Meet a Member: Mike Garner

When Mike dropped me a note this month to share that he’d just published a book, Stories that Matter, I was curious to know more. What better way to find out than by putting Mike in the spotlight for this month’s Meet a Member…

Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?

I was born in London and spent 20 years – half my adult life – in France between Paris and Brittany. I ended up in Somerset in 2003 after I found my teenage sweetheart again. Yes, we’re one of the Friends Reunited couples. 

I’ve been a freelance translator and copywriter for more than 25 years. In the past I’ve been a travel agent, worked on the railways (fourth generation) and made a failed attempt to be a teacher in France.

Only in the last couple of years have I been comfortable with calling myself a “writer” because I don’t write novels, but writers come in so many flavours, as do dancers and artists. Writing a book will do that too.

Where did your love of words come from? 

I don’t have one of those “I was born to write” origin stories. My mother read library books veraciously all her life but we only had a handful of them at home. I read a lot too when I was young, Alistair MacLean when I was 14, I’d graduated to Sartre, Camus and Mikhail Sholokhov by the time I was 18. Writing though was always something other people did. 

My love of words crept up on me when I was a student and I spent many years in my 20s and 30s trying to write but never getting very far. Writing by proxy as a translator scratched the itch a little but not entirely. I’ve come to accept my role as a producer of words quite late – I’m 64 – but now I’m happy to be surrounded by words and music and not feel an imposter.

What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?

I think I’ve been a (lurking) member for two or three years. One of the first books I read on writing for business was Dark Angels ten or twelve years ago. It showed me that there was another way of writing and, dare I say it, telling a story that centred on values and personality. I was talking to Sabine Harnau about our mutual respect for the work of John Simmons and the value of a community like this and I was in!

Have you been involved in any 26 projects? 

I haven’t and I’m thinking that I should be. Open to offers!

What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)

I’m lucky enough to have a converted garage in my garden where I can shut the door, put the noise-cancelling headphones on and beaver away. Surrounded by my books and vinyl, it’s my man cave. When I need a change of atmosphere, obviously coffee shops are go-to places because a lot of my work involves watching people but I’m also quite a fan of co-working spaces. 

I’ve always worked with music. My mainstays are the ambient work of Brian Eno and Harold Budd, modern film music and any number of atmospheric playlists on both Spotify and Apple Music. Special mentions go to Karl-Heinz Stockhausen and Debussy though and I do remember one particularly productive session with Black Sabbath!

What are you working on at the moment?

Apart from client work, I’m marketing the book I’ve finally managed to write. It’s about the (business) stories that need to be told and I have an idea of writing a similar book about people who grow up with or acquire more than one language. 

Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?   

I’ll have to say the book. It was 40 years in the planning stages and 2 in the writing. The final push came in the wake of the events of 2020 when – apart from anything else that happened that year – a number of life-changing events made consider my position. Alzheimer’s disease took my mother and my wife had a brush with breast cancer and had heart surgery. The year started with a bang but it was time to reassess. I was the wrong side of 60 and I needed to ditch some of my fears if I was to achieve what I wanted to achieve.

I worked with a writing coach with the intention of being open and vulnerable, but she dragged out all the shame I’d been carrying around for my lack of achievement. She also gave me the best piece of advice I have ever had, “writing something down does not mean you have to publish.” 

The book started life as a memoir but morphed into the stories of business owners you’ve never heard of but who are battling to earn an honest living and, in their own way, trying to make the world a better place. You can read the rags to riches Dragon’s Den-type stories and you will learn from them but we can’t relate to them as most of us will never be gazillionaires and nor would we want to. The people I have written about have the Stories That Matter. 

Where do you get your inspiration? 

I love talking to people and I think I have a knack for drawing stories out of them and connecting the dots. There is inspiration in the small things all around us too, I’m a great believer in just looking around and seeing what happens. 

I’ve also come to trust the process in terms of inspiration. I don’t believe in lightning bolts and they don’t come out fully formed, they need to be worked on, so I often find myself writing the first thing that comes into my head and taking it from there. To misquote David Ogilvy, one of the greatest marketers who ever lived, “I’m not a good writer but I’m a world class editor”. You can’t edit what’s in your head. 

– Interview by Sophie Gordon

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