It’s pretty rare that a human has the courage to face a monster as fearsome as a dragon. Bearing that in mind, it’s almost unthinkable that a mere sheep might be brave enough to do it. In actual fact, this was very probably the first time in the history of everything. So naturally there had to be a meeting.
Monthly Archives: May 2011
He hated the cousins. They weren’t even first cousins, he muttered to himself indignantly, they were his mum’s cousin’s daughters. Hardly even relations at all, really.
They were two sets of identical twins. The oldest pair were Violet and Daisy, who were 9 and a half and enjoyed ballet, horse riding, and ‘accidentally’ setting things on fire. The younger two were Jasmine and Lily, who were aged 7 and three quarters and mainly liked digging holes. They looked exactly the same as their older sisters but for being a tiny bit shorter, and all four of them were the spitting image of their father – mum’s cousin Simon. What this meant in practice was that they were broad shouldered, ginger haired, and decidedly abrasive. They also liked to dress in various shades of shocking pink, which meant you could always see them coming.
Eric thought this was probably because they liked to give you a bit of time to start properly dreading their arrival. When you saw the wall of pink tulle ahead in the distance, your stomach turned to lead and you wanted to run as fast as you could in the opposite direction.
“No wonder their mum works abroad,” he thought gloomily, lowering his head into his hands as they took it in turns to hurl insults through the door, “I’d leave the country too if they were my kids.”
I think I’ve probably saved the biggest and most important question until last. It’s a divisive question that splits the opinions of many. I’ve seen it cause full on brawls; I’ve seen it ruin friendships and shake empires. There is without doubt no single question that carries such great weight, especially in the arena of writing. So:
What is your chosen fuel when it comes to writing?
Ah, the age old question.
I have to come down on the side of tea, although I do have a coffee first thing. And I try to drink loads of water when I’m working as well, mainly just due to a vague notion that it’s probably a good thing to do. But plain old breakfast tea with a bit of milk is very much the beverage of choice for me.
I came across an article a while ago which I linked to in a previous post, about the different rituals of various authors. It claims that Balzac drank between 50 and 300 cups of coffee a day, which seems incredible. Maybe I’ll try following his example when I write my shockingly realistic book about the French Revolution…
Is there one book or writer who has influenced your style more than any other? For me it was Gormenghast. A book which after reading utterly transformed the way I wanted to write, burning away years of childish whimsy and leaving me with a decidedly darker and wordier style. Has a book ever had a similar effect on you or has your style evolved independently?
There are definitely a couple of writers who have influenced earlier short stories I’ve written, the main ones being Spike Milligan and Roald Dahl… The Milligan influence comes in where I’ve created characters with ridiculous names like Ivan Itch, and with Dahl there’s the kind of Tales of the Unexpected sadness that creeps in sometimes alongside the silliness. That’s a style I am trying to return to with my children’s books. More recently I’ve fallen in love with the style of Andy Stanton, author of the Mr Gum books – his stories genuinely make me laugh out loud – so I suspect there will be elements of his silliness influencing me too.
Having said that, writing this much in such a short length of time has meant I haven’t had a lot of time to read over the past few months, so I think that my voice has probably evolved relatively independently in 2011. There are tons of authors who I’ve read and come away thinking yes, that was amazing and profound, I want to do something like that – but it never quite turns out that way. I would love to write like Margaret Atwood, for example, but I just don’t have the themes or deal with ideas in the same way as she does. I’m incorrigibly frivolous.
I also think that much more than being influenced by other people’s stuff, the thing that has impacted on my writing during 12 books in 12 months is personal experience. By that I don’t mean that I’ve solved a murder or fought a dragon, I just mean that random pieces of conversations I have overheard, or interesting looking people I’ve seen when I’m out and about, have turned up unexpectedly. And the books for grown ups are all really Scottish, which was never my intention, but I guess that’s happened because that’s where I’ve always lived.
Still, this might all change when I’ve had the opportunity to research my genres more thoroughly. Ask me again when I’ve read Gormenghast!
Since you’ve been writing for so long there must no be one character you’ve created who now stands atop a mountain made from the corpses of his fellows screaming “Look at me! I am the best! I have conquered you lesser creations and made you unto nought but dust and memories!”. That is to say: of all the characters you’ve written about over the years which one holds that special place in your heart as “the favorite”? And what is it about them that makes them so special?
Is it really bad to admit I can’t remember that many of my characters?! 9 out of 10 times I write a story I put in on my blog (or in a little newsletter for my friends at school before that was an option… I was a cool kid) and then I forget most of the details. I didn’t even print out copies of those older ones for myself, which was clearly an oversight. They’ll be worth money some day!
To add insult to injury, I think at the moment my favourite characters might be some I haven’t technically written yet, unless you count a few pages scrawled out on loose paper that have since been lost! They are going to be in July’s book, which is for kids, and they’ve been growing in my brain for a few years now. Their names are Amelia Trousers and Snooky Jim – what’s not to love?!
I suspect that the more time you spend with a character, whether they’re loitering in the back of your mind or there on the page, the more you get to like them. That would explain why a lot of the ones I’ve come up with in the past have been banished to the misty watercolour corners of my mind – I didn’t start writing full novels, requiring large amounts of concentrated attention, till last year. I mean, I started a couple (as you do), but never really got very far.
The first novel I began (she said, tangentially) was based around an essay I had to do for Religious Education when I was about 13. We were asked to write creation myths for different countries from the perspective of the deity and I quite liked that notion. The exercise stayed with me and a few years later a book started to grow out of the idea.
It was a fantasy thing that began with what I thought at the time was a pure dead original creation story, although now I have reservations on that score… There were four gods – well, two gods and two goddesses, I think – and they represented the elements. I think the plot was that one of them wanted to be mortal and the others weren’t happy about it, so she ran away.
I know I named a couple of them after classical names for the winds – googling it I’m thinking maybe it was the male gods I did that for because Boreas rings a bell… that tells you everything about how much they stayed with me, doesn’t it?! But actually I still think there might be something in that story. There’s a lot to be said for creating your own world to play with.
I don’t just forget characters out of hand – that would be churlish in the extreme. I don’t have one favourite, though! I still have a lot of time for the cast of Torchwood:Dundee, which was a spoof (fairly obvious of what) that myself and a couple of other people came up with in uni around 2007. I had particular fondness for Shaktar, who was our Tosh character, and Teuchter, who was our Ianto equivalent. I wrote one of the stories that decided their characterisation and both of them were quite tragically funny but generally useless people.
In terms of 12 Books, I’m quite fond of Victor McGlynn, my Western protagonist. Overall this year I’ve spent more time thinking about him than some of the others, partly because the western was one of the genres I was less confident about, and I think he’s perhaps a more considered character as a result. The downside to that was that he was much slower to write, as I felt I owed it to him to get down things he would definitely say and do – there’s a lot less stream of consciousness blethering in that book (with the result that it’s the smallest word count so far). I’ve no idea whether he’ll appeal to anyone else, but I like him!