Tuesday, 26 January 2016

An interview with author Jacqueline Creek...

AW  Hello and welcome Jacqueline and thank you for agreeing to chat to me today.  So, what is your current release?
 JC  The first volume of my autobiography, ‘The Girl with the Emerald Brooch’, is due to be published before the end of February.  It is written as a novel and told in the first person while allowing the story to unfold through the characters.  It focuses on growing up in industrial Sheffield in the 1950s and 60s.  The plot twists and turns and is realistically gritty, but with a fond nostalgia for the past.  The houses on the cobble streets where I grew up, a stone’s throw from Sheffield Wednesday’s football ground, have now been demolished.  The street where I lived still remains along with its nameplate.  The book will bring laughter and memories to many people in the same way that ‘The Full Monty’, ‘Brassed Off’ and ‘Kes’ do.

AW   What first got you into writing and why?
Jackie and her award - Well done!
JC  I’ve always had an artistic side and a strong need to express it.  As a child I excelled at Art and Composition, as it was called in those days, but I didn’t pass the 11+ exam (spoiler alert!) and ended up at Chaucer Secondary Modern, where my dreams were not going to be recognized and I hardly attended during my last few months.  Going on fifteen years old, I took time out to take wallpapering jobs my Mum found for me.  This was encouraged more than ‘pipe-dreams’. 
After twenty years of varied employment, I set up my own business, which grew and grew.  When I retired and turned seventy, many people asked me to write my life story but I didn’t really think anyone would be that interested.  Instead I carried on writing poetry, which is something I had dabbled in previously.  Then I began writing erotica, which was appraised and credited by Primula Bond.  Animal stories – told by the characters themselves - came next and then flash fiction.  I suppose I was finding my niche.
I joined Barnsley Writers’ group and Penistone Poets’, where I found two lovely groups of people who liked my style and encouraged me to do more.  It was after hearing my life story that the autobiography changed from ‘an option’ to ‘a must’.  After writing the first chapter, I received the Silver Quill Award, for best opening chapter.

AW  You write poetry and novels.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
JC  With my poetry and stories, I love bringing the characters to life.  So when I started to write ‘The Girl with the Emerald Brooch,’ it all fell naturally into place.  I’m concentrating on my book at the moment and have a great memory for such details and a good imagination, which helps.  I’ve had to do some bits of research to remember such things as the date the trams stopped running and the cost of a pint of milk in the fifties.  The detail I include is just enough to whet the appetite; I don’t want the story to be bogged down with a lot of historical events.  I have read such books and have found the story gets lost in the jargon.  In my stories, the era can usually be depicted by the characters, with their dialogue, gestures and style.

AW  Have you ever had to write a scene that was especially difficult and how did you do it?
JC  This is a difficult question to answer because, if I were to be truthful, I would give far too much away.  As I write mostly from my own experience, some scenes are emotionally difficult to capture, such as writing about traumas, bereavements and break-ups.  So, read my books and all will be revealed and understood.

Jackie''s Garden Room
AW  Famous authors, such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas, had a special space for writing.  Do you have a writing 'shed'?

JC  I think it would be a bit cold writing in a shed just now.  I can write anywhere that’s peaceful and interruption-free.  Although my favourite room is my garden room, it has too many distractions.

AW  Gorgeous view there, Jackie!  Finally, if you had a whole afternoon to yourself and could choose to spend it with a character from a book.  Who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
JC  I am a great fan of Lee Child and of Jack Reacher, the character he created.  I was overjoyed when I heard a film was going to be made.  But then mortified when I heard Tom Cruise was going to play Jack Reacher.  Don’t get me wrong, Tom is a good actor and made some super films, but in reality, he is the exact opposite to the character of Jack Reacher and reminds me of the differences between Arnie Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in the film ‘Twins.’  Over dinner with Tom, I would ask him what so enthralled him about Jack Reacher that he so desperately wanted to play him?  I’m sure I would be intrigued by his answers.  It would be even better if Jack could join us and I could get his thoughts on Tom’s answers!

Jacqueline Creek
Born in 1944 I grew up in Sheffield to the sound of the steelworks’ hammers.  At ten years old I had dreams of becoming a doctor/surgeon. But to do this, a scholarship had to be won and I failed my 11+!
I left school at fifteen and eventually settled into regular work as a shop assistant at a local pharmacy.  I married at twenty-one and did various jobs, but was never totally satisfied.
A new man came into my life at the age of 35 and I started my own business, which grew into a retail outlet and a factory and employed over thirty people.  Retiring in 2012, I took up writing, and now live in the foothills of the South Pennines, with our assorted rescue dogs and surrounded by an abundance of nature and wildlife.

The Girl with the Emerald Brooch

This wonderful tale, set in the industrial city of Sheffield in 1954, tells of a young girl forced unexpectedly to look after her ailing mother, aged father, five year old sister and three-week old brother.  At this tender age when she should be playing with her friends, she is coming to terms with both birth and death.  And then her mother shocks her by giving her an emerald brooch and telling her a secret.  You will be gripped from the first sentence as you meet her family and friends.
If you enjoyed Catherine Cookson and Call the Midwife, you will most certainly enjoy these books.  Available to purchase from the end of next month.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

An interview with author Adam S Leslie...

AW  I welcome Adam S Leslie to my blog this week.  Thank you for allowing me to cross-examine you, Adam and can you tell us what your current release is? 
Available on Amazon
ASL  A novel called BLINSBY, published not long ago by Crooked Cat. It was a 20-year-long labour of love for me and my co-writer, Peter, starting in the mid-1990s as a whimsical and very silly exercise in nostalgia, and being refined over the years into a darker and much more complex surrealist thriller.
It’s set in a small primary school in a fictionalised version of rural Lincolnshire sometime during an alternate history 1980s. England is reeling in the aftermath of a civil war between Mercia and Northumbria, but the children of Blinsby Primary School are much more concerned about the disappearance of their new classmate, Jack, who seems to have uncovered a dark secret buried deep within the school.
It’s a comedy, but not a spoof – the thriller aspects are taken absolutely seriously, but we try to wring as much fun as we can from the eccentric cast of characters and dreamlike situations.  It’s loosely based on my and Peter’s shared childhood – a few of the things in the book actually happened to us, but they’re the sort of thing we thought might happen, so in effect it’s a memoir of our imagination.
Aside from the opening chapter, the whole thing takes place in exaggerated real time across the course of one school day, from their arrival in the morning to hometime that afternoon.  We’ve tried to create a fully-populated, immersive school environment – it’s surreal, but also I think sufficiently archetypal that readers will hopefully feel like they’re spending a day back at primary school.  Certainly, those who’ve read it have told us that they recognise characters and situations from their own childhood, which is really gratifying.
AW  What first got you into writing and why?
ASL  Aged around 11 or 12, it felt like time to stop playing with toys, but I didn’t want to give up having fun with narratives, so it seemed to be a natural extension of play to start writing.  My favourite toys were my Star Wars figures. I loved Star Wars itself, but whenever I played with the toys, it was always as part of some other fiction – it was exciting not to be confined by the rules of the movies’ universe, but to spin my own stories and situations.
Peter Tunstall & Adam S Leslie
At around the same sort of time, Peter had already started writing a sort of sub-Tolkien saga called The Adventures of Drinil. That was a similar sort of thing: taking a lot of the iconic aspects of Middle Earth, but shaping them to his own experiences and not being confined by the books’ mythology.  He lent me the first two and a half volumes (written in school exercise pads), and they instantly grabbed my imagination, and so – without even asking permission! – I took over from where he’d left off. Unfortunately, I was far too lazy to learn the myriad of characters he’d populated his books with, so I promptly wrote in a huge battle and killed most of them off!
AW  Famous authors, such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas, had a special space for writing.  Do you have a writing shed of your own?
ASL  I love the romantic idea of writing in coffee shops or the local library, but in reality I’m far too easily distracted by background chat or music, and I do my best thinking lying down, which doesn’t go down to well in public places.  So mostly I just write at my desk in my bedroom like the 41-year-old teenager I am.  If I wasn’t a starving artist, though, I’d probably have a fully equipped office somewhere by the seaside. And while I’m daydreaming, I’d like a pony.
AW  Would you indeed!  You write science fiction/fantasy.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
ASL  I’m pretty lazy, so most of my research is on-the-spot fact-checking on the internet, and also lying around thinking.  For my research into Blinsby, though, I spent six years living as a child in rural Lincolnshire, which I reckon is a pretty big investment into the project.
It’s really fun letting the imagination off the leash. Sometimes, when writers do a lot of research, it can all end up in the book, which is rarely ideal. I read a techno-thriller recently in which all of the processes were explained in authentically meticulous and tedious detail, page after page of the stuff, when I really just wanted to get on with the story.  You could tell this was the author not wanting all his hard preparatory work to go to waste.
That’s not to say that I think writers should just make facts up, but I do enjoy the freedom minimal research allows. For example, one of the characteristics of Blinsby is that it has its own, hermetically-sealed popular culture. These children aren’t into Star Wars or Doctor Who or My Little Pony like our generation were, they’re obsessed by their own films and TV shows – in particular a creepy long-running German cartoon called Happy Tom and the Summer Man. Not only does this mean that there’s no chance of embarrassing anachronisms, it also makes it a much more universal experience: every reader is coming to this experience fresh, there are no alienating references to Duran Duran or Magpie or Watch With Mother, or any other things which didn’t necessarily survive across different generations.
AW  Is writing for the screen so very different from writing a novel?
ASL  Very much so.  They’re completely different disciplines really, each with their own unique pros and cons.  With films, structure and economy are key.  Because a screenplay isn’t a finished product, but the blueprint for a finished product, it’s important to get the ideas across as cleanly and efficiently as possible. The way you word your script and the language you use isn’t so important (except in writing the dialogue) so long as everything is easy to understand and doesn’t take up too much space on the page.  Of course, you want to make action scenes as exciting as you can, or comedy scenes funny, but you can only ever include things which will either be seen on the screen or heard on the soundtrack.
So, on one hand, it can be a real challenge for someone who’s a natural novelist to rein in their instinct for poetic description, metaphor, inner dialogue and all their other authorial skills, on the other it can also be a lot of fun to write a rattling good yarn using just the bare bones of language. 
But then, when I switch back to novels, the writing (for me at least) is a lot slower and more meticulous, but it can feel like upgrading to Business Class and being able to stretch my legs again – having the whole palette of the English language at my disposal is such a freeing experience.
The same with structure.  With a novel, you can more or less do what you want; but in films, you have 90-100 pages – with a lot of white space – to get the story across, and there’s a definite right way and a wrong way to structure them.  The only commercially-successful film ever to have eschewed the accepted screenwriting template is 2001: A Space Odyssey.
And again, once you know the structure, it can be really useful for efficiently and effectively telling your story; but it is lovely, from time to time, to let your hair down and take a holiday in the more free-form, liberating world of a novel.
Philip K Dick
AW  Finally, if you had a whole afternoon to yourself and could choose to spend it with another writer.  Who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
ASL  If I can pick someone who’s no longer around, I’d go for Californian science fiction author Philip K. Dick.  He wrote strange, mind-bending books and lived an even stranger and more mind-bending life.  I’m not sure I’d want to discuss anything in particular, I’d probably be happy just to listen.  If you get the chance to read Lawrence Sutin’s biography of this weird genius, please do so!

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Falling off the Edge

My brother James is a Tour de France fanatic.  He’s obsessive about it.  So, on one bright June day we set off for Mont Ventoux just because it’s ‘on the tour’.  The ascent begins in the small town of Malaucene in Provence and rises steadily.  As we drive up I notice numerous cyclists, one on a monocycle, also making the climb.  Mad, I thought.  The road curves, hairpins and soon leaves the tree line behind.  On one side there is a precipice, on the other rock and not much room in-between.  I daren’t look either left or right to see the magnificent views.
The other mountain
The Observation Station is just below the summit with a parking area.  We stop.  I get out of the car and the wind rushes through me at storm force, the temperature is North Pole and I’m dressed for a Mediterranean beach.  I quickly get back in.  My brother goes wandering off to the edge taking photos.  I can’t look.  I just stare straight ahead at the next mountain.  It’s a great big one with a white cap – so that’ll be snow then, I thought.
We make the final climb to the summit.  I find I’m hanging on to the car door handle.  For some reason it makes me feel safe.  The logic of this is as off-the-planet as I feel.  But I don’t want to fall off the edge, so I keep hanging on.
At the summit there’s a cycle-jam.  We do a three-point turn in no space, with only oblivion for pavement.  We set off again.  The road rises and then disappears.  All I can see over the brow is blue sky.  I throw my arms out as I try to press myself through the back of my seat.  My brother just chuckles to himself and drives on slowly.  At the heart-stoppingly terrifying moment when we reach the brow I slam my eyes shut…the car hairpins left and continues down the steep slope.  ‘I can see where the road is,’ James says.  I’m still hanging onto the car door handle and just staring at the car’s bonnet.
Homage to Tommy Simpson
A kilometre down from the summit is the monument to the professional cyclist, Tommy Simpson, who collapsed with exhaustion and died there in 1967.  We pull off the road, stop and James gets out, camera in hand.  I’ve got the car door handle in my shorts pocket and there’s no way I’m letting go.  Soon my brother returns with his photos and a chunk of mountain.  Sharp intake of breath as I realise that the summit of Mont Ventoux is now unsafe as part of it is missing!  Cyclists beware!
Mont Ventoux kissed by cloud
Back on the tarmac again and we proceed down the hairpins and back into the tree line.  That’s one of the good things about trees.  If you fall off the edge, you’ve always got something to grab as you go careering down the mountainside.
Later, firmly settled in my camping chair at just a few feet above sea level, I’m calmer.  A refreshing cup of tea and I’m feeling brave enough to pick up James’ camera and look at the photos for the first time – but then, I change my mind.