Friday, June 29, 2007

[Interview] Bhaswati Ghosh

Bhaswati Ghosh has worked as a television news producer and as an editor in two publishing houses. She has also been on the editorial board of a children's newspaper.

Her work has been published in major Indian daily newspapers, in the United States and on websites that include Chowk and the bimonthly online magazine, Seven Seas as well as on the food and writing blogs that she maintains.

Making Out in America is her first book-length work.

In a recent interview, Bhaswati Gosh spoke about her writing.

What would you say are your main concerns as a writer?

In fiction writing, my major concerns are gaining a grip on the craft of writing, such as more show and less tell, writing convincing dialogue, creating real and enduring characters.

The themes that concern me are those pertaining to the social fabric around me -- a dynamic pattern that’s changing and throwing up new questions every day. Ordinary lives like my own interest me the most, and I write stories on how the existing and evolving social systems play themselves out in the day-to-day living of ordinary people.

In nonfiction, which also happens to be my source of income, my main concern is to widen the scope of my writing. I constantly educate myself to write about diverse subjects. I am still a greenhorn in the freelance writing trade and have a long way to go. Being an ardent learner, I am enjoying the journey.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

All my writing stems from personal experiences, direct or perceived. The seeds of writing itself could have been planted in my subconscious both through genetic influence as well as from watching my grandma pouring herself out on foolscap sheets. A supportive school boosted my literary inclinations as did the extensive reading atmosphere at home (we have five or six huge iron trunks loaded with books and magazines).

Over the years, events happening in my life or in the lives of people around me have made their way into my writing. While I mostly write about what I know, occasionally issues that concern me at a deep level, yet are far removed in terms of geographic location (the Palestinian struggle, for instance), also form the raw material of some of my stories.

How many books have you written so far?

My debut book, Making Out in America has been purchased by Cavern Press and is awaiting publication. The book is an anecdotal, humorous account of my brush as an outsider with everyday American lingo. The tone is informal, and the chapters are themed.

The book is different from the other things I have written in a number of ways. For one, its length. Most of my writing is short -- articles, features, short stories. The other major difference is the subject matter. Most of my writing tends to be serious in nature and tone; the book is lighthearted and makes for easy reading.

It is similar to the other things in that although interspersed with humor and candid recounting, the book carries a voice that my small band of readers (mostly friends and fellow writers) have come to associate with me. So in that regard, it carries a personal narrative stamp.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Weaving in different anecdotes that would let the prose flow smoothly and make it enjoyable for readers was the toughest.

Which did you enjoy most?

All of it. The intense and fun research, constant rewriting of chapters following reproaches from the book’s editor, perennially bothering friends to share relevant anecdotes, jumping with joy on finishing the manuscript, detailed editing -- all of it.

How much time do you spend on your writing?

Since writing is my primary vocation, I have to do it everyday by default. Roughly speaking, I spend between four to six hours on writing.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I don’t remember making a conscious decision to be a writer. While in middle school, I had zeroed in on two possible career choices -- engineering or journalism (nothing in common, I know). I went on to study journalism after school and got steered into the writing side of it, as a news report and anchor scripts writer. The love affair with writing had started in school itself and continued through the newsrooms and a couple of other jobs I held (publishing house editor, web content writer).

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

Two or three people. My maternal grandmother to begin with. A talented Bengali writer, she was way ahead of her times and provided constant insights into the struggles of the writing life. She also showed by example what discipline as a writer meant. She would write every single day while juggling house work, her government job, and a million other concerns.

I can’t forget the role played by two of my writing gurus in shaping my progress with the pen. The first is my middle school English teacher. She was the first person to point out that I could write a bit and encouraged me to hone the skill. The second person is a former editor and columnist of a Tennessee newspaper, who became my writing mentor through a writer’s forum I used to frequent. He taught me some of the most valuable writing lessons, particularly with regard to nonfiction writing -- lessons that have aided me invaluably in my career.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

Procrastinating and facing the inner critic that makes me feel daunted at the specific set of challenges for particular writing projects. I baulk at the idea of tackling book-length works, having had to focus on writing concise and brief pieces through most of my bread-and-butter writing jobs.

How do you deal with these challenges?

By writing one word at a time. That’s what my editor mentor taught me. It’s always one more word I need to write. In time, it always adds up, amazingly! I am also getting more organized about my writing and devote particular time chunks to different projects. This has certainly made a big difference vis-à-vis my productivity.

What will your next book be about?

I am plodding my way through a memoir. It’s the story that spans across three generations -- from my grandmother’s to mine. The book has layers of history, politics, family dynamics, and personal stories of trials and triumphs.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

In tangible terms, not much. However, being a writer has probably made me more sensitive and less apathetic to social dilemmas. I don’t know if that would count as an achievement, but it certainly makes me care for this world more passionately.

You've also been having a few problems with your publisher. How are you dealing with these problems?

The publisher of Cavern Press, Tammy Perron, offered me a contract in December 2005 and verbally promised me to bring out my book by 2006. The contract, however, mentions no publication/release date. I was also promised a three-part advance, of which I only received the first installment.

The printing for the book kept getting postponed. The publisher mentioned financial constraints a few times. My last interaction with her was in October 2006, when she said she still didn't have a firm release date for the book.

Since that time, the publisher has pulled a vanishing act. She hasn't responded to any of my emails or snail mails. This coincided with her not paying the authors and editor of Shadow Regions, a horror anthology she brought out in the latter half of 2006. She has failed to respond to all their efforts to contact her, as well.

So far that's the update. I have since sought legal view on the situation and decided to pull out of the contract and pitch my book to literary agents.

Related books:

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

[Interview] Anne Douglas

Erotic romance author, Anne Douglas was born in New Zealand where she worked as a dispensing optician. In September 2001, she moved to Florida with her family.

So far, she has written three books, Tea for Three which is due for release in June 2007, Position Vacant (2006) and The McCabes: Persuading Jo (2006). All three books are published by Loose Id.

In a recent interview, Anne Douglas spoke about her writing.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Well, it was more a case of when did everyone else decide I was going to become a writer. I'm an avid reader. No that's not quite right…I'm a voracious reader. I don't know what I would do with myself if I didn't read. Some girlfriends joked that having read so much I should be able to write romance novels in my sleep. So I took it as a dare and in January of 2006 I sat down and started typing.

I've always had, like many people, this little idea in the back of my head that one day I might like to try writing. I guess my one day came around sooner than I thought it might.

As to why I decided on Erotic Romance? Well, that can go back to sneaking into my dad's wardrobe at some stage in my teen years and finding a copy of The Pearl, vintage erotica at its best. But it wasn't until recently that I decided to start a little erotica collection of my own and from the back of one of those books I found Ellora's Cave, and from there all the other houses publishing erotic romance. So it just seemed logical to write what I liked to read (though I'm a big historical fan, but I don't think I have the patience for legwork for writing historicals).

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

This is tough. I can’t say any one person. I would like to say something all sentimental and sappy about my Great Aunt Betty being a driving influence but she’s not (she's still a lovely lady though!). Life is my biggest influence — there is so much living to be done by everyone, that there is a story waiting around every corner.

Among the authors that you read, who would you say influenced you the most? Why and how is this?

To tell you the truth, I don't look at anyone one writer and say "I want to do that". I can find a little something in many authors that I like - a turn of phrase, or the way they can put you in a scene. I love the way Clive Cussler gets you all hyped up in his Dirk Pitt series, but on the flipside I like Minda Webber's hilarious takes on the old horror standards and the sarcasm in chick lit (though some of the chicklit heroines need a good kick in the patootie!).

So I guess I can say I'm ecelctic when it comes to author influences. I can do funny, but I'm still working on the heart revving action adventure side of things - one day I might be Clive Cussler good, you never know.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

That one day I will stop dreaming these amazing Technicolor movies in my head and whoosh, all my ideas go out the window.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

Not the direction so much, but I do draw on my personal experiences to give body to my stories. I can describe how it feels during and after a major car accident because I have been there; divorce as a child or spouse — been there, done that; kids with problems, add that to the list, too!

I'd love to say that I've experienced all the erotic portions of my stories, but alas, I've yet to meet a hunky elf in the flesh. Instead I rely a lot on good old fashioned fantasies. We've all got them, so why not use them!

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

"Where are we going with this little story, Anne?" Yup, that's a question I ask myself daily. I have lots of great beginnings, but where are those beginnings going?

How do you deal with these challenges?

Gnaw on it a little. Yell at it. Rant and rave until an idea comes. Sometimes it comes in a rush, other are a struggle for each little piece.

My first book was written on the fly; I just sat and wrote. The sequel to that story was plotted out, chapter by chapter, as the books told me I was "supposed" to do. Yeah, well, that sucked, major rewrites needed. The next story I just sat and wrote again and my editor snapped it up before I had even finished it! So this idea of having an ending before I start I'm kind of in two minds about -- while it's nice to know where I'm supposed to end up, not knowing how I'm getting there seems to work for me.

How many books have you written so far?

My first is a novella -- The McCabes: Persuading Jo, published in July 2006 at Loose Id. Persuading Jo is about three friends as they make the step from a couple and one friend, to a trio pairing.

My second is also a novella, but much shorter than a first. My publisher calls it a Fling -- Position Vacant, published December 2006 at Loose Id again. Position Vacant is my take on life up there in the North Pole. Nick Klauson (a.k.a. Santa) and his best friend, Simon Witte come up with a scheme only men could think would work. Beatrice Raymond throws them both for a loop by falling in love with the wrong man.

My third, Tea for Three, is in the editing stages. The release is planned for June 2007, again with Loose Id.

Tea for Three is my most recently contracted, though I am working on others. This one took me about two months in the end. I put it down half way through to concentrate on edits for Position Vacant.

Which aspects of the work that you put into Tea for Three did you find most difficult? And, which did you enjoy most?

This book was set back home in New Zealand, which was both good and bad. It made it easy to set my story as I knew the area so well, but it made me homesick at the same time! (I live in Florida at present).

I'm also very aware that Tea for Three has a bisexual couple in a same sex (male) relationship at its core. I firmly believe you are what you are - some people prefer men over women and vice versa, and others are equal opportunity lovers. You can find love in many places and I don't believe you should be persecuted for finding it within your own sex. With Tea for Three I didn't want to convey the message that as a man you need a woman to feel whole. I hope that I have successfully been able to show that the men in Tea for Three were able to expand on the love they already had by looking outside the box, not that they were 'converted' to another way of life.

What sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

Tea for Three is another ménage story, yes; however, it expands over time as the characters become friends, then lovers; whereas Persuading Jo was a small snapshot of time as the two men open Jo's eyes to the possibilities with what she already has. Being that the tale told is spread out and the actual manuscript is longer, I hope I have been able to dig in deeper and give a lot more depth to my characters; that readers can relate to them more. After all gay, straight or bi, we all age and question what we are doing with the time we have on this earth.

What will your next book be about?

The next two or three are in the processes already. The WIP link on my website lists lots of little ideas floating around there! Plus you can check out excerpts from all my published stories!

Do you write everyday?

No, I would like to, but life has a pesky way of intruding. I do something relating to writing every day. Blogging, advertising, promotion work and with luck, some actual manuscript work! I tend to end up with blocks of time spent on one thing or another -- writing, sewing (my other sideline), or the dreaded housework.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Actually sitting down and writing. Considering how one year ago I hadn't written a word of fiction, let alone Erotic Romance, I think I have come a long way, and learned rather a lot. There comes a point when you just have to stop saying "maybe one day" and grab the bull by the horns and do it!

Related books:

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Monday, June 25, 2007

[Interview] E. A. Saraby

First-time novelist, E.A. Saraby is a teacher and a mother of three.

Her debut novel, The Light of Pensieri (Lulu, 2006) centres around Elie whose quest leads her into the Pensieri Mountains, where malignant spirits drive people to madness and despair.

In a recent interview, E.A. Saraby spoke about her writing.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

My biggest challenge is finding the time to write and being able to clear my mind enough to do so. I am a full-time teacher and mother to three small children. I have maybe one or two hours to myself during the day, and often that time is taken with preparing for the next day's class lessons. Often I'll get ideas as I stand in the shower or drive to work -- I try to outline them as soon as I can, but often I'm interrupted before that's possible.

Luckily, my husband is a saint. When I get in "the zone" and actually have some time, he will do what he can to take care of the kids and allow me an hour or two to write. He's often gone to bed alone on the weekend because I'll burn the midnight oil writing and sleep the next day, leaving him to fend for the kids again. He was quite glad when Pensieri was finished (as was I) because I could have weekend time with the kids again. I also carry a small journal with me to jot down ideas by hand (normally I write on a laptop), so if something comes to me when I'm on the go, at least I have a chance to catch it.

How many books have you written so far?

I've written several short stories and poems. "Pensieri" is my first full-length novel. I published it via Lulu in August of 2006.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

In addition to the time factor, there were bits and pieces where I really had to delve deep into myself and confront my own demons for a scene. I'd close my eyes, feel the tears and just type. The book was a safe way for me to confront a few of my demons in a creative, hidden sort of way.

Which did you enjoy most?

There were characters I absolutely loved writing. They literally made me laugh. I really don't know where half of the book came from, so when inspiration hit to write certain parts I laughed out loud or rubbed my hands together ruefully.

What sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

Pensieri is more fictional, more fantasy. My other works tend to be more obviously personal and nonfiction. Pensieri is much longer, with a much richer plot-line. It took a lot more research to write it and I needed the assistance of others to ensure that my storyline was consistent and solid.

It is similar to the other things that I have written in that there is still a great deal of personal material buried within the fantasy in Pensieri. The writing style itself is similar as well.

What is your latest book about?

Currently I'm working on the sequel to Pensieri, which has a working title of Strega's Crown Prince. It investigates the spiritual concept that demons exist in all of us; how we react to their temptations determines who we are.

Do you write everyday?

As my life is pretty full without writing, I'm unable to write every day. I write when I have the time and when inspiration strikes. Pensieri took three and a half years to complete. My other works are usually completed in one sitting. Ideally, I'd love to be able to write every day.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I don't think I "decided" to "be" a writer. I'm a teacher by profession. I've enjoyed writing for years, ever since I was a child. It's an outlet; a way to safely express many different feelings deep in my soul with the twist of creativity. It is almost like a recreational activity for me... just as others might choose to go golfing or read to relief stress...one of the activities I choose is to write.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

God, by far. He's given me the confidence to just let the words flow and not concern myself with what others might think. As for other authors... Hemingway comes to mind, with his simple word choice yet deep symbolism. J. K. Rowling has an amazing ability to keep a multitude of characters straight throughout her stories, something I'm trying to work on. She also has an uncanny ability to suck a reader in and not let go, which I aim for. Dan Brown uses an incredible amount of religious symbolism in his work and adds twists and turns... I enjoy that academic approach. J.K.R. uses it as well. I'm an academic at heart, and in everything I write I like to learn more myself.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I'd probably say my main concern is that readers find deeper meaning in something I write. Whether they find the meaning I intended is irrelevant, but I do hope they find something in my writing that touches them at a deeper level.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

They are the direction of my writing. Everything I've written is in some way a manifestation of what's in my own soul, and that is based on my personal experiences. I don't write specifically about any event that happened in my life; rather, I write about the feelings inside that resulted from the events.

Related books:

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Friday, June 22, 2007

[Interview] Bettye Griffin

Bettye Griffin has written over 13 romances and contemporary women's fiction that feature strong African American characters.

Her books include At Long Last Love (1998); A Love of Her Own (1999); Prelude to a Kiss (2001); Straight to the Heart (2004); The People Next Door (2005) as well as A Love for All Seasons and If These Walls Could Talk which will be appearing in May and June of this year, respectively.

Since fall 2006, she has been writing Chewing the Fat with Bettye, a blog where she posts regular commentaries on current issues and events.

In a recent interview, Bettye Griffin spoke about her writing.

What are the biggest challenges that you face? And, how do you deal with them?

Trying to come up with fresh ideas is a challenge, because I’d prefer not to write anything that’s been done a hundred times before!

I keep on plugging at it until I come up with what I want. Just like Thomas Edison with the electric light and Alexander Graham Bell with the telephone. Except I don’t work in a laboratory, and what I’m doing isn’t going to change the world.

Inspiration is everywhere, so I stay on the alert, listening to those human-interest stories on the news and in women’s magazines, and others. I have a couple of special sources I use in particular, but that’s a secret I will carry with me to my urn. Gotta protect my sources, as they say in the news biz.

What are you working on at present?

The working title (the publisher’s marketing department may choose to change it) is The First Fifty Years. It’s about four friends from childhood turning 50, and the life-altering events for each that stem from a tenants’ reunion of the Chicago public housing project where they grew up.

It is due to my publisher, Dafina Books, by July 1st and will be published sometime in 2008.

After The First Fifty Years I will probably write another romance. I’ve got a number of story outlines completed. I’m also working on the plot-line for a combined sequel to The People Next Door and Nothing but Trouble, because so many readers have asked for one. I can’t make any promises about when it’ll be ready -- the process from idea to completed plot to proposal to publication can take quite a while.

Which aspects of the work that you put into The First Fifty Years did you find most difficult?

All that research. I’m not a Chicago native; I just moved up here less than a year ago, and even now I don’t live inside Cook County. It’s amazing how much you don’t know about a place when you try to use it as a setting for a book.

Which did you enjoy most?

Just letting the words flow from my brain to the computer screen, especially where the characters’ emotions are concerned.

What sets the book apart from the other things you have written? And, in what way is it similar to the others?

It’s the most ambitious novel I’ve ever written. I’ve got a bunch of folks out there doing wrong, and I’m trying to make them sympathetic.

It's similar to the others in that it features an ensemble, which all of my mainstream novels have. (Think of those ensemble dramas on TV, like Gray's Anatomy.) I find that I like writing about numerous people. I did an extended family plus multiple neighbors in The People Next Door, and three families in my upcoming If These Walls Could Talk.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

When I get letters from readers telling me the profound effect one of my books had on their life.

For example, one of my early romances, A Love of Her Own (1999) addressed the topic of infertility. I heard from many women with this problem telling me how the book gave them hope, not of having a baby, but of finding a man who will love them in spite of not being able to give them children.

In my book Love Affair (2001), which addressed the hospitality industry, I had a dozen hospitality majors ask me to help them get jobs at a real-life service, but of course that’s more of an example of seizing a possible connection than life-changing. (They recognized from the book that I knew what I was talking about and that I must have worked for a hospitality consultant service at one time, which I did.)

Do you write everyday?

I try to compose a minimum of 1,000 words a day, seven days a week. Most days I’m successful am exceed that.

As a writer, what would you say are your main concerns ?

To tell a good story.

A good story is different things to different people. The general consensus is that characters have to grow and change, but I don’t necessarily agree with that. I’ve read several continuing stories that have been top sellers where the characters didn’t learn a damned thing from book to book, just kept on doing the same bad behavior, and the readers love it. So, I’ll say that a good story is one that the individual readers enjoy. As far as what the reading public wants, now, that’s the million-dollar question.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

When I was six years old and in the first grade. The illustrated Dick and Jane readers didn’t have a single character who looked like me. They were all blond and blue-eyed.

How did this make you feel?

Pissed off, or the six-year-old equivalent of it.

And when you decided to become a published author, why did you cho0se to write romances?

I started writing romance not because I always dreamed of becoming a romance writer (I didn’t) but because that was the easiest niche to get into. This was in the mid-to-late 1990s, when only a few authors were writing contemporary mainstream fiction featuring African-American characters. The market has really exploded since then, but at that time E. Lynn Harris was probably still selling books out of the back of his car and Eric Jerome Dickey was probably still doing stand-up comedy.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

As far as writing, Frank Green, the leader of the Bard Society, the critique group I belonged to when I lived in Florida. He offered much good advice about the craft of writing. I can’t say I agreed with everything he said but he was very enlightening. As far as authors, no one.

How is this? Do you not need to be a reader before you can be a writer?

Yes, but I’m not easily influenced. And I’m also very discriminating. There are writers I admire but I don’t necessarily want to be like them. I just wanted to be like myself and write good stories.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

It’s all there -- people I’ve known, places I’ve been, things I’ve done.

Related books:

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This article has also been featured on the Leicester Review of Books and Blogcritics.org.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

[Interview_1] Christopher Mlalazi

Christopher Mlalazi has written plays for Zimbawean performing arts groups that include Amakhosi Theatre; Umkhathi Theatre; Sadalala Amajekete Theatre and the Khayalethu Performing Arts Project.

His poems and short stories have been published in newspapers, magazine and websites that include Crossing Borders Magazine; Poetry International Web; the Sunday News and The Zimbabwean newspaper.

Others have been featured in anthologies that include Short Writings From Bulawayo: Volumes I, II and III ('amaBooks Publishers, 2003, 2004 and 2005); Writing Now (Weaver Press, 2005); and The Obituary Tango: Selection of Writing from the Caine Prize for African Writing 2005 (New Internationalist Publications, 2006; Jacana Media ,2006).

Christopher Mlalazi spoke about his writing:

One of your most recent short stories, "Election Day", was published in the Edinburgh Review. What is the story about? How long did it take you to write it?

The story is about election rigging in an unnamed African country. This story was inspired by accusations of election rigging that always follow presidential elections.

There is no given timeframe in which to write a short story, one can even write it in an hour. At the 2006 Caine Prize workshop in Kenya, we were required to write a 3,000 word short story in ten days flat.

It took me almost a month to write "Election Day" because I had about three versions of it and was failing to decide which was the best. Then I did a theatre adaptation of the same story, which helped further develop it, and after that, I came back to the prose version and worked on it until I came up with the draft which was happily and instantly accepted by the Edinburgh Review.

The story is set in a single room. Maintaining excitement through 3,000 words in such kind of a situation is really demanding: one has to dig deep into one’s resources, always planting hooks to keep the reader absorbed. At the end, when I looked back I loved what I had done.

I had really been concentrating on the extra-personal but I later discovered that my story had both inner and personal conflict. The protagonist in the story is a president during the last day of presidential elections. The opposition is clearly winning, and everyone belonging to the ruling party, even the First Lady, has panicked and they want to flee the country before it is too late, because they had been ruling unjustly. That is the surface of the story, the extra-personal conflict. Now, this panic has led to the president’s compatriots to look at their relationship with the him. That is the personal conflict. Going further down, these people also look at their inner lives, and that is the inner conflict.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Seeing an ever declining book reading culture, that’s one -- and in Zimbabwe, the video or DVD is mainly responsible for that. It’s becoming rare to see someone carrying a novel on the streets these days -- it's always the DVD or video cassette.

My second concern is seeing African writers (and I am one of the culprits) shunning writing in their mother tongues and prefering Western languages. Are we not, as artists, custodians of our own cultures? Most young writers are shunning writing in the vernacular because they see it as a sign of backwardness, which I think is being naïve -- they think writing in English is the in thing, that it’s fashionable.

A program should be put in place that supports writing in vernacular languages, a sort of audience-building project as is being done with theatre, and it must be supported by the government. Children should also be encouraged to read books written in the vernacular, both at school and at home, so that when they grow up they will value them.

What does being a writer mean to you? And in what way are writers custodians of cultures?

I have never really given it much thought, what being a writer means to me.

I have always thought that I must write something. I have always had this unexplainable urge to produce something artistically -- which led me to break-dance, a little bit of vernacular rap, writing poetry, writing plays, stories -- just writing. I have even attempted to write an academic paper that attempts to analyze story structure.

Writing has opened my eyes to things I don’t think I would have given much thought to had I not been a writer, things like, "Is everything okay around us? And if they are not, how can I address that through my writing?"

We are custodians of culture in the sense that it is our duty to record our way of life and transmit it to posterity. Ways of life evolve, we can’t remove that, but what can we save? Obviously not all, because there are traditions which hinder progress, but the little that we save must be given its due respect through celebration in an artistic form, just like it used to be done in the past in the celebration of the first harvest or in the rain dance, etc.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Growing up in a Zimbabwe in political turmoil has dramatically influenced my writing in the sense that, as writing thrives on conflict, there is plenty of that around to pick from -- also the hunger and disease.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Getting an audience nationally, continentally and internationally. Africa has a wealth of stories and the challenge for the African writer is to seduce the world by the way we tell them. We have to overcome the corruption of power that pulls us back and often shuts our mouths and breaks our pens.

I am still yet to publish my first novel, but on the short story genre I can confidently say I have been successful, with several national and international short story anthology inclusions under my belt. I think my success on the short story genre rests on my being able to write without any reservations whatsoever. Also interacting with other writers internationally through the internet assists, because one gets to hear of a publishing deal here and there.

When did you start writing?

At High School where I dabbled in amateurish writing just for the love of seeing my words providing aesthetic entertainment.

At that stage, I was writing for my classmates -- they always seemed amused by my stories. I remember when I was in Form Four, I started writing a novel and kept at it for three years. When it was finished, I submitted it to the Literature Bureau, who rejected it. I put the manuscript away and forgot all about it. Sometimes I come across scraps of it around the house, and when I read them, I smile at myself. The story was an investigation, inspired by the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Three Investigators, James Hardly Chase, James Bond -- books which I read voraciously at that time.

In the writing that you are doing, who would you say has influenced you the most?

My late father, who was a master folklore story teller.

I grew up in the township of Pumula and it had no electricity before Independence. Food was cooked on an open fire in a lean-to. Sometimes, on hot days, after supper, we would sit by the fire and father always made it a point to tell us tales and almost all of them came with beautiful songs. Also, if relatives visited from the rural areas, he would ask them to tell us tales, which I enjoyed listening to very much. On other days father would ask us to recite the tales to him, correcting us where we made errors, and through that way I too became a good story teller. At school the teacher would sometimes require us to tell stories.

Do you write everyday?

Yes, I write everyday. I spend about five hours on it per day

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I am currently published in nine short story anthologies, with two more already confirmed for 2007. Another of my short stories has also been short listed for a major short story writing award for African writers.

I was also invited to the 2006 Caine Prize Workshop which was held at Cater Lake, a remote and tranquil resort in Kenya. Basically, what we did there was to write, then everyday after dinner there were readings of the stories by the writers, which were followed by group criticism to assist the writer develop his or her story.

There were ten writers at the workshop and two mentors/animateurs. The writers were drawn from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and two came from the UK . All the stories that were written at the workshop have been published in the 2006 Caine Prize Anthology titled The Obituary Tango. My short story is titled “Dancing with Life,” and it is a political and socio-economic satire.

In 2004, another of my short stories, “The River of Life,” was awarded the Highly Recommended citation in the Sable Lit Short Story Competition. The story is fantasy, a recreation of Genesis, postulating mankind as coming from stars.

In 2005 I also attended the Uganda Beyond Borders Literature Festival, which was a British Council initiative. At this festival, I facilitated a creative writing workshop for primary school students in Kampala, and also did a public reading. I had a great time there, and rubbed shoulders with some of Africa’s writing giants -- Shimmer Chinodya (Zimbabwe); Helon Habila (Nigeria); Professor Taban Lo Liyong (Sudan); Veronique Tadjo (Ivory Coast); Bernardine Evaristo (Nigeria, UK) to name but a few.

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Related article:

Christopher Mlalazi [Interview_2], Conversations with Writers, January 13, 2010

Monday, June 18, 2007

[Interview] Neil Williamson

Fantasy and science fiction author, Neil Williamson’s first story was published in Territories Magazine in 1993.

His other stories have been published in magazines such as The Third Alternative; Interzone and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. Still more of his stories have been featured in anthologies that include The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide To Eccentric And Discredited Diseases; Nova Scotia: An Anthology of Scottish Speculative Fiction; and The Elastic Book Of Numbers.

In a recent interview, Neil Williamson spoke about his first collection of short stories, The Ephemera (2006).

What is The Ephemera about?

The Ephemera is a collection of varied short stories about the length of time things last for. The stories are all fantastical in some way -- science fiction, fantasy, supernatural or magic realism.

The collection is made up of stories written over the last ten years or so. It was published by Elastic Press in May. The Ephemera is pretty much a summation of what I’ve written to date, but without the 100% Science Fiction stuff.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

I found choosing the stories difficult. There were ones that I wanted to have in there that just didn’t fit. And a whole bunch of new stories that I wanted to write for it, but didn’t have time.

What sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

I co-edited an anthology called Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction in 2005 (with Andrew J Wilson), but this is the first book that’s all my own work.

In your decision to become a writer and in the writing that you are doing, who would you say has influenced you the most?

I’m not sure I ever really decided that, it just sort of happened.

I remember deciding that I wanted to give it a try. I’ve always been a reader, and when I was living in London in the early 1990’s I got hooked on Interzone magazine. There were some terrific stories being published back then (and still are, check it out), and I admired one story in particular -- ‘Well Loved’ by Ian McLeod -- so much that I wanted to have a go at creating something like that myself. So I tried to write a short story and found it harder than I expected, and when I returned to Scotland shortly after that I enrolled in a Science Fiction and Fantasy writing evening class at Glasgow University. Through the class I was introduced to the Glasgow SF Writers Circle, and after that writing became so much of a habit that I’ve never been able to give it up.

Writers I admire include Jonathan Carroll, M. John Harrison and Ian McDonald, but I’d have to say that the biggest influence on my development as a writer has to have been the critique group I belong to: the Glasgow SF Writers Circle, who over the years have been a constant source of enthusiasm and advice.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

Finding the time to write. I don’t have great artistic ambitions, but my life is so full that sitting down on a consistent, regular basis to do something as simple as tell a story is enough of a struggle.

How do you deal with these?

Discipline, and getting up early. When my writing is going well I wake early and write for an hour or so before work. I also go off to a café and write through my lunch hour. And if I’m lucky, I might get another hour or so in before bed. That’s all the time that’s available to me, so I have to make use of it.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

It’s obviously not possible to fabricate everything that you write about -- something of your own life is bound to creep in to the bricks, but I don’t write autobiographically. I’ll just use bits of what I know as colour. For instance, I’m a musician, so it’s easy for me to have characters who are musicians, or indeed other sorts of artists.

As for the direction of my writing, I find that the thing that has influenced that most is discovering new writers who are doing interesting things. And for me a lot of that process of discovery is done by meeting people at conventions or over the internet.

What would you say are your main concerns as a writer?

I never really know what a story’s going to be about until I start it, so I don’t think I really have concerns as such. Having said that, in retrospect you do see patterns. When I chose the stories for my collection, The Ephemera, for instance, I noticed that a lot of my stories were about brief encounters, and the value of appreciating things while they last. And rain, but I then I live in Glasgow, so perhaps that’s not so surprising.

What will your next book be about?

I’m currently finishing a novel called The Moon King, which is a fantasy adventure about a city that stole the moon for its own purposes.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I think writing in itself is enough of an achievement. Publication is nice, but coming up with the ideas and putting them down on paper is the thing that makes me feel proud.

Related books:

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Friday, June 15, 2007

[Interview:] Tavis J. Hampton

Tavis J. Hampton lives in Indianapolis where he works as a Library Media Specialist.

Most of the time, he writes under the pen name Tavis Adibudeen and over the past few decades, he has written hundreds of poems, short stories and newspaper and magazine articles.

His first novel, The Golden Scrolls, was published in September 2006.

In a recent interview, Tavis J. Hampton spoke about his writing.

How long have you been writing?

From the time I was a child, I've always been writing. My first book was "published" when I was in first grade. My mother still has the only copy of that book. It was a story about our dog, Aristotle, running away. All of the students in our class made their own books using construction paper and paste. The teacher laminated the pages and bound them together.

I started writing articles for the school newspaper in high school and also wrote for a local newspaper as an intern.

In 1999 I started a non-profit Islamic web site that is now one of the most well-respected in the community at-large, with thousands of visitors each month from all over the world. As editor, I do not do as much writing as I used to, but I still try to publish a research essay once every other month.

Together with a good friend of mine, we established the Muslim Writers Society, where people can freely publish their works on our site. There are also plans for an anthology. Currently, we have over 400 members.

Do you write everyday? What sort of targets do you set yourself when you are writing?

I do write everyday, but with the responsibilities of family and a full-time job, I do not always have time to work on my books. I have, however, become a regular blogger.

The amount of time I spend writing varies according to my schedule. Sometimes I might spend several hours in one day. Other days I don't get to write at all.

When I was writing The Golden Scrolls, I set a firm date for completion, but I did not set targets for the number of pages or chapters. I finished the book ahead of schedule. It was actually suppose to be completed by January 2007. I accomplished my goal by taking about an hour each day to write and although I was not able to write every single day, I wrote more often than if I had not set that goal for myself at all.

Where and when was it published?

It was published in the United States in September 2006 and is currently available worldwide. I self-published the book using Lulu.com.

The Golden Scrolls is about a kingdom on the brink of an unfathomable darkness that was creeping closer to them and consuming everything in its path. Other kingdoms had already fallen, and the people of Cor were awaiting a Chosen One who would find the long lost Golden Scrolls. These scrolls contained the only remedy to the darkness that plagued these people.

To the surprise of everyone, the Storyteller, their guide and protector, believed that Fuad, a 12-year-old boy, was the Chosen One. Fuad left from Cor to find the scrolls, and It is there that the adventure begins.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult? Which did you enjoy most?

I created an entire world with thirteen kingdoms, tens of characters, and an entire back-history to the book. I had to keep diligent notes; I'm talking pages and pages of it. It was sometimes difficult to keep everything straight. Fortunately, my wife and my editor both helped sift through all of it.

Once I had developed this world, my characters began to take on their own personalities. People come up to me and tell me what the Storyteller should say or what Fuad should have done. It is easy to fall in love with many of these characters and to wish to see them reach whatever goals they set out for themselves. At the end of the book, it brought tears to know that the journey had ended and that they would no longer be a part of my daily life.

How long did it take you to write it?

I started writing a short fable almost four years ago. It was supposed to be only a few pages, but after a few months of pondering over it, the pages multiplied. Then, I stopped for a couple of years. After getting married, my wife encouraged me to finish the story. Last year, I finally took her advice.

What would you say are your main concerns as a writer?

I just tell the stories. I do not pretend to have mastered the art of writing. But in the end, it is all about the story and the message. People want to read a good story. They don't care how many times you split infinitives or how many big words you use. They want a story that means something to them. My goal is to deliver that story to them in a nicely-bound easy-to-read package.

I want my message to be clear. Writing for me is a way of reaching people who otherwise would not hear my message. I do not write simply to entertain. Every book, every fable, and even every line on a page has some deeper meaning. It can be a moral message, a spiritual message, or a social commentary. When conveying it, I do not want to make it too obvious, but I also do not want to obscure the meaning. It is a thin line to walk, but, hopefully, I traverse it well.

When people tell me that my writing has positively affected them, that motivates me to continue the journey.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

As a Muslim, who converted to Islam ten years ago, my life has taken a decidedly different direction than it could have. Anytime someone has a life-altering experience, it affects everything and everyone around him. Each choice has a ripple effect in the pond of life, and those ripples spread out in all directions and touch all people.

My book is not about Islam, which is drastically different from many modern Muslim authors. I have taken a classical approach to writing.

In the height or golden age of Islamic civilization, the authors transcended writing about mundane issues and created some of the most celebrated written works in history, including science, mathematics, sociology, and even fiction.

So, rather than boring my audiences with a book about regulatory issues of Islamic law or family moral values, I have woven a tale, one that begins with flawed people, and the story follows those people as they progress and grow. It is truly character driven. My story is about people, rather than events.

What made you convert to Islam?

There was no one event or experience that made me convert to Islam. It was the culmination of life experiences and realizations. Ultimate realization comes through self-reflection and contemplation on the Divine Presence. I try to send this message in my books without directly associating it with any religion. All people, religious or not, can relate to the concept of introspection. We have a saying, "He who knows himself knows his Lord."

In Britain, for example, the image that is being painted of Muslims is that they are terrorists. Why do you think this is so?

There are terrorists from all religions, cultures, and societies. To associate one group of people with terrorism is prejudicial and naive. It is unfortunate that some people do not take the time to educate themselves.

In the United States, we have a long history of indigenous Muslims, whereas the U.K. primarily has a community of immigrants. Islam in America dates back to pre-Columbian times , particularly among people of African descent. In our communities it has been commonplace for generations. It is not a new phenomenon.

It would make my response unduly long to go into the details of analyzing people's perceptions of Islam. Perhaps I will write a book on this topic in the future.

What will your next book be about?

My next book, The Sword of Kelterya, is already in the works. It is the second book of The Golden Scrolls, a year after the events of the first book.

Related books:

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

[Interview] Rod Duncan

In 2003, Rod Duncan’s crime thriller, Backlash was shortlisted for the John Creasey Award for the best debut crime novel of the year. Backlash was followed by Breakbeat (2004) and Burnout (2005).

The novels trace three very different stories which happen on the same day in Leicester, the most ethnically diverse city in the United Kingdom.

Duncan has a degree in Mining Geology and has worked as a scientific researcher in Aberystwyth and Leicester. He has been writing full-time since 1993.

In a recent interview, Rod Duncan spoke about his writing and his concerns as a writer.

Your most recent novel, Burnout is the third in a trilogy, that includes Backlash and Breakbeat. What unifies the three novels?

The three novels take place at the same place and at the same time -- in and around a fictional riot in Leicester. They are interlinked stories, following the paths of different people through a traumatic event.

I was interested in exploring the nature of narrative and the way events can seem different from different points of view. For example, a 'goodie' in one story can be a 'baddie' in another -- the same person, in the same event but viewed from a different point of view. Of course, there is no such thing as a 'goodie' or a 'baddie' and this was a way of exploring that from within the confines of traditional narrative.

After the first two novels, was Burnout easier or more difficult to write?

The most difficult thing in writing Burnout was that I was already tied down from the previous novels.

I knew what the weather was like on every day of the two weeks of fictional time that make up the core of the stories. I knew what all the major events were. I knew where all the key characters were, sometimes on an hour-by-hour basis. There could be no murders discovered, for example, during that two weeks, or they would have been mentioned in the previous books.

In short, I was hemmed in by my own previous writing.

How did you deal with this challenge?

Just as a blank page with infinite possibilities can sometimes block a writer up, limitations often produce great creativity. (I believe this is the reason that many creative writing exercises put a series of artificial limitations on what a person is allowed to write).

Burnout was a challenge, but ultimately I was extremely pleased with the result.

How did I overcome these difficulties? Lateral and logical processes.

The subconscious provided the lateral part. The conscious mind used lots of huge sheets of paper with complex charts scrawled all over them, establishing where all the characters were day by day through the two weeks, and all the key events.

How have the novels been received?

I'll talk about how the first novel, Backlash was received.

It was a story that jumped out onto the page for me. I could feel the pressure of the story wanting to be written. At the same time, I was very nervous about it because it is a first person narrative from the point of view of a mixed race woman, who works as a community relations police officer. It touches on issues of racism and differing attitudes to multiculturalism.

I worried, all the way through the writing process, that this material could be misinterpreted. Only when I finished did the anxiety go away. When I wrote the last sentence I knew it was complete and I stopped worrying what other people would think.

What caused this anxiety?

As we have seen recently, different people mean different things when they speak of multiculturalism. Almost any simple statement made on the issue can be misinterpreted. But in a novel, there is enough room speak about it.

So how was it received? I am glad to say that it was received very warmly by people from many different races and backgrounds.

I was particularly pleased with a glowing review in India Weekly. The reviewer got to the heart of the book. He really understood it.

Only one person complained about the way the book talked about racism. She stopped me in the street and asked why I'd written all those things bad things about Leicester. This shook me up, because I love this city in all its beautiful diversity.

But then I asked her exactly what it was in Backlash that she didn't like. It turned out the only part she'd read was the cover. I decided I could live with that.

Why do you think Backlash has been this successful?

I think Backlash was received well because, at heart, it is a good yarn. The multi-cultural city is it's background. But the story is about a woman, confronted with a crime which threatens her life and an event that will change it forever - one way or another. I think that's why it was shortlisted for the John Creasey award for the best debut crime novel of 2003.

What would you say are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concerns as a writer ... Narrative touches everybody. It is fundamental to the human condition.

Children learn to cope with their fears through stories of wolves and pigs and evil and good and death and love. We tell stories about things that have happened to us, to codify the changes of our lives. We try to find out the stories of our ancestors to help us understand where we came from. It is through stories that we understand religion and history. Writers and storytellers aren't simply making a living or entertaining people. They are engaged in something elemental. There is magic here. The alchemy of storytelling.

I don't believe a novelist could write a book and be unchanged by the process.

How has your own writing changed you?

Each of the books I have written has taken me on a journey. Particularly Breakbeat. That is the story of a dyslexic man, coping with a crime and coming to terms with who he is.

I found myself writing the words of another character talking to him, telling him why he acted as he did, explaining his psychology. But really the character was telling ME why I do the things I do, why I am as I am. I hadn't known it before.

What concerns me about writing? Is it to have a chance to entertain the reader? Yes, certainly. Is it to explore complex issues? Yes. But underlying all that is something more profound, something that exists mostly in the subconscious. It is to immerse myself in narrative. In short, it is to be human.

Related books:

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Monday, June 11, 2007

[Interview] Adele Geras: poet, novelist and children's author

Award-winning poet and novelist, Adele Geras is one of the most versatile and prolific writers currently living in the United Kingdom. Over the past 30 years, she has written more than 90 books for children, nine novels for young adults and three novels for adults.

Her novel Troy was shortlisted for the Whitbread Children’s Book Award in 2000 and was highly commended for the Library Association Carnegie Medal in 2001. The novel was also a Boston Globe Honor Book.

Geras has published one poetry collection, Voices from the Dolls’ House (Rockingham Press) and has won several awards for her poetry.

Facing the Light, her first adult novel, was published by Orion in March 2003 and sold rights in 22 countries. Her second adult novel, Hester’s Story, came out in 2005 and her third, Made in Heaven in 2006.

Adele Geras spoke about her writing.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I came to writing by accident. I went in for a story competition in 1973 and enjoyed writing my piece so much that I decided to try and write some more …

[The piece] was a ghost story called “Rose” and it went on to be included in a collection of short stories called Apricots at Midnight, still available from Barn Owl books.

Who would you say influenced you the most?

Probably my wonderful English teachers at school and my dad who always read to me and directed me to many wonderful books. Miss Godfray used to cut out my extra and redundant adjectives. I was addicted to adjectives and purple prose as a child. They all combined great intelligence and critical acumen with the best sort of encouragement.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Only one concern: to give pleasure to readers and enjoy myself while I’m doing it.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

I suppose so … for example, I’m an only child and so I love writing (and reading!) about big families. Little Women was my favorite book as a child.

Which other books did you read as a child? Do you still enjoy them as much now?

All books about the theater that I could get my hands on: Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes, and Pamela Brown’s books. Also the whole of Enid Blyton and things like Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books. Also by Andrew Lang, a book called Tales of Troy which I still have and which I knew by heart … it’s all about the Trojan war etc.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

There’s only one challenge: to write the best book you can and then try not to fret too much about what happens to it when it goes out into the world.

How do you deal with these?

I try and think of Chekhov’s motto: "Write without hope and without despair." That’s it … I try and write each day when I’m in the middle of a book.

What are your latest books about?

My latest adult book, Made in Heaven is about a big wedding and my latest teenage book Ithaka is about Penelope waiting for Odysseus to come home from the Trojan war.

Made in Heaven took about 9 months and was published June 2006 by Orion London. Ithaka took a year, but it was divided up into bits around my adult novel writing, if you see what I mean. [It was] first published by David Fickling Books in October 2005 and by Harcourt Brace in the USA in Jan.2006. Ithaka [has also] published in Corgi Paperback in August 2006.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the books did you find most difficult?

The hardest part is the beginning … and I mean as well as the beginning of the book, the starting up every day.

How do you get around this problem?

I generally start by correcting what I’ve written the previous day … this gets the fingers working on the computer and seems to give me the impetus to go on …

Which did you enjoy most?

The best feeling in the world is having written … I love that.

What sets your latest books apart from the other things you have written?

Well, the adult novel is a bit of a departure, in that my other adult novels tend to have a ‘looking back into the past’ element and this one doesn’t.

Ithaka relates to Troy. That’s my novel about the Trojan War and these two are the only things I’ve written set in the Ancient world.

In what way are they similar?

Well, they’re both written by me, and I suppose they’re full of my preoccupations and they are in my ‘handwriting’ as it were … my particular style.

What preoccupations are these and just how much space do they take up in your life? Why is this so?

What I mean is: all the things I like, theater, cats, fabrics, food, books etc come up in my books, that’s all … they take up lots of space in my life because they sort of are my life! I mean that you can’t help the things you like appearing in your books. I like relationships, seeing how families work. I like to think about the influence of the past on the present. I am interested in the way memory works … etc.

What will your next book be about?

My next adult book is about the consequences of a will. My next children’s book … I’m not thinking about quite yet.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I reckon my greatest success is that people are still interested in [my books]. Publishers are still interested in publishing my work, after 30 years in the business and ninety-two books published. And that some people like reading what I write.

How did you get there?

By not giving up at the beginning when I was getting rejection letters for about eighteen months … by doing what I like doing but also listening to other people.

You are also one of the few writers who are catering for children, young adults as well as adults. Why would you say this is so? Do you approach each of your books for children, young adults as well as adults in the same way or do they present different challenges? How do you deal with these challenges?

Each book presents a different challenge. It’s not to do with age. Each book is its own ‘thing’. You have to approach each one with a fresh eye, as it were. The main thing is to decide: whose point of view are you telling this story from? And then it becomes like a kind of acting job and you just become whoever it is ... be it a fat black cat or a retired ballerina! And I like to change and change about because I don’t want to be bored with what I’m doing. And I never am! The adult books take longer … about a year, I suppose … because there are more words in them …

Facing the Light, your first novel for adults was published in March 2003. What made you decide to write a novel for adults? How did the idea for the novel come to you?

FTL, as I call it, was one of those lucky things. The idea for the twist at the end of the story came to me out of the blue. I wrote about 80 pages and a detailed synopsis of the rest and an agent became interested in it and sold it to Orion in a very good two book deal. It has also been sold to 22 countries round the world … just signed a contract for Lithuania!

It got a lot of critical acclaim and attention and more than either of my other two books, but still, Hester’s Story did better ( in paperback it ended up on the bestseller lists) and it’s too early to tell with Made in Heaven. Hester’s Story has sold to about 10 countries and Made in Heaven to about five so far, though this may change with time, especially if it does well in paperback here.

What do you think made it so popular? In terms of how, they have been received, how do the subsequent novels compare to Facing the Light?

You can publish anything you like but you can’t make people buy it in huge quantities. If there was a sure-fire way of doing this, all books would cover their advances but they don’t!

I think Facing the Light was popular because it combined a family story with a mystery. People do like to have a secret they have to find out. Hester’s Story has been very well received, in terms of the feedback I’ve had … also had very good reviews. Made in Heaven has had hardly any reviews but I’ve had lots of people say they like it best of all … it’s quite different from the other two, and is about a family preparing for a big wedding.

The biggest difference between writing for children and adults is the length of the book.

Related books:

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Friday, June 8, 2007

[Interview] Katherine Roberts, children's author

Katherine Roberts graduated with a First in Mathematics from Bath University and has worked with computers, racehorses, and in a pet shop.

Her short stories have appeared in magazines such as Take A Break and in anthologies of horror fiction. Several of them have won awards and prizes.

Two of her earliest fantasy stories, "A Gift from the Merlee" and "Death Singer," eventually grew into her prize-winning first novel, Song Quest, which was published in 1999 and won the Branford Boase Award for an outstanding first novel for children.

Katherine Roberts' novels include Spellfall (2000), Crystal Mask (2001), Dark Quetzal (2003), The Great Pyramid Robbery (2001), The Babylon Game (2002), The Amazon Temple Quest (2002), The Mausoleum Murder (2003), The Olympic Conspiracy (2004), and The Colossus Crisis (2005).

The Cleopatra Curse (2006) and I am the Great Horse (2006) are her most recent novels.

She spoke about her concerns as a writer.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

You don't decide to be a writer. Either you are or you aren't.

I take "writer" to mean "story teller", a person born with a vivid imagination. Writing, telling or singing stories will be part of their life, whether or not they make any money from doing it. The non-writer, on the other hand, will often be at a loss for something to write and find writing hard work. They might manage to write a successful book but they will only be doing it for money (or some other outside purpose), not for the pure joy of telling the story.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

Almost all the writers I read, especially the ones I read as a child.

Childhood favourites include Anne McCaffrey, Ursula Le Guin, and just about anyone who wrote pony books. I still enjoy the fantasy writers and often re-read old favourites for comfort, though I think I've grown out of pony books -- an exception would be Blind Beauty by K. M. Peyton.

As an adult, I do not have favourite authors. I like to read a wide variety of genres and am attracted more to story than a writer's name. I often discover brilliant books in charity shops several years after they have gone out of print.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

The gulf between the public perception of authors (that we're all millionaires with glamorous lifestyles) and the more mundane reality -- it can be embarrassing when you get begging letters from charities and schools, etc.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

I think it's too early to tell, though everything filters through eventually.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

Getting my books supported by book-selling chains.

The chains are reducing their range of books in favour of greater quantities of titles they know they can sell, such as biographies of famous football stars or fashionable authors. This means that a lot of published books simply do not get into the chain shops at all. Since Waterstones took over Ottakars at the end of this year, the choice has become even narrower.

How do you deal with these?

I have no control over this.

What is your latest book about?

I am the Great Horse is the epic story of Alexander the Great, told from the point of view of his war-horse Bucephalas. I first came across Alexander while researching my Seven Fabulous Wonders series. He was always there in the background, sometimes a hero, sometimes a villain. I knew I wanted to write a book about him, but didn't want it to be just another Alexander novelisation. The horse's viewpoint seemed obvious since I'm so keen on horses, and Bucephalas' "voice" came to me fully formed. He isn't meek and mild like Black Beauty ... he's a battle-scarred war stallion with attitude!

How long did it take you to write it?

About five years.

I wrote the first chapter from my memory of what I knew about Alexander, to capture Bucephalas' voice. Then I started collecting research material. During this time, I was still working on my Seven Fabulous Wonders books, so I was writing some of a Wonders book one day and researching Alexander the next. I used ancient Greek horsemanship books such as Xenophon's Art of Horsemanship, classics such as The Greek Alexander Romance, and two very good modern biographies of Alexander -- Peter Green's Alexander of Macedon and Robin Lane Fox's Alexander. I also used my own experience of being a racehorse groom.

When I started writing, I researched the history in a lot more detail as I wrote the first draft, so that my first draft became a journey of discovery for me as much as it must have been for Alexander, keeping some of the excitement ... I was determined to deliver my manuscript before Oliver Stone's film came out, and managed to do so in 2004, just a few weeks before its release. I then went to see the film and loved it.

Where and when was it published?

America August 2006, U.K. March 2007.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Reducing the length by a quarter so that it could be published as one volume, not three.

Originally, it was 200,000 words. I wanted the book to be an epic read, rather than lose some of its power by splitting it into three. I also wanted it published as one volume because I know from experience how frustrating it can be trying to track down the various parts of a trilogy when you're ready to read them.

It was difficult to reduce the length because that meant cutting 50,000 words, which is almost the length of a normal sized book.

I prefer the published version, because reducing the length has made the story much tighter and stronger.

Which did you enjoy most?

Writing the horse's voice, which allowed me to sneak in all sorts of comments about the recent war in Iraq without anyone realizing.

So, what would you say I am the Great Horse is really about? And, why was it important for you to comment about the war in Iraq in this way?

I suppose it is my "post 9/11 novel", since I started it a few weeks after the twin towers came down in New York. If you think about what Alexander did back in 322BC, it mirrors almost exactly what Bush and Blair tried or are trying to do to Iraq and Iran after 9/11. The only difference being that Alexander led his men personally against the Persians (and he wasn't after oil).

What sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

It is written by a horse [and] yes, this is the first book I have written from the point of view of an animal. My other novels have young protagonists, usually in their teenage years. With Alexander, this would not have worked since his story spans his whole life. So I used the horse to tell the story instead.

In what way is it similar?

It covers a period of Eurasian history and includes elements of fantasy. I have always been a fan of fantasy and [science fiction] SF. My first four books were genre books -- the Echorium Sequence being a fantasy trilogy, and Spellfall being a fantasy meets real world story. My Seven Fabulous Wonders series is based on ancient Greek, Babylonian and Egyptian history and their myths and legends.

I'm not sure why I'm drawn to this kind of history, but I find it a rich field to work in.

What will your next book be about?

Genghis Khan.

I have been working on this book for two years, on and off. Research is all part of the fun and includes biographies of Genghis Khan, Secret History of the Mongols, Chinese horoscopes, and Mongolian poetry. I think there will be some poetry in the book. The idea came out of a collage I made when I was wondering what to write after I am the Great Horse. I ripped up some magazines, stuck down pictures and words that appealed to me, and ended up with a sheet of images that, to my total surprise, suggested Genghis Khan ... a worthy successor to Alexander!

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Keeping going.

It takes dedication and self-belief to keep writing and sending out work during periods when there is little encouragement or money coming in. I have won awards for my work, which is always nice because it means someone has recognized what you've done, but the real achievement is always sitting down at the blank page to write the next story.

How did you get there?

By remembering what Gandhi said: that whatever I do will be insignificant, but it is very important that I do it.

What does this mean to you personally?

Writing what I feel needs writing and following my heart, however insignificant my book might be once it is done. Not giving in to the demand for "commercial" books. Putting truth above fashion.

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