Graham is magnanimous and more than willing to talk about writing and publishing, and has long been a supporter of other writers in the field. In fact, he will talk your ear off given half the chance. I was thrilled that he was willing to take some time out of his busy day to answer a few questions for Suspense Magazine.
So, where did it all start?
I was writing fiction from an early age. I loved the novels of Jules Verne like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and H.G. Wells like The War of the Worlds, and wrote my own adventure novels and bound them in cardboard. At the age of 10 or 11, I discovered Edgar Allan Poe and loved the stories of “The Pit and the Pendulum” and blazing dwarves. I started writing my own short horror stories to read to my friends during break time at school. Some of my friends met me years later and told me that I had given them nightmares. I wrote a 250-page novel (by hand) about giant supernatural crabs when I was 12 (which I still have). When I was 14, I wrote a 400-page vampire novel that has been lost.
I was expelled from school was I was 17. Expulsion was the making of me, though, because I then got a job as a trainee reporter on my local newspaper. In those days, local newspapers were staffed by retired Fleet Street men (national newspaper reporters). They taught me how to write a tight, compelling news story that would grab a reader’s attention—how to write vividly and concisely—but more than anything else, how to interview people. I quickly learned that most people are bursting to tell you their innermost secrets, particularly since you are sympathetic and you listen carefully to them and ask the most penetrating questions. They will tell you things that they would never tell their friends or their families, because you are a stranger.
When I left the local paper at the age of 21 and was appointed deputy editor of a new British Playboy-style magazine called Mayfair, I was called on to interview the girls who appeared in the center-spread every month. Most of the men who met them simply “gawped” at their breasts, but I always made a point of talking to them about their ambitions and their love lives and whatever made them unhappy. Out of that experience, I developed a question-and-answer sex feature in the magazine called Quest, which purported to be conversations with couples about their sex problems. I wrote it all myself, but almost all the content was quoted pretty much verbatim from real girls.
I left Mayfair after three years after a spat with the editor and joined Penthouse the following week as deputy editor. Not long afterwards I was appointed executive editor. Penthouse had recently been launched in the U.S. at that time, so I got to travel frequently to New York in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. There I met several publishers and it was suggested to me by Howard Kaminsky from Warner Paperback Library that I write a sex “how-to” book in the same anecdotal style as Quest. That was how I came to write How A Woman Loves To Be Loved by “Angel Smith”. It was hugely popular (especially since Angel looked gorgeous on the cover) because few sex books had been written before in such a conversational style … most had been either medical or prescriptive. I’ve written 29 manuals over the years.
How did your earlier career with men’s magazines and writing sex manuals inform your fiction writing?