Interview: Gruff Davies

IMG_2928A new Sci-Fi writer is soon to take the publishing world by storm with his first book – The Looking Glass Club. Hunky gay author, Gruff Davies doesn’t just spin a cracking good yarn he is also an inventor, entrepreneur and a technological consultant… he also has a PhD in Physics… and offering £1million to anyone who can crack the puzzles in the book. Interested? Then read on.

Should we all really address you as Doctor Gruff?
Ha! Hi. Well, I did a doctorate in physics, but I’m not a practising scientist any longer. I’m a tech entrepreneur these days, as well as a writer. Everyone just calls me Gruff.

You’ve been working on this book for a while, where did the inspiration come from?
Yes, it’s taken six years part-time from start to finish. The inspiration came from my love of physics and philosophy. I’m still a physicist at heart. I try to stay current and read about new ideas all the time. I became so engaged in some ideas I was exploring that I considered developing a new theory and writing a real physics book; then I realised that realistically that probably wasn’t going to happen – it would take decades of dedication and incredible mathematical rigour so I thought I would do the next best thing and write the ideas into a novel instead. Perhaps not your first choice of topic for a fast-paced thriller, I admit, but I’ve worked really hard to make it fun and accessible – it seems to have paid off. The last two years I’ve been fine-tuning the story and creating the puzzles that live between each chapter. I’m offering up to £1 million to the person or team who solves them all so they had to be pretty good. The puzzles in the book reinforce one of its foundational ideas: that information is relative and that our physical reality may derive from that.

Are you a Sci Fi nut in the first place… a geek perhaps?

I guess that goes without saying given my background. There’s actually a strong statistical correlation between science & technology and homosexuality. Richard Florida of Carnegie Mellon University published findings in 2001 that showed that the leading indicator of an area’s high-technology success is a large gay population. Not only that, but gay population density serves as the best indicator for technological growth. Also, census data from Florida 1990 shows that gay men are about 1.3 times more likely to be scientists or engineers than the population in general, 2.3 times more likely to be in the computer and data processing services; whilst lesbians are 1.3 times more likely. So I guess being a gay geek is kinda normal.

It has some very technical info in it… do you think you might lose some possible readers?
Yes and no. I’ve tried to keep the hard-core physics and philosophy to the edges of the novel so they don’t interfere with what’s otherwise an edgy, page-turner. Much of it ended up in quotations at the start of chapters, for example, so you can fully enjoy the story without needing to understand any of the physics. My agent told me to dumb it down; I refused and lost the agent. No regrets, it was absolutely the right decision. I hate the fact that so much gets dumbed down these days. Commerciality stifles diversity. Most people who love reading are almost certainly clever enough to understand the book and not everyone likes to be patronised. It seems to have worked: I’m getting incredible reviews from a very diverse range of readers!

There is a gay character in the book but it seems that it’s never an issue… has it been for you at any stage?
Well, without giving away plot details, that particular character actually goes through some pretty rough events and almost throws himself off a roof, so I wouldn’t say it’s never an issue. His story is very tragic. And yes, it was a massive issue for me growing up gay; it was far from easy. I read SF to escape in many ways. I reached a really low-point aged 18 and actually decided to commit suicide. Fortunately, I fell asleep from exhaustion before I could go through with it and when I woke up I had a renewed sense of resolve. I vowed never to think that way again and I never have. The recent gay teenage suicides in the USA had me in pieces. They touched many of us so personally. The incredible “It gets better” messages that followed are the best thing to come out of that; and so true. I hope I can add my voice to those. It really does get so much better. I honestly feel it’s a privilege to be gay now. Knowing novelists like the incredible Clive Barker were out certainly helped me. I hope I can be a role model for gay teens too.

You seem to have a very colourful background… entrepreneur and inventor… is that all?
I have ADOS. Attention Deficit…Ooh Shiny! Interested in everything and struggle with focus. I can’t imagine a life doing just one thing. Very short attention span. I’ve had a ridiculous number of interests and hobbies over time: Judo, Gymnastics, Magic, Neuroscience, Snowboarding, I learned five languages because I couldn’t stick to one, I was British University Jive Champion once, Screenwriting, Acting, Directing… the list goes on. I took up piano this year. Someone once kindly called me “Renaissance Man” which I thought was a nicer label than “ADHD” so I’ve adopted that now. It was okay in Renaissance times to be both a scientist and an artist but these days we’re expected to specialise. I recently learned that some people believe that Leonardo da Vinci had “ADHD”. He’d go on week-long artistic or scientific “binges” and then collapse exhausted, unable to work at all for 3 days. I’m no da Vinci, but I do have a similar boom-bust work cycle and it helped me to see it as a gift rather than a curse. That’s partly why writing The Looking Glass Club took six years.

Where do you go to relax… is there a favourite ‘club’ (not necessarily the Looking Glass variety)?
Relax? What’s that? Haha! I’m a bit of a workaholic, I suppose. I find it hard to sit still unless I’ve worked myself ill, which happens with disturbing regularity, but I absolutely love the mountains. They’re like enormous batteries for me, I go there to plug in and recharge, and I hopefully get in some decent snowboarding. I prefer active holidays, though there’s nothing better than a hot tub, sauna and a sports massage after a hard days’ boarding!

What are you working on at the moment?
Promoting the book is taking up most of my writing time at the moment, but I am about a third of the way into an unrelated novel called Supernova (another SF thriller, exploring some more big ideas that grabbed me). There’s also a sequel to The Looking Glass Club that I have planned, plus two SF screenplays which I’ve started but put on ice until I find more writing time, otherwise I’ll just end up breaking. Lots more in the pipeline. The rest of my time I spend on one of my businesses, BitesizedLanguages.com, and I consult part-time for moonfruit.com which I helped start back in 1999 with University friends.

And now a bit of kilter… do you have a secret fetish?
Cheeky! It’s not a secret if I tell, is it? I wouldn’t call it a fetish, but Winter Sports are pretty sexy aren’t they? Who doesn’t think ski instructors are hot?