whimsy

5 Questions for Authors: Christopher Long

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First out of the starters gate to answer my 5 questions for authors  is a fellow writer from the KGHH stable: Mr Christopher Long. He writes horror, which if I’m honest is not my most favourite of genres – unless it’s by Hitchcock (ie more suspense than horror). But I have to say Chris is a good writer: a very good writer. His novel Something Needs Bleeding scared the living daylights out of me! However, enough of me…

  1. What is your favourite book from childhood?james-and-the-giant-peach-cover

My favourite book from childhood has to be James and the Giant Peach. There are some which made me laugh more or scared the living hell out of me, but James and the Giant Peach was the one that opened the door for the rest of them to get into my head. It tuned my brain into finding stories that interested me and devouring them as quickly as I could. It also got me into thinking about how I would tell a story myself. It still feels like a story that wasn’t trying to teach me right from wrong or lecture me about the mistakes kids make in adult society. It wasn’t too old fashioned either. It felt contemporary, accessible and, better than that, it felt wondrously so close to being possible. It was sheer delight as a kid and it’s still a brilliant story now.

      2. What is the first book that made you cry?

The book that first made me cry? That’s a pretty tough one. Very few books get to me that way. Which isn’t me trying to sound manly. I gave up on that a long time ago, back when people expected me to do woodwork at school.

A book can move me, but rarely pushes me over that emotional edge. Movies can do it. I think it’s something with the music and images. If they get under my skin, then I can’t separate myself from them. When I’m reading, my brain seems better at distracting me from the emotion. I know it sounds a little closed off, but I think it’s something to do with how I distance from myself feeling uncomfortable a lot of the time. One advantage is that the distance has taught me a few tricks when it comes to trying to keep my own readers from being able to disconnect. Pacing and imagery can, hopefully, keep them turning pages. That’s the plan, anyway.

billhicksscreamThat said, I do remember the first time I read the Bill Hicks biography, American Scream. I had watched all of Hicks’ stand-up videos by then and owned most of his albums as well. He was a hero of mine and I had always known he died young, but reading the chapter where he was told he had cancer just totally floored me. It put me in the room with him. I imagined seeing him hearing the news, absorbing it, trying to fit the diagnosis into his own understanding of his life. It still gets me now.

3. Have you ever read an author whose books you didn’t like, and how has this impacted on your writing?

I was talked into reading The Da Vinci Code by someone I worked with. I really hadn’t been that interested in it, but they loved it. I couldn’t get into it at all but, one night, there was work being done to the train line next to our house for about six hours and there was just no way I was going to sleep. So, I sat up by the glare of the workers’ floodlights and read the whole thing in one sitting.

It was an interesting experience. I found myself only half engaged by the story at best and spent a lot of the novel trying to peer behind the curtain. You could see the influences to the pace and plot and you could see the research Dan Brown had carefully stitched into place. I started trying to work out how I would maybe attempt it myself.

Now, when I’m writing something I’m not entirely invested in or connected with, I will stop and look back over it. I’ll try and look for plot holes, for the ideas I’ve tried too hard to cram in where they don’t fit. It seems to work pretty well.

4. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

All my ghost stories do have linking motifs running through them. There are recurring characters, companies and villages that crop up across them. When I first tied a couple of them together, back when I was self-publishing, I felt so smug about it. I waited for ages, hoping someone would notice. It never happened. I’m still wondering if, one day, someone might start to pick up on it. For the time being, I think I’m just doing it for myself. A way to keep myself hooked into an early draft, probably. It is fun.

5. What did you edit out of your latest book?

I recently edited a whole married couple of my second novel. I had a subplot involving a woman who was trying to be haunted by her dead lover. That then became a married couple, where the woman had a job that involved her being possessed and her husband being jealous of the experiences she was having. Their storyline was designed to weave through the main plot, but they were just getting in the way of what I wanted to say in the new draft.

Maybe one day I’ll give them a story all of their own. I did like working with The Dawsons.


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How does it know?

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My computer that is. How does it know that I’m on holiday and desperate to write?

Because it’s done it again. Refused me access to the cloud. Done the whirly thing. Overloaded the T’Internet! Spun itself inexorably towards blue screen of death.

I was trying to go pro on Cold Turkey. For those of you writers out who gave no tried it, it provides distraction free writing. You can block websites for a period of time; leaving the temptation there but no way to get to it. I find it brilliant. 

Or at least I would if I could upgrade.

Determined to thwart its plans I changed tack; went to the cloud. Tried to download book 2

More spinning.

Time to implement plan B!

I’ve plugged a cable in. It’s  no better. Still blue spinning thing. Still no cloud.  This computer is determined to thwart me at every turn.

Sod this! Plan Z! 

Does anyone know where I’ll find a typewriter and twenty million pieces of carbon paper?

My Cunning Plan.

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This year I haven’t read as many books as I would  like. My excuse? Not enough time. 

When I read as a child I devoured books. 1, 2, 3 a week.Agatha Christie, slushy romance, Doctor Who novelisation.  Didn’t matter. All that stopped me reading was an absence of pocket money. I was a bookworm. Out and Proud.

Now?  it takes forever. 

A twitterer asked me what  was I reading? The answer came easily enough: Europe in Winter. It’s brilliant. 

They then asked what’s next?  The honest answer? Buggered if I know. The book came out in November. I’m on page 99.

So, what has caused this malady? Because it’s not the book’s fault. It’s bloody brilliant!! 

My commute to work has got longer. What took  an hour and 10, now regularly takes an hour and a half. Whist the return journey.is up from an hour and 20 to … 2hours!!

Sheer volume of traffic is to blame. But it is leaving me too knackered to read. Unlike those halcyon days of childhood, when I could read a book all night; now I either drop off or I’m a zombie.the next day. It’s  hell! I feel a traitor to myself and to my fellow bookworms. I fear being black balled from the Worshipful Company of Bookworms.

Things needed to change. FAST!

Last night I had an email from Amazon. I had 8 audible credits. Salvation.

Within ten minutes I had selected.4 Lindsey Davis Falcos and 4 Sansom Shardlakes. The Falcos are old favourites. 2 of the Shardlakes are new.

It might not be reading in a traditional sense but that’s a book every couple of days. Surely that has to be better than the current famine?

I have another credit in January. I’m taking suggestions. 

8 more ups and counting the humbugs

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e0982deb9aeb0fb579ff124e708142adWe have 8 more ups to go, until school’s out for Christmas.  I  hate this week. 8 days of increasingly excited kids, increasingly ratty colleagues – and long dark nights and mornings of commute, as the year edges its way to the shortest day.

When we reach Monday of next week, no doubt extolled  by ALT (the head and  his team to you non teachers out there) – whose idea of teaching is 18 hours over the fortnight; not 37 – to keep grinding on to the bitter end; the excitement can bite me, and I can get caught up in the woohooness of it all. Until then Scrooge shall be my name – and  bah humbug be my greeting of choice.

 

Dear Future Godchild

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Dear Future Godchild,

I was pleased to make your acquaintance today when your Mum sent a picture of your 12 week scan. I look forward to meeting you properly later this year and getting to know you over the years.

Today, I would like to promise you several things. Firstly I would like to promise you my love. You have that unconditionally and for as long as I am on this planet with you.

I promise you that I will do my utmost to be as good a godparent to you as my Mum and Dad have been to my god-brother Anthony, his wife Kate and their son Vaughn. You see the responsibility your Mum is giving me (whether she has you christened or not) doesn’t end with you. I will remember  birthdays, Christmas, Easter (and a couple of un-birthdays in between);  laugh with you; wish you good luck; fight in your corner …and be a shoulder for you to cry on.

I promise you that I will do my best to help you identify and deal with injustice, intolerance and inequality. I hope I will enable you to deal with each of these thing appropriately and where possible with humour. I also hope that while I teach you the ways in which  the pen is mightier than the sword, that I will also help you  know that there are times when you need to stand up and be counted. That sometimes you will need to throw stones at dictators and man the barricades and say: “Not in my Name.”

Whilst I will rely on your Uncle Ollie to teach you the finer points of baking and the right way to complain to big business: know now, that I will see to it that you understand the importance of watching Doctor Who from behind the Sofa. You will affirm that Tom Baker is the greatest of all the Doctors and the Brigadier the greatest of all companions.

I hope I will give you a love of reading and history. I aim to give you a love of learning that will last you throughout your life. And I promise you that you will be able to wield a sword with the best of them and know truly why the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

Above all, I will be in your corner, from the moment you breathe your first to the moment I breath my last.

The Unbearable Tension of Authordom

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My publisher got in touch towards the end of last week. The conversation went thus:

“It’s half term next week, isn’t it?”

“Yes”

“Good. Expect your book back from the editor.”

Gulp

Now, I am on tenterhooks.

Don’t get me wrong, I like my editor. She makes me a better writer: but how much has she changed? Does Mark still read like Mark? Has she noticed just how dyslexic I really am? Because you can’t hide SPG from your editor 🙂 What’s she done with the difficult chapter?

Oh the agony of waiting; the doubts that rage; the fears that bite

While I wait, I should be doing research… but hey I’m off to Leytonstone Catholic Church and the Strand Underground on Thursday. So I am working; and I’ve been investigating dressing gowns – and they are important – honest. So It’s not like I’m sitting here, enjoying half term and wandering around wordpress, catching up with my favourite blogs, bumming around.

I can assure you dear reader that I’m struggling for my art. Feet up, Glasses on, fingers poised to edit, coffee by my side.

As yet nothing. And so, of course, my mind goes wandering. You see, somewhere at the back of my mind: I have this ghastly feeling I’m not on tenterhooks; I’m on tenderhooks (even if it does have a wiggly red line under it).

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Oh thank heavens. The wiggly red line is correct. It is tenterhooks, and these are they.

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Used in the woollen industry, these evil looking nails were used to stretch the woollen cloth after it had been woven. You see, it was still dirty. It was washed in a fulling mill – of if you’re in Wales, a pandy. And in order to stop it shrinking during the process it was hung up on these nails – like so. These tenters (as the frames were called) were left out in the open for the cloth to dry naturally, and the weave to even.

 

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Its first appearance in literature? Well according to World Wide Words – the exact phrase seems to have been used by Tobias Smollett in Roderick Random in 1748 – the tales of a honest, trustworthy and likeable Scottish lad – which is based on Smollet’s own naval career as a ship’s surgeon.

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Smollet, of course, translated Don Quixote,

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Pablo Picasso

I wonder… were both these authors on tenterhooks as they waited to hear back from their editor?