Would you like to learn about writing narrative non-fiction?
It’s a challenging genre that fascinates me.
Jeremy Dronfield is the author of the Sunday Times best-seller The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz.
In this interview, he explains:
- What looking at the past teaches us about today
- The process of writing narrative non-fiction and how to find your subject
- How to write a great pitch letter that publishers notice
- His research process
- Dealing with dark subject matter
And lots more!
Jeremy: In recent years, those two strands have come together. You know, writing fiction, writing vivid, immersive narrative fiction came together with the research background, and that informs the way I write narrative nonfiction. I try to make the narratives as immersive as possible. I want the reader to be there. I want them to feel the story, feel the places, hear and smell and see what I'm writing about. And the way to do that is using the devices that you use in fiction, vividly set scenes, then fiction-like narrative structures.
Introduction: Welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you'll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Byan: Sooner or later, you're going to face the question, should you write fiction or nonfiction, or should you try and write both? Hi there, my name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast. That's a theme from this week's podcast interview where I catch up with Jeremy Dronfield, the author of The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz, which is a Sunday Times bestseller. Now a couple of years ago, or I suppose it will be 10 years ago, I started out by writing fiction, and I wrote fiction because I was inspired by short stories by the likes of Charles Murkowski and Raymond Carver. And also because they took a series of fiction writing classes in the Irish Writer Center in Dublin. And eventually over the years, I, I suppose, navigated away from writing fiction towards writing more business self help books, such as This Is Working and The Power of Creativity.
Byan: And the reason why I wrote those books is I interviewed a lot of people who had set up businesses or who are making a living from their creative work, and I wanted to share what I've learned from these people in the form of a book. And also, because I was reading a lot of business self help books at the time because of starting my site Become a Writer Today, and I learned a couple of years ago that what you read informs what you write. And I wasn't really reading a lot of fiction at the time. So that's why, or one of the reasons why I started writing nonfiction. Now, right now, I've actually been reflecting on what I've been writing and I'm moving away from writing business self help and I want to get back to storytelling, but not necessarily fiction. So I'm actually working on a parenting book, and this will be a story-driven parenting book because I've got three kids, rather than an instructional how to become a dad book.
Byan: And the way I got to write this book is by going through old journal entries and so on, and seeing what personal stories I can extract and maybe turn into chapters for the book. I've also started publishing some chapters for that book on Medium, basically as a way of getting early feedback to see what I should include in the book or what I should take out. At the time of recording this interview, I'm also a little bit burnt out like many people because I've spent the last three or four months basically on lockdown. So before I really get into setting myself a deadline for finishing the first draft, I'm going to take a week or two off to recharge and I'm to go to a holiday home on the South East of Ireland, along the coast to basically stop thinking about writing a book or stop thinking about things to do with Become a Writer Today part of business, because sometimes I've learned that you need to step back when you need to take a break and that will give you time to recharge and the energy you need to leap forwards.
Byan: And the question of whether you should write fiction or nonfiction is a question that I suppose I reflect on or have reflected on over the years, but Jeremy Dronfield is one person who I guess has transitioned from fiction to narrative nonfiction over the years, and that's something we talk about in this week's podcast episode. This week's podcast episode also reminded me of when I worked as a radio producer, because Jeremy's new book is very research driven, even though it's written quite like a novel. In the interview he actually described how he would sit on his couch with his laptop and he'll be surrounded by books with annotations and sticky notes popping out of all the different books that he's read. And that actually reminded me of when I was a radio producer and I went into an academic's office and the academic's office had dozens and dozens of books stacked on this table and stacked on the floor, and they were covered in sticky notes and index cards and post-its and so on, so he could arrange and organize his ideas.
Byan: It seemed to me that the way Jeremy had approached his research writing process was a little bit like how the academic I'd met several years ago, who I was going to interview or prepare for interview for a radio show, approached writing his books. There's lots more, of course, we cover in this week's interview. Jeremy explains how he balances writing fiction and nonfiction and why he's moved to narrative nonfiction over the past few years. Of course, he talks about his research process and how he balanced his writing, research, and editing. I thought this was particularly interesting because Jeremy's book relies so much on primary sources that were in German and required the help of translators and third parties.
Byan: He also talks about how to write a great pitch that captures the attention of publishers. And I found this particularly interesting because Jeremy explains how his book was rejected many times before it was accepted by a small indie publisher. I'd encourage you to listen to this part of the show, which is towards the end if you're struggling with rejection for your writing. And he also talks about what he does when he's waiting to get feedback on a pitch and what he does when it's rejected. But of course this book wasn't rejected in the end. It became a Sunday Times best seller. And before we get over to this week's interview, we do have an ask. If you enjoy the Become a Writer Today podcast, please leave a short review or rating on the iTunes store or wherever you're listening to the show, because more reviews or more ratings will help more listeners find us.
Byan: Now with that, over to this week's podcast interview with Jeremy. And I started by asking him to explain why he decided to write The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz in the first place, and how we came across such an interesting story.
Jeremy: Well, the story is that basically Gustav Kleinmann was a middle aged Jewish upholsterer living in Vienna in the 1930s. A very ordinary family. Wife, and four kids. In 1939, Gustav and his teenage son Fritz were taken by the Nazis and was sent to a Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. And incredibly they survived three years in Buchenwald. Then in 1942, Gustav was listed for transfer to Auschwitz, which they knew perfectly well was virtually a death sentence. And Fritz was exempt from this transport. But as soon as he heard that his father was going to Auschwitz, he volunteered to go with him. He would rather die with his father than live on alone.
Jeremy: And his friends tried to persuade him not to. They said, "If you want to go on living, you have to forget your father." But he went, and miraculously, they both survived the selection when they arrived in Auschwitz, and even more incredibly, more miraculously survived another more than two years in Auschwitz. And we know about this story because throughout his time in the camps, Gustav kept a diary and he wrote the first entry on 2nd of October, 1939, his first day in Buchenwald, and the last entries were written in the summer of 1945 when he was making his way back across Europe to Vienna.
Byan: It must have been incredibly difficult to keep a diary under those circumstances. So what did the entries look like?
Jeremy: Well, it's just page after page of continuous text. The diary itself was a tiny little pocket notebook. A lot of the time he didn't write dates in. And the way I came across this story was I was asked to help find a publisher for an English translation of the diary. We couldn't do that because, as incredibly important as the diary is and as amazing as the story it tells is, it's really difficult to read Gustav's diary. He didn't really write it as a record or intending it to be read by anyone. He wrote it, as far as we can tell, just to keep a grip on his own sanity. And it's very sketchy. It's got a very oblique vague references to people and places and events, and even a Holocaust historian would have to constantly consult their reference books in order to understand what he's writing about a lot at the time. So my thinking was the best way I could serve this story would be to bring my abilities as a writer and researcher to it and flesh it out and write it in a way that would be accessible to everybody.
Byan: What language was the diary written in?
Jeremy: He wrote in German. That added to the problems, because of the obscurity... To give you an example, the English translation that I was initially working with described how within a few days of arriving in Buchenwald, Gustav just says that, according to this translation, that he and Fritz were given work as truck drivers. Now that sounded extremely unlikely to me that they would make Jewish prisoners truck drivers within a few days in a Nazi concentration camp. So I went back to the original German diary and started from scratch. And the word that Gustav used in this instance was [German 00:9:10] , which if you'd just translate it literally would come out as truck driver.
Jeremy: By digging into the material around Buchenwald and the concentration camps, I found out that [German 00:09:22] was used to refer to the slave workers who were forced to push and pull these huge railed wagons from the stone quarry at Buchenwald up the hill to cut construction sites. There would be teams about 16 to 26 men pulling these wagons loaded with up to four tons of stone. There were frequent deaths and accidents. And if you were seriously injured in Buchenwald, it was pretty much a death sentence. There was that much detail revealed by just researching the meaning of this one word. And the whole diary almost is like that. The meaning is hidden behind these difficult to understand words, these obscure usages.
Byan: I was looking at your acknowledgements section and you have dozens of different people and researchers and organizations that you thanked. So how did you approach going through your primary materials and figuring out what to ask people about?
Jeremy: The core of the research was Gustav's diary itself. So just working through it, going into archive materials, the concentration camp records, concentration camp archives. There's a huge tome called the Auschwitz Chronicle by a Polish author, which details every day from the beginning to the end of Auschwitz. Numbers of prisoners in, prisoners out. Sources like that. And I witnessed testimonies that corroborated things that were referred to in Gustav's diary. Gustav's son Fritz gave quite a few interviews during his life. He died in 2009, Fritz, before I came across this story. But he left behind quite a lot of interviews. I made use of those.
Jeremy: And crucially, I managed to track down the last surviving Holocaust era member of the Kleinmann family. As I said at the beginning, Gustav had four children. His eldest daughter Edith escaped to England just before the war started. Fritz, of course, went to the concentration camps with him. His wife and his other daughter Herta were murdered by the Nazis in 1942. But his youngest son, Kurt, who was 11 at the time, was sent to live in America in 1941. He was the only member of the family who was allowed to escape. He managed to get permission, all the necessary papers to go and live with a family in Massachusetts. And Kurt is still alive and well, living in New Jersey. And I managed to track him down and he was an enormously valuable source of information about what the family life was like in Vienna, before Hitler came, as he puts it, and the kind of man his father was and the kind of bond he had with his brother, Fritz. Kurt became a friend and the book really couldn't have been written properly without him.
Byan: And they had a rather difficult reunion after the war.
Jeremy: Yeah. As I said, Kurt went off to America in 1941. He was brought up by an American family in Massachusetts and became an all American guy, really. American values. And he ended up doing his military service in the US army and eventually ended up stationed in Germany and went back to Vienna in 1954 to be reunited with his father and brother. He had been in touch with them in the meantime, but this was the first time they had actually got together. And Kurt, probably because of trauma, had lost all his German. So they had trouble communicating. And also they were just worlds apart now. Before the war, Kurt and Fritz had been best friends as well as brothers, but now they were just worlds apart. Kurt had the relatively conservative American values of the 50s, and Fritz, after going through the concentration camps, had come out as a communist.
Jeremy: Gustav and Fritz mainly survived the early period in the camps because they were befriended by these veteran political prisoners who were communists and socialists, and Fritz had grown to manhood in the camps, and he had become a communist and an atheist. So he and Kurt just did not have any common ground at all. With the result that Gustav declared no politics in the house. Now the result of that was they never really talked about the times in the camps, and it was Kurt's lifelong regret. It was decades, really, before he really started to learn about what his father and brother had been through.
Byan: Did you find it difficult to write about such a dark story?
Jeremy: Yeah, it is quite hard work. It's not quite as difficult as you might expect it to be, because when you're reading a book like this, you get it all in one big brush. When you're writing it, it's spread out over a long period. And also there are technical, artistic concerns involved that distance you from the material to some extent, that provide a sort of cushion. A big part of your mind is preoccupied with how to structure the story with the research, making all your dates line up, all that kind of thing. And with just with the work of perfecting the writing, to an extent that cushions you from the emotion of what you... But you still have to remain fully engaged with the emotion of it, otherwise the story just wouldn't work on the page. But you are cushioned a little bit from it. But even so there were parts of it that I still find quite difficult to talk about, and were certainly difficult to write.
Jeremy: The story of Gustav's wife Tini and their daughter Herta, what happened to them, that was extremely difficult to write. I was doing it in conjunction with letters that Tini wrote to Kurt when he was in America, and these letters are so full of love and yearning for him and for freedom and knowing that they wouldn't... She tried to believe that they would all be reunited again, but I think she knew that it was unlikely, and knowing what happens, that was really difficult to write that. That one chapter, it was so difficult to write and is still quite hard to talk about. And especially in relation to Kurt, because one of the unexpected things about writing this book was that I discovered stuff about the Kleinmann family story that Kurt had never known. Possibly things that even Gustav and Fritz didn't know. That included the details of what exactly happened to Tini and Herta when they were deported to Minsk with 900 other Jewish women, children and men.
Jeremy: Kurt, of course, knew that his mother and sister had been murdered, but he didn't know the details of how it was done. And I managed to uncover how things were done at the camp they were sent to near Minsk. And I knew when I sent the first draft of the manuscript to Kurt for comments, I knew that he would be learning for the first time what had happened. It felt almost like I was sending him a ticking bomb. And he told me later how he was devastated by it and that he broke down reading it. But at the same time, he needed to know. He was glad to know this information. And there were many things in the book like that, that the family hadn't known about.
Byan: You approached the book almost like a novel, rather than a historical work. Although it is immaculately referenced, it's written like a novel.
Jeremy: That's the way I write. I started out as a novelist. To be strictly accurate, I started out, in my writing career, as an academic. I was in archeology, so my first experience of writing for publication was writing for scholarly journals. But then I became a novelist. And in recent years, those two strands have come together. Writing fiction, writing vivid, immersive narrative fiction came together with the research background, and that informs the way I write narrative nonfiction. I try to make it, the narrative, as immersive as possible. I want the reader to be there. I want them to feel the story, feel the places, hear and smell and see what I'm writing about. And the way to do that is using the devices that you use in fiction, vividly set scenes, then fiction-like narrative structures. But, as in The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz outfits, nothing is invented. Every detail there is factually true, is backed up and is entirely historically true.
Byan: The first chapter or the introduction reads like and inciting incident that you'd read in a novel. Does it take long to write a book like this? I imagine it would take a few years.
Jeremy: Yeah. This one took about... I reckon it was about two years of preliminary work and preparation, preliminary research and preparing and thinking about it. And then about a year of full time research and writing to complete.
Byan: You've written several books. Do you exclusively write nonfiction now or do you still sometimes return to fiction?
Jeremy: I've been so preoccupied with writing nonfiction in recent... I've not really gone back to fiction. I've got fiction projects on the back burner, but not that I've really done anything with. I ghostwrite as well, and I've done fiction through that channel, but my own I haven't done for quite a while. I just never seem to find the time for it. I've kind of discovered that I quite like writing stories where the story has already been done for me, which I get with true stories, with historical narrative nonfiction. You've got the story there for you as though you can devote all your energy, all your creative energy into just how you tell the story, which I really enjoy that.
Byan: What does your writing routine look like on a typical day when you're in a project like this?
Jeremy: Well, it depends. When I was working on this and the book that came before it, I'd got into a routine where I was getting up at 5:00 in the morning and just getting straight to work and writing pretty much all day. Writing and/or researching all day. Seven days a week. That's when I'm on absolutely full steam. I get up and go to my sofa. I don't have an office. I use a laptop on my sofa and work surrounded by mountains of books.
Byan: Sounds intense.
Jeremy: And really stressful. If I don't feel like writing, then I don't write. There's the thing that writers, or would be writers are told, that you must write every day even if it's bad, because you can always improve it later. That's never worked for me. I tried it once because everyone said you should do that, but it just knocked my confidence myself. If I had a few days of just writing stuff that I looked at and that was bad, that would knock my confidence in my own abilities as a writer. So I only write when I feel like writing. So my books tend to start off slow. On a good day, I might write 500 words and then I have days when I don't write anything. But they accelerate to the point where I'm about two thirds of the way through, and I'm at that point that I described where I'm up at 5:00 and just writing all day. So I'm doing like 3, 4,000 words a day, of what I feel is good stuff. Because I'm only writing when I'm at that pitch.
Byan: Because your work is so research driven, do you make a conscious decision to separate research and writing and editing. Or does it all blend into one?
Jeremy: No, they're all really connected to each other. Writing and research are really intimately connected with this sort of book. Some of the projects that I've done started out as ghostwritten works. For example, the book that I did for this one, Dr James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time. Story of a young Irish woman who disguised herself as a man in order to study medicine. I was brought into that as a ghost because my co-author, the late Michael du Preez, had researched the story and sketched it out but couldn't make it work as a book. So I was brought in to just rewrite his manuscript as a book. But I discovered in doing that, with all respect to Michael, that people who don't know how aren't able to write a book also have problems with research as well.
Jeremy: And it was doing some of these books that I learned how intimately research and writing are interconnected. That knowing how to tell a story informs how you research it, shapes where you put your focus, what lines that are really worth pursuing, and really digging into. So there were areas in the original manuscript that were quite sketchy, and my instinct as a writer told me that they needed to be pursued in more detail, and I discovered new things. So the two go hand in hand, just... I said when you're writing The Boy Who Followed, there was a year of research and writing, and the two were going on together. Research would pull up details that would inform scenes or chapters and things to build the story around. And then the writing would then trigger further research. You can't separate the two.
Jeremy: Editing for me is mostly about cutting stuff out rather than... It's just pruning really. Probably just simply because I've been doing it for so long, that when I ended up with a manuscript, it's pretty much right. I don't really do drafts as such. I don't do a draft book and then just go back to the beginning and redraft, or really invasive editing. The manuscript I end up with at the end of the writing process is pretty much right, and it's just a case of just then going back through it and polishing it, which mostly consists of pruning stuff out. Altering the odd phrase.
Byan: I'm also curious, you described being surrounded by a pile of books during the day and a pile of research. So how do you arrange all of your ideas for your research? Are you relying on index cards or a referencing system, or do you have some other way of organizing it?
Jeremy: It mostly exists in my head. When I start, I will have already done a chapter by chapter synopsis as part of the process of making a book proposal to try and get the publisher on board. So I will know the structure of the book beforehand. I would have done that as part of working out the proposal. Those chapter synopses never reflect the end result. It always changes. But I will have this scheme of chapters and the overall story structure in my head when I start. And when I'm researching, this mountain of books that I'm surrounded by, library books, each one of them is like a Christmas tree with bits of colored paper sticking out of it.
Jeremy: I will just go back and forth, just picking out bits of essential information distinguished from things that actually are what I think as story material and circumstantial details. And the structure of it mainly exists in my head. I have to keep track of it mentally, what I'm actually doing, what the overall shape of the book is. And from chapter to chapter, I'm following instinct and experience as much as the original chapter plan.
Byan: So you talked briefly there about writing a pitch about the outline of the book in advance. Do you consciously come up with a one page document that summarizes what the book is about or a controlling idea, or do you try and put a pitch together first before you start a project like this?
Jeremy: When I'm starting a project like this at the beginning of the proposal stage, I'll have decided, just based on looking at the story material, what the real heart of the story is, the really emotional heart, what it is about it that will really engage a reader and just make them want to read it and make it have an emotional impact on them. So that will shape the way I see the story going, and then I will use the devices of fiction to shape the overall story arc, the way different aspects of the story are weighted. The initial pitch will focus on what I consider to be the emotional heart of the story. A proposal for me uses the format of an opening summary, a one page summary that pitches to book, and it will include a full chapter by chapter breakdown and a couple of sample chapters.
Jeremy: So by the time I'm doing the proposal, I will have already had to do a fair amount of the research. I'll have done enough of it to be able to sketch out the whole book and write a couple of chapters. But capturing that essence is the hardest part in the opening pitch, because you've got to get a publisher pretty much on board just with that first page, which means that you've got to really understand what it is about the story that... Not just about the story, but about the subject matter, that is going to grab them. And that's quite a difficult art to get exactly right. And it rarely works. I work as a reader as well, literary agency reader, so I see hundreds and hundreds of proposals. It's almost always that no matter how good proposals are generally, rarely is that opening pitch quite right. Only a very few got that right straight off the bat.
Byan: So when somebody is writing an opening pitch, should they explain who their ideal reader is?
Jeremy: No, you just have to assume that... Well, you just have to hope that it's going to somebody who is the ideal reader and the commissioning editor will be that ideal reader. The trick of it is to get the story across and the subject matter in 500 words, basically. Make someone understand what the story is and why they would want to read it, and make them feel. Don't explain to them why they would want to read it, but make them feel they really want to read it. So your writing has to be engaging. It has to make the book sound gripping and fascinating, and that's difficult to do in 500... Or it seems difficult. It's not quite as difficult as it first seems once you get the knack for it. It's a question of knowing what to leave out and...
Byan: Isn't it difficult to write a 500 word pitch when you haven't written the book?
Jeremy: Not really, because you're writing about the... By this point, you will have convinced yourself that it's a great book. So basically that's what you're doing with the pitch is passing that on to somebody else. You should have reached the point where, as I said, you've done enough of the research that you can write out a full chapter by chapter synopsis. So you should be able to sell it with that opening pitch. You shouldn't know what the key selling points of it are. I mean, my proposal for The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz was basically what I said at the beginning of this, basically the extremely brief summary of the story, because the thing that really gets people on board with it is just that central choice that Fritz made.
Jeremy: I actually came to understand how this story gets to people through a really circuitous publishing process, because The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz wasn't the original title. The original title was The Stone Crusher, and the proposal for that, we couldn't get a publisher for anywhere. Every publisher on both sides of the Atlantic turned it down. Everyone that it was sent to. Saying that this is a fantastic story, but there's no market for Holocaust books. This was before The Tattooist of Auschwitz had become successful. It was only taken up by a really tiny indie publisher based in Chicago, and that was only because the commissioning editor there was the child of Holocaust survivors. So he had a personal, emotional investment in it.
Jeremy: And then it looked as though the book was just going to fade into obscurity. [inaudible 00:31:24], the title was The Stone Crusher then. It was when Penguin got hold of it. A commissioning editor at Penguin UK just took it upon himself to go looking for a really good Holocaust book, and this was the one he came across, and he read it and immediately suggested that the title of it needed to be The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz. And really that's almost all the pitch you need with that story. The Boy Who Follows His Father Into Auschwitz. It gives you the emotional core of the story. And that had never occurred to me. I mean, I knew that was the emotional heart of the book, but it never occurred to me to absolutely foreground it, to make that both the title and the pitch.
Byan: It's a great title.
Jeremy: You don't really need much more than that to get a person interested in it. If you can do that with a proposal, a book proposal, then that's your ideal pitch. If you can get the story across why somebody would be fascinated by it in less than a dozen words, then you're really onto something.
Byan: So you mentioned there that the pitch was sent to publishers in the US and the UK. So it sounds like the process went down for quite a while. So what do you do when you've sent off a pitch and it's getting bounced around like that? Do you work on the book anyway or do you move on to something else?
Jeremy: Well, you just get more and more depressed, really. And it happens with every book. This is why it's important not to get too discouraged by rejections, because every book I've ever published pretty much has come down to just the last publisher. It's got rejected by everyone, except for one that chose to go with it, and it's usually a long process arriving at that. in this case, it wasn't a happy time. And as I say, it was eventually taken on by this tiny indie press. They weren't expecting it to sell much. And they were a tiny publisher, and the advance they were offering was minute. I mean, I'm a professional writer. This is how I pay my bills. And the amount that they were offering just wasn't enough for me to be able to live on for the amount of time it would take to complete the book.
Jeremy: So if it had been any other subject, I might've put that down to experience and moved on. But it was a hugely important subject. I got to know Kurt Kleinmann. By that point, he'd become a friend. I felt I owed it. I had a moral obligation to the family and also to the subject. It was too important to subject to move on, so I took it on the chin and got down and got on with it and wrote the book. It took me about a year, and a year of having no money. Basically less than no money. Though I still felt it was worth. It was more than worth it. It was a privilege, really, to be able to write this incredibly important story. And in the long term it was vindicated. Because when I started out, when I first started doing the proposal, I believed it could be a bestseller because it was such an amazing story. And that's partly why the process of rejection was so even more disheartening than it usually is, but it was vindicated. My instinct was right that this was a story that thousands and thousands of people have responded to and been moved by.
Byan: So you said that a small publisher picked it up. So I understand what exactly happens, did Penguin then buy the rights to the book or did it somehow...
Jeremy: Well, the original publisher just took the North American rights, so the rest of the world was still available and Penguin just then took the UK and translation rights. At this point, I think it's been translated into about 16 languages, but then it had in fact faded into obscurity in America. The original edition, The Stone Crusher. As well as me changing the title to The Boy Who Followed, the content of the book was changed a bit. It was pared down somewhat. I improved the writing. I took the opportunity to make it a much better book, but in legal terms, it was still the same book. So the North American rights were still held by the [inaudible 00:36:03] Press, but then big American publishers... Once it hit the best seller list in the UK and big American publishers started inquiring about it. So then there was quite a long process of disentangling the original contract so that it could be... And it's only just now, a few weeks ago, finally come out in North America as The Boy Who Followed.
Byan: That's fantastic. So at the time we're recording this interview, we're just coming out of the lockdown. So did you find the last three or four months were good for your creative process, for writing? Did you get much work done.
Jeremy: I haven't been doing a lot because I'm in a bit of a state of uncertainty because I don't actually have a book lined up. I'm taking advantage of it, because I had such a hectic few years. Real over work. A few years ago I took on four narrative nonfiction book projects, because I figured, in my experience with publishers, if I took on four, then there was a reasonable chance that maybe at least one of them would get taken up. But all four of them did. I basically wrote four very complex books in two years and it actually made me really quite ill. So now that I've got this space, this period of a year when I can just relax, it's really welcomed because it's been such an intense few years.
Jeremy: But also because I'm working on a screenplay based on The Boy Who Followed for a production company. And as soon as that arrangement got put in place, the pandemic occurred and the whole film industry went and tucked. It was just put completely on ice, nothing was being made. So it's just been a period of uncertainty over that. Right now it looks like that might be starting to make progress. That project can come back to life. So that will be hopefully what I'll be devoting most of my energy to now.
Byan: And have you written screenplays before?
Jeremy: Yes. It's a new area for me. I've really always wanted to be writing films. It's partly my background as a novelist, but it's also partly this drive that makes me write the way I do. I'm trying to make the reader read to see and hear what I'm seeing and hearing in my head. In a way, when I'm a book, it's kind of a frustrated attempt to write a film, to make a film on the page. I'm trying to get that visual immersive experience. So I'd really love to transition into writing films, and I've got a couple of prospective projects on the go based on books that I've written, and The Boy Who Followed is the closest to coming into development, so I really hope I can make that transition.
Byan: So where can people find out more about the rest of your work, Jeremy?
Jeremy: Well everything is on jeremydronfield.com. You can find the two sides of my writing work there, fiction and nonfiction. All my books are on there.
Byan: It was very nice to talk to you today, and thanks for sharing your story about the book.
Jeremy: Well thank you for having me.
Byan: I hope you enjoyed this podcast episode. If you did, please leave a rating on the iTunes store. And if you want to accomplish more with your writing, please visit becomeawritertoday.com/join, and I'll send you a free email course. Thanks for listening.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Join over 15,000 writers today
You'll get a free book of practical writing prompts.