Category Archives: Writing

Lemon cats & grape kangaroos – an interview with Alex Brightsmith & KJ Collard

That talented pair Alex Brightsmith and KJ Collard both make a guest appearance in my latest book (that one on the right there). I asked them about all sorts of shizz.

When did you start writing?

Viennese Waltz by Alex BrightsmithAB: I think perhaps I’ve always told myself stories when I might otherwise have been bored, particularly when I couldn’t sleep (I’ve always been a night owl, and I used to have a pretty rigidly enforced bed time). From my teens onwards I’d try to write a novel now and then, but I was fairly easily distracted until I had an idea for a series of short stories for one of the protagonists I’d toyed with most often. I finally gave her a regular antagonist and started writing outlines for the series, and one of them took off like a rocket and became Black Knight (The Novel That No One Will Ever See – not in anything like its current form, anyway).

Whilst I was wondering what to do with it I went back to the first outline, and it became Viennese Waltz – although only after a long period in the back of the cupboard when I thought that it was just an itch I’d successfully scratched. It still has one line in it that’s only there to support a scene in Black Knight, but I’m not telling you which one.

The Darker PlaygroundKJC: Story telling just seems like something I’ve done all my life. I remember a writing project in sixth grade (approx. age 11) that I enjoyed. But I think my real passion for writing started with a creative writing class I took in high school. My teacher said I would be published some day. I’m thankful to have benefited from her encouragement.

Do you write to a schedule, or as and when the mood strikes?

AB: I’m terribly decadent in my writing habits, and that’s how it’s likely to stay. I know just how slim the chances are of making a living at this game, and for me the risk of turning writing into a chore is one I’m not willing to take on those odds.

KJC: It’s definitely a free-for-all. I’ve tried to have a schedule, but if characters just aren’t willing to talk to me, it reflected in my writing.

What 3 things are guaranteed to make you smile?

AB: Smelling my honeysuckle from half way up the street as I walk home on a summer evening. The first day that I walk out of my front door and find the street full of swifts (I always feel a little bit guilty about this, because they nest round the corner from us so that we get the joy and not the hassle). A long and well told shaggy dog story wound up with a particularly excruciating pun.

KJC: The Chicago Cubs, piglets, and new lip gloss.

Who’s your favourite author?

AB: This changes a great deal, depending on my mood and what I’ve been reminded of recently, but today I’ll say Ursula K Le Guin, for writing such wonderfully alien alien cultures, and (to steal a phrase shamelessly from a friend) for being so damn humane.

KJC: I think I’d have to go with Anne Rice. She impresses me on so many levels. She launches herself into research when prepping a new story. She invokes every sense when she’s telling her story. She simultaneously leaves you satisfied and wanting more. I think if Anne were to read and comment on my work, I’d lose my mind.

Where do you do most of your writing?

AB: In notepads. Sorry, I don’t mean to be facetious, but there isn’t really one main place – in bed, on buses, in the kitchen at work (to be absolutely clear, there’s no comma missing there, I don’t write on company time) – anywhere, when the story is keen enough to be told. I don’t think I’ve actually written anything in a supermarket queue yet, but it’s a definite possibility.

KJC: At work over lunch hours or home on weekends.

Do you have any pets?

AB: I usually say we have an indeterminate number of cats. That’s three real residents and a shifting population of feral visitors in varying stages of socialisation. This is all my husband’s fault, and I’m still trying to deny that I’m in any way a cat person, but it’s a hard sell when there’s a cat sleeping on your pillow.

We also have a tortoise. The cats are fascinated, but don’t seem to classify him as a living being, fortunately. I assume it’s because he smells all wrong.

KJC: I just said good-bye to my Main Man Maximus. He was my wonderfully spastic toy fox terrier. His dedicated fur face will be hard to replace. However, my cat, Isis, is still sassy and insolent, as cats are much expected to be.

What’s your favourite book, and what are you reading at the moment?

AB: This is another one that depends on the mood you catch me in, but I’ve been saying Nevil Shute’s Lonely Road for a while now. It’s generally placed as one of his pre-war books, and I read it first as just a good yarn, but that’s not fair. For one thing it has a gloriously odd opening chapter, written from the point of view of someone who was extremely drunk at the time and somewhat concussed immediately afterwards – I’m rather impressed that his publishers were willing to run with it, given that he wasn’t an established name at the time. Secondly, there’s actually a grim post-war theme at the heart of it (it’s listed in the pre-war group because it was written before WWII). In a lot of ways it puts me in mind of Rebecca, but with the advantage that I don’t want to grab the protagonists by the scruffs of their necks and scream ‘just bloody talk to one another’ at them.

At the moment I’m working through all the Saint books (yes, as in the pre-Bond Roger Moore series) that we have in the house, which is rather more than we did – I picked up a dozen or so in a charity shop recently, some new to me, some that I read in my teens and had pretty much forgotten, so I’m reading them in order, which is interesting – for one thing the first few are much more serious than I expected, but on the other hand one of the light hearted collections that I’d always assumed was a later one (without ever thinking to glance at the copyright page) is actually from very close to the beginning.

KJC: There was a book my Grandpa used to read to me all the time called “Who Are You Looking At?” that is my all time favorite. I know, kid’s book… but nostalgia wins here. And although I have plenty on my To Be Read list, I’m not currently reading anything.

eReader or physical books?

AB: For me this totally depends on what’s most convenient at the time. Physical books probably edge it because I haven’t found an e-reader that’s as comfortable to read as a paperback yet (I’m willing to assume that this is purely because I’m such a cheapskate) and because the local library has a rather slender collection of e-books.

KJC: Both. I don’t have to choose!

If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?

AB: Play with the cats. No, obviously not that, because I’m not a cat person. I’d say walk more, but I’m not twenty anymore and my ankles hate me, and I assume that listening to Radio 4 Extra is disqualified by association. I don’t know. I might have to actually talk to my husband.

KJC: Write in secret.

If your Glint story were to be filmed, who would you cast as the main character?

AB: I usually throw up a complete blank for fantasy casting, but for Chrissy I think Stephanie Cole would be perfect. (If you’re struggling to think of a Stephanie Cole character being nice to someone, even for cynical reasons, you haven’t heard of Cabin Pressure, which is a shame.) I’ll bet that the first character you thought of at her name was the black widow of Open All Hours, Delphine Featherstone, and perhaps the thought of her using her feminine wiles on anyone was a startling one, but what she and Chrissy share is a hard, guarded cynicism that’s hard to set aside, but harder still to live within.

KJC: Third Rosemary would be a newcomer. I can’t see anyone playing her.

What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?

AB: Can I have a force field to keep the cats off the keyboard? Or does that count as general writing implements?

Sticking to the realm of things that actually exist, plenty of nibbles, a dull job to alternate with the writing (weeding and polishing things are both good), and a good dollop of guilt (this seems to work equally well whether it’s generated by the thought that there’s something more important that I should be doing or by a deadline).

KJC: Music, cheesy poofs, and a minion to rub my shoulders and bring me tea.

If you could genetically cross and animal with a fruit or vegetable what would you choose and why? (When I was asked this for Tattooed Mummy’ blog I invented a Potato Spider, spinning its intricate webs of French Fries and Waffles.)

AB: If I can stretch the definition to include herbs I’d love to hybridize the cats with something to make them self-deodorising, like mint or parsley. Better still, bay – a bay-cat snoozing in the sunshine would smell divine, and be a delight to all the senses.

If I must have a fruit or vegetable I’ll cross them with lemons, please, because someone told me once that if you leave a lemon on the tree it unripens in the winter and re-ripens next summer & if that’s true then you would always have kittens to cheer you up in February, and mature cats to leave you alone to get on with stuff in summer. I did mention, didn’t I, that I’m not a cat person? Not at all. Honest.

KJC: I want a Grape Kangaroo…. a never ending supply of grapes. Reach into her pouch and BAM!… Grapes.

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Title-twins

I know, it’s a crap word, but I couldn’t think of a clever one. If you do, let me know and I’ll edit this and credit you. They say you should always find a unique title for your book, but given the vast sweep of history and all its words, that’s not always possible. I set out to find out what other books share a title with mine.

Warren Peace by Michael WombatFirst up, there’s a 64-page version of Tolstoy’s War & Peace presented using photographs of rabbits dressed in clothing. It’s called ‘Rabbit Warren Peace’ and it looks BRILLIANT. Also, famed science-fiction writer Bob Shaw has written a couple of comedies about a cardboard-like, sitcom-like hero, Warren Peace, called ‘Who Goes Here’ and ‘Dimensions’.

Warren Peace Title-twins: 2

Fog by Michael WombatI expected to find that “there’s loads of books called Fog”, as a visitor told me at Indie Litfest last year but, although a legion of books have the word within a longer title, only James Herbert’s ‘The Fog’ comes close to the singular, and as I pointed out to my surly visitor, his doesn’t have a cool running man in the letter ‘O’.

Fog Title-twins: 1

Moth Girl versus The Bats by Michael WombatIn my innocence I imagined that ‘Moth Girl’ (even without her bats) would be unique, but no! Here comes ‘Moth Girls’ by Anne Cassidy, so called because girls are drawn to a particular house like moths (that’s light, Anne, not houses), rather than because, like my heroine Thea, they look like a moth when dressed in a weird cloak and flying goggles.

Moth Girl Title-twins: 1

Blood on the Ground by Michael WombatThis one surprised me. Who’d have thought there’d be other ‘Blood on the Ground’s? There are, though. There’s Paul Usiskin’s torrid tale of murder, dangerous love, and techno-porn (I know!) across the Israel-Palestine divide. Not a lot of laughs in that one, I’ll warrant. I’d prefer Lenora Rain Good’s ‘Blood on the Ground: Elegies for Waiilatpu’, 22 poems about the 1847 Waiilatpu massacre. Sod it, I’m buying that one.

Blood on the Ground Title-twins: 2

Happily, my other titles – Cubic Scats, Soul of the Universe, Cutthroats and Curses, Human 76 and the imminent The Museum of White Walls – appear to have no title twins at all. Which I choose to interpret as a 5-4 win for me, so ner.

Happy Birthday Warren Peace

Warren PeaceFour years ago today, encouraged by Alex Brightsmith, I published my inoffensive little “Magnificent Seven with fur” tale about rabbits and cats working together against seemingly insurmountable odds. I doubt Alex knew what she was unleashing back then, but I’ll be eternally grateful that she did.

There are now nine substantial books out there with my name on the cover as either author or editor, along with a couple of other small things. These days you can buy some of my stories translated into Russian, and even get yourself a Wombie audiobook to listen to while driving. You can buy Wombie jewellery and stationery, and you can employ me to edit your manuscript and format it correctly for publishing (yeah, I’ve not made that page yet – I ought to get my finger out). The tenth book and fourth full-length novel***, The Raven’s Wing, is well on its way to completion now that I’ve fallen back in love with it again.

I’ve met numerous authors, attended signings and book fairs, and made a lot of new friends. I’ve had “Oi, Wombat!” shouted at me in a busy town centre. Cover imagePerhaps my favourite meeting, though, was in Michigan when I was introduced to a stranger whose first words to me were “You asshole, how could you end Fog like that?”. In short, I’ve had the BEST bloody time, and it’s down to you lovely buggers who read all my blather. Thank you *snogs your faces off*. And if you don’t like my writing (a) what are you doing here? and (b) blame Alex.

***if you can’t actually count four, that’s probably because you’re not aware of the privately published novel called ‘Murder at Wombat Towers’ which was written about and for a dozen Americans to thank them all for their remarkable hospitality and friendship over the years.

The Raven’s Wing extended 4-disc version

Book First LineMy Scrivener file for The Raven’s Wing is enormous. I’ve done so much research, spending a big gobbet of time making sure I get as many details right about 1322 as I can. One of the best things about research is the learning process itself, and this quest for accuracy is a lovely bunch of fun. How much do you know about the 14th century? No, nor did I until I began to write this book, but it’s an intriguing period. Did you know they didn’t have orange carrots yet?

I’ll pop a lot of the fascinating things that I’ve discovered into Author’s Notes at the back of the book, as usual, and you’ll perhaps be interested to learn that as with Fog, there will be a Raven’s Wing Special Edition. Think of this as the extended DVD version – the four-disc Lord Of The Rings type extended edition. It’ll be in hardback for a start, and will contain a lot more historical background information than the paperback.

There will also be “Deleted scenes” – chapters not in the paperback that cover events that happen ‘behind the scenes’ of the main plotline. There may also be a few versions of events written from a different character’s point of view.

Owl_Skull_Tattoo_Flash_by_DickStarrAdd to this the added graphics, medieval art, character sketches by Kit Cooper, maps, my drawings of locations – and perhaps, just perhaps, I’ll tell a backstory that cries out to be told; that of Moss, the one-eyed fire-dancer who hints at a secretive, violent past. FYI Moss is named for my author friend Sophie Moss. whom I’m pretty sure doesn’t have a shady past.

I only wish I could include a CD of all the songs that are scattered through the book (my hero is a minstrel after all), performed by me and Blondie, my uke. Perhaps I’ll post a series of YouTube videos. The book’ll be a few more months coming, but it’ll totally be worth it. It’s going to be FUN.

Orgasm as a medical treatment

Snogging women from the  “Bible Moralisée”“The church maintained that a man’s penis was required to have fulfilling sexual activity, and therefore frowned far less on women lying with women than it did on male homosexuality.

Indeed, medically there existed a school of thought that the womb of a woman contained a build-up of her seed, and without penetrative sex this would cause suffocation of the womb. The cure for this was to find a midwife or cunning woman willing to place hot items upon the woman’s privities and bring her to release.”

– a little snippet there from the ongoing The Raven’s Wing.

My God, it’s full of links! The collected Human 76

GhabrieLisa Shambrook has written about the origins of Human 76, I have written about its development, and all sorts of people are contributing their thoughts on the characters and stories that have moved them. Individual authors have expressed their own points of view.

Alex Brightsmith has talked about how her character Chrissy developed when she crossed paths with my own Glint.

Denise Callaway has published a short extract from her story, Underneath, as has Michelle Fox from her frankly terrifying Human X. Another snippet, this time from Steven Paul Watson’s non-stop The Hunted, can be found here.

Rebecca Fyfe has blogged about the anthology’s support for the charity Water Is Life, while Michael Manz has effortlessly summed up the story so far.

Just two more links for you – the ePub version is free at the moment, but will soon rise to a reasonable price. You might want to grab your download sooner rather than later. Might I recommend, though, that you shell out for the paperback, which is a thing of beauty. Not only will you find that it contains a map of Ghabrie’s journey not in the eBook, but you’ll also have a warm glow of satisfaction from knowing that you’ve helped a worthwhile charity.

Live Writer

I had thought, when I finally gave in and replaced my nine-year-old laptop (a faithful servant in over the years but lately taken to dying two or three times a day) that blogging might become a lot harder. I’ve always used the simple Windows Live Writer to write and format blog posts offline before posting them here. I knew, however, that Microsoft had given it the boot some time ago.

Was I to be reduced to using the execrable WordPress interface? As it turns out, no! And here I am blogging with Live Writer as usual, but now on my pretty red Windows 10 laptop. It turns out that Microsoft have released Live Writer as open source, and I can now use Open Live Writer to do exactly what I did before.

As you might have gathered by now the point of this post is to test out my capability, rather than to entertain my readers. I’ll be amazed if any of you have made it this far, in fact. If you have, I love you best of all.

There’s nowt wrong with a right good adverb

The internet creaks with people giving you writing advice, telling you exactly how to construct your tale. My writing advice: don’t listen to writing advice. Including this, if it doesn’t suit you. Write what makes your heart sing, your mind spark and your inner self go whoop-di-doo. Write people you fall in love with and characters you despise. Create beings who shock you and betray your trust, sending your story spinning off into uncharted skies undreamt of when you filed your flight plan. Write people. People with reasons for the things they do. People who think they are the goodies. Or, you know, sprout-creatures from the planet Pobble if you’re writing weird SF.

Ignore any ‘expert’ that tries to restrain what words you can use before you actually use them – they also likely believe that their anus emits sunlight. Especially dismiss that often-repeated shit about never using adverbs. Employ deftly; elegantly bedizen your doing words with adverbs like shimmering jewels on a smooth cleavage. Use the buggers, but yes, use them sparingly, with meaning and thought. Telling a new writer not to use adverbs is like taking the screwdriver out of a toolkit. Well alright, maybe a spanner.

So, no blanket rules, okay? Although… is “Edit the shizz out of your drafts, then edit again, then get someone else to edit them” a rule? I’d advise that one. Otherwise, write what you want – then edit it to a high sheen so that the reader will almost smell the sprouts. These are metaphorical sprouts – you get that, right?

So don’t listen to writing advice – but do listen, intently, to editing advice, even it comes from inside your own head. Oh, and if you can’t be wazzocked to edit, re-edit, re-re-edit yourself, then hire a good editor. I happen to know a superb editor – she’s here.

Second place! That’ll do nicely

Winners

“This took me on the best dark journey. Loved it!”
“Poetry, ancient history, and a need to sate vengeful passion with a black twist of fate.”
“A deliciously dark tale right from the poetic start. Loved it!”
“Filled with vivid images, poetic language, and bloody vengeance!”

I’m Chuffed to little mintballs that my story The Croaking Raven was placed second in this year’s Love Bites competition. There were some cracking stories submitted this year, and I’m honoured to be considered in the top three.

But blimey, the winning story, the truly terrifying True Love Always Dies by Eric Martell, was a worthy winner which you should definitely go and read HERE.

Why’d I have to go and make things so complicated?

The Raven's WingSo, I get back from the gym and I’m ready to start writing. The problem is that I can’t think of a sub-plot to delay my protagonist by a day underground while parallel plotlines 11B (Moss) and 11C (raven/reeve) reach plotpoint GAMMA. Were I less of a stickler for continuity I could just write the strands and sod whether they match temporally, but no. I’m a stickler for stuff like that, me. I stickle.

Or, you know, why can’t I ever just write a novel-length story that just goes in a straight line? Warren Peace had two parallel plots, chuntering on together in alternate chapters. In Fog I kind of folded Finn’s tale of mystery, weirdness and showers back on itself and plaited the strands (that was fun!). In The Raven’s Wing there are, let me see, at least four things going on at once in different places, all important to the tale.

Herein, though, lies the beauty of Scrivener. First of all it makes stickling easy by allowing me to look at parallel timelines by judicious use of keywords. In addition, I can actually leave John festering underground not caring what he’s doing while I write future chapters, secure in the knowledge I can come back to him at that moment later when a light bulb hits me about what he might actually be doing there.

Looks like I’m writing after all. Well played, Scriv.

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