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Musings on Writing – Part 3

This is the final part of a lengthy set of interview questions I completed to be featured on a fellow writer’s blog in January 2019. More than four years ago… where has that time gone?

As usual with these reproduced interviews, I’ve changed the wording of the questions for copyright reasons, but without changing the questions’ meaning. The answers I haven’t touched except that, where relevant, I’ve added the occasional update in square brackets after my original answer.

Which actors would you like to play the main characters if your books were made into films?

Quite honestly, if any of my books were made into films, I’d be thrilled regardless of who was cast in the lead roles.

[I do a lot of walking, especially in spring and summer. When I’m approaching a forbidding hill, I often try to distract myself by mentally playing out fantasies about becoming a famous author and suchlike. A favourite is deciding who would play the characters from The Cleansing in a film. Not only is it good fun, it can get me up a hill without noticing how steep it was.]

Name one person you’d love to meet.

It’s difficult to choose only one, but I’ll plump for Stephen King. I grew up with his books and would love to chat with him about writing, over a beer or coffee.

Do you have any hobbies?

I’m a member of a pub quiz team and I watch a lot of rugby and football—I’m past the age where I can play without endangering my joints. Does drinking beer count as a hobby?

Are there any TV shows or films you enjoy watching?

I never seem to find the time to watch a great deal of television. My go-to shows are The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. I’ll always make time to watch films—although my preference is for science fiction, fantasy and horror, I’ll give almost anything a go.

[Both TV shows mentioned have now finished. I recently enjoyed The OA and Manifest. I’m watching the Star Wars spin-offs and making my way through Stranger Things. I still watch a variety of films.]

What are your favourite foods?

Ribeye steak, curry, pizza, though not all at the same time.

Starsign and lucky number?

Scorpio—a typical one, says my wife, whatever that means. I don’t have a lucky number.

What is your favourite colour?

Since it’s the colour two of my favourite sports teams play in and the colour of the dragon on the Welsh flag, I’d have to say red.

What sort of music would accompany your latest book?

My work in progress is edging towards dark fantasy. As such, I imagine it to be Celtic music similar to that in the Lord of the Rings trilogy meets the soundtrack of Halloween.

If you could no longer write, what would you do?

That’s a scary question. I have recently started a part-time proofreading/copyediting business so I guess I’d concentrate more on that.

[I no longer offer the proofreading service. To edit someone else’s work thoroughly is a time-consuming process, one that doesn’t sit easily alongside my own writing and audiobook production. Something had to give.]

If you only had twenty-four hours to live how would you spend it?

That’s an even scarier question. I’d spend it with my family, making sure they know how I feel about them. There would probably also be beer.

What would you write on your head stone?

Here lies he who never gave less than his best.

Did you make any mistakes with your first book?

Probably, but it was a long time ago now and it’s published (The Village of Lost Souls) so I try not to think about it. But since you’ve asked… damn it.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read extensively, inside and outside the genres in which you want to be published. And, of course, write as often and as much as you can. Prepare yourself for disappointments—almost everyone gets rejected somewhere along the way—and, above all, persevere.

Who do you turn to for help?

In a writing sense? I’ll always seek out my brother’s opinion. But, ultimately, I follow my own instincts.

 

Wow—that really was a long interview.

Till next time, whenever that might be…

Musings on Writing – Part 2

This is the second part of a lengthy set of interview questions I completed to be featured on a fellow writer’s blog in January 2019.

As usual with these reproduced interviews, I’ve changed the wording of the questions for copyright reasons, but without changing the questions’ meaning. The answers I haven’t touched except that, where relevant, I’ve added the occasional update in square brackets after my original answer.

Image of fountain pen writing on paper

 

 

 

 

 

What music do you listen to while writing?

I envy writers who can work with music playing in the background. That’s not for me, I regret. It has to be quiet so I can escape into the world I’m creating without distraction.

Name one indispensable aid to writing.

Coffee.

Image of coffee cup brimming with frothy coffee

Is there any part of the publishing process you detest?

If by ‘publishing’ you mean the narrow process of getting polished manuscript to distributor, there’s no part of that I detest. But if we’re talking about the wider process, then the most detestable thing to me—though, sadly, a necessary evil—is marketing. I’m a complete muppet at it. I’m also not keen on writing the first draft of a novel—it always feels a little like pulling teeth.

[The title of my long-running series of blog posts about marketing—Marketing for Muppets—remains apt.]

What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve faced to becoming a writer?

Finding the time has always been one of my biggest problems, at least until about eighteen months ago. Then I went part-time in my regular job and my writing productivity shot up.

[When I gave this interview, the possibility of taking early retirement in November that year hadn’t yet occurred to me. It was during a chance conversation in work a couple of months later that a colleague mentioned we could take early retirement at 55 and a flashbulb went off in my head—my Archimedes-in-the-bath moment.]

One word on plain background: Eureka!

Who are your go-to authors?

Terry Pratchett, Stephen King, Tolkien… countless others. They remind me what it feels like to become lost in a fantastic world and why I wanted to write in the first place.

Do you market your books?

I run Amazon ads on the first book of both completed trilogies. The ads just about pay for themselves in terms of sales of the books so advertised, but the real benefit comes in follow-through sales of the sequels. I also blog about writing, reading and publishing, which I enjoy but also regard as a form of marketing.

[Amazon advertising, so effective for me then, has since gone drastically downhill as it has become so expensive and effectively priced me out of the market. I have also dabbled in Facebook advertising, with mixed results. I feel I’m almost back to square one when it comes to marketing, nearly as invisible as when I started out. As for blogging, I have stopped posting to a fixed schedule because I was finding it was interfering with the writing and audiobook production, and becoming a chore. So I now blog irregularly and it feels like fun again.]

Do readers ever get in touch with you?

It does sometimes happen, usually through my author Facebook page, or more occasionally by e-mail. I’ve been lucky that they’ve never been less than complimentary about my work.

[Reader interaction has since largely died away, which I suppose is inevitably a result of reduced visibility. In common with most writers, I have received less-than-glowing comments on my work in reviews. I’m not complaining—it’s an occupational hazard.]

Is there anyone you trust to read your draft work?

I have a few trusted beta readers, the main one being my brother. If he says something needs to be changed, I listen.

Describe your first book signing.

I’ve never done one and, unless it was essential for furthering my writing career, I’d shy away from ever doing one.

What message are you trying to pass to readers through your work?

I’m not trying to pass on any messages or make any points with my work. They’re stories told for the sheer enjoyment of telling them and to entertain the reader. If, as a by-product, they make the reader think, that’s a bonus.

Image of the sculpture 'The Thinker' 

There’ll be a Part 3 along shortly. Till then…

Questions, Questions

This was an interview I completed in May 2018. I sent it off and didn’t hear another thing about it. I don’t know whether it was ever featured, but I’m guessing not.

As usual with reproduced interviews, I’ve changed the wording of the questions, although they were already quite generic, to avoid potential copyright issues. My answers I haven’t touched.
 
 

 

1 Give the elevator pitch for your most recent book.

My most recent release is called The Lord of the Dance, the final book in The Elevator trilogy. (Well, you asked for an elevator pitch…) It’s a dark fantasy tale that begins when four people step into an elevator, expecting to be deposited at their dreary workplaces. When the door opens, it isn’t a drab office that greets them.

The first book, which was intended as a standalone short novel, shows the unwilling companions whisked to various strange worlds—there are seven floors, including the basement—often inhabited by aggressive creatures. There are science fiction aspects, with elements of time travel and the pivotal appearance of an AI machine. Oh, and there’s a dragon.

The first book left me wanting to know what became of one of the characters (explored in the second book, Jack’s Tale) and to know more about the main antagonist (the eponymous title character of the third book). Thus, it became a trilogy.

2 What made you want to write this tale?

A couple of years ago in my regular job, we had to decamp to an upper level while our groundfloor office was refurbished. Most days, I climbed the six flights of stairs to the temporary office, but now and again I couldn’t be bothered and took the lift—it’s what we call an elevator in the U.K.

As I would wait for the lift door to open on my floor—there was always a pregnant pause while it made up its mind to lurch open—a question kept asking itself: what if, when the door opens, it’s to another world in another time?

When I started considering the answer to that question even when not riding the lift, I knew it was time to write the story.

3 Which part of the story is your favourite?

I was going to say the first time the door to the elevator opens and the occupants gaze out onto a new world, because that is the moment that kept nagging at me every time I rode that lift up to my temporary office. But there’s another moment that occurs at the very end of the second book, Jack’s Tale, that I didn’t see coming until the last minute and which ties the second book to the first, whilst setting up the third, in a manner that is wholly unexpected and satisfying to me. I only hope that readers feel the same way.

4 Has a character ever turned out to play a far more significant role in your story than you intended?

My apocalyptic science fiction trilogy, Earth Haven, is about the Earth being cleansed of humankind to pave the way for an alien species to make it their home. The character in question is a sixteen-year-old girl by the name of Bri (like the cheese but without the e), who doesn’t even appear in the first novel, The Cleansing.

I introduced her in the second novel, The Beacon, initially as little more than a companion to another new character, a ten-year-old boy called Will. However, Bri had suffered a head trauma, which resulted in her developing certain abilities. Those abilities, together with her general no-nonsense attitude to life and her determination to protect Will, made me realise that she wasn’t going to let me keep her in a minor supporting role.

Difficult to say too much without spoilers—suffice to say, her significance to the story grew out of all proportion to what I’d originally thought when introducing her, to the extent that she plays a key role in the final novel, The Reckoning.

5 What books did you fall in love with as a child?

I wrote an article for a magazine about major influences in my life, which I called ‘Enid Bloody Blyton’. I described her books for younger children as ‘insufferably quaint’, which probably makes it sound like I was having a dig at her. In fact, it was quite the opposite—I felt then as I do now: I owe her a great deal of gratitude for opening my eyes to the unboundless possibilities of the imagination and to the delights that can be found within the pages of a book.

As soon as I learned to read, I began to devour her books: The Enchanted Wood, The Magic Faraway Tree and Adventures of the Wishing Chair. Read them over and over until they began to fall apart. Bought new copies for my first-born and read them to her.

I graduated to her books for older children. She wrote tons of books aimed at children between the ages of six and ten, but there were two particular series that I adored: The Famous Five books and the Adventure stories.

Looking back with the cynicism of adulthood, the plots of these books were outlandish, involving unlikely spy rings and treasure maps and, memorably, anti-gravitational wings being secretly manufactured in the depths of a hollow Welsh mountain—you know, I’ve lived in Wales for most of my life and haven’t once heard anyone add the words ‘look you’ to the end of a sentence like the Welsh characters did in The Mountain of Adventure. But never mind the ludicrousness of the storylines or the stereotypical supporting characters, I was seven and lapped it all up.

That’s enough about Enid. There are too many others to mention. Books like The Wind in the Willows and Watership Down. The works of Roald Dahl and Mark Twain. The gripping Run For Your Life by David Line.

One afternoon in school, when I was nine, our teacher took out a book and began to read it to the class. It was about four children who are sent away to the countryside as evacuees in World War II to stay with an eccentric uncle in a rambling old mansion. I was instantly captivated. The book was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and so began my lifelong love affair with C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. I couldn’t wait for the teacher to finish the story in class; I had to get my hands on my own copy. When I discovered there were another six books in the series, I probably went into raptures.

I moved on to Tolkien and Stephen King and Heinlein and many, many others, but those are the books that most stick in my mind from early childhood.

6 What are you currently working on?

I’m writing a novel set in 1950, which hasn’t yet decided if it’s going to be science fiction or horror. It will probably turn out to be a fusion of the two. It’s going to have a pulp, B-movie feel to it; don’t ask me why—it simply feels right for the story.

I also have the seeds of a time travel series germinating, and a fantasy novel clamouring to be written, so that’s the next year or so taken care of. *

7 What are you currently reading? And which book is the best you’ve read in the past year?

I’m currently reading Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, who’s a new author to me. It’s a tale about Earth becoming uninhabitable after the moon is destroyed. I’m around thirty per cent in and a little ambivalent about it so far.**

The best book I’ve read in the past year? That’s a tricky one, but I’m going to plump for The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp. It caused me a few nights’ disturbed sleep, the sign of a good horror story.
 

* the novel set in 1950 turned out to be a novella and retained its pulpy, B-movie feel, which I was quite pleased with. I bundled it together with two other dark novellas and published the collection as Moths.
I am in the process of writing the fantasy novel—around 50,000 words in, aiming for 180,000 in total.
What I didn’t know when I answered these questions was that I would soon be embarking on producing my own audiobooks, a massively time-consuming task, and so my flippant remark about ‘the next year or so’ being taken care of proved to be an understatement of epic proportions.

** I ended up enjoying Seveneves. Though I felt it went on a little too long at the end, that’s a minor gripe and it’s a good read if you’re a fan of science fiction.

Links to works and articles referred to:

The Elevator trilogy
Earth Haven trilogy
Moths
Enid Bloody Blyton
When I Was Three I Ate Mud  (favourite childhood books)