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.
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. :]
Ben Warden - Editor of the #SFFiction project and author of 'Life Without', which made the top ten literary fiction e-books on amazon.