Compass Books Interview

Suzanne Ruthven, Commissioning Editor at Compass Books recently interviewed me for their Facebook page (

Here’s what I had to say:

Suzanne Ruthven talks to Simon Whaley, author of ‘The Positively Productive Writer’ and his forthcoming title: ‘Photography For Writers’, due for publication later this year.

Compass Books

SR: Looking back at your complete titles listing over the years, there are so many different angles and topics … how would you define yourself as a writer?

SW: Er … one who tries to earn his living as a writer! Having said that, most of my books fall into two broad categories: humour, and reference. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about this writing life is that you never know what opportunities might come your way. I never considered writing a children’s book until Hodder Children’s approached me and asked me to write ‘Puppytalk’. And as the author of the ‘Bluffer’s Guide to Hiking’, and co-author of the ‘Bluffer’s Guide to Banking’, it was lovely when the publishers approached me to write another, which will be appearing later this year. So, I define myself as a jobbing writer: someone who enjoys developing his own projects, but am happy to consider others that might come his way!

SR: Which of all your books, is your favourite, and why?

SW: That’s a difficult one! Of course, ‘One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human’ will always have a huge spot as one of my favourites. It was my first book, and to end up on the bestseller lists with it was truly amazing. I can’t believe it is still selling so well, with over 228,000 copies sold so far, and only this month Hodder & Stoughton released it as an eBook version, so there’s definitely life in the old dog (book) yet. One of my other favourites has to be ‘The Positively Productive Writer’. I’m sure most writers enjoy receiving feedback from their readers, but I’ve been surprised by the generosity of people’s comments. There have been some amazing reviews left on sites like Amazon, but I’ve also received some personal feedback, which has often brought a lump to my throat. To read how some writers’ have felt the book has changed their lives and inspired them to achieve their personal writing dreams is humbling.

SR: What gave you your first major break as a writer?

SW: I suppose my first major break was the acceptance of ‘One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human’. That book enabled me to buy a year off work and try writing full-time. Somehow, I’m still doing it! In fact, only last week I commented to friends that being a freelance writer is the longest job I’ve ever had (I used to work for a High Street bank, for over eight years). But I think every piece of publication is a break of some sorts, because it gives the writer confidence and you never know where it might lead. Anything that builds your portfolio is a break.

SR: With all your various writing-related activities, which gives you the most job satisfaction?

SW: The problem with having so many fingers in so many different writing-related pies is that picking one is difficult. In some ways, being able to have the opportunity to do so many different writing-related activities gives me the job satisfaction. There’s a wonderful sense of satisfaction when I finish a big project, like a book. But I also enjoy sharing my knowledge with other writers – I get just as much of a thrill when one of my students gets their first piece published as they do!

SR: What made you take the decision to move from part-time to full-time writer?

SW: I didn’t have to make a decision: Fate made it for me. I was still working for a local authority when ‘One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human’ was published. I never dreamed it would be the success it would, but when the publisher kept emailing to say they were having yet another print run, I began to wonder. Then, my employers announced that within a few months we’d be relocating. My journey time would double from 45 minutes to 90 minutes each way, so I asked myself the question: did I really want to spend three hours a day travelling? To me, this was Fate saying,” If you’re really going to give it a go, now’s the time to do it.”

SR: Have you any advice for those who are thinking about giving up the day-job to write full-time?

SW: Have plenty of cash behind you! The success of my first book gave me enough to live on for the first 12 to 18 months, without having to worry. It takes time to build up a body of work. Cashflow is erratic, and the amounts are unpredictable. But I’m so glad I did it!

For more information about The Positively Productive Writer go to the book’s very own website at:

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