Interview with Margo Lanagan

TVFH Interview: Margo Lanagan

by Kerrie Anne

What a surprise I was given when first I opened my latest read Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan.

The first thing to strike me was the rich and colourful descriptions of landscape, followed closely by a fascinating dialogue. The further I progressed through the pages, the more I found myself wrapped in story which was reminiscent of an original Grimm Fairy Tale.

Tender Morsels has all the qualities one hopes to find in a Fairy Tale and many things one does not expect.

The story of Liga is one which begins in tragedy, frightening realities of a young girl growing up with a abusive father after the death of her mother. Liga is given first hand knowledge of the cruelties of life. However you might be sitting there thinking to yourself this in not for me, you would be very mistaken.

Margo's approach to what could be a harrowing description of tragic events is sympathetic, kind and mostly respectful. Although you a left with no doubt as to what has occurred, the reader is not subjected to graphic details (something I was grateful for).

Liga was given many gifts following her tragic start, as she ponders taking her life and that of her new daughter. Her life takes a turn for the better as she is taken to a place of her own creating her own personal heaven. A place of kindness, where she is not judged or abused, because of the sins of others, where she is treated with respect and allowed to live her life as she wishes.
After the birth of her second daughter life settles into a even safer pattern, the girls growing up in the safety of their mother's beautiful world. Little does Liga know the real world has found a way through to her and as time progresses various characters come to visit.

The rich array of characters, landscape and language takes the reader on journey through a fictional world of fantasy which can only be described as breathtaking. If you are like me and visualise each line as you read, then Tender Morsels will give you the setting and costumes ready to go.

Tender Morsels is aimed at the Young Adult reader, although any adult would find it just as rewarding.

Having finished Tender Morsels I was prompted to read Black Juice and Red Spikes both I would have to say did not disappoint.

About Margo Lanagan

What is it about writing fiction you enjoy most?

The fact that it’s a non-collaborative process is good - I notice this particularly after I’ve been talking to screenwriters. Having total control over the world that’s being created is both the best and the worst thing about writing fiction - having as much room for movement as you want, and roaming around directionless with all that space at your disposal.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find 2 kinds of inspiration, the first being ideas-inspiration and the second, practice-inspiration. The ideas just come now, in crazy numbers, and from all directions - conversations, odd news stories, misread signposts and typographical errors, dreams, everything. And the words of other writers about how they work and the way stories come together for them inspires me, first of all, to have some discipline in my own practice and, secondly, to keep things flexible there, try different ways of operating, break out of patterns of working that all, after a while, seem to become slightly limiting and drudgerous.

Many people have sought to find Australian aspects throughout Tender Morsels. How great an influence does Australia play in your writing?

Bugger all, with Tender Morsels. That book is entirely out of the European folk and fairytale tradition. The novel I’m working on now is more Australian in its focus. A few of my short stories have had an Australian setting and I’ve written junior fiction and mainstream YA fiction set in Australia, but I haven’t any particular barrow to push with my Australian-ness, so I don’t make a point of introducing it if it doesn’t present itself as relevant.

This doesn’t stop readers trying to spot an Australian ‘tone’, or Aboriginal traditions, in my stories, though. Sometimes they find them when I’m pretty sure I didn’t put them there.

Is being Australian a plus or minus for an author?

It’s a plus in the US market, a bit of a minus in the UK one. In the US, I could probably stand up in front of groups and spout complete guff and get away with it, because the audience would find my accent so beguiling (‘closer to Emma Thompson than to Crocodile Dundee’, someone said when I was recently in the US).

The UK, on the other hand, tend to be quite dismissive of Australian writers, and Australian-ness generally. Our historical connection to them is not one that breeds respect. However, I have managed to get a rise out of them recently by writing a book with lots of sex in it and letting them mistake it for a children’s book. I wouldn’t say it’s won me respect, but just getting the British to read a new Australian author is an achievement.

How has life changed if at all since becoming published both in Australia and now in the US and UK?

Materially, not a lot. I guess I take my writing more seriously now, and feel less guilty taking time off from the day job to work on it. There have also been several trips to the US for publicity, networking and prize-collecting purposes, which is an unalloyed pleasure. The UK trips are yet to happen - they take a lot of convincing to haul a convict up from down under, tee-hee. But I’ve been published for 2 decades now; it’s all happening very slowly for me. Really, it’s only in the last 5 years that it’s looked as if, maybe, one day, I’ll be able to make a living entirely from my writing. I don’t trust that I will, quite yet.

Your best and worst habits?

Best habits: Writing quickly for the first draft, being pernickety and taking as long as is needed with the second and successive ones. Not getting input on a story too early (very recent habit, learned the hard way). Going to my writing room to work (a rented room a couple of blocks away from home). Keeping a relaxed frame of mind about where a story is going and might go.

Worst habits: Overcommitting (a very common bad habit among freelancers). Not exercising. Fondness for alcoholic beverages. Over-use of the words ‘dark’ and ‘great’.

About Tender Morsels

Tender Morsels has all the aspects one loves in a fairytale: adventure, danger, surprising twists and turns as well as morals and ethics. Where did Tender Morsels come from?

It came from something down in my guts responding to the way the Grimm brothers had made over Caroline Stahl’s story ‘The Ungrateful Dwarf’ into their own ‘Snow White and Rose Red’. Basically, I was annoyed with the moral barrow they chose to push with the story. Although mine doesn’t necessarily offer any more hope for the women characters than theirs does, at least it’s less adamant that the women’s oppression is a good and necessary thing.

Tender Morsels is aimed at Young Adults. Although the story is grounded in abuses forced upon young Liga. You take a very sympathetic stance in their description was this because of the age and sensitivities of your readers or a way of keeping some parts of Liga's story private?

Well, the book is not specifically aimed at young adults. Not by its author, at least, although two of its publishers have been marketing it as young adult, and that seems to be working for them.

I was careful with the sexual abuse scenes because I knew that this marketing was likely, but in the end it was as much to retain a sense of balance within the story as to protect readers’ sensibilities that I didn’t go into graphic detail there. The events themselves were strong enough, without me having to make readers endure the detail of them. Enough readers have been put off by how far I did go, in describing the miscarriages and just including the incest and rape as story events. And yes, I guess there was an element of respect for Liga herself, that I didn’t want to humiliate her at length within sight of the audience. We show her the consideration that her life’s events didn’t grant her.

Tender Morsels has been described as challenging, confronting and controversial. How hard was it to write those scenes with the village boys and Liga’s Father?

It wasn’t as hard for me to write those scenes as it is for readers to read them, I don’t think, because I always knew that Liga was going to be granted her personal heaven to compensate for them. I was creating them for the purposes of her deserving that heaven, so I knew I had to balance the heaven with a certain amount of hell.

Also, they were the very first scenes I wrote, so there was the fascination of watching that fairytale-forest world come into being, watching the first stirrings of the story emerge, learning about Liga and her father as characters, imagining the town nearby. It was neither harder nor easier than other writing. Once you get to a certain point of involvement, you’re so absorbed in what’s happening that you don’t think to step back and say, ‘Boy, this is killing me!’ or ‘Isn’t this a dance through the bluebells?’ You come out at the end with no resources left, and the only feeling you have is either satisfaction that you’ve gone some way towards nailing what you were trying to nail, or vague troublement that you’re going to have to have several more stabs at it.

Each character is unique: Muddy Annie’s magic, Urdda's free spirit, Branza’s caring nature, Collaby Dought’s language, rude and abrupt, his look has almost a feral quality to it and his greed is all consuming, not to mention the Bears and Wolf. Where did you find them or did they progress as the story took shape?

Muddy Annie and Collaby Dought were the most fun characters to create, and every time I put them in a scene they would say something slightly ruder than I expected and make me laugh. Collaby, of course, is rooted in the ungrateful dwarf of Stahl’s ‘The Ungrateful Dwarf’, so he came to me pretty complete; Muddy Annie had to be a fit ally for him, but she doesn’t appear in either version of the original story; I had created a mudwife for an earlier story, ‘The Goosle’, but that mudwife was completely nasty and terrifying; I needed someone with a bit more charm for this novel.

Branza, Urdda and Liga by contrast are pretty straight, passive fairytale women upon whom deeds are done. Urdda has the most spark and self-motivation, just like Rose Red in the original, but I wouldn’t say either Liga or Branza are fully rounded characters; they’re developed beyond what the Grimms and Stahl did with them, but not to the point where you have much of a sense that they’d live on beyond the confines of this story. Which is part of the point, that they’re such victims.

The bears, and in general the young men of St Olafred’s, grew from the Bear-Day ritual itself, the joy and terror of that, and their different characters are drawn from what I know of young men whom I like (such as my own growing-up sons), and the generalised social fear of young men in packs and what they’re capable of.

One thing which struck me was your vivid descriptions, making it extremely easy to visualise the area and the people. Where did you find such an amazing setting?

It really is a fairytale setting by numbers, just pushed a little bit. Dark forests full of dangers and slightly-too-much-privacy are a staple setting of fairy and folktales, and I’ve used St Olafred’s-like towns in several stories - it’s my standard grey stone town on a hillside, with the addition of the Ash-Tree Square where the gossips sit, and the laundresses’ lane, and the gypsy camp a little way out of town. I needed to keep it very simple, having created way-too-complicated worlds for previous fantasy novels that eventually fell over under the weight of all the detail.

As the author do you think Liga’s sheltering her daughters although understandable was the right thing to do?

Up to a point I think it was the right thing to do. Where she went wrong was to refuse to admit to her daughters that there was another, less friendly, world out there, and to help them develop the equipment to deal with that world. At the same time she was not admitting this to herself, or herself developing strategies to cope with the ‘real’ world, and that is quite understandable too, given her background and the fact that she didn’t have any real-world support, only the support that a 15-year-old girl thinks she needs.

But the point of the story is to raise all those questions about how far protection of children can and should go, not to give a definitive answer. It’d be a parenting manual and not a novel if I were too emphatic about Liga’s rightness or wrongness.

Being an Author

Having written 8 novels over the past 15 years which is your favourite and why?

I’m awfully fond of Tender Morsels, because for a long time I was convinced I couldn’t write novels any more - it took about 10 years of crashed attempts for me to generate this book, and to see it between covers was the greatest relief. That said, they all have their place; I wouldn’t un-write or un-publish any of the books I’ve put out; they all got me to the point I’m at today. Which is a good point, and a hopeful point, from which even more exciting projects are possible.

What is the most important trait an author can have?

Pigheadedness, endless optimism and a fascination with the telling of stories for its own sake.

What advice would you give to anyone hoping to become a published author?

Develop a day job you enjoy, so that the pressure of having to earn income by your writing doesn’t bend it all out of shape.

Have some adventures/get some experience out in the world before you do that MFA or the like, so that you’ve got some material to work with, and some informed opinions of your own.

Learn grammar, punctuation and the conventions of different styles of presentation, so that you don’t annoy editors so much with the little things that they can’t see past them to the genius of your story.

Thanks Margo.

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Interview with Stephen Clayton Part 2 of 2

TVFH Interview: Stephen Clayton

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by Mike

Stephen Clayton is a founder member of the band Tractor, who signed with John Peel’s Dandelion label. They still record and tour. Stephen has also exhibited paintings at The Royal Academy. His debut novel is The Art of Being Dead published by BlueMoose books.

Part 1 of this interview can be found here.

What reactions have you had to the book, I heard that people have either a love or hate relationship with it.

The reactions to the book have taken me completely by surprise. In my innocence I believed that I had just told a story that I hoped would entertain and, perhaps, make people think. Many readers, I am pleased to say, have enjoyed the book and it has received many good reviews, but there is no denying that some people have found it hard to take. A woman recently told me that it was the most unpleasant book she had ever read, and that nobody swore like that in Halifax in the late sixties. What can you do? I pointed out that I had not written the book just to upset her. It’s the same with professional reviews. I don’t seek them out, but you are bound to come across them. And yes, bad reviews (although, thank god there have not been too many) do hurt and one does have a moment’s doubt as to the validity of one’s work. It’s amazing how you always remember the one bad review and forget all the rest. All you can do is take a deep breath and carry on.

I see that Julian Cope is a fan of the band, have you ever met him and if so what is he like?

Yes, Julian Cope is a Tractor fan, but unfortunately I have never met him. He did record at our studio in Rochdale but, sadly, I was away at the time. A great shame as his talent and eccentricity are close to my heart.

What has it been like for you to go to book events that you are speaking at compared to being before a live audience in Tractor and how have the audiences differed?

To speak at book events is, for me, a nerve wracking experience. The audience is usually enthusiastic and knowledgeable and one underestimates them at one’s peril. It does strike me, though, that in no other art form is the creator expected to stand before his audience and justify his every action. If the reading public don’t like you or your work they destroy you quietly and, usually, with dignity. If a rock audience don’t like you they just throw things. I’ve yet to work out which is the more painful.

Your career at Tractor is notable for the length of time that the band has endured. In today's instant culture do you see that you will be able to carve out a long literary career?

I’m afraid that it’s always been one of my failings not to think too far ahead. In writing as in music and art I can only concentrate on the moment: the work in hand. If a piece of work is successful and appreciated then that’s wonderful, but I don’t think one should expect a similar reaction in the future. Tastes change and, I suppose, and at the risk of sounding a little precious, all you can do is to try and achieve something that you believe in. If Tractor has continued to play and to sell some records then it’s probably because we were never really part of a particular fashion. I find it impossible to think of a ‘literary career’. I just want to write books.

As well as being a musician, you have had success with your painting. Is writing your primary passion or are all three equally important in your life?

To be honest, even when Tractor was doing reasonably well and my paintings were selling, I still wanted, more than anything else, to be a published author. For me, there is an authenticity, a depth and an intellectual satisfaction from literature that can be equalled only by the greatest of music. Each artistic endeavour brings with it its own problems, discipline and craft. I find writing much more difficult and challenging than anything else in which I have been involved. The rewards, however, when one has achieved a brief moment of success are, for me, much more rewarding. Rock music and art can, and often are, judged almost instantly, whereas to appreciate a serious piece of literature takes just a little longer.

Can you give some advice to new writers who are trying to get a publishing deal?

I hesitate to give advice on how to get published: the variables are so infinite. All I can say – and I apologise if this is too obvious – is to begin with the work itself. To be brutal there are two questions you should ask yourself: one, do I have anything to say and two, am I capable of saying it. Work hard and be totally honest with yourself. You know when you have written something not up to scratch. But don’t spend hours writing and rewriting the same paragraph. Finish the book and then rewrite. And then, and this is so difficult, pass it to somebody you trust and you know to be a serious reader and ask them for an honest opinion. There are, of course, professional editors and readers who will look at your work for you, but they do charge. Then when you are happy with your work, choose your agent or publisher carefully. Try not to give them reasons to reject you. And if you are rejected and you still believe in your talent, don’t give up. Never give up.

What are your plans for Tractor in the future and how is the second novel coming along - can you tell us anything about it?

Tractor is on the back-burner at the moment, although we hope to have a new CD out in the summer, and as for the second novel: it’s going well, but slowly. But that’s O.K. I’m about half way through and still believe in the story which, I believe, is the main thing. In the meantime, a guy I’ve known since the Dandelion days and I are busy hawking round a musical based on the life and work of Andy Warhol which we completed some time ago. There is some interest from an American theatre company, but I’m not holding my breath.

Thanks Stephen.

Stephen's book can be purchased from BlueMoose visit their website here.

Tolstoj and the Same Old Moron

by Pietro Grossi

Life looks pretty fine today. The sun just appeared over my terrace behind the trees. A soft, subtle line of fog sits down in the valley. While I was sipping my coffee, a squirrel came across the terrace with a nut in its mouth. And, most of all, I just finished War and Peace. I woke up around five and couldn’t get back to sleep, so after a bunch of minutes I just decided to turn the light on and pick up the book. I finally ended it. Finally and sadly. I have been waiting fifteen years to read the book, always having the feeling that wasn’t the right moment. This summer luckily it was: I have never been so patient and I have never been so pleased with my stubbornness. Reading the book has been one of the most intense experiences of my whole life. And I want to be very clear about it: I had a pretty fun life and always thought that life was stronger than stories.

Don’t worry: I won’t start a boring discussion about the book, first of all because the book is too huge to be discussed and in second place because I really think that books are not to be discussed that much.

Anyway, a couple of pages after the beginning of the third book Tolstoj says something that got stuck in my head and I can’t get it out. He says that a man lives two lives, a personal one and a social one; “consciously”, he says (and I am very sorry for the rough translation) “a man lives for himself but unconsciously he becomes the instrument with which history and the human community pursue their goals”. Now, if I am here at the desk of my new studio
set in the Tuscan countryside writing this post, if I am about to leave for another country to discuss a book of mine in front of a whole audience of strangers, it means an immense amount of unpredictable and fortunate and unexpected events glued together outside of my control. My activity, to put it with Tolstoj’s words, has fallen from a personal matter to a world’s matter.

Given this frightening point of view, what next? An old Italian author once draw the picture of a writer’s evolution, going from a young promise to a great debut to the same old moron. Very few of them, a lot later, get to the marvellous green gardens of the venerable “maestro”. Now, I have already been a young promise and one morning, more than three years ago, at the beginning of March I went to have breakfast at the caffè around the corner; before getting to the caffè I bought a couple of newspapers: on the cultural pages of the two news papers there were articles about my book. Beautiful articles, some of the best articles I had read in a pretty long time. My head began to spin and my stomach to flip: I couldn’t walk straight and couldn’t get my croissant down. Before getting back home I had to walk around the block to calm down and every twenty steps I felt like throwing up and needed to stop by a pole or something. It was a Saturday morning, about half past eight: people probably thought I was another young idiot who was still up from the night before and took any kind of drug, they weren't to know I was a man who had just apparently realized all his dreams.

Today I am facing the foggy swamps of the same old moron. Since I find something very intriguing in both thoughts, I have to combine Tolsoj’s and the old Italian author’s words: to leave my personal life and get into the greatness of history makes me a moron. Life is pretty funny some times. I guess I just have to live with it and try to keep some dignity.

Luckily, at the end of it all, there is the beautiful picture of that old man, with a white beard and a walking stick in his hand.

I’ll probably never get there, but you never know.

Pietro Grossi was born in Florence in 1978. He is a great admirer of
Hemingway and JD Salinger, and has been writing since he was eight years old. Fists is his second novel, for which he won the Premio Cocito Monta d'Alba prize. He lives and works between Tuscany and Milan.

Pietro is currently on a virtual tour:


Wednesday 19th Alma Books Bloggerel

Thursday 20th Bibliophilic Blogger

Friday 21st Nihoni Distractions

Monday 24th The Truth About Lies

Tuesday 25th Pursewarden

Wednesday 26th The View From Here

Thursday 27th Bookmunch

Friday 28th Notes in theMargin


Thursday 3rd Lizzy’s Literary Life

Authonomy Addiction

by Bradley Wind

In 1996 I was arrested at a nuclear power plant in Limerick, Pennsylvania. It was on July 4th (aka America's Independence Day) and was not related to a protest nor celebration. I was, however, dressed as Jesus. There once was a radioactive carpenter from Nantucket...

A similar hallmark date in my creative career would be when I joined

April 1st 2009

Until that date I'd spent nearly ten years writing and sharing my novels with only agents and editors who requested more after receiving my query letter. I'm not entirely sure what it was that pushed me to break that solitude but I was foolish enough to think signing up for Authonomy would be of trifling significance (side note: plenty of trifling to be found on the site should you desire to partake.)

What is From the FAQ section of the website:

authonomy is a unique online community that connects readers, writers and publishing professionals. It was conceived and built by editors at HarperCollins Publishers. We’re in beta at the moment, so we’re still developing and perfecting the site.

As of January 2009 three Authonomy authors have been offered publishing contracts, proving active membership can get you beyond the typical agent slushpile.

Here's the basics of how to play:

1) Sign up and post your book (if you have one).
2) Read and back other books (backing books = adding them to your virtual bookshelf - 5 books fit on your shelf.)
3) When others back your book, your book climbs the charts. The top 5 "most shelved" books every month receive a gold star designation and a professional critique from HarperCollins.
4) Enter into the forum fray - where a good education about the atmosphere of developing writers can be found (among other things).

And now for a few of the Other Things:

Finding out the site is in Beta is good news. It might mean so much of what stirs up the Authonomites could eventually be improved and possibly dissipate like the Great Tsunami that struck in Spring 09. I joined as many were still seasick from the effects of a user named Klazart, a "gamer" with a large following who invited his friends via Youtube to go to Authonomy and back his book (not necessarily reading it first). Lots of panties and whities became bunched over that act when Klazart's book shot to the top of the charts. It's not fair! Dishonorable! Should be disqualified! Yet HC declared it acceptable and the waters settled. His book received the gold star and review - and I believe he has moved on to greener pastures because I haven't seen him since.

The following should not be taken as glib or trivial in the least: Since joining I've read of two Authonomy members deaths. One, I believe, was a heart attack, and the other a suicide. I was incredibly impressed by the support I witnessed after the news posted in the forums. Some however believed the news of the deaths to be faked having been duped on other sites with falsified accounts by a few desperate individuals trying to drum up interest for their books. With the gold star competition and the egos often encountered in creative communities, any act done to gain attention wouldn't surprise me. There are plenty of games (some call them marketing plans) to get your work noticed on Authonomy but I'm happy to report most activity surrounding the deaths was positive. Rest in peace Rocky and Martin.

I would be amiss if I did not add that there have also been announcements of births - my daughter for one. Roselaine Jean Wilhelmina Wind was born on her due date May 29th and one might think having two children under the age of two would severely cut back ones time spent fraternizing with anyone online but luckily I am a multitasking master during my work day and between those short visits and the time spent after the kids are in bed, I squeak in just enough to keep my Authonomy addiction fed. Probably three scattered hours a day - about a third of that is spent reading and the rest in the forums.

Yes, I am now publicly admitting to being an Authonomy addict, but I take heart in knowing that my addiction is quite common among other Authonomites, and unlike say - Tanorexia - an unhealthy dependence on tanning, I have benefited from my addiction. Instead of developing skin cancer, I'm accessing wonderful writing (about 3500 books as of 5/09 and an amazing wide range of genre) many of which should be gracing the shelves of your local bookstores now.
Two have inspired me to seek a publish-on-demand version available through so I could read them in printed form.

One of the first I read on the site was Dorkismo: The Macho of the Dork by Maria Bustillos. It has brilliant insight into character and is the kind of funny any fan of Woody Allen would understand. According to forum gossip, she's got a new one on the way. I can't wait.
Not a polar opposite but certainly of a different colour is the fiction of Paul House. His novel Harbour ("The beginning of the end of the British Empire in the Far East" set during WWII) is one of those deeply moving intimate books of which one is apt to reread chapters immediately after finishing them.

My novel, A Calculated Embellishment, has already broken the top 100 ranks of Authonomy. *Stadium blast of applause erupts* I am proud, and excited, and hoping agents and people-with-influence from the publishing world will soon take notice, and help me publish it (or at least ask me to write articles for their online blogs and offline magazines).

Bradley Wind is an artist/writer living in East Coventry, Pennsylvania USA.
Click here for his page on Authonomy.

Synopsis for A Calculated Embellishment:

Abel Velasco exits foster care to live with his newly found cousin and abusive aunt. His typical teenage struggles are compounded by the fact he is a hidden savant. Searching for a challenge, Abel becomes obsessed with the mysterious architecture of an abandoned mansion and strangely numbered bible, launching his journey from suburban New Jersey to Berkeley, California and beyond.

Interview with Stephen Clayton Part 1 of 2

The View From Here Interview:

Stephen Clayton

interview by Mike

Stephen Clayton is a founder member of the band Tractor, who signed with John Peel’s Dandelion label. They still record and tour. Stephen has also exhibited paintings at The Royal Academy. His debut novel is The Art of Being Dead published by BlueMoose books.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in 1950 in Rochdale, Lancashire. At the age of nine my older brother decided that I should learn to drum and join his band. By the time I was eleven I was playing regularly at dances and working men’s clubs. Dropped out of school at seventeen to concentrate on music, writing and painting; anything, in fact, to avoid doing a real job. Signed a five album contract with John Peel’s Dandelion Label and although music then became my main occupation I still, somehow, managed to have a couple of short stories published and a couple of paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy. Over the next few years I continued to drum and to write; opened a music shop and a studio, and married Judith who is still my wife. I now live in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire and spend most of my time either writing or in the pub, although the band still records and occasionally plays live. Perhaps I do what I do because I am incapable of doing anything sensible; hard work and satisfying, but not a recommended way to earn a decent living.

What's your ideal night?

My ideal night: an Indian meal; copious amounts of wine and stimulating company.

What music are you currently listening to in the car?

My taste in music has become strangely eclectic. In fact, there was a time when I wasn’t even sure what I liked any more. Now I spend most of my time listening to either Nick Cave or Mozart. See what I mean!?

I see that you split your time between Hebden Bridge and France, where about in France is that and how do you spend your time out there?

We have a small apartment in the South of France, forty kilometres east of Carcassonne. It’s situated on the edge of an industrial estate, so hardly what you’d call romantic, but I love being there. Good food, cheap wine, and because, unlike my wife, my knowledge of the French language is somewhat limited I’m in no danger of talking too much. Sunshine, wine and peaceful surroundings in which to write, with all outside pressures reduced to a minimum: almost perfect.

The Art of Being Dead is the third book that you have written, can you tell us about the first two and if you tried to get them published?

Before I was fortunate to have The Art of Being Dead accepted for publication I had completed two other novels: A Medicine of Cherries and Falling Bodies. The first was concerned with the French Revolution of 1789, and the second dealt with a possible incestuous relationship between a brother and sister. In truth, I didn’t really try very hard to have either published. Looking back, I know realize that, deep down inside, I knew neither of them were good enough. I now think of them as a necessary exercise in learning how to write; to create character, tension, plot etc. If you really wish to write then I truly believe that nothing you do is ever totally wasted. Sometimes you can learn more from a bad piece of writing (as long as you are capable of acknowledging its shortcomings) than from something that you believe to be perfect.

And the Art of Being Dead itself: How did you come up with the title and what at its core is the book about?

To begin with The Art of Being Dead seemed, even to me, a strange title, but the more I lived with it the more appropriate it became. The ‘death’ we are talking about here is not an actual death, but a spiritual, emotional and sexual death, as exemplified by the main character Jonathan. Due to various incidents in his childhood and youth, Jonathan attempts to live his life as a spectator, separate and distant from the rest of society. Eventually and, some might say, inevitably, this way of living is challenged, and in a most cruel and brutal way. The book is concerned with Jonathan’s response and how, once a decision to become involved has been taken, the consequences seem to take on a tragic and unstoppable life of their own. As it says on the book jacket: can you become a murderer by doing nothing?

How did you get your publishing deal with BlueMoose books?

I had met Kevin Duffy socially a few times and was invited to the launch of Bluemoose books a couple of years ago. So, when I had completed The Art of Being Dead I offered him a few pages to read, not in the hope of it being accepted but simply for his comments. He asked to see the rest and his decision to publish and his enthusiasm for the book came as a total surprise. Perhaps it really was just a case of being in the right place at the right time.

What has it been like being with a small indie publisher?

When Kevin told me he wished to publish The Art of Being Dead he was disarmingly honest. He told me that in his opinion the manuscript would be of interest to other (major) publishers, and that if I wished to go with somebody else he would help me to get a deal. This reminded me of our first contact with John Peel. We had already had offers from other record companies, but we decided, and for very much the same reason that I decided to go with Kevin, to go with John. A small indie publisher may not have the money or the clout of the ‘majors’ but they have commitment, passion and a belief in the work that can not be manufactured. My relationship with Kevin and Bluemoose has been total and everything that I could have hoped for; from discussions on the design of the book jacket, to the layout of the book and subsequent dealings with the press and the public. I know that Kevin is working hard on my behalf and for the success of Bluemoose.

How many edits did the book go through and how long did it take to write?

The book took me two and a half years to write, and I completely rewrote the manuscript at least three times. I took care to edit savagely, even at the cost of removing what I had believed were some of my best sentences. Consequently, when it came to the ‘Bluemoose edit’ very little change was necessary.

For part 2 of this interview click here.

Stephen's book can be purchased from BlueMoose visit their website here.

Monster Mash II - Competition Time!

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by Jane Turley

Now that you’re all familiar with Monster Mash and the concept of mashing, it’s time for a competition to see just how good you folks are at being downright silly!

The competition is simple - all you have to do is produce a short piece of writing of no more than 500 words which mixes two literary styles with the objective of getting the view team in stitches. You don’t have to mash a classic literary novel and you don’t have to use monsters – you can mash any genres in whatever way you please! In fact, why not write your piece from scratch and make your own unique Mash. You could mix a romance with a formal report, an action thriller with a fairy tale or a graphic novel with a weapons manual. Here are some titles to help you start thinking creatively;

Withering Genitals by Emily Bronte and Dr. C. Littlejohn. (A doctor called to treat a depressive woman finds more than he bargained for.)

Snow White and the Seven Axe Murderers by The Brothers Kray. (Fairytale princess and vicious henchmen wreck havoc on castle of the wicked witch in quest for quality Golden Delicious apples.)

The Adventures of Tintin and the M2A1-7 Flamethrower by A. Nutter.
(Small Belgian boy seeks revenge for German Invasion.)

The Rise and Fall of the Third Soufflé by W. Shirer and G. Ramsey.
(Historical account of an ambitious chef who, aided by his deadly blender, strives to achieve total world domination and an extra Michelin star. )

Ten Little Ideas by Agatha Christie. (Authorised biography of George Bush Snr.)

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. (Unauthorised biography of George Bush Jnr.)

The Curious Incident of Gordon Brown in the Gent’s Toilets. (Conservative party manifesto.)

1001 Names for your Baby by Rumpelstiltskin. (Self explanatory)

Little Lord Tommy by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Mr. T. Cruise. (Pocket size edition.) Semi- autobiographical account of the life and times of a boy whose breeches were too big.

I hope your brain cells are now ticking over because we will be looking for top class stupidity in this competition! The closing date is the 23 September and the winning entry will be published here on the view from here as well as receiving one of our stylish coffee mugs and copies of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Send your entries to us at

Finally, please make sure you avoid any copyright issues but, above all, make us laugh out loud!

Good luck everyone!

Standing Room Only - - Rachel Chew Blakley

Excerpt: "Leaning across the dirt-flecked garbage can, The Eccentric is taking inventory of her tote bags. She has disposed of several crumpled polyethylene bags, and fishes out, at last, a whole sandwich. Delicately, she unfolds the transparent wrapping, and sniffs it as if performing a ritual. I can smell it, and I'm a good ten feet away. It's tangy, funky. I identify the pungent smell after a minute: mustard. But it can't be a sandwich made solely of a condiment, can it? The Eccentric takes a bite, uses a thumb to smear the excess away from the corner of her crinkled lips, and tosses a quarter of her meal onto the sidewalk. A pigeon cocks his head, but doesn't approach. Down the block, the broad face of the bus pulls into view."
Read the rest of the story at The Front View!

The Desert

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by Kathleen

At eighteen I lived in New Mexico and waitressed at a creperie, although the menu included huevos rancheros and even bagels. I lived on tips, barely managing to pay my fourth of the rent.

Leroy, the cook, sometimes liked me and sometimes not. I needed him to like me. Because if he forgot my order or covered the crepes with thick, unheated cheese sauce, the customers blamed me.

My memory for who ordered what with which never faltered. In one hand I could balance eight beverages on a tray and in the other carry four full plates.

Leroy liked my “look at me” attitude. Customers admired my “hustle.” When my tips ran scant, Leroy nudged the sombreroed owner, deconstructing pie-a-la-mode in the corner, to pay me the difference. The owner and Leroy shared a venture in auto parts. Leroy bragged about being a local racketeer.

“You mean raconteur?”

“So now you’re French, CeCe?”

“Raconteur is a storyteller. Racketeer is an extortionist.” In hindsight, that’s probably when he didn’t like me: when I corrected his vocabulary.

“Forget storyteller,” he said. Leroy had stature--big man about town.

What he meant was that he and his buddies were rich builders, hot shots. Sometimes, when he liked me, he invited me to accompany him to their haciendas. Because, he said, they liked guys with pretty, young girlfriends.

At these places, several pretty girls always lolled around a swimming pool. Beautiful rooms, great music, usually a garden. If Leroy invited me, I accepted.

One hot afternoon he had business with Geoff. “Wanna come, CeCe? Has to be right after work.”

Ordinarily I stopped at home, changed into a sundress, and grabbed a bathing suit. That day Leroy didn’t have time to spare. So I hopped inside his four-wheel drive along with another “racketeer,” Chet.

Leroy drove really fast. Bald, fat Chet ranted so much his spit flew. Then he paused, sizing me up. “She ain’t a safe bet, Leroy. Geoff said just us--remember?”

Leroy glanced back at me, grimy from work and silly in the degrading prairie dress waitress’s uniform. “CeCe, we’re letting you out.”

He sped off the highway. The jeep bounced, flying across the desert. Grit in the air stung my skin. “Out?” I asked. “Out where?”

“Where you won’t get in trouble.” Leroy and Chet snickered. The jeep flew off road for half an hour, thereabouts. Then Leroy forced me out. I was too stunned to register them driving away.

Alone in the vast flatness like another planet, I didn’t dare panic. I didn’t dare anything. Red dirt surrounded me without interruption for as I far as I could see. No rocks or tumbleweed, no bleached wood or bones. Nothing but unchanging horizon, 360 degrees.

If I screamed, my voice would not register. If I moved, the air wouldn’t stir. I was lost in a void. Lost, I believed, forever.

Celebs in Writing Distress: Jessica Alba

Dear Lone Ranger

I've just finished my first novel and I'm considering using Twitter to help raise my profile to help book sales. I see a lot of writers are using it - do you recommend it? How do I use it? Help Lone Ranger!



Dear Jessica

Twitter is like sending messages by smoke signals. Smoke Signals are used to transmit news, signal danger, or gather people to a common area, much like Twitter.
However, I'd recommend you forget Twitter and stand in the middle of Times Square in that cowgirl outfit, set fire to a pile of your books and let the smoke twirl around you in a dry ice effect. That will get you noticed.


The Lone Ranger

Follow the Lone Ranger at twitter here.

Rainclouds over Summer Reading

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by Mike

It's been all the trend over the last few years. The Staycation - have a lorry load of sand delivered to your house and sit under an umbrella eating an ice-cream with a defiant British smile. We Brits love a challenge and bad weather and hard times won't stop us having our hard earned holidays. It's our right damn it. But how has it affected our Summer Reading, with all those covers of beaches and lovers in pastel? Well I have no figures but my guess is that dark clouds are gathering over our traditional summer reading.

You see, the truth is unless you are completely bonkers you won't be sitting in your garden in the rain. No a Staycation equals using your house as a base and travelling out for days to LegoLand, Cadbury's World, going for walks in the mud and if you have no kids? - heh you're probably having 2 weeks in Barbados, so you don't count.

What this means is that you're not going to go to the airport. No buying a book to read on the plane. You're not going to spend hours sunning yourself on the beach when the nippers play with the sharks in the sea. No time to read. And whenever you do get a moment, and you're not knackered from driving 100 miles up the M1, you're going to watch the tele - right?

Another big problem is that a lot of people don't buy books unless they think they are going to be terminally bored. It's a last resort to staring at the summer sun with nothing to do but rub suntan cream all over yourself and going mad. Foreign television, foreign languages and foreign newspapers make us panic. You must have something to read in English and taking last week's copy of The Guardian on holiday with you just isn't going to work. So you buy a book or take one that your Great Aunt gave you which has sat on your shelf since Christmas. But at home there is no such dilemma - you're surrounded by the British language, there's no need to retreat to the book to find comfort and safety. And even if you do venture out to get a book - go for that authentic holiday experience to go with the mound of sand from B&Q on your lawn that the cats used as a toilet - you're going to get one at Tesco's aren't you. Make it as easy as possible. O well - you probably like chocolate for the sugar and not the cocoa as well. Am I right?

So maybe it's time for the Summer push to be books about "Making the Most of your Staycation" - go for the non-fiction market, fiction's hey day at the beach is over. The light summer read could fall to the recession. Now, I just can't make up my mind if that is a good thing or not!

Photo credit:Kim Yokota

The Bird Woman - - Kyle Hemmings

Excerpt: "On the spot, you subtract nineteen from the present year because that will be the next request, a birth date for verification. You can't seem to focus. Nineteen, you tell her. And that's about as close to the truth as the woman who once gave you away. At least, this one doesn't ask for references."

Read the rest at The Front View!

Monster Mash

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by Jane Turley

Let’s talk Mash. Monster Mash.

No, not that hideous lumpy stuff that gets stuck in your throat and is served up by sweltering school canteens but the latest phenomenon to hit the book shelves - Monster Mash.

So what exactly is Mash in literary terms? Well, to go back to the potato analogy it’s rather like mixing up two genres as you would mash up your potato with butter. Hopefully, the result is something pretty tasty. However, unlike the best mash potato which is creamy and luxurious there’s always a chance it might turn out like school mash and leave you a tad queasy.

This latest trend of monster mashing is not just a mixture of genres but, more specifically, the concept of combining a classic novel with the horror genre. This is done, supposedly, in the pursuit of comedy and the way has been led by Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by the American author Seth Grahame-Smith. Originally the publishers, Quirk Books, expected the novel to do nothing more than break even. However, after it was picked up by the blogosphere and word spread of the Bennet sisters’ sudden conversion to mass murder Pride and Prejudice and Zombies rocketed into the New York Times best seller list and, as of July, it has now sold over 600,000 copies in the US and over 50,000 in the UK.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
by Seth Grahame Smith
Publisher: Quirk Books 2009

But just how successful is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as a comedy? Well, it is what I would call “moderately successful.” In the earlier chapters of the book I laughed out loud at the idea of a Regency England stricken by crazed zombies and the virginal Bennet sisters as zombie slaying marshal arts experts.

My Dearest Lizzy,

I find myself very unwell this morning, which I suppose, is to be imputed to my being set upon by several freshly unearthed unmentionables during my ride to Netherfield. My kind friends will not hear of my returning till I am better. They insist on my seeing Mr. Jones – therefore do not be alarmed if you should hear of his having been to me- and excepting a few bruises and a minor stab wound, there is not much the matter with me.

Yours, etc.

So yes, there is humour in adding the living dead to Pride and Prejudice. But unfortunately, it’s just not a gag you can sustain for 300 pages. Sadly, by the latter stages of the book I was thoroughly bored. In fact, to be honest, I sick to death of hearing about dojos, daggers and "unmentionables." I was beginning to wonder when or if ever, Seth Grahame-Smith was going to turn up the humour stakes. After all, a good joke (especially a long one) needs a powerful punch line. Unfortunately, no last minute comedy feast materialized and instead of ending with a bang this Regency meets Gothic comedy ended with barely a whimper.

The idea behind Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is simply delicious for those of us with an appetite for the ridiculous. So why exactly did it fail to deliver the promised feast? I’m inclined to think that the root of the problem lies with the attempt to stay to faithful to the original novel. In an interview with the Southbank Centre Seth Grahame-Smith’s editorial director Jason Rekulak, the man who devised the original concept for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, wrote;

Our responsibility to Austen was to stay true to her original plotline. The book is about 85% of Austen’s original text and 15% zombies. To be honest, Quirk wasn’t sure how the public would react to adding zombies to one of Austen’s most beloved works. There have definitely been criticisms to what we have done, but it seems most people truly do enjoy the zombie mayhem—and on a global scale.
Oh come on Jason! What a pile of poo! In my humble opinion, having added blood, guts and zombies to one of the most popular classics of all time Quirk Books pretty much negated the responsibility to preserve it in any way, shape or form. And I hardly think that anyone who has read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies because of an attraction to the zombie element alone is likely to read Austen’s entire original works! I could be wrong but I think if you’ve butchered a classic you might as well go all out for the comedy element - otherwise you’re left with a comedy of errors in the truest sense of the phrase.

Now don't misunderstand me; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is entertaining. However, I felt that with some serious editing of the original text and further elaboration on the zombie elements it could have been more than just mildly amusing. Possibly hilarious. Let’s be realistic - even the most devout Austen fan is not going to remember every page word for word, so why worry about sticking to the intricacies of the text and plot? So long as Darcy and Elizabeth ended up together who would have cared if the rest of the entire cast were slaughtered beyond recognition? I, for one, would love to have seen Mrs Bennet strung up by her pantaloons and what would be better than cutting out Lydia’s tongue and burying her alive? And as for that lackadaisical Mr Bennet a hot poker up the backside would have been a just reward for letting his youngest daughter turn out a right trollop.

Blimey, all those lost opportunities…

Perhaps there’s also another reason why Pride and Prejudice and Zombies didn’t work for me – and that’s because it’s written by an American. Pride and Prejudice is so quintessentially English it’s a shame that the novel didn’t really take full advantage of the humour that is to be found in just being English. I was slightly annoyed with the constant referrals to the Bennet sisters’ martial arts training in Japan and the repeated high kicks and punches. What happened to fencing with umbrellas, cucumbers and shooting sticks? What about duels with custard pies and jellies at dawn? Maybe that’s something only someone who truly understands Englishness can convey? I’m not entirely sure - and I know there will be those who will disagree. However, I guess if the author was going to be American I’d probably have chosen someone like Bill Bryson.

So there you have it. Another novel I’ve lambasted. Oh well, someone’s gotta do it!

Now the good news is (depending on whether or not you like your mash) a whole host of Monster Mash will shortly be arriving on your book shelves including Queen Victoria; Demon Hunter, I am Scrooge; A Zombie Story for Christmas, Pinocchio; Vampire Slayer, Abraham Lincoln; Vampire Hunter (by Seth Grahame-Smith) and in September the Austen sequel from Quirk books Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben Winters.

I’m just hoping that when I read Quirk's latest offering the only gagging I’ll be doing is from laughter and not some indigestible half baked potato.

Redundant Words

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by Paul

Stephen King, in his King’s excellent book On Writing, provides some is crammed with valuable, albeit not particularly original advice, delivered with the ease of a first-rate storyteller. that many other How-to books for writers also provide: namely : He recalls a formula he was given at High School: “2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.” after finishing the first complete draft of a manuscript, the writer should work through it and try to reduce the number of words by 10%. and As King acknowledges this in the his Second Foreword to his book, Strunk and White’s seventeenth rule (The Elements of Style) is “Omit needless words.” What King manages to tie this process in with, though, It’s not startlingly original – and many writers would aim for more than 10% on every draft – but that doesn’t make it any less true. Nine years after reading his book, I’m still quoting it.

But more
More importantly, it’s those aspects his examination of bad writing he highlights – the use of adverbs (particularly with dialogue attribution), the passive voice, and redundant words – which has helped to train the editor in my head, whether I’m revising my own work or reading someone else’s. It’s because his words have prompted me to interrogate every adverb and to eliminate the passive for the active wherever I find it, that I so often (need to) pare my writing words down by that 10%. In many ways, such advice helps me to find and define the voice I write with. and have urges writers to be In my mind, this advice has become associated with other remarks he makes earlier in the book, in terms of about hunting out adverbs and the passive voice.

It also explains why first drafts can be such a mess.

Regardless of whether you are you’re a fan of Stephen King’s fiction or not, On Writing remains a valuable text for writers, as well as anyone interested in writing.

Learning to Listen

by George Polley

Listening to stories is something we learn as children. To a writer, listening is vital, because stories are everywhere, free for the taking when we take the time to listen for and to them.

It's amazing to me what I've learned over the years by listening, asking clarifying questions when appropriate, and allowing the person to tell his or her story as I sit and listen. Some years ago I wrote and published “Requiem for Blue”, a story about an ex-convict who had spent 30 years in prison for murdering his girlfriend's lover when he came home unexpectedly and found them in bed. The story was as he told it, sitting over coffee in the Chicago halfway house where he lived, with his name and other identifying details changed. When you learn to listen with both ears fully open, you will never run out of stories to tell.

Learning to write stories is also a matter of listening to other writers by reading them and, when the opportunity presents itself, listening to them in person. Minnesota novelist Frederick Manfred became a friend during the years we were neighbors in southwest Minnesota; he encouraged me, and introduced me to John Milton, editor of The South Dakota Review, who published one of my stories (Jonah's Birth) and two early articles, one about Miller and the other about a writer's sense of place. A few years later I met poets Stephen Dunn and Kelly Cherry, with whom I taught at Southwest Minnesota State University for a few short years. (I was an Instructor in sociology). They both gave me valuable suggestions, and encouraged me to continue writing. I met novelist Rudolfo Anaya (“Bless Me, Ultima”), too, and sat and listened to him talk about writing. Never turn down an opportunity to do that.

Author interviews are another great source of information about writing and the writing life. I've read them throughout my career, and I still read them, because they're a rich vein of ideas and information. Reading as widely as possible is another source for listening. When I read, I listen to enjoy the story, to learn more about my craft, and expand my consciousness beyond what is ordinary and familiar. I read detective fiction, historical novels (my mother had a shelf them by Louis Mühlbach, all set in 19th century Europe and written in a sedate 19th century prose), mainstream novels, stories for children, sci-fi (a college favorite), great literature, and so on. I read Harry Potter, Khaled Hosseini and Haruki Murakami, and anxiously await the English translation of his two volume new novel, 1Q84 (Japanese for 1984) so I can see what he's up to.

You can take classes in storytelling, and graduate from creative writing programs (I've never done either); but in my mind, the best writing program is reading, sitting down and writing, showing your work to others, and sending it out for publication. If you're not good at grammar and syntax, and I'm not, you'll pick it up from other writers along the way. If your grammar is awful, someone will point it out and give you pointers on what needs changing. If your stories are awful, good grammar won't save them. So pay attention to learning to tell a good story, one that people want to read and listen to.

My favorite mentors are great storytellers who use rich, evocative language to paint unforgettable pictures: Khaled Hosseini, Jorge Amado, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Mario Vargas Llosa, Mihail Sadoveanu, Kurt Vonnegut, Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, Haruki Murakami, Nikos Kazantzakis, J. K. Rowling and the others use language in a way that bewitches, captures the imagination and stay with you. When the characters and their stories become part of your own history and mythology, you have read (or written) a memorable story, even if you don't know where commas go and semicolons, how to conjugate verbs, diagram a sentence, or spell.

I don't write plot outlines for the simple reason that I get so hung up in the details of “doing it right” that it kills my writing. Instead, I focus on the characters, and allow them to guide me. I got the idea for my story about the old man and the monkey, from a dream about a Japanese snow monkey. Since I don't think about monkeys, why had he appeared? So I asked him, and the story, set in a tiny village north of Sapporo, Japan, unfolded from there. I get my story ideas from news incidents, snippets of conversation, sounds: a bird call, a big black raven sitting on a trashcan in a park or thieving food from someones grocery bag left on a bicycle, or a group of high school athletes (the “young wolves” in another story). Keep your “ears” open, and the characters with their stories, in my experience, will appear.

The key is learning to listen to hear.

George Polley was born in Santa Barbara, California and raised in Seattle, Washington. After high school, he completed his undergraduate work at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon (B.A., Sociology and Anthropology), and received a Master's Degree in Social Work at the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana campus. He has always had two parallel careers: mental health professional and writer and poet.
In 2008 he and his wife moved to Sapporo, Japan so that she could fulfill her dream of returning to the land of her birth.
His recent work includes: The Old Man and The Monkey and Grandfather Stories, published by Abbott ePublishing of Manchester, N.H. (March 2009) ( “The Storm” (short story), The View From Here magazine (UK), June 2009 (online edition) and July 2009 (print edition); and two poems in Graffiti UK), May 2009

Photo Credit: Carbon NYC