Interview with AM Kirkby

Describe your desk
Currently: fifteen fountain pens. Seven bottles of different coloured inks. An Egyptian scribe effigy (his name is Nebmertouf), a standing Anubis; two idols of Durga, and Kali, in brightly painted wood. A dirty coffee mug. A ukulele underneath fifteen sheets of paper. A computer keyboard. Two external hard drives not connected to anything.
And a glass of cherry vodka.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I didn't grow up in Norwich, but it has always been home. It gave me a feeling for the city's different secrets; the cathedral with the friendly skeleton old As-I-Am on the wall of the south aisle; the glowing paintings of the medieval churches; the rich smell of coffee and block chocolate and stem ginger in the Mecca delicatessen; bricked-up window openings dating from the ill-fated Window Tax; mysterious alleyways and short cuts, the kissing gate on Gooseberry Lane, the little shop where I bought coconut mushrooms and peanut clusters and 'milk bottles'. (Later, I found out that friends who grew up elsewhere in England had completely different childhood confectionery.) The rich texture of the city lies behind a lot of my settings.
But Norwich is also a city of great characters. I knew a few through my grandfather and father; and anyone can tell you about Marigold, who used to direct the traffic wearing his rubber gloves. My friends now include musicians, brewers, actors, amateur archaeologists, mad rockers and academics - all completely insane. We don't do 'normal' in Norwich. Again I suspect that shows in much of what I write.
When did you first start writing?
I don't really remember *not* writing. I think I could touch type before I could write joined-up - that kind of thing happens when your father's a journalist - and I was certainly writing long novels by the age of nine. I suspect they weren't much good.
What's the story behind your latest book?
The growth of Rome.
Or, another view, the downfall of the Etruscan city-states.
Or, looked at differently, a family saga.
Or possibly the story of a woman who is always pursuing a dream, or a prophecy, that is never quite fulfilled in reality.
Or perhaps just "power corrupts". Those are some of the stories in the book.
As for the story of how the book got written:
It all started one day in Pitigliano, a little town in the backwoods of Tuscany, when I walked down from the town, across the river, and towards Sovana on an Etruscan chariot track. Across the plateau I was following the ruts of chariot wheels two and a half millennia old. Down towards the river the old road ran in tight zigzags, carved metres deep into the soft ground, and my feet swished last year's rustling leaves and spiky beech mast. That evening for dinner, I had dumplings with wild boar's meat, and a sprightly local white wine, and the hotel owner told me if I wanted to know more about the Etruscans, I should go to Tarquinia...
I was hooked. The Etruscans are fascinating. They're no longer as mysterious as they were; we know quite a lot about them (including that Etruscan women had far more freedom than either Roman or Greek women). Their relationship with their landscape, and the way they saw the world as a continually emerging work of prophecy, is intriguing.
Who are your favorite authors?
Far too many to list. Iain Banks is a big favourite, as is Ursula K Le Guin; both created highly convincing other worlds, not just space-opera settings. (I don't see the point in writing speculative fiction unless you speculate.) And I have been enjoying GRR Martin for a lot longer than Game of Thrones has been on TV. For spookiness, MR James (but not after dark or when the wind is whistling), and Susanna Clarke.

I love authors who can create a world with a definite atmosphere to it; I've been reading a bit of Zola, for instance - 'La Bete Humaine' creates a horrendous vision of the railways chewing up the world, and ends with an immensely powerful image, the driverless train heading with its doomed men towards the Franco-Prussian War.

I also have a great love of the seventeenth century. Shakespeare and Milton come very high on my list; I adore both. (Anyone who thinks this is highbrow, try *acting* Shakespeare; there is nothing more visceral and less intellectual than tackling one of the big speeches.) Both these poets kept inventing and re-inventing the language (as did Dante; my Italian is just about good enough to appreciate him with a parallel translation), moulding and breaking it; they're headstrong writers, endlessly inventive and innovative.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Too many things! Singing (I'm currently in a Renaissance choir), playing music (recorder, bagpipes, hammer dulcimer and now accordion), collecting fountain pens (I have that in common with Neil Gaiman, apparently), refurbishing antique furniture and toy pianos, and trying to maintain a ridiculously large garden. Travelling (a lot: most recently, hiking in Iceland: before that, backpacking Thailand and Cambodia: and spending as much time as I can in India). And once a year, putting in a full week's work at Norwich Beer Festival, down in the Belgian beer marquee.
What is your writing process?
Constructive chaos. Lots of bits of paper. Lots of scribbling and mind-mapping and doodling. And then just sit and type. I generally start at the beginning and write forwards, but I reserve the right to jump around a bit.

I do use Celtx and that's helped the organisation bit of the process considerably. I can't be trusted with record cards, I just lose them, but I stick my characters and some basic storyboarding into Celtx and that's useful to come back to when I've forgotten basic information.

I've learned that occasionally, it's best to leave the loose ends and come back to them later. Quite often, I'll wake up in the morning knowing how to fix that plot problem I was bashing my brains out over the night before.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy is when a character suddenly decides to write their own dialogue or work out their own plot. It doesn't often happen, but when it does, it is marvellous.
When writing is going well - when you start dreaming at night that you're walking around the world of your story - it's addictive. Writing is a licence to dream, and that makes the hard slog worthwhile.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Hunger.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
No, I don't. But what I do remember is at the age of fourteen or so, sitting in a sunlit window in the school library reading the final scene of King Lear, and the tears streaming down my face.
It's easy to read lazily, or to read superficially, or to read as an author just looking at the mechanics of how a story has been written. I come back to that as a touchstone for what it means to be a real reader - to be so immersed in the text that you react instinctively and viscerally to it. And I suppose that's also, in a way, a test for what it means to me to be a writer.
Published 2014-11-21.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

A Cold Coming
Price: Free! Words: 5,380. Language: British English. Published: December 18, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Renaissance
A young couple arrives in England from the Low Countries, fleeing persecution. The apprentices of the city are on strike for the right to a Christmas holiday. The snow is coming. And a baby is on the way...
Thirteen at the Wake
Price: Free! Words: 1,140. Language: English. Published: October 5, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Horror » Ghost
An old man lies in his coffin in a remote Welsh farmhouse. His sons have come back to bury him. The neighbours pay their respects. Then one of them remembers an old superstition...
The House of Wine and Roses
Price: Free! Words: 4,080. Language: British English. Published: May 29, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Historical, Fiction » Literature » Literary
In a country fast falling into civil war, Ibn Roza tries to maintain a small island of peace and poetry. He balances factions to make civilisation possible. But has he made a precious paradise, or an irrelevant backwater? and more importantly, can he survive? In this short story there are roses and there's blood; there's poetry and there's violence. There may be a few surprises, too.
The Claim to Royal Blood
Price: Free! Words: 5,020. Language: English. Published: May 19, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories, Fiction » Humor & comedy » Parody
A contest is announced! The winner gets a fairy kingdom all his (or possibly her) own. Timon hopes he'll be the lucky one, and takes his friend Hamnet along. He has to prove his claim to royal blood - through combat, through ordeals, through multiple choice tests. Is he going to make the final cut? A story with a little twist in its fairy tail.
Podtours of the great French cathedrals and their cities
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 122,760. Language: British English. Published: May 18, 2016. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » By region, Nonfiction » Art, Architecture, Photography » Architecture
France was where the Gothic style was invented, and the great cathedrals of Paris and the Ile de France bear witness to the huge changes in art, architecture, and society that happened in the Middle Ages. These self-guided tours take you around a number of French cities - Laon, Chartres, Reims, Bourges, Rouen, Beauvais and Amiens and Paris (including Saint-Denis).
Etruscan Blood
Price: Free! Words: 308,030. Language: English. Published: March 2, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Classical Greece & Rome
A boy slave who becomes general and then a king. A princess who leaves home with her husband to win a new city and found her own dynasty. The rule of the Etruscan kings of Rome. War and politics, vengeful gods and vindictive ghosts, passion and hatred, and above all, blood.
The Tea Master
Price: Free! Words: 2,470. Language: English. Published: February 28, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Historical » General, Fiction » Literature » Literary
The story of a warlord and his tea master in a handful of tea ceremonies. Toyotomi Hideyoshi rises from a servant to become the master of Japan, and acquires, among other possessions, the tea master and sage Rikyu who served Hideyoshi's former master Oda. Rikyu tries to teach Hideyoshi the Zen way, but will he succeed?
The Cat Who Couldn't Miaow
Price: Free! Words: 3,150. Language: British English. Published: February 21, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Fiction, Fiction » Children’s books » Animals
When a street cat is lucky enough to find a home, he learns to adapt - even when his people bring a new kitten to share their lives. But he never really learns to miaow... until, one night, danger threatens.
The Augur
Price: Free! Words: 7,040. Language: English. Published: January 2, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Classical Greece & Rome, Fiction » Visionary & metaphysical
(4.00)
Nothing in Rome can be done without an augury. A magistrate is elected, a law is made, a marriage is arranged; the augur reads the signs in the heavens - the flight of birds, or the roar of thunder. It is, in many ways, a formality; but sometimes the gods seem to speak more directly, and a man's sanity could easily be threatened.
Walking Tours of the Great Italian Cities
Price: $9.99 USD. Words: 149,170. Language: English. Published: November 13, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » By region, Nonfiction » Travel » Hikes & walks
These tours take the reader through Florence, Venice, Rome and Pisa, looking at art and architecture, and showing how each city developed through history. Originally developed as audio tours, they are now available in e-book form.
Westminster Chimes
Price: Free! Words: 700. Language: English. Published: October 9, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Horror » General, Fiction » Literature » Literary
He's waiting. The clock is ticking. Another macabre little story from A.M.Kirkby.
Haunted
Price: Free! Words: 2,280. Language: English. Published: August 15, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Horror » Ghost, Fiction » Literature » Literary
(4.00)
A real estate developer acquires a spooky old house. Everything is quite normal, he keeps telling himself, though it won't sell and he doesn't like being there alone...
Packed Lunches for Gourmets
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 14,270. Language: English. Published: August 8, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Cooking, Food, Wine, Spirits » Methods / Quick & Easy, Nonfiction » Cooking, Food, Wine, Spirits » General cookbooks
Want to save £100,000 over the course of your working life? You could do that just by taking a packed lunch to work instead of spending your money in the sandwich bar or coffee shop. This book shows you how to put packed lunches together quickly and cheaply, while not compromising on flavour and variety.
Not a Ghost Story
Price: Free! Words: 3,240. Language: English. Published: December 2, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Horror » Ghost, Fiction » Literature » Literary
A young professional finally finds the apartment she's been looking for. But she can't seem to turn it into a home. And then strange things start to happen. But this is not a ghost story. Or is it?
Rise Above
Price: Free! Words: 12,430. Language: English. Published: October 16, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Renaissance, Fiction » Gay & lesbian fiction » General
(4.33)
A reclusive scholar, worn down by political demands of his new post as Archbishop, retires on his physician's orders to one of his country manors to convalesce. His illness, his disillusion with public life, and a new friend make a dangerous mixture...
Wake the Dragon
Price: Free! Words: 1,180. Language: English. Published: October 10, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Historical
A child is warned by his furnace-master father that a dragon lurks in the heart of every furnace, and must not be woken... years later, with a son of his own, he realises what that dragon is.
Egerius
Price: Free! Words: 6,700. Language: English. Published: April 4, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Ancient, Fiction » Literature » Literary
(2.00)
A story of ancient Etruria. Young Egerius is brought up by women after his father's early death; but there are secrets in his father's family, and as he grows older, he learns that he has a family he has never met, and is the heir to more than his father's slim estate... This is a chapter from 'Etruscan Blood', an epic novel of ancient Italy that will be published later this year.
Sacrifices
Price: Free! Words: 3,500. Language: English. Published: February 6, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Ancient, Fiction » Coming of age
In the Etruscan city of Cisra, the boy Karkana sacrifices his prize possession to help a prisoner of war. But the true implications of his act won't be felt till years later.
The Tin Heart
Price: Free! Words: 3,460. Language: English. Published: May 15, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Horror » Ghost
(5.00)
A tourist steals a tin heart from a church in Venice. The theft is unseen - but strange happenings suggest the heart is taking its vengeance. A ghost story in the style of M R James.
Walsingham Way
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 38,070. Language: English. Published: May 15, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Historical
The court of Henry VIII is not a safe place to be in the dying days of one queen and the ascendancy of another. Philip, caught in the plots of great men, finds himself a double agent, fated to betray a master or a friend. Fleeing London, he makes his way to the ancient shrine of Walsingham, through a land wracked by Reformation and economic decline.
Doppelganger
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 9,560. Language: English. Published: May 15, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Historical
Marko has been the friend, and then the servant, of the Pontifex Hadrian for many years - first as a young man adventuring in the far lands of the empire, then in the dark corridors of the Pontifex's court. As storm clouds gather, Marko may have to make the ultimate sacrifice - that of his identity.
Green Land
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 35,880. Language: English. Published: May 15, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary
Sigurdr and his sister Sigrinn are set adrift by their usurping uncle; washed up in the far north, they battle to survive. But when another shipwreck casts Hralf up on the shore, their lives change - with results that will be far-reaching for all of them.
Kasbah Cat
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 5,460. Language: English. Published: May 14, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Animals
The story of a kitten's search for his father. Like any urban cat, Kasbah cat is smart enough to survive, and even to help those humans who show him a little kindness - but will he ever be able to find a father? A heartwarming story of love. This book is particularly useful for discussing issues of adoption and 'real' family with younger children.
Pagliaccio the Opera Cat
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 7,920. Language: English. Published: May 14, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Animals
Pagliaccio lives in an operatic household, but he has no musical talent - he tries hard, but he can't sing, or compose, or play piano. But in the end, he does discover that he has one crucial talent - and turns a potentially disastrous first night into a triumph.
Sword of Justice
Price: Free! Words: 5,170. Language: English. Published: May 14, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » General
When Lawrence agrees to look after the Sword of Justice while the silversmith is away, strange things start to happen. An eerie tale of betrayal and sorcery.
A Ghost Story of the Norfolk Broads
Price: Free! Words: 2,880. Language: English. Published: May 14, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Horror » Ghost
(3.75)
Two cruisers on the Norfolk Broads discover an eerie story behind the strange pub where they tie up one night.