(JLD)Today we have the delightfully funny George Fripley with us. George, you've written two wonderful tongue-in-cheek books that serve as entertainment as well as a gentle warning. What was your inspiration for"You Can't Polish a Turd" and "Dregs of History?"
(GF) Hi Jess, it's good to be here! The inspiration for writing those books came gradually over time. "You Can't Polish a Turd (the civil servant's manual) was the result of a number of short articles that I wrote as therapy - to stop me going insane in my job as a bureaucrat. These three articles became the first three chapters in the book. I then began writing more and soon had about 10-12. It was then that I realised that I could structure a book, a tongue-in-cheek manual for all those wishing to work in the public service. The inspiration was all around me every day as, at that time, I worked in a very dysfunctional department. I couldn't go to a meeting, or read any documents without coming across something that made me smile. I always tell myself that if I see myself becoming the caricature that I wrote about, then it will be time to get another job.
The "Dregs of History" also had its genesis in one of those first three chapters of the "You Can't Polish a Turd". I invented four philosophers (Obstructius, Burocrates, Futilius & Dillayus) and then began thinking about people who were never included in the pages of history. Who were they and what did they do? All the people in "The Dregs" are anchored in history in one way or another, but they all failed to make an impression, however not for the lack of trying. Most of them do come to a premature end, although hopefully one that is appropriate! All of the characters have traits that people will recognise in those around them, some of them extremely irritating. So again, I only have to walk down the street to find more inspiration to write characters.
JLD) Do you think new technology hurts or helps a bureaucracy? What has it done to your particular office?
(GF) That is a very interesting question Jess. New technology can have huge benefits to a bureaucracy, but implementing that technology tends to get caught up in the bureaucratic system. Where IT is concerned, people argue about what is the best program, platform, system etc, and you usually get something that is a compromise. This often leads to it not performing as it should and causing a lot more money to be spent on trying to fix a system that is unsuitable for the environment it is in. I have seen this happen on numerous occasions.
Of course, once you have a new system. you need to train people, and unfortunately the combination of poor training methods, uninspiring trainers, and the workforce is not always motivated or very technologically literate (many people hate change, too) can hinder the uptake. See this link for an example of such trainers http://dregsofhistory.blogspot.com.au/2010/04/numbing-jane-thackeray-1980-2009.html.
A plus side to new technology is that governments can communicate more efficiently. The embracing of Twitter, Facebook and other social media means that messages can be put out much more quickly and efficiently. The down side of improved communication is that there is an immediate requirement for action, and this puts a strain on resources. But que sera...this is the way we're going and the bureaucracy will have to adapt.
In my office we are going through significant change at the moment - and the above is occurring. There is some resistance, but the reality is that it is happening and people need to get into the change mindset if they are to enjoy their jobs. The immediacy of work requirements has become an issue, but we are changing how we work to make sure we can cope with this. From a writing perspective it is fascinating to see how reliant we are on technology. When the power fails, I see people wandering around aimlessly, whereas in the past you'd just pick up a pen and get going on something. as somebody who still writes most stories by hand before I even look at a keyboard, I find this quite interesting.
(JLD) Which, if any, of your made-up characters were written specifically with your coworkers in mind and do they know they're the subject of your books? Or do you write using sweeping generalizations instead?
(GF) Very few of my characters relate to specific people, but every one of them has a grain of somebody in there, perhaps sometimes there are two traits from two different people in the character. I think the secret of writing characters that people can relate to is to give them common traits that everybody knows. For instance, the character of Hampton Y McCoy resonates as everybody has known a child who won't stop asking the question - Why?. He also comes to an appropriate end. And that is another of the ways of dealing with these annoying characters - I can give them all a suitable demise that is not too gory, but at the same time has people saying Yeah...they deserved that!
In terms of my co-workers, I am currently writing a book called The Dunnyfunter which is all about the office environment - and there are characters in there that borrow significantly from people I have worked with over the last 20 years, although I have swapped a few traits around to maintain some sort of disguise!
I would also have to say that many of The Dregs of History characters have bits of me in them. But I'm not telling you which ones!
(JLD) What is the easiest part of writing for you? The hardest part? And what genre would you consider your books to be?
(GF) I guess the easiest part of writing is when I have an initial idea in my head. It's why I take my writing pad with me everywhere and write anywhere at any time. I can be found scribbling away in cafes, on the bus, on the train, or at the beach, for example. I simply let it all flow out as a first draft as quick as I can without worrying about editing or character development. The novel that I am currently editing took only a couple of months to get out in first draft format. The editing has taken a lot longer - about six months so far.
The hardest part is being satisfied that the manuscript is indeed ready for reading by somebody else. I find the final editing a tortuous process, and by the time I have finished (for example) draft 3, I am already thinking that I need to go back and start draft 4 because of the new ideas I have had about characters etc.
My books to date have been humour / satire. In my mind they are the sort of lightweight things to read when you don't have time to concentrate for long periods. However, the novel Barmia is a fantasy novel, or at least my version of a fantasy novel. The next one will be a satirical/humourous (I hope) novel.
(JLD) What made you switch from satire to fantasy? Has it been an easy transition? Do you prefer one genre over the other? And do you write what you read?
(GF) I loved reading fantasy novels, but not all sorts. I was never much of a dragons and vampires fan. I read a lot of Terry Pratchett, and had devoured Lord of Rings in a weekend when I was about 14. Also David Eddings and David Gemmell. But then I also read science-fiction, cold war thrillers, Raymond Chandler, travel narratives, philosophy, and historical fiction every now and then.
The reason I started writing satire was the work I do - in a bureaucracy. There is so much to say about the system. It's comic potential is immense. And it was excellent therapy after a frustrating day. But like anything, I think variation is good, so I thought about trying something different - hence the fantasy novel - although I have to admit to a smattering of satire in the story.
To be honest, writing the fantasy novel was easier than trying to be funny. You never know if people will laugh, so there is a lot pressure where humour is concerned. I am scoping out a satirical novel at the moment, and that is quite difficult. To be consistently funny will be a challenge. I generally prefer whatever it is that I am writing at the time, I'm always up for new challenge.
I think that what I read certainly influences my writing. I read so much that it could not be any other way. Although I hope that what comes out is definably me, and not a second class version of somebody else. But that's up to others to judge.
(JLD) Do you notice a big difference in US Humor versus UK Humour? Have you noticed any different feedback between US reviewers and UK reviewers?
(GF) That's a hard question, Jess. I used to think that US and UK humour was different, and I still do to some extent. However, I now think that there is simply the same mix of humour in different amounts, if you see what I mean. I have contributed numerous articles to The Politicus blog run by Dammand Cherry (in New York, I think) and they seem to have gone down well - so you never can tell. And also, I have a real appreciation that Australian humour is very different from both of the other two. I think you just have to put it out there and see what happens. It's a funny old world!
In terms of reviews, I think that people who have liked the Civil Servant's Manual have come from all around the world, and I noticing the same for the Dregs of History. I would say that my audience has come mainly from the US and Australia to date, but this has changed a bit in the last 6 months with more from the UK. I had some great coverage over here in Oz for the Civil Servant's Manual with papers running whole chapters as articles and some radio interviews. The heartening thing has been that most people in government who've read the book really relate to it no matter where they come from.
(JLD) Thanks so much for coming here and talking with us. I've really enjoyed it very much! Please tell us, where can we buy your books?
(GF) (GF) Thanks for having on your blog Jess. This has been a wonderful experience.
My books are available at my blog http://www.dregsofhistory.blogspot.com.au/
through Taylor Street Books http://www.taylorstreetbooks.com/george-fripley.html
You Can't Polish A Turd on Amazon:
The Dregs on Amazon:
George's blog, The Grumpy Commuter: