I have had a plot on the local allotment site for approximately 12 years.
I find it to be good for the body and soul – exercise, fresh air and fresh food. I get off my backside and potter about in the greenhouse; mostly I am clearing weeds and overgrowth. You just can’t beat the pleasure of taking home produce that you grew yourself, without pesticides, with your own fair hands.
I have grown and eaten all the usual fayre; potatoes, onions, peas, cabbage, carrot (though these are never very successful for me), lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, swedes, plus many varieties of beans, pumpkins, courgettes, beetroot, rocket, mint, parsley and so forth. Until you have tried, you cannot imagine the complete joy when you dig up your first potato crop – like buried treasure, they tumble across the fork tines, you brush away the soil and grin as you fill your bag.
Writing is similar in that…
First, you need a plot, in both cases! An allotment plot is usually about 10 poles; or 250 square . A story plot is, well, immeasurable; short story, flash fiction, novella or novel, all require a plot of sorts. You will have had an idea for what you want to produce, let the idea settle and grow in your mind first, let it get a foothold – but not a foothold like the weeds, no, you don’t want that. Water it, with note taking; plants do not grow without watering, so how do you ‘water’ your story idea? Get on a bus, sit in a café, wander about with a small notebook and ‘collect people’. I always carry a notebook to jot down things I have seen or heard, could one of the people around you be a character in your story? Make sketches, take pictures on your phone (ask permission if photographing people though!) be on the lookout for even the tiniest things that will add sustenance and ‘reality’ to your plot.
Prepare the ground for sowing – research – for your story. Often you can use preparatory products to aid in soil richness. Soil is not the same wherever you go, you’d be surprised; loamy, clay, heavy, sandy, silt or chalky. And this will determine, to a degree, what you can grow in it. Similarly, you as a reader and writer, have preferences – genres, and this will be the ground in which you work for the coming days/weeks/months/years! Make sure you have a good idea of your overall plot, some writers know exactly what they will write from the get-go, and others work it out as they go along.
As you write, you will need to weed out sections that do not work. And you may go and do more research on a particular topic as you go: *But don’t do like I do and get lost in the world of the internet – you were specifically looking for 17th century carpentry tools, and ended up following some loosely connected route through 17th c clothing, housing (through history!), food, Jewish recipes, famous Jewish comedians, the Jewish diaspora, and then you’re too depressed to continue writing. But occasionally, the allotment of life will throw up a beauty, a single item can grab you and you just have to have it, even though others may consider it a weed, to you it will be a beautiful flower.
Editing can be a bitch. Pruning is the editing of the horticulture world, and sometimes you will have to be ruthless. When a fruit bush has completed production, or even rose bushes, you need to cut them back. This can result in a sad, stubby, almost unrecognisable plant, but the following year, it will come back stronger and more productive. Similarly you have to chop back the dross in your writing; be firm with yourself, read your work out loud, does it sound right? No? Then cut it out. I once wrote a story and had reached 80,000 words; when I edited it, I cut it by 30,000. Of course I had to re-write, but it was better. I hate editing, I make no bones about this, in the same way I hate weeding – but it has to be done people! I hate that it has taken me ages to write the damn story, and now I have to read it all again and weed out the dross, if I could afford it, I would have an editor do it for me, simply because I want to move onto the next idea. There is no getting away from editing, so, bite the bullet and go for it.
The compost heap can grow to enormous proportions. Continuous weeding, editing, cropping back will result in a metaphorical heap of words at your feet; like the cutting-room floor of a film editor. Or the allotment pile. But panic not, this is all grist for the mill, it may look like you ‘lost’ chunks of writing, but what you gained was skills; editing skills, recognising what works and what doesn’t. and you never know, you might riffle through that heap of discards and be able to reclaim a line or two for another story; that sentence that seemed out of time in your historical romance, might be perfect for something more contemporary, or even futuristic.
Stop and smell the roses. I spend a lot of time, perhaps too much, simply doing nothing; just enjoying the environment on my allotment plot. I watch bees – a lot! – and the visiting blackbird (he was the inspiration for a poem), bugs and flies and the flowers and worms and the resident fox – but mostly bees. Take time to enjoy your writing. Isn’t it wonderful that you have this ability? Creativity doesn’t come to everyone, so be thankful you are. Read books and enjoy someone else’s world. Don’t worry about what others think – it’s your work! Take a break – don’t lose your mind.
Raven Dane is an award-winning author of steampunk, dark fantasy, alternative history and horror fiction. Her first novels were in the critically acclaimed Legacy of the Dark Kind series; Blood Tears, Blood Lament, Blood Alliance. These are dark fantasy/alternative history/SF novels about a non human race of vampires who most definitely do not sparkle!
In 2009, Endaxi Press launched The Unwise Woman of Fuggis Mire, Raven’s scurrilous and most definitely adult spoof of all things High Fantasy. A fairy tale for grown ups with a sense of humour.
Described as The Gothmother, Raven Dane is all things Gothic. With a ‘taste’ for vampire’s and ghosts, poison and dark fantasy, she has entertained readers of all ages with creations from her inky quill (I’m absolutely convinced she uses a real quill and ink!). She also enjoys dressing up in Victorian Gothic clothing for Steampunk conventions, and has a wicked sense of humour.
Hi Raven, 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’?
Flailing? Sounds very energetic …lol! I used to find myself frantically plate-spinning, trying to balance work, bringing up my son, looking after my mares and writing. These days, I sort of crawl between time spent writing and the necessities of real life and my ever welcome duvet. Wish I had the energy for flailing now!
Raven, you’re well-known for writing supernatural stories. There is the Cyrus Darian series and Legacyof the Dark Kindseries, plus many more. What draws you to this genre and what kind of horror do you prefer to read (or watch) yourself?
I have always loved SF and dark fantasy. I was a precocious early reader as a child and devoured books at a fast rate. I used to sit on the floor by my parent’s book case and read works by Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, especially the Canterville Ghost. That story terrified me; it wasn’t until I re-read it as an adult that I realised what a poignant, sweet story it really was. In those early days I was definitely drawn to the dark side. My brother and I used to sneak downstairs late at night and peak through a gap in the living room door and frighten ourselves with Quatermas, SF and old horror films. Later when we were older and could watch what we wanted, we loved the old black and white Twilight Zone and Outer Limits as well as Hammer horror and old SF films like The Trollenberg Terror. And of course, Doctor Who which I have watched since the very first episode, usually from behind a cushion. Today my love affair with horror and dark fantasy has not dimmed. I am not a fan of gory fiction (unless it is something by Sam Stone, who adds style and great characters to the genre). The same goes for torture porn like the Saw films and the growing in popularity extreme horror books, they are not for me. I do enjoy creepy ghost stories; I am a huge fan of Susan Hill and M R James novels and their film adaptations. Ghost stories in a Victorian setting are a favourite for me to write. Other favourites include dark fantasy like Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, his two Hellboy films and Clive Barker’s Nightbreed.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal? And why?
That’s a tough one. I have a special affinity with horses and love cats, wolves and ravens. I would have to choose a dragon though, for its magical nature, grandeur, its ability to soar to distant, exotic realms and to incinerate anything and anyone who gets in its way.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer? What did you do with your first advance?
Did you splash out on something exotic with your first pay cheque?
Not my first pay cheque or advance. My other half has supported my writing all our married life and allowed me to work as full time writer for many years. It has been a struggle and we have gone without the material things that many people have thought essential in life, like holidays, big, new TVs and modern cars. So anything I have earned has gone straight into the household running costs. I did however, treat myself to a huge golden velvet dragon made by a lovely lady in the US. Total extravagance though!
Oh, and after a successful morning’s book sales at an Asylum weekend, I treated myself to a gorgeous black pirate ship hat, very steamgoth, very me. I have had so much fun and use out of that hat, it was worth every penny.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I was blessed to be taught English literature by a lovely lady called Miss Curry. She was not far off retirement when she had the tough job getting our lively class through the GCE’s for O and A levels but she introduced us to wonderful things. The powerful emotional impact of the War Poets like Rupert Brook and Siegfried Sassoon, the ravishing beauty of the English language from poetry by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I think the most powerful moment for me personally was the first book that made me cry, to really weep as if for a person I actually knew…and that was The Ship Who Sang by Anne MacCaffrey. If the fate of fictional characters can move me to mourn, than what better proof of the power of language?
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Research is vitally important to me, whatever I am writing. I tend to research as I write as I never plan a book in advance. Some writers are planners, others fly by the seat of their pants and get straight to work with no idea of where the story will go. I am a definite pantser. Research can take me more time than writing sometimes but I think it is essential. I spent all afternoon recently researching a historical find that I mentioned in just one line of a book. Even in the most fantastical setting, research can give a depth and believability to a story , anything less is cheating the reader with shallow, implausible storytelling.
Cyrus Darian is a rather unusual name, how do you select the names of your characters?
Some come to me instantly as if been channelled from another dimension. Others can be a nightmare and get changed many times throughout the writing process. Thank goodness for my friend, the search and replace thingie on Microsoft Word. Cyrus Darian was a bit of a blend between the two. I decided he was Persian, so being named after a great Persian king of antiquity suited his vanity. Darian came into my head as a nice sounding name. I used my other friend, Google to see if it meant anything and discovered it was a town in Iran. Perfect. Mind you, it might not be his real name, Cyrus lies all the time and uses many aliases.
To date, what has been your hardest scene to write?
The hardest was also the easiest…if that makes any sense. The end of a story arc for one of my favourite characters was always going to end badly for him. He had become more than someone fictional but a very real presence in my life, so knowing how it had to end was deeply emotional for me. But the scene wrote itself, confirming it was the right plot thread for the culmination of a trilogy. Not saying any more…Spoilers!
If you were not a writer, and you could be anything else in the world, what career/vocation would you choose?
I love any form of creativity so always drawn to arts and crafts but I have no talent and anything I do is just for the pleasure of making things. I was always a good actor as a teenager, I was the annoying little madam who always got the main female role in all the school drama productions which were almost always Shakespeare. I was the only child for years that was encouraged by the teachers to go into acting much to the ongoing annoyance of my younger sister who was at the same school and did become an actress. Her teachers suggested a career as a secretary for her. A mixture of a sense of family duty and the need to earn regular money took me on another path, journalism and later fiction writing. I take part in amateur dramatics now and thoroughly enjoy being on stage…I love to make people laugh… or boo, when playing the baddie in Panto.
Or be one of those smiling ladies in sparkly clothes riding a dancing pure white Spanish stallion in a circus….
Have you ever had what one might call, a supernatural experience or event occur in your life? If so, would you care to share it with us? If not, which figure from history would you like to receive a visit from?
So many! I am very attuned to the presence of earth bound spirits since a child. I wish I wasn’t to be honest. It is not something I can switch off and has led to many uncomfortable times in the past. My present home is totally spirit free which is so relaxing! The worse one was an encounter with an angry, aggressive spirit in an old farmhouse where I worked. Young students at the riding school lived there and though we never told them about it to avoid hysteria, he was always targeting the youngest females, trying to frighten them. One day, when the house was empty for a couple of hours, I went in and ended up being pushed down the stairs. I could feel the imprint of strong fingers digging into my shoulders. In 1995, there was a big fire there, no one was hurt but the oldest part of the house was burnt down. All the spirit activity stopped and never returned.
11 And finally, what is your favourite childhood book?
Oooh….a tough one, I have so many. The first one that sprang to mind was the fantasy novel, Elidor by Alan Garner. I loved it and he is an early influence on my writing.
Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed Raven.
Raven’s most recent work is included in, Trumpocalypse; an anthology of satirical horror from authors on both sides of ‘the pond’.