Monday, April 21, 2014

Blog Tour: how, how, what and why...

1) What are you working on?
I’m working on three things at the moment.  First is I’m putting the finishing touches to the second in the Conquest Trilogy, the first of which, Shieldwall, which tells the story of the young Earl Godwin, was a Sunday Times Book of the Year. 
This book tells the tale of Harald Hardrada, the King of Norway who won the Battle of Fulford Gate, and lost the Battle of Stamford Bridge, a week later.  Harald has been a really fun character to write.  He’s bold, brash, ballsy, and he’s done it all. 

At the other end of the time scale I’m in the 41st Millenium….!   I’ve been working with The Black Library on and off for a number of years now, and have been given a really exciting opportunity to take one of their Imperial Guard characters, Usarkar E. Creed.  In my mind he’s something of a mix between Churchill and Zhukov… I’m starting off with a set of three longish short stories, the first is almost done, and will be starting the others soon.  These short stories are a really freshener: I'm enjoying having shorter projects I can deliver in a month or so, and get them out into the world.  It's a pleasant contrast to the slowness of novels, and traditional publishing.   

I can't talk about the third thing I’m working on... but I can tell you that it is to write  two novels for an Oscar winning film.  Delighted to be selected, and in some ways its familiar territory which is great to be playing around on.  More soon!  ;-)
 2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Many popular histories retell the Norman myths, and often fiction writers take that and embroider it. 

My Conquest Series is trying to set down in fiction what ‘probably’ happened around the events of 1066.  I’ve started my tale back in the reign of Ethelred the Unready, circa 990s, and am tracing the story forward. 

I’ve chosen this because what happens in 1066 seems directly a result of Knut’s conquest of England in 1016.  Also the Conquest Series is centered around the battle itself, not necessarily any particular characters, who may or may not appear in other novels. 

Other than that – what can I say?  My novels are kick-ass reads, full of great characters, and loaded with history.  What could be better than that?

 3) Why do you write what you do?

I was giving a talk to school kids this morning, talking about stories and how they fill our lives, and I got a bit choked up a couple of times and had to take deep breaths.  I think it’s because writing, stories, and being able to write are deeply personal to me.  I’ve wanted to write since I was ten years old, and had just put down The Lord of the Rings, and was smitten by Tolkien’s ability to construct an entirely new world with myths, and histories and languages and all.

I always thought that being a writer would be a long hard slog, but perhaps I’m reaping the benefits now.  I know what I am doing much better than I did when I had first started, and I’m starting to write stories quicker, and better as well, I hope. 

As I said, I've never been busier, and loving it.  I get to make a living out of this, honest?!

4) How does your writing process work?
I’m not sure yet I have a process, and how I approach a short story of 10,000 words is quite different to how I approach a novel.  But generally I’m not a planner, though planning, or perhaps sketching out a story is something I’m learning to do more and more and still keep the level of creativity I enjoy. 

But generally I’m an over-writer.  I have a good editorial eye, and cut back furiously.  For example, the first draft of the short story I’ve just finished was about 14,000 words long to get a really zinging 10,000 word story. 

With my last novel, Shieldwall, I probably wrote at least 250,000 words to get a 112,000 word novel. 

I wish there was a faster, quicker, more direct line from the first line of a story to the end, but I haven’t found it yet.  Sketching stories out before hand does help, but still the  process is two fold: creating and then editing. 

Thanks to Matthew Harrfy for asking me to continue his tour... check out his answers here

The Tour Continues! 
Look out for these authors next Monday, 28th April.

Ben Kane

Ben Kane was born in Kenya and raised there and in Ireland. He qualified from university as a veterinary surgeon. After several years of practice, he took off around the world, indulging a passion for travel. Seven continents and more than 65 countries later, he settled down, for a while at least. In 2001/2, he naïvely decided to write bestselling Roman novels, a plan which came to fruition after several years of working 90 hour weeks as a veterinarian and a writer. He now lives in North Somerset with his wife and family, where he has sensibly given up veterinary medicine to write full time.
Ben is currently walking in Roman Legionary garb, for charity... support him here
Picture courtesy North News and Pictures

Edoardo Albert
Edoardo Albert is, on paper, an exotic creature: Italian, Sinhala and Tamil by birth, he grew up in London among the children of immigrants (it was only when he went to university that he got to know any English people). His proudest writing achievement was reducing a reader to helpless, hysterical laughter. Unfortunately, it was a lonely-hearts ad. He’s writing volumes two and three of The Northumbrian Thrones, a biography of Alfred the Great with osteoarchaeologist Dr Katie Tucker and a spiritual hisory of London. He is quite busy.

 Carol McGrath

My passion has always been reading and writing historical fiction. I live in Oxfordshire where I taught History until I took an MA in Creative Writing at The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, and an Mphil at Royal Holloway. My debut novel, The Handfasted Wife, is first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066. The Swan-Daughter will be published in July. So, for now, no more teaching except for creative writing!

Follow me on Twitter @carolmcgrath

Monday, November 4, 2013

Notes from a Strange Island: new blogs at Asia Literary Review

What to see at the Hong Kong Lit Fest 2013

Justin Hill on Hastings, Sequels and How to Find an Agent part i & ii

Halloween, Fancy Dress, Bonfire Night, and thier Ancient Roots

On this day in 1605, a man named Guy Fawkes was found in an undercroft, in a house belonging to John Whynniard, Keeper of the King's Wardrobe, with twenty barrels of gunpowder.  His plan had been to blow up King James when he came to the House of Lords for the opening of Parliament and in England we still celebrate the failure of his plot by lighting bonfires, shooting off fireworks and eating toffee apples.  But we’re also celebrating something much older; a comforting fact for me as I’ve never quite had a simple relationship with the burning of the ‘Guy’, or the celebration of Protestantism over Catholicism.    
For one, like Fawkes, I come from an old Northern Catholic family, but more than that, we went to the same school: St Peter’s, in York.  He was and remains our most famous old boy: an odd example for young boys trying to emulate our famous alumni. 
At our school we didn’t burn a Guy on our bonfires, but we did light bonfires because it is the perfect way of fighting back the gathering gloom of northern climes.  This festival makes sense because it’s a celebration much older than 1605, and owes its origins to a festival that marked the end of the Harvest, and the onset of winter.

Bonfires were originally lit five nights earlier, at Halloween.  Halloween was the beginning of Hallowmas: (from the Old English halig, which meant ‘Holy’ or ‘saint’; and mas) - a Christian festival where the souls of the dead were honoured on the festivals of All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween); All (Hallow’s) Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day.

But that too had older, deeper roots.

The Celts called it Samhain: a three night festival which marked ‘Summer’s End.’  It was a time when the boundaries between this world and the other were at their thinnest.  Bonfires were lit to hold back the darkness; people dressed up (mummers); and the Wild Hunt was rumoured to ride through the skies terrifying children.  How little things change….!

Yes, we still dress up, still feel night spirits in the darkness; still scare ourselves with ‘ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night’.   What we’re really celebrating is something much more integral: the onset of the dark, and our innate reaction against it.  And that I find very comforting. 

Call it Bonfire Night, Halloween, whatever you like: it’s a festival with many names that marks the same half-way point between Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.  We celebrate it the same way they did, dressing up, scaring ourselves and lighting fires.  It is a tangible link us to our unknown ancestors who have disappeared into the dark before us. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

How novels are like girlfriends: my personal relationship with writing...

I found this old print of the only photo of my office circa 2000.  Some things haven't changed: though the 1995 Toshiba Satellite sadly gave up the ghost.

I’ve often thought that my relationship to my novels is similar to that with various women in my life. 
Other novels were those that needed working at.  Some that just hit you out of the blue, and some that were never really working out and were doomed from the start.  And then there are some which come like a bolt of lightning.  DDTH was like that.The Drink and Dream Teahouse (I've always called it DDTH for short) was my first novel, and so it has a very special place for me: it was my first love. 
It was as incredible a time for me as being a teenager and falling in love for the first time.  Writing it was an intense, all-consuming love affair.  It was like the story had been bottled inside me and suddenly burst out.  I could barely keep up. 

It took me six months from first line to putting the mss in an envelope, already sold for what was then a record breaking amount for an unfinished novel.
I had spent my twenties working abroad with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and I had already written two books about my experiences in rural China and Eritrea, East Africa.  But I found travel writing a little stilted.  Travel writing is an odd business, and it turns all the locals into foreigners in their own country.  I was dying to break into fiction.  I said 'graduate into fiction' then, and I still feel that fiction is a higher art form than Creative Non Fiction. 

What fiction gave me though, was a freedom to not have 'me' in the story, and this was so liberating.  I found, oddly, that I could be much more honest in fiction than in nonfiction.  And I could get much closer to the truth as well.

I came back to England from a last stint in China at the age of 29, to do an MA in Creative Writing in Lancaster.  As the leaves began to turn (autumn still seems like the best time to start a novel) I sat down to write a story that I wanted to put all my feelings about modern China into. 

I'm glad DDTH only took six months to write, because like your first love affair it was an unguarded and complete fall for me.  I would be out in the pub, thinking of my characters rather than listening to what anyone was saying.  They would wake me in the middle of the night.  I became a little obsessed.  The lives and challenges of the characters felt real.  They still feel real.  When I look at China now, the book is as relevant as it was ten years ago.
It's flawed of course.  It was my first novel and I had no idea what I was doing.  But there is a freshness and an honesty and a ballsyness to the writing that now I look back and admire. And I wonder if I still write that confidently, and fear that I dont.  Much in the way that after the first cut, you're never quite so open to others again.  I wonder if other writers have the same feeling?

DDTH won prizes I had never heard of, and was banned by the government in China, which in turns infuriated and delighted me, and I'm very fond of this book, and am delighted to have it out in the world again. If you'd like to get it then there are some links below, and if you like it, or not, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

DDTH ebook is up on Amazon on a special 48 hour sale: $1.99  £1.28