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A conversation with Anne Charnock

To end this week, I’ve got something a bit special. Please welcome author Anne Charnock, who also self-published her work, A Calculated Life, and was picked up by 47North.  We had a chat about writing, publishing and who we’d like to see play our lead characters in TV/movies. 

 

Anne: You’re currently working on two books, Steve, and I wondered how you organize your writing schedule – do you flit from one book to the other? And how do you avoid getting confused?

 

Steve: I write one and do the plot stuff for the other. Sometimes I don’t feel like writing so I work on the book’s plot. So, I’m writing my novella and plotting out book 4. When the novella is done, I’ll write book 4 and plot out either book 5 or my new shiny idea.

I used to use a notebook for each book, but I’ve started (as of yesterday) using index cards and a white board, so we’ll see how that goes for making things easier.

So, how do you juggle ideas for new books while writing?

 

Anne: I’m juggling lots of ideas for short stories at the moment. I’m writing two – jumping between them on roughly alternate days. They’re quite short so it’s not really a problem. But one thing I find helpful is to write each story in a different font – it instantly shifts my mindset. Last night, when I was dropping off to sleep, I imagined a conversation that would slot into one my short stories so I typed that up before breakfast today and I’ll try to polish the whole story this evening. A second novel is starting to take shape but I’m not forcing it just yet. I’m hoping the short stories will help to crystallize things. My first novel started out as a short story.

I’ve had to do quite a bit of research for these stories, which I’ve loved doing. How about you? What kind of research do you need for your novels?

 

Steve: A different font? That’s a great idea, I should try that.

I love research, it’s one of the most fun parts of being a writer. I’ve had to research a lot of mythology and monsters/characters that are contained within them. Then there’s weaponry, cars, historical details for cities and countries, clothes and far too many things to remember. I once had to phone the fire department in the UK and ask how to start a fire without making it look like it’s been deliberate. Once I explained to the very nice man that I wasn’t a crazy person, he was quite happy to explain. I did something similar with BMW and how to steal a Z4. Sometimes I think I’m trying to make myself into a master criminal.

So, what’s your favourite piece of research that you’ve done so far? Do you spend a lot of time researching before you get to the book, or do you do it as you go along?

 

Anne: I can’t tell you my best bit of research, which involved a trip to San Diego, because it would act as a spoiler for the novel!

 

Steve: Yeah, don’t spoil anything.

 

Anne: I do love the research element. I launched into writing A Calculated Life on the back of several conversations with neuroscientists. I allowed other research to feed into the story along the way and I’m now an expert (ahem) on stick insects, bee-keeping, growing citrus, even Medieval sculpture. Not as exciting as your research, Steve. But when a bit of research steers my story in a new direction or adds depth, that’s when I jump up and down, alone in my little study.  So sad.

 

Steve: My research wasn’t so much exciting as it was lucky no one decided to send a few coppers round to have a chat.

 

Anne: Well, at least you’d get some writing done in your quiet police cell.

One thing we have in common, Steve, is that we both self-published our work before we signed contracts with 47North. It was an easy decision for me but I wondered if it was more difficult for you. What difference does it make to you now that you have a publisher?

 

Steve: Actually it wasn’t a difficult decision at all. Speaking to the people who worked at 47North and seeing their enthusiasm for my work, sort of decided for me. The fact that they were willing to back my writing and help promote it, allowing me more time to actually write, was a pretty big factor too. That’s the big difference between being an Indie or self-published writer and not – you have that backing of something big behind you. There are people who bat for you, who want you to do well. Now, yes, if you do well, they do well, but their desire to see you succeed is a great thing. That said, I can still self-publish or publish other work with someone else, so not much has changed in that respect.

I currently write Urban Fantasy, but I have plans for a steampunk series and I’d like to do some SF and historical stuff. Do you have any plans to change your genre? Do you have a hankering to sink your teeth into something new and shiny?

 

Anne: Interesting question! How much should I reveal? I’m certainly going to use the short stories to stick my elbows out. My novel is a near-future dystopia set in the corporate world in England. So I’m now playing around with far-future and other-world scenarios. But I’m also looking at how to site historical stories alongside these futurist excursions, and I have a few ideas about that.

In addition… I’m messing about with the form of my stories. Some are very short. I’ve just this morning completed the first draft of a short story that’s written solely as dialogue: a conversation between two sisters walking along a beach. I’m writing several of these ‘conversations’ set in different places, different eras. I like that idea of continuity. In fact, my outline for these short stories is often very simple – a single sentence about the scenario/setting plus a single sentence of dialogue.

Do you have a particular way of bringing an idea into the open, of getting started?

 

Steve: I couldn’t do that with the short stories and conversations, my brain would just force me to keep going.

I don’t really have one set way. What tends to happen is something will come to me and then my brain will be like a dog with a bone. For example, I had an idea last week for a fantasy/SF/steampunk story. The entity of my idea was humanoid-animals. Within a few days I’d fleshed out the world, a few characters and had a rough idea of the beginning of the story. Once I start, I don’t seem to be able to stop until I’ve done something with it. Which is great when I’m working on what I’m meant to be working on, but when that new shiny idea pops up, it can put a spanner in the works as it demands to be thought about.

It’s probably why when I get round to writing the stories, I have a pretty good idea of characters/world and story. I know how it’ll end and will have a good idea of what I want to happen during the book, although it’s not set in stone.

Do you know what happens in your books before you start writing? Or are you a ‘as you go’ kind of writer?

 

Anne: Like you, nothing is set in stone. I’m definitely an ‘as you go’ writer. I knew my main character pretty well before I started my novel and I wrote, for my own background purposes, a description of what was going on in the world. Straight away I had an opening scene, and I set off. That opening scene is no longer at the beginning! I knew fairly early how I wanted to end the story but I didn’t map the book, chapter by chapter. I started another short story today – thought I knew where I was heading, and after two paragraphs I found myself veering off. I reckon each sentence is dictated by the previous one.

On another subject… while I was jogging at the weekend I envisaged a complete opening sequence for a movie, based on my novel. I was so excited I actually ran faster than humanly possible. So, to bring this conversation to a close… have you considered who might play the lead role in the movie of your book? Have you seen a movie and thought “That’s the perfect actor?”

 

Steve: Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever pictured one person as Nate. It changes quite often. Anthony Starr from Banshee is quite Nate-esque, as is Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy. Also, he’s British, which helps. I think both of those men have done excellent fight scenes and are quite capable of acting as a badass, but can also do the witty/more down-to-earth side of Nate too.

Who would you pick for yours then?

 

Anne: I can see it – Starr and Hunnam fighting for the role of Nate!

As for my main character Jayna… Hmm, I know the actor needs to portray Jayna’s slow transition from being ‘unknowing’, almost innocent, to a more animated character, without going totally overboard (so maybe we should chose our directors, too). From past films, I liked Audrey Tautou in Amelie (but she’s French) and the cool look of Uma Thurman in Gattaca. But among today’s rising stars, I think Carey Mulligan, if available, could make a good stab at the role (see An Education). And I’m intrigued by a Canadian actor coming to BBC3 soon – Tatiana Maslany in the SF series Orphan Black (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01ftyjj). She plays multiple roles in each episode so she’d cope with anything.

Well, that’s an upbeat note to end on!

 

 

Anne Charnock’s writing career began in journalism and her articles appeared in The Guardian and New Scientist. Anne reviews fiction for the online magazine Strange Horizons and contributes book recommendations to The Huffington Post. She splits her time between London and Chester and, whenever possible, she and her husband Garry take off in their little campervan (unless one of their two sons has borrowed it), travelling as far as the Anti-Atlas Mountains in southern Morocco.

A Calculated Life http://www.amazon.com/A-Calculated-Life-ebook/dp/B00DWFCA30

Website http://www.annecharnock.com

Twitter http://www.twitter.com/annecharnock

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/ACalculatedLife

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An Interview With John Jackson Miller

 

Today I’m proud to introduce fellow 47North writer, Star Wars scribe and all-round talented individual, John Jackson Miller.

 

1. So, why don’t you tell us all a bit about yourself?

John Jackson Miller: I’m a writer who’s spent the last couple of decades strip-mining my childhood, so to speak! I worked in the comics industry for many years as a trade magazine editor (and continue my historical research on my Comichron site – http://www.comichron.com). For the last decade I’ve also been writing comics and prose, for franchises from Star Wars and Indiana Jones to Conan and The Simpsons.

Along those lines, I have a few books that are out this summer. The big one is Del Rey’s Star Wars: Kenobi, my first prose hardcover, which follows the early days of Obi-Wan Kenobi during his sojourn on Tatooine. On the comics side, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Omnibus Vol. 1 has just released, which collects the first chunk of the five-year comics series I wrote for Dark Horse Comics.

The other prose book is one of my own: Overdraft – The Orion Offensive, my first creator-owned project, which I did for 47North. I’m really excited about that one.

OverdraftOO200 (3)

 2. Can you tell us a bit more about your book? Where did the idea come from? How long did it take to write?

John Jackson Miller: The short plug for Overdraft is that it’s aliens and armored mercenaries taking on Wall Street! Really, it’s a fun story that plugs into a number of the themes that I enjoyed writing about in licensed work. It’s set in the 22nd Century, when mankind has reached the stars and entered into galactic commerce; naturally, greed is soon to follow. Overdraft follows what happens when a conniving stock trader accidentally bankrupts his interstellar expedition from his desktop; the mercenaries, deciding they’re not going to go into unemployment, drag him to the frontier to get their money back, one dangerous planet at a time.

It’s space opera with some satirical overtones, partially inspired by the London Whale and some other high-finance disasters; it made for a good springboard to get our fish out of water and into the galactic soup, fighting for his life. It’s also got a fun system of space transport, which is really more akin to the golden age of rail travel.

It took about three months to write, once I got started on it.

 

 3. How did signing with 47North come about?

John Jackson Miller: The acquisitions editor, David Pomerico, had been assistant editor on a short story project I did at Del Rey, Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith. It was being released as a collected print edition in the summer of 2012 when I spoke with David about possibly doing a short story series for 47North. He suggested that I craft it into a Kindle Serial, and that’s what happened — the serial was released every two weeks from April to July 2013. It’s now available in its completed Kindle and physical book form. (http://amzn.to/overdraft1)

 

4. What has been your favourite part of your writing/publishing experience? The scariest?

John Jackson Miller: I’ve written over a million words for comics and prose works over the last decade, but this was a bit of a new experience: unlike my novels like Star Wars: Kenobi, this is set in a sandbox that’s all my own. So I needed to construct rules and a history for my world. It was fun work, but also a bit intimidating as you realize how much there is to think through. Things like what the medical system is like in your future world are things you don’t normally think of when working out a plot, but they tend to become important when you’re writing.

I think the other challenging thing was in writing the story, which was being released serially while I was writing it. I’m pretty fast, but life gets in the way sometimes, or it certainly tries to. You just have to focus and keep writing!

 

5.  What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?

John Jackson Miller: It’s not regular enough, is the problem! I was moonlighting for my first several years in the business and I continue to look on evenings and weekends as prime writing time, even though I have been writing full time and really should be setting a different schedule. I just seem to find that handling the business part of things tends to slop over from morning into the afternoons a lot, and that it’s really in the evening hours when I don’t have to worry about e-mails coming in from anyone.

I also have started using noise-canceling headphones, which are really helpful when gutting out a long scene. It’s funny – I was trained to work in a noisy newsroom, but really have trouble doing fiction when there’s noise about.

 

6. Do you have a favourite scene from the book?

John Jackson Miller: Overdraft throws the stock trader into all kinds of crazy situations – but one of my favorites is his first encounter with an actual alien. His translation system has assigned this bizarre looking creature the persona and voice of a 1950s stewardess, and he’s struggling to reconcile the voice with the gruesome sight of the alien – all without offending his potential customer. It doesn’t work out very well, to say the least. That becomes a pattern for him!

Readers can get a taste of the world in a prequel short story I wrote – “Human Error” – which has a similar odd predicament: our mercenaries accidentally get shipped the wrong species’ armor and have to cope! (http://amzn.to/overdraft0)

OverdraftHumanError (1)

7.  Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

John Jackson Miller: I have a Star Trek novella, Star Trek: Titan – Absent Enemies releasing from Simon & Schuster in early 2014. It’s my first foray into the Trek universe and it’s a lot of fun, following the adventures of William Riker on his new command.

I also have a Conan story in the November issue of Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword from Dark Horse Comics. It’s my first trip into that world, as well, and it reunites me with Philip Tan, one of my artists from my Iron Man run of comics.

I am working on some more Overdraft-related material, as well as some other projects; I hope to continue with Star Wars as well. Folks can find out about my upcoming work at http://www.farawaypress.com and on Twitter at @jjmfaraway.

 

 8.  Do you have any advice for other writers?

John Jackson Miller: Never stop writing, and always write for publication somewhere, even if it’s just for your own blog. Every word should have a destination, an intended reader. You’re in business to communicate, so make sure there’s someone – anyone – on the receiving end. That’s better practice than “writing for yourself.”

Kenobi_200

And now for a few fun questions.

 

1. What skills do you possess that would help you survive a zombie apocalypse?

John Jackson Miller: Zero, zip, and nada. I did establish that the rakghouls, the zombies from the Knights of the Old Republic series, were the result of Sith magic; my one contribution to zombie lore in the Star Wars universe. But outside of fixing continuity, my skills are lacking!

swomnibuskotor1

2. You can be any comic book superhero – Who would you be?

John Jackson Miller: I was glad to get to write Iron Man for a year as he was really the character I liked the most – he didn’t have to be in shape, he let the suit do the work!

 

3. As you’re a Star Wars writer, I’d regret not asking this. So, are there any Star Wars characters you’ve never written but would like to? And who is the favourite one you’ve written so far?

John Jackson Miller: Ben Kenobi is really the first character from the movies that I’ve gotten to write at length about; obviously, he was a lot of fun. I’ve always thought Lando Calrissian would be fun to write about – he’s a scoundrel with style, you’ve got to love that. Within my own personal pantheon, probably Gryph, the conniving con artist from my Knights of the Old Republic comics, comes closest to having Lando’s cleverness.

 

Thanks to John for taking part.

You can find his blog here.

Twitter here.

And his Author Central page on Amazon here.

 

Interview with T.James

Next on my list of great writers to take over my blog is T. James. He not only has a great book out, the touching and moving My Mirror Self, and I, but he also interviewed me way back in April, which some named as the funniest interview they’d ever read. You can go here to read it in all it’s glory.

My Mirror Self, and I has been given some wonderful reviews: ““The central character is sympathetic and all too human while the depiction of depression rings scarily true.”

Here’s the blurb to My Mirror Self, and I:

Intimate and real, this is a story about finding courage in the face of adversity. Cassie is a young woman struggling to keep herself, and everything else, from falling apart as she tries to deal with breast cancer and depression. Can she find the strength she needs to rescue her marriage and reclaim her life?

And a short excerpt:

“A couple of claustrophobic and disconnected weeks followed before David left for another week away. I drove to see my parents back in my hometown of Topeka, where I stayed until a couple of days before David was due to return. The change of scene was wonderful, and it was so lovely to see them. For a brief time I felt like I had a home somewhere again. This was despite the suitcases left abandoned randomly in several rooms through the house; like flower centers surrounded by a corona of petals, each suitcase was decorated with its own crown of scattered clothes.

Mom had always been awful at packing, but adamantly refused help from anyone. This time it was even worse; in two weeks they were off on their ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe as Pop called it – bus trips around England, France, Spain and Italy, followed by a month-long cruise around the Mediterranean. They’d literally been saving for decades for this, their once-in-a-lifetime retirement dream – so I couldn’t talk to either of them about David, being unemployed, or hating Atlanta. I wasn’t going to ruin this for them and so I acted as if everything was fine. I thought I deserved an Oscar.

David called every day – at least things had calmed to a civil exchange of words. All marriages had their ruts, right? I had to be content with waiting, figuring that we could mend things when we got a bit more perspective on them. However, Marjorie overheard one of our calls and she wasn’t the waiting type.

Marjorie was one of my oldest friends, and the only one left still living nearby. We had gone to Malone’s, our favorite bar, which was now Chantrey’s American Bistro, and paid five times the price for drinks than we used to. The food was good though, and we were having a great night. Marjorie was always outrageous but now she was divorcing Jerry, her second husband, she was unstoppable. After two hours I knew more about their defunct love-life, Jerry’s birthmarks and the funny sound he made in the back of his nose when he panted than I ever wanted to. The phone rang and I pulled it eagerly from my bag – despite the tension between us, it was still great to hear David’s voice. He sounded happy enough, if a little distracted, and we chatted briefly about inconsequential things. He said he loved me and he was looking forward to seeing me again in a few days.

With a serial divorcee’s unerring instinct for spotting holes in someone else’s relationship, Marjorie asked if David and I were still having sex before the phone was even back in my bag. I really did not want to talk to her about that. Just because she felt comfortable going through a position-by-position debrief didn’t mean I did. I tried to evade the question, but Marjorie was drunk and simply wouldn’t let it go. Where did David go in the evenings? Did he still buy me gifts and, if so, what and when? Were we still planning a family?

I remember blushing and beginning to fume inside, but it wasn’t until Marjorie asked if I had been through his things, and checked his pockets, his address book and his phone contacts, that I finally understood what she was driving at. I threw my drink in her face and stormed out of the bistro, leaving my so-called ‘friend’ to find her own way home. I blamed Marjorie for being drunk and soured by two failed marriages. She was bound to suspect the worst. The hot feeling of shame buried somewhere inside told me that I doubted David too; I’d been through his things hadn’t I?”

And now for the interview:


1. So, why don’t you tell us all a bit about yourself?

I’m a dad and husband, living in the UK. Depending on who you talk to, I’m an old crusty the wrong side of forty, or my life began just over a year ago. I’ve trained as a scientist and therapist and I’ve been writing formally, at work, for most of my life. I started writing creatively in February 2011, the first time since I left school. I started with no clue, no confidence and an abandoned attempt at writing a fantasy novel. Since then I’ve turned my hand to poetry, short fiction, and blogging.

2. Can you tell us a bit more about your book? Where did the idea come from? How long did it take to write?

My Mirror Self, And I (MMSaI) tells the story of a young American woman, Cassie, and her struggle with depression, breast cancer, unemployment, and a failing marriage. It’s a story about finding the courage to go on living, no matter what the odds stacked against you.

The ideas came from a few places: various members of my family have faced what Cassie faces in the book; the courage of the people I used to treat; and my wife’s ongoing involvement in breast cancer research.

MMSaI took around six months to write, and several more for beta reading and editing. Although it is only novella length, the subjects are extremely emotive and it took me a long time to work out how to handle them within the context of a story—although it is fictional I wanted Cassie’s experiences to feel as real as possible. It also took several tries to find a tone, viewpoint,  and style that I felt happy with. Partly this was down to my inexperience, which meant multiple rewrites. That was frustrating, but it was a great learning experience for me as a writer.

3. How did you come up with the title?

I can’t remember which song it was, but I heard the phrase, “me myself and I,” in the lyrics. That stuck with me and I started to play around with the wording until I felt it fitted some of the themes of the story: our identity and how we define it.

4. What made you decide to self-publish?

I’m not against traditional publishing, but for this novella it was a straightforward decision: the shorter format, unusual writing style, and the topics of cancer and depression were never likely to appeal to an agent or a mainstream publisher. It was either self-publication or abandonment.

I was also excited by the prospect of being able to get into the design and presentation side of book production—something only self-publication allows you to do.

5. What has been your favourite part of this writing/publishing experience? The scariest?

Writing anything, especially when it’s self-published, leaves you feeling quite exposed as I think something of yourself always goes into what you create. It’s like being at school again and waiting for your essay to come back from the teacher—covered in red pen and with, “See me,” written at the bottom—except this time your writing is applauded or criticised by a lot more people.

The exchanges I’ve had with writers and readers so far have been challenging and rewarding in equal measure, but something I’ve really grown to value. My other “best bit” is the feeling of satisfaction I get when I see the finished product. I will leave it to others to personally rate the quality of what I do, but for me the point is that I did it, and to the best of my ability.

6. Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

I’m very much in an experimental phase at the moment, wanting to try different genres and styles of writing to find out what my limits are. Life is a mix of both tragedy and comedy, and as a writer I want to explore both. My new projects are a lot less serious: a YA parody and a satirical writer’s how-not-to guide.

7. What do you do for fun when you’re not writing?

The thing is, writing is fun. I’ve always had an overdeveloped sense of curiosity and writing gives me a great excuse to find out all kinds of oddities and obscure facts—did you know you’re not supposed to hot wash hemp underwear?

As a person I’m quite passionate and my free time is limited so if I was going to give writing a decent go then something else had to give. I used to watch anything and everything on television and play loads of computer games—now, not so much. I don’t miss them as much as I thought I would as I get more of a kick from creating than I do from consuming. I still watch TV and films with my wife and there’s reading, of course. Otherwise life is about letting my son spray me with water and jump on me as often as possible.

8. What was the last movie you went to see?

 Avengers Assemble. It was fun: excellent action sequences and cheesy one-liners, Loki in a dress, Thor with the intellectual capacity of a bison, Ironman with his toys, Captain America in a gimp mask, the Black Widow in her itchy cat suit, and a Large Green Angry Man. Great cinema.

 

9. What’s your favourite comedy Monty Python film/sketch?

Of the films it has to be Monty Python And The Holy Grail:

The Knights Who Say Ni: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTQfGd3G6dg&feature=related

She’s a witch! http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=zrzMhU_4m-g&NR=1

The Black Knight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKhEw7nD9C4&feature=related

French Taunting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9DCAFUerzs&feature=fvst

It’s the Monty Python team at their funniest, but personally I found the ending a bit of a let-down.

Sketches:

The Parrot Sketch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npjOSLCR2hE

Fresh Fruit Self-Defense: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piWCBOsJr-w

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_eYSuPKP3Y&feature=BFa&list=UUGm3CO6LPcN-Y7HIuyE0Rew

Ministry Of Silly Walks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZlBUglE6Hc&feature=relmfu

I know these are everyone’s favourites, but they’ve become classics for a reason.

10. What makes you laugh on TV?

Well, it was a while ago, but I always enjoyed the anarchy of The Young Ones: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPDa8gZ75vw&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GNEC8lcMbY&feature=related

*Uncomfortable silence*

Um, Steve? Steve…? Was I that dull? Maybe he’s just working his way through all those YouTube clips…

*An even longer uncomfortable silence*

Well, I guess that must have been his last question.  I don’t know, does he do this a lot? It’s his blog and everything, but it’s a bit off isn’t it? To anyone reading this, I guess Steve will be back soon with another post. I apologise on his behalf for leaving you all hanging…

*Mutters on the way out* Maybe it was a technical fault…? Maybe writing Nate’s got to him, and he’s now delusional and trying to kill people by dropping cars on them with the power of his mind…? Maybe one of his daughters needed Daddy for something? Maybe he hasn’t done the dishes, and his wife found out? Maybe…

 

(Steve – Everyone just remain quiet, it might be cruel, but it’s the only way to get him to go home.)

If you’d like to read more of TJ’s musings (and that should probably come with a health warning of some kind), or want to read his incredible book, click on the links below.

EBOOK FOR KINDLE (readable on almost any mobile device with the Kindle App) available from:

Amazon (UK)

Amazon (US)

AUTHOR LINKS

Published work at: writerandauthor.com

Author website: tjames.org

T. James Blog: thewordonthe.net

Interview with Tom Harris

Monday’s, as a rule, suck. Today sucks even worse, because it’s a bank holiday and I have to work. But there’s a little glimmer of happiness in what is otherwise a gloomy day. And that, my friends, is an interview with the wonderfully talented, Tom Harris.

But before we get to that, here’s the first chapter of his YA Novel – The Amber Room, introducing the main character, North.

THE THRILL:

He sat on the top deck at the front, away from the other school kids at the back who had got on the bus with him. He shielded his eyes, feeling the heat on his face through the glass as the autumn sun peeked out between the terraced houses.

The open staircase behind his seat was his only exit. A blur of sunlight got trapped in his vision as he glanced down the length of the bus to see if he could make a clean getaway when the time came. He could feel the thrill rising inside him like a leviathan.

Four seats back, across from him, sat alone on the double seat was a guy wearing huge headphones, eyes closed, head bobbing. Three seats from the front were a young couple holding hands and giggling; eyes like magnets locked on each other. Second seat from the front was a problem. The middle-aged woman stared at him when he got on and she stared again now. All she had to do was lean across her timid looking husband and…Gotcha!  On the seat across from him was an old lady sucking on a mint she had taken out of a packet that sat loosely in the palm of her saggy skinned hand.

North didn’t like mints, but he was going to steal them anyway.

He caught his reflection in the window. The sight of his jean jacket over his drab black and grey school uniform took him back to the Easter holidays when his parents had bought it for him just before his fourteenth birthday. It was the last thing they would ever buy him, probably…

A bead of sweat seeped down his back sticking part of his school shirt against his skin. He pulled his tie off, rolled it up and unrolled it three times, and put it in his jacket pocket. Through the reflection in the front window, the bag of mints sparkled like pure white diamonds.

Goosebumps gathered on his skin. His legs quivered as if he was tapping along to heavy metal. He rolled his neck, stretching, warming up for the main event. A pile of scrunched up bus tickets had collected on the floor below his seat and he spread them out with the tips of his toes forming the letter M for Mint. He let out a small snort of laughter. ‘Second seat from the front woman’ was like one of those pictures that followed you around the room. He avoided her stare through the reflection of the front window and ran his hand across his cropped black hair as the bus pulled to a halt.

The bus trembled at the stop and a rush of heat smothered his body. He picked at the tornPerrowSchoolcrest on the blue cloth school bag that hung around his neck. It was too much of a hassle to take off his jean jacket so he blew cold air down his top. He rocked a little in his seat, full of nervous energy, legs still wobbling like jelly.

The thrill was back.

I told you he was talented. And that’s a hell of a good cover. So, without further ado, allow me to introduce him to you.

Hi, Tom. So, why don’t you tell us all a bit about yourself?

I write Young Adult fiction and everything else is inconsequential! Although, as you were kind enough to ask, Steve, I do like Toffee Crumbles – even though I have no idea if they are an ice lol or an ice cream? Maybe that’s what makes them so appealing? I love Hitchcock’s Vertigo – I’m a big Hitchcock fan. I actually found out the other day that he almost directed the first Bond film which was meant to be Thunderball, but he turned it down and they went with Dr No – imagine what the Bond franchise would have been like under Hitchock’s direction? Wow! I love cricket, football and birds – all three have fascinated me since I was a child. I think watching TV shows and movies are important for writers as well as reading great books. I love reading but stuff like Buffy, Supernatural, Sherlock and The Fades fuel my creativity whilst acting as a release valve from ongoing projects.  24 is not my genre, but I do miss Jack Bauer and attend withdrawal therapy every month! My friends know I love the show and call me CTU, at least it sounds like that to me…

 

 

Can you tell us a bit more about your book, The Amber Room? Where did the idea come from? How long did it take to write?

The idea was spawned by reading Charles Perrault’s fairy tales. I then thought about a fresh take with new characters travelling inside these amazing worlds; the brilliant Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crime Novels, inspired me to wander down this path. Then the characters got hold of me and became so real that I had to write it. North being a kleptomaniac was the key as it gave him an Achilles Heel that, although unappreciated in our world, is seen as a gift by the mysterious Dr Tan and enables North to become a treasure thief. Once Rosie Boots arrived as North’s guide through Perrault’s fairy tale worlds, I knew I just had to write it!

It took about six months for the first draft but a year in total, including time off to let the draft fester and then return to it with a fresh pair of eyes – which didn’t come cheap on the black market I can tell you! It was just like Minority Report! By the way, Philip K. Dick – amazing! I really did edit the heck out of this and am so grateful for my great critique group – The Registry Writers. Everyone who read it and gave advice played their part in forming the finished version of The Amber Room. Cheers guys!

 

Who’s your favourite character in the book?

I love Doctor Tan, North and Rosie and it would just annoy them if I picked one as my favourite – lots of squabbling and hiding when I need to discuss the sequel with them. My favourite sections to write were Doctor Tan’s scenes with North inside the Amber Room as I could just allow my imagination to wander into the mind of an eccentric supernatural treasure hunter and his quirky, twisted view on the world. I had some real fun with this and it got a little dark in places too – perfect! I also loved writing the scenes with North and Rosie and their banter as they deal with their attraction to each other as they pop in and out of dangerous fairy tale worlds searching for amber treasure. A lot of these scenes were inspired by a nameless muse and returned fond memories to my flame-grilled heart…sigh…Anyway [necks a shot of Oban Single Malt Whiskey] Let’s move on, quickly…

  

What made you decide to self-publish?

I just really believed in the story and wanted people to read it. I was very curious about the process of self publishing and wanted to see what would happen. The general idea was to promote myself from within, to catch the attention of publishers and agents through the quality of my work.

This is not a try it and give up if it doesn’t work thing for me. What I’ve produced is as good as I could do at that moment, but I aim to improve as a writer and to keep learning. This is a showcase for my writing which I’m very proud of and since me and the book have been out there, I’ve began to understand the fuller role of the modern author and what is expected. And let’s face it, If any of us can wake up in the morning and do what we love doing then surely that is the greatest gift of all! I hope this is a stepping stone to be able to one day achieve that goal. That’s why I self published!

*If anyone is interested in reading more about why and the processes of self publishing, I did a piece for Hackwriters last week on the very subject, just follow the link… http://www.hackwriters.com/TheAmberRoom.htm

 

Do you have a favourite book or author? What are they?

I read loads of Young Adult fiction and dip into other genres only when something hits me hard. Like a Hardback to the face or being threatened by a fellow debut author with a machete in a dark alley – I meant to have a word with you about that Steve! You really do take your research for your fight scenes to the limit don’t you!

I love Jasper Fforde’s stuff – so inventive and a work of genius in my opinion. Pullman, Rowling, Suzanne Collins first Hunger Games novel and Moira Young’s Blood Red Road are all outstanding! Neil Gaiman who I recently discovered – shocking that it’s taken me so long frankly – is absolutely amazing! Marcus Sedgwick is also brilliant!

 

What do you do for fun when you’re not writing?

This is my fun! Everything outside of writing is down-time, spent sprawled across the sofa or clambering up the stairs to bed. There have been reports of me having fun outside of writing – as rare as yeti sightings – which mostly involve friends and booze. I don’t class cricket and football as being fun, they are a plague which I take far too seriously – it’s in the blood and there’s nothing I can do about it! I’m like a moth to the flame when it comes to these sports.

 

Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

I have drafted the sequel to The Amber Room – The Amber Antidote, which I’m planning on releasing next year. But next up is a contemporary YA adventure thriller called Jackie Jones.

Fourteen year old Jackie accepts a mysterious invitation to a country estate to compete for a huge cash prize which could put an end to his family’s money worries for good. What starts out as being the opportunity of a lifetime, turns into a nightmare when Jackie arrives at Heath Hall and finds that the other contestants not only share his desire to win the money, but also his name!

I also have Hywel which is back to supernatural fantasy which I love. That will come out after The Amber Antidote in 2013.

Fifteen year old Hywel is troubled. He stalks girls, his parents think he’s overweight and now he’s been sent to a fitness boot camp in the English countryside. After following pretty Lara into the woods, Hywel watches beneath a full moon as she is attacked by a Nesthead Demon. Lara is saved but taken by a white wolf, but when Hywel returns to the camp no-one will believe his story until the camp comes under attack.

 

You can be any comic book superhero – Who would you be?

Batman! I love Batman! Not in a weird way, but I remember seeing what may have been a copy of an old Batman comic at a church fete and being totally hooked. I was desperate to get hold of the first issue to know how he became Batman! This wasn’t so easy back then and it took me ages to find out how it all started with the bat flying through the window and all that. God it’s so dark and brooding and painful and bloody amazing! God! I would love to be Batman!

When I was a kid I used to laugh my head off at the old TV series with Adam West and Burt Ward playing the caped crusaders and I still love that now! KABLAM!

As much as I enjoyed Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton in Tim Burton’s take, and it was great how they tried to stay true to the origins of the comic, the only credible part of the whole Batman franchise left standing after that was the brilliant animated series, where Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame, voiced The Joker! Every film sequel was rushed and the character was overlooked for special effects and guest stars, and also the lead actor kept changing…until Nolan and Bale got hold of it and…Wow! This is the dark, brooding, mystery of a vengeful man that I fell in love with. The two films are incredible, great storylines, great writing and superbly acted and very character driven, which is the key to pulling at emotional heart-strings after all.

 

 

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?

Go for it, you bumbling idiot! Being shy and polite never won fair maiden! You’ll never know if she likes you, if you don’t ask! Fight for her and treat her like a princess and let her know you love her. I’m single because of this stuff, anyone else out there treading gently, go out and declare your love – do it now! Don’t wait for it to happen, it never will! But if she or he rejects you I am unavailable for counselling as I generally give terrible advice.

Also, to slap the South Birmingham Football Manager round the chops with a pair of white gentleman’s gloves for not picking me when I was the best player on the pitch at the trial – well that’s how I remember it anyway! This idiot of a manager picked loads of giant kids and decided to play long ball tactics. I was a smaller kid, a bit like a young Messi – in size only obviously – but I was a ball player – he didn’t like that! WTF? Sorry Steve, you don’t have to post this boring football stuff, I only left it in because it was just great therapy to say that after all these years – cheers!

 

What skills do you possess that would help you survive a zombie apocalypse?

Natural camouflage. My face falls to pieces now and again and I have a strong limp, my shoulder is broken in four places, my head is at an angle and rests against my shoulders as though I’m sleepy and I drag my arms and my left foot just like Daniel-Day-Lewis. I like to eat rare steak and let that dribble from my mouth and I sleep in a graveyard! This could also explain why I’m single – hmm, never thought of that!

You can find and download The Amber Room on Amazon & Smashwords by following the links:

Amazon.co.uk – http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Amber-Room-ebook/dp/B007SFPG0O/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1337796392&sr=1-1

Amazon.com – http://www.amazon.com/The-Amber-Room-ebook/dp/B007SFPG0O/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1337796468&sr=8-3

Smashwords – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/148214

And if you feel like learning more about Tom, and why wouldn’t you, you can go to his blog:

http://tomdharris.wordpress.com/theamberroom/

Tagged

There’s this game going round the blogging word called tagged. Someone posts a blog with 11 questions and answers and then tags 11 people to come up with answers to another 11 questions and link back to the original blog.

Originally I thought I wouldn’t take part as I had a lot to do. But last week’s Tagger Tammy E. A. Crosby gave such good questions that I couldn’t help but take part.

So without further ado, here are the 11 questions she posted along with my answers.

1. You’re dead. What’s the one accomplishment you wished you’d achieved before you died?

I wish I’d found the cure for whatever I’d died of.

2. You find out you’re a witch, what’s the first spell you want to cast?

Like a female witch? If I find out I’m a hot female witch, I’m probably going to be a while before I get round to casting any spells. Just sayin’.

3. You’re the next contestant on Survivior. You can only take one material item with you (aside from pictures of loved ones etc), what item can you not live without?

My Macbook Pro. I can use it to write, and if anyone annoys me, use it to bludgeon them to death. That is the point of Survivor… right?

My Precious.

4. You’re stranded on a desert island with someone of the same sex. You’re lonely, they’re hot. Do you consider experimenting?

I think I’d be too busy trying to figure out how to get off the damn island.

5. You could pick one of your favourite foods to be non fattening, what would it be?

Bacon! Everything tastes better with bacon. (Well not everything, but bacon is still awesome.)

6. Your fairy godmother shows up, she says she can give you one special skill to help you succeed in life, what do you ask for?

Telepathy. I’m pretty certain I could succeed in anything if I could read everyone’s mind whenever I liked.

7. If you could choose to be immortal, would you?

Do I get a sword and have to be the only one? Because that sounds like a lot of work. And if you don’t, then it would get really dull, really quickly.

But at least I could probably manage a Scottish accent.

8. The devil appears to you. Says he’ll give you anything you ask for at all in exchange for your soul. Would you do it? If so what would you ask for?

No, I kinda like my soul where it is. Be nice to have a chat with him though, bet he plays a mean guitar solo. Probably listens to Sabbath.

If you play War Pigs backwards, you can hear the Devil ask you if you haven't got anything better to do with your time.

9. You’re told you’re being shipped off to another planet to populate it because your genes are just that outstanding. You can only take a famous person with you to be your mate, who do you request?

As my wife reads these, I’m just going to move right along and say nothing. Nope, not me, I wouldn’t take anyone. Hi Honey. Love you. *cough*

10. Your spouse cheats on you. There are no kids involved. What do you do to get some revenge on the cheating spouse?

I leave her. No revenge required. Revenge leads to hatred, and hatred to the dark side, it does.

11. You are caught up in the middle of a bank robbery. During the robbery some cash falls and lands close to you. Do you slide it into your pocket, or leave it?

I’d leave it, not out of some altruistic response, but because knowing my luck it would be the ink pack.

I’m going to take a break from the posting it to 11 people as most of them would have already had this sent to them. But if anyone is interested in taking part. Here’s 11 more questions—feel free to post the answers on your blog or in the comments section below.

You can spend one day in your partner’s body, able to read all his/her thoughts, etc. Would you do it?

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?

You can go on a date with one currently living famous person, who?

If you could travel to any time in history, where would you go and why?

What skills do you possess that would help you survive a zombie apocalypse?

You can be any comic book superhero – Who would you be?

If you could choose any one book to be made into a movie, what would it be?

You’re at the concert for your favourite band. They ask you to get on stage with them. Who are the band, would you do it, and what would you do on stage (sing, play instrument)?

You could live out the story from any one book. What book would it be?

What’s your favourite movie vampire?

You can become any supernatural creature, which one would you become?