In Conversation with Debut Author Tom Bray

“The real hard work begins once the novel is complete.”

Being a writer requires hard work, dedication and a certain degree of persistence. Even then, you’re never guaranteed the traditional route of getting a book deal with a publisher. That in itself can take a lifetime of persistence, which is why self-publishing is becoming more popular as a way to start a novel-writing career.

Without the endless pitch emails and waiting on tenterhooks, you can see why it has become more appealing in recent years. Above all, it’s a far more accessible route into writing and one that keeps the doors open to everybody.

I spoke to Tom Bray, a debut author, about his novel Merging the Drift and how it came into existence.

About the Book

Merging the Drift was published in 2020 and is available to buy on Amazon in print and as an eBook. It is the first in what is set to be a trilogy series.

The blurb

“How much do you know about your death?”

On the morning of his 18th birthday Ali woke up to his family home unusually silent, and deserted. He soon learns that he never lived the childhood he remembers, and all his memories up until that point are fake. He is now alone and an occupant of the Drift, an entity where deceased children coexist as their adult selves, with the ability to view a parallel version of their being in a separate, fictional world, without any influence or control over this life path.

Almost three years on, Ali has settled into a routine, but events from the real world he was taken from as a child begin to impact on the limits of his existence as he develops a strange connection with a fellow occupant seeking an unprecedented truth that surfaces a disturbing past and will forever bind together multiple souls.

Follow Ali and three others over the course of a mind-bending week as each seeks comfort and answers from their existence.

About Tom Bray

Tom Bray is a debut author from Preston in Lancashire, where he lives with his wife and son. After graduating, he worked in digital marketing and enjoyed creative writing as a hobby.

Merging the Drift was published in late 2020, and a trilogy is now already in the works. To keep up to date with the trilogy and Tom’s writing, you can visit his website.

The Interview

Could you tell us in your own words what your debut novel, Merging The Drift, is about in a nutshell?

At the very top level, Merging The Drift is about three very ordinary — and one extraordinary — characters whose lives and deaths become intertwined over the course of a week as each seeks comfort and answers from their existence, with plenty of twists and turns along the way.

We start off with Ali, an occupant of the Drift — an afterlife entity for those who died before reaching their 18th birthday, now coexisting among one another as their adult selves with the ability to follow a parallel version of their being in a fictional world to see how their life would have turned out, but with no control over this life path — sensing a strange connection with a fellow occupant searching for an unprecedented truth of their existence, which ultimately surfaces a shocking past and connects the main characters in ways that they couldn’t possibly imagine.

Do you have a favourite character in the book?

I think writing any character with some unspecified, seemingly limitless power is always fun, so I would have to say, Kerri. She’s a strong female, not afraid of going to extreme lengths to protect those she loves, but at the same time, you struggle to see her as much of a lead as the other three, even though she’s actually driving a lot of the narrative, so there is a wider uniqueness in that respect too outside the novel.

As we learn more about what Kerri’s been through, however, you start understanding why she behaves in a certain way, but there is — and remains — a constant element of mystery to her, which leads really well onto the second book, where key parts of her background are revealed and developed further.

Having written this first sequel and a good chunk of the third, I think my favourite character has shifted slightly, but the less said about that right now, the better! Maybe it’ll have changed again when the trilogy is fully complete.

What one thing would you want readers to take away from this book?

This is very difficult to say or single out because of how the wider messages of the book can be interpreted.

I would definitely want people to recognise the dialogue and characters as realistic and enjoyed getting to know them, as well as wanting to see what happens next. MTD does work as a standalone novel, but hopefully, there is enough interest to see what is still to come, especially as book two delves more into deep character connections with strong references to events and repercussions from the first, so you’ll soon see why certain things played out as they did and become very significant. There are a couple of major twists at the very end of the third book, which I genuinely can’t wait for people to read and reflect on, given everything that has happened.

The Writing Process

How did you get the first idea for the novel? Did it evolve gradually, or did you have it all planned out before you wrote it?

I’ve been asked a few times about the idea. The actual concept pretty much came about all of a sudden after having seen a couple of news stories about children who had been killed years ago (at a time when I’d have also been quite young), which got me thinking along the lines of: ‘if that hadn’t happened to them, could they now be someone I work with, or met on holiday, or just got chatting to online through a shared interest?’

With the power of social media today, you have the complete ability to connect with thousands of people around your own age, so there are much stronger chances of connecting with a particular person than 20+ years ago.

That essentially inspired the Viewing — where these Drift occupants view a life of theirs that could have been — and I felt quite reassured that such a setup could be seen as one of the more comforting afterlife theories in such tragic circumstances. Despite having its share of very dark moments, it’s great that several readers have picked up and commented on the novel being wholly positive as this was always my intention with the idea, too — I know happy endings aren’t always the most realistic. Still, to me, it just makes sense to have something that is satisfying (or wanting more) than leaving the reader feeling pretty disheartened after they’ve spent their time and stuck with (and hopefully enjoyed) your book.

In terms of the writing, I’d recently read Salem’s Lot and The Godfather before starting anything on Merging The Drift. They were big factors in my decision to write a multi-character/POV novel, with seemingly unconnected stories all coming together at the end. With that in mind, though, I did have to plan out the chapters (or the week of narrative) in some detail and a comprehensive background timeline, as this helped with knowing where to place the flashbacks and what these ideally needed to consist of.

A lot did then fall into place as I was writing, which kind of happens naturally, but as long as each chapter achieved its main aim and ended where required, everything else could be worked out.

I love reading about the routines of different writers. What is yours like? Do you have a specific spot/time/place that you like to write in, if so, why?

I’ll have to answer this from both pre-and post-lockdown perspectives!

Before working full-time from home, which I’ve been fortunate enough to do since March 2020, I would only mainly write on my phone on my daily train commute, which could easily be around an hour and a half in total. This was how MTD began ever since I got the idea — as a way to pass the time, and it definitely worked. Plus, some days, I’d have to carry on writing out a certain section while walking back to my car from the station to get to a satisfying stopping point for the day, or it’d still be on my mind when I got home, and I’d struggle fully switching off!

Now I write at home during whatever free time I get, which has recently decreased dramatically, having become a new dad in March 2021. I’m never in the same place when I am writing. However, the actual process is still very much the same as being on the train — depending on the particular part I’m writing, it can take me a while to get into the right headspace, sometimes rewriting single sentences a few times over until it says exactly what I intended to convey, so even if I only end up getting 100 words done in an hour, as long as it is the right 100 words at the moment I can happily move on, and the same applies to editing.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always enjoyed creative writing as a hobby and had a few fleeting attempts at a novel in my teens, but I never really intended to write more than a few chapters.

I think I always knew once I got an original enough idea, I’d be able to make a real go of it, and that was the case with MTD — the originality in the combination of concept and narrative style gave me the motivation to power through and get it done. Now here I am, completing the trilogy, which still seems unbelievable.

It’s strange, though, because now this is all coming together, ideas I had years ago seem quite appealing once again, and I’m actually starting to think a couple of those have potential too. Still, I’m just enjoying taking it one day at a time, learning as I go along, and engaging with readers to hear their opinions and interpretations, which really is fascinating.

Getting Published as a Debut Author

What has your experience of being a debut author like? How did you get published?

The real hard work begins once the novel is complete! There is just so much to consider whichever route you decide to take.

I did end up reaching out to a few literary agents to see if there was any interest. But the more I read about self-publishing, the more it appealed to me, just for maintaining full control over the book, characters and decisions than anything else, so I guess I don’t feel too disheartened looking back that my agent pitches could’ve been a lot stronger.

Fortunately, I have a close friend who has been self-publishing since around 2012 so has experienced waves of industry changes first-hand, and his guidance for self-publishing was invaluable, along with his support in formatting the final digital and print versions of the book. I honestly feel I’d have been set back a few months without this support, which would’ve really impacted on progress with the rest of the Drift trilogy.

Overall though, it’s been a sharp learning curve, but I guess the one you have to go through if you’re serious about a career writing your own novels full-time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed (working with editors, cover designers, then publishing and marketing), but taking things a step at a time makes it enjoyable, and you’ll reap the rewards later on — one of the best things for me now is discussing the book with those who’ve read and enjoyed it, so I’m so glad I took my time with it, and even though looking back now there are probably odd lines I’d change or tone down, they can ultimately be the parts that encourage discussion.

Many writer’s — myself included — may feel that they have many ideas and have the dedication to sit down and write. However, I think self-belief plays a massive role in this. Did you ever have any doubts about your own work during the writing process? What gave you the confidence and motivation to keep going?

I think it’s natural to doubt what you’re doing or what you’re writing at least a couple of times when you’re at different stages, but then ultimately, you are the only person standing in your way — no one else is going to write the book as you are, so set mini-goals if that will help — this chapter done by the end of next week, the next chapter is done by the week after, even if it’s just the bare bones that you can come back to and tidy up.

Sometimes other commitments take priority as they did for me, but I always found time to write something, even just 50 words, each day for MTD, and then rescheduled accordingly, but always keeping on top of it.

I was fortunate not to have any major doubts while writing MTD, mainly because I was confident in the idea and the ending, being both satisfying and bringing everything together, which can really let many otherwise great books down.

The first real doubts — again very naturally — came when sending a first full copy out to beta readers and editors. Because you’re so close to the story and cannot possibly read it without knowing what’s to come, there is always a niggling thought that you’ve completed skimmed over something major that’ll straight away be picked up on and from there, the story falls apart. A key thing for me was having real, recognisable depth to the characters and realistic dialogue, so as long as that came back as positive, I knew I could work with any necessary plot changes.

On Reading and Inspiration

Where do you get your writing inspiration from?

Literally anywhere and everywhere! It can be as small and simple as a line in a book or a line in a song, where something stands out, or maybe just reminds me of a particular phrase or use of a certain word.

One example I remember well was when we had this travel documentary on in the background one evening, and there was a part looking at just how much rubbish a sea turtle had swallowed while in the ocean — this eventually found its way into the book as Kitty’s satirical way of describing girls wearing obscenely heavy make-up on a night out (‘more plastic than a sea turtle’s stomach’).

For a book like Merging The Drift, though, with very real human struggles and emotion at its core, so much just came from the everyday working class in Britain. I enjoyed contrasting this with the Drift, so you essentially end up with this fantastical afterlife where literally anything can be imagined. Still, there is also a real everyday mundane aspect to it too, inspired by the habits and routines of people you’d see out and about anywhere.

Who are some of your favourite authors/books, and why?

I’ve probably read more over the last 4/5 years than I had done in the previous 10! I don’t mind this too much though as I feel like I’m understanding and appreciating what I’m reading far more than I would’ve done in my teens.

I don’t tend to follow particular authors and always grab their latest releases; for me, it’s more a case of if I like the sound of a book, I’ll give it a go. A few favourites off the top of my head are –

11/22/63 by Stephen King

I’ve read quite a few of King’s early books (The Dead ZoneSalem’s LotCujo), which I’ve generally really enjoyed for the dark elements and characterisations, so I loved his style being applied to his take on time travel.

One of the lengthiest books I’ve read, but I raced through it just always wanting to know what happens next. The detail was incredible, and for once, I was quite satisfied with a King ending!

Survivor by Chunk Palahnuik

This is such a great satire of modern life even though it’s now over 20 years old, and one of those books I’ll always come back to and re-read every few years. Plus, there is one moment in this involving the Super Bowl (that’s all I’ll say to avoid any spoilers), which is one of my favourite ever book moments!

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

I need to re-read this brilliantly told little family drama as it’s been years since I read it for the second time, so I’m keen to know if I enjoy it just as much.

I remember just really liking that the story wasn’t doing anything particularly groundbreaking, but there was a charm and humour in its simplicity, which has been inspiring for some of ‘real life’ parts of the Drift novels.

Are you reading anything at the moment?

Having just become a new dad finding the time to read alongside my daily work, my own writing, and the usual household jobs prove a challenge, but I’ve just started Later by Stephen King — and there’s me saying I don’t follow any particular authors! I guess I was looking for something quite short, which fit the bill and some excellent early reviews.

I’m barely far enough in at the moment to give a proper opinion. Given my current circumstances, I’m finding myself constantly re-reading certain bits, so I’m clear on what’s happening — I’m quite a thorough reader at the best of times. Still, even this is taking it to a whole new level, but I’ll persevere as always.

Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?

As simple as it sounds, just get the book done. There is nothing better than having your first full draft, even if you know it needs a lot of work, but you then have everything there to work with — you don’t need to worry about how it needs to end or what has to happen to a certain character. The key thing to remember is that once it’s finished, no one can take it away from you — it’s yours to do with as you please, and that is only the beginning.

You’ll have the same euphoric feeling again when you have a complete self-edited version and then again when you’re holding a fully formatted physical copy or download the ebook just as it’s being released to the world.

If you don’t give it your all to get it done, you’ll never know its potential. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with any part of the process, and remember there is an audience out there for everything, so don’t think either that your idea isn’t good enough; just focus on how you’ll make it unique!

Are you an author who has recently written a book? If you’d like the chance to be featured in our series, Writers on Writing, please get in touch.

In Conversation with Tashie Bhuiyan

Costanza Casati on Becoming a Debut Author

Please note, this was first published on 21 April, 2021


Published by Violet Daniels

23 years old, ex history student and aspiring writer.

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