Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Diet battles with my book

It needs to lose weight.  The book knows it and I know it.  But every day we eye that seductive but calorie-laden little piece of description, that juicy little sub-plot, that inessential decorative quote.
'Yes,' I know it doesn't look like much, I tell my book, 'but it all mounts up, does it?  A few moments on the keyboard, another month before you lose it on the next edit.  Get a grip.'

In other news, I have just spied that my friend Debra Hamel's The Mutilation of the Herms book is free today on Kindle.  This is a fascinating little tale giving a great insight on life in ancient Greece,  I learnt a lot.  More details here.  The offer is to celebrate the publication of her new book:  Ancient Greeks in Drag.  I haven't read this yet, but shall do as soon as I've finished this diet.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

An Interview with Die Booth: author of Spirit Houses

Last Friday was the 13th: unlucky for some, but lucky for me since I got to interview Die Booth about the book.  The book being Spirit Houses (link for the Kindle version here).

Die's book is speculative fiction, and I had the pleasure of reading it in advance.  It reminded me a little of Ishiguro's 'Never Let Me Go' and also straight fantasy, where the reader is dropped into another fantastical but convincing world.  Die is an excellent writer and hugely imaginative and I feel honoured to have been one of the first people in the world to have read it.

Die Booth lives in Chester, England in a tiny house with four fire-places and enjoys playing violin, drinking tea and exploring dark places. Die’s work has featured in three Cheshire Prize for Literature anthologies and has most recently appeared in The Fiction Desk, Litro, ‘For All Eternity’ from Dark Opus Press and Prime’s ‘Bloody Fabulous’ anthology amongst others. You can also read several of Die’s stories in the 2011 anthology ‘Re-Vamp’ co-edited by L.C. Hu and available here on Lulu.
Forthcoming work is due to appear in Gothic Blue Books III from Burial Day Books and ‘The Art of Fairytales’ edited by Sarah Grant and Die’s first novel ‘Spirit Houses’, an action-packed tale of possession, betrayal and excellent Scotch, is available now.

General Questions.
CD:   Do you have any connection with snails? (or anecdotes, memorable encounters..etc.)
DB:  No real connection that I can speak of, although I do remember a lot of time spent as a young child encouraging snails onto those clear plastic margarine tub lids, so I could watch how they worked from below – I had a fascination with ‘secret’ things even then! Empty margarine tubs, I hasten to add...

CD:  What is your proudest moment?
DB: In writing, or just generally? I think my proudest moments are probably not very impressive to anyone but me: things like winning runner up in the Cheshire Prize for Literature have been absolutely fantastic and very proud moments, but it’s stuff like passing my driving test or reading out loud in front of an audience that sticks with me most, because I find public performance quite difficult. I think my proudest moments though have been when I’ve received feedback for my writing work from strangers. It’s one thing (and don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful and appreciated) to get praise and good reviews from your friends, but it’s a whole other thing to receive a glowing compliment from an unbiased stranger. Knowing that someone’s enjoyed your work on face value is what makes me proud. So I think it’d have to be when I found out that my short story ‘Life Skills’ had been adapted into a script by some third year students at Coventry University as part of their degree course.

CD:  Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
DB: I’ve had a few too personal to mention. Again, getting my story ‘The Dust Bunnies’ into the 2006 Cheshire Prize for Literature anthology was life changing in terms of being the catalyst to me starting to write ‘professionally’ as opposed to just as a hobby with no view to publication. I think a lot of events can be life-changing. It’s not so much the big, obvious occurrences but the little ones that pass almost invisibly by that can prove really life-changing. Like, joining Chester Writers has certainly changed my life – it’s shaped my writing, it’s introduced me to lots of amazing people. Or, if I’d never joined Deviantart online art community, or clicked on a certain link, then I wouldn’t have met my partner. Little things frequently have a huge knock-on effect.

CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
DB: Ah... you know, I think there’s so much tragedy in the world. That’s why I’m such a sucker for a happy ending in fiction. I get criticised for it sometimes: it seems like happy endings have no place in literary fiction, they’re almost a no-no, like a big fashion faux-pas. I think that sometimes authors use tragedy as shorthand for gravitas in plots. So even though my stories often feature death, I think most of them are sort of uplifting in a way? I’d like to think so, anyway. There’s enough sadness in the world, reading should offer an escape from that. What’s that Oscar Wilde quote, ‘the good end happily and the bad unhappily and that is what fiction means’? (I probably misquoted that!) Anyway, huge digression! There’s too much sadness, I can’t pick one thing. What makes me most sad though is missed opportunity. Stuff like, oh, that Marianne Faithful song ‘The Eyes of Lucy Jordan’, how awful is that? People not having the opportunity to live out their dreams. People being told that they can’t. People being afraid of being themselves. What-if’s. ‘Of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: it might have been’ – is that Dryden? I’m rubbish on quotes. I get upset at lost heritage as well, when beautiful buildings and priceless social heritage are allowed to be lost. What’s being lost in Detroit, that breaks my heart. But don’t ask me what’s sad – I’m the person who gets the sniffles at RSPCA adverts!

CD:  If there was one thing you’d change about yourself what would it be?
DB: I think my biggest problem is a lack of confidence and a surfeit of self-consciousness. I’ve learned it over the course of a lifetime and it’s hard to un-learn. So I think I’d change myself so that I genuinely didn’t care what anybody thought of me.

CD:  What is happiness?
DB: Something to do, something to love and something to look forward to (I learnt that off Stingray from Neighbours!) I’m not sure. If I knew  for sure, I’d be happy all the time. But I think – live life, do what you love, love what you do, be true to yourself: all those semi-platitudes that are easier said than done. Keep learning, keep exploring, try and do something new at every opportunity and make memories. Oh, and listen to King Charles!

CD:  What is the first thing you do when you get up?
DB: Take my thyroid meds. Or do you mean after toilet and all that? Sit down and write something. Haha that sounds like such a staged answer, but it’s actually the truth. I’ve been doing this project this year, One-a-day, where I’ve written a flash fiction every day, and it’s actually got me into a good habit of writing (I say ‘good’, perhaps I mean ‘obsessive’!)

Questions about SpiritHouses

CD:  What inspired Spirithouses?
DB: Spirit Houses started out life as a short story entitled ‘Time of the Month’. I wanted to rework the over-familiar monster myths in a new way (this eventually led to the collaborative Re-Vamp project). The book kind of grew around that. I was really into the blossoming Steampunk scene at the time, we used to go to the meet-ups at Whitby Goth Weekend, before Steampunk got really huge. So – the early days of UK Steampunk was a formative influence, as was trying to re-envision werewolf mythology. I also really wanted to write a decent, strong, realistic female protagonist – as they’re sadly lacking in fiction, never mind spec fic – and so Manda was born. I had a distinct sense of place, as well. Partly this was due to my involvement in trying to save The North Wales Hospital in Denbigh which is a beautiful Victorian asylum building that’s been empty since 1995. I also incorporated a place called The Negative which I’ve been dreaming about since childhood. I write a lot of stuff directly from my dreams which I suppose is cheating a bit, but as long as it’s entertaining..! So, um – there you have it, lots of various influences, all converging.

CD: How would you classify Spirithouses?  Does it belong to a genre?
DB: HA! OK... classifying Spirit Houses is nearly impossible. It’s certainly speculative fiction, but that’s a bit umbrella, isn’t it? I’ve been calling it Steampunk because that’s quite a specific small audience who I think (I hope!) will be interested in it, but really, it’s kind of all the genres. It’s horror, but supernatural rather than gore. It’s quasi-historical (it’s set in an AU 1920s.) It’s a romance. There’s a bit of sci-fi in there. The tone it’s written in I’d call pulp-lit: what I really wanted to do was tell an entertaining, quite pulpy story, but make it well written and quite lush. I hope I’ve managed to do that. I think most of all it’s an action-adventure story. I keep telling people ‘it’s quite like that version of The Mummy with Brendan Fraser in it’. It’s quite Indiana Jones, quite Hellboy. If you like Mark Gatiss’s ‘Vesuvius Club’ then hopefully you’ll like Spirit Houses. Basically, I wrote what I really wanted to write, and in doing so may have neglected to target a specific audience (oops).

CD: What aspect/scene of Spirithouses are you most proud?
DB: I’m proud of the fact that (apart from my awesome editing team to whom I owe a great debt of thanks, and everyone who’s helped out on this blog tour and the book trailers too) I did everything myself, from writing to formatting, layout, illustration, cover, marketing and merchandise. It was a big job. Being geeky, I love the personalise-able bookplate at the front, and the little nod to Charles Paget Wade at the end. I think my favourite scenes are those set in the Negative, that whole section, I still enjoy reading it through myself. Oh and the book trailers – they were so much fun to make!

CD:  And what gave you the most trouble?
DB: Marketing. Without a doubt – self promotion is so difficult and a bit thankless: you can end up feeling like you’re shouting yourself hoarse into a void. Also, the second book trailer, with the fake blood, was so tricky to shoot with our available resources and then the perfect take got accidentally deleted so we had to do the whole thing over again. We were a bit dead behind the eyes that night.

CD:  Who do you see as the ideal reader for Spirithouses?
DB: Everyone! I’m not sure – Hellboy fans, I suppose? People who like a good old fashioned rollicking British adventure, people who like a side of weird peril with their tea and scones.

CD: In the anthology you edited, Re-Vamp, you interspersed images with text.  How important is imagery in your work?  
DB: Well, the print version of Spirit Houses is fully illustrated as well. With Re-Vamp we included images because the project as a whole was multi-media and we wanted to get as much of that across in the final anthology as possible. With Spirit Houses, I drew these chapter headings for each of the 30 chapters in the print edition. I wanted it to have the look and feel of a book from the time period in which it’s set, so I took a big style influence from the line illustrations of Felix Kelly who’s one of my favourite artists. There’s a strange thing about Felix Kelly in relation to Spirit Houses. One of the characters is a boy called Fix who I’ve dreamt about all my life and who resides in The Negative. When I discovered the art of Felix Kelly a few years ago I was really shaken because he essentially painted places that look like The Negative. His nickname was Fix, too. Pretty amazing coincidence. I’d love to see a photo of him when he was a kid, just out of curiosity. So, yes – imagery is of the utmost importance to my work, as an influence and to add an extra dimension to my stories. The e-book is illustrated too, but with larger images at the end, so the two formats have a nice variation.

CD:.  What inspires you the most to write?
DB: Everything. Life, death, love, fear, hope, lettuce, paperclips. Everything; I just can’t help it. I suppose what inspires me is the pursuit of creating something beautiful, especially seeing the beauty in things that would normally be perceived as frightening or ugly. I’d definitely still write if I knew nobody but me would ever read it, but that said, the greatest thing for me about writing is when you know that, through your writing, you’ve made someone happy. I really just want to make people happy, that’s what motivates me the most.

Die is appearing on various other blogs, and if you want to read more about Die and Spirit Houses, the blogging schedule is here:

  • Sunday 15th September – Jon Mayhew - source material
  • Monday 16th September – LC Hu - interview
  • Tuesday 17th September – Kevin G. Bufton - what really annoys me about writing
  • Thursday 19th September – JT Wilson - what genre is it anyway?
  • Friday 20th September –  The Horror Tree - why we should review books

Sunday, September 15, 2013

First Draft.

Tonight I have finished the first draft of my novel.  It is 198, 806 words and 217 pages long.

The research was started sometime in 2008  and the writing of the novel  begun on 17th March 2010.

Now I start on the redraft.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Question of Charity

'How much do we owe you?'  the secretary asks, so I tell her the sum we agreed a year ago:  £30 plus travel expenses (calculated from the cost of the petrol needed to get there courtesy of Google maps).

She looks askance at the amount.  'Shall I make it our to charity or will you?' she says.
I don't reply.

I suppose it looks like I am awash with money.  I have given a 45 minute talk and then answered questions.  At the end of the talk I have offered my books for sale if anyone should be interested.  The books I've brought with me (bought, as I explained to my audience, from my publisher) I am selling at little more than I paid for them.  In fact, there is a friendly  little squabble about who gets the last one.  My total profit is a modest £3.50 and my customers go away happy knowing they have paid a lower price for my new book than they'll find anywhere else.

This talk, which is illustrated with pictures, took me weeks to prepare.  It was based on research that took me years to do.  This afternoon I spent three hours going over the talk and refining it because I hadn't given it for a while and felt I needed to revise it.  I was invited to give the talk a year ago and in response I set out my terms and conditions which included my fee, travelling expenses and opportunity to sell books.

So why am I being asked to give this money I've earned to charity?  And why am I feeling an uncharitable wretch for ignoring that question and insisting that the secretary makes the cheque out to me?

A few days later I have a conversation with my brother.  He is a consultant microbiologist at a hospital. He is also giving a talk - an after dinner talk for 20 minutes to a similar number of people as me.  I do not think that his talk is any more interesting, worthy or entertaining than mine.  My brother's talk is in Prague.  They pay for his flight over, his night in a hotel and £150 for giving the talk.  There is no question about him giving the money to charity.  So why the difference?  And if, say, the secretary of the group I gave my talk to was applying for legal representation, or having a broken window mended would she also ask that lawyer or joiner if she should pay their fee to charity?

Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Grey Family of Bradgate Park.

Near to where my mother lives is Bradgate Park.  It is an ancient park, the fallow (pictured)

and red deer living there, descendants of medieval deer belonging to medieval aristocracy including Thomas Grey, the grandson of Elizabeth Woodville, who built this little pile (below) for himself in 1520.

It is one of the first grand unfortified houses in Britain, and one of the earliest examples of post Roman brickwork.  A ruin now, except for the chapel, but Lady Jane Grey, the queen for 9 days was once thought to have been born here in 1537 (now she is thought to have been born in London).   When I was a child, I heard that when she was beheaded, aged 16, the oak trees in the park were pollarded too in tribute.

The folly seen (in the middle distance below) from this spot is called Old John and was built by later members of the Grey family on some of the oldest rock in Britain.   Later still, a schoolboy called Roger Mason, in 1957, would find a fossil showing that even in PreCambrian times there was green life of a sort.

But by 1957, the Grey family was no longer living at Bradgate Park: the last member to do so being George Grey (9th Baron Grey of Groby, 7th Earl of Stamford and 3rd Earl of Warrington).  He died in 1883 leaving Bradgate Park to his widow (his second wife Catharine, who had been a circus bareback rider, and when she died it passed to his niece who then sold it to the city and county of Leicester in 1928.

Interestingly (well, at least to me), the very last descendant of the Grey family of Bradgate (and heir of Lady Jane) was Roger, 11th Lord Grey of Groby and 10th Earl of Stamford.  He had inherited Dunham Massey Hall in Altrincham, but not Bradgate Park itself.  This particular Lord Grey of Groby didn't marry, and on his death in 1976, his peerage titles became extinct with him and he bequeathed Dunham Massey Hall to the National Trust.

Although he never owned Bradgate Park, there is a memorial to Roger Grey at Bradgate.  I suppose it is fitting to acknowledge the end of a family that had been owners of the park since 1445, but more fitting still is the plaque to one Charles Bennion, a local industrialist and philanthropist.  It is because of Charles Bennion that Bradgate Park can be enjoyed by anyone.   When the council could not raise the enough money needed to purchase the park from the heirs of the Greys of Groby, he purchased it for them and then  donated it to the people of Leicestershire 'for their quiet enjoyment'.  It is a beautiful place preserved, just as Charles Bennion dictated, in its natural state - and thereby providing for us all a glimpse into the past.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

An Ode to the SwordFish 800

I recently acquired a paper shredder and I am rather pleased with it.

It seems to me I am shredding
my old life.  Old contracts,
old letters, all the things
I kept.  No longer.
Macerate.  Disintegrate.  So many
tiny pieces.
fit for nesting.  

Hold it up.  Let it go.
Watch it come down
in pastel colours.
We caught some in unlikely places
do you remember?
A long time ago.
Again, again.
Old promises.
All the little pieces.