Ben: Ha, you certainly have. It is very interesting that, for writers, sometimes the hardest part is working out where to place yourself in the market. I think we’ll come back to that, but first you mention on your website (http://www.christopherbruntauthor.com) that the book started as a short story, where did the idea spring from and who are your influences?
Chris: My influences? Shakespeare, Bulgakov, Dostoevsky, Bernard Cornwell, Vonnegut, Gogol, Chekov, and lots more…the last book I read was totally different from these, it was Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, and I absolutely loved it.
Ben: Yes, I’ve heard a lot of good things about Gillian Flynn, though I haven’t read anything of hers as yet. One for the reading pile I think. There are a lot of classic writers in your list of influences. One of the things I love about this book is the classic narrative style, it’s very traditional. Is this a style you use a lot and why did you choose it for this novel?
Chris: For me, that sort of traditionalist voice provides so much artistic license than something trying to adhere to a particularly overt or contemporary style. The reason being, that it allows you to be completely neutral and to unravel a story in a very detailed and linear way, as you might expect in bygone novels. But it also allows for elements of surrealism and satire, which you can exacerbate against the backdrop of a very serious and formal tone. I think with Ralph and the Purple Fly I’ve opted for this classical style, set in a modern and contemporary world, while woven into these very surreal and satirical moments, because all those things together help to reinforce some of the dystopian conflict that I wanted to create with the mad scientist character and his bizarre adventurers. As a result, there are several different interpretations created out of these elements, which, aside from making the reader laugh, cry and generally be entertained, also forces them to think. Like you said, everything is held together by a recognisable and very traditional voice, which, without giving too much away, belongs to a narrator whose sanity is questionable and could be seen as totally unreliable but who is still someone you want to believe in.
It goes without saying, that this was my intention and what I hoped to create, but now it’s down to you and the reader to see if it works. But yeah, I really enjoyed using this sort of traditional or classical narrative style because it did help to open up so many more creative possibilities.
Ben: That’s a perfect description and I do love the style. It certainly does everything you’ve mentioned there. The book allows a lot to be perceived by the reader, which I think is great. It would be a great book for anyone in a book club; there’s lots of great room for discussion. Chris, like myself, you self-published your book with CreateSpace and KDP. How did you find that process and how has the response been so far?
Ultimately, it’s always going to be an uphill climb when you self-publish because you’re essentially doing all the work that the publisher and their marketing experts would usually do, not to mention avoiding the stigma of ‘vanity press’. But if you can put yourself out there and convince people that you’re not just another person with a laptop and internet connection who’s published their book, then you’ll do well.
It’s a huge learning curve and if you’re proud of the finished product then you can be proud of the fact that your work is accessible to everyone and will always be out there for people to read. It doesn't matter if you've published in a traditional way or self-published. What I would say to anyone considering this route, is that if your book is good enough to be read then it doesn't matter how it finds its way to the readers. The trick for self-published writers like us is to always try to put yourself out there and you have to find a happy medium between writing and marketing.
Ben: You mentioned earlier that the idea of genre and trying to place yourself can be tricky. How did you find that process and do you have any hints for the writers out there?
Chris: It depends really, if your aim is to make money and you don’t know where to begin then I would suggest picking and sticking to a genre first and foremost. I would advise that you read everything you can in your chosen area and try to find something unique that you can write about. For me it was very different, I started with something unique and then wrote the story without worrying about genre or the commercial aspects, my only concern was being true to the original idea and the novel as a whole and I didn't want to compromise to confine the piece to a particular convention. I felt the story was strong enough without worrying about that sort of thing.
Ben: So tell us a bit more about you. What drew you to writing?
Chris: Once upon a time…it all began when my dad introduced me to Bernard Cornwell when I was about fourteen; it was his King Arthur trilogy; and, when he bought me my first Dostoevsky novel. Since then all I’ve ever wanted to do is write. I think it probably has something to do with a need to be creative and to recreate my own version of things, stories, people and ideas. I love the idea of writing something and then having someone read and reimagine it to the point where it sticks with them forever. As I say, it’s very much a romantic notion but I haven’t been able to shrug it off so far.
Ben: That’s a great answer and one worth writing for, definitely. I've actually just finished reading the King Arthur trilogy myself. It’s a great set of books. So, if the folks reading want to find more stuff by you, is there more out there yet?
Chris: Besides Ralph and the Purple Fly I have some short stories published online. I wrote these stories for a project called Writers in the Park and they vary drastically in content and style. I really would urge people to take a quick look at these, along with the work of other contributing writing, because it’s a great project with lots of interesting writers involved. The most recent addition even features stories written by Icelandic writers! Links to these can be found on my website.
Ben: Well I’m chuffed you’ve mentioned that, especially as I’m one of the writers involved :] The readers of my site will be very used to hearing about the Writers in the Park project. Anything else you can tell us about?
Chris: I wrote a couple of reviews and articles for an online magazine, run out of York St John University, called Neutral Magazine, which again you can access via my website. I really enjoy reviewing work by other writers so I recently started a blog dedicated to reviews, which you can read and subscribe to via my website. Basically, everything I have done so far is accessible via my website. I’m also on Twitter too so feel free to follow me at @CJBWriter.
Ben: What’s the next project on the cards?
Chris: I’ve recently gone back to a project I started about four years ago. I’ve written a lot of different things since then but at the time when I began working on this project and initially came up with the idea, I was too inexperienced and lacking in the tools to pull it off. It’s a two part series called The Lost Family. In its simplest form the series is about a family who become totally disconnected morally, physically and emotionally from one another. This is due not only to their personalities but also to the actions of the father in the family, Elliot Rosen. All the characters in the story find themselves gravitating towards the guy who, to cut a long story short, has suspended himself in a type of unconscious comatose state. The drama results from Elliot’s decision to do this, his actions are the catalyst and then the narrative goes on to follow each of the other family members who have to pick up the pieces. As you’ve probably guessed, similar to Ralph and the Purple Fly, there are certain some surrealist themes involved, though it’s very much a character driven story. It’s set in the 1930s so inevitably it’s influenced by some of the historical events of the time.
Ben: Chris, that sounds really interesting. I especially liked the character driven elements of Ralph and Purple Fly, so I think this will be really strong. I’m really looking forward to reading it. Congrats again Chris and best of luck with promotion and with the upcoming Lost Family.
You can grab your copy of Ralph and the Purple Fly here and if you want to know more about Chris have a look at some of the links below.
Find Out More
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.
Hey folks. So, this weekend I am doing a free promotion of my novel Life Without. If you are yet to give it a read, please go grab a FREE e-copy from Amazon.
Why am I doing this? Well partly to get a few more readers for 'Life Without,' to add to the 4000 people who have currently downloaded the book, and secondly to raise my profile a little bit before my next book.
The new book is a little way off yet. I'm well past planning and am currently about 10 chapters into the writing, but it's always good to build the hype. So go grab a copy of Life Without and I can promise you equally interesting characters, a more gripping plot and a not so happy ending from the next book. :]
Here's a thing that interests me a lot as a writer and something that I am wrestling with in the book I'm currently writing.
How do you make interesting, three-dimensional characters using only language?
Characters can make any story either perfect or awful. We all have the characters that we love and I'm sure that you've had that moment when you finish a book and actually feel like you'll miss the characters you have been reading about. It's a strange thing because in truth you haven't met anyone. That character does not exist and unlike television or film you can't even bond with the person playing that character. The characters in fiction are just ink on the page. However, language can be used to create characters far more real than some people seem to be and definitely more believable than the cast of Hollyoaks.
In my current novel I am writing about an artist who is obsessive and very introverted; he has some real problems and a serious obsession and love for art. I needed to work out how I was going to get this into the language and make this character come alive. After a long planning process I am now three chapters into the book and David, my character, seems to be taking shape.
To get David right I felt I had to get inside his psyche, a bit like a method actor would for a role. So for a start I read several of Freud's articles and cases on obsession and started to work out how this obsessive mental state comes about and works. Once I had some notes I could go back to my story concept and start to see how David's motivations and actions maybe inspired by this condition, what may have caused it and how the action could progress in a way that portrayed his obsessive side. (So that I didn't have to say ' David was obsessive').
I wrote David a back story, which I currently have no plan to feature in the novel itself. This gave me a much better idea of the factors that would later influence David's decision in life (in the novel)-I then briefly reminded myself that David wasn't real so I didn't start talking to him in public and continued!?!
Of course I worked up a character sheet, as so many books on writing will tell you to do and this was incredibly useful. I listed David's physical appearance; I listed his achievements; his fears; his goals and motivations, along with anything else that seemed interesting.
The next things to do was to work up my second character in a similar way. I felt that it was important to interrupt the flow at this point, so that my secondary characters didn't become a secondary in their own 'realness.' Doing the same sort of character sheet as the one I had done for David and working up these characters relationships and reactions to David's character also really helped flesh out David and his world.
After reading a book on method acting, I decided that I should try create some scenes to get into the flow of talking like David, so I wrote up an interview. David is an artist, so I figured he would have to deal with an interview at some point in his career. I wrote this interview to allow me to get into David's mind set and soon the answers (to questions I took from a real interview on-line) really started to flow. I would highly recommend this as an exercise for getting yourself into character.
If an interview doesn't work why not try reading a paper and trying to work out what response your character would have to the story you've read, or sit somewhere and people watch and try to think about what you see from your characters perspective.
At some point you will have to start creating both the scenarios and your characters reaction to them, so if those reactions are already second nature your writing should flow with far less starring into space, walks round the neighbourhood, tidying your desk, or whatever else you do to avoid writing.
Let's not forget, characters are everything!
Ben Warden - Editor of the #SFFiction project and author of 'Life Without', which made the top ten literary fiction e-books on amazon.