I've been invited, by fellow writer Adam M Booth, to take part in the 'my writing process blog tour'. This is a great little project where writers nominate each other to respond to four question about their current projects and process. It's a great way for readers and writers to get into the mind of their favourite novelists, glean some tips on the writing process and find out what people are currently writing.
So firstly, huge thanks to Adam for inviting me. Go check out his answers from last week and while your there take a look at his novella 'The End'. It's an incredibly gripping and dark zombie horror, written from the zombie's perspective. And its only 77p for kindle. You'd be stupid not to grab it. (Link right).
Next week you'll be able to read the responses from Adrian P Fayter, Phil Lickley and N.E.David - So make sure you take a look at there posts next week. Who knows you might just find the big seller of the future, your favourite book of the year or grab a tip that helps you complete your next masterpiece - More on them at the end of my blog.
So here goes...
What Are You Currently Working On?
At the moment I am working on my second novel. Unlike Life Without the title is giving me hell and is not surfacing at the moment, so for now I'll refer to it as Death of the Artist (this may change).
It's a story about a young girl, Tillie, who is trying to find the studio of her artistic hero, David Lanzer. David is a successful, but haunted artist. All his works are part of larger series and he is entrenched in his art and his process. (I'm finding this oddly relevant to the interview!? He's not me honest!? :p). Early in the story Tillie finds David's studio and decides to break in, moments later David walks through the door. Now flung together these two obsessive personalities go on a brief, relationship forging, journey. I won't say too much more but it certainly doesn't have Life Without's happy ending.
I have also sent off a flurry of short stories to a number of different places recently. One that I am really hoping will pay off is a new entry to the Rowntree's Park, Words From a Bench project. I've been published by the project twice now and this round the successful pieces will go live in a a park in Iceland as well as in York. Very cool! You can read my November and February entries at the wordpress site.
How Does Your Work Differ From Others Of Its Genre?
I always try to put a little twist on the stories I write to make them individual. Life Without was slightly different to other in the romance genre because it was written from a male perspective. I get a lot of comments about this balance, which readers seem to really notice. I didn't really aim to carry a message through the book but I suppose it balances a genre where males are usually strong characters and females are portrayed as being damaged in some way and world apart from other characters.
Death of the Artist (as I'll call it for now) is actually a totally different genre. It is effectively a thriller but it masquerades as a romance for a majority of the story. I think this is what will make it unique when it's finished and (hopefully) make it an interesting and original piece.
Why Do You Write What You Do?
I write a lot of different thing; different genres and also different formats. I started as a scriptwriter and still enjoy writing for screen, stage and radio, as well as writing short stories and novels. I also write songs, though that's more of a hobby. I have always said that I love storytelling; I find it fascinating that people construct their world through narratives. We tell each other jokes, put a spin on our experience of the day and more and more we constantly convert our lives into stories. New media has a big influence on this and so many of us now create stories through blogs, Facebook posts, tweets, Snapchat pictures, YouTube videos, the list goes on. I write what I do because I have an internal drive to share stories and I feel very privileged when someone takes time away from their lives to immerse themselves in something I have written. It sounds very cliche, but it really is just part of who I am.
How Does Your Writing Process Work?
I am all about structure and research. I don't think any story can just come about. Stories should be understood; characters have to be thought through and everything written should be pushing towards the goal that is the end of the story. It's a bit like a joke; you might embellish it to bring it to life but every word is forging towards that punch line. Stories for me should have that same sense of direction.
When I'm writing I'll firstly try and put my idea into a couple of paragraphs. What I'm trying to do at that point is work out a rough map for the beginning, middle and end of my story. I think it's really important to do this because those steps of a story are ingrained in us as a culture and it's amazing how many new writers get it wrong. So I write a paragraph or two, which aim to introduce the characters. Not just say 'this is David' but to tell us who David is. Is he a brat, a rich but lonely entrepreneur, a salesman who is rubbish at his job. Then that paragraph needs to tell me what they want, what is going to get in the way and what ending I am coming to. With that rough shape in mind I then start to flesh out the characters more. Who they are as a whole; what are their quirks; where do they live; where have they come from? I sometimes do little exercises to get these characters concrete in my mind, like writing down their hopes, fears, relationship with others or reading a newspaper article and trying to workout how they would react to what's been written. Finally, before writing, I'll try to write a scene by scene breakdown of the story.
I only generally start writing when I have all of this together and feel like I know the characters and the general journey of the story. Sometimes, if an idea is really fresh in my mind, I might just write. With Life Without it all just seemed to come, so I wrote the first five chapters and then I went back to the planning stages. Those five chapters actually became chapter 1,5,6,9 and 12 once I'd really thought it through.
My current book, Death of the Artist, all hinges round the idea of obsession, so I've done a lot of psychological research. I read some of Freud's case studies and I tried to identify elements of a obsessive personality. I've then built this into my characters. For example, David has a whole back story about his upbringing that is purely designed to help me write him and understand what he would do in certain scenarios. I have no intention of putting the back-story in the finished book.
Writing in this very structured way isn't for everyone but it really helps me write solid characters, which I'm often complimented for. It also helps me start and finish a book, which is a big challenge. A lot of potential writers out there have a great idea but never finish it. To them I say plan it out, stick to your plan and you'll get there. Once you've got a finished article you can play. Take bits out, add now things in, shift things around. I suppose I find the editing process a lot more fun and creative than the original writing process. Making a start on a blank page is a challenge for everyone.
So there you are. That is my writing process blog tour. Please feel free to comment and ask any questions. Its great to talk about process with fellow writers, no matter how long they've been doing it or what level they are at. I love to get involved so give me a shout.
Next Monday: Adrian P Fayter, Phil Lickley and N.E.David will take their turn. Take a look.
Adrian P Fayter, author of the Larry Di Palma series of crime novels. If you think crime books can't have a sense of humour, prepare to be proved very wrong!
Phil Lickley, is a 28 year old manager at a Students' Union with a passion for music. Phil enjoy all sorts of writing but mainly writes reviews on musicians/music, gigs and theatre productions. He hopes to finish off a novel and some short stories, one day!
N.E.David, is the pen name of York author Nick David. Nick tried his hand at writing at the age of 21 but like so many things in life, it did not work out first time around. Following the death of his father in 2005, he took it up again and has been successful in having a series of short novellas published both in print and online. Besides being a regular contributor to Literary Festivals and open mics in the North East Region, Nick is also a founder member of York Authors and co-presenter of Book Talk on BBC Radio York.
His debut novel, Birds of the Nile, is published by Roundfire.
My guest today is author Nick David, N.E.David as he is known. Nick is a York based writer, local to me and joins me to talk about his work as part of York's community of authors, his new book BIRDS OF THE NILE and his upcoming work.
Ben: So firstly Nick, congratulations on the publication of 'BIRDS OF THE NILE'. It's a very interesting read. Before we get stuck into the details, let's get a bit
of background. When we've spoken in the past Nick, you've told me that you
started writing sometime ago, but stopped and now you're on a pretty determined return to the art. What is it that draws you to writing?
Nick: Writing is important to me in that it gives me purpose, it helps me make sense of my life but most of all, it’s the stories and the characters. I have a whole host of them inside my head and they won’t go away until I’ve got them out and onto the paper. Now I’ve come back to it I’m driven, Ben, and there’s no getting away from it.
Ben: Nick, you're an author based in York and from visiting your website (http://www.nedavid.com/) it's obvious that you do a lot of work with authors in the area. Can you tell us a bit about your involvement?
Nick: Yes, I’ve been a member of York Writers Group for quite a while and more recently I became involved with York Authors. They were set up early in 2013 to promote the work of professional authors based in the city. I also appear regularly at Literature Festivals and open mics in the region so I meet quite a few fellow writers.
Ben: Am I right in thinking that you also have a part in York Literary Festival, which has just released its programme for this year?
Nick: Yes, thank you for reminding me! For my sins, I’m a member of the committee and we’re coming up to a very busy time with the programme just launched on 6 January. Last year we were lucky to get some big names, including the Poet Laureate. This year will be just as good, if not better, so keep an eye out for what’s on. The Festival runs from March 20th through to March 31st and the events are bound to be popular
so it’s best to book well in advance. You can get the details from the website, www.yorkliteraturefestival.co.uk.
Ben: So, your new book 'BIRDS OF THE NILE' is set in Egypt and involves the 2011 revolution, though it's more complex than a simple action or thriller. Can you tell us what drew you to setting a story in Egypt at this time?
Nick: The background to this is that my wife and I went to Egypt to celebrate an important wedding anniversary in 2009. Being a writer, I naturally took a notebook and a pen and kept a diary. At some point a plot occurred to me and when we got back I started to write it up. But it didn’t gel and l put the half-finished manuscript away in a drawer. When the revolution came along, it
reignited my interest and I realised that the power of those dramatic events could significantly enhance the story so I rewrote it with that in mind.
Ben: That is interesting. So what pulled you away from making it a more conventional type action plot?
Nick: It never started off that way and so it never became one. The focus was always on the relationship between the three main characters – the fact that it takes place during a revolution merely causes their actions and decision-making to appear more important.
Ben: Interestingly, the story is set predominately on a cruise ship, and you work with a fairly large cast of characters to create that feel. Did you find that challenging?
Nick: No, not at all. Apart from the three main protagonists, the other characters all serve an important purpose. Mrs Biltmore plays a key role in affairs, for instance, and it’s interesting that Blake begins by disliking her. I often think of the other (British) passengers as a kind of Greek chorus – they represent that section of opinion which is indifferent to the plight of the Egyptian people and concerned only with their own safety. This sets them apart from Blake and allows him to stand out when it comes to the crucial part of the
Ben: The lead character is Michael Blake. What gave you the inspiration for this character and could you sum him up for those who are yet to read the story?
Nick: I always had it in mind that the main character would be a retired bird-watcher who subsequently went blind. The idea that your greatest pleasure in life can be denied you by some random event fascinated me but it was the revolution that persuaded me to make him an ex-diplomat. It was then that his character fully formed in my head and gave me the impetus to pick the piece up again. As to summing him up, that’s difficult. If I could tell you about Michael Blake in a few short sentences, I wouldn’t need to have written the book in the first place! Because that’s what the book is really about - explaining Michael Blake - and he’s complicated. The point is that he’s just a fairly ordinary person who becomes caught up in events that cause him to do something exceptional.
Ben: Very true. You also have a back catalogue of novellas, though BIRDS OF THE NILE is your first novel. Can you tell us a bit about your other work?
Nick: Of course. I have three short novellas in print, none of them related except by way of length. They grew out of the fact that I began to find short story telling restrictive and I couldn’t express what I wanted to say in less than 20000 words. The stories didn’t need any more than that either, so they finished up as novellas. They’re each written quite differently too, and reflect the fact that I was subconsciously experimenting with alternative styles. I also have other, as yet unpublished, novels hidden away and when the time is right, my intention is to fetch them out and bring them up to speed.
Ben: Are you working on anything at the moment?
Nick: Yes, I spent the summer producing the first draft of a new novel set beside a lake in Sweden but I’ve had to set that aside for the time being as my typist broke her arm! In the meanwhile I’ve gone back to an earlier work and I’ve set myself the task of rewriting it with a view to bringing it out in 2015. The main protagonist is called Frank and in the same way that BIRDS OF THE NILE is about explaining Michael Blake, AS DAD LAY DYING is all about explaining Frank Johnson. AS DAD LAY DYING is a working title, by the way. I’m not sure I’m awfully fond of it but for the moment I can’t think of a better one. When it comes to the point of publication I’ll have to put my thinking cap on - but the rewrite and the story have to come first.
Ben: Thanks so much Nick and all the best with your 2015 deadline, we'll look forward to it.
Nick: Thank you for inviting me, it’s been a pleasure.
Ben Warden - Editor of the #SFFiction project and author of 'Life Without', which made the top ten literary fiction e-books on amazon.