifer (11). Four dogs, three of whom are highly pedigreed. Remaining dog has not seen itself on glossy posters of dog breeds and, as a consequence, lives miserably in the shadow of highly pedigreed siblings. Three cats, one of whom is missing a leg courtesy of a recent successful game of ‘fetch’ involving a moving car tyre, attached to a moving car wheel, attached to a moving car.

Q: How long have you been writing?
A: Since I was nine. I discovered that young girls were rather fond of rhyming couplets so I supplemented my weekly pocket money with paid-for love poems for my poetically challenged male classmates. Measured against a kind of ‘tuck shop’ index, it was unquestionably the most lucrative writing period of my life.

Q: Tell us about your writing as an adult?
A: After University I was given my first opportunity as a cub reporter for a local community newspaper. I later made news editor and freelanced for some of the country’s daily papers before realising that if I indeed ever wanted to get married and have a family and not rely solely on media freebies, I would have to turn my back on journalism and sell my soul to the corporate world (journos get paid roughly the same as gravediggers, but the former have to shovel more dirt). I achieved this in 1997 when I joined a top PR and publishing firm. After a few years I was appointed publishing editor and was responsible for hundreds of large corporate publications such as annual reports and magazines for companies such as Coca-Cola and SABMiller. However, after seven years, I got fed up with having to deal with useless communication heads at large companies and, instead, decided to become one myself.

Q: As a journalist, did you ever break any big stories?
A: Probably my biggest success as a young reporter was discovering the cause of an air crash. I was reporting on a fatal helicopter crash when I decided to interview a few people in homes along the helicopter’s flight path. I had knocked on only two doors when I met a man who said that he had heard an almighty bang as the helicopter passed over his house. When we walked outside, looking for any potential debris, I realised that the man’s lightning conductor was badly bent at the top. A paint-match test later confirmed that this is indeed what brought down the chopper. I was treated like a hero at the office by the tea lady and my then fiancé arranged a ticker tape parade around our flat. She was, however, not sufficiently impressed to offer any private bedroom celebration.

Q: Rumour has it that you were a professional footballer for a time?
A: Very, very briefly. I turned out a few times for a few pro clubs, but was never quite good enough to crack it full-time. I discovered I had the heart of Ryan Giggs, but the feet of Gareth Crocker. However, I now turn out for the mighty Rhodes Old Boys football club. If there’s a finer football outfit in the world, I’ve certainly not come across it. Our league’s a mish-mash of accountants, journalists, authors, marketers and dentists. Although some sides clearly seem to have a superior recruitment strategy to us. One team in particular boasts two former Springboks who have both held aloft the Rugby World Cup. Not that this affords them any special favours. They get kicked to pieces just like the rest of us. Quite recently I fulfilled a lifelong ambition by scoring a bicycle kick. It only took me 30 years to get it right.

Q: There’s another rumour that you once ran 100 kilometres?
A: True. And I wasn’t alone. A few years ago I took part in South Africa’s world-famous Comrades Marathon which is about 90 kilometres long and is run, every year, by several thousand of my mad countrymen. The additional 10 kilometres was performed after the race when my wonderful and caring wife forgot where she parked our car and I had to endure several grueling laps around a rather large rugby stadium, on bleeding feet, which were now missing three toenails. To say I was ‘mildly displeased at the additional mileage’ would be to employ the most generous of euphemisms.

Q: We believe you’ve made a film?
A: Oddly enough, it’s true. It’s called Taken and tells the story of a young couple who are abducted in their sleep and thrust into a basement and series of underground tunnels. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. My two partners and I financed the film and did virtually everything ourselves. I wrote the script, co-produced and co-directed the film. If you’re unlucky enough, you can still catch it on television these days. The film has a remarkably realistic feel to it, but that’s probably because we actually abducted two people in their sleep and thrust them into a basement and series of underground tunnels. There is an outside chance that it’s not the worst film ever made. Though I wouldn’t bet on it.

Q: Professionals in the film industry dream of one day making their own feature film. You seemingly have no experience in the industry, how on earth did you make a film?
A: Hmm … everyone keeps saying that to me. The truth, as with most things, is simple. On the night my youngest daughter was born, I was sitting next to the pool with my best mate smoking a couple of cigars (well, really just inhaling the smoke into my cheeks and then trying to blow smoke rings). I turned to him and said ‘Hey, we should make a film’, to which he slowly nodded and replied ‘Yeah … with lots of nudity.’ And that, quite honestly, is how it began. Making a film might sound like an incredibly difficult and complex thing to do, but as with anything, once you break it down into small steps, virtually anything is achievable. My partner and I came up with a story over coffee the following week and I wrote the 100 page script in three sleepless days. After interviewing several sadly shortsighted cinematographers, we found our guy. I was like, ‘Hey, want to make a film?’ And he was like, ‘Okay. When?’ And that was it. Next, we plan to build a rocket ship in my mate’s garage.

Q: As a South African, was it difficult getting published in the UK?
A: More difficult than I ever imagined. To even get your manuscript read by a publisher you first have to get an agent which, in itself, is a bit of a nightmare. However, the great thing about being fairly young and naïve is that you feel entirely bulletproof and operate under the illusion that the world is your oyster. It was armed with this inflated sense of self-worth that I loaded up as many manuscripts as I could fit into my backpack and headed off to London a few years ago. I spent eight days walking through a pair of new trainers, going door-to-door, dropping off copies of my work with agents. And literary agents, let me tell you, are weird folk. Some of the people I visited flatly refused to open their doors and instructed that I should leave the manuscript on the floor.

Q: Despite that, you actually managed to find an agent in only a few days?

A: Yes, but I was extremely fortunate. I had just returned to my hotel room after taking in a horror film, when I noticed there was a message on my phone. It was from one of the agents I had been at earlier that day. It turns out that after I had made my delivery in a large ‘manuscript bin’ on her patio, she had arrived home only to discover that she was locked out of her office. So, with nothing to do but wait for the locksmith, she dipped her hand into the bin and … lo and behold … withdrew my book. When I walked into her office the following day, I was amazed to find piles and piles of unread manuscripts that reached right up to the ceiling! And that, she quietly explained, was only a month’s worth. So, the Gods were certainly smiling down on me.

Q: Did you get many rejection slips from publishers?
A: There are barren fields where trees once proudly stood that are testimony to my own personal criticism. I’ve actually still got all the rejection slips which I one day plan to pulp and sculpt into a life-size statue of Nelson Mandela. Most of these rejections were for earlier attempts at novels, but they still feel fresh to me. Now that I’m older though, I realise it’s just part of the journey and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Rejection slips should be seen as rungs on a ladder. A really tall ladder…

Q: We believe there’s quite a funny story surrounding your publishing deal?
A: Absolutely. I received my publishing contract on the one day it snowed in Johannesburg in something like 20 years. A story, I still find hard to believe.

Q: We believe there’s talk of possible film deals for your novels?
A: Sort of. At the moment two of my novels (Finding Jack and Never Let Go) are with the Hollywood film producer, Gillian Gorfil. She’s produced films for the likes of Leonardo Di Caprio, so she’s a proper A-lister. She has an option on both novels for the next 12 months. So here’s holding thumbs that we’ll move into production at some point.

Q: So, if becoming an author is your best professional achievement to date, what’s your best personal achievement?
A: Without question it was adopting my eldest daughter, Jennifer. My wife and I adopted her from a Children’s Home in Johannesburg. She has the wildest, most rock star-like extravagant mop of curly blonde hair the world has ever seen. We fostered her for two years before finally adopting her in 2006. Her and her sister are the reason. Whatever that reason may be.

Q: What advice can you give aspiring writers?
A: Despite all the criticism, keep believing in yourself. If you truly believe you have the game to get published, do not stop trying. If you’ve got potential, you’ll eventually receive personalised rejection slips where someone has gone to the trouble of personally penning some further criticism. This means you’re getting better. Typed rejection notes are not great news. But hand-written comments, even ones that threaten a pox upon your house, but then offer some kind of brief advice, are to be celebrated. The truth is that for the most part, these guys know what they’re talking about. Listen to them, learn and apply what they suggest. Also, if someone says you are utterly rubbish and should please stop wasting their time, thank them politely. Do not write an angry letter to them telling them that they will rue the day they ever criticized you as you will one day be a best- selling author. You will just sound like a petulant child. The only time you can send them such a letter is if you do, indeed, become a best-selling author. And by then, you’ll surely realise what an absurd notion that letter would be.

Also, make sure your story has a market. My only problem with Finding Jack is that it is essentially a story that would appeal mostly to women, but was written in a more male setting (war). Apart from some weak writing initially, my biggest failing was that the book ‘fell between two stools’ from a marketing perspective. You might think you have a wonderful story to tell, but always remember this crucial question: Are there people out there who want to read it? Simple. Writing, bless its wondrous, enigmatic splendour, is still a business. Your work has to sell for you to be successful.

Q: Give us a few interesting anecdotes about yourself.
A: I have had the great pleasure of hosting Nelson Mandela on a tour of a large South African company and writing a speech for him. I suspect that for years he dined out on the story and tells all his mates how he was once lucky enough to hang out with yours truly…
I starred as a car hijacker in a short stunt film involving ‘Traceur’ athletes that were used in a James Bond film (Casino Royale). Remarkably, and I say this with much pride, I did all my own stunts, including a 20 foot leap over a railing onto a concrete floor. Hurt like a pair of broken legs, but legs fortunately remained in tact.

I have a quasi career as a radio copywriter having written approximately 500 radio adverts.
When I write, I have Morgan Freeman’s voice in my head.
Did I mention I made a film?

I can juggle up to four items. Five, if they’re on fire.

Q: Favourite films?
A: Rocky and Shawshank Redemption.

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