N.B: Possible sensitive material. (Depending on how sensitive you are.)
Forget your Game of Thrones romps in Peter Littlefinger’s brothel, or the gyrations of any number of women – and occasional men, in music videos, or that 1990’s bra advert – ‘Hello Boys.’
You know by now that I like to have an occasional rant – and if you don’t then you haven’t been following properly! *smiles coyly – or you have only just started following.
I wanted to rant about sex, no not the lovely smushy, let’s-get-this-party-started kind of sex, but the kind that is used to make you (and me I suppose, sometimes, but I like to think I’m-above-that-kind-of-thing) buy stuff.
Are advertisers bastards? Or are we just dumb animals that allow our baser instincts drive the click-pay-send-buy cycle? It’s all over the show: perfume and aftershave adverts, clothing, cars, ad infinitum. But what bugs me most? Music videos! Music videos that contain endless yards of naked, semi-naked, sweaty, oiled, writing flesh. And guess what? There’s no age limit on them like films have, so television channels can show them at 8:30 on a Saturday or Sunday morning, when you want a lie-in, and your little kids are up and about. And what do little kids do when alone? (Ew, not that!) Yep, they watch the box, unsupervised (‘cos you got pissed the night before and have to lie still in a darkened room so you don’t vomit all over the place – or is that just me?)
Your kids are watching soft porn people!!!!
But before we all get carried away, this post isn’t about soft porn (though I know some people will wish it was). I have been noticing semi-clad images all over the show except one place – literature (NO! Not that kind of literature) I’m talking about fiction writing and the covers that bind them.
Which brings me back to Game of Thrones; or should I say books in general. Although there is an insanely wild amount of sex in G.O.T, the covers tell a different story, because it’s all about politics, not sex. There are those books that have a suggestion of sex on the covers; prime example is Jilly Cooper and all those jolly gals and boys who ride horses, play polo and live in a foreign country as far as I’m concerned. And maybe an open shirt or two revealing a male chest to titillate the middle-aged, middle-class reader. And then there is the brigade of women writers and readers (and I guess some blokes) who read romance. Ah, romance; roses, wine, softly scented kisses, you’re kidding aren’t you?!
It was not always so. For your delectation, I have trawled through acres of yellowing-dog-eared-slightly whiffy pages to present to you some fine, and cringe worthy, examples of how sex has been selling literature for decades. From the 1920’s through to the current day, I give you, how sex sells literature…
What Aldous Huxley would have made of this cover, God only knows!
Today I would like to introduce you – if you’re not already familiar with her work – to Sam Stone; horror/fantasy writer. Another hugely prolific author with an impressive resume of novels, novella’s, short stories, a screenplay and editorials under her belt. Winner of multiple awards; including the 2011 British Fantasy Society Awards for Fool’s Gold. She writes poetry and prose and is even a radio host on SirenFM. Modest and polite, even if she does write of horror and occasional gore, just don’t cut her up on the motorway – you may end up in her next story!
Award winning author Sam Stone began writing aged 11 after reading her first adult fiction book, The Collector by John Fowles. Her love of horror fiction began soon afterwards when she stayed up late one night with her sister to watch Christopher Lee in the classic Hammer film, Dracula. Since then she’s been a huge fan of vampire movies and novels old and new. http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1681383.Sam_Stone
Hi Sam, Welcome, and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog; Flailing Through Life…
A: And talking about flailing; do you ever find yourself ‘flailing through life’?
S: All the time! That’s what being a writer is all about! We don’t just make up fiction, we’re all winging it in the real world too. 🙂
A: What were you like as a child?
S: I guess I was a quiet, studious child. I was always hiding in a corner somewhere reading a book. But for all that, I hated reading aloud to my teachers. I found it embarrassing and I stumbled over my words. As a result they thought I couldn’t read well and gave me extra reading lessons. All of which I really enjoyed!! I also loved to sing, and my sister Adele and I used to sing together all the time. I was always too shy to actually get up and perform and usually avoided being involved in school plays because I would just get too nervous. I hated feeling like that and so I always stayed in the background as much as possible.
It would probably surprise you to know that most of the time I still feel like hiding!
A: We have met a number of times now; through Steampunk, and you are always polite, always smiling, always giving of your time to fans of your work. Are you ever angry? Do you ever swear? And what would it take to make you do either of those things?!
S: I love to talk to people and meet them at events. I’m eternally grateful for anyone continuing to buy my books and support my work. As any creative person should be. So when I hear about how obnoxious other writers or media celebs can be that makes me angry. Without their readers or fans they wouldn’t be anywhere would they?
I get a bit angry whenever I’m not having time to write. I find writing cathartic and so when I’m not writing for any length of time I become a little bit moody and frustrated. Even a bit depressed to be honest. Writing makes me happy. I’m a very sociable person but I love my own space.
I do sometimes suffer from road rage. My husband, David, says I have ‘driving’ tourettes!! Other drivers can be bad-mannered and they really annoy me!! I dislike someone tailgating me. I detest them using bullying tactics to shove you out of the way. It’s just so rude. It makes me cross that some people think that their journey is more important than yours, and that you have no right to be using ‘their’ road.
But real anger – rude people. Ignorance. I hate it when people criticise other people without actually knowing anything about their circumstances. Bullies make me angry. Cyber-bullies especially because they usually hide under false names. Some things that people say online is totally inappropriate – the way they treat others is unacceptable. They would never say or do these things face to face. But it’s okay for them to do it behind their computer screen. Cowardly for sure. No one person is better than anyone else and everyone deserves to be treated with respect no matter who or what they are.
A: What does literary success look like to you?
S: Success is always somewhere way above my head and out of reach. Even the most successful authors think this. All you can do is strive to write the best you can. Reading should be fun and as long as people continue to buy and enjoy my work, then I have all of the success I need.
A: Sam, you’re well-known for writing in the horror genre, you have ‘Zombies in New York and Other Bloody Jottings’; a collection of short stories and poems that walk firmly on the dark side, and ‘Killing Kiss’, amongst others. What draws you to this genre and what kind of horror do you prefer to read (or watch) yourself?
S: Growing up I loved Hammer horror movies. This led onto me reading horror, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Anne Rice. I enjoy a good Zombie movie now. Love watching horror that’s fun rather than bloody. I’m not into torture porn at all, even though I’ve written some pretty gruesome stuff in the past. I don’t really like non-supernatural horror much either. So no home invasion films for me! I think horror should be something that you can use to help exorcise and face fears and phobias but, for example, the claustrophobic The Descent was a bridge too far even for me! Which is why I personally prefer supernatural horror, because it’s easier to have the scare thrill but you don’t carry it with you for long afterwards.
I do enjoy watching a variety of different types of fiction these days. Horror is something of a busman’s holiday to me sometimes. But I love IZombie, Santa Clarita Diet, Outlander (Historical Romance – but quite gruesome in places!), Lucifer (Comedy) and I recently bought the box set of a series called Revenge.
A: You also write Steampunk novels, Kat Lightfoot being the eponymous heroine of many of these. Can you tell us how Kat came to be, and did anyone in the ‘real’ world influence her character development?
S: My daughter, Linzi Gold, was actually the basis for the personality of Kat in the first book. They were both the same age and Linzi is funny and strong and really sparky. Naturally Kat has evolved and become completely her own thing now. But how the character was initially created came from the title of the book Zombies At Tiffany’s which David suggested to me. It shaped all of the characters: Kat was Audrey Hepburn in looks for example.
A: Does writing energize or exhaust you?
S: Writing definitely energises me. Although when I’ve had a particularly busy day and I’ve written 5-8000 words, I’m a little bit spaced out! David gives me a glass of wine and I’m soon back to normal, and back in this world and not in the one I’m creating.
A: What is the first book (another author) that made you cry? And have you ever shed any tears when writing your own pieces?
S: As a teen I loved the Angeliqueseries of books written by Sergeanne Golon. They were epic historical romances and I did cry when one of the main characters died in that series.
A: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal? And why?
S: A wolf. Wolves are pack animals when they need to be but like solitude too. They always protect their young, and I am by nature a very nurturing person. I always look out for others – even when I know they wouldn’t do it for me.
A: Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
S: Oh yes! I often kill off people that have done something vicious to me, and believe me it has to have been bad for that to happen because I’m a very forgiving person. The clue to who they are would be in the description I give of them. But there are also lots of hidden meanings to things too because I do reflect on human nature quite a lot.
A: And finally, what is your favourite childhood book?
S: I don’t really have one. I didn’t enjoy young fiction at all when I was young. The stories we were forced to read were all fairly boring. I only enjoyed reading once I discovered adult books. The Collector by John Fowles was the first one I read. Then after that it was anything I could get my hands on that was grown-up or scary.
Good morning to you readers!And I have another Monday Interview for your delectation.
Today, I am very pleased to have bagged Jonathan Green, ridiculously prolific writer who is well-known and well-regarded in the Fighting Fantasy and Steampunk worlds. After conducting this interview, I had to wonder if Mr Green is himself a Time Lord, for all the things he manages to fit into his life. He has over 60 published works, he is a family man, he attends conventions; meeting fans and signing books, he edits work for anthologies produced by Snowbooks AND he still finds time to do interviews!! What a guy, read on, some of his energy might rub off on you…
Hi Jonathan, Welcome, and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog; Flailing Through Life…
And talking about flailing; do you ever find yourself ‘flailing through life’?
All the time! There always seems to be too much to do and never enough time to do it in. I have children, so a fair amount of my time seems to involve feeding them, cleaning up after them, or ferrying them to one place or another. I also have a conventional part-time job. The rest of the time is spent writing, promoting my writing, crowdfunding my writing, or coming up with ideas for things to write about.
Not that I have any trouble coming up with ideas – I already have more ideas than I’ll ever have time to write, I am sure – the trouble is that there’s always a new, shiny idea demanding my attention while I’m trying to finish off something else I’m already committed to. For example, at the moment I’m writing a book about the history of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks but my brain’s decided now would be the perfect time to throw up an idea for a new anthology, another gamebook, and a series of short stories.
What were you like as a child?
Bookish, creative, artistic. I’m an only child and so I grew up making my own entertainment. I can remember making little books, at age 6, and even before that drawing simple comic strips. But I think from the moment I realised someone actually had to write the stories in the books I enjoyed reading, I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life.
To me, and many others, you are successful as a writer, would you agree? What does literary success look like to you?
That’s very kind of you to say so and I can’t deny that I have enjoyed some level of success as an author – just in terms of the number of books I’ve had published and the properties I’ve worked on, including Doctor Who, Robin of Sherwood and Star Wars – but there is still so much more to be achieved.
I’ve never made much money from my writing, so literary success to me would mean financial security, signing a significant deal with a large publishing house, having a title in the Sunday Times or New York Times best-seller lists, and maybe having one of my books made into a movie. But ultimately, at the moment I’m successful enough to keep doing what I’m doing, which is writing, which is what I love.
You have written a huge number of books and contributions to collections, including the Pax Britannia series and the Fighting Fantasy adventure gamebooks. Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both! When it’s going well writing gives you the greatest buzz, along with that satisfaction of seeing your book in print, thumbing through the pages and pointing it out to friends and family in bookshops. However, after a really good writing day I’m also useless the next.
Because of the nature of my working life at the moment, having a part-time job to go to in the afternoon, I rarely having amazing writing days as I have at times in the past (because I’m not able to work long enough for that to happen) but equally I don’t find myself wiped out the next day. I just keep plodding along, from one day to the next.
Ulysses Quicksilver is dashing dandy, defender of ‘this green and pleasant land’, heroic, handsome (well I think so) from the Pax Britannia books; did anyone in the real world (apart from you) influence his formation and, if/when they get around to making the film, who would you like to play him?
Oh yes, he’s definitely handsome! But that’s funny that you should mention that I’m one of the character’s influences, because, intentionally or not, I think that’s true. It’s an occupational hazard for writers, imbuing their characters with their own qualities, and it’s almost inevitable when you develop one character over so many books. (I recently read a book by a friend, and I could see aspects of her in both the main protagonists in the story.)
I sometimes describe Ulysses Quicksilver as being a cross between Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Oscar Wilde, but there’s probably a little bit of Doctor Who in there too. In terms of who would play him in a film, I could envisage someone like Julian Rhind-Tutt or Paul Bettany being a good fit, although they’re getting a little old to play him now, as Ulysses is in his late thirties. I started writing the character when I was in my thirties, so he was about the same age as I was at the time of writing the first Pax Britannianovel. However, ten years have passed since then but only about two years have passed in the Pax Britannia universe.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I have a bad habit of including all sorts of pop culture references in my books. For example, in the Pax Britannia novel Anno Frankenstein, a missing German zeppelin had the serial number NCC-1701, which is the registration number of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek.
Another reference that I’m not sure if anyone has spotted appears in the Warhammer Path to Victory gamebook Shadows Over Sylvania, where a vampire queen quotes Sean Connery’s opening words from the movie Highlander.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I’m not sure that it changed it, but it definitely crystallised it. I hadn’t written a full-length book before I was actually commissioned to do so. After leaving school, and while I was at universe, I tried out for the Fighting Fantasy series. Two years, two completely different ideas and three re-writes later, I was commissioned to write Spellbreaker.
Thanks to the way the commissioning process worked, when you sent in a pitch for an FF book, you had to write the first quarter and outline the rest in detail. As a result, I have always planned my stories and books before I start writing them. I still do it, even if it’s for a short story that I am writing for myself.
You write gamebooks, Doctor Who adventures, Christmas ‘infotainment’, colouring books, Speculative/Science Fiction, Fantasy. How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
I remember an editor telling me once to trust the reader; you don’t have to spell everything out for them – let them do some of the heavy-lifting. However, when world-building you want to make sure you give your readers enough information so that know what’s going on, or where the action is taking place, but you don’t need to do that in the form of a massive info-dump. Reveal bits and pieces of information as necessary, maybe not explaining everything straight away, but expand upon it later.
You don’t actually need very much information to let the reader know where a scene is taking place, who the people involved are and what they’re like, what it is they need to do or what it is they’re after. But ultimately I feel that it’s better for a reader to be confused than bored; if they’re confused they’ll keep reading to find out what’s going on, but if they’re bored they’ll stop reading.
When it comes to adventure gamebooks, these days at least, I try hard to make sure that the game part of the book is fair, so that it one way I do try to take care of the reader.
What can we expect next from your busy pen?
As I’ve already said, I’m currently writing YOU ARE THE HERO Part 2, which is a supplement to YOU ARE THE HERO – A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, but out in May/June is my new gamebook, The Wicked Wizard of Oz. I also have short stories appearing in several anthologies later this year – Clockwork Cairo, Further Associate of Sherlock Holmes and Tales of the Lost Isles – and I’ve contributed to another Doctor Who book which will out by Christmas.
And finally, what is your favourite childhood book?
That’s a tricky one. I don’t like ‘favourites’ style questions, because I like so many different things for so many reasons, and my answer can change depending on my mood. However, up there would have to be A Dictionary of Monsters and Mysterious Beasts (a non-fiction book by Carey Miller), the Fighting Fantasy gamebook Deathtrap Dungeon (by Ian Livingstone), Where the Wild Things Are (by Maurice Sendak), and Farmer Giles of Ham (by J R R Tolkien).
Thank you to Jonathan for ‘taking part’ today (You won a cuddly toy!) and if Mr Rhind-Tutt or Mr Bettany (or younger versions!) are available, someone get Ulysses Quicksilver onto the big screen please.
I am not writing a usual post today. Instead, I just want to say a big
to all the people who Follow my blog and to all the people who have ‘Liked’ any posts. Without readers, bloggers may not blog, writing may not be as shared an experience. To have someone take the time to visit and read your bletherings and word vomit, is quite lovely – you’re all lovely people (Don’t listen to what the others say!)
I shall be very busy trying to complete one of my current novels over the next few days, so visit again on Monday, where I will be joined by Jonathan Green.
Hello! And welcome, this sunny Monday morning, to another post. Today, I am very excited to have American author, Mehitobel Wilson, lover of coffee, whiskey, ‘stompy boots’ and BJD’s! She is also responsible for introducing me to Electro-Swing music!
I grew up in very rural South Carolina, where I listened to the Dead Kennedys on headphones while exploring the woods and being chased by livestock, wild animals, and imaginary monsters.
Hi Mehitobel, may I call you Bel? Welcome, and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog; Flailing Through Life…
Thanks so much for asking! Fair warning: I made a huge pot of coffee, got into my comfy socks, and settled down to talk your ear off. Talk your eyes out? I hope not, but you understand. The caffeine made me chatty.
And talking about flailing; Do you ever find yourself ‘flailing through life’?
I have the exact opposite problem: I move very, very slowly because I’m terrified of wrecking things, literally and figuratively. This is not a state of being that I advise, if you can avoid it. It becomes a bit of a cruel vortex, though: being afraid of doing things wrong to the point of not doing them at all IS doing things wrong! So, hurray. At least flailing is motion.
A couple of years ago I built a dollhouse as a writing exercise (this made sense to me at the time) and it was very helpful for a lot of reasons. Among other things, it reminded me that the world didn’t end if I made a mistake. If I broke something, I could repair it, or find another approach. If I glued something in the wrong place, I could chisel it off again and put it right. Something being “wrecked” isn’t always a negative outcome.
But there’s no flailing when building dollhouses, either. You’ll end up with wood glue in your hair and splinters in your neck. Ask me how I know.
Before we go any further, I just have to ask about your name (no, not Wilson!). Mehitobel is very unusual; where does it come from, which of your parents chose it, and do you think a name has any bearing on how a child will turn out later in life?
My mom was a flower child. First, she named me Mehitobel. Then, she named me Moonbeam. Finally she was convinced to name me something more mainstream and/or comfortable to pronounce. I never used that name, either – nicknames or my middle name (Jo) my whole life, until I legally reclaimed Mehitobel. Still, it’s easier for everyone to call me Bel.
I do think names can matter to how a personality develops. A name has meaning, and you want to live up to it, make it your own, shed it entirely, or stick an “e” on the end, because it looks so much more distinguished.
Mehitobel, you’re well-known for writing in the horror genre, you have ‘Dangerous Red’, a collection of short stories that walk firmly on the dark side, and a number of short stories in such publications as ‘Apex Magazine’. And if not out-and-out horror, then psychological horror. What draws you to this genre and what kind of horror do you prefer to read (or watch) yourself?
I haven’t really been in the mood to read much horror recently. I didn’t think I wrote it any more, either, but then I wrote “Brisé” for Apex, which surprised me. I consider Last Night at the Blue Alicea fun fantasy, but bunches of characters die, so it gets categorized as horror.
So, let’s see. I really like stuff about alternate dimensions and hidden populations, and populations can be hidden in alternate dimensions/timelines, so it’s all part and parcel. But that covers the gamut from Faery, to cults, to feral clans. My own psychological horror stories are often about discovering a hidden personality, or suspecting one and causing damage while searching for it, or not noticing something that’s present: hiding it from yourself. I like reading and writing unreliable narrators, both because they’re fun, and because they’re really difficult to do, craft-wise.
I’m hella into series these days, because I can just live in another world for ages. Stuff I really enjoy: Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft books, V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy, Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, and Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May books. My grand all-time favorite, much-revisited batch of books is F. Paul Wilson’s Adversary Cycle/Repairman Jack.
I love Tana French, and am completely crazy for Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffery series, which is dark, brutal, and features incredibly well-studied characters.
Anyway, series also mean that my TBR pile is a mile and a half deep.
I watch so. Many. Movies. I’ll drop everything for Ben Wheatley, Neil Marshall, Guillermo Del Toro, and Lucky McKee. Really excited for Del Toro’s A Killing on Carnival Row and also for the forthcoming Dark Tower and It adaptations.
What is the first book (another author) that made you cry? And have you ever shed any tears when writing your own pieces?
Oh, man. I can’t even guess what book made me cry. Probably Where the Red Fern Grows, which was also pretty gory, so grief and gore got linked in my head pretty early on.
The first time I cried while working was during Last Night at the Blue Alice. One of the characters just broke my heart, which was bad enough, and then I had to kill her. I was surprised to catch myself weeping, though. Hadn’t happened before, but there’s a very obvious reason for that: Blue Alice is the first story (novella) I’ve written in which I actually truly liked the characters.
That’s not exactly true; there are one or two short stories with protagonists I liked, but for the most part, the main or POV characters in my shorts are people that frighten or repulse me. So, when I was given the opportunity to write a novella for Dave Barnett at Bedlam Press, I was stumped for a while: it’s one thing to invent and inhabit the minds of awful people for 4000 words, but 30,000?
Funny. It took me longer than it should have to realize that I could just make up characters I liked. Goddamn if I didn’t end up loving them, and crying over them. So that was a revelation.
You have a fair sized collection of ball-jointed-dolls (BJD), they’re stunningly and eerily beautiful; tell us about them; how did the collection start, do you have a favourite, do you name them and, do you miss them when they’re gone?! (And do they appear in any of your stories?)
Oh, thank you! Okay, so in 2004 I was researching a (real life) murder case, which led me down various internet paths and into these dolls that were popular among the Gothic Lolita crowd. “Holy hell,” said I, “those are outrageously ugly, and so expensive I could puke. What is the matter with these people?”
So then I Googled them more, just to gawk at how ugly they were. I’ve always collected action figures. I finally came across a BJD that made me think I could buy him, paint and costume him as a 2-foot tall, fully articulated Voldo from Soul Calibur. And if I ever got bored, I could just repaint him and he’d turn into something else.
Within a few years I had 17 full dolls in my “keeper” collection and a bunch I bought, painted, and sold. So, yeah.
Now I’m down to five full dolls – three SD (large) size and two mini – and four heads on ice, waiting to be provided with new bodies. All the ones I’ve kept are my favorites, as are some of the ones I’ve sold. Argh!
I do name them, and I do miss them when they’re gone. They’re a bit like pets, except I can ignore them for years if I need to. I ascribe personalities to them, but nothing in-depth, no backstories or worlds or anything. One “likes” schlumpy sweaters, another’s very judgemental and Over It All, and one’s a death ballerina.
I haven’t written them as characters, or as present in a setting for another character (yet) and I haven’t written about dollcraft, either – painting them, organizing the eyeball collection, sorting hands, etc. Still might though.
Violet and Harold Iambe
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
The writing itself happens, if I’m lucky, during a kind of fugue state, and I feel refreshed afterward, like I’d been dreaming. If I’m unlucky, it’s this terrifying slog. There’s your flailing! I feel like I’m in brain-quicksand and I panic.
Editing, though, that energizes me. I love it. It’s a vast puzzle and a total thrill.
Which authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
This is a really hard question! It’s usually the other way around: authors I once liked & no longer do. I won’t disclose who those are, though. I don’t think I can answer this one. If there was someone whose work I disliked, but I kept reading it anyway and eventually changed my mind, I’ve forgotten the initial dislike.
Popeye ate spinach for strength, Kryptonite deprives Superman of his powers; what is your writing spinach and Kryptonite?
Spinach: Fear! Fear I’m going to blow a deadline turns into panic as I get down to the wire, and there suddenly becomes no room for doubt or second-guessing or anxiety. I have to just FUCKING GO, and there’s always this sense of breaking through, and whether the story’s good or bad, at least it’ll get done.
Kryptonite: Fear! Fear of getting caught writing something terrible stops me in my tracks for long periods of time, and it sucks.
Other more mundane spinach varieties are whiskey, a dark room, and my mechanical keyboard; Kryptonites include music with distracting lyrics and my tea going cold.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal? And why?
My guiding thing would be the Strength tarot card; I have Karen Mahoney’s art from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot tattooed on my right arm. The classic Strength card depicts a woman alongside a lion. She’s sometimes gripping the lion’s jaws, sometimes fully battling with him, sometimes simply present with him, the battle done. To me, this represents finding a way to incorporate & utilize the strengths of the roaring parts of my psyche: depression, self-doubt, ego, anger – whatever’s loudest that day, whatever’s jaws are widest.
That applies to writing, too, so I have a lot of lady-and-lion artwork on the walls around my desk. Also a jillion ravens, because it’s a writing desk and I’m Goth and I dig corvids.
If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?
The most important thing would be this: sometime in your 40s, your shoe size will start to change, because your feet start to spread out, and your whole glorious collection of stompy boots will no longer fit quite right, so get ready for that. Nobody told me that and I’m very pissed off about it.
I’d also give little me a heads-up about ebooks and e-readers, and how amazing it’ll be to have a library in your pocket. I’d suggest that Young Self therefore ought not cling to every book, because moving thousands of books from house to house for years absolutely sucks.
11. And finally, what is your favourite childhood book?
Can I cheat here and give a few? Little kid: Anne of Green Gables – just the first one – meant so much to weird little rural me. And I loved The Whispering Sea by Howard Goldsmith, superb murderous-ghost and creepy-house action. From there I went to Jane Eyre, which has stayed a top-five all-time favorite, as has The Talisman, which I first read when I was eleven and am re-reading yet again right now.
Imagine that you’re an alien. Imagine that you’re so huge, (no, huger).
That you can see all that is going on down on planet Earth. Wouldn’t you begin to wonder, why those creatures that walk upright, are divided into, what appears to be two camps? Look at them,*points, they seem to be the ones in charge, you might think. And those *points, they seem to be as capable as those others, but get less recognition, rewards and status than the first ones. How weird.
What, we wonder, keeps these creatures in this apparently, permanent state of conflict and division, oppression and submission?
Hmmm, Men and Women, what a conundrum; not saying I have the answer folks, if I did have a wand to change things…boy, there’d be some sorry asses I can tell you (FOR I AM A VENGEFUL GOD!)
I have been around a while (hey! Less of the ageist jokes!), and admittedly there have been some changes and redress of balance; female leaders, female presenters on TV and Radio, women doing ‘men’s’ jobs, men doing ‘women’s’ work. (I personally am blessed to be married to a man who truly knows what equality is, he cooks better than I do, so does 99.9% of it, he changed baby nappies as much as I did. He does the same amount of shopping and housework as I do.)
But are we anywhere near parity?
Don’t get me wrong, I know my life is so much better than my mothers, or my grandmothers. And there are inroads into traditionally male dominated careers, but when I see something in the media that is attempting to say – ‘look here’s a woman who can play football/lift a spanner/throw a ball/play a guitar’ etcetera, etcetera, it usually comes with the ‘hidden’ adjunct, ‘as good as a man’.
Why can’t women be that thing without referencing men? There was a horrible period when the creative industries adopted feminised versions of career description, and so we had Actress, Comedienne, and the worst – Authoress!!! Now we say things like, female footballer, The England female cricket team, female band, lady doctor! Yes! Really, I hear people on buses, even my own parents saying that they had to go to the GP/Hospital and saw a ‘lady doctor’. Why cannot a writer be a writer, regardless of gender?
Anyone who thinks Feminist movement is not required anymore is living in a dream – and it isn’t just males, there are plenty of women out there who think it’s all over. It isn’t. When we can print books, hold music concerts, conduct interviews, book tickets for a match, vote for leaders, and everything else without mentioning that persons gender – then and only then, will we be on our way to an equal world.
Let us just speak of how good or bad a writer is. Let’s just say how strong the performance was. Let us just commend a well directed movie and not say something along the lines of; “And it is directed by first-time female director —“. Let us just recognise people, and gender need only be mentioned if it has relevance.
The world population has almost, almost not quite, equal numbers of males and females – but when did you last read or hear about, the male cricket team, the male mountaineer, the male member of parliament, the male writer?! I think it is easy to miss this, and so we compound the problem.
I have included, below, some sites you might like to visit in regards to further information and articles on this point.
Thank you for reading.
On census night, the population of the United Kingdom (UK) was estimated to be 63.2 million.
There were 31 million men and 32.2 million women in the UK.
A former nurse, Craig Hallam has written about werewolves, bogeymen, a heroic street urchin, and a book about living with depression. A significant figure on the Steampunk scene who has been writing short stories since 2008, his tales have graced the pages of the British Fantasy Society, Misanthrope Press and Murky Depths. His debut novel, Greaveburn, was extremely well received by readers who regularly beg him for more of this murky, Gothic-inspired world of murderers, heroes, and a lonely girl. Will he oblige? Read on…
“Greaveburn stood alone on this little circle of earth, the river running around and into itself like a snake eating its tail. And Abrasia was doomed to watch the sun and stars trade places for all eternity.”
― Craig Hallam, Greaveburn
Hi Craig, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog; Flailing Through Life…
Me: And talking about flailing; Do you ever find yourself ‘flailing through life’?
Craig: Every damned day! I think if you’re not flailing then you’re ignorant of how complex and magical life is. If your life is so simple that there’s no flailing to be had, then you’re not living it right 😊
Me: For readers who don’t know, Craig, you have been, like Kit Cox who was interviewed earlier, rather involved in the world of Steampunk –and your earlier books dipped into this genre; ‘Greaveburn’ and ‘The Adventures of Alan Shaw’. For readers who may not have heard of Steampunk (Still!), could you give a ‘general’ explanation in relation to your writing?
Craig: I like to describe it as Victorian-inspired fiction covering everything from Mary Shelley through Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. My personal favourites lean more toward the Gothic works of Robert Louis Stephenson, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. It’s also an aesthetic movement that focuses on Victorian clothing and gadgetry.
Me: You were a nurse (*Take my hat off to you – if I wore one) prior to being released onto the world, as an author. How does being an author compare to being a nurse, and are there any similarities?
Craig: Being a nurse sets you in a very special position that allows you to observe humans at their most vulnerable (sounding slightly like serial killer, there). That vulnerability leads to the rawest human emotions; expressions of anger, fear and hope that, for a fledgling author, is invaluable. I always try to make my characters real for the reader. They are all flawed, which I believe is pivotal in what it means to be human. If your characters are too perfect, what is there to relate to? Those years of nursing really helped with that.
It also meant that I had a lot of night shifts to write on. My first novel, Greaveburn, was written exclusively in the wee hours of the morning. That probably explains a lot of the plot, actually.
So, as for similarities, I can’t think of two jobs more different, but one certainly feeds the other.
Me: What has been your hardest scene to write, so far? And why?
Craig: There’s a scene in the latest Alan Shaw novel (out later this year – *insert subtle marketing here*) that was quite tough. Alan returns home to London, after years of wandering the world and having no connection to everyone he knew, to find that everyone has long-since presumed him dead. The city has had a small statue erected to him in Covent Garden where he was pivotal in saving the city as a boy. For Alan, it was the realisation that perhaps the things he has done wrong in his life, and the guilt that he feels, don’t necessarily outweigh the good. That was a big turning point for Alan’s character. It had to be just right. I got a little teary writing that one.
Me: How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
Craig: About a year to a year and a half. It was always tough with working full time, writing, and then doing my degree work at the same time. Now a lot of that has settled down, I’m finding it much easier. I wrote Down Days, an insight into living with depression, in a month or so between other projects (its only 25k words, so hardly a tome). Other than that, I always have a few books on the go at once. I like to be able to skip between them as the inspiration strikes. Currently, I’m working on Alan Shaw 3, a cyberpunk novel, and a horror novella. I don’t make things easy for myself. Maybe if I was less attracted to every shiny story idea, I could write faster.
Me: Have you ever read a book that made you cry? If so, what was it? And have you ever shed a tear when writing one of your own novels?
Craig: I cry quite often when writing my novels. The previous example was just one of many. I really get invested in my characters. It’s happened more with Alan Shaw than ever before, but his experiences can be quite poignant and raw. At least, that’s how I try to write them. Maybe I just cry over anything.(Me: So I’m not the only one!)
I can’t think of any books that have made me cry. I did read an M.R. James short story that made me physically jump, though. I must have been really into the story because I leapt almost out of my seat. I then went back and tried to pick the story apart to find out how it worked. I always take tips from great authors.
Me: As a writer of Speculative Fiction, would you agree that it is the authors of this genre and Science Fiction who most clearly see the future of the human race?
Craig: I think that Sci-Fi authors have a special ability regarding balance. They have to be able to see the world as it truly is, create new worlds that mirror our own, and make the stories that they tell relevant to the now as well as the soon-to-be. That’s hard to do. Philip K. Dick is a personal favourite. Not in the way that the things he predicted have all happened, but in a way that he shows us a future where the meaning of what it is to be human and what it is to live in our reality are brought into sharp focus. His novels give me an insight into myself, and that is the true skill of a Sci-Fi author.
Me: How do you balance the demands of the reader with what you really want to create yourself?
Craig: I don’t, really. That sounds horrible, but it’s true. I write the story as it needs to be told. The story itself defines how it goes. I do very little planning, really, only having the broadest strokes of a story when I start to type. My writing is quite an organic thing. I’ll have the idea that, for instance, a group of main characters who are all villains in a Gothic city which no-one can escape. Then I think about the themes. Greaveburn was very much about the love of one girl, in an odd way. Abrasia’s character was loved by everyone in their own way; from the perspective of a father, a brother, as someone through which they might find redemption, or in a covetous love and a desire to control her. That gave every character a mutual point of reference for their dastardly deeds. Of course, that Abrasia herself is struggling to find people that she can trust makes the tension even more vibrant.
People have asked and asked for a sequel to Greaveburn, but there isn’t one. The fact that the story ends where it ends is indicative of the uncertain state of the city, the characters and their joint future. I love that people want more, it means that I’ve left them with that indefinite feeling, which was the point. But I won’t throw out a sequel just for the sake of it. If there ever comes a Greaveburn 2, in the distant future, you can be certain that it will be a strange one. Possibly even one that people seeking answers will hate.
It sounds a little pretentious, perhaps, but always giving the reader what they want is sometimes not what they want at all. Some of the best books I’ve ever read have left me thinking about the what-ifs for days and weeks, sometimes years later.
Me: If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better adult, what would you do?
Craig: That’s a tough one. I’ve been very lucky and had quite a varied life. I worry about the butterfly effect with questions like this. If I change something, would that make me a different me? What if the thing that I change led to the moment when I first set pen to paper?
I’ll change nothing, I think. I’ve seen too many incredible things in my every day kind of life, and made too many awesome mistakes. Every one of those things has informed the messed-up adult that I am. Without the mess, there might not be any stories. For good or ill, I’ll take what I’ve got.
Me: And finally, what is your favourite childhood book?
Craig: The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett. I read that book until my eyes bled. I still read it now. And I think it was what got me first thinking creatively, and sparked my own stories. I never got to meet Mr Pratchett but I owe him a great debt of gratitude.