What advice and/or warnings do you have for burgeoning writers?
First off, I would like to say that writing is a very personal thing, and we all find our own way to what works for us. That being said, I can talk about the things that I have found useful for me.
Most importantly, if you want to write, then read! It doesnít matter if itís Jane Austen or the Twilight books or Narnia or James Joyce. If you donít love reading, why on earth would you want to be a writer? And if you donít read, you wonít learn the tricks of the trade, you wonít improve. That said, I would hate for reading to become a chore - I must read, even though I despise this book, because it sold a million copies, and I need to learn what trick they used! . I think, as a writer, reading is important because it teaches us everything from how to develop characters to how to plot to the meanings of unusual words, and a million other things besides. And most of that we pick up without conscious effort. Weíre designed - as humans, I mean - we are designed to learn. We donít have to fret or worry about it. It happens naturally, itís part of our wiring. But if you donít expose yourself to writing - and probably a range of different styles and genres - then I feel there is the risk of stagnating, of not fulfilling potential.
Next, I would say try not to be scared of writing or be inhibited when doing so. Writing can be a form of liberation, it can be a way of expressing yourself freely and without censorship or guilt. It can also be cathartic and therapeutic, though if you write just for that purpose, it might not be very sale-able, which isnít to say it isnít useful for your own personal development, and it is always good practice. Other people have said it, but writing is like a muscle - use it or lose it! Related to this, I would advise people to think of writing in (at least) two stages - the first stage is just to splurge everything down, maybe not stream of consciousness, but not to get too hung up on spelling mistakes or getting that poetic sentence just right. The important thing at this point is to create a flow and to build momentum, and constantly stopping and second guessing yourself inhibits this. So I always try to turn off that critical part of myself when I am writing something for the first time, and just hammer away at the keyboard until the ideas dry up. Then comes stage two. This is the point where you go over everything youíve written, and you allow that critical part of yourself to come to the fore. Correct spelling and grammar mistakes, consider what sentences can be cut (as a side note, there are almost always sentences that are redundant and can be cut - it hurts sometimes, but it makes the story better), think about the choices you made and why you made them. Correct things that need correcting.
By doing things this way, I have found (and I canít talk about anyone else, but I would recommend thinking about it) that I donít get inhibited by the horror of a blank white page anywhere near as much as I used to.
Then I would say, show your writing to friends and family; and then to colleagues or people who are more neutral e.g., in a writers group or something similar. Listen to their feedback, be polite, and make changes if you think they are making good points. But at the end of the day, itís YOUR story. You should follow your heart and write it the way you want to write it. Ten people might tell you ten different things, and they might all conflict. So the person you should listen to first and foremost is you...but do hear what other people have to say!
In terms of submitting stories and getting published - this is a long, hard slog. Donít give up. Chances are youíll get loads of rejections before you get any acceptances. You might not, but I would say it happens to most of us. And because these things take a long time to turn around sometimes, I would say as soon as you have submitted something, try to forget about it, and start work on the next project.
If you want to become a novelist, get good (or at least competent) at short stories first. Good for honing skills, and thereís loads of (admittedly small) markets out there.
Donít expect to make a living as a writer. Some people do, and thatís wonderful, and I salute them, and Iím immensely jealous of them. But for the vast majority of us, even if you get a book or two published, you wonít be able to quit your day job, not unless youíre with a big publisher. I love writing, it makes me feel alive, and (time allowing) itís what I want to do, and Iíve had a novel and several short stories published. But Iím also a medical doctor. Iím lucky, in that this is a good job that is interesting and pays the bills. All Iím saying is, be wary of deciding that youíre going to be a writer, and thatís it, your life and income are sorted. Unfortunately, itís not as easy as that...
Finally, be wary of vanity publishers. Self publishing is fine (though you probably wonít make much money unless you write something absolutely amazing and are also incredible at self promotion), and small press is probably a good first step when it comes to novels, but vanity publishers - no!
How do you feel about movie conversions of books and novelizations of movies?
Torn. I mean, when I hear a book I love is being made into a film, I usually feel a rush of excitement. But then it can go either way, canít it? It depends on so much - the director, the cast, the budget, and a million other things besides. Sometimes I think itís better to stick with whatís in your head. So many books are adapted badly...
On the other hand, when a novel is turned into a film and itís done well, thatís wonderful. One of the things I love most about that is I can suddenly share it with a whole load of friends who otherwise would probably not have a clue what I was talking about.
As a rule of thumb - and this was something my guitar teacher Simon pointed out to me, bless him, though I havenít seen him for years - I think short stories tend to make better movies. Easier to fit everything important in. Nowadays, novels are probably better adapted as high-end television series, Game of Thrones probably being the most perfect example ever. So much more room to breathe, to develop the characters, to explore the plot.
As for novelizations of movies? As a rule of thumb, I usually hate them. They usually seem to be poorly written cash-ins. I would have two exceptions to that: the first is the novelizations of the first three Nightmare On Elm Street movies, which I read on a holiday in France when I was 12, because I loved the movies and I couldnít get enough of them, even if they werenít the most brilliant works of fiction ever. And the other is 2001 , though that doesnít count strictly speaking, because the book and the movie were written together. But if I can count it, I will, because Iíd say the last twenty minutes of the movie makes absolutely no sense unless youíve read the book. Itís pretty, but itís completely bonkers. But thatís Kubrick for you. Thereís a whole other conversation to be had here about The Shining , and why Stephen King doesnít like the Kubrick version, which I thinkís really interesting, but I guess thatís going off-topic again...
What was the oddest experience youíve had selling your books?
Iím not sure if this counts, but I did a project a few years ago called The Free Book . The idea was that I self-published a small collection of short stories, set up a website, and gave the books out to people for free. The book then explained the idea - the people I gave the book to were invited to read it, log onto the website to say where they got it and read it and who from and where they had taken it to or given it to - and then pass it on. I thought this was a great idea, I loved the idea of seeing a batch of books being released into the wild, seeing how they travelled about the place (even if people didnít like them), seeing how far they could get...
Sadly, I was probably the most enthusiastic person about the idea by about a million light years, and I had to shut down the website a few months ago because it was costing me money to run and the books werenít really moving fast enough to make it worth while. Still, it was a nice little idea, and some of the copies got to the USA, a few got to Asia, a few to Australia, and so on, so in a small way, I suppose it worked. I do occasionally get random contacts from people who have stumbled across a copy, though I imagine there are less and less of them about the more time passes. At first, I worried that people might hoard them on the off chance that one day they might be worth something, so I put a foreword in the beginning and on the back stating explicitly that no copy belonged to anyone, that no-one should every pay for a copy, and that if anyone was trying to charge for a copy, you should just take it; it was a free book after all. It didnít belong to anyone. I kind of hope that happened, at least once. Iíd love to hear about it if it did.
Later, I thought it was probably much more likely that no-one would ever know who I was or care much anyway, and the thought of someone trying to sell a copy began to seem ridiculous. Still, who knows? We live in a weird Universe full of weird people and coincidences. I like to think at least a few copies are still out there somewhere. Iíd love to bump into one again when Iím eighty or something, assuming I live anywhere near that long of course. We could have a little chat, compare how our lives have diverged since we parted ways...
ďThe Fall of the Angel NathalieĒ, ISBN13 9781939065216, Bedlam/Necro Publications, 2013, Dark Fantasy/Horror.
ďSecond ChancesĒ (small short story collection), ISBN13 9781476486604, Published by me via Smashwords, August 2012, Fantasy/Science Fiction/Humor/Horror.
ďModern Serpents Talk Thing ThroughĒ, ISBN13 9781620042960, Less Than Three Press, December 2013, Fantasy/Humor/LGBT.
ďAdvance DirectiveĒ (2013); ďThe Other OptionĒ (2008); ďThe Big DealĒ (2005), no ISBN, all published online at www.eastoftheweb.com , Science Fiction/Fantasy/Humor.
ďTheft on New Years EveĒ (part of the collection, ďKiss Me At MidnightĒ by various authors), ISBN13 9781620041697, Less Than Three Press January 2013, Romance/LGBT/Humor.
ďHot Zombie Chicks and Cocktails at GoreísĒ (part of the collection, ďZombies For A CureĒ - though for some reason I never received an author copy and the publisher never replied to my emails, though the website lists me as an author, and I was told my story was in the collection, though I have never physically seen a copy) ISBN13 9780982855478, Elektrik Milk Bath Press, October 2012, horror/humor.
ďHis Hungry Little ChildrenĒ (part of the collection, ďUncanny AllegoriesĒ by various authors,
ISBN 1456309226 (ISBN13: 9781456309220), Post Mortem Press, 2010, horror.
ďDaisy Strikes BackĒ, no ISBN, published in Here And Now Magazine, 2005, fantasy/humor.