Fantasy In Motion interview.

Recently I was interviewed by Fantasy In Motion and thought I’d share it over here too. It’s a great site, go and have a look at his beautiful fantasy maps! He takes commissions too if you are looking for one.

Dawn, welcome to Fantasy In Motion. Thanks for joining us.
Thank you very much for inviting me, I’ve enjoyed reading your blog a great deal and I’m a huge fan of fantasy maps. I have a designer working on a map of Brotherhood locations at the moment so I’m looking forward to sharing that before the end of the year.

Could you start by telling us a little about your novel, Brotherhood of Shades?
Brotherhood is a contemporary ghost story with roots in the sixteenth century. Adam, a streetwise homeless teenager, dies of cold and starvation on the streets of London and after death is recruited into a clandestine organisation called the Brotherhood of Shades. The Brotherhood is an organisation of ghosts set up after the Dissolution of the Monasteries to oversee the passage of the living through the World Between.
The book details Adam’s transition into the Brotherhood, and their battles with demonic forces as they attempt to retrieve a coded manuscript, and protect the world of the living, from the world of the dead.

How did the idea/inspiration for the story come to you?
One of my first jobs was at the education office of a Cathedral and I used to dress as a monk to take children on guided tours. I was aware that young children worked in monasteries and had a brutal and harsh life there, and I felt that it was an untold story. Brotherhood started off as a short story but I liked the central character and knew that he had more to say and it grew from there. I’ve always loved ghost stories and felt that I wanted to bring classic ghost stories to a modern audience.

I was interested to see that you've previously worked in publishing and in libraries. Do you think that working with books has helped you as a writer?
I have always worked with books, but my first job in publishing was hardly what I’d call “in” publishing. I worked in the post room and one of my jobs was sorting the slush pile and making sure the unsolicited manuscripts reached the right desk – or not! Some of the manuscripts were, well, shall we say, odd! I certainly learned how not to submit a manuscript after wading through manuscripts that were sometimes barely legible. I think my favourite was one written on serviettes that had clearly been written whilst very drunk and made no sense whatsoever but became increasingly angry as the pile of tissue went on. The writer ended up ranting about how the publisher would be insane to reject them, but never actually got the point about the subject matter.
I have worked for over twenty five years in libraries and I am the current vice-chair of the London and South East School Libraries Group. I campaign hard for all schools to have a library and a librarian as I see this as essential to the literacy of our children, and our adults. Working in libraries has taught me so very much about books, and I read constantly. I always say to young people that if you want to write, first you must read!

Who would you say are your favourite authors/books?
That’s an impossible question! My favourite author is always the author of the book that I’m currently hooked on. When I find a book that I really enjoy my immediate response is to buy the entire back catalogue and read everything. I have so many favourites so it wouldn’t be fair to pick one out.

What was your first encounter with fantasy fiction? Have you always wanted to write in the genre?
I’ve always loved fantasy. I grew up in a hard-up area and the future did not seem promising for any of us kids. For me fantasy was the perfect escape and it remained that way and so when I came to write myself it was fantasy that drew me. I was never really interested in reading about the real world, and was far more interested in the world out of the corner of your eye.
I read Ray Bradbury, Susan Cooper, Ursula K LeGuin, Alan Garner, Brian Aldiss, Joan Aiken, the list is very long, shelves full of doorways to different worlds. I wanted to be somewhere else, I wanted to be chased across moorland by ancient spirits, battling my way out of dark houses in whirling snowstorms, fleeing scarlet-eyed wolves across wild moorland, conjuring spells to hold back demons, escaping dark forces hell bent on destroying me… basically anywhere other than a tatty and cold school heading for a job in a factory.
When I came to write myself it was not as if I had a choice. I think that all writers need to find their voice and the story will roll out. I didn’t really choose my genre, it chose me.

What was your route towards publishing your first novel like? Any advice you would give to any of our readers who are looking to publish their first book?
Oh dear, my route was very long and complicated! This book was almost published a number of years ago and then the imprint went under and I was left without a publisher. I was lucky in that I did have an agent and he supported me and encouraged me to keep going. My book still didn’t sell (the public seemed to have moved on to an obsessive desire for sparkly vampires and ghosts were not deemed fashionable) and so I focussed on my other work in school libraries.
Writing is a very isolating business and a friend encouraged me to upload my work to the writer’s site – authonomy. I wanted some feedback and it was nice to have the opinion of other writers. My book was very quickly spotted on there by the man who almost took it to print the previous time! He remembered Brotherhood and recommended it to the rest of the team and they enjoyed it so much that they took it to print. These days it’s not about pleasing one person of course, your work has to be enjoyed by a team of people including the marketing team.

My advice would be to be prepared and get some professional editing if you can afford it. I’d buy the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook and try to get an agent first. There are a few writer’s conferences throughout the year where you can meet agents and publishers and those are a sensible investment. Work on your pitch though! If you can nail your plot down to a sharp thirty second pitch, and then hand over a card with your details on, that can do it. I know a good number of people who have secured agents on a “could I ask for thirty seconds to pitch my work to you?” Agents are used to this approach, and a good one won’t mind. If they do mind and react badly, you wouldn’t want to be stuck with them anyway!

Where do you stand in the print vs. e-book debate? Do you think paper novels have had their day or is there room for both formats?
Video did not kill the radio star! I think there is more than enough room for both formats, and we need both. I love my e-reader as I travel a lot and can’t possibly carry hundreds of books around with me in any other format, but I also love print books. A recent survey suggested that people often read the book first on e-reader, and then buy the print copy to keep if they enjoy it – I know I’ve done this! There will always be books that simply do not work in e format, academic and study books for example. Students need to be able to annotate several texts and compare them all at once using several indices, that’s just not possible in e-book form. You simply can’t lay six kindles out in front of you and jot down notes on the pages!
I think that print publishers need to start to be more creative and to offer more for the print version to encourage people to buy it. Maps work so well in printed books, and extra material only available in the print version, or beautiful binding and covers, and maybe offering a free e-version if you buy the print version?
There is a good reason that books will last, they are the best at doing what they do – carrying words. The main thing is that they do not become unreadable. Twenty years ago I remember working with floppy discs and microfiche but now these formats are virtually unreadable, whilst books hundreds of years older are still perfectly accessible.
I think there is space in the market for all formats and we need to remember that it’s the story that counts, not the object that carries it.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors out there?
Don’t give up, and don’t be precious – get advice and share and grow a very thick skin! I know so many people who say they want to write a book and seem to think it is easy, and that’s why people quit. The first time they get a knock-back, or hear something negative, or actually can’t stick at it to get those words on paper, people quit. If you really want to write a book you need to first accept that it is incredibly hard and time consuming work. It is not something to take lightly and dip into now and again, it takes time and dedication to get over a hundred thousand words down! Once you’ve accepted that it is hard work, and that you will have to make sacrifices to achieve it, then you can do it.
Young people ask me all the time how to become a writer and I always say – write down all the things, and then write down some more!

Are you able to share with us what you are working on at the moment?
I am currently working on the sequel to Brotherhood which is set in some stunning locations from nineteenth century Paris, to London and on to a remote Scottish island. The sequel is very Steampunk as I have a bit of an obsession for automata and machines. I’ve had this idea churning away for some time and am hugely enjoying writing my machines, and avoiding all jokes about the ghost in the machine!

Dawn, thank you very much for your time!
Thanks again for inviting me on board, and I very much look forward to reading more!

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The Unexplained

I don’t have any particular faith, not what you’d call an organised one anyway. I write about ghosts, but I wouldn’t class myself as a true believer. I do, however, love to read about things that can’t be explained. These days that means a subscription to the always fascinating Fortean Times , but when I was thirteen it was The Unexplained.

First published by Orbis Publishing in 1980 it was an early part-work that carried the full title of The Unexplained: Mysteries of Mind, Space and Time.
What a tag line!

I was hooked from the very first tv advert. Hot on the heels of tv shows like Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World it covered all aspects of matters unexplained. The first issue dealt with UFOs and had the most wonderful photographs of sightings. In those pre-internet days it was nigh on impossible to find articles about things like this, they were reserved for crack-pots in obscure self-published niche magazines. Now I could just buy it from the newsagent and carry it around in my school bag. And I did, and read it aloud to my friends with dramatic emphasis on key points.

Issue one was thrilling – Man Beasts, Close Encounters and Kirilian Auras! This was a time long before Photoshop allowed everyone to dismiss things instantly. I sat with a magnifying glass squinting at blurry images trying to see strings.
And the issue about Spontaneous Human Combustion still haunts me! I remember lying in bed wondering if my feet were just hot, or if I was about to combust.
And ghosts! Oh the wonderful ghost stories and sightings that the magazine covered in great detail – just the perfect reading material.

They never tried to fully explain these stories, they simply told you the facts as they understood them to be, and let you make up your own mind. I’ve never really wanted to know if these were true or not. I’m no fool, but sometimes I think that life is more interesting if there are some things we don’t know. Does it matter? I know, for example, that magicians don’t really have magical powers, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying the show. I don’t want to know how it’s done, it’s enough to have the mystery and the momentary suspension of disbelief.

As for what I believe? Well I want to believe that there is a world that exists out of the corner of my eye, that there is something…magical? Maybe?
That’s the world of faery tales, fantasy and fiction – and it’s a wonderful place to hang out. I’ll see you there…..

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At Your Party Be A Smarty…

 

 

Now, before I start off talking about ghost stories I feel I should make a confession – I am a complete wet-blanket when it comes to horror. Those who know me are well aware that I am petrified by anything zombie related, and anything gory or ultra-violent is completely out of the question for me. However, despite being a complete sceptic, I love and am completely fascinated by ghosts and the paranormal and always have been and I do love a good spooky chill!
My grandfather started me off on this as he was a remarkable man who saw the world through very different eyes. He explained to me the true dark nature of faeries and how you should fear them and never cross or upset them, and how you should always stay alert and watch for the things that exist only out of the corner of your eye. He was a superb storyteller and I wanted more than anything to be able to emulate that.
The very first stories I wrote were faerie tales and ghost stories and I distinctly remember my teacher having a very earnest talk with me about how he was worried about my “macabre obsessions” and how I should try to write more “sunny” stories. I did write stories filled with sunshine to please him, but I made careful note of the delicious word “macabre” and used it in my notebooks with relish from that day on. I read everything I could about ghosts and unexplained phenomena, scouring the library shelves for books on subjects like Victorian spiritualism, possession and haunted houses and lapping up gothic authors like Edgar Allan Poe and MR James. When I was ten years old the rather fierce librarian in school would not let me borrow Bram Stoker’s Dracula as she said it was too “scary for my age” and so I hid it in different places around the library popping back in every day to read a bit more
In 1976 the BBC launched a show called Rentaghost; I remember how excited I was by the title and how my mind raced with the possibilities of an employment agency for ghosts.

I did watch the show (I watched everything with ghosts in) but was slightly disappointed that the makers didn’t seize the opportunity to have a really spooky show with ghosts being sent out to tackle things that the living could not. I liked my ghosts with a lot more chain-clanking and spooky jumps and in Rentaghost they were more…well…spirited! I wrote a short story in one of my many notebooks about a far more serious agency of ghosts as a means of getting the story out of my head, and then I tucked it aside and forgot about it.

I continued to watch Rentaghost and loved it (despite it not really being spooky enough for me) as it was completely different from anything else I had ever seen and constantly came up with new and wonderfully crazy situations for the spectral staff of Mr Mumford’s agency. I’m still not sure how a panto horse managed to become a ghost (maybe a reader of this blog can enlighten me as to Dobbin’s origins) The series ran for a remarkable 58 episodes and continued for over eight years with Harold and Ethel Meaker taking over the agency from the second series. It was a charming and hilarious show and I have deeply fond memories it – even Mr Claypole! It had an impact on the nation too and lots more ghost stories and dramas for children followed. It seems that impact has lingered and now Studio Fox have bought the rights and Rentaghost is to be made into a Hollywood movie starring Ben Stiller as Fred Mumford. I wonder if he will have trouble with magical amulets that grant wishes or with the dragon in the cellar? I had not considered how important Rentaghost was to me, or the impact it had on my writing, until many decades later.

Ghosts and the paranormal became hugely fashionable in the 80s, and 1980 saw the launch of the magazine The Unexplained. Suddenly the paranormal was everywhere and the public’s ghostly obsession hit the mainstream in a way not seen since the days of Edwardian spiritualism. Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World tv show launched later that year…and I never looked back. Now I no longer had to write those sunny stories and could indulge my passion for the world that existed out of the corner of my eye. My writing was full of life beyond death, evil faeries snatching babies, strolling spirits busy reliving past horrors, ectoplasm and macabre gothic hauntings.
Decades later, and with a child of my own who loved a spooky tale, the ghostly agency returned to my thoughts. I began to write it up as new short story, but that was not nearly long enough and so it grew and grew until it became a full novel – Brotherhood of Shades – and the agency now seems nicely established.
I hope that one day I will be able to elegantly raise a shiver the way my grandfather could, but in the meantime I will need to hone my skills and continue to pay very careful attention to anything that attempts to slip through my field of vision…

This article was previously posted on the blog of fellow author Jon Mayhew – find out more about his superb work here… http://www.jonmayhew.co.uk/

Dawn Finch is the author of the ultra-modern ghost story Brotherhood of Shades published in e-edition by Harper Collins on October 15th 2012
Isbn – 978-0-00-748741-7

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Brotherhood-of-Shades-ebook/dp/B0095C3J6Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351533082&sr=8-1

 

Fever…..and here’s the pitch…

Fever

I have long since lost the excitement of the brown package containing a brand new proof copy.  A good number of these find their way to my desk and my procedure for dealing with them is this – squeeze it. If it is a thin book then I tend to open it straight away as I guess it will be a book for younger readers and may well offer me something I have not read before.  If it is a thick book, I pile it up to one side and will get round to it….eventually.  This is because these once exciting jiffy bags all too often contain yet another YA title banging out the same old tired formulaic content.  Tragic romance, vampires, wistful looks, agony filled embrace, more vampires, sobbing in dark corners, tragic and failed lives, more vampires…. yadda yadda yadda….oh yes, and more vampires….

A couple of weeks ago I received a copy of Dee Shulman’s Fever (Razorbill, pub April 2012) Interesting tag lines (“The Fever Is Coming”  – “Two worlds.  Two millennia.  One love”) made me give it a skim and take it home.  The accompanying letter and blurb promise many things – “Time travel with a romantic twist” – and assure me that the book is “whipping up a rights frenzy”

Well, that’s the spiel – what about the book?

Fever is the story of two young lives crossed at a moment in parallel time.  Eva is a dazzlingly smart girl from the modern day, and Seth is a gladiator from Roman London, AD152.  Their lives are tragically both linked and held apart by time, and each is desperate to find what has become of them, and the other.

I feel that I am not really doing the book justice with such a basic explanation, but I genuinely don’t want to give too much away for the reader.  The story is very vivid and the character building is both strong and natural – you really get to like Eva and Seth and quickly bond with them. 

In Eva we have a rare thing; an academically gifted female character who is instantly likeable.  Her intellect means that the text is never dumbed down; in fact I feel that it is bravely academic in places.  Frankly this is a blessing in this market place – my own teenager is bored rigid with being treated like a snog-fest addict with a brain the size of a Minto – and she is not alone. For all of those teenagers who have been patronised by other YA fiction and feel like this, hurrah, a book for you!

Seth is….well…. he’s beautiful.  A gladiator honed for combat and trained to kill and stay alive, he is at his peak physical fitness when disaster befalls him because he falls in love. He is instantly likeable and we all, umm, love him.

Eva and Seth are inexorably linked through time and, though they can feel this, they can’t explain it or make sense of it and both of them do everything they can to attempt to discover what has happened to them.  The medical scenes are superbly researched (I had to look some things up as I was curious about the virology talked about the book) as are the scenes set in Roman Londinium. This gives the book a depth and sense of gravitas that many YA books are sadly lacking.

Fever is an undeniably passionate book, and pretty sexy too without ever being cloying or drifting into that ghastly genre of tragic and depressed teens sucking face and crying all over the place. Fever is, quite simply, a captivating and passionate time-slip love story with a ghostly twist (and no vampires!)

I found myself dreading the end as I drew close to it because I knew that it couldn’t possibly end the way I wanted it to in the few pages left. But it did, and I’m very glad that it will be a trilogy.

Fever by Dee Shulman is out 5th April 2012 with Razorbill (Puffin)

416 pages

Isbn 9780141340265

e-book 9780141972183