Wednesday, July 20, 2011

[Interview] Deborah M. Plummer

Deborah M. Plummer is the author of books that include: Helping Children to Improve their Communication Skills (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2011); Helping Children to Cope with Change, Stress and Anxiety (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2010) and Anger Management Games for Children (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2008).

Formerly a clinical lead therapist working within the NHS, Deborah Plummer now lectures at De Montfort University, Leicester and runs workshops and short courses on the uses of imagery and issues of self-esteem.

In this interview, Deborah Plummer talks about her work:

What are the common causes of stress and anxiety in the children you work with?

For the last 15 years or so of my work within the NHS I specialised in working with adults and children who stammer. Although public awareness about the complex nature of communication difficulties is certainly improving, children who stammer still often experience a considerable amount of anxiety related to their speech, sometimes to the extent that communication becomes something to fear and avoid.

Many of the children I saw for therapy were also susceptible to other sources of stress. Teasing and bullying are perhaps the most publicised of the stresses faced by children with speech and language difficulties but there are other factors such as low self-esteem, coping with difficult family circumstances, coping with change, problems with friendships, hypersensitivity to exam stress, or a drive for perfection which can cause great frustration and anxiety.

Working with these children highlighted two important points for me - that stress is an inevitable part of every child's life, although the degree to which each child will experience stress will, of course, vary; and that children are remarkable in their capacity to adapt to stress and find their true potential if they are offered appropriate and timely support.

Can you describe one of the coping techniques featured in your new book?

The main emphasis in this and my other books is on fostering mindful interactions. We need to be very aware of the impact that our own ways of communicating can have on how a child views himself and on how he views the world.

So one technique is to help children to formulate their own solutions by pointing out the little successes, capitalising on their strengths, using solution-oriented language, praising appropriately and so on.

The other main orientation of my work is imagework.

What is imagework and how does it help with building self-esteem?

We tend to live our lives guided by the internal 'images' that we create about who we are and how the world works. The term 'imagework' was created by Dr Dina Glouberman, who leads imagework training courses internationally. It literally refers to 'working with images', although it is often image 'play' rather than 'work'! I think this concept of play is especially useful when we are helping children to utilise their imagination in a constructive way.

In relation to healthy self-esteem, let's say a child has a fear of 'being on show' and getting things wrong. If I asked this child to draw a picture that would show me what it's like to have such fears he might draw a time when he has experienced the fear or he might draw an animal or an object or just use colours to represent the fear. This is a fairly common strategy.

In imagework I would then help the child to explore the nature of the image in more depth. For example, I might encourage him to make up a story about the image and its 'opposite', and to explore how someone (or something) might move from one towards the other.

When a child comes up with an image that represents how he feels about a situation, he is tapping into something that goes way beyond logical thought processes. And when he realises that he can 'play' with these images and be creative in forming new images, then he can begin to take more control.

Imagework often triggers insights and shifts in perspective which may not come through logical thinking alone.

Children are naturally imaginative - it seems a waste not to use this capacity to support their emotional wellbeing.

What do you find most satisfying about the work you do?

I am currently devoting the majority of my time to lecturing and writing.

I am enjoying the opportunity of sharing concepts and strategies learned and developed over many years of working with adults and children in a therapeutic context.

I find it immensely satisfying to be able to engage students in exploring the psychological aspects of health and illness in a wider context (I teach students on health studies and public and community health degree courses as well as speech and language therapy students).

Frequent or prolonged periods of stress and anxiety can have far-reaching effects on physical health and emotional wellbeing. Practitioners working with children, young people and families therefore need to be skilled in assessing needs, addressing stresses and promoting resilience.

Occasionally I hear from social workers, teachers or parents who have used one of my books and they tell me about a breakthrough that they have had with a child - that is incredibly satisfying for me too - I love to hear how people are adapting the work for different needs and different settings.

You are currently working on a PhD proposal involving your titles what do you hope to find during your research?

The central theme of my books is that there is an identifiable set of criteria which will allow adults to maximise the potential for effectively supporting the emotional well-being of children. My thesis will be an exploration of these elements and will include an evaluation of how people are using the books in a variety of fields.

I am designing a questionnaire which will be available on my website. I am hoping that as many people as possible will take time to respond to this. Responses will be used to examine whether or not there is a specific or 'favoured' aspect of the approaches adopted in the books which practitioners find helpful, or if there is a certain combination of factors that appeals.

What are you currently reading in your spare time?

I am rediscovering books by James Hillman (e.g. Re-Visioning Psychology) - he has influenced my work for some time and I am thoroughly enjoying devoting time to re-reading some old favourites - his work with images and his love of language and metaphor are so incredible. I find new inspiration each time I read his work.

I am also reading Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin - an amazing book about the humanitarian vision of one man and his belief in the power of education to promote peace. Children are our hope for a more community-minded, peaceful future - we should be nurturing their imagination and emotional well-being in every way that we possibly can.

(c) Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011


This article was first published in the Jessica Kingsley Publishers Social Work Newsletter in February 2010

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

[Interview] Renée Sigel

Renée Sigel was born in South Africa in 1960.

She worked as a fine art columnist for a major daily South African newspaper and as an arts and theatre editor for a lifestyle magazine before political pressure forced her to leave the country in 1994.

Her work includes the poetry collection, Sexions: Selections from life and love (Bewrite Books, 2005) and the poetry chapbook, Falling Slowly (erbacce press, 2010).

Her poems have also been featured in magazines that include nthposition, Voices in Wartime, The Other Voices International Project and Sam Smith’s The Journal.

Renée Sigel currently lives in Italy. In this interview, she talks about her writing:*

When did you start writing?

I never chose to write. It's very much more a matter of writing choosing me rather than me it.

It never came to my choosing or deciding to become a published writer: it happened literally out from under me as it were. I was very young when I was first published and it felt as though it was all happening to someone else in a way and yet during this process, I became very aware that I had a distinctive, if as yet, for me, undefined relationship with language.

It all began during my second year of high school. We had an extraordinary English teacher; I found her mysterious and enigmatic and even though I wasn't aware of it at the time, I realised years later, she was like a fictional character to me even then.

One lesson she gave us a creative writing assignment: we could choose whatever we wanted as a theme and were free to write a short story, an essay or a poem.

I decided on a poem and thought I'd write about a sunrise and I thought it to be neglected in poetry, so I wrote four lines with alternate rhyming. That was it. Nothing else came to be. The poem was done and for me there was nothing else there was to say.

A couple of days later, the teacher read a selection of the creative work to the class without saying who had written what and she cleverly handed the work back to everyone shortly before the end of class. Everyone filed out at the bell and she called me to her desk as the class emptied and the only thought I had was, "What have I done wrong now" - especially as she had read my poem among the others earlier in the lesson.

She gave me back the poem then and looked at me.

She asked if I had any idea what I wanted to do with my life.

I shook my head: I'd been dancing for as long as I could recall and that aside, I had no clue.

Her already deep voice dropped in tone and she said, "Well, whatever it is you do, even should you never do anything else, do one thing for me, never stop writing because it's what you were born to do."

I was dumbstruck. I think the look on my face was an instant glaze-over: she smiled and ushered me on my way.

I believed her blindly and have been writing ever since.

Several weeks later I was asked to write some poems in English and a piece on war in Afrikaans which was published in the school yearbook and the poems in a local arts paper.

So, suddenly, there I was, writing and being published at barely 13.

How would you describe your writing?

It's difficult to describe my writing as it doesn't fit into any particular genre, even as poetry.

I seek out the experiences and essences which we tend to overlook in making us human. My work is deeply sensorial: it's fearlessly sensuous but free of sentimentality.

I am a poet before anything else and language is both a canvas and a pinsel.

My novels tend to explore the complexities of identity and self.

As a critical essayist, I question everything that seems of consequence or that captures my curiosity. Someone once told me never to abandon my critical curiosity even if it made me less famous as a writer one day: he said, "The world has too many writers and not enough thinkers who write as well as you do, never give it up, the world needs your critical mind even though it doesn't know it yet."

It was a very charming compliment. I found that notion a very interesting one and it stays with me as a mental 'post it' note about relevance.

Who is your target audience?

I don't have a target audience and I've never written with a specific kind of audience in mind.

My focus is the the topic at hand: what is being asked of me by the text/subject and how I might do it the best possible justice.

I believe a work finds its own audience and that is the way it should be.

Marketing and advertising is derived by choosing and targeting an audience. That is not my job as poet, novelist or essayist: my job is to be true to what is being asked of me in the moment of writing any given piece. My responsibility and allegiance is first and foremost with language.

Have your personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

All writing, all things artistic which derive deepest meaning are autobiographical in some way: not necessarily in the literal 'documentorial' or memoir sense, but experience is a continual growth of awareness and perception and it cannot but be personal in this way.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

To be true to language and the text. To never feel mastery over craft to the point where I lose my sense of awe and apprenticeship.

I believe we strive to be masterful with language, but we never master the craft: the instant a poet believes they've become the master, the art dies and intrinsic death and vanitas is born in its place and that is no longer poetry.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Lack of time ... How do I deal with it? Insomnia helps

Do you write everyday?

This question is asked of me often and always with the same kind of expectation of its answer.

I don't believe in forcing a write on a daily basis. I know it works a charm for many writers, but it isn't something that makes any sense to me. The work announces itself and when it does, I listen. There are spates of weeks of no writing at all and then the flood gates open, inexplicably and I can be writing solidly for months at a time. It comes to me when it comes, even in novel writing.

I could sit down punctually at 9 a.m. every day with the intent to write and I may well write pages: chances are most of it would be binned and almost all of that effort feel disingenuous. So I don't.

I listen to what the the text asks of me and when a piece is done, it's very clear.

Why does the flow or inspiration - whatever one wishes to call it, end? No idea ... it just ends and one is back at the beginning and I have to start over from scratch every time.

How many books have you written so far?

A lot of my work has been published online and I am in the process of collating these into a collection of essays.

I also have recently begun The Baobab Papers, a blog where much of my poetry is published.

Online my work has appeared in nthpositionVoices in Wartime and in The Other Voices International Project, among others.

My poetry has been published in Sam Smith's The Journal, two consecutive editions of Harvest International and World's Strand: An international anthology of poetry (Edition Cicero, 2006).

Sexions: Selections from Life and Love featuring the prose poem "Hottentot Venus" was commissioned by Sam Smith and published by Bewrite Books in 2005.

I have a children's piece for Narrator and Orchestra, Tomas und der Regenbogendrachen (Tomas and the Rainbow Dragon) published on CD by Tudor Musik. It was commissioned by Howard Griffiths, conductor and artistic director of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and performed at the Friends of Placido Domingo Teddy Bear Concert, a benefit concert for disabled children.

Two of my theatre pieces were published by Trinket Productions before being banned during the 80s in South Africa during the national state of emergency.

Max & Moritz went on tour in Zulu and Not the Graceland was closed down within the first week of opening.

Of Love & Remembrance, a sonnet cycle was performed in Johannesburg and Zurich as set for voice and piano.

What is your latest book about?

My latest poetry chapbook is Falling Slowly. I wrote it over several months as it was in the aftermath of losing my closest friend to suicide.

It was published by erbacce press in the United Kingdom and is available from the publisher directly.

How did you chose a publisher for the book?

I had entered a competition and they asked to see further work. They liked the work and decided to create a chapbook.

The challenge of small independent presses is always getting the word out and finding effective ways to market a collection to a new broader audience. Independent presses do not have the advantage of powerhouse marketing departments or business relationships with major bookstore chains. Now of course the dynamics begin to change with the increased interest in e-book publishing.

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

Falling Slowly was particularly challenging as I was dealing with a profound loss which occurred in one of the most traumatic of ways.

I dealt with the difficulties by finding a commonality of loss we all share. We all have to find our way between loss and living and this became the theme as the work took on dimension.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

It's always the writing, the process I enjoy most. It's frustrating, maddening, intoxicating, always some kind of struggle, some degree of agony ... but it's forever my oxygen.

What sets Falling Slowly apart from other things you've written?

It's a personal memorial to a superb human being who found the pain of living with herself too great to bear and it is testament to how much a part of me she will always remain.

It also affords me the opportunity to raise funds, awareness and share something of my experiences with those who suffer from clinical depression and affords me a chance to support other families and loved ones caught in the tragedy of a suicide.

I am on a lecture tour with readings from Falling Slowly with the aim of creating a more open public conversation.

In what way is Falling Slowly similar to your other works?

It speaks of the fragility of the human mind and heart and the resilience of our common spirit and shared experiences of living with loss.

What will your next book be about?

It is an erotic exploration inspired by the very beautiful fractal art photography of an ex-artistic director of French Vogue.

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

When I receive emails from a reader/readers who express their thanks to me for giving them an opportunity to read an enjoy poetry, which they never normally otherwise read and tell me they have bought/ordered a copy of a collection. That for me is pure magic: I cannot think of any other more significant achievement for any poet.

*This article is based on an email interview with Renée Sigel which took place in June 2010

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Monday, July 11, 2011

[Interview] Jason Kahn

Jason Kahn lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn and works as a medical editor for a New York-based cardiology research foundation.

He is the author of works that include the e-book, The Killer Within (Damnation Books, 2009) and the blog novel, Dark InSpectre.

His short stories have been featured in anthologies that include The Best Of Gryphonwood 2007 (Gryphonwood Press, 2007); Strange Stories of Sand and Sea (Fine Tooth Press, 2008); Christmas Fear (Static Movement, 2010) and Best Left Buried (Static Movement, 2011).

In this interview, Jason Kahn talks about his writing:*

When did you start writing?

I was headed toward a journalism degree my second or third year in college, so I knew then that I wanted to be a published writer. But it wasn't until the summer after my senior year that I discovered I wanted to be a writer. I'd been reading sci-fi/fantasy books since I was a kid, and during my senior year, my then-girlfriend, now-wife, said to me, "Hey, why don't you write one of those?"

Incredible as it may seem, the thought had never occurred to me before.

That summer I started writing, and haven't stopped since.

I began by writing a couple of novels. I had no idea what I was doing and they turned out to be way too long and extremely over-written. But I slowly revised and revised, and got them pared down to pretty decent shape. But then, after several rejections, I turned to the short story market.

It wasn't until I submitted a short story to Jim Baen's Universe that I really learned the craft of writing. The comments and feedback I received there were invaluable. I learned more about writing in a few months than I had in several years. That's where I got my first (and thus far only) professional short story sale, for a story called "Devil May Care".

Since then, I have had other short stories published in various places, and am continuing to write.

How would you describe your writing?

My current writing is best classified as dark, paranormal crime fiction. It's a series being produced by Abandoned Towers Magazine called Dark InSpectre. I'm writing episodes that are posted every two weeks.

Here's the blurb for the story:
In a near-future society where 'normals' fear and mistrust those with telepathic ability, Jack Garrett leads a special police unit of telepaths with the unique talent of contacting the psychic awareness of the dead.

Seven years after solving a notorious murder spree that culminated in the killing of his best friend's daughter, Jack starts receiving visits from the murdered girl. Determined to follow her paranormal clues, Jack uncovers a web of police corruption that threatens to end his career and his life the closer he gets to the truth.
As of my writing this, there are still five episodes left in the current story arc, but they've already been written.

I've already started writing the next story arc for Dark InSpectre, which I'm very excited about.

Who is your target audience?

My target audience always starts out with myself. What story would I like to read?

Hopefully, the story matches up with other demographics.

In general, I'd say I write for people age 16 and up, since that's my general frame of reference.

Which authors influenced you most?

Many, many authors have influenced me: Raymond Feist, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Leguin, Anne Bishop, Patricia McKillip, Steven Brust, Katherine Kurtz, Sheri Tepper, Fritz Leiber, David Eddings, Stephen Donaldson, Michael Moorcock, Neil Gaiman, and James Ellroy to name a few.

Early on, I would say Feist and Eddings influenced me the most as I tried to write fantasy-adventures, but lately, much more Ellroy as I've been writing more noir crime fiction.

I read several detective fiction authors as I worked on Dark InSpectre ... Raymond Chandler, Peter Lovesey ... and then I read James Ellroy ... The Black Dahlia, L.A. Confidential, and many more ... I wasn't prepared, my mind exploded ... I could not put them down ... The first-person narrative style he uses in some of his novels and the way he illuminates the darkness that dwells the souls of his protagonists is very compelling. And his prose hits you like a hammer.

Have your personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

My personal life has influenced my writing in both subtle and obvious ways.

First there were a few things from my childhood. On the positive side, a young friend of mine was instrumental in introducing me to sci-fi and fantasy books, which I read avidly and which formed the foundation and reference frame from which I write.

The negative side can best be summed up by the following anecdote: One day in fourth grade, the books we ordered through Scholastic came in. The boy who sat at the desk across from me took one look at the book I had ordered and said: "Jason, you're always reading such weird stuff!"

And it wasn't in a nice way.

That book was War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells. I got this sort of reaction quite a bit, and it made me somewhat self-conscious about my reading preferences, which carried over to my writing, and still does to this day.

A way in which my personal life influenced my writing in an overt way derived from my inspiration for the Dark InSpectre series. It sprang from a dream I had, which turned into the first scene of the story. It involved the psychic ghost of a dead girl leading the main character, a telepathic cop (me in my dream), into a room with four prisoners (brothers) encased in blocks of semi-translucent material.

Yes, I know, very strange dream. But more important than the actual scene was the mood. It was futuristic and very dark and brooding.

I mulled over my dream for about a month as I wound a story around it. I saw it as a cross between L.A. Confidential and the psi-core of Babylon 5. And at heart it was a hardboiled crime thriller.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern, as always, is to tell a good story, no more, no less. Whether it's a high fantasy or a dark, sci-fi piece.

An idea will pop into my head and I've got to get it out and onto paper. Sometimes it will be pretty quick, sometimes it will take much longer.

It usually starts with the all-powerful "What If?" question. Then I flesh it out, saying, "Wouldn't it be cool if this happened?", "And then that?"

Pictures form in my head, and I try and relate them as faithfully as possible through words.

Each story is different, but the goal is the same. To provoke that indefinable wow! by the end of it. To transport the reader for a brief time and take them on a journey, whether to somewhere dark and scary or bright and airy, and to give them a hell of a ride while they're there.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

I'd say the biggest challenge is finding the time. Both to write and to just think about a story, to work it out in my head. I'm a news editor by day, and my job is extremely busy. I'm also a husband and father of two boys in elementary school.

I'll write whenever I can, but long stretches can go by during which I'm not writing. It can be very frustrating.

I go on business trips about four times a year, and I find that I can get a lot of writing done on the plane if I'm traveling by air. It's great getting a few hours of uninterrupted writing time during a flight.

Sometimes the writing itself can be hard. Not the "big scenes," those are usually pretty well thought out. It's the little scenes, the transitions, the mundane stuff. That can be extremely hard for me to write.

Do you write everyday?

I don't write every day. I wish I could, but time unfortunately does not allow. I write whenever I can.

A session will start with me at my computer, either at home or somewhere else (like with my laptop at my older boy's karate practice, for instance) and me typing away.

I'll review the last section I wrote and try and push on.

Either I've got the scene worked out already, or I have to muddle through, seeing where the story leads.

I'll stop when I have to due to time constraints, or if I'm at a natural breaking point.

How many books have you written so far?

A short story of mine, The Killer Within, was released in September 2009 as an e-book by Damnation Books. It is a paranormal crime thriller.

In terms of other fiction, the Dark InSpectre series is currently running, as mentioned above.

In addition, I have a fantasy short story, "Cold Comfort", coming out in the print version of Abandoned Towers Magazine in May 2010.

How would you describe The Killer Within?

For The Killer Within, here's the blurb:
When Metro City's number one crime family develops a drug that turns ordinary people into mindless assassins, detective Frank Arnold makes it his mission to bring them down. But things take a turn for the worse when the syndicate targets someone in the police department to carry out their next hit. Everyone's under suspicion, including Frank himself as he tries desperately to crack the case before his time runs out, permanently.
I chose the publisher because the story seemed like a good fit in terms of the genres Damnation Books was interested in. The whole electronic book concept, though, is pretty new to me.

The Killer Within is not available in print. It's solely an e-book that can be purchased from Amazon and a whole host of other e-book distributors. But do people really buy or read short stories as e-books? I honestly have no idea. I thought it was worth a try and was an interesting avenue for my work.

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

The only difficulty was finding the time to write, same as with any of my stories. Most of the time I deal with this by writing after my kids go to bed.

Unfortunately, this makes for some very late nights.

The Killer Within predates the Dark InSpectre. It represents my first foray into noir, crime fiction. I found it immensely enjoyable to get into the hardboiled detective mood and voice. I can't really explain it, it's just a lot of fun to write in that genre.

What sets the e-book apart from other things you've written?

Most of my writing has been fantasy or science fiction. The speculative element in The Killer Within barely qualifies as sci-fi. It's almost purely a crime fiction story.

The Killer Within is similar to the Dark InSpectre in that they're both hardboiled crime stories, but the Dark InSpectre is darker with a much more sci-fi angle.

What will your next book be about?

I have many other short stories on submission that I'm waiting to hear back about.

I can say, though, that the next story arc for the Dark InSpectre will involve a direct threat to Jack's unit and a drug that only affects telepaths.

*This article is based on an email interview with Jason Kahn which took place in June 2010.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

[Interview] Jen Bee

Jen Bee studied Creative Writing at a university in Wales.

On her personal blog, she describes herself as a "recovering student, future tea shop owner, practising telepathy by staring at blank pages."

She is the author of Sally Carter, a blog novel that follows the life and adventures of Sally Carter and Detective Hood.

In this interview, Jen Bee talks about her writing:*

When did you start writing?

Thursday 20th February, 1994 at 3:09pm ... No, I've been making up stories as long as I can remember, though only a few made it onto paper at first. It was just something I did, that and reading.

As I grew older the stories I read grew longer and so did those I thought up, which I then started to write down.

What made you want to get your stories published?

I wanted to write books like those I read, long before I understood what publishing meant. This is probably a good thing or I may have become too overwhelmed to go on. Now it's too late, I love writing, wherever it takes me.

I'm still going about reaching that end, working towards finishing stories, and next year, my final year of studying creative writing at uni, my modules will include E-publishing and Writing & Publishing 2.

I write and submit short stories to competitions and magazines and online. My current project is a blog-story, which I start posting from the June 1, 2010. It'll be updated fortnightly with short fiction, mostly, and some interviews, news stories, recipes, etc. too.

How would you describe your writing?

In general terms, the blog-story is a fantasy-detective series, hopefully quirky, humorous, and fun. As is my other stuff.

My aim is for it to be enjoyed predominantly by young adults, but also to be accessible to younger readers (my sister, 12) as well as older.

Which authors influenced you most?

Tolkien. Exactly how is a bit fuzzy, but I love The Lord of the Rings - to read, not write.

More recent influences include Neil Gaiman and Jasper Fforde, because they seem to just go ahead and write what they want without worrying about being too wacky, as I used to.

Have your own personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

I dread to imagine ... I'm sure my mum will spot something.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Currently, finishing uni. One thing at a time.

So far I've learned it can be a scary world out there for writers, so I hope to learn as much as I can before wandering into it.

Do you write everyday?

Yep. Notes, e-mails, Tweets ... Writing is writing and you never know where you may bump into an idea.

I do story writing too, mostly for assignments at the moment, and soon I'll have my blog story to keep up with.

I keep no schedule. If something needs finishing, I do nothing else until it's done, not even Doctor Who. When I'm not writing, I'm thinking of things to write, characters, ideas, stuff to change. Usually not on purpose.

How many books have you written so far?

Nothing finished yet. The aforementioned assignments take priority for another year.

My current project, which I'm publishing online in a blog, follows a Detective (Hood) on a slightly magical island, and a writer (Sally) who sometimes assists him. I'll be writing it as I go or else I'll never get started.

There have been no great difficulties so far. However, while this project kicked off a couple of years ago, it is really only now beginning.

Which aspects of the work you are putting into the project do you enjoy most?

Unexpected ideas. Writing. Happy feedback, because it's always good to have anything you've done appreciated.

What sets the work apart from other things you've written?

The style is similar to another project, which follows two adventurers trying to make a living, but the Hood and Sally stories are on a much smaller scale and, come to think of it, probably a bit darker too.

Also, I have a bunch of other ideas, similarish action-adventure-fantasy-comedy, different characters/worlds/etc.

Started a romance once, for an assignment, an adventure-romance, interesting experience, may look at it again one day.

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

I'll get back to you.

*This article is based on an email interview with Jen Bee which took place in May 2010

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

[Interview] Wilf Morgan

Wilf Morgan lives in Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

His books include a novella, That Time in Honduras (Eighty8Tales Press, 2009) as well as the novels, The Assassin’s Wedding (Eighty8Tales Press, 2008); The Cotton Keeper (Eighty8Tales Press, 2007) and Lost Angels (Eighty8Tales Press, 2006).

He is also the author of Dead Heroes, a free online serial that he publishes through the Eighty8Tales website.

In this interview, Wilf Morgan talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

Although I can’t remember when I actually started writing, I do remember some of my first stories being Star Wars tales featuring the figures and toys I owned at the time ...! There was one about Han Solo and Luke Skywalker flying the Millenium Falcon to the end of the universe where the stars stopped or something. And another about Luke and Darth Vader crashing on a deserted planet and being stuck together (I think Darth had actually hit his head and gotten amnesia so forgetting he was the baddie). Random stuff like that! So, yeah, pretty young, I think is the answer ...!

I decided from a very young age that I wanted to become a published writer – but the problem with that is you go through years thinking it’s really easy. All you have to do is write a full-length book. So I did this, expanding on a story I’d done in class called "The Year 2200". It was very long and written on various different types and styles of paper (this was the early 80’s – no home word processing yet!). And it was also a total Star Wars clone! (no pun intended). By the time I finished it, I was 10 or 11 – and I realised it was nowhere near good enough to be published. So I 'archived' it (in the attic) and started again on something else.

A few twists and turns aside, I’ve pretty much gone through that entire cycle several times until I got to what I consider my first 'proper' book in my mid-20s – Lost Angels. Unable to get it published (through the long and difficult 'sending to Literary Agents' process), I printed it myself (initially via Lulu.com) and sold it myself. I did the same with The Cotton Keeper, That Time in Honduras and my most recent printed work The Assassin’s Wedding.

This all ended up becoming a full-fledged self-publishing venture called Eighty8Tales Press behind which I put most of my ‘publishing’ efforts. I would still like to be published by a big publishing house but I’m happy doing self-pub for the time being. (It’s fun doing my own covers!)

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

My current work Dead Heroes is generally described as a thriller. But it has some extra-genre dimension to it that makes it harder to classify if you’re wanting to be more accurate.

Because I initially was a big sci-fi fan, all I wanted to write was science-fiction. I soon found that this limited the number of agents who I could send work to and so I expanded into crime (the genre, not the activity!) and general thrillers. So Lost Angels and The Assassin’s Wedding are in the same boat as Dead Heroes – they’re all thrillers ‘but’…

Dead Heroes is basically a modern-day Robin Hood story. Being from Nottingham, I’ve always wanted to do a Robin Hood story but since there are, like, a thousand of these (and mostly quite similar), I had to wait until I had a really good idea in order to make it worth doing – and, hopefully, unique.

Without giving away too much of the plot, it basically deals with Robin Hood and The Sheriff of Nottingham landing on modern-day Nottingham and continuing their centuries-long battle against each other. Ultimately, Nottingham – and perhaps the rest of the country – find themselves both prize and casualty in this war. On the one hand, it’s just this personal battle between these two individuals, whereas on the other hand, the battle contains concepts and ideals that affect everyone on the planet.

I try hard to balance the high concepts with some good old fashioned action (car chases and gun battles being the currency of choice!).

Who is your target audience?

I’m not entirely sure who my target audience is with any of my stuff – another obstacle to selling myself to literary agents!

Dead Heroes – like my other works – are simply meant as stories to be enjoyed by anyone who likes to get lost in a good yarn. I like to include some kind of concept or question to spice up the proceedings (in Dead Heroes that includes things like: what is the true nature of freedom, how much freedom would you be willing to sacrifice for less crime, etc). And I also like action and drama.

So, I suppose, anyone who likes thinking about some interesting ideas that might touch on their lives but also get swept into a good tale at the same time – that’s my target audience!

Which authors influenced you most?

I have very little influence from any authors – that’s not to say I don’t like any. I get inspired by certain people’s approach but not necessarily their style.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Only as mentioned previously – I originally moved away from sci-fi out of what I saw as necessity for improving my chances of finding a literary agent. In the end, this proved a fortuitous move as it opened the path to this more ‘genreless’ type of story I like to tell. Now, although this has probably actually harmed my saleability, it has made me tell more interesting stories, I believe.

But with the advent of affordable self-publishing, this is fine as it still gives me the ability to get my stuff out there.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The main challenges for me are simply forcing myself to write something every day. With all the other demands on my time – looking after kids, housework, day job – it’s all too easy to flop down in front of the TV at the end of the day and switch my brain off!

Related to that, I’d say forcing myself to write when what comes out is rubbish! You always want your stuff to be perfect and sometimes it’s just total trash. But if you force yourself through and keep churning out the trash, you can go back to it and make it better later. If you stop and produce nothing, you’ve just got the same problem facing you next time! Always a million times easier to write rubbish and brush it up than to write nothing and just get stuck.

Do you write everyday?

Dead Heroes has been good for me because it’s a weekly serial – so I’ve had to get into the habit of writing most days. Sessions are pretty much "power through, go back and re-write and enhance". It’s the same as when I’m writing a full novel except the cycles are extremely compressed with much less procrastinating!

A writing session usually ends when I have to go to bed!

How many books have you written so far?

I’ve written four books so far, not including Dead Heroes. They’re all under the Eighty8Tales banner. They are;
  • That Time in Honduras (2009) – A novella and prequel to The Assassin’s Wedding. It’s part action thriller, part love story and leads the reader right up to the start of The Assassin’s Wedding novel. It’s a story of love and revenge. Also, some pigs.
  • The Assassin’s Wedding (2008) – A darkly humourous thriller about an assassin, Mike Shepard, who – against his own rules – falls in love and proposes. The story tells of the week leading to the wedding as Mike wrestles with whether he should come clean to his fiancée about his vocation. The week is made harder by missing persons, another assassin and a private eye with a penchant for flavoured vodka. Sometimes, Mike reflects, it’s all you can do to survive the happiest day of your life.
  • The Cotton Keeper (2007) – A novella set in Sierra Leone in 1999 – the last days of the civil war. Femi is a young chimpanzee who is tired of hunting for food to feed his starving tribe. He embarks on a mission to find the mythical Cotton Keeper in the hope she will use her great wisdom to lead him to a place where he can live in well-fed and selfish isolation. Things never go so easy, though, as Femi comes into contact with the dreaded ‘Big-Walkers’ and their baffling conflict…
  • Lost Angels (2006) – This is a dark and gritty crime thriller set in a fictional town called Lost Angels. Daniel, looking for somewhere to escape the hell his life had become, finds the off-the-map town. It’s run by a violent mix of criminals and politicians. Daniel rises through the ranks in a self-appointed mission to save the town from the corruption that oppresses its inhabitants – all the while ignoring the corruption in his own soul that led him to Lost Angels in the first place…
What is your latest book about?

Dead Heroes is a fixed-length serial updating weekly. It tells the story of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham arriving in modern-day Nottingham. They continue their centuries-long battle, each fighting to save us from the apparent tyranny of the other. It’s a battle of law and order versus freedom. Unfortunately, it appears that the very people each side hopes to save are also the ones they are willing to roll over in their quest for victory.

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

Probably the most difficult obstacle in writing this book is simply the fact that it’s about Robin Hood – this is a topic that has been done to death and back. How on earth do you find an original angle?

I’m a firm believer that there’s always a way to achieve any particular creative angle, you just have to procrastinate long enough to come up with it! In the end, I think I have done just that but only reactions and comments from readers will tell me if I was right.

Without giving too much away, I tried to look at ways the original Robin Hood ideas could be extrapolated through the filter of modern-day concerns. In the end, the clash between freedom (Robin Hood’s eternal calling card) and controlled law and order (and extrapolation of much of The Sheriff’s traditional antics) seemed to offer a good deal of drama as well as topical relevance. Exactly what freedoms are we willing to give up in order to live in a safe, crime-free society?

What sets the book apart from other things you've written?

This is the first time I’ve used characters and situations that I have not made up. It’s almost like writing fan-fiction except I’ve tried to take the originals and build new issues on top of the existing ones in order to give it its edge. But the fact I’ve had pre-existing concepts to start with makes things very different and a lot of fun!

What will your next book be about?

I haven’t decided yet – I have a few ideas.

I might do a short story collection.

I’m keen to write another story set in Sierra Leone as that is where my family is from. It certainly won’t be examining the violence and misery of the civil war, though. I touched on that with the Cotton Keeper but there are also many more brilliant books on this topic than I could ever write. But setting something fun and entertaining in Sierra Leone might be something a little more interesting and new.

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

Writing four books!

Actually, I’d say producing some significant piece of work every year since 2006. It certainly keeps me busy and it always helps people take you seriously as a ‘new’ writer if they see you’ve actually got a body of work behind you.

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