Malcolm Havard: Guest Post.

Tim's photo
Tell us a little about yourself and your writing.

I am a self-employed surveyor/researcher. I have flitted between working in academia and industry over the last 20 years, finally settling on my current working pattern around 8 years ago. I have never felt comfortable in a conventional job so having a portfolio of different things to do really suits me, however I also chose it to give me more flexibility to write. I was finishing off my first (terrible) novel at the time I made the switch and being self-employed gave me the opportunity to get it over the line. Since then I have got into the habit of treating writing as both recreation and a weird sort of work that I can justify dropping into most days. I have published four novels and a collection of short stories so far. My novels are The Last Mountain a thriller that explores human failings and ambition, Contrail, a 1950s aviation/spy story, Touched, a romantic supernatural story and The First Book of Gabriel, a Pratchett-like satirical comic novel.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I came into creative writing from writing academic works and text books. In 1999-2001 I found myself having to write three huge projects, my PhD thesis (140,000 words) and two text books of 50,000 and 130,000 words. The first was written in formal, academic language, the latter two for knowledgeable but non-academic audiences. By the end of the process I had both got into the habit of fitting writing 3-5000 words into a normal working day and to pitching my output at different levels for different people. I found I had the urge to write more – in fact I couldn’t stop! – and to carry on the trajectory and write fiction for a much wider readership. The volume issue has, therefore, never been a problem, after the text books, 1000-1500 words of fiction is easy. The latter, writing fiction for a wide audience is much harder, it’s a craft that, 8 years later I am still learning!

  • What genres do you write?
  • Too many! I have written thrillers and supernatural romances but am probably settling on two that I prefer most of all, satirical comedy and historical fiction.
  • Why do you write under different genre?
  • I have very wide interests and I think this is reflected in what I enjoy writing. I would also get very bored if I did the same thing time-after-time.
  • Do you get the same readers for both genres? If not, in what ways do you think they are different?
  • No, I get very different readers, which is an issue and underlines why I should specialise in just one or two. An author needs to build up a following and it is easier to do this if the author is not chopping and changing all the time.
  • What do you like to do when you’re not writing, and does it come in useful for your stories?
  • I love the outdoors, walking, running, camping, kayaking and skiing. Walking and running certainly helps me to work out plots and characters. I also travel a fair bit with work and this helps me to observe and to write whilst travelling or waiting to go somewhere. There is something special about writing in a public place, and it’s where I’ve done some of my best work.
  •  What is at the root of your current book/story?I have tried something adventurous with the structure because it is essentially not one novel but two. One half is a conventional third person book with the story told through a handful of viewpoints and has normal length chapters. This, conventional, part is wrapped around and forms the top and tail to the eleven days itself, which is told in close third person from the viewpoint of one of my characters as he is thrown into the maelstrom of Bloody April and is told on a day-by-day basis. My intention is to trap the reader in the story and give them no rest and no relief, just as my character has no escape from his duty. Is there any genre or style of writing you haven’t tried but would like to?
  • Do you have a different persona/name for each genre?
  • No
  • What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
  • Listen to criticism. Even as an experienced writer our own view of our work is too narrow, and our position too close to our words and characters to be truly critical. I had done a lot of writing before I joined the Renegades but I have improved beyond measure by trying to listen to the criticism given to me over the last 3 years. It can be hard, it’s sometimes painful, it’s easy to become over-defensive, but it is invaluable.
  • Is there any genre you’d like to try?
  • I would like to have a proper go at Sci-fi. I’ve dabbled before and I’ve got some great ideas but, on the other hand, I already have written in too many genres!
  • Tell us more about what you are working on .
  • The novel is called Eleven Days and the first draft should be complete in the next few weeks.
  • I am getting towards the end of the longest, most complex and, in some ways, most challenging novel I have ever written. The root is a short story, The Chivalry of the Air that went into the WW1 collection I co-wrote with Jem Shaw, It Never Was Worthwhile. I have a great interest in the Great War and early aviation and I wanted to do a story that captured both the nobility of some of the participants but also the great brutality and lack of humanity that was sometimes required. I read it, like most of the others, to The Renegade Writers group that meets weekly in Newcastle and got a very mixed reaction – many were shocked at what my narrator did at the end of the story! I knew almost immediately that there was a great tale to tell beyond the short story and that I would have to make it into a novel. I think most people thought I was going to tell the story that led up to the act of brutality in the short story but, in fact, I tell the story of the aftermath, which I think is more interesting. Also going forwards in the timeline from the original story enabled me to have one of my characters go through ‘Bloody April’ in 1917, one of the most traumatic times for the Royal Flying Corp when around a third of their total force was lost in just a few weeks.
  • Do you ever like to brainstorm ideas?
  • Yes I share my life with another writer Nic Hale and we frequently share plots and ideas with each other. It really helps.
  • Pitch your latest book to the world at large in 100 words.
  • Eleven Days is set in a past conflict but it tackles issues that are relevant today. One theme is a country’s need for heroes, how they are created and how the truth about what they did is often incidental to the myth that is created around them. My novel also explores the horror of war and how it changes those who endure it, what they need to do to survive and succeed, and how the impact of war affects not only the direct participants but also everyone around them long after combatant has come home.
  • What’s the most important thing you have learned about writing?
  • Editing. I love creation, plotting, world building and character development. I hate editing. It’s horrid. But very necessary
  • Do you have a writing routine?
  • Yes, I write from 8-9am most weekday mornings. I try and leave the previous section from the day before unfinished but knowing where it is going and what bits I have to add in to complete it. That means I don’t have to think much to get started, I am already in the flow before I reach a difficult bit
  • Research a joy or a chore?
  • .A way of life. I find research fun, though I rarely have to specifically research something, it’s more that I know I’d like to write about something and read around it. Often this can be years in advance of actually writing. An exception was The Last Mountain where I needed to research high altitude medical issues prior to the main write. I was pleased how little of the research I actually used – that may seem an odd line but I did not want fall into the common trap of ‘having my research showing’, a temptation that affects too many authors to include as much research as possible given how hard it is to obtain in the first place!
  • Naming characters: do you choose, or do the names come fully formed?
  • They do generally choose themselves. This frequently leads me into problems with characters with names that are too similar – Eleven Days’ two leading female characters are currently called Annie and Alice! The names as they are suit my characters, it will be hard to change one.
  • What are you currently reading?
    Letters From A Lost Generation: First World War Letters of Vera Brittain and Four Friends I really should have read this before I started Eleven Days, but it is a deeply moving book, particularly when you know the fate of the four friends referred to in the title. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Malcolm-Havard/e/B00A6Q3LNG/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1453821698&sr=8-1
  • http://www.penkhullpress.co.uk/Malcolm_Havard
  • @malhavardwriter

 

Guest Blog: Jan Edwards: A woman of many genres.

Jan in Hat 001

Today I am lucky enough to have a guest blog from Jan Edwards; a very talented and versatile writer.

Tell us a little about yourself and your writing. I was born in Sussex but now live in Staffs Moorlands with my husband, Peter Coleborn and a small glaring of cats. With my editorial hat on I have a number of anthologies for various imprints. The most notable of those currently available are co-edited with Jenny Barber: The Alchemy Press Book of Ancient Wonders; The Alchemy Press Book(s) of Urban Mythic 1 & 2 and Wicked Women.

Some of my forty-plus short stories have been brought together into collections: Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties, is available from Alchemy Press. Fables and Fabrications, which is to be published this spring by Penkhull Press this spring!

Sussex Tales is a main stream novel as was Sex, Lies and Family Ties (now out of print but hopefully due to rise again!), but my latest novel Winter Downs, due out this year, is crime fiction. I also co-wrote on a direct-to-DVD Dr Who project which is currently in production.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started? That old chestnut of having written as long as I can remember doubtless applies to every writer you care to ask and I am no different.

I have a theory that we are all hard wired to communicate through various artistic mediums or some kind at some level. Human society started out recounting tribal history or teaching life skills by way of sagas and songs told when the family or wider tribe gather around an evening fire. The earliest ‘stories’ I can recall telling were recounted for Monday morning ‘News time’ at primary school. In the absence of anything interesting to say I winged it with flagrant mistruths that got wilder and wilder. Oddly nobody ever challenged me on them I got into the habit of storytelling for entertainment. It still took me a long while to make any serious attempts at gaining publication.

What genres do you write? Most of my short fiction is fantasy in the wider sense and covers horror, pulp, supernatural, steam punk and urban fantasy and much of that output is based around folklore, myths and legends, which is my passion. I also write main stream and crime fiction as well as the occasional script.

Why do you write under different genre? I write in different genres for no better reason than saying that fiction, like ice cream, comes in different flavours and I like variety in my life. More often than not there is no deliberate move to cross genres. Stories can come to me in different forms and I write them accordingly, or as has happened more often in recent years, I am asked to write quite specifically for an anthology in one genre or another.

My two latest short stories for came to be written for different reasons and in different genres.

‘The Jamesian Conundrum’ appears in an anthology based on and around that well known nemesis of Sherlock Holmes: Moriarty. It could be viewed as either crime or historical fiction yet can just as equally be slotted into main stream or pulp. This was pitched to the editor in reply to an open submissions window.

‘The Decks Below’ is in a horror anthology, but also crosses several genres and could be seen as pulp fiction; adventure; historical (set in 1930 and based on a real event); steam punk with the impossible inventions at the heroine’s disposal and also as mythological fantasy in that it uses both the ancient folklore myth of the Chesil beach mermaid and the early 20th century Lovecraftian Cthulhu Mythos.

That all may sound quite confusing, and if I were pitching to an editor I would not own up to quite so many threads, but it does illustrate how my stories often cross genres without any specific choice on my part. Stories arrive as they arrive.

The recent rise of mash-ups has blurred the lines even further on the genre front so anything is possible and possibly even desirable if it breaks down the perceptions of those ‘comfort zone’ readers.

Novels tend to be a more deliberate choice. I usually know that this novel will be Fantasy or that one Crime. The ideas come and we write what we are sent by our imagination, but keeping marketing in mind does require the author to have a reasonable idea of who they are writing for by the end of chapter one.

 

Do you get the same readers for different genres? If not, in what ways do you think they are different? Some readers will devour anything that comes their way, and enjoy it all for varying reasons provided it is well written, but I suspect the majority of people read within their perceived comfort zone and seldom move far from it.

You often hear people voicing their dislike of horror for example and go on to tell you that they do read crime. However, much of the horror published today is deliberately pitched as dark crime or thrillers. It is only when a supernatural element is introduced that it become what most would view as horror.

When it comes to crossing genres it is even harder to avoid in the fantasy-horror arena. Many more sub-genres exist now than twenty, or even ten years ago, and each has their own authors and audience. Often, however, you will see people reading right across the spectrum. .

As we know Women’s Fiction and Historical Fiction often blur, though this is less common with Chicklit. Then again Historical merges with War or Westerns, which are mostly regarded as Male fiction.

So in answer to the question do we get the same readers across different genres? Sometimes, yes. Others read exclusively within their niche.

Why are they different? Because that is people.

 

What do you like to do when you’re not writing, and does it come in useful for your stories?

I write a lot, or read, or else go to conventions and writing conferences. So my life does revolve around fiction a great deal. But I also like to garden, go walking, visit historical sites and study folklore (especially local folklore). I like to make quilts, cross stitch, embroider (badly), ceramic sculpturing and make jewellery. I am a Master practitioner in both Usui and Celtic Reiki and have qualifications in various other therapies including Meditational Healing and Bach Remedies. I seldom have time to be bored.

Do these things come in useful for writing? Of course! Everything is grist to the writing mill.

 

What is at the root of your current book/story Sussex Tales is about rural life and social history.

My latest shorts have been released into the wild in The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty and Terror Tales of the Ocean. Plus I have two more publications due in the next month in Tales From the Lake: vol 2 with Crystal Lake Publishing and Winter Tales with Fox Spirit Books anthologies. All of which revolve around folklore in the main.

I have two collections – both of which also draw heavily on my love of folklore, myth and legend.

Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties, The Alchemy Press, is a collection of supernatural short fiction and available on Amazon.

Fables and Fabrications, Penkhull Press, is mainly horror and dark fantasy but has some steam punk, sf and urban fantasy thrown in for good measure.

Also coming soon is Winter Downs, a crime novel set in the Sussex of World War Two.

I have an urban fantasy novel in the pipeline also, which again draws on folklore, so if there is one root that rises up most often then that is the one.

Is there any genre or style of writing you haven’t tried but would like to?

I think I have written in most genres at some point of other so no not really. I should like to write more crime but who knows what will come next. I will go where the ideas take me.