Interview with Joshua Grant – Diabolic Shrimp

Good morning readers,

If you’ve ever wondered what a ‘diabolic shrimp’ is, you’ve come to the right place! Imagine a James Bondy villain type living in his underwater lair, directing sea creatures with his super-duper-gonna-take-over-the-world-tech; Joshua Grant is the self-proclaimed leader of shrimp – I’m kidding, really (or am I?)

Seriously though, American author Josh has created his website under the name Diabolic Shrimp and with pretty altruistic reasons. He not only wanted to create a platform for writers to support one another, but he is giving 10% of his takings from his latest book to charity; one of which is oceanic research. Not such a diabolic chap at all. I invited Josh to share something of his life and his website with you.

                    Josh’s iconic shrimp brigade

1. Tell us something about yourself Josh.

I am a caring, compassionate guy with a moderate imagination and a mild case of misadventure.  I have a huge passion for science (particularly space exploration) and for making a difference in the lives of kids.  My favorite color [sic] is blue, I absolutely hate peanut butter (not allergic, just hate it), and I hope I live to see the day we colonize Mars.

2. Do you ever find yourself ‘flailing through life’?

My walk through life has been a pretty turbulent one (hence the ‘mild case of misadventure’).  I’ve suffered some major traumas in life, truly the worst things that anyone should have to go through, but God brought me through it and has allowed me to land on my feet a wiser and better person.  I’ve also experienced some crazy things in life like surviving a major flash flood, encountering several bears, facing off with a mountain lion while ghost hunting, and weathering a vicious storm while sailing the ocean.  So…maybe flailing? 

3. What is Diabolic Shrimp and what are its origins?

Diabolic Shrimp is my author website that’s also designed to support other authors.  I personally buy a book each week from the list of authors signed on to Shrimp.  I then go on to review that book.  I also buy a book each month to give away to readers for free.

I didn’t originally intend Shrimp to be an author support site.  Shortly after I published, I realized how difficult it could be for authors to connect with readers, and just how many sites and venues out there took advantage of authors without providing much benefit.  It was here that I saw a chance to make a difference for a group of people that needed it.  I decided to step forward and create a free space that authors could come to for concrete support.  It wasn’t very successful at first (I had 6 members for about half a year) but a belief in helping others and a bit of persistence has allowed us to grow to nearly a thousand members in the past four months.  It has honestly been a wonderful experience that has allowed me to meet tons of interesting people and create a truly caring community.

4. Shrimp – why shrimp?!

Haha!  It’s kind of an awkward story actually.  My site wasn’t originally called Diabolic Shrimp.  It had another name for about six hours.  I chose that other zany name on a whim.  It was only later when I was out with my friends that they told me it sounded kind of dirty.  I was moderately mortified, ‘cause I could totally see what they were talking about!  I then quickly changed it to Diabolic Shrimp.

It’s actually my little joke.  The Diabolic stands for my diabolic plan to eventually get every single author on there and take over the world.  The Shrimp is because individually we authors are the little guys, but when we band together we make a pretty impressive swarm.  That, and shrimp are fun little creatures.

5. Would you describe yourself as an environmentalist? And do you believe that people like yourself can make a change for the positive in the world?

I’d say I’m an environmentalist to a degree.  I believe all people have a responsibility to leave the world better than when they came into it.  That applies to everything, environmentally, relationally, or otherwise.  I know for certain I can make a positive difference in the world and will continually encourage others to do so.

6. Your latest publication, Pandora, is about a space leisure cruise ship that picks up the apparent survivor of an accident. Would it be right to describe it as sci-fi horror?

I sort of had a hard time classifying Pandora.  I wanted to have a new take on the classic ‘ghost ship’ trope, but also capture all the actiony thrill of the 90s horror films I used to watch as a kid, and then couple all that with a deep moral heart.  So it’s really more of a Sci-Fi Thriller packed with strange creatures similar to films like Aliens or The Thing, with an emotional twist.

32587144
Pandora by Joshua Grant

7. Are there any authors that influence your writing, who are they and why?

Several authors have made a big impact on me over the years.  I always have to give a shout out to JRR Tolkien.  The Fellowship of the Ring film came out when I was a freshman in high school and I became a huge Lord of the Rings fan.  I read all the books (yes, even some of the Middle Earth histories), and that’s what really sparked my writing career.  Then Lois Lowry’s works like The Giver and Number the Stars really taught me the power that books have to inspire emotions.

I came upon the Horror genre only a few years ago.  S.D. Perry really blew me away with her fast paced, heart pounding novels.   I then got onto the Dean Koontz train.  Ultimately, I strive to make my writing a blend of these two masters.

8. What genre do you enjoy reading? And do you have a favourite book?

Oddly enough, Young Adult Fantasy is pretty much my favorite thing in the world to read.  Basically anything Rick Riordan writes works for me (shout out to The Lightning Thief).

The_Lightning_Thief-1
The watery theme continues…

9. You’re a teacher I believe, what subject do you teach and do you ever bring your experience into the classroom or vice-versa?

I used to be an elementary teacher, so I taught all subjects.  These days I just guest teach in both elementary and middle school.  I also work with middle and high schoolers at church (more on the emotional side of things).  I truly love getting to share my experience with the kiddos.  It was always a goal of mine to use my writing to inspire the younger generation.  I actually struggled with writing growing up so it’s empowering to show kids who also struggle that they can make it.  The only downfall is that parents keep showing up and saying ‘hey, I bought your book for my kid!’  I’m always a little mortified when I have to explain that it’s more for adults and watch them give me weird looks!  I guess it’s more motivation to finish Silly Tales from Albanon!                                                    (AP: You have said it, and now it is public Josh, it’s got to be done!)

10. When working on a book, do you have a special place you like to write, i:e: a garden shed, a room with a view, an underwater lair?!!

Ooo, an underwater lair would be awesome!  Oddly enough, my brain only likes to write at the kitchen table.  I can’t seem to write anywhere else.  Maybe I’m just hungry for more stories?  (I know, cringe)                                                           (AP: well there goes my image of a watery lair with the high-tech-gadgety-thing going on!!)

11. Who or what has been your biggest influence to date?

I’ve had a few major influences in my life.  My parents are the hardest working, kindest people I know.  I dedicated my book to them for their endless care and selflessness.  The kids I work with always inspire me to be a better, more creative person.  God is a huge influence in making me the functional, altruistic person I am today.  And on the business front, Elon Musk is a major role model.  He likes to help others and is constantly pushing the envelope.

12. If you could tell your 11 year old self anything, what would you say?

I would probably tell myself some lottery numbers. J  But aside from that, I’d tell my 11 year old self that he’s a worthwhile, good person with a heart that has more love and endurance in it than even he knows.

13. And finally – if you could be any sea creature, what would you be and why?!

I would be a…drumroll…actually, not a shrimp.  They get eaten by literally everything!  I’d either be an otter or a squid.  Otters are super cute and squid are some of the coolest animals ever.  Hmmm, maybe I should have called it Diabolic Otter…

otter-zoo
Sea otters take over the world?!

Thanks for the interview Josh, and good luck with your secret-domination-world-takeover, ahem, with your writers site.

You can find Josh at:

https://diabolicshrimp.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6179696.Joshua_Grant

 

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The Mehitobel Wilson Interview

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. 

I chased them back.  Still do.   

https://necropublications.com/collections/mehitobel-wilson

BlueAliceHouse
The Blue Alice

 

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.

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  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 Alice a 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.

dangerousred

  1. 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.

  1. 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

Violet and Harold                                                 Iambe

 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed

psychos      damned

 

deepcuts      zombies

 

sinsofthesirens       Blind in the House

 

*You can find Mehitobel at Mehitobel.com and you can find a good roundup of her books at my Amazon author page, http://amazon.com/author/mehitobel

 

Next time: Jonathan Green, prolific writer on the ‘gaming’ scene.

The Craig Hallam Interview

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

“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.

alanshaw

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.

 

Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed.

Thanks for having me!

children of the moon hallam      morpheus hallam

 

You can find Craig on Twitter at @craighallam84, at https://www.facebook.com/CraigHallamAuthor/. He also runs a blog on living with Depression at www.downdays.org.

 

Next time; Mehitobel Wilson on boots, fear and dolls! Join me then.

 

The Kit Cox Interview

Ladies and Gentlemen! Pull up a pew, pour yourself a jot of gin. For your delight and delectation, a Steampunk celebrity with a faithful following, a charming chap charading as compact killer cad. A pa, a pantomimist, a penman, I give you “your own, your very own”….Kit Cox!

Author, illustrator, creator of  the Steve Jackson game “Evil Ted”, stand-up comic, actor, and host for Hendrick’s Gin (!); Kit Cox writes under his own name and that of Major Jack Union – the title character of his sci-fi series. The Union-verse books are set in an alternate universe where history and literature exist alongside each other with the presence of monsters being kept secret by agents of the British Empire.

blogKitCoxDr-Tripps-380x0

Hi Kit, Good morning and Welcome, 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’?  

Kit: I very rarely flail; as is the case with most creatives I have what is often referred to as a mental illness and in my case I am a sociopath. First off it’s one of those great mental illnesses that allow me to not see it as such, although I am aware my actions are sometimes hurtful or harmful to those around me it is difficult to connect those problems to myself. I also don’t panic or flail as I see no reason or point to it.
I’m a great fan of Procrastination but I avoid the flail.

 

Me: Kit, you’re very involved in the world of Steampunk – having hosted events at The Asylum, Lincoln, and your earlier books dipped into this genre. For readers who may not have heard of Steampunk (I know! Can you believe such beings exist!), could you give a ‘general’ explanation in relation to your writing?    

Kit: In my mind steampunk is a fantastical spirit of adventure and invention that manifests in a neo-Victorian aesthetic (is that suitably poncy enough? Me: Absolutely!) I do appreciate it means different things to different people but I do hate the idea that in certain minds literature has no place in the genre, which is a developing trend.

 

Me: When you’re working on a novel or idea, do you have a ‘special place’ you work in; like a shed at the bottom of the garden, or a ‘den’ in the deepest cellar of your house? And is it important to have such a place? 

Kit: I have two places I write, a very comfortable armchair that faces a picture window, because I love being able to just stare at the sky when I think (I’d prefer an ocean but that would mean the biblical flooding of my home town…or a move) the second place is my study, a subterranean man cave full of trinkets, Lego and reference books.

 

Me: I know that you’re a fan of the comic genre. Tell me, what is your writing Kryptonite?  

Kit: Procrastination is the main thing that stops me from writing; I get distracted by shiny objects.

 

Me: And do you ‘channel’ the spirit of anyone or thing when you write? (I’m thinking Harry Flashman) If not, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?  

Kit: When I wrote my Jack Union books I certainly had Flashman held tight to my thoughts but the Ben Gaul books are my life made fantasy and Dr Tripps’ my joy of Japanese B movies. My most recent books set on a fantasy 2nd earth are homage to Saturday morning cinema and Edger Rice Burroughs; so in short no single muse but always an inspiration lurks.

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Me: What is the first book (another author) that made you cry? And have you ever shed any tears when writing your own pieces?

Kit: I’ve never had a book make me cry before; sad certainly but never to the point of tears. Books for me often bring stupid amounts of laughter or that weird suppressed giggling you sometimes hear on trains (I used to love listening to my father laugh whilst he was reading Tom Sharpe books). Books have made me stupidly turned on and in one case one made me gag quite violently, i honestly thought I’d vomit but never tears.

 

Me: What other authors are you friends with, and do they help you become a better writer?

Kit: As authors you spend a lot of time talking to other authors; normally before panels. I don’t think any have actually helped me become a better author as I write books for me not others so take little advice (apart from on spelling and punctuation from my editors). I’ve actually taken umbrage at an author once trying to give me advice; the desire to tell them to make their own books more readable first was high in my mind. That being said I do occasionally adapt my writing based on what my readers tell me, as their words are often conversation rather than advice “I wish I knew what this character was thinking?” for instance as a comment made me start adding more internal dialogue for supporting cast rather than just the main cast.

 

Me: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Kit: I didn’t write as a youngster. I started writing out of illustrator frustration and a need to escape a job with a very serious agenda.

 

Me: So what advice would you give your ‘non-writing’ younger self?

Kit:  I’d tell my younger self. You won’t always be the cute little brother or the fugly teen, you’ll blossom into a handsome eagle and tear the throats out of your enemies. Also you won’t go blind and it won’t fall off…enjoy it. Me: smilie

 

Me: Which authors did you dislike at first but grew into?

Kit: Terry Pratchett  I certainly had to grow into; I hated the first two books (I don’t really do high fantasy. Never liked the Lord of the Rings either, read it twice thinking I was missing something. I still don’t believe I am; the hobbit was great but LotR needs a damn good edit in my opinion) that being said Mort became one of my all time favourites.

 

Me: How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Kit: I have two unpublished and one half finished book. The First unpublished book was written by request of my publisher who then decided to release a different book of mine first and then they retired leaving the fully written and illustrated sequel to “How to Bag a Jabberwock” unwanted by other publishers (who rarely touch a sequel). The second unpublished book is my masterpiece; I love it so much and won’t let it go for anything other than to the highest bidder. I’m so proud of it I’d happily keep it to myself like a dragons hoard if the price isn’t right; I’ve released two books since its creation.

I wouldn’t be much of a writer if I didn’t always have a book on the go and at least three more ideas in waiting.

 

Me: And finally, what is your favourite childhood book?                                                          

Kit: Didn’t have one; I was a doodler not a reader, my brother was the reader. ‘2000AD’ was the only thing I read and this went well into my twenties.

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Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed, Kit Cox.

You can find Kit at http://cpeacey.wixsite.com/kitcox  and buy his books at Waterstones , Amazon and http://cpeacey.wixsite.com/kitcox/books .

 

Next time; join me for another chat with Craig Hallam; author of Greaveburn.

 

The Mike Wood Interview

Good morning Readers, as promised, another author interview. Today I have Mike Wood talking about music, Blyton and understanding that the reader cannot read the authors mind.

Mike is an active member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA); a professional organization for authors of science fiction, fantasy and related genres. He has won a number of awards including, Writers of the Future 2008 and the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest 2007. His SF short stories have appeared in Analog, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Lamplight, Ray Gun Revival, The Best of Jim Baen’s Universe II, Murky Depths and on StarShipSofa. He also, on occasion, writes travel articles in UK camping magazines. He lives on the Wirral with his wife who is an artist.

I first met Mike about two or three years ago, when I joined Wirral Writer’s. He has, I believe, the rare combination of skills – being able to listen, properly, and diplomacy.

 

Hi Mike, 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’?

Mike:Ha! Always thought I’d reach an end to the ‘flailing’ part of life when I retired from my day job. I’d have lots of time to get on top of my reading and spend most of the day writing, that sort of thing. I’m six months on from retirement now, and it’s as hard as ever to carve out enough time to do all the things. Now I have added book marketing to the mix it seems harder to fit it all in than before.

Me: For readers who don’t know, Mike plays sax in a swing band; is that correct Mike? Does your music have any influence on your writing or vice-versa?

Mike:There has been a lot of study about how music helps the learning process. Something about how the brain is wired. I do find that when I’m stuck with a plot point or I’m at a juncture in a story where I don’t know which way to turn, a night out with the band seems to put everything right, and the solutions to problems just drop into place. Or maybe it’s just the night’s sleep afterwards that does that.

One aspect where writing and music mesh, though, is in performance. I write a story. I read it. Edit it. Submit it somewhere. After it’s rejected I’ll submit it again… and again. When the story ends up in print it can often be months or years old. The feedback from readers, while always welcomed, arrives long after the creative process has ended. It is extreme delayed gratification. On the plus side, however, that story is out there, and the feedback endures.

Music is the opposite. I might play, for instance, an improvised solo. I can sense if it’s working or not through the notes I’m playing and through the instant and continuous feedback from the audience. When the music ends there is applause (or they throw things) and I know how it went. But the solo is over. The notes are gone, evaporated, and will never be heard again. It’s nice to have the creative validation happen both ways.

Me: When you’re working on a novel or idea, do you have a ‘special place’ you work in; like a shed at the bottom of the garden, or a ‘den’ in the deepest cellar of your house? (Or caravan?!) And is it important to have such a place?

Mike: I have a room at home that is mine and I write there every day. There’s a desk, a wonderful office chair that I bought with my retirement whip-round, and I have a 24 inch screen that I use with my laptop, which is kinder to the eyes. It is a perfect work space and I love it.

But I also go away in a touring caravan. A lot! In the ‘van I’m working on my small laptop that’s balanced on a cushion while I perch on a bunk, with no flat surfaces to use a mouse, and I’m on a perpetual quest for electricity for recharging. And it’s funny, I write more and I write better when I’m away in the ‘van. I suppose The built-in thinking times help, such as those moments when the water runs out and I have to go out for more before I can put the kettle on, or the toilet needs emptying (and perhaps you don’t need to know the details of that one). It could be that when I want to gaze into the distance and ponder, there’s always something new to look at. I don’t know. It works for me, and that’s all I can say.

Me: You write sci-fi novels, but you also write travel books. These are two very different genres, do you see any disparity or correlation between these two?

Mike:That’s a really good question. Yes, there is massive disparity. In hindsight I have taken a road that only a lunatic would travel. I have separate author names: Mike Wood for Travel and Mjke Wood for Sci-fi. I maintain separate Twitter accounts and separate blogs. It is often said that you don’t make money in Indie publishing with a first book, and that you need patience to build a catalogue. Well I have two first books. Whatever possessed me? I suppose it is because I love to write Sci-fi and I love to write Travel (It’s not real travel – I don’t go very far, and my blog tag line describes me as ‘probably the world’s most un-travelled travel writer’.) What’s for sure is that the indie writing world lets me do this. A traditional publisher would forbid it and call me a *&%*# idiot. They’d be right.

But yes, there is occasional cross-over. The sci-fi book I’m working on now has a scene where the protagonist uses his camping skills with unfortunate consequences. There is misfortune and comedy. Sometimes you just have to shoehorn the ideas into place.

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Me: In ‘Deep Space Accountant’, the hero is, well, an accountant! Is Elton based on anyone in particular? And do you see accountants as the secret heroes of the universe?!

Mike: You would think that my being an accountant in the old day-job would have provided at least some of the characters and story. But the truth is, I came up with the original idea for Deep Space Accountant long before I ever worked in finance, back when I was a bus scheduler. The inspiration actually came from a Gary Larson cartoon: Seymour Frishberg, Accountant of the Wild Frontier. Google it and you’ll see what I mean. It was an image of an accountant standing on a rocky promontory out in the old Wild West. I wanted to try it in a Sci-fi setting. I wrote the first draft. Then I became an accountant. Then I did the edit/rewrite. So maybe in the rewrite stage some of my colleagues might have made the odd cameo appearance. I’ll say no more.

And the second part of your question, about accountants being the secret heroes of the universe – well, that’s certainly my marketing pitch, so I’m sticking to it.

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Me: Thinking about everything you have written so far – What was your hardest scene to write? And why?

Mike: I wrote a story a few years ago called “The Third Attractor”. I did it to push myself into new areas and put myself into the shoes of characters with whom I had little in common. The story was essentially a single scene, a conversation between a female mathematician and a priest. Well, I know nothing of maths, I’m male, and I’m an atheist, and in the story the female atheist mathematician proves the existence of God, to the priest, via mathematics. Yeah, I’d pretty much set myself up for a fall on that one. As it turned out it became one of my best short stories up to that time, and it was published in Abyss and Apex magazine. It was a tough story to write. I had to research theology, and I went to a lecture on Chaos theory at Liverpool university to try and get my head around all the maths problems. I loved writing it though, and I was chuffed with the result

Me: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Mike: Realising that what I see in my head cannot be seen by readers unless I go to the effort of describing them. This is a trap I fall into again and again. I can see the setting, and can feel the wind and smell the new-cut grass. I can see and hear the characters, know how they move, and recognise their accents. Then I make the assumption that my readers all have the same vision from some kind of telepathy. But they don’t. So I have to go back and fix it. And if I don’t, the story fails. It is a blind spot. One day I’ll learn to think about it before my editor points it out.

Mike: I’m going to give a second answer, because another thing that I find hard, very hard, is turning an idea into a story. I have lots of ideas, my notebooks are full of them, but they are not stories. Stories are characters overcoming problems. Okay, let me open an old notebook to any random page, now, and read… yes. ‘What if we could eliminate all risk?’ It is an idea, but it doesn’t say who the story is about. What is their problem? How do they resolve the problem, if at all? What pitfalls will they meet along the way and how will they overcome them? All these things combine to make a story. Getting from idea to story is hard, and always a challenge. That particular example became one of my longer short stories, “Risqueman”, and it won me a trip to Los Angeles. The journey from idea to story, though, was tortuous and I gave up and abandoned the idea many times before the outline of a story clicked, and even then I changed the Point of View character and the ending two or three times.

Me: How long on average does it take you to write a book?

Mike: My best for a first draft novel is four weeks. But then I start to fiddle with it. I find this part the slowest. My personal record for the longest ‘fiddling about’ stage is for Deep Space Accountant, which evolved and changed over thirty years. I wrote other things in the meantime, but DSA was always there to draw me back in. Then I rewrote it, with different characters, different title, different plot and different settings. I did the rewrite, without looking at the original, in four months. So, ha! I can write fast, but I haven’t lost the ability to procrastinate at a world class level.

Me: How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Mike: I had to think about this, because really, not so many. Apart from the second travel book that is still a work in progress, I have just two novel-length books that didn’t go beyond first draft, and not because they couldn’t have worked with some further effort, but because they were projects with which I fell out of love. About half of my short stories haven’t made it into print and some are now trunked. Others are still in play, though. I tend to wrestle with projects until they work. Sometimes it takes a few years to find the right market, but I find it is worth persisting. Most projects will get there in the end. I’m a firm adherent to Heinlein’s rules, and rule 4 says: put your story on the market and keep it there until it sells.

Me: And finally, what is your favourite childhood book?

Mike: I make no apology, I loved “The Famous Five” and “The … of Adventure” books by Enid Blyton. No single book stands out above the others. I loved both series and read some of them in single all-night reading sessions. These were my gateway drug into reading, and probably contributed to wrecked eyes, too, because I read a lot of them under the covers with a torch until two in the morning. These books took me through to around age ten, until I discovered my Dad’s yellow-and-black-jacketed Analog Short Story anthologies that he used to borrow from the grown-up library and, well, that was that. Sci-fi hooked me from then on.

And that concludes today’s interview; I know, it is all over too soon isn’t it? Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed, Mike.

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You can find Mjke at mjkewood.com, mjkewood.blogspot.co.uk  and his books on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and Nook.

*At the time of interviewing, the anthology Tick Tock, was going to press, in which Mike was not only a contributing author, but the compiler. 

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Join me next time with Kit Cox – creator of Jack Union and the Union-verse books and short stories.

Until then, Ta Ta.

 

The Alan Gibbons Interview

 

Alan Gibbons  is an English writer of children’s books who has won a Blue Peter Book Award. He lives in LiverpoolEngland, where he used to teach in a primary school. His father was a farm labourer, but was hurt in an accident when Alan was eight years old.  The family had to move to Crewe, Cheshire. He began to write for his pupils as a teacher, but never tried to get any of his work published.                                      (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Gibbons)

In 2016, I attended a writer’s workshop run by Alan, he managed to fit a heck of a lot into that 4-hour session, from how to write catchy opening lines to setting a scenario;  we all had to create our own ‘good guy finally comes up against the bad guy’ scene. We were encouraged to focus on detail; through the eyes of a person immobilised in bed, to imagining being trapped in the room we were writing in and writing a first person account of meeting the villain of the piece. He worked fast, gave honest feedback and provided a fresh angle on, what the industry calls, Young Adult literature.

He has over 70 published books!

I am extremely grateful to Alan, for taking time out of his, evidently very busy schedule, to be interviewed. And as you will see, as well as being no slouch when it comes to writing, he has definite views on politics, and is no cry baby!

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Hi Alan, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog; Flailing Through Life…

And talking about flailing; Do you ever find yourself ‘flailing through life’?

Alan: Always. When you are young, you think you are on a journey and one day you will reach the promised land. Later, you realise you are already in the promised land and you have been wandering round in it without knowing.

Me: Your books often have political leanings; in An Act of Love (2011), two childhood friends are tested by the onset of the war in Afghanistan, in Whose Side Are You On? (1991), you tackle racism. Would you describe yourself as a ‘political animal’?

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Alan: I am, definitely. I am on the Left, but spend most of my time arguing with what I perceive to be the moral and political failings of my own tribe.

Too many people on the Left are trapped within the mindset of the past, the sclerotic failings of Stalinism or lack of courage to adopt truly radical political positions.

Me: Do you see any disparity, or connection, between those books that are based in the ‘real’ world, and those of a more ‘fantastical’ nature; such as The Legendeer Trilogy?

Alan: Not really. Fantasy is just as capable of insights into power structures, class relationships and issues of oppression as more naturalistic work.

It is the quality of the ideas behind the book and their artistic execution that matter.

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Me: What is the first book (another author) that made you cry? And have you ever shed any tears when writing yourself?

Alan: Nothing makes me cry. De nada. Among the books that have moved me are Jane Eyre and Grapes of Wrath, Alex Wheatle’s Island Songs, Bali Rai’s City of Ghosts and Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses.

Me: What’s with your obsession with football?

Alan: Growing up as a working-class boy in a white bread and tinned veg part of the North West, we didn’t do feelings so we found an emotional outlet at football grounds. It offered tribal loyalties, heroes and a sense of common values. It was a myth of course. Racism and violence stalked the terraces too.

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Me: What other authors are you friends with, and do they help you become a better writer?

Alan: I know people like Bali Rai, Alex Wheatle, Andy Seed, Cathy Cassidy, Steve Barlow, Steve Skidmore and Paul Cookson. I wouldn’t say I discuss writing much with these guys, but I learn from their work and their outlook on the world.

Me: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Alan: No bullshit.

You fall in love with somebody? Don’t hang back. Tell them.

You think somebody’s a clown? Don’t waste time on them.

You want to say that kind of thing in fiction? Don’t self-censor. Do it.

Me: How many unpublished and/or half-finished books do you have?

Alan: Maybe four. I have been lucky that most of my stuff has been published. That is getting less true. With the modern day obsession with the market and shifting ‘units’ and the celebrity culture, writers are facing new pressures.

Me: How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?

Alan: A short novel takes a month, a longer one six months.

Me: And finally, What is your favourite childhood book?

Alan: For younger kids Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

For older kids Treasure Island. Most books could do with losing a good fifty pages. In this book, every word is needed.

 

You can find Alan Gibbons at www.alangibbons.com or www.alangibbons.net

To book Alan for a school visit email mygibbo@gmail.com

 

Next time – Mike Wood on Sci-Fi, music, and Travel.