Saturday, 13 May 2017

Reading the Telly - an interview with Frank Collins

Frank Collins is best known for writing extended reviews and critiques of modern media - particularly cult television and cinema - insightful musings that take-in a much broader canvas than many of his contemporaries would attempt. 

Frank Collins aboard the TARDIS
He is the author of Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens - an in-depth and inspirational book exploring the worlds of the Eleventh Doctor - a regular contributor to Frame Rated and to books for Arrow Films accompanying their acclaimed specialist movie releases - including Bruce Robinson, Woody Allen and Hammer Films collections. He also writes for online magazines such as Wow 24/7 and MovieMail and readers with an interest in cult television, and classic British cinema, may remember Frank from his influential review blog Cathode Ray Tube... Frank Collins talked to Remy Dean for The Scrawlabout writing, reviewing and making wider cultural connections!

What does Frank think is the function, or responsibility, of the reviewer and cultural critic?

If I’m reviewing anything I always try to strike a balance between praise and criticism. I couldn’t cynically rip anything to shreds and leave it at that. That isn’t my approach. I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of it. It can be counterproductive. On the other hand, there are many reviewers out there whose humour often provides that balance and there is certainly room for all sorts of views. I always try to find something interesting to say.

He opened a recent Doctor Who review with references to Italo Calvino, John Donne, Rembrandt, memory and reflection… not what may be expected from a review of a popular telly series...

Doctor Who, like any television programme or film, isn’t perfect. Some stories work for one particular audience demographic and others don’t. The series takes risks – perhaps trying out a writer new to the format or shooting the episode in a particular style – and often it falls flat on its face.  As a reviewer, I always aim to find the good in what might be perceived as a bit of a duff episode. If a story doesn’t work for me then I’ll try and constructively explain what I perceive as the faults.

With all the references I use, then that’s really my own perception of that episode. The episode’s writer did not consciously or deliberately refer to Italo Calvino but the Rembrandt portrait was in the episode. For me, a certain piece of dialogue may set off cultural connections and Calvino was one of them. The Rembrandt, I believe, was included either on the part of the writer or the production designer. It was a visual comment in the background. John Donne was a metaphysical poet interested in science and there’s a lot of analysis that ties together his poetry and quantum physics, for example. So, I did a bit of research and I felt it reflected the Doctor’s role as a Renaissance figure in the story that sees the poetic rhythm of the universe. Therefore, the John Donne stuff went in.

I have been - and I’m sure I always will be - criticised for seeing things in episodes that were, on the surface, never referred to, and for reading them in an ‘arty-pretentious’ manner. In the end, my way of seeing a story is in finding the wider cultural connections. The episodes don’t exist in isolation, they constantly refer to other genres and art forms and by tracing the connections, I hope I bring a different perspective to how the viewer may receive the episode.

Frank Collins gets to know the 11th Doctor!
[click cover for reviews & to buy the book]
His extended reviews always enrich and enhance re-watches and are of great service. Recent contributions to books to accompany special DVD releases also rely on plenty of in-depth background research...

Film reviewing is slightly different. Working for Arrow Video on some of their releases allows me to mix together a film’s production history – a story that may well yield interesting cultural references – with contemporary analysis. So, for example, when I was commissioned to write about the two Count Yorga films, I did the research on the films but I also read about the connections between the counter-culture occult scene of the late 1960s and the Manson murders because that’s the milieu in which those films were made. The essay for Arrow’s release of Woody Allen’s September was again, a combination of what was available about the production history and an analysis of how the film reflected Allen’s appreciation of Chekhov, his metaphysical view of the universe and how the film embodied a number of genre tropes, particularly melodrama. It also looked at editing, shot composition and use of lighting.

The wider the field of analysis is, the better for me. That’s fun research. That’s finding out about writers, artists and filmmakers, many of whom you may only know about in passing. You end up exploring an entire body of work as a result and it makes your writing that much richer.

Frank has been involved in the wider visual arts since his student days, either as practitioner or facilitator. He is a talented artist and also works as an illustrator and archaeological sketch artist – does he think that his art-training and sensibilities have influenced (and informed) his writerly engagement with (and use of) words?

The best thing I ever did was to train as an artist. I may not have ended up as a professional artist but the paths I took to study for the qualification were worth it. I greedily absorbed the history of art and design and learned how to interpret art and understand an artist’s intentions without prejudice to my own taste.

But beyond that, you learn how to articulate the ideas in your own practice. It is not simply a process of making the art. You need to be able to talk about your work, to transmit the ideas in it. Again, like writers, artists do not work in isolation. They accumulate references and connections and visually interpret the world around them.

Trench 4 - a sketch by Frank Collins recording an archaeological dig
When did he ‘wake-up’ to being a writer?

My work as an artist ran the gamut from installation and photography to performance works. The latter were not random, ad hoc pieces. They were written as monologues and performed live. All of it leads back to words for me, whether written or spoken.

If I have a ‘style’ as a writer then it was first cultivated in the monologues and poetry that went hand in hand with dissertations and catalogue statements.

Prior to that, I’d dabbled with writing about telly and films and cobbled together magazines at school so that was always there in the background.

My current phase as a writer started about ten years ago with the [Cathode Ray Tube] blog. I realised at that point that it was much easier to get your voice out there. There were so many ways of publishing instantly and if enough people liked it you’re on to something. From that blog came the books, invites to guest review on other sites and the commissioned work.

Talking of the past, what was the first book that really grabbed him and carried him off to another place?

Oddly enough, I’ve been revisiting a lot of the books I remember reading as a youngster.  So, I’ve recently just re-read Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden and Alan Garner’s Elidor. It’s a cliché but Terrance Dicks and his Doctor Who novelisations also had an immense effect on my generation. He made us read. I recently revisited his Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion novel. He is an astonishingly vivid prose writer.

Who have been his favourite writers and what can be learned from them?

Derek Jarman was a key figure. A brilliant film-maker, a poetic writer and a man unafraid to challenge the status quo during a very difficult time for the LGBT community in the 1980s. He taught me to not be afraid of being myself. His diaries are incredible and the book about his garden in Dungeness is still inspiring me. A lot of my work as an artist owed much to him and to Neil Bartlett.

Bartlett was an amazing performance artist and wrote a hugely influential book about Oscar Wilde, Who Was That Man? that is always worth returning to. He made me aware of how much, at the time, LGBT history was hidden away and that it was a story that had to be told. He now writes wonderful novels that all seem to be about finding the truth beneath the accepted social conventions of post-war England. He unconsciously led me to Sarah Waters whose later novels come from a similar standpoint.

Influences beget influences. Bowie’s cut-up method for song lyrics led me to William Burroughs and Kathy Acker. Jarman is in direct lineage to Powell and Pressburger. Hammer Horror turned me on to folk-horror like Witchfinder General and then to writers like David Rudkin. Genet took me to John Rechy and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. This just scratches the surface. We are all built out of such influences and connections. And they are there to be used.

...but is there a favourite book or one that he has returned to more than a few times?

Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That’s ground zero for me. I first read that when I was about 14. I’ve still got the edition I bought then. It’s falling to pieces. From that book radiates my interest in the whole horror genre and beyond. I wouldn’t say Stoker was a 'good writer' but Dracula’s influence is enormous. It spurred me on to Poe, M R James, Algernon Blackwood, Robert Aikman.

In addition to being both insightful and eloquent, Frank is a prolific writer and is capable of structuring long-read pieces that remain fascinating, entertaining and informative throughout. Does he have a preferred writing approach, method or regimen?

Find the angle. Once you’ve got that you can get started and build around it. If I’m doing a film piece then it usually starts with the research. I might find a wonderful anecdote or story and then I’ll start with that and work back and forth. For a tribute I did on John Hurt a few months ago, it started with an anecdote where he described his choice of work as him being the victim of his own imagination. That was the springboard to talking about the types of characters he played.

An image can often give you the opening to a piece. If something strikes you instantly then start there and work outwards.

I tend to collate all my research and then start to assemble based on that. It’s often about trying to create a narrative. So it may start with a good quote about a film or an interesting anecdote. Then, I’ll construct a history of the film or the director and finally I’ll find a jumping off point to put across my view of the film in context with a particular genre or era.

For pieces with longer deadlines I do all the research up-front. I’m just in the middle of researching The Naked Civil Servant, the television film about Quentin Crisp. I won’t start writing until a few weeks before the deadline and then I’ll do that over a couple of weekends. I used to be able to write late at night but I don’t have the inclination now to do that and I’m very much reduced to writing at weekends because I work full-time.

The Doctor Who reviews are done straight off the mark on Sunday morning. The last one took all day Sunday writing solidly from about ten in the morning to about five in the afternoon. There’s some pressure to get those done, as the sooner they’re posted, the better, but I’ll keep refining those until the last minute. With those reviews the episode’s theme and ideas are usually the initial spark but I can get side-tracked by researching something. Last time, I ended up digging through a lot of analysis of Rembrandt’s portraiture.

What is the beverage of choice when writing and being creative?

I’m always fuelled by too much tea and coffee.

...and what is the view like from his usual writing space?

The garden. It took me ten years to get round to actually creating a garden at our current home but I finally turned the disintegrating tarmac and weeds into a gravel garden last summer. Gradually, it’s filling up with plants and flowers and it’s lovely watching everything you planted a year ago emerge. If I get really stuck writing I’ll nip out and have a wander for ten minutes.

So, what advice can he share with all those ‘fan-boys-and-girls’ who may envy his position as a leading commentator on all things cult and cultural?

You have nothing to be envious of. I don’t consider myself special at all. I do a lot of work for free and rarely get paid, so if you really want to be in my position then that’s the reality.  When you do get paid that’s when you realise that just perhaps you might be quite good. I don’t like working for free but that’s the nature of the beast.

You have to want to do it. I must really want to write because despite the ups and down I still do it. So, if you want to write about films and telly and you think you have a particular voice you would like to share then just go and do it. The hard work is getting people to read it and to build an audience.

Thank you very much, Frank!

Frank Collins was talking with Remy Dean

You can read all of Frank's contributions to Frame Rated here

Check-out a wide variety of past projects on his tumblr pages

For news, updates and 'asides', follow Frank on twitter @CathodeRayTube

...and check-out the (now mainly archival) blog Cathode Ray Tube 
- "the quintessence of British Pop Culture blogs"

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Culture and Cruelty - an interview with Iain (M) Banks from The Scrawl archive

It is 30 years since the groundbreaking epic science fiction saga of The Culture began with Consider Phlebas and went on to span ten volumes. Three years prior to that, Ian Banks' debut novel, The Wasp Factory, had shaken up the literary scene and left an indelible mark on a generation of readers (and writers). The time seems right to delve into The Scrawl archives and share our interview with the late, great Ian (M) Banks, conducted during 1998 (between Excession and Inversions)...

Iain Banks in a publicity photo for The Bridge
One of the UK's most wildly imaginative authors talks to Scrawl about sex, space and smugness...

Iain Menzies Banks is Scottish. He was born and raised in and around Dunfermline, Fife, educated at Sterling University. Along with fellow Scot, Irvin Welsh, Banks has become known as one of the most startling of modern British writers. Scotland seems to be producing more than its fair share of literary talent and recently that talent has began to make a notable impact on British SF, with Iain M Banks and Ken MacLeod pushing the vanguard. Is there something north of the border responsible for this top-heavy distribution of word-wielding talents?

‘I think it’s mainly just coincidence,’ Iain conceded, ‘But it is true that a good proportion of good British writers are Scottish... A cultural divide does exist and most English people don't understand the breadth of it. Writers in that situation develop a different voice and are more determined to express it.

‘I think Alasdair Gray’s Lanark is a landmark - the best Scottish novel this century! Scotland has been producing more than its fair share, in terms of literature, ever since - we’re just ten per cent of the UK, but we've got more than ten per cent of the best writers...’

His first novel, The Wasp Factory, after causing a furore in the literary world on its publication in 1984, is now held as an iconic modern novel. In much the same way as Irvin Welsh’s Trainspotting, The Wasp Factory is held up as a ‘yardstick’ - new books are often promoted as ‘the best since,’ or heralded as ‘a Wasp Factory for the nineties,’ and so on... It was a provocative and stunning debut and certainly made the name of Iain Banks instantly famous and infamous, was it a battle to bring it to print?

‘It was rejected by six of the big publishers...’

The Wasp Factory - a stunning debut!
Although it was the first Iain Banks novel to see publication, it was not the first he had completed...

‘I’d written about five novels before The Wasp Factory was published, but I’d written three or four before that one, mainly science fiction. Two of those novels were eventually published as part of the Culture series, one of them being The Use Of Weapons, partly due to some intervention from Ken MacLeod.’

The Culture is a broad concept that links the bulk of Banks’ widely read and acclaimed SF output. It is a vast intelligent culture of sentient machines, including giant living space vessels, which have become so advanced that they have exceeded the full understanding of humans and now look after the human population in a cosmos-spanning, multi-cultural future society... Is this a future that Iain thinks we may be heading towards, and would that be a good thing?

‘Is the Culture a possible future...’ Iain mused, ‘Probably, eventually, but not for us. It will be the future for another species perhaps, different from us as we are today. We’re too tied up in bigotry, hatred, war, economics, oppression, competition... The Culture would only work with people who are nicer than us - less prone to violence and genocide. Perhaps aggression is necessary to achieve sentience, consciousness, space travel, and we don't know if we're a particularly violent species or a relatively mild one compared to others out there...’

Iain had stated that he would want to be in the Contact division, which is the section of the Culture that would deal with First Contact scenarios...

‘Contact is the most interesting bit - the Culture’s saving grace - and joining it is about the only ambition available within the Culture. Because not everyone qualifies for Contact - whereas the Culture goes out of its way to accommodate nearly everybody, even those who don’t like it...’

‘The Culture is my vision of exactly the place I would like to live. I can’t imagine a better place - it’s a utopian society.’

Some readers have criticised the Culture for being 'too smug'...

‘It knows it's smug. The price of perfection, I'm afraid. It’s smugness is one of its best points!’

It has been suggested that the Culture should be destroyed, because it is too perfect.

‘I can understand that urge. As a boy, I used to enjoy building dams in the sand on the beach, irrigation channels and little castles, and of course the real fun was knocking them down or watching them fall as the tide came in...’

Would he ever take notice of such reader feedback and compromise in any way?

‘No - I write what I enjoy and even I don’t know what’s gonna happen next. I let it flow and the plot takes control... I started out writing Excession with the idea of destroying the Culture and it could have gone that way. There is an element in the story which could have initiated its downfall and if the plot had wrestled the book from me and it had gone that way, I would have let it - I would have destroyed the Culture... It happened to turn the other way.'

The Culture continues...
So are there any more Culture novels in the pipeline?

‘Out of my current four book deal, at least one of them will be a Culture novel...’

Does Banks have a writing ritual or regimen?

‘Oh, I’m very strict with myself... During the summer months I have fun and think about books and I find myself looking forward to the time of year when nights draw in and the weather turns bad... I write nine to five, every day during the darker winter months, and often into the night also. I write directly into an AppleMac. Listening to Radio 1, usually, though I always have a CD cued up and ready to go also. I enjoy music very much.’

Does the genre-hopping, from SF to 'mainstream' and back, cause any problems from publishers or marketing departments?

‘Not at all. I think, perhaps, I don’t get nominated for science fiction awards because they think I’ll get them for my other books and the people giving out the mainstream awards think I’m a science fiction writer, so I’ll get awards in that category. But no pressure at all to write one kind of book over another.’

Are Iain's novels primarily driven by their themes, or their narrative?

‘I don’t really think about it. I would never try to work out how I write, I write because I enjoy it. I just let it come to me and go with the flow. Sometimes I don’t know if a book is going to be science fiction or not, I just start out with a bunch of ideas and run with them...’

One theme that seems prominent throughout Iain's mainstream and SF novels is that of gender identity. Of course, this is a central motif in The Wasp Factory, then in Excession we have the concept of both sexes being able to become pregnant, Whit is told from the first person point of view of a female and Song Of Stone is told in the male first person. There is a strong element of sexual discovery and the formation of gender identity running through the flashbacks in Complicity... Is this a personal fascination that asserts itself or is it an intentional exploration of these ideas?

‘I can recall when "Women’s Lib" was in the news - before it became "Feminism"... It made a big impact at the time I was being brought up. Then, the media portrayal of women was very clear cut and gender roles were set out for you.

‘When I was a child, I remember noticing that women in films couldn’t run unless the male hero placed his hand in the small of their backs and kinda pushed them along, as if this was what made them go. And if the plot demanded that the villains caught them, then it was the woman who fell over or sprained an ankle and the man had to stay in order to protect her. So you thought you had it all worked out and the difference between men and women was very clear cut... Then you realised that perhaps it wasn’t true - in fact it was all nonsense.

‘So it is something that fascinates me, to this day, and I am aware of it. It is a theme that runs through my writing, intentionally, but it’s not the major theme and I wouldn’t like to think that readers see that as one of the most important themes. I think the more important element is humanism and the definition of the individual.’

The treatment of male pregnancy in Excession implies that personality defines gender more than physical attributes...

‘I think there are definite male and female aspects to personality that define gender more than the outward appearance - though I wouldn’t like to say what they are...’

Another recurring trait is the often extreme cruelty in his novels... Is that due to some dark subconscious tendencies or is it a reaction against the happy ending cliché?

‘Well I certainly wouldn’t want to be a character in one of my own novels! But is it due to something in the murky depths of my subconscious? God, I hope not! I think it’s more to do with avoiding the cliché and making things a bit more unpredictable.

‘Many people seemed to think that The Wasp Factory was horrendous and pretty bleak, but I actually thought it had a happy ending and was an upbeat sort of book.’

In Complicity, after you get to know the central character and quite like the guy... Banks gives him cancer when it has nothing directly to do with the plot...

‘Well, he’s not dead, he has cancer. It up to the reader to be pessimistic or optimistic about the outcome of that. Otherwise I think that’s also an upbeat book.’

Complicity was adapted for the screen
Song Of Stone, seemed to be a bit of a departure, quite a gentle read, all very lyrical except for the regular interruption of the short sharp set-pieces of blunt brutality and violence...

‘Gentle!? It’s horribly violent! The whole book is about the lead character’s inability to affect his own destiny - he has no outward control and cannot seem to change anything. He’s just swept along by events. And all he can do is think. His mind is his only freedom, and the language he uses tends to be overly flowery in parts, because all he can do is try to prettify the horrible things that are happening around him - try to make something beautiful out of them in his own mind. He does this by retreating into his thoughts and seeing things in this rather flowery fashion...

‘If you're writing from the point of view of someone who doesn't share your own beliefs it makes you think, you start to question your own beliefs and that's always a progressive and good thing to do.’

The science in the Culture novels seems convincing and the whole vision of the future is well filled-out and holistic, are you aware of the science facts behind the fiction?

‘I read New Scientist and that's about it. As little research as possible! A lot of my research is just reading other people's SF and nicking their good ideas! I never let it get in the way of a good story.

‘I'm not really introducing any new absurdities, just taking up old ones. But you read New Scientist, and you see stuff which may imply that hyperspace and faster-than-light travel aren't as absurd as all that. They’re not possible right now, but for scientists to say that we’ll never travel faster than light is just as daft as saying we’ll never get into space - which people were saying only a few decades ago...’

...The Wright Brothers stated that flight was possible, but not in their life time. Then, the very next year, they achieved the first flight in the Kittyhawk ...Does banks really think we’ll find life out there?

‘There is life out there. If there isn't, I'd find that thought incredibly worrying... But we wouldn't know about it, unless they wanted us to.’

So cruelty and existential angst aside, would Iain Banks describe his own overall outlook as optimistic or pessimistic?

‘Optimistic. I’m a long-term optimist.’

Here's to you Iain Banks - fondly remembered by legions of fans,
he lives on in his many words... and in many worlds.
Filming for the cinema adaptation of Complicity was completed during 1999. The novel has been adapted for the screen by Bryan Elsley and directed by Gavin Millar, the team also responsible for the screen adaptation of The Crow Road, which, in the opinion of Iain Banks, was ‘Excellent’. Gavin Millar has a long and distinguished directorial career, which includes the, also excellent, adaptation of Dennis Potter’s Dreamchild.

Complicity was filmed on location in and around Edinburgh and stars Jonny Lee Miller, who played ‘Sick Boy’ in Trainspotting and ‘Crash Override’ in Hackers - Jason Hetherington, who among other roles, appeared with the late Jeremy Brett in Sherlock Holmes: The Last Vampyre - and Rachael Stirling, who can be seen in the movie, Still Crazy.

Iain Banks was talking with Remy Dean

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Strange Changes: an interview with Lu Hersey

Lu Hersey's debut novel, Deep Water, won the MsLexia 2012 Children's Novel Writing Award, in advance of its publication, and has since been well-received by readers and critics. The story is inspired by Celtic mythology and teenage transitional angst, both embodied by its protagonist Danni, a teenage girl with a fairly unremarkable background who is unaware of a fairly remarkable secret about her past. The story starts with a mysterious disappearance and appears to be a crime drama, then a creeping strangeness begins to pervade events as Danni deals with changes - both internal and external. Lu Hersey talks to Remy Dean about her inspirations and approaches to writing contemporary magical realism for the youth of today...

Lu Hersey, rooted in the past, looking to the future...
Deep Water has been described as a cross between The Wicker Man and Susan Cooper – would you say it falls within the ‘Folk Horror’ genre?

The story has a strong folkloric element, certainly, but I’ve never thought of it as horror. I’d describe it more as ‘kitchen sink paranormal’, if such a genre exists! However, I’m immensely flattered to have any comparison with Susan Cooper, and I guess there’s a fair bit of Wicker Man type stuff going on in the background too… Maybe it’s ‘Folk Horror’ after all and I just didn’t realise it?

You open Deep Water with a quote from Joseph Campbell - I teach A-Level Media Studies and we look at his Hero’s Journey ideas in relation to narrative structures.

Joseph Campbell is one of my heroes – though it was only after I’d written the book that I realised Deep Water fitted neatly into the twelve-point Hero’s Journey narrative structure!

What did you learn from him and how did you apply it?

When writing, I was actually more inspired by Campbell’s theory that we - as in the human race - created myths to explain things we don’t fully understand, but ‘know’ deep in our subconscious. I was also very drawn to his - and Jung’s - ideas on universal archetypes, and wanted to use the shapeshifter archetype as an extended metaphor for the changes everyone experiences in adolescence - Danni transforming to her selkie form reflects the massive physical and emotional changes all teens experience in puberty…

This is beginning to sound strangely like I had a master plan and knew what I was doing! The truth is I’ve always loved the selkie myth and just wanted to explore ways to bring it into a contemporary setting.

Why do you think contemporary teenagers are still interested in old folklore and myths?

I think teenagers are drawn to stories that explore all things dark and inexplicable, and of course many myths do exactly that. Campbell felt it was important to keep myths alive, while adapting them to suit the times we live in, and I think he’s right. There are some brilliant takes on ancient myth coming out right now. Claire Mcfall’s Ferryman and Julia Gray’s The Otherlife, for starters…

What were you reading when you were the age of your readership?

I read loads of different stuff, like most teenagers, ranging from Dickens to Marvel comics. But I was really drawn to writers like Tolkien, Alan Garner and Susan Cooper – and my all time favourite, Ursula Le Guin.

Who have been your favourite authors, and what makes them stand out to you?

That’s a really tough question! To make it simpler, I’ll stick with favourite authors of teen and children’s books…

Most recently I’ve particularly enjoyed books by Maria Turtschaninoff, S F Said, Suzanne Collins, Eugene Lambert, David Hofmeyr and Julie Bertagna - all very different, but each with the ability to create amazing worlds that you can totally believe in.

I also love the work of Sara Crowe, Holly Black and Anna McKerrow - weaving folklore and magic into their writing in a really engaging way. And I can’t possibly compile a list of favourite authors that doesn’t include David Almond, J K Rowling, Frances Hardinge and Neil Gaiman…

Outside fantasy and SF genres, I love writers who create beautifully written, gripping stories with characters you can really relate to, such as Liz Flanagan with Eden Summer, Fox Benwell - writing as Sarah Benwell - with Last Leaves Falling, and Clare Furniss with The Year of the Rat.

Deep Water is your debut novel and was remarkably well-received – how has this affected your attitude to writing and your approach to the follow-up, Broken Ground?

In some ways it’s given me the confidence to believe I’ve done it once, so surely I can do it again – though on a bad day I get terrible impostor syndrome and think maybe everyone made a big mistake…

I still haven’t completely finished my next book, Broken Ground - I must be on at least draft ten, by now! I honestly have no idea if anyone will like it when I’ve finished. I hope so…

Can you tell us about your writing process, do you have a regular regimen?

If only! I have a day-job working in a library, so writing time is limited and should be well structured - but of course it isn’t. Some weeks I’m compelled to write and manage 2000 words a day, then other times I struggle to get 300 words out in a week. I can’t do this thing of ‘just sit down and write, it doesn’t matter so long as you’re writing’ - it matters to me. What’s the point of writing 5000 words of total drivel? I’m hard on myself and edit constantly as I go along, even though I know it would be sensible to write a complete draft, however crap, and edit later.

I try and plan the whole book at the beginning, but that doesn’t entirely work either. The characters have a life of their own and take the plot away from the plan all the time - but I still find it useful to have an idea of what happens. I always know the beginning and the end, but the middle morphs and changes a lot.

Research seems to play an important part?

Yes, I’m nerdy about getting detail right, so I do a lot of research into all aspects of the story. Landscape, myth, history, folklore, magic…

Some of my research is probably just procrastination, especially stuff like compiling images on Pinterest - which I love - but a fair amount feeds into my subconscious and I weave it into the story later.

As an editor of The Scrawl, I was aware of a deficit of female writers in our content, but with this year’s overarching focus on YA fantasy authors, we seem to be redressing the balance… Historically, there have been Edith Nesbit, Philippa Pearce, Susan Cooper. Angela Carter, Tanith Lee… I suppose we could start the list with Mary Shelley! And now we have the likes of J K Rowling, Angie Sage, Stephenie Meyer, to name but a very few. 

I want to ask about your thoughts on gender and fantasy – do you perceive a difference in masculine and feminine approaches to the genre?

Yes, sometimes - but not always. If the author name wasn’t on the cover, could you guess the gender of the writer? It’s a very interesting exercise to read manuscripts without knowing. I help sift short stories for the Bristol Short Story Prize, where all entries are anonymous (the writer is allotted a number), and I can often correctly guess the gender of the writer – but sometimes I’m totally surprised. I think this transfers to all forms of writing, including fantasy/SF genres.

Obviously, winning the MsLexia award must have been a thrill and is of course a notable achievement - it is what drew you to our attention. I am reminded of Georgia O’Keeffe’s comment about being called, “the best woman painter,” by a critic, and being offended by this differentiation. I know this could be provocative, but by ‘compete’ I also imply that fair competition requires a ‘level playing field’ to start with - so, does excluding male writers from the running simply acknowledge that women are unable to compete with male counterparts? 

I don’t think it’s about women not being able to compete with male counterparts - it’s more a confidence issue. Women often perceive themselves as somehow not good enough - even when they obviously are - and might not even consider entering a competition where they don’t think they stand a chance. For the same reason, you find most creative writing MA courses, or similar, have far more women students than men. Men generally believe in themselves and their abilities more than women do. Hopefully this will change over time.

And having said all of that, of course I wish that the competition had been open to everyone and that I’d won it anyway…

When did you know you were a writer? …and why did you pursue an MA?

I realised I was - potentially - a writer at primary school, when I found it much easier than other children in the class to write the script for the school play - it was only a puppet theatre thing. I loved writing the dialogue, and was genuinely surprised that no one else seemed to find it that easy.

Years later, I worked as an advertising copywriter, and although it paid reasonably well, it felt a bit like a Faustian pact, using my writing soul just to help sell stuff no one really needs. Writing commercial content for Tesco and similar companies wasn’t what I wanted to write at all, but I couldn’t see a way out. In the end I decided that in order to change direction and write a novel - which I’d always wanted to do, I had to give myself a really expensive deadline to force myself to do it - so I applied for the Creative Writing for Young People MA at Bath Spa. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Which reminds me, I should have included Julia Green, the wonderful course leader, in my favourite writers! Great stories, really beautifully written.

As a relatively ‘new novelist’, what advice would you share with aspiring writers of YA fantasy?

Possibly the same advice I’d give to any new writer, whatever the genre – that it’s really worth getting good quality feedback from an early stage. It’s a long, difficult road to publication and once you’ve got going, writing courses, such as those run by the Arvon Foundation or the Golden Egg Academy, are invaluable for improving your writing, finding inspiration, and meeting other writers.

If possible, do an MA in creative writing! At the very least, find a critique group that will be honest about your writing and where it needs improving. You don’t always have to take the advice, but working in a vacuum isn’t easy.

Thank you Lu Hersey for your considered responses

Lu Hersey was talking with Remy Dean

More info and updates at Lu Hersey's own weblog

Friday, 28 October 2016

Jonathan Stroud, Free Thinker

Jonathan Stroud is one of the UK's foremost writers of fantasy and supernatural fiction, for younger adults. Actually, that last bit is redundant. He is one of the leading voices in fantasy and supernatural fiction. Full stop. Since his debut novel in 1999, Buried Fire, he has created two well-loved and successful books series: the epic Bartimaeus Sequence of four books (so far) - following the millennia-spanning escapades of an ancient, wise-cracking djinni, and the Lockwood & Co. series - about a ghost- and ghoul-hunting hero in a  parallel paranormal version of Britain. What sets his stories aside is an easy, yet solid and well-paced style, along with consistently intriguing content born of a sophisticated imagination. There is always adventure, plenty of action, and genuine 'laugh-out-loud' moments of humour. 

Jonathan Stroud
With Halloween upon us, Jonathan Stroud talks to Remy Dean about writing and other forms of magic, as well as parenting and allowing children the Freedom to Think... 

REMY: I have been a creative arts lecturer to young adults in the 14 – 19 age range, for 16 years, and a father for 11 years... I have witnessed education veering away from any emphasis on creativity it may have once had. Creative subjects have become much more criteria-based to enable educationalists with dominant left-hemispheres to test and quantify creatives with highly functioning right-hemispheres.

With the introduction of tests for our children from 6 upwards - we now test and grade our children more than any other country. SATs for 11-year-olds are getting tougher and the level and density of A-Level content has increased dramatically. It seems to me that education is not only geared to emphasise non-creative subjects and actively suppress creative ones - the recent axing of Art History is a case-in-point, but also to create low self-esteem through early and repeated failure - and so discourage the pursuit of further and higher education, without mentioning the fees, loans, and so on…

Can you tell us a little bit about the ‘Freedom to Think’ initiative and how it fits into, compliments or challenges this contemporary model of education?

JONATHAN: My recent experience of education is from the outside, watching my two oldest children - currently 12 and 9 - as they seek to balance the demands of school with their own creative impulses. Already, they’re having to wrestle with homework, exams and tests, and I can see how these threaten to overwhelm their energies - at times you can see their creative verve wilting… though it always reasserts itself. As a parent I’m torn between wanting them to do well academically, and being determined to keep their creative fire alive.

My own career as an author has its roots in the writing, drawing. imagining that I did throughout my schooldays. I managed to sustain my creativity alongside all the academic work, but I think the pressures on children have increased markedly since. Freedom to Think is a response to this: it doesn’t in itself seek to overturn contemporary trends in education, but it does aim to promote the idea of a regular ‘breathing space’ for children, a time when they can drift, let their minds wander and (if they wish) follow their own creative paths. It’s in such moments that you are most likely to discover what really excites you, and thus who you really are.

Jonathan Stroud talking about 'Freedom to Think' at the Oxford Literary Festival,
earlier this year - click image for more info and another interview with Jonathan
Whist on the subject of parenting… how has being a father changed you - as a man and as a writer? How do you find the time, for one thing?

Ha ha! Time is certainly the most precious commodity for all writers, and having a newish small baby doesn’t exactly help… but that’s more than counterbalanced by the sudden opening up of new perspectives – on the world in general, and on you and your role in it. When you become a father you suddenly understand your own parents more clearly; you have a sudden revelation about your own mortality, and, to balance that, how parenthood is the nearest you’ll ever get to ensuring your own immortality. Profound stuff, if you can stomach the 5 a.m. awakenings…

Evidently, all those present enjoyed the panel you hosted at the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this year, where you encouraged your guests to talk about their approach to writing, though you did not discuss your own… I realise you have already been generous with such info on your website - particularly the origins of Bartimeaus. Do you have any writing rituals or regimen and have they changed with success?

I think being a successful writer - as with many jobs generally - relies on establishing a regular, predictable work pattern, in which you know what is required of you and you more or less force yourself to do it. Since going freelance 14 years ago, I’ve attempted to write a certain number of pages per day when I’m in the throes of a book. I usually fail, but the attempt galvanises me, and ensures a steady output. My own environment is incredibly tedious – study, silence, cups of tea, the minimum of distraction. All the excitement happens on the page.

What would you say were the main considerations when writing for a Young Adult audience and do they differ from other forms of mainstream fiction?

In principle writing Young Adult fiction should be no different from fiction generally, except that you perhaps have a slightly higher bar to attain, young readers being rather more critical and choosy than adult ones! I always seek to write something that the 12-year-old me would have loved, and which also pleases my jaded middle-aged self. If you can manage that dual perspective, you’re on to a winner.

What age is your typical reader, and what were you reading at that age?

I want my readers to range from 8 to 88, or more… so I aim for clarity of story-telling and for variety of content. When I was 12, I was in the throes of reading masses of whopping fantasy series. A couple of years on, I realised that most of them were sub-Tolkien and not really any good, so - despite writing it - I don’t read that much fantasy these days.

How did you research the Bartimaeus books? Your description of Prague and Golden Lane sound like you visited the locations.

I did visit Prague for a couple of days way back when I was inter-railing around Europe at the start of the 1990s. I loved the city, and was fascinated by many of its locations, including the Jewish Cemetery, the castle and the old alchemists’ quarter in Golden Lane. When I came to write Bartimaeus 10 years or more later, it was easy to seize upon it as a good location. Most of my research comes of general reading of myth, legend and folklore down the years.

…and your knowledge of Qabalistic Ritual seemed fairly well-informed – I recall an account written by Aleister Crowley about his attempt to summon Choronzon, I think, and the entity - from his subconscious - the Other Place, wherever - was bantering in order to put him off, telling crude jokes and trying to throw sand over the lines of his magic circle to break out...

Do you have any belief in, or experience of, High Magick or aspects of the supernatural?

I’m remarkably, and probably fortunately, wholly unacquainted with the supernatural in any immediate sense, but having read Dr Faustus, the Arabian Nights and sundry folktales in which wizards have perilous dealings with devils, demons and other dubious types, it was good fun to mix a lot of this material into the Bartimaeus stories. The trick for me was to do it mainly from the djinni’s perspective, which undercuts the potential pomposity of the magicians and their ritualistic traditions.

Do you see links between magic and creativity?

I believe that Crowley was a - bad? - poet. The Romantic literary tradition was all about invoking and corralling the power of nature, and I guess many self-styled magicians were trying to do the same. People like Yeats certainly tried both methods. Earlier, Renaissance magicians such as Dr John Dee sought to invoke power through magical ritual, but also through the more rigorous methods of mathematics and science. On a prosaic, personal level, there is something magic about producing a bit of writing that didn’t exist before: but that ‘magic’ has its roots in long hours and hard work!

When I was reading the Bartimaeus books out loud, I found it helped to channel ‘Hacker’ - from CBBC - to get his mode of address… Do you ‘cast’ your books and did you expect Bartimaeus to have a Wigan accent?

Ha-ha! For me, Bart more or less had my voice, so he was a bit more home-counties! But you’re absolutely right that the voice was the core of him – he changed his shape repeatedly, so the way he talked was the one consistent thing. I don’t tend to ‘cast’ my books as I write them – to see a character as a particular actor risks skewing them out of true.

Pages from the graphic adaptation of the first novel in
the Bartimaeus Sequence : The Amulet of Samarkand
- click image for a look at how the comic was made -
I also enjoyed the Graphic Novel adaptation of The Amulet of Samarkand – are there any other graphic adaptations on the way? And what of films?

I’m glad you liked it! I think the adaptor [Andrew Donkin] and artist [Lee Sullivan with colours by Nicholas Chaplis] did a terrific job with it. There are no immediate plans for another graphic novel, though we’d all love to do one. It depends a bit on whether we get the Bartimaeus movie, which is still out there, being discussed, but hasn’t yet quite come off. I’m crossing my fingers that it’ll happen one day…

The ‘Freedom to Think’ event was focussed on early creative experiences and I think you may have answered this question during it: What was the first book you can remember reading that really absorbed you and carried you away to another place?

It’s hard to say what the very first one was. Put it this way - in my mum’s loft I discovered a version of Robin Hood and the Silver Arrow - which was a cool Ladybird book - that I’d written and drawn when I was about 5 on old pieces of wallpaper, so that story must be a contender!

Do you have a favourite book, or one you have returned to more than once?

It’s difficult to pick one out. One of my all-time faves is Treasure Island, which I regard as the fountainhead from which all YA fiction springs. It certainly has everything I’d aspire to: great story, exciting narrative, fantastic characters, beautifully written. What’s not to love?

Who have been your favourite authors and what have you learnt from them?

Italo Calvino, in Six Memos for the Next Millennium, extolled certain literary virtues, among them Lightness, Swiftness, Exactitude. Folk tales and fairy tales have these qualities, as Calvino well knew, and I think the writers I most admire all have them to some extent, as well as humour. My favourite fantasy writer, who survived my disillusionment, mid-teens, is Jack Vance, and I thoroughly recommend his Lyonesse and Dying Earth novels for some light, but magical, entertainment. In my ghost-story writing mode - I’ve been writing about ghosts for my Lockwood & Co. series for the last few years - I venerate the great M R James, the master of the English supernatural tale.

The Creeping Shadow is the fourth book in the
Lockwood & Co. series by Jonathan Stroud
Well, as it is Samhain, can you tell us anything about your latest spooky book?

The latest Lockwood book is The Creeping Shadow, and features lots of spooky adventure, daring heroism and good jokes. A must for all the family!

Thank you, Jonathan Stroud!

Thank you! It was a pleasure.

-  Jonathan Stroud was talking to Remy Dean

For more Jonathan Stroud news and  info, 
check out his Official Website 

Click the Recruitment ad. below for an excellent Lockwood & Co. Case Book  (PDF)
filled with activities and resources, courtesy of World Book Day

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Red Sparrow Writers Brought to Book: Remy Dean, Kim Vertue and Zel Cariad

The Red Sparrow Press is a new publisher promising us 'great books for young aviators of the imagination' and will be launching their first titles later this year. A few weeks ago, The Scrawl found three Red Sparrow writers in one place - at the Sci-Fi Wales convention, in North Wales - two veteran authors and one brand-new voice… So, for this special edition of our regular Brought to Book section, we asked Remy Dean, Kim Vertue and Zel Cariad about the words that have influenced, inspired and entertained them over the years.

Kim Vertue, enyoying an ice cream at The Dragon Café
Remy Dean, kissing The Red Sparrow during a reading at Plas Tan y Bwlch
What was the first book you can remember reading that really absorbed you and carried you off elsewhere?

Remy: That would be Elephant Adventure by Willard Price. I can remember sitting in school, during a reading class and I was at the back reading a book of my choice. It was the first time that the words I was reading disappeared and I started seeing what I was reading instead. I was in the jungle and then I heard the teacher’s voice calling my name, because it was my turn to go the front of class to do the reading test. It was like being pulled out from a dream. That’s when I first had an inkling of the magic of good story-writing. I then devoured the whole Adventure series over the next few years, in the right order, some of them I read more than once. I named my first goldfish Hal and Roger after the Hunt brothers in the books.

Before that, I had the Paddington books read to me and they were great. My brother used to finish reading one and we would go straight round the library for the next.

Zel: Black Beauty, it was an abridged version, I can’t remember the story that well. I enjoyed being able to read it and I remember it was good and had a horse in it.

Kim: Heidi was the first book I read entirely on my own and enjoyed in a spirited away sense.  We lived among the slag heaps of the St Helens coal and glass-making industries, so the idea of all those big mountains captured my imagination.  Also it focusses a lot on learning to read, the magic of how those words suddenly start to make sense and come alive.  I liked the idea of sleeping in a hayloft, eating grilled goats cheese and looking after goats too.

The Narnia books were great too.  Our teacher read the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to the class and I read the Silver Chair on my own straight way.  I liked the misfit heroes involved - Puddleglum of course – and the insight into the common fairy tale idea of being enchanted.  It was very difficult to break the enchantment of the silver chair and, for once, free a Prince rather than a Princess. I read the rest of the Narnia books in quick succession after that and I think Voyage of the Dawn Treader remains my favourite.

I loved Elyne Mitchell’s The Silver Brumby which I read when I was about ten.  It struck me as a more ‘grown up’ book even though it was in a learn to read series, and it was so clear yet poetic in its description of the Australian bush that I have wanted to visit there for real ever since!  I also love the way the speed and strength and sheer exhuberance of Thowra, the Silver Brumby, is described.  It reflects the way you feel as a kid when you just have to run everywhere and you feel pretty darn invincible.

Do you have a favourite book, perhaps that you have returned to more than once over the years?

Zel: All the My Little Pony book series, I probably have read Rainbow Dash and the Daring Do Double Dare a few times, and also the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic comics, the first four-parter, The Return of Queen Chrysalis, and Zen and the Art of Gazebo Repair are my favourite stories… Princess Luna’s continually changing T-shirts! Ha, ha… ‘Best!’

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Panels from The Return of Queen Chrysalis (left)
and Zen and the Art of Gazebo Repair 
I really love my Dragonology books! The Field Guide to Dragons is wonderful, I like how it documents dragons just like they are real, which maybe they are! Also, the Drogonology Chronicles - series of novels - which are great adventures. The illustrations, too, fantastic pencil drawings!

Oh, and the How to Train Your Dragon series… So basically, Ponies and Dragons for me!

And, The Land of Neverbelieve by Norman Messenger is a book I like a lot, the illustrations are nice and the ideas are great – really imaginative, I never get bored with that one, it’s like a world. I also keep going back to my factual books about science, animals and the real world.

Remy: I have a few favourites! Watership Down – I read that about three times a year as I was growing up – definitely more than a dozen times. I could speak fluent lapine and I used to play bob-stones with my pet rabbit. Recently, I read it to my daughter, twice, so far. I think it is the best Fantasy story ever written, and an inspiration to any writer of imaginative fiction.

When I was around seven or eight, my brother read Jonathan Livingston Seagull to me in one sitting, and it affected me profoundly. It is a book I returned to later and re-read many times as a college student. I use to buy extra copies to loan out or give to friends. It’s about the nature of reality, what it means to be free and transcending the bounds of physical limitations through imagination. I read it to my father during his final days, when he was in hospital… just before he transcended his physical limitations.

My brother also read the The Flies in the Market Place to me, from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, when I was very young - he didn’t mind challenging me and my little mind at all – and Nietsche has been a friend to me ever since. I have read most of his key works and they took me on a path right back to William Blake!

Songs of Innocence and Experience, I have already written a piece about why William Blake and this book are very important to me… You can read that on the I’m Hot Goat weblog.

Ham on Rye, by Charles Bukowski… pretty much anything by Charles Bukowski. I discovered him through the film, Tales of Ordinary Madness, starring Ben Gazzara in a definitive performance. I always saw and heard Ben Gazzara whenever I imagined Henry Chinaski… Then, a neighbour of mine lent me Ham on Rye when I was a living in Stoke-on-Trent. I had never read anything like that. The prose is the clearest, most beautiful word-wielding I know of. Even the most lowlife, unpleasant passages have that ‘twinkle in the eye’ that make them readable. No other writer does that as well. The humour and humanity really leap off the page. Also, I believe that Bukowski is a philosopher, the most original and alternative philosopher this side of Nietsche…

Marco Ferreri, Ben Gazzara and Charles Bukowski making Tales of Ordinary Madness (1981)
Snail, by Richard Miller, which could well be my favourite book of all, if I was really forced to select just one. Again, I first came across Snail in my formative years. I was a student, working on my final degree projects, which included a short film about teenagers ‘discovering themselves’ and racing snails. The college had taken a group of us to help with the re-design of The Brewery Arts Centre in Keswick, which, for some reason had a display case of model and soft-toy snails! So the synchronicity was really kicking-in there. Then I came across the book, simply titled Snail. I knew nothing about it, never heard of Richard Miller at that point, but there was a quote from William Burroughs on the cover and art by Clive Barker, and so with that and all the snail synchronicity I took a chance and bought it and it was a total delight - intelligent, flippant, funny, profound. Richard Miller is a truly great and hugely underrated writer!

Kim: I read Wuthering Heights when I was about 12 and have re-read it regularly since, each time with fresh understanding of the characters. It is still vibrant and gothic and unique. I love the use of main narrator Ellen Dean to portray the passion and tragedy which plays out between Cathy and Heathcliff and those in their wake.  It is ultimately a happier ending for their heirs which offers hope for the human condition. I am a great fan of Emily Bronte’s nature poetry too, and love the fact that like Emily Dickinson she wrote it mainly for herself, to better understand her own environment and inner world.

I regularly re read Picture of Dorian Gray each time with fresh insight. Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales too. Also Dracula, Poe, and I have re -read the Sherlock Holmes stories a couple of times…  I should update my Victorian Gothic taste! I have a fondness for Colette and Daphne du Maurier - Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel - although I have not re-read them for some time.

What is the most recent book you have read and thoroughly enjoyed?

Zel: Apart from My Little Pony books, I would say the Bartimaeus sequence by Jonathan Stroud. They are funny in parts and exciting too. I liked the characters, especially Bartimaeus himself, the wise-cracking immortal demon…

Remy: Yes, I think I have to agree with Zel on that one. I recently read the Bartimaeus books as part of the research before I interviewed Jonathan Stroud… for The Scrawl!

One of Shaun Tan's evocative illustrations for Tales of Outer Suburbia
Before that, Shaun Tan’s Tales From Outer Suburbia, profound and poetic short stories which brilliantly stitch together narrative image and text, I don’t think anyone else has done it so effectively, not since Blake. Shaun Tan has become one of my favourite contemporary creatives.

Kim: I really enjoyed the Bartimaeus books too!  A brilliant entertaining read.  Bartimaeus rocks.  I also enjoyed William Gibson’s The Peripheral, what a great tour of ‘what might be’…with characters you really want to win through.  Also Iain Banks, The Player of Games - working my way through the Culture novels again - for its breadth of vision... and Peter Hamilton’s The Great North Road. A true epic fantasy of future tech space exploration and detective story interlinked.

You have all recently ventured into co-written territories… What was the co-writing process like for This?

Zel: It was fun because I basically got to listen to it as it developed and say when I thought things didn’t work or if an idea needed improving, but that was very rare, because it was written well. Generally, we just chatted about story ideas on dog-walks and took a lot of inspiration from our surroundings, mountains, woods and lakes… I came up with a few random bits, I remember describing the attack of the snaky brambles. Oh, and Lucky too, who I think is a really important main character.

Remy: Zel is my resident expert of all things fairy and dragon-related. Her main roles were creative consultant and first reader. Basically we discussed ideas on walks, and then I wrote chunks and did test readings, when Zel would let me know if it sounded alright and if it was believable enough… if something needed to be explained more clearly, or if I had over-egged anything. She also ensured I described characters and places in enough detail to paint the picture, but still left enough room for imagination. One thing she does really well is ask the right questions.

...and for Welcome to the Dragon Café?

Kim: Co-writng on the Dragon Café has been great fun. I enjoyed how Zel and I snow-balled some quite wacky ideas into even funnier ones!  She really helps with her feedback on what works and how much extra description I need to give for it to unfold like it does in our heads. Remy is great with his encouragement and feedback too.

Which writers have you learnt the most from?

Remy: John Foxx, particularly the work with his band, Ultravox! He more-or-less invented the ‘New Romantic’ identity – ‘riding intercity trains, dressed in European grey’. I love the pictures his words can conjure up and how his lyric patterns just trip along – he taught me a lot about how to use the form of a word to help with the flow of a phrase.

A rhythmic pattern of words - John Foxx in the days of  Ultravox!
I am probably informed more by song-writers, Scott Walker, David McComb, Dave Graney, Ian Anderson, Kate Bush, Lydia Lunch… As for ‘writers’, then Bukowski - his prose has elegant simplicity and crystal clarity, without trading-in any of its poetic beauty... and, I have read so much Graham Masterton over the years that I may have absorbed something from him - by 'osmosis'.

Kim: All of the above feature large as my influence and sound track too… I love how songs can kick start the imagination when you least expect it.

I have a great debt to the clear elegant prose of writers like Bukowski and Hemmingway.  Also the stream of consciousness of Virgina Woolf’s The Waves, and the be-bop prose of Jack Kerouac – On the Road and Maggie Cassidy among others. Emily Bronte of course! James Clavell – I loved Shogun, its breadth and generosity. Also, Len Deighton – I love his spy thrillers, particularly the Samson Trilogy. The vitality of his prose and character portrayal is a real inspiration. The list could go on!

What are you working on at the moment?

Remy: Still recovering from writing the final draft of This – which should be available after Halloween this Autumn. Just underway with the next book, titled, That. They’re the first two in the This, That and the Other trilogy, which is an epic fairy tale fantasy that can be enjoyed by younger readers too. I am also developing my 'Corky, the Cicorc Conwy' story as a children's picture book.

And, for grown-ups, I am looking into finding an outlet for Dark Arts. It was developed as a six-part television drama, a couple of years ago, with the BBC in mind. So far, it is in the form of teleplays, but it’s going to work well as a series of short stories, or novels… Dark Arts is a period piece, set between the Wars, and deals with art, magic, horror and psychiatry… Think of a Hammer Films production of Brideshead Revisited, adapted by H P Lovecraft!

Zel: Helping with That, and I am always planning my own stories and comics. I have even finished a few of them! My latest series is currently broadcasting in my own head…

Kim: Finishing up on revisions for Welcome to the Dragon Café for release soon, yay! Other ideas constantly bubbling away too…including a story for young adult readers, Supermoon, and some Science Fiction.

Thank you Zel, Kim and Remy!

Non-fiction books by Remy Dean include biographies and critiques of Nick Cave, Henry Rollins, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Suede, Lydia Lunch, Celine Dion(!) and more recently the web-active history of art textbook, Evolution of Western Art.

His works of fiction for grown-ups include Scraps, a novel, Final Bough, a tale of the supernatural, and the recent short story collection, The Race Glass.

This going to be epic!
The new novel by Remy Dean with Zel Cariad
His forthcoming novel, This, is an epic fairy-tale-fantasy and is his first book for children and young adults. He is currently Writer in Residence at Plas Tan y Bwlch, the Snowdonia National Park's Study Centre.

Kim Vertue has written a novel and several short stories under different pen-names which have all been published internationally and in translation. She has also written for magazines and contributed to weblogs. Welcome to the Dragon Café is her first book for children and will be published soon by The Red Sparrow Press…

Zel Cariad is eleven-years old and is currently acting as creative consultant and first reader for Remy and Kim.

For more info and updates, check out The Red Sparrow Press website

and have a look at the offical Remy Dean author website