I have been lucky enough (well, if luck is the right term for it) to have been nominated by my friend Jem Shaw to join in with this particular blog tour. Jem's contribution is here. He in turn had been nominated by my fellow Renegade Writers, Misha Herwin and Jan Edwards whose contributes can be read here and
We have all been asked to answer the same four questions so here goes:
1) What am I working on?
I think I have a reputation in the Renegades for being a bit flighty when it comes to genres. Whilst that might be unfair, I do sometimes think that it looks like I am attempting to write one novel in every genre! I know I should really choose one, specialise and perhaps get rather good at it but that is boringly conventional!
Whatever, this trait has led to me producing such diverse works as a climbing based thriller (The Last Mountain), a 1950s spy thriller (Contrail) and a supernatural murder/romance (Touched).
In fact, my genre flitting is worse than that, for even the Renegades are probably not fully aware of my non-fiction output which I do for the 'day' job that has so far seen me writing four textbooks in the Real Estate field (and making a proposal to Pearson for a fifth last week - I must be mad given my current workload!).
Anyway, this question should focus on my fiction output, so here goes.
As well as being a genre tart, my other writing hang-up is that I am a bit of a chainwriter. I think this stems from a fear that I might one day wake up and be completely out of ideas! As a result I always have several things on the go at once, all of which are at different stages. This has the added benefit of giving me something to work on if I get bored or stuck with something else.
The one that I have been working on most recently is actually something new for me; comic satire. Its title is 'The First Book of Gabriel'. It deals, superficially, with the privatisation of creation but actually has given me the opportunity to send up such diverse areas as the EU, architects, banks and the financial crisis. It's certainly brightened up my year writing it - and I hope it's entertained the Renegades who have heard extracts from it.
Now that Gabriel is in the editing phase I have fallen back on a project I was working on last year, a contemporary crime thriller set in Manchester called 'The Honey Talker'. I have also got the follow up to 'Contrail', 'Czechmate' at the same stage. Further down the line is a modern take on the DH Lawrence novella 'The Fox' called 'The Vixen' (and no, I'm not a DH Lawrence fan but I like the scenario of this story and wanted to see if it could be told in a contemporary setting) plus a novel about a university lecturer who has an affair with one of his students which is called 'Reckless'. I am not sure which will be the next one dusted off to work on. The latter pair are both in first draft/manuscript form (see below in the Writing Process section for what this means to me).
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
That is a tricky question (made more complicated by my writing in multiple genres!). I certainly don't aim to ape anyone's style nor do I try particularly hard to follow the rules and conventions of a particular genre so, by a logical extension, I neither try to be different nor know if what I produce IS different.
I think my writing does have a recognisable 'DNA' however. I am quite a sparse, spare writer; I am not one for flowery prose. I am a story-teller. To me the story is everything. To tell a story that is realistic you need realistic and believable characters operating in a consistent world. As the world and the people in it is far from perfect so my characters are often deeply flawed and their lives and situations difficult. Maybe that does not make me different but it is a consistent thread to my output.
3)Why Do I Write What I Write?
In many ways this is the easiest question to answer; I am ambitious, I do want to write fiction professionally but, primarily, I write fiction for pleasure so I simply write about things that I enjoy and am interested in.
I think as any avid reader would be, I am bound to be influenced in what I write by the writers I enjoy reading. I love Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, partly, I believe, because they both appeal to my dry sense of humour. There is no doubt that 'The First Book of Gabriel' will remind people of both Pratchett and Adams (in fact this has been remarked on) but the humour and approach is just definitely 'me', as those who are unlucky enough to know me will testify.
I was also brought up on true life adventure stories such as Thor Heyerdahl's 'Kon Tiki' and 'Ra' expeditions and, more recently, have read mountaineering stories like 'Touching the Void' by Joe Simpson and 'Into Thin Air' by Jon Krakauer. The latter pair, plus my love of mountains and the open air, certainly influenced my desire to write 'The Last Mountain', however the primary motivation was a fascination with big egos and ambition, which the mountaineering world certainly has a surplus of. 'The Last Mountain' does follow my rules in that it has a strong story and is full of flawed characters but the fact it is set against mountaineering is incidental; it is a 'beware of what you wish for' tale, again a common theme.
I used to not to be able to write short stories. When I did try they tended to get close to novel length! With the help of the best writers group in the world, The Renegade Writers, I have actually learnt the trick (choose a simple story, have very few characters etc.) and really enjoy writing short pieces now. I find them refreshing; to make a drinking analogy,to me a novel is like a big, complex red wine, something to take time over and savour. A short story is like a chilled champagne on a summer's evening - nice and refreshing for a change. My short stories tend to come from anywhere; a recent one was inspired by a short rural train journey for example that turned into a Christmas themed short thriller piece.
4) How does my writing process work?
For many years I was very disciplined. I got up early and spent the first 1 to 1.5 hours of the day writing. I set myself targets; say 1500 to 2000 words a day. Do that for 40 days in a row and you end up with something novel sized; as long as you have a good road-map as to approximately where the novel is going, which I always do, this is not as hard as it sounds. I always start a new novel by attempting to tell myself the overall story, at least in rough form, in a couple of paragraphs. To this I add a few lines that outline my main characters, giving each a short executive summary, knowing that I will get to know them properly during the writing process.
Note that this is now a 'was'. I wish I could still work the same way but the pressures of trying to run my own business have ended this. Like Jem, I now write when I can.
And I no longer write enough! I really miss my mornings of quiet solitude and creativity. First thing in a morning is when my mind at least is freshest and when my best ideas flowed. I also had a little trick to make getting going easier; at the end of the previous writing session I deliberately did not finish the section I was working on but made certain I knew what I needed to complete it. That meant that I could start with something the next day that I knew had to be done. It got me through the first 10 minutes and got me into the rhythm of writing.
My main quirk is that this first draft is always longhand, preferably in fountain pen. I have found that this is important as I think as I write, the detail of the story or the actions of a character come more easily this way. There is something about the pace of this style of writing and the physical connection of pen with paper that, for me, works and which I cannot achieve with trying to write electronically first. Although it may seem archaic I also find that this makes me get the basic draft right first; I very rarely cross out and go back. If you don't believe this is possible I can show you the manuscript of 'The Honey Talker'; it is written on one A4 pad as a single narrative with no pages missing.
Yes, I am weird and proud of it!
And that brings me onto a serious point.
One thing that I know affects my writing is mood but also I have found that my mood is influenced by what I write. Gabriel has been great because, however tired I was, writing funny lines is a great lifter of spirits. In contrast, 'The Vixen' was quite depressing because my character was really in a black, suicidal mood most of the time. I went through days feeling down and not realising why - it took me ages to make the connection and switch to writing something more cheerful!
Mood is something I know very well that I have to be careful with. Now I am self employed and less dependent on the whims of employers I can be more open about a condition I have.
I am bipolar.
This was a condition that I suffered with and concealed for many years. It is now treated and controlled but I have little doubt that my writing has contributed to the improvement in my condition. There is great stigma and negativity about depressive ilnesses which has contributed to it being kept in the shadows and not talked about and for people, like myself, to do their best to hide it. What people forget though is the real meaning of the term 'bipolar' - that there are ups as well as downs. One of the reasons I am so productive is that I have been able to manage my condition in such a way that I have filled in the troughs enough so I am never in danger of crashing but retained enough of the ups to use them in the creative process.
Whilst I would not recommend this as a way of increasing the output of writers generally, I did want to talk about it on this platform because I know it is part of my own writing process and also because I know that there will be a lot of people out there who have similar conditions to mine. Whilst it can be crippling and restricting to some, I wanted to show how it can be turned into a positive, something that actually is advantageous to me. I am not saying if you have the condition you should do something rash like stop any medication you might be taking but is aimed more at the people who were like me a few years ago, suspecting but fearful about doing something about it. Don't be, it's really not the end of the world, in fact it will lead to a lot of benefits.
And now I have got that off my chest I would like to nominate a really promising young writer, Josh Allerton to take up the baton...