I don’t know where the idea originated, but here I am blog hopping, thanks to Michelle Shine, author of the extraordinary fictional biography of Dr Paul Gachet, Mesmerised, and of short story Skin Deep, which I published in Lovers’ Lies.
So here goes with the hopper’s questions:
What am I working on?
I’m always working on several things at once. I’ve just finished putting together my latest short story collection, fine tuning the order of the stories and such like, more admin than writing really. At the moment active progress is being made on a novella about wanting to be normal when you are born into a family of witches, which strays into some very strange territory – gingerbread, nuclear power, planning applications, genealogy, parrots… I’ve just finished a short story set in a fairground sideshow, which I wrote at the request of the actress who will read it, Carrie Cohen (well, she kept asking when I was going to write her something so I did) at Other Worlds for Brockley Max on 1st June. and I’ve promised myself a final, final edit on a fantasy epic as soon as I have a stretch of time to concentrate on it.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Oh, the G word. I err towards fantasy as my default – possibly because it means I don’t have to do much research, possibly because it amuses me to stretch outside the real and explore the might be. How does it differ from others? I take a very loose attitude to fantasy, (I’ve been reading it for forty years, and I get fed up with rigid sub-genres) so sometimes when I say fantasy I just mean rather unlikely, sometimes it’s a whole other world with different rules. Alix, my partner has a yardstick for fantasy – is there a sword that goes ‘ting‘ in it? If there is she won’t touch it. So no tinging swords for me. (But the space where it would go ting is very um, ting shaped.) I really dislike graphic violence that is there to make your stomach churn, so you won’t get any of that from me. Violence, yes, realistic and upsetting, possibly, but not stomach churning. Sometimes I’m funny, sometimes I’m deadly serious. I aim to make you care a LOT about my characters one way or another, so they aren’t ciphers or archetypes, they are real people doing strange things and coping, or not.
Why do I write what I do?
It’s fun. I couldn’t spend the amount of time I do at the computer if I didn’t enjoy it. I adore the what if of fiction, I’m passionate about inventing new rules for the universe and seeing what that does to my characters.
How does my writing process work?
I don’t have hard and fast rules, or techniques that I can be sure will always work. An idea will strike me (often on the bus, or in a cafe, overheard – especially mis-heard – conversations are fertile ground) or an exercise at my writers group will spark something off. Sometimes it just lies fallow in my ideas file until something else comes along and they create a crazy offspring, sometimes I’ll start writing straight away and not stop until I’m done, sometimes I write the key scene and put it away for months.
I’d hate not to have something cooking, as well as what I’m actively working on. I’m a great believer it write first check facts later, and if the facts don’t fit, change the facts.
Once I’ve got to first draft, I’ll do any fact checking that’s necessary, then I put the piece away for a while – a few weeks for something short, a few months for a long piece. Then I read it onto a recording device and listen back, a great way to spot over used words, plot inconsistencies, awkward phrases and so on. The I take it to my writers group (or if it’s very long ask a couple of them to read it outside the group.) I get useful feedback, which I sometimes ignore! My final test is to read aloud to a live audience who don’t know me: preparing for that really makes me hone the story into the best it can possibly be.
Editing other people, as I do for Arachne Press, has been very good for me, I really analyse why something isn’t working these days, and beat it around the head until it does, rather than shrugging and shoving it to the back of the metaphorical bottom drawer.
Ok, that’s the last of the questions, time to hand over to Alex Smith for the next blog hop.
Alex lives in Cape Town with her partner, their book-eating baby boy and their two dogs. She has had four novels published in South Africa (Random House/Umuzi Imprint), was shortlisted for the 2010
Caine Prize and won the 2011 Nielsens Bookseller’s Choice Award.
She has a story in Weird Lies, and her YA novel, Devilskein & Dearlove is forthcoming from Arachne Press in the UK and Random House Umuzi in South Africa, on July 24th 2014.