I get out of bed by necessity. It isn't inspiration. It's simply that I have a lot to do and staying in bed won't get any of it done. Now, if you'd asked what inspires me in general terms - you know, to keep going with my writing, or to live my life - I'd say my parents and my animals. I have five cats and lots of chickens, all of which need me to be there for them, whatever the weather, all year round. My mum and dad believe in me, which helps me with the task of finishing writing projects, while the cats keep me company at the computer.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I take a lot of eggs from my chickens to a friary in the nearby city of Bradford on a weekly basis. They use them to feed those who are struggling on low incomes, are homeless, or suffer with drug dependency and other psychological or emotional issues. I only keep enough back for my own needs. The chickens take up a lot of time, cleaning their housing, generally looking after them. I also love to drive to new places, see new things, on my own or with friends and family. And I read. A lot.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I work for a UK publisher, and get to read new material sent in to us for assessment. I also rely on word of mouth, reviews, blogs, Twitter and Facebook. I've met many wonderful authors and readers via the social networks. Goodreads is an excellent place to find new material to read, simply because books are read by readers, not critics, and so their reviews are prompted by either appreciation or upset rather than money. Hopefully more appreciate than get upset by anything I write. So far, that's the case.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes. Well, sort of. Vaguely. I was four years old and in my very first school class. I wrote a fairy story involving a princess. It was all done in backwards writing, which is something we left-handers are sometimes known to produce when we first learn to read and write. My teacher said it was a great little story and that she used a mirror to read it. Apparently, she told my mother that my writing was very neat and legible. Thankfully, though, I did learn to write the other way round. The conventional way. I'm not saying backwards writing is wrong. It's just not the done thing, is it?
What is your writing process?
Typing is the easy part. I brew ideas for days and weeks and months before I start getting them out of me and onto the screen. Like, WOOF! - I actually began thinking about writing this story of completely self-absorbed students back in 2010. I plan to release the second book in 2014. It's envisaged as a trilogy and believe me, I have the whole arc locked up inside my skull.
When I write I'm capable of becoming so absorbed I forget to take breaks for the necessities of life. I have to use a timer to force a discipline of taking breaks. When a first draft is finished, I leave it alone for up to a month. Then go back to it, produce a second draft, take another long break. Those are essential because I need to get some distance between me and the characters and plot, to be able to be more critical and approach things with a refreshed brain.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The Children of Green Knowe, which was written in 1954 by Lucy M. Boston. I don't know if it was the first. It probably wasn't. It's the first I vividly remember, other than reading comics. I remember it was deliciously spooky and I could almost smell the moss, feel the cold stone and sense the atmosphere of the place. It was my first taste of fiction as reality, in terms of how it was received by my mind.
How do you approach cover design?
I've picked up Photoshop skills down the years through my work as a content manager, editor and copywriter - it pays not to be just a wordsmith, to be flexible, especially when your clients are sometimes small businesses, people who appreciate your ability to turn your hand to multiple requirements for a project. I try to use colour and imagery that keys into central themes. For CHICKENS AS PETS, the yellows and golds are actually sampled from a photo of one of my own hens' eggs. For WOOF!, I had an original cover that featured a dog, because while it isn't a story about dogs, there is a darkly comic and outrageous episode in the book that involves a dog. I revisited the cover design, though, because I felt the original was too conservative and, if WOOF! is anything, it isn't that. The novel now sports a bright and bonkers design, very cartoon-like, which I feel is more appropriate to the outlandish narrative within its pages.
What are your five favourite books, and why?
My favourite books change all the time. I can tell you what my five favourites are from those I've read recently, that's easy enough. I've read so many, though. I couldn't whittle them all down to just five. I'd miss out on some cracking stories! So, I'm a huge fan of Hugh Howey. WOOL, SHIFT and DUST. Absolutely brilliant books, breathtaking in their ambition and grit and drama. I have huge Hugh envy. He is just an author I admire a lot, not least of all for how he promotes his work online. Neil Gaiman's American Gods is a different sort of epic, hugely imaginative as all his work is and simply engrossing from start to finish. That's four... Okay, I've just finished Susan EE's World After. I really enjoyed this, and her first. Anything involving angels and demons gets my interest because I'm a huge Buffy fan.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read science fiction, some fantasy and histories. I tend towards the lighter side of science fiction; I don't get hung up on whether this or that wondrous device might be possible one day, it's the story that gets me hooked. When it comes to fantasy, I'm a big fan of fairy stories - the nasty, bloody, original sort rather than the sanitised cartoons of today. By history, I mean not only the sort of history you'd expect to learn about in a classroom but a biography of the River Thames, for example, or the development of food tastes in Britain down the centuries. I love a good ghost story but I'm not at all keen on gory horror. There isn't a lot of funny stuff to read, though, not when it comes to novels. That's partly why I wrote WOOF! - I mean, why should we have to turn to TV and the movies for outrageous comedy all the time? You can do anything with prose. Anything.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I read my ebooks on my iPad. Always. It is the library in my bag, a technological innovation I am grateful was produced.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Reader engagement. Every time I'd answer the same. An author who doesn't want to hear from his or her readers, take criticism or pay attention to them, isn't going to stand any chance of becoming known in this day and age. The era of authors being able to sulk away in private while producing their work is over and it's up to us to listen to readers, to chat with them, and have a two-way creative process. That's why I'm planning to produce a novel in a serialised format, on my blog. People can read it for free, chapter by chapter, comment on it, engage with me, even help shape how the plot develops. Obviously, it would then go through various redraft iterations, people would know they were getting the raw source material, and they could purchase the final work knowing they've seen it grow and helped to nurture it. I think that's a fabulous idea. With my non-fiction, I admin a community group on Facebook and run a Twitter account for CHICKENS AS PETS. I interact with thousands of readers of that book, offering space for them to chat safely online and ask questions of me whenever they want. It works well. They're happy and that makes me happy. I don't aggressively sell my book; I'd rather people make an active choice in a relaxed fashion, positive from the start.
Describe your desk
My desk is a cream-coloured IKEA one. I doubt it involves a single piece of real wood in its design. Those Scandinavians are saving all the really good pine for themselves, I think! It has red, tubular metal legs and my 27-inch (yes, I'm bragging about my size) iMac sits on top, next to my printer and a TARDIS USB hub that shows me to be an enthusiastic (okay, rabid) Doctor Who fan. There is an SAD lamp to my right, close to the keyboard, because I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter months. Believe me, the Yorkshire Dales in the winter are very, very dark. You can totally see how a book like Wuthering Heights ended up being written.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a town called Chorley, in Lancashire, England. I always joke that it has suffered a brain drain since 1775, because it is just boring. It had character I couldn't appreciate as a child, being full of dark satanic mills that were already falling, or had fallen, into disuse. There were cobbled streets and tiny, strange houses, all of which revealed the town to have ancient roots. The main market was called the cattle market, even though there were no cattle sold there anymore. Now it's a 'clone town' - all the shops can be found in every other town in the country, while the cattle market, still known by that name, is a car park most days of the week. The heart of the town has been carved up to make way for more cars, and of course in gratitude all those cars drive right through and don't stop to spend money, their drivers preferring huge malls out in the middle of nowhere. All the traditional warmth, the cobbled streets, the houses that were built to last - all gone. It's a story of many towns in Britain today. Totally tragic. Growing up there, I was surrounded by kids with no ambitions and no drive. I'm eternally grateful to my parents for recognising I had talents and pushing me to believe in myself, to get out there and do something with my life. Other kids, well, at the time they didn't seem to have parents like mine. They were just expected to go to school, get a job, stay anonymous forever. That wasn't me and it still isn't. As for the town planners, they should be arrested and thrown in prison for crimes against culture, tradition and community.
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