Book Review – The Lollipop of Influence by Mjke Wood

The Lollipop of Influence 

Following ‘Deep Space Accountant’, this is  the second book in the Sphere of Influence series.


Bob Slicker and his navigation officer, Florence McConnachie, are blamed for the open-ended jump that dropped their battle fleet into deepest, uncharted space. 

They attempt to make amends and are pushed together into an unlikely alliance.
Can they find a way home to the Sphere of Influence? Nobody ever managed it before, so they couldn’t make things worse.

Or could they?

From villain to hero, the adventure continues.

http://mjkewood.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Back in October 2016, I did a review of Deep Space Accountant, Mjke Woods first in the trilogy – The Sphere of Influence.

blogmike

I had been eagerly awaiting this second book in the Sphere of Influence trilogy, and Mjke Wood does not disappoint. Following on from Deep Space Accountant – we have left Elton Philpotts behind – literally – and travel with the erstwhile slimy accountant, Bob Slicker into deep space. When I realised that the story had moved on from Elton, I was momentarily piqued, I liked Elton Philpotts, I had become irrationally attached to him – even though he is an accountant. However, Wood has managed to transfer my loyalties as smoothly as an Eddie Stobart entering a SLOG; smoother.

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And so to Bob Slicker; Bob is a spineless, sweaty appendage to the hideously megalomaniac Martin Levison, can he REALLY be our new hero?
Can Bob find home? Can Bob find a girl? Can Bob find a spine?! Whilst Bob is spineless, Martin Levison is heartless. Bob wants Eccles cake. Martin wants Cognac. Bob wants to go home. Martin wants the world!

Along for the ride with Bob Slicker, is Florence McConnachie, second navigation officer. Florence is quick-witted, independent, dexterous, and no navigator. Like Bob, she has a boss who ensures that the blame is passed onto and firmly held by their subordinates, unlike Bob, she is about to get married. She dislikes Bob Slicker due to his association with Levison, and refers to him as ‘The Slicker’; he is a sweat machine of great magnitude. And alas for Florence, she is going to have to work with the man.

outer-space-lollipops-1
Some of the characters are beautifully awful; Lieutenant Commander Kurasov is an excellent portrayal of an American style military officer; but with a private life back home that is worthy of its own story! Meera, the navigation officer, is a preening, self-promoting egotist who will undoubtedly get what she wants. And although these are characterisations that we recognise, Wood somehow manages to NOT make them feel clichéd.

A couple of characters are who you would want on your side in an emergency; Winker Watson especially fits the bill (I am presuming the name was taken from the schoolboy who played pranks on his teachers and classmates in the popular British comic, Dandy). Watson is a bow-tie wearing, coffee-making, cake-eating Payroll officer, who enjoys tinkering with spacecraft in his spare time. I suspect that Wood is quite attached to this Watson chap, as he is more fully depicted than any other secondary character.

10_piece_planet_taobao_nw_HEATHER_KELLY_grande
Although the story takes part in the vastness of space; where many American movies have been set, and some American language features are use, this is a quintessentially British story; the tone of writing contains no ice or vinegar like so many American novels do, by this I mean sarcasm or nasty wit (not that I don’t like a bit of sarcasm and bite), the reactions to emergencies,  behaviours, idiosyncrasies and flaws strike as ‘terribly English’, small things matter; as Bob discovers when the kestrels power system is drained!!! (Beer anyone?!) – I love that.

There is even a YouTube trailer  –

I haven’t seen one of these for a book before – or maybe I just lead a sheltered life – If you get British humour, you understand that the YouTube trailer has it’s lollipop licking tongue firmly in its cheek; all those big movie trailers, influenced by American film industry, that we have become used to are pastiched here in a short space of time – the dramatic music, the panoramic views of space, and the bold text.

lollipops
Do read Deep Space Accountant first, it gives background to Slicker and Levison – which gives the ‘Lollipop’ story it’s tension.
And what is a lollipop of influence anyway? I hear you ask – well, you’ll just have to read it to find out!

The Lollipop of Influence has

Spaceships! Alien Planets! Bad Guys! Good Guys! Cake!

The Sam Stone Interview

Good Morning readers.

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. 🙂

SS KatOnAHotTinAirship

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.

SS Whats Dead Pussycat

 

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.

SS zombiesinnewyork

 

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.

SSThe Descent
So exploring caves is NOT on Sam’s To-Do-List. The Descent 2005.

 

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.

SS Zombies at Tiffanys

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.

SS Darkness Within CreateSpace

 

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 Angelique series 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.

SS wolf
The Wolf : a symbol of guardianship, ritual, loyalty,

 

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.

SS The Vampire Gene Book 1 Killing Kiss

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.

 

Thank you, Sam, for taking part.

 

 

*You can find Sam at www.sam-stone.com, and her books in all good book stores, and online retailers or visit www.telos.co.uk for signed copies.

 

 

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.

 

Writing Dialogue

*N.B: Warning, contains offensive language.

 

“Good morning readers, and welcome to another post on Flailing Through Life.”

“Hi! Another day, another post!”

“Hey! You! Yes you! Come and read this, no, don’t look over there, look here!”

 

As dialogue, which is preferable? Which grabs attention quickest? Which is most appropriate for your scene? Some of you are experienced writers, so you already have a handle on this aspect of the craft, but we can all do with a little extra topping on the ice-cream sundae of the written word – couldn’t we?

There are a few successful novels and novellas that contain no dialogue whatsoever, Shikasta by Doris Lessing being one of them; the story is presented in a series of reports from an alien who inhabits earth. Another is Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding, which is created through diary entries. However today, let’s look at how we make people talk.

Dialogue exists to bring your characters to life, it makes them appear ‘real’, it allows for interaction between characters, it reveals what sort of person he or she is. And if done well, it can make your writing come alive.

I am a massive movie fan, I watch films all of the time, I spent many hours in my childhood sitting indoors on a sunny day, with the curtains partially drawn, watching old black and white movies; mostly British or French. I am a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino films – and his dialogue is perfect.

Take a look at this section from Reservoir Dogs – Mr White does not want to tip the waitress when everyone else has done so:

                          

            NICE GUY EDDIE

                Okay, everybody cough up green for

                the little lady.

       Everybody whips out a buck, and throws it on the table.

       Everybody, that is, except Mr. White.

                              NICE GUY EDDIE

                 C’mon, throw in a buck.

                        WHITE

                 Uh-uh.  I don’t tip.

                              NICE GUY EDDIE

                 Whaddaya mean you don’t tip?

                        WHITE

                 I don’t believe in it.

                              NICE GUY EDDIE

                 You don’t believe in tipping?

                      PINK

                         (laughing)

                 I love this kid, he’s a madman,

                 this guy.

                      BLONDE

                 Do you have any idea what these

                 ladies make?  They make shit.

                     WHITE

                 Don’t give me that.  She don’t

                 make enough money, she can quit.

       Everybody laughs.

                              NICE GUY EDDIE

                 I don’t even know a Jew who’d have

                 the balls to say that.  So let’s

                 get this straight. You never ever

                 tip?

                    WHITE

                 I don’t tip because society says I

                 gotta.  I tip when somebody

                 deserves a tip.  When somebody

                 really puts forth an effort, they

                 deserve a little something extra.

                 But this tipping automatically,

                 that shit’s for the birds.  As far

                 as I’m concerned, they’re just

                 doin their job.

                           BLUE

                 Our girl was nice.

                           WHITE

                 Our girl was okay.  She didn’t do

                 anything special.

                          BLONDE

                 What’s something special, take ya

                 in the kitchen and suck your dick?

ReservoirDogsTipping

So what sort of people are they? Sure, when you watch the movie you can see them all sat around in their matching black and white, but what does this little section tell us about Mr. White? The dialogue is about a mundane subject; tipping, but it is interesting because of the people who are having the conversation as much as anything else; makes it kind of weird (and if you’re like me, then comical) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4sbYy0WdGQ&list=RDV4sbYy0WdGQ#t=0

Tarantino does this repeatedly in his films. We get two or more characters who we know, as the audience, are awful people; killers, murderer’s, punks, criminals and so forth. Then he gives them this dialogue about everyday stuff, it is the Juxtapositioning of dialogue and character expectation that creates interest and tension.

Here’s another. In Pulp Fiction, Jules and Vincent, hit-men for Marcellus Wallace, are in the apartment of some college kids who tried to pull one over on Wallace. It’s payback time. We the audience kind of know this, but what happens is this –

 

                                    JULES

                         Good for you. Looks like me and

                         Vincent caught you at breakfast,

                         sorry ’bout that.  What’cha eatin’?

                                     BRETT

                         Hamburgers.

                                     JULES

                         Hamburgers. The cornerstone of any

                         nutritious breakfast. What kinda

                         hamburgers?

                                     BRETT

                         Cheeseburgers.

                                     JULES

                         No, I mean where did you get’em?

                         MacDonald’s, Wendy’s, Jack-in-the-

                         Box, where?

                                     BRETT

                         Big Kahuna Burger.

                                     JULES

                         Big Kahuna Burger. That’s that

                         Hawaiian burger joint. I heard they

                         got some tasty burgers. I ain’t never

                         had one myself, how are they?

                                     BRETT

                         They’re good.

                                     JULES

                         Mind if I try one of yours?

                                     BRETT

                         No.

                                     JULES

                         Yours is this one, right?

                                     BRETT

                         Yeah.

               Jules grabs the burger and take a bite of it.

                                     JULES

                         Uuummmm, that’s a tasty burger.

                              (to Vincent)

                         Vince, you ever try a Big Kahuna

                         Burger?

                                     VINCENT

                         No.

               Jules holds out the Big Kahuna.

                                     JULES

                         You wanna bite, they’re real good.

                                     VINCENT

                         I ain’t hungry.

                                     JULES

                         Well, if you like hamburgers give

                         ’em a try sometime. Me, I can’t

                         usually eat ’em ’cause my girlfriend’s

                         a vegetarian. Which more or less

                         makes me a vegetarian, but I sure

                         love the taste of a good burger.

                              (to Brett)

                         You know what they call a Quarter

                         Pounder with Cheese in France?

                                     BRETT

                         No.

                                     JULES

                         Tell ’em, Vincent.

                                     VINCENT

                         Royale with Cheese.

                                     JULES

                         Royale with Cheese, you know why

                         they call it that?

                                     BRETT

                         Because of the metric system?

                                     JULES

                         Check out the big brain on Brett.

                         You’a smart motherfucker, that’s

                         right. The metric system.

                              (he points to a fast

                              food drink cup)

                         What’s in this?

                                     BRETT

                         Sprite.

                                     JULES

                         Sprite, good, mind if I have some of

                         your tasty beverage to wash this

                         down with?

                                     BRETT

                         Sure.

               Jules grabs the cup and takes a sip.

                                     JULES

                         Uuuuummmm, hit’s the spot!

                              (to Roger)

                         You, Flock of Seagulls, you know

                         what we’re here for?

               Roger nods his head: “Yes.”

                                     JULES

                         Then why don’t you tell my boy here

                         Vince, where you got the shit hid.

                                     MARVIN

                         It’s under the be –

                                    JULES

                         – I don’t remember askin’ you a

                         goddamn thing.

                              (to Roger)

                         You were sayin’?

 

Jules is scary even on the page; he swings from calm burger gourmet to dangerous aggressor and back again in two sentences. Everyone is caught off-guard, which is great for story-telling tension. Why does Tarantino write this dialogue? Why doesn’t he just have Vincent and Jules come in, blow the boys away and search for the drugs? We all know; Vince, Jules, the unfortunate college kids, and us the audience, we all know this isn’t going to end well and the everyday subject of the dialogue draws out the moment until all hell breaks loose.

Tarantino Pulp Fiction

“Uuummmm, that’s a tasty burger.”

Looking to the dialogue of film-makers, directors and producers and analysing what they have written, why they have written it and the effect it has on the audience, can help revitalise a novelists approach.

And let’s not forget comic/graphic novel writers. They have to get that dialogue to lift off the page as much as the artwork. They often bring controversial ideas to the page, dialogue that can be poetic, or both as is the case with Alan Moore’s,  V For Vendetta.

v for vendetta

V: Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition.

In this scene where V introduces himself to Evey, we learn a lot about V – he is poetic, an actor, misunderstood and a freedom fighter, all V’s dialogue.

The comic book writer is a subversive creature, lurking in the darkening corners of publishing houses and saying the things we wish we had said ourselves. Frank Miller takes us into the dark with the likes of Sin City and Batman: The dark Knight Returns. Other comic book writers with snappy dialogue are the ‘cast’ of 2000AD writers, including John Wagner, Pat Mills, Alan Grant, Garth Ennis; some of the writers for Judge Dredd;

Chief Judge: Sink or swim. Chuck her in the deep end.
Dredd: It’s ALL the deep end.

Even without any images, we know that Dredd is a hard-nosed, Lawful, humourless son-of-a-bitch, and he kicks criminal ass big time. Forget what you may have heard about kids and comics, if you have never read one, go and buy one or two and read them  and study that dialogue.

2000ad-is-the-black-mirror-of-british-comics-body-image-1449762931-size_1000

Some quick tips –

  • INSTEAD OF SAID. I know, it’s a bitch isn’t it? You have a section of long-running dialogue and you get tired of writing he said, she said. Find an alternative to express their tone, emotions and attitude. A helpful site I like to use is – Over 200 Words to use Instead of Said – http://www.spwickstrom.com/said/#demurred
  • LISTEN to how people speak to each other in real life – BUT – do not copy it, because in real life, we um and ah, and er and pause and repeat and so on and so on… put yourself in the head of your character, BE the serial killer with a penchant for growing prize-winning roses, BE the put upon clerk who adores his/her boss regardless of how they’re treated.
  • “MORNING DORIS.” “Hi Doris.” “Yo bitch!” Use colloquialisms to tell the reader about the relationship between characters. After all, you do not all speak the same as each other, the way you speak to your mother is quite different from how you chat with your friends/homies/home girls/pals.
  • SPEAK UP. Read your dialogue out loud (you should do this with all your work anyway, you can hear the mistakes!) Act the parts of your protagonists; does it sound ‘real’?
  • RESEARCH – especially if your setting is alien to you, or historical. In the 17th century, Doris’ neighbour would never have said “Yo bitch!” or even “Hi, Doris.” More like, “Good morning to you Mistress Doris.” Keep it real – for the world you’re writing for.
  • KEEP A NOTEBOOK to hand, ALWAYS. Listen to people talking at bus stops, on trains, at work/school. You can pick up some juicy titbits. I once heard someone say of Alan Bennet (British playwright, screenwriter, author), that he noted down what a fellow actor said, then had her repeat it in his plays. Sounds true, possibly is, but he did not regurgitate directly what she said, he adapted it for the viewing audience so that we came to know the character.
  • KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS. Would our lovely Doris really say “I don’t give a crap about waitresses!”?  You don’t need to, but you might want to write biographies for your characters, it will help you to determine, not only where they come from and what accents they have, but also how they speak; their specific word choices such as slang, speech patterns, and rhythms.

 

Authors who I think give good dialogue!

Douglas Adams

The author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series marries the fantastical with the prosaic –

‘Drink up,’ said Ford, ‘you’ve got three pints to get through.’

‘Three pints?” said Arthur. ‘At lunchtime?’ 

The man next to Ford grinned and nodded happily. Ford ignored him. He said, ‘Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.’

‘Very deep,’ said Arthur, ‘you should send that in to the Reader’s Digest. They’ve got a page for people like you.’

‘Drink up.’

 

Elmore Leonard

The crime novelist’s dialogue is catchy and snappy, many of his novels have been made into films – Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and  3:10 to Yuma

‘You sure have a lot of shit in here. What’s all this stuff? Handcuffs, chains…What’s this can?’

‘For your breath,’ Karen said. ‘You could use it. Squirt some in your mouth.’

‘You devil, it’s Mace, huh? What’ve you got here, a billy? Use it on poor unfortunate offenders…Where’s your gun, your pistol?’

‘In my bag, in the car.’ She felt his hand slip from her arm to her hip and rest there and she said, ‘You know you don’t have a chance of making it. Guards are out here already, they’ll stop the car.’

‘They’re off in the cane by now chasing Cubans.’

His tone quiet, unhurried, and it surprised her.

John Steinbeck

Worlds peopled with memorable characters with dialogue that a reader can hear it as if spoken aloud.

‘I forgot,’ Lennie said softly. ‘I tried not to forget. Honest to God I did, George.’

‘O.K.—O.K. I’ll tell ya again. I ain’t got nothing to do. Might jus’ as well spen’ all my time tell’n you things and then you forget ‘em, and I tell you again.’

‘Tried and tried,’ said Lennie, ‘but it didn’t do no good. I remember about the rabbits, George.’

‘The hell with the rabbits. That’s all you ever can remember is them rabbits. O.K.! Now you listen and this time you got to remember so we don’t get in no trouble. You remember settin’ in that gutter on Howard street and watchin’ that blackboard?’

Lennies’s face broke into a delighted smile. ‘Why sure, George, I remember that…but…what’d we do then? I remember some girls come by and you says…you say…’

Hope you enjoyed today’s post. Now go and write some wonderful dialogue people!

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.

blogKitCoxHTBAJ

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.

blogKitCoxBGMH blogKitCoxBGMH2

blogKitCoxSP

 

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.