Interview with Lance Leuven

Describe your desk
Messy! It’s certainly more disorderly than I feel it should be anyway. I’m a naturally untidy person so any free surface soon attracts clutter when not in use. This then requires moving before writing begins. The clutter then embarks upon an itinerant journey of migrating from one free surface to another until my desk becomes free again. When I return to writing the process begins again. The only object that remains constant is the tea-stained coaster. I drink a lot of tea and coffee while writing!
What's the story behind your latest book?
I write a loosely travel-based blog and I’m a big fan of Cornwall, the southwest tip of England. After deciding to spend a week travelling around the region it seemed natural to write a series of posts about the trip. It then occurred to me that it might serve as an interesting basis for a short book. I began researching the region’s history with a view to provide background and context to the activities I engaged in. The more research I did, the more I learnt. And the more engrossed I became. Cornwall’s story is a unique one within the UK. It’s also exceptional in the way so much of Britain’s story can be told by simply looking at how the various events affected Cornwall. My book moves from pre-history, through the various invasions, the Industrial Revolution and up to the modern age. It all affected Cornwall in one way or another. In addition, many people don’t realise how or why the Cornish have their own language. And many people don’t understand why it is that some Cornish call for independence. There are very good reasons for these things. But, outside of Cornwall at least, these stories have been largely forgotten. So it was great to be able to explore these, and many other, fascinating tales.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Hmmm…it’s hard to pick one particular favourite. A significant aspect of my writing involves imparting (what I consider to be!) interesting tales. It requires a great deal of research; in order to tell the stories you obviously need to understand them. So I spend hours immersing myself in topics to try and get a grip on them, which is something I very much enjoy. The world’s a fascinating place, and I always appreciate learning something new.
For this book I had to study everything from Neolithic history to King Arthur legends, from myths about giants to smuggling yarns; I learned how copper minerals are deposited and why a particular regional meteorological event occurs. I delved into the details of a famous local grisly murder, and discovered how to prepare the perfect Cornish pasty! It was certainly an eclectic mix of topics to grapple with, but I enjoyed it all.
Next comes the creative part – trying to weave an engaging narrative through a collection of disparate facts and data. It requires meticulous combing through masses of notes to uncover connections and then let my imagination find interesting angles to approach them from, which is also something I appreciate.
Then, of course, there’s the simple joy of playing with language. Concocting creative ways of knitting words together in a graceful, harmonious and satisfying manner. It’s always nice to move from a jumble of awkward, incoherent facts to a polished piece of finished, flowing prose.
Lastly there’s editing. I can’t explain why but I derive an unhealthy degree of pleasure from editing. It seems like it should be an unpopular part of the process. But I find it peculiarly gratifying to identify and remove unnecessary words or phrases; or to conceive of a word that will accurately do the work of several others. I find it rather rewarding, which strikes me as slightly odd.
How do you approach cover design?
In a weird twist of chronology the design was actually based upon the cover for my next book. My next book was begun first, but was interrupted by this one. The books have a similar theme of UK travel, so it seemed logical to give them a degree of continuity. I adapted the original idea by simply adding a postcard style photo of a Cornish beach and, voila, it was the Cornwall version.
The concept was conceived during my very first brainstorming session. Conveniently, the idea struck me almost immediately. But it seemed to summarise the book’s premise so well that I stuck with it. It’s based upon the pirate’s treasure maps you would make as a child. But the map is of the UK. The obvious implication being that I’d travelled the UK to unearth its treasures.
Although the initial idea came within seconds, I spent a ridiculous amount of time bringing it into fruition. The “pirate” map was a real map that I made. Getting the design right was a long process. And it took a great deal of effort to develop the perfect manufacturing technique. I probably had at least a hundred dummy runs. I experimented with different staining methods of baking, tea and coffee. I experimented with how long to soak it and different amounts of scrunching them up to make the map appear aged. I pretty much had a little pirate map assembly line on the go!
I can’t help but smile every time I look at that cover now. Simply because of the inordinate amount of time it took to create. It’s ironic that the idea took only moments to come up with, but such a tremendous amount of time to realise.
What are you working on next?
My next book is actually based on a trip I did before my Cornwall adventure. It’s the one the cover design was based upon; it’s just taken me a little longer to finish than originally planned.
During the summer of 2010 I quit my job and spent three months travelling the length and breadth of the UK. I wrote a blog for my friends to follow and I’m in the middle of turning it into a readable book. It’s taken me about a year so far. Which was a lot longer than I expected. But I’m enjoying the process all the same. I plan for it to be out before the end of the year. My Cornwall book is simply a short, free book, but this one is much longer and more in depth. It’s pretty exciting. I’m looking forward to it.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I rather enjoy being alive to be honest. And I feel privileged to live during such a fortunate era. I don’t have to spend much time nervously eyeing the long grass for fear of lion attacks, and if I get sick I can just pop to the doctors. I live a relatively peaceful life generally free from fear. So what inspires me to get out of bed is simply a desire to live an as enriching and joyful life as I can.
What do you read for pleasure?
My two favourite genres are popular science and humorous novels. I’m going through a humorous novel phase at the moment, the outcome of which is that I have a growing pile of popular science books to read!
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I don’t remember the very first book I read, but I remember being a big fan of Enid Blyton when I was young. The Faraway Tree was a particular favourite and so was the Famous Five series. I had lots of Famous five books. Hmmm… I wonder what happened to them. It would be interesting to dig them out and have a read now.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Freedom! I enjoy having complete creative control over my work. Of course, that has its downsides too. There’s a great deal more work involved, but, to me, if you’re prepared to do that work the benefits outweigh the negatives.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
It provides a simple, easy to use platform from which I can offer my book to the world. It’s a very popular site, which increases the volume of people who are likely to discover my book. And the site also offers plenty of free and easy to understand advice about preparing and marketing your book. I enjoy that side of it; the way it’s almost like a little community helping each other to succeed, like, for example, doing author interviews!
Published 2013-10-09.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.