Gareth Crocker – best-selling author, international filmmaker … and yet he can’t keep his swimming pool blue…
When I first started researching Gareth Crocker for this interview, it struck me that I might need a little extra space to encompass everything this man has achieved. To that end, I offer my sincere apologies to all who were rudely snubbed in favour of my fifteen minutes of fame in interviewing the legend that is Gareth Crocker.
Let’s start at the very beginning… Gareth’s career took off in 2008 when his debut novel, Leaving Jack was published in London. After selling out in the UK, it was later published in New York and renamed, Finding Jack, where it went on to achieve international acclaim. That same day, it snowed in Johannesburg for the first time in 20 years. Gareth Crocker takes no responsibility for that fact. Despite the blizzard, Finding Jack went on to sell over a million copies. It was translated into several languages and featured in nine volumes of Reader’s Digest Select Editions. It was recorded into an audio book and film rights were sold on no fewer than three occasions. Following this international success, Gareth was then offered a four-book deal by Penguin Random House. Finding Jack was followed by Journey from Darkness (2012), Never Let Go (2013), King (2014), and The Last Road Trip (2015).
Gareth’s latest novel, Ka-boom! is his first foray into writing non-fiction. Set for release this month, Ka-boom! is a comedy-based “communal” biography, based on Gareth’s own experiences. It’s a story for men and boys about never coming of age, and for the women who want to know why. That’s pretty much all of us… women, that is.
South Africa is also waiting for the highly anticipated ‘Jongo’ – Africa’s first super-hero television series, written and co-directed by none other than Mr Crocker himself.
Let’s start with the man behind it all. Who is Gareth Crocker when he’s not writing books, making movies or generally over-achieving in every sphere of his professional life?
Oh you are far too kind. I’m nothing special. I have a list of failures as long as a giraffe’s neck. I’m just a regular bloke whose swimming pool has been green for the past 11 years. Sell a best-selling book? Sure. Make a superhero TV show? Pfff … no problemo muchacho. Get my pool blue? Forget it. So what do I do when I’m not writing or filming? I’m spending time with my wife and two beautiful daughters, playing football … and tossing a witch’s brew of chemicals into my pool.
Rumour has it that you were a professional footballer for a time? True?
Very, very briefly. I turned out a couple times for a few pro clubs, but was never quite good enough to crack it full-time. I discovered I had the heart of Ronaldo, but the feet of Gareth Crocker. However, I now turn out for the mighty Rhodes Old Boys football club. Our league’s a mish-mash of accountants, journalists, authors, marketers, CEOs 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 won the 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.
There’s another rumour that you once ran 100 kilometres?
True. South African readers will know at once what race this is: the mighty Comrades Marathon. It’s normally ‘only’ 90 kilometres, but my wife added another 10 kilometres on top of that when she contrived to forget where she parked our rental car and I had to walk around a cricket stadium for two hours on bleeding feet. Damn that Devil woman.
You started your writing career as a journalist, but left to join a top PR and publishing firm, before becoming a spokesperson for a major company. What brought you back to writing?
I never stopped writing. This is what my daily schedule used to look like:
- Wake up at 04h30.
- Go for a wobble around the suburbs.
- Get the rats to school.
- Drive to day job. Talk to media about how fantastic my employer is.
- Come home. Spend three hours goofing around with rats.
- At 10pm, settle down to begin writing.
- Cry a lot. Delete what you wrote the previous night.
- Go to bed at around 02h00. Or don’t go to bed at all.
Fortunately these days I’m now able to divide my time between filming and writing. Which, I know, is a wonderful privilege.
Finding Jack was your breakout novel. Was it the first book you ever wrote?
Hell no. I wrote three horror novels: Malevolence, In the Eyes of a Child and The Midnight Hour. I can’t begin to tell you how appalling they were. Basically, I just vomited up every b-grade horror film I had ever seen and cobbled them into three novels. I found one of the old manuscripts the other day and could barely make it through a single page. Death by clichés!
Your publishing story is legendary – fuel for the fire of aspiring South African authors who follow your success and dream of international acclaim. How did your international publishing deal come about?
Well, I may fall short in many departments, but the one thing I’m pretty good at is to keep going when most people would turn away. Those first three books must have been rejected by more than 500 publishers and agents. Each time I received a rejection note, I would take on board the criticism and try to improve. Eventually – and I’m talking years here – the rejection notes became less scathing. And then, by the time I had written Leaving Jack I decided that I should climb on a plane and try to physically connect with a British agent. After walking London flat and dropping off my manuscript with dozens of agents, I was met with a glorious stroke of good fortune. I dropped my manuscript into one particular agent’s ‘manuscript bin’ which she kept on the patio outside her office (with strict instructions for writers not to knock on the door!). She was out at the time, but when she returned from a meeting later that day she discovered that she had lost her keys and had no choice but to wait for a locksmith. And while she waited, she dipped her hand into the manuscript bin and fished out Leaving Jack. She called me that night and the following day we met and she became my agent. The funny thing is that it would normally have taken her about 3 months just to get to my book (top agents can receive a thousand manuscripts a month). My first international publishing deal was signed a year later.
Your book, Never Let Go, is currently doing the rounds in Hollywood. Is it true that Morgan Freeman read the script? Any possibility of a movie in the near future?
Um … I’m not supposed to say anything, but … yes. He’s considering potential involvement in the film. I’m a massive fan of his. There’s a fair chance that Never Let Go will hit the big screen. But don’t believe a thing until you see it playing in a cinema. Hollyweird is a fickle, fickle place.
They say that life imitates art, but I think in our creative field the reverse is often true. Do you draw on your own personal experiences as material for your fictional works?
Oh absolutely. Particularly when it comes to the dark art of creating characters.
Let’s talk about the new book, Kaboom!. Why the shift towards non-fiction?
Firstly – and just to be clear – I’ll be returning to fiction shortly, but I wanted to have a go at non-fiction for a couple reasons. One, I love writing comedic essays and columns. And two, I wanted to write a book that is just pure fun for men and boys (and women!) and that will appeal to both readers and non-readers alike. I’ve always felt that we need to have more ‘simple’ books in the market. Basic and straight-forward storytelling that appeals to people who either don’t read books at all or maybe only manage to get through one or two books a year. In other words, the sort of guy who’ll read a car or fitness magazine but baulk at a book. So many people try to read books, but give up because the material is too slow, boring or complex. We could grow our reader base substantially if we offered books that are simple to absorb. It’s something James Patterson realised to his advantage years ago.
Which of your books is your personal favourite, and why?
Oh go away.
Ha ha! Okay, moving swiftly forward! Let’s talk about film-making. From what I’ve read, Jongo isn’t your first ‘rodeo’. You’ve made a film before… can you tell us about it?
Several years ago, I made a horror film with a few friends. It was called Taken and told the story of a young couple who are abducted in their sleep and thrust into a basement and series of underground tunnels. It was terrific fun. 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 it’s not the worst film ever made. Though I wouldn’t bet on it.
Not that I would ever bet against you, but I have to ask. After making one movie, what possessed you to take on such an ambitious project as Jongo?
It’s a great question. But in truth, we haven’t only made one film. I’ve been working with an existing production company for years and we’ve produced a number of projects together. Having said that, putting a show like Jongo together is massively ambitious. Time will tell if we fall on our faces, but for now things are looking good. We’ve sold the show to primetime television in South Africa and should have it running throughout Africa and abroad by the middle of 2016. We hope viewers are going to love it as much as we do. It’s a gruelling writing, shooting and editing schedule but we’re giving it everything we’ve got and are spending millions on the production. In terms of our company’s resources, we’re pretty much ‘all in’. If this fails, I’m coming to live in your garden, MD. I have a tent.
Jongo is Africa’s first Superhero television show. Personally, I’m super excited about it, given that I’m a huge fan of superhero shows. Arrow and The Flash are two of my favourites! What sets Jongo apart?
A few things. One, it’s an African superhero show set largely in South Africa. So you’re going to see the likes of Joburg the way you’ve never seen it before. Also – and unlike so many South African productions – Jongo is not a patronising show for its local audience and will hopefully inspire young people to lead better lives. Our cameras and filming equipment is world-class and we shoot on a number of spectacular locations. We also want to the show to promote Africa – and to not kick it in its teeth (which so many shows do). Also, while it’s certainly a superhero show, Jongo is largely a comedy-drama at heart and will have something in it for everyone in the family. We’ve unearthed some real stars.
When can we expect it to hit our screens here in SA?
Between April and August, 2016 on etv. It will also appear on some of the DStv pay channels. But our priority was on creating a show that would be freely accessible to viewers across the continent.
Your professional achievements are nothing short of incredible. What is your greatest personal achievement?
My daughters. We had to fight like hell to get both of them. Our eldest is adopted and our youngest only came into our lives because my wife’s a mad ninja warrior who refused to let several miscarriages get the best of her. Family is everything. As you well know!
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Be born to a parent who owns a publishing conglomerate. Failing that, try and find out from neutral sources (not your family and friends) if you have any talent. If you do, push like hell and don’t give up. Persistence is everything in this game. Also, stay humble and be willing to learn from others who know better than you. There is no ‘finish line’ in this game. Write. Sacrifice. Never give up. Stay humble. Try not to cry too much. Develop alligator skin.
I have to ask… is there anything you CAN’T do?
Er … I’m pretty terrible at just about everything. Pools, DIY, accounting, I got an H for maths in Matric, etc, etc, etc.
Gareth currently resides in Johannesburg, South Africa, with his wife and two daughters. You can find more information about Gareth and his books at Garethcrocker.com, or look him up on Facebook or Twitter.