Sunday 21 June 2015

Slow TV - what about slow books?

Last month, BBC4 broadcast some programmes for their ‘Slow TV’ series. I would have missed it altogether if it hadn’t been for my mother who watched the first one on birdsong (I missed that one unfortunately) and another on a slow canal trip which she enthused about. I managed to tape the canal one and finally got around to watching it recently.  It was two hours in length and we the viewers were taken on a trip, as if we were on the barge itself.  There was no voiceover: the only sounds to be heard were the various birds singing in the trees on the banks, the occasional ducks, the wind in the grasses, the occasional distant cyclist or walker along the towpath and, of course, the sound of gently rippling water as the barge chugged along at 4 miles per hour.  Occasionally, information about the canal – the London to Bristol - would appear on the screen but never was the viewer overloaded with information.  That was rather the point.  You could sit back and enjoy the relaxing journey. Apparently the canal trip alone drew in 506,000 viewers and a peak of 599,000, above the BBC Four slot average of 340,000.

In this day and age of speed and ever-increasing information overload this is a novel way to escape.  (I will return to that word novel, shortly). But when our lives are saturated by busy social media newsfeeds vying for attention; photos, videos, pages asking to be liked, blogs requesting to be read and commented upon, is it any wonder we cherish this escape into slowness? Time was, when you would perhaps escape the slow drudgery of a slow-paced life, into an action packed thriller on TV.  You might imagine that two hours of scenery along a canal travelling at 4 mph would be a bit boring, but suddenly you are in a different - and quite enchanting - world.  I found myself looking forward to what was coming round the next bend or stretch of the canal. Was that a bridge in the distance?  Was that a person on the bridge?  What an interesting tree. What season might it be? Are those new buds on the trees or last summer's remains? And so on…

And so on to the novel. I am in various writers’ groups on Facebook and Linked In where writing discussions abound.  One blog was posted recently in a Facebook Group about good storytelling versus books where nothing happens.  This is one of those discussions that crops up periodically.  ‘Books where nothing happens’ is usually directed at literary fiction where plot, such as it is, often tends to be light and slow-moving and subservient to characters and their internal environments. Environmental descriptions may be too long for today’s readers, who want a fast page-turner. Or do they?  Of course there’s a place for the fast-paced action-packed page-turner but not everyone is looking for the same kind of book to read. Even the same person will want to escape into a slower world from time to time to enrich their experience or reflect their mood.  Slow TV has shown there is a place for slowness: the savouring, the slow-burning, indeed the extraordinary in the ordinary.  Too many times I’ve heard people complain about lengthy descriptions in books as if they have no place. Slowness doesn’t always mean nothing happens either. Often description can be a great way to build suspense and control pace.  At other times, description can be enjoyed for its own sake and in this sense has a lot in common with poetry.  So next time you read some descriptive or atmospheric prose, don’t just skip over it, enjoy the journey itself, the appeal to the senses on all levels, rather than racing to the story's destination.  You never know, you may be captivated.

Sunday 10 May 2015

Meet Author Chantelle Atkins

I'm really pleased and excited to be hosting author Chantelle Atkins on my latest blog.   Chantelle is the author of several books and she has kindly answered some questions on her books and her writing. 

Tell us a bit about your journey so far as a writer.  Have you been writing stories since childhood?

Yes, I can remember writing little books when I was ten years old. Most were about animals. I used to write them in exercise books and illustrate them myself. I’ve still got one I wrote around this age. I’d typed it up on an old fashioned typewriter, and then glued in the illustrations. It was about a little dog that was bought as a Christmas present and then thrown out. The first full length book I wrote about people was actually The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, but it was not called that then. I was twelve, and re-wrote it many times over the years. I just could not get it out of my head; it was always there when I went to bed at the end of the day, and every now and again I would drag it out and re-write it. It was the first book I wrote (or re-wrote) when I started writing again four years ago. I’d had a long absence from writing due to work and children and not having much confidence in myself. When my then youngest child started school I suddenly had the strongest urge to finally get this story out of me! At the time I had no plans to publish it, but with the help of my blog and social media I did eventually get the courage to do so!

I’ve only read The Mess of Me, so far, but I understand it’s not your first novel.

No, actually The Mess Of Me was written after I had gone back and re-written The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. Once the writing bug was back, it was back with a vengeance! Just like when I was a kid, the voices started invading my head night and day, and out of nowhere the voice of Lou appeared and wouldn’t go away. In a lot of ways she is very much like me; my thoughts, my feelings, only she is much more vocal and much feistier than I am! It seemed more ‘ready’ than The Boy… though, so I published it first.

The Mess Of Me is over 400 pages long in paperback. How long did it take you to write it?

Only about three months. I can’t remember how much I edited it or re-wrote it, but it never seemed to need much fiddling with once it was done, unlike The Boy…!

How many drafts did you write?

I would say about four, it’s hard to remember! I could probably still go over it now, and if I did I would probably try to make it shorter and with less swear words. They seem to be the two main things I alter when I re-write!

Your characters are very passionate and intense.  Are any/many of them based on people you have known?

Well, yes. Sort of. Quite a bit of me will be in all of them, I think. That is probably inevitable with any writer. Bits of you slip in whether you realise it or not. It might be the you people know and recognise, or it might be bits of you that are more disguised or buried. But as for the characters in this book…I have known similar ones, without giving too much away! When I was growing up, I was very quiet and self-contained, but I was always watching, (which gave me great material for writing!). There were always people in and out of my world who I felt I didn’t really know. Not strangers, but people who I never really understood. I never really got under their skin. I was just an observer, wondering who they were. Making it up for myself. For example, my mum had a close friend with five boys. The younger ones we played with, but the older ones we never really knew. I can remember wondering about them, who they were and what they did, what they thought or believed in. I can remember hearing that they had been in trouble, but never knowing why or what it was. Of course, I made my own stories up in my head. So I think Leon and Travis came from that. To Lou, they are very much a part of her world and her experience of growing up, but at the same time, she does not know them at all. They both scare, and intrigue her.

Your dialogue is very authentic.  Is this through observation? Or from having a highly developed imagination?

I think both possibly. By the time I start writing a book, and the dialogue, I already know the characters so well that I can see and hear them in my head. I know all their little quirks and mannerisms and sayings. I just let them talk in my head as I write the dialogue. Saying that, I suppose the dialogue I write is similar to the way language is spoken by people I know. For instance, I would have real trouble writing dialogue for very well-to-do middle or upper class characters. I don’t know anyone like that so I would really have to research how they speak!

The situations you described all seem very real. How much is based on direct or indirect experience and how much imagination?

Well, I think a lot come from situations I have either observed, heard about or known about. Some, such as Lou’s body image insecurities come from direct experience. I was a lot like her as a youngster. Self-harm unfortunately was fairly common when I went to school, and I know it still is now, especially with girls of a certain age. The troubles that can arise from broken families are something I do know a thing or two about, although the extremities of these situations are definitely the result of my imagination! It’s a mixture of experience, observation and total imagination, I would say.

The Mess Of Me seems expertly plotted.  Do you work out a detailed plot before starting or is it an organic thing that evolves as you write?

Funnily enough, this was my least plotted book! Lou came into my head and started chatting. I had the urge to let rip. I wanted to release my own demons. I wanted to speak up for once and say all the things I had thought when I was her age, but had never had the courage to say. So I let Lou say it for me. There was no plot, just her. Just her character and her thoughts and her feelings and her views. Joe came next. He is sort of based on someone I know. I am always drawn to characters like him in real life. Essentially, he is a nice person, who is put upon by others. His niceness is exploited and pushed, and at some point, it reaches its limits. I think all of my books have this in common. Their relationship evolved as the book went on. Every time I walked my dogs, the two of them would be in my head chatting, arguing and laughing about their dysfunctional families. I would then rush home and write the conversations down. I had to come up with a plot to fit them. I decided on the drug running plot, but it really could have been anything. They needed an outer dilemma, an outer problem to help push forward and investigate their inner problems. Travis and Leon and their shady ways were able to provide this nicely! But yes, with this book it very much evolved and happened as I wrote it.

Even though you don’t mention places much in the book, there is a strong sense of place. Is this based on where you live?

Yes The Mess Of Me is based in Christchurch, where I now live. The estate they live on is Burton, and then they cross the bridge to get to Somerford, and spend some time in Christchurch town centre. All of my books are based in Bournemouth or Christchurch. I usually change the names though.

Do you have a favourite of the books you’ve written so far? If so, which?

Yes, it would have to be The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, for many, many reasons! It has been with me the longest, since I was twelve years old. It is the most epic, at over 800 pages, and with a sequel due out very soon. With my books, it is the character of Lou in The Mess Of Me that I identify with most in terms of her personality and world view, but it is Danny in The Boy, that I love the most. His journey through music is mine exactly. His story is a very dark one, bordering on the horror genre really, but the music and his passion for it provides the hope. Music is very important for that reason. It can give people a sense of belonging, a sense of unity and understanding. Lyrics can literally save lives! Have you ever heard a song and thought the lyrics could have been written explicitly for you? I’ve always liked the way Danny is a rebel as well as a victim. He tries really hard not to be either.

All your books are named after songs/tracks: is this something that you consciously decided from the outset?

No, it took me ages to come up with the title for The Boy… in the end the lyrics to the song by The Smiths, just seemed to work. The boy and his murderous desire… If you want to live where do you go? Who do you need to know? With This Is Nowhere, I was into Neil Young the whole time I was writing it. He is mentioned in the book as an artist Jake’s missing mother enjoyed. Then I came across the lyrics for Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, which is about a young man going back to his home town, and they just seemed perfect. It’s not just about the home town being nowhere, but it’s about him and his state of mind, being no one, being nowhere, being nothing. This Is The Day is the sequel to The Boy, so it had to be another song title! But my next three books do not have song titles!

Who are your main influences? 

Ooh hard to say. When I was a kid it was definitely Stephen King. I was a huge fan. I definitely think he influenced The Boy, the horror and the real life monster for example. Other than that, I am not sure who has influenced me. One of my favourite books ever is The Catcher In The Rye. I just love that first person flawed teenage protagonist thing! I think I just change and evolve the more I write.

Who are your favourite authors?

I am a huge fan of Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac. I have recently discovered Toni Morrison and Douglas Coupland, and definitely feel their writing has changed me.

Do you like to read outside your comfort zone?

Hmm, yes and no. Let’s put it this way, I am not a romance fan, but I do love a genuine love story. I am not a sci-fi fan, but I do love horror and dystopia! I will read anything if something about it grabs me. The title, the blurb, the cover, or just the first few lines. I actually find it hard to discover the books I really love; gritty, character driven stories with the kind of characters I can really believe in, really fall in love with. There are a lot of books out there which are essentially delivering the same thing, which is a shame.

You have written many blogs about your journey as an independent author.  What are the pros and cons of being an indie author, do you find?

The pro’s are the freedom. I still can’t really classify what genre I fit under. I’ve written Young Adult and Adult. I’ve got horror elements and romance. I’ve got thriller and mystery as well. I can do what I want, write how I want and not worry about how to sell it to an agent or a publisher. I can get stuff out as quickly or as slowly as I like. I have complete control over every aspect; covers, blurbs, price etc. I feel very excited at times, like I am on this epic journey! It really is a rollercoaster of surprises. It can be very up and very down. I usually find something good will happen right after I feel down. I will get a nice kick up the bum and feel better again. I love the community. It is there if you delve into it and try to support it. I love discovering other indies. I  have learnt so much from other authors. I still have so much to learn, and it really is a journey of self-discovery as well. My confidence is getting there slowly. I am having a lot of fun!
As for the cons. Well it can be hard work doing it all yourself. My main headaches come from formatting and tech related stuff. I am just not into it, and don’t think I will ever get it! I wish I could pay someone to do it all! The downside can be the lack of sales. That would be the main one. You feel like you are constantly missing a trick, wondering what you should or could be doing to reach more people. It can be very disappointing when you don’t feel supported by people close to you. It tends to be strangers that seem more keen to read your books, which was a surprise to me in the beginning. Then those strangers become friends, which is great. The financial side is a big worry too. I am forever thinking I should give it up and get a real job!

You read and support a lot of indie authors yourself, as well as bringing up several children and looking after rescue dogs! How do you balance your writing with the other areas of your life?

Well I read when I am feeding the baby. It is really important to me to read other indies, so I usually have my Kindle on hand and will download anything I have come across on line or through connections, that seems good. In the day I will take the kids to school, walk the dogs and then feed the baby. After that, depending on the day, I might grab a little time on the computer, but if I do it is only emails, maybe a bit of promo or social media, but not much. When the baby is in bed I get on the computer and try to do a certain amount of the most pressing thing. So if it is editing a book that is written, I will do at least two chapters before I look at emails etc. This way I guarantee a certain amount is done every day without fail. I need to spend more time on promo stuff and need to work on all my books being in print. I write a to-do list every Sunday night and try to tick it all off before the next Sunday comes around! I have loads I want and need to do, like writing short stories, entering competitions and writing articles, or blog posts. Sometimes I get really frazzled and have to just push some of it aside and concentrate on what is shouting the loudest.

Warm thanks to Chantelle for being my guest.  Her journey is intriguing and definitely resonates  with me. Below are links and cover pictures of her books: The Mess Of Me and This Is Nowhere.  I understand that she is working to combine Parts 1 and 2 of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side so that they are all in one volume.  For more information, you can visit Chantelle's Page at Amazon: Amazon Author Page

Chantelle Atkins' Books

Coming Soon - Books 1 & 2 together with the new cover as above!

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Coming latest book...

*A free copy of the e-book on its release will be sent to all who subscribe!*
 Just click where it says 'subscribe here' further down on the right hand side!

The Dead Club is an edgy, contemporary tale about death and suicide and its devastating effects on two families.  Death is a fact of life for the principle characters and especially for Marina who wishes to join her loved ones at ‘the dead club’, a place she and her sixth form friends obsessed about in their youth. Ultimately her mortido becomes more urgent until it pushes her to the edge, literally and metaphorically. The novel is in fact very much about edges: people who live on the edge, where the ultimate edge is between life and death...