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Interview with my writer pal Russell Sanderson

Russell Sanderson is a writer to watch out for in the future. I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with him through twitter and email for quite some time now and i consider him a great friend and a brilliant writer. What follows is an interview in which he discusses his own writing and inspirations. 

What genre do you write in and why?

I write fantasy because I’ve always had a love for escapist fiction.  I was the kid in class who was always staring out of the window, wishing I was somewhere else, doing something adventurous and fantastic.  Of course I’m older now, so I stare out of the window in business meetings instead.

How long have you been writing?

As a child, I loved reading but hated writing because my handwriting was (as described to me by my primary school teacher) “like a drunken spider had crawled out of an inkwell and across my page.”   My grammar was always fine, but nobody could read it. Fortunately, technology came to the rescue; by the time I’d left school, word processors had levelled the playing field.  I got into novel writing after an appendix operation.  I was housebound, had no cable TV and Princess Diana had just died.  There’s only so much news coverage of any story you can watch before you go slightly bonkers, so I turned to writing.  Within a week, I’d written 20,000 words.

Which author has influenced you and your writing more than any other?

That’s a tough one because there have been so many.  In terms of me and my writing, I think JK Rowling influenced me most, because she made me realise that writing children’s fantasy was what I liked best.  Up until that point I’d focused on science fiction or horror for adults, but an honourable mention has to go to JRR Tolkien, without whom fantasy would be unrecognisable and H.G.Wells who introduced Martian invaders, invisibility and time travel into a Victorian setting.

What is your favourite book or book series of all time?

I’d have to say Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.  I never fail to enjoy the books and the way he cleverly ties in fantasy and sci fi tropes with real world issues and ends up with laugh out loud stories that I never get bored of and always rush out to buy them as soon as they come out.

Kindle or real book?

My heart will always belong to pen and ink books – I love books as objects in themselves.  Where I write, the walls are lined with books, we have numerous bookshelves throughout the house and my loft creaks under the weight of boxes of books I just can’t bring myself to sell or give away.  I must admit that recently, I have gotten into reading a few e-books on the side (just don’t mention it where my bookshelves can hear).

How is your writing day structured?

My writing day is very much structured around my day job (as is the case for most writers) and my family.  I come home from work, eat an evening meal with my family, then retreat to get in an hour or two of writing.  On weekends, I try to fit in at least an hour each day (more when I can get it) around family commitments and (when I absolutely can’t put it off any longer,) DIY. I try to write  or edit 5000 words a week.

Middle Earth or The Wizarding World and why?

I think that while the Wizarding world would be more fun and would certainly allow me to continue to enjoy modern comforts, I can’t help envying Bilbo Baggins his hobbit hole with its large wine cellar, well stocked larders, open fires and lovely surroundings. I can’t imagine a nicer place to write. 

Where do you write?

A couple of years ago I converted my garden shed, adding insulation, power, heating, carpeting and a double glazed window.  It’s my perfect retreat; surrounded by bookshelves and inspirational objects. Close to the family but far enough away to write without interruption.  In an ideal world, my commute would be a walk from the back door to the shed.

How do you plot and plan or do you just go where the story and characters take you?

If I’m writing the first draft, I first spend time plotting it out chapter by chapter.  I don’t always stick religiously to the plot, but it gives me a framework to work within and stops me writing myself into a corner.  I worry about continuity, characterisation and other issues later.  There are always many later drafts.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m awaiting the return of my MG novel, The Chronomancer’s Daughter from a professional editing service (something I was recommended to do by a literary agent whose judgement I trust.)  When it comes back, I’ll be doing further work in response to the edit, but in the meantime I’m writing the first draft of its sequel, The Iron Golem.  If I’m signed by an agent and they manage to sell my novel, I want to be ready with a sequel as soon as possible to avoid the “difficult second novel.” 

Favourite movie or movie series?

The favourite series has to be the original trilogy of Star Wars (I was 8 when the first one came out,) but over the years I’ve come to love cult movies like Highlander (but not the sequels.)

Favourite literary hero and villain?

Easy. Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty.

Which Marvel superhero would you be? (be honest)

The Hulk.  Just try plagiarising my website. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

Which book have you read more than any other?

The Lord of the Rings. It’s such a rich world and I always keep going back to it, like going on holiday in Middle Earth.

Any tips you’d like to share about writing…?

Write regularly, not just when you’re in the mood. The more regularly you write, the more progress you’ll make.  Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, that’s what editing  is for and in terms of editing, always edit, edit and edit some more.  However perfect you think it is, a short break will usually show you there are more improvements you can make.

What are you aiming for by the end of this year in terms of writing?

I’d like to be signed up with a literary agent and hopefully get a book deal.  Whether that happens or not, I’d like to complete the first draft of The Iron Golem and have edited it into something like a book.

You’re trapped on an island with a literary character, who would it be and why?

Katniss Everdeen.  She’s smart, beautiful and would be able to feed me by hunting.

The world is ending and we are all being relocated to another planet. You can take one book/book series, which would it be and why?

The Encyclopaedia Britannica.  I’d miss the Earth and would want to be able to have as many reminders of my home planet as possible to teach my descendants where we came from.

Thanks Russel for some great advice and a thoroughly enjoyable interview. 

You can learn more about Russell and his writing at his cool blog : http://www.pandorawolfe.co.uk/my-writing-blog.php

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Novel extract – Darkbane: The Troll of Fell Wood

He sensed the troll before they had even reached the village.

Darkbane stepped down from the cart when it rolled to a stop, and handed the fretful driver a couple of coins from the pocket of his waistcoat. “Get yourself gone, sir,” he said. “No need for you to linger here.”

The driver, pale faced, eyes darting back and forth, had turned his horse and cart and set off before Darkbane could say another word. He didn’t blame the man.

In truth the place could hardly be called a village, he saw as he drew closer. The small gathering of wooden buildings stood in an uneven circle, surrounded by tall pines and seeming to hunch together against the fierce, stinking wind sweeping off the marshland to the north. There was not a house in sight whose roof was not pocked with holes or bore windows not smashed and splintered. The tallest of the buildings looked to have been a church once, though now its belfry leaned crooked and the cross that had hung above the missing doors lay broken in the churned mud. At the village’s centre stood a canopied well, half collapsed, half sunken.

            “You took yur time. The beasts snatched three young ‘uns in as many days, already.”

Darkbane turned to see an old woman glaring at him through strings of greasy grey hair, with her one milky eye. Muttering, she shuffled from the door of her cottage, taking in his head of grizzled brown hair, his brown leather long coat and his mud caked boots.

 “Took ‘em without makin’ a sound, it did,” she said. Yellow spittle flecked her jutting chin and the pale, shrivelled skin of her face, hanging like drapes from her emaciated cheek bones, trembled. With a long, coal blackened finger she jabbed Darkbane in the chest. “What’re you gonna do ‘bout that? Stand there like a tree? You are Darkbane, aren’t ya?”

Darkbane grunted, lifted his gaze and met the woman’s eye. “There are some who call me that,” he said.

The old woman let out a hoarse cackle to which the scraggly raven perched on the sagging rooftop overhead made a squawked reply.

She hawked a lump of saliva at Darkbane’s feet. “Born of the Dark, they say,” she said, limping closer. “Son of a demon, they say. No memories, no name. But where there’s evil to be killed, you’ll do the killing… they say.”

*

Warm air, thick with the smell of ale and the unwashed, hit Darkbane as he stepped into the inn. The dirty white washed walls glowed with the light of a fire burning in a large fireplace, but shadows still rippled in the corners. Raucous laughter and slurred voices filled the low ceilinged room.

As Darkbane carved a path through the battered tables the laughter and voices died in his wake. Only whispered words defied the silence. He was used to animosity, and so the suspicious, fearful stares and occasional barked curse didn’t bother him.

“I’d like a room for the night, if there’s any going,” he said, taking off his wide brimmed brown leather hat as he reached the bar.  

The innkeeper, a short man with ruddy cheeks and a pot belly stared at Darkbane, his thick grey eyebrows set at fierce angles. “Come to rid us of the beast ‘av ya’?” he said. “Tell me, what man can face such creatures… face the Dark, and live?”

Darkbane saw the man’s watery green eyes fix on the protruding hilt of the sword and the dully shining head of the axe in his belt. He made no effort to conceal them with his coat. “Facing the Dark ain’t difficult,” Darkbane said, “it’s standing against it that is. What man can face it and live? One who knows that running from it don’t do a bit of good. Now, I’d like a room for the night.”

*

River trolls. I’ve faced creatures that many could scarcely even begin to comprehend. Even in their nightmares. But, River trolls… I’d rather face a dozen of the Dark’s foulest offspring than have to deal with a River troll. Brutal, colossal, fast as a hare, they are. And they don’t kill you quickly. No, not like a boggart that’ll split your stomach before you can blink or a werewolf that’ll tear out your throat in a heartbeat. River trolls like to draw it out, make you squeal and squirm for days, weeks. It had to be a River troll.

            Darkbane’s right hand rested upon the head of the axe hanging loose and ready in the leather loop on his belt. Concealed by the long reaches of his great coat were his sword and the usual array of implements, potent to those things born of the Dark. But it was his axe that he’d need: its blade of pure silver, etched with ancient wards. 

            The rain thrummed on his hat, dripping off its cusp, but Darkbane didn’t hear it. The fat drops permeated his collar, running in cold rivulets down his neck and back, but he didn’t feel them. He strode swiftly through the trees, his path silent. The same could not be said for the forest around him. A whining gale swirled about in the high reaches of the treetops; the old boughs groaned under its force. Through the sparse browning foliage the rain fell, drumming softly. Thunder growled, heralding the storm. Darkbane grunted an indignant word or two, scowling at the roof of boiling clouds overhead: hardly the conditions for tracking a troll.

The words of the old woman played in Darkbane’s head, “Dragged em off into the forest, it did. To its lair, that’s where it took em and no mistake.”

He’d smelled the troll the moment he’d breached the forest that girdled the village. Its foul stench, akin to festering bogs and decomposing carcasses, had been like needles to his senses. Unmistakable. Less than fifty yards in and Darkbane’s keen grey eyes had found the first visible sign of the troll. It had been uncovered by the rain, a pale dome emerging from the leaves like a fallen moon. Kneeling, he’d scooped it from the soft earth. The skull grinned back at Darkbane, as clean as if it had been carved from ivory; not a scrap of skin or hair left on it. “River trolls,” he’d growled.

 With every step he took, the press of the Dark waxed stronger; burning deep and dull in his chest. Darkbane felt the old wound in his shoulder twinge. He bit back the pain.

A sonorous roar penetrated the wail of the storm. Darkbane stopped; his fingers fell to the haft of the axe, curled tight around it. He shunned the rain and the wind and that was when he heard it. So loud and clear that the troll could have been inches from him: guttural growls and then a strangled scream. A child’s scream.

“So it begins.” Drawing his axe, Darkbane reached out with a little of his magic. The troll’s Dark parried it with the force of a mace, winding him. But he recovered, an unbidden smile touching his face. “Let us see how your might stands against my blade, beast.”

He ran north, swift and unwavering, teeth gritted against the throbbing in his chest. Underfoot, the leaves gave way to a carpet of bones. Rib cages, spines and arms with twisted fingers grew from the soft mulch, like bleached foliage. Skulls stared up with hollow eyes; among the larger ones of cattle and bears were humans’ some caved in and splintered with cracks. A river gurgled somewhere close by, as yet concealed by a low hanging fog that had formed as the rain relented.

Suddenly, the soft mulch became marsh and Darkbane could no longer keep his presence silent. Mud and algae clung to his boots like grappling hands as he waded into the deepening bog. Moss strangled the trees, dragging the decaying trunks and bare, gnarled boughs down into the stagnant pools. The air was heavy with the stench of a thousand rotting things. Darkbane had found the troll’s lair.

Where are you? To Darkbane’s raised magic the troll’s presence was like a battering ram. It was close, no doubt as aware of him as Darkbane was of it.

As he stepped forward, the carcass of a deer, lashed in ropes of reeds and roots, emerged from the mist. Its belly lay open, the ribcage parted like curtains to reveal the animal’s half devoured insides.

“Interrupted your supper, did I?” said Darkbane, pausing. His knuckles clicked, tightening around the axe’s handle.

Behind the wind’s voice and the dead trees’ creaking, Darkbane heard something else: the soft lapping of disturbed water. Standing perfectly still, he let his eyes drift to the pool just visible to his left, its surface creased with a dying ripple. “There you are.”

The pool exploded and the air was filled with stinking water. Darkbane turned, spinning his axe, drawing his sword, and planted his feet in what little solid ground there was. The troll emerged from the wave of black water; its guttural roar filled the air. A massive clawed arm arced down towards Darkbane who darted to the right. With a steeled swing of his arm, he brought the axe down.

 The blade’s impact with the troll’s shoulder jarred Darkbane’s grip, but he didn’t relinquish it. Yanking upwards, he freed the axe and retreated slightly.

The beast howled its agony, clambering fully from the bog now and revealing its huge, hulking form. The troll stood towering on all fours. Its back legs, shorter than its arms, were bent, ready to pounce. Its heavily muscled body, covered in clinging algae and other growths, trembled. Two small, black eyes fixed upon Darkbane, staring out from a snake-like head. But it was not the eyes that Darkbane focused on, nor was it the elongated maw, parted to reveal rows of yellow fangs. His lip curled at the sight of the troll’s swollen belly, and the shape of an arm pushing against the skin. The fleeting image of a small boy, blonde hair, grey eyes, flashed across his thoughts. Rage he couldn’t explain kindled in Darkbane’s stomach.

With another thunderous roar the troll lunged, moving with the agility of a much lighter creature.

Darkbane swung his axe and sword as one. The sword’s razor blade bit the troll’s arm and a scarlet wound blossomed there. But the troll ignored it, landing on all fours and charging, ploughing up the soft, stinking earth as it ran.

Turning, Darkbane ran too. Sheathing his sword he thrust out his now free hand and gripped the bough of a tree overhead. With a grunt of effort he pulled himself into the branches.

Momentarily confused, the troll stopped, its eyes searching.

Tossing aside his hat, Darkbane leapt down from the tree and landed onto the troll’s humped back. Snarling, the beast reared. He locked his free arm around the troll’s neck, grimacing at its stench. Putting all of his strength into the swing, he brought the axe down again. But the blade never met the troll’s chest for at that moment it reared again, growling and snarling, gnashing its jaws. And before he could retract his grip and dive clear, the troll’s claws found his leg.

Searing pain lanced up Darkbane’s leg, through his hip and groin. Hot spears of agony darkened his vision. The next second he hit the water, still in the beast’s grip. But then he felt the claws retract from his leg and he was airborne. Choking on a mouthful of fetid water, Darkbane, helpless to avoid it, crumpled against the trunk of a tree. All the air was driven from his lungs. He didn’t even have time to gasp. Sharp bark grazed his face and the axe flew from his grip as he fell. His vision darkened, it felt as if hands were pressing against his ears, trapping the sharp ringing that echoed in his skull. And suddenly there she was again: the pale faced, screaming woman. She flashed into his head and the shock of her appearance saved Darkbane from unconsciousness.

Blinking away his nausea, he staggered to his feet and turned to face the troll thundering towards him.

             

 

           

           

 

New YA novel i’m working on.

As well as Prophecy of Three i’m working on a sci-fi trilogy. Below is the first couple of pages. I’d really appreciate some feedback. Be as brutal as you like. 

Chapter 1 – the Island

Taylor Shephard woke up to find he was falling. Freezing air punched him in the stomach; rushing up his nose and down his throat. He flailed his arms, kicked his legs. Terror rose like a choking stone in his throat. Sheer panic made him forget to breathe. And either it was night or he was blind because he couldn’t see a thing. It was so dark, it had to be night. But if it was, why were there no stars, no clouds or moon? His mind raced, crazy, illogical thoughts whirling in his head. Now the cold wind howling up at him was painful, like daggers, stabbing at every inch of him. His lungs seared, the air forcing its way down his throat and pushing back the threatening bile. And still he was falling, was that even possible? How could someone fall for this long?

            Then he saw it, below him: an island. And around it the sea, almost as dark as the world was only seconds ago, but not quite. Fear beat back confusion. He was going to die, plummet down straight onto that island with no way to stop or break his fall. The island looked like ink, spilled across the water. He saw jagged inlets, thin beaches and as he fell closer, he could make out mountains and the glistening roof of a vast jungle. He would crash down through those treetops, hard and fast, and hit the ground. He knew what would happen. His legs would hit the ground and then he’d crumple into a broken pile. At least it would be quick. At this speed, how could it be anything but?

            “Pull the ring!”

            The yelled voice came from his left. Taylor turned his head, searching. There was someone else, falling, too, but much slower, and above him. And then Taylor saw why. A parachute, stretched taut by the wind, was attached to the persons back. He could see the cord, the bulge of the backpack that must have stored the parachute until the cord had been pulled…

            “The cord, pull it now. Pull the goddamn cord right now!”

With fingers all but paralysed by cold, Taylor searched himself. He felt the backpack now, strapped around his waist and over his shoulders. No cord though, where was the cord? Then, his scrabbling fingers touched the cold surface of something metal. It was a circle, a metal circle. He yanked it hard. There was a ripping sound, something rustling, unfurling and then Taylor was shooting backwards. All the remaining air was forced from his lungs; his stomach lurched upwards as he did. Looking up, he saw his own parachute, a giant dome of silver against the dark.

“Brace yourself!”

Taylor had barely comprehended what the person had said when his feet hit something. A spray of cold water lashed him in the face. Then huge leaves and vines were slapping him, jostling him like the hands and arms of a bustling crowd. Something hard, a tree bough, punched him in the gut. He vomited and the sickly, sweet liquid hit him straight in the face.

“You’re gonna- ow- son of a- you’re gonna land. Brace yourself!”

Taylor barely heard the voice over his own crashing fall. Opening his eyes he looked down to see a mass of darkness, broken only by the titanic tree trunks strangled with vines. His entire body seemed to tense for the impact. But he never reached the ground. There came a tearing sound and suddenly he wasn’t falling anymore. The straps of the parachute tightened, biting painfully into his chest and under his arms.

Somewhere below him, Taylor heard a thudding crash and guessed the other person had landed. He looked down but all he could see was the darkness.

“You good up there?”

Up until now, Taylor had been too dazed to register much of anything, about what was happening. He realised now that it was a boy’s voice. “If good means alive then yeh, I’m good,” Taylor said, throat still stinging, feeling raw from the bile.

The boy laughed and the sound of him grunting and cursing drifted up to Taylor. “What about you?” he called down.

There was the snapping of branches and a final curse. “Me? I’m fine, absolutely brilliant in fact. This is my third time so I’m kinda used to it by now.”

“What, you mean this’s happened to you before?”

“No,” the boy said, then laughed again.

Taylor laughed, too, he didn’t know why. Maybe it was because he was absolutely terrified and laughing seemed the only way to parry it? Though he couldn’t remember a thing, didn’t even know how old he was, he knew that he didn’t like being this high up. If he couldn’t even see the ground, exactly how high up was he? He was sure it must be hundreds of feet. The thought rekindled the bile in his stomach, but he forced it down. “What’s down there?” Taylor asked, hoping to distract himself.

“Jungle,” said the boy. “I think it’s a jungle anyway.”

Fleetingly, Taylor felt a pang of recognition; something came back to him but before he could even reach for it the flicker of memory vanished. Overhead there came a growl of thunder followed by a dazzling flash of white light. For a second, Taylor saw the trees around him flash emerald in the lightning before darkness rushed back. Then, in the thunder’s garbling wake, strange sounds emerged from the shadows in every direction. A haunting chorus of howls and shrieks, guttural growls and piercing wails.

 Arrows of icy fear lanced up and down Taylor’s spine, he felt the hairs rising on the back of his neck. Another peal of thunder reverberated, tailed again by a startling flash of white lightning. Then, joining the voices of what Taylor could only guess were animals, rain began to fall in a drumming torrent. The fat, cold drops struck his face like bullets, numbing his skin, blurring his vision until he was all but blind.

“Is there any way for you to get down.” Taylor barely heard the boy’s voice over the deafening ruckus.

Desperately, Taylor cleared his eyes as best he could and looked quickly round, then up. The silvery canopy of his parachute had been snagged by the grappling branches of a colossal tree. The material, as far as he could see, was ripped to shreds. He tried yanking on the ropes attaching him to it, hoping to work it loose. He stopped, realising how stupid he’d been: even if he did free the canopy he’d just plummet to the ground. 

Fantasy is on the rise

Fantasy has always been prevalent in both movies and literature, but at one point it diminished. During the early and mid nineties there was an influx of crime thrillers and fantasy seemed to be pushed aside. The movie Willow is a prime example, dreamed up by George Lucas, it never really took off (though has since garnered a cult status). Then J K Rowling unleashed Potter on the world and fantasy started to make a comeback. The Lord of the Rings movies were released and made billions at the box office, swiftly following were the Potter movies that, too, made billions. Since then fantasy has been on the rise and the crime/thriller/horror movies that cluttered the cinemas and shelves have declined somewhat. 

With Potter and Rings there came Twilight (admittedly i’m not a fan) and Percy Jackson (huge fan). Now more recently fantasy seems to be sweeping the cinema and bookshelves like a voracious tide. In the last couple of years alone we’ve had dozens of fantasy movies and book series. At the forefront of this is the fairy tale phenomenon, headed by ABC’s Once Upon a Time that has spawned countless re-workings of Grimm and Anderson’s famous tales. 

At the cinema we’ve had Jack the Giant Slayer, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Oz the Great and Powerful, Beautiful Creatures, Snow White and The Huntsman… the list is endless. And now with Peter Jackson taking us back to Middle Earth with the Hobbit Trilogy it seems fantasy is going to be around for the foreseeable future. 

So what is it about fantasy that appeals to so many, whether it be by screen or page? Maybe its the opportunity for us to escape to another world (Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Camp Half Blood) or maybe its the appeal of the fantastical in times when the world seems sometimes bleak and lost? One thing can be said without a mote of uncertainty, fantasy offers us, as readers and cinema audiences, the chance to experience something wholly different from day to day life – to escape from something, even if it’s only for the couple of hours of a movie or the snatched few chapters of a book in a spare hour. Fantasy offers something we can all relate to: the hope of something better. 

Personally, i’m psyched for the remaining two installments in the Hobbit trilogy (and the chance to see Evangeline Lilly as an elf: thanks Peter Jackson) and the epic looking Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. In books, there are simply too many to list, but let’s just say i won’t be short of worlds to explore for the next few months. 

I’ve always loved fantasy- ever since i could remember i’ve had some book or other that offered me the chance to explore a world populated by creatures, beasts and weird characters. In my own writing, fantasy is always the genre i feel most comfortable in and with Prophecy of Three Quartet i wanted to explore that. 

 

Russell Sanderson on Writing

I met Russell Sanderson through twitter, and read his blog regularly. He is currently hard at work on editing the first book in what promises to be an epic, steam punk fantasy series. From his blog posts and the sneak preview available on his blog, he could very well be the next big thing in children’s fiction. So watch this space. What follows is his thoughts on the craft of writing, what drives him, and how he writes. 

First of all, let me say a big thank you to Sam for asking me to guest-blog for him.  I’ve followed his blog a while and have been very impressed with it. I was quite taken aback when he asked me. My first thought was “what the heck am I going to write about?”  Well, since writing is the reason Sam and I are in touch, it’s probably the best topic to pick.

Who am I? Well I’m a fortysomething public sector professional by day and an aspiring children’s author and father the rest of the time.  This makes for an interesting time-juggling situation where work, family and writing all need space but if any one of them gets too much, the whole complex operation comes crashing down.

I’ve written since I was in my late teens, but it was always sporadic; short stories or articles for gaming magazines. That changed when I had my appendix out in my mid-twenties.  I was incapacitated for six weeks and off work.  Not only that, but I’d recently moved and had no cable TV. Worse still, I came out of hospital the week that Princess Diana died, so I had the choice of reading (my books were still packed in boxes) or watching the endless media coverage of national grief. Or I could write.

 After my operation I’d had a weird dream/hallucination which was so vivid and scary I felt compelled to write it down. That turned into the basis for my first book (a sci-fi thriller focusing on alien abduction,) which I wrote in collaboration with a friend who worked nights. We plotted it out chapter by chapter and then wrote alternate chapters, swapping over and editing each other’s work. At the time I was convinced it was a masterpiece (it wasn’t). I made a couple of half-hearted attempts to get it published before realising it needed more work. Shortly afterwards, my two children arrived on the scene, disrupting my life more than I’d ever thought possible, requiring me to teach on evenings and work during the day, reducing writing opportunities back to short stories and magazine articles.

When the kids got a bit older, I started to find myself with the odd hour here and there.  I resolved to get back into writing.  I had two problems. Firstly, in the gap since writing the book and re-starting, the X-files came out, making my book idea, relatively original when written, look like a poor copy of the much better TV show. Secondly, my head wasn’t in the same place it was with the first book, so I started another, this one a supernatural thriller. 

I boarded out part of my loft, installed an old PC and got started.  I had the ideas in my head.  I didn’t need a plan.  I was inspired. Within a few months, I’d written 80,000 words.  I was in the zone.  Then I hit a problem.  I’d written myself into a corner. I looked at the story and realised that I would have to delete or significantly re-write about half the story to get it where it needed to go.  I made a start, but my enthusiasm for it waned as my day job took more and more time and I made slow progress.  Then Supernatural hit the TV, covering much the same ground as my book. Suddenly everything was vampires, demons, angels and the occult.  I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a copycat author. Instead of finishing the book, I slipped back into the magazine articles and short stories.

I did have another idea for a novel, about a sort of Victorian Fox Mulder called Prometheus Wolfe. It was a genre that I didn’t know anything about at the time; steampunk. I wrote copious notes and plot ideas, but never actually started writing the story. Instead, I spent a lot more time reading. Specifically reading to my two sons.  It became our nightly ritual. We did The Hobbit, all of the Harry Potters, Percy Jackson; you name it.  What was more; I was enjoying these books more than I enjoyed adult fiction. This was what I wanted to write.

I revisited my Victorian story and realised it wouldn’t work as Middle Grade (MG) or Young Adult (YA).  Kids like reading about other kids, albeit a bit older than themselves.  So it had to be a Victorian child.  Problem was, I didn’t think I could get into a Victorian child’s head.  I did believe I could manage modern child, though.  So Pandora Wolfe was born and it became a time travel novel.

Around this time, I passed my 40th birthday.  I realised that if I was ever going to realise my dream of becoming a published writer, I was going to have to be professional.  No more waiting for the muse to strike and only writing when inspired.  My time was limited. I was going to have to make specific time to write and stick to it. Writing turned from a hobby into an (unpaid) part time job.

I worked for a few weeks converting my garden shed into an office.  It was insulated, had power, heating, even carpets and armchairs.  I moved a PC in and I was off.  Learning from my earlier mistakes, I plotted the skeleton of the novel so I knew where I was going and couldn’t write myself into a corner, then I went for it. Within a year, I’d written The Chronomancer’s Daughter.

I treated my submissions to agents in the same way as my writing. I took it seriously, getting the Children’s Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook and submitting my pitch. So far I’ve had quite a bit of interest from agents, with several asking for the full manuscript.  Obviously my pitch is working but I still need to find the right agent.  Recently I had some very helpful feedback.  My novel, which I saw as YA, was in fact a MG novel.  (Defined by an agent I met as “if it has no kissing or swearing, it’s MG”.)  The problem was, it was 118,500 words.  Long even for a YA fantasy book and way too long for MG (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was only 78,000 words, and that was quite long for MG.) 

So I’ve embarked on a word-count reducing edit.  I’m now at the end of pass 3 and my book has shrunk to 82,000 words.  I still need to lose more but it’s a slow process, like a sculptor trying to make an identical 7 foot statue from an 11 foot one without chopping off anything important.  I think this will take maybe another month, then I’ll get myself back out there. If I succeed, maybe you’ll see the book and remember this blog? I hope so. 

 

You can find out more about The Chronomancer’s Daughter and follow my blog at www.pandorawolfe.co.uk

I wish Russell Sanderson the best of luck in his journey to publication and hope he will guest blog for me in the future. 

My favourite books of all time (Updated)

This post was almost impossible to write. I imagined it would be the easiest thing in the world to list my top ten favourite books of all time. But when i came to do it i found that there were just so many books that i love, selecting only ten was almost impossible. The truth is that this list could go on forever because there are so many books that i could include in it. But i wanted to do a top ten, mostly to see if i could, but also to learn which books i loved the most. 

Close behind writing, reading is my favourite thing to do. There is no other experience quite like immersing yourself in an awesome book. I remember the first real book i read (when i say real, i mean full length novel), which was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I’ll admit i didn’t read the first two until i’d read the fourth. Though i’d read fantasy voraciously all my life, The Prisoner of Azkaban was the first book i truly remember completing. I was seven and from that point on there has barely been a day that has passed that i have not had a book in my hand. It’s like an addiction. Like writing, i cannot go a day without loosing myself in the pages of a book. 

And so, here goes. What follows is my top ten favourite books of all time. Though it was hard, i managed to do it. I may have cheated a little by counting a series of books as one, but hey, its my list…

Also note that this is in no particular order. If i tried to do that, i would drive myself crazy. 

1 – The Harry Potter series by J K Rowling

J K Rowling, in my opinion, is the single greatest writer of my generation. I grew up reading the Potter books and cannot imagine how the world would revolve without them. She created a world that was so realistic, so believable that i still have doubts whether Hogwarts is out there somewhere. It’s impossible to pick my favourite, but if i had to, i think Deathly Hallows or Goblet of Fire would be the most likely candidates. 

2 – The Wardstone Chronicles by Joseph Delaney 

Just like the Harry Potter books, i grew up with Joseph Delaney’s Wardstone Chronicles. They follow the adventures of Tom who is apprenticed to a Spook (a man who rids the world of dark creatures). These books, if you haven’t read them, are phenomenal. Just as addictive as the Potter series, they are certainly darker and intended for an older readership, but they are brilliant nonetheless. Spooky and exciting, this series delivers on all fronts and it more than earns its place on this list. I highly recommend you check these books out if you already haven’t.  

3 – Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton 

This one is rather a deviation from the prior two, but there was no way this book was going to miss out on a spot on this list. I watched the movie before i read the book and since the first time i saw that brachiosaurus eating that tree and heard Richard Attenborough utter those words, “Welcome to Jurassic Park” it has been my favourite movie of all time. The book is just as exciting, brilliant and epic. Since reading it i have become a die hard Crichton fan, and though all his books are great, none have come close to being as awesome as Jurassic Park. Just a terrific science fiction read, this is probably the book i’ve read the most times (ten, i think). 

4 – Watership Down by Richard Adams 

Just like Jurassic Park i saw the movie before i read the book. It was several years later that i finally got round to reading Adam’s classic and i still berate myself for not reading it sooner. This novel is brilliant, complex and gripping. For a tale about rabbits, its surprisingly exciting and action packed. 

5 – The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan 

This is another series i grew up with and love almost as much as the Potter books. Blending myth with modern day, Riordan writes with snappy, witty prose and creates a world that it would be really cool to be a part of. Who wouldn’t want to be the son of Poseidon? Consisting of five books and now numerous spin offs, this is an epic journey that i highly recommend you invest in if you already haven’t. 

6 – Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull

I came to this series in the wake of Harry Potter, looking for another world and set of characters that i could immerse myself in. Whilst it will never fill the void left by Potter it makes an awesome attempt. Consisting of five books, each even more entertaining than its predecessor, this series is one that Potter fans should definitely check out. Full of interesting characters, mythology, worlds and creatures, this is an epic set of reads. Though Mull’s audience is more middle grade, there is no reason young adults and even adults cannot enjoy this series. I implore you to look it up, if you already haven’t. 

7 – Department 19 series by Will Hill

This is a relatively new series, following in, but completely reinventing the seemingly endless  tide of vampire books. This series blends action, horror and fantasy and takes it to a whole new exciting level. There are twists and turns, intriguing plot arcs and cool characters at every turn. Will Hill’s prose snaps and sizzles, its gripping from the very first page and unrelenting until the last. I cannot recommend this series more highly. Check it out!

8 – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Again this is a series i admit to coming to pretty late. I didn’t believe the hype at first, thinking it was just another Twilight (which i haven’t read). But when i saw that it wasn’t some romance series with whiny characters, that it had a gritty, action packed plot, i bought the first book. I was barely a chapter in when i went back to the store and purchased the other two books. In four days i had read all three. This is an action packed series that never stops. Unbelievably good!

9 – 11/22/63 by Stephen King – This is a recent read and it is one i wished i had read when it first came out. I have long been a fan of King’s short stories, but had yet to check out any of his novels. Having heard rave reviews about this one, i decided to take a chance when i saw it in a secondhand book shop. And am i ever glad i took that chance. This is in my top five books of all time. Though it may not be as action packed as some of the other books on this list, 11/22/63 is as addictive a book as i’ve ever read. In essence its science fiction, but really it’s much more than that. A powerful, funny, exciting, suspenseful, extraordinarily well written book from beginning to end, this is one i urge anyone and everyone to read. 

10 – The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien 

Though i will admit these books took me a while to get into, there is no way i wasn’t going to include them in this list. Tolkien is the master of high fantasy and in Lord of the Rings he conjures a world so rich and fleshed out that you would think it actually existed. In fact, this series, along with Potter, is directly responsible for inspiring me to write. I can but yearn to create a world as vivid and believable as Tolkien has and in my eyes the man is a genius. Epic!

So there it is, my top ten favourite books of all time. Phew! I could go on and on and on. There at least twenty more books that i considered for this list but if i started to list them too, i know i wouldn’t stop. If there are some you haven’t read yet then i urge you to check them out. 

 

Meet YA paranormal fiction author Su Williams…

I’d like to welcome YA paranormal fiction author Su Williams, who is touring the web with the first book in her series, Dreamweaver. For all fans of Twilight, The Mortal Instruments or simply if you enjoy fantasy, Su is a name to watch out for. You can find out more about her and her work here…

What is your first memory of reading?
Oooo, do we really have to go that far back? I remember sitting with my mother on the couch with a book splayed out on my lap. The nightly news blared on in the background—stories from Viet Nam. (**cringe** I just dated myself.) But despite the news, I remember feeling safe and warm and curious about all the little marks in front of me that made up a story.
 
What is your first memory of writing?
Really writing, not just making more little marks on paper with crayon. It was probably sometime in elementary school when I discovered poetry and decided to try my hand. Of course those writings were…well, elementary, but I put all my heart into loving words for my Mom and Dad and family…even my goldfish, Po Po.
 
Do you have a writing process? A specific place to work? Regular hours?
I know some people say there are two kinds of writers; pantsers – who write by the seat of their pants; and planners – who graph out their story before they write it. Then, I heard about a percolator, a writer that lets the story drip and filter. Personally, I would add ‘puker’. I know, that’s nasty. But it’s true. A scene for my books will come to me, inspired by some random life event and I grab any random piece of paper, and jot it down. It’s not until later that I add all the scenes together to make a story. So now we know—writers write one or a combination of four ways: Pantser, Planner, Percolator and Puker. And here’s a link to the NaNoWriMo article: http://blog.lettersandlight.org/post/33164071079/pantser-planner-percolator
As far as where I work, my king size bed has become my desk and my room is my office. I write when I can, but at this point, I haven’t really written in months. Waaaah! All this book promo stuff is very time consuming.
 
What was the last book you read?
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer. It’s the second book in her Lunar Chronicles series. The first book was Cinder, a cyborg take on Cinderella.
 
What are your plans for the future, in regards to writing? Do you have any new books in the works?
I’m about two-thirds done with the second book in the Dream Weaver series entitled Rock Star. I got to interview band members from a group called Hell’s Belles, an all-girl AC/DC tribute band. I only have a couple of scenes for the final book, Private Eye, and I’m rolling around an idea for a book called ‘What If I Don’t Have Tomorrow?’ that will be a cross between ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, ‘Christmas Carol’, ‘Quantum Leap’, and ‘Butterfly Effect’.
 
Can you pitch your book in a single sentence?
Dream Weaver is a young adult paranormal fiction story of mind-benders and mind-breakers.
 
What genre do you enjoy writing in most and why?
I like writing in young adult fiction, I think because that’s what I read. I haven’t  read too many ‘adult’ books. They just feel kinda, I don’t know, stuffy? There’s just have a feel about them I don’t like. Gosh, what does that say for me? I need to grow up? Nah, I don’t think growing up means you have to lose sight of being young. I remember the things that gave me angst or sent me to the moon when I was in high school. Some of the things I kept as my most deep dark secrets in high school are issues I had no idea would become as common as they are now. Issues like depression, suicide, and cutting never came to light then, and now they have ‘Self Harm Awareness Day.’ I like that maybe some teen will read my book and realize they aren’t alone and someone really does understand how and what they feel. And maybe another reader just needs a good love story or an escape to a different possibility.
 
If your book was adapted into a movie, who would be your ideal cast?
Doesn’t every author hope their book lands a movie deal? Of course, I’ve thought of who my ideal cast would be.
Emari Sweet – Haley Ramm http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1391252/
 Nickolas Benedetti – someone who looks like Elvis Prestley or Adam Lambert (or maybe Jackson Rathbone)
Sabre James – Matthew Gray Gubler http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1693763/
Zecharias Sweet (Emari’s dad) – Hugh Dillon http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0227003/
Jane Sweet (Emari’s mom) – Kathryn Morris http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0606700/
 
Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration can come from anywhere. A word in movie. A sentence in a book. The smile of a friend. A necklace my daddy gave me. I find moments and objects in my life that may seem mundane on the outside, but I try to manipulate them into something compelling. One indie author wrote on a thread recently, ‘Where don’t I find inspiration?’
 
Who are your top three favourite authors and which of their books do you like best?
Maggie Stiefvater – “Shiver”–Beautiful & poetic
            http://maggiestiefvater.com/
 
Lisa McMann – “Dead to You” (Lisa knows just where to plunge the knife and twist for good measure)
            http://lisamcmann.com/
 
Marissa Meyer – “Cinder”– Great author and all-around sweet lady
            http://www.marissameyer.com/
 
Of course, I’m a die-hard Harry Potter fan too. Deathly Hallows rocked.
 
Are there any indie authors you like?
Well, of course, Sam Whitehouse. He amazes me.
Liz DeJesus is a burgeoning YA indie author. http://liz-dejesus.livejournal.com/
And Angela Scott writes the BEST zombie/old west ever! Yes  zombies in the old west! http://www.angelascottauthor.com/wanted-dead-or-undead.html
 
But I feature indie authors weekly on my blog. I really believe the only way any of us will succeed is to stick together. So check my blog weekly for new authors and links to purchase their books.
 
Thank you, Sam, for the opportunity to meet some new friends in Great Britain.
 
Check out the links below for more information about Su and her book. 
 
 

Extract from a short story i’m writing

The wolf’s breathing seemed to echo from every direction, as if the forest itself were taking great, rattling breaths. But the girl didn’t hear it, couldn’t hear it, for her heart thundered so loud in her ears as she ran, that it drowned out all other sound. Glacial air forced its way down her throat, like a fist, pushing back the sour bile that terror and exertion formed in her stomach. Freezing motes of snow bit her cheeks and blurred her eyes, all but blinding her and casting the twilit forest around her into hazy silhouette. The basket hooked in the crook of her arm beat hard and fast against her hip. She steeled her hold on it: she couldn’t drop it. With her free hand she rubbed her streaming eyes clear; vaulting a fallen tree she would have been blind to only a moment ago.

Now she could hear the wolf: its guttural snarls punctuating the silence, its great paws thudding against the earth. The girl knew it was closing in, and though her legs screamed in protest and her throat stung with every intake of breath, she quickened her pace. She had to clear the forest- she didn’t stand a chance if she didn’t get out of the trees. Her rolling, wide green eyes caught fleeting sight of the ravens, dozens of them, perched in the twisted limbs of the towering trees overhead. The inky birds took up a cawing chorus, looking down at the girl, with black, indifferent eyes.

The lower branches of the trees snatched at the girl’s face, seeming to reach across her path like the clawing arms of a jostling crowd.  And for all her ducking and weaving it was only moments before her pale face and arms were patterned with cuts. The whole forest seemed to be trying to stop her. Logs she had not seen, emerging to trip her; pools of mud as thick as tar swallowing her leg up to the knee; scree covered inclines that broke away beneath her scrambling feet. And all the while she fought on, lungs burning, head spinning, the wolf grew closer. So close now she could hear its gnashing jaws.

But just as despair and sheer exhaustion threatened to claim her entirely, the girl saw light up ahead. Great shafts of scarlet sunlight reached towards her, like beckoning fingers, through the dark trees. She put on another burst of speed as the trunks thinned and she hurtled out into the open. At that instant, when hope flooded terror, something heavy hit her in the back. Pain: sharp and searing, struck out across her back and before she could throw her arms up to stop herself, the girl landed hard to the scrubby earth. The wolf’s jaws snapped so close to her ear that she felt its fetid breath on her cheek.

Fury rose within her and the girl rolled away, screaming as the claws pinioning her, ripped free. Leaping to her feet she thrust her hand into the basket. Her fingers closed around the hilt of what she sought and she pulled the sword free from the basket’s enchanted depths.

“Stay back, wolf,” Red spat. “Or you’ll feel the temper of my blade.”

What could have been a smile curled the wolf’s pointed, fang lined maw. It padded slowly forward: twice the size of Red, the muscles of its back legs tightening like cords as it prepared to pounce.

Red stared into its yellow, lamp like eyes, as she tossed aside the basket and brandished her sword. The beast growled: a deep resonant sound that rumbled up from its throat. Its raggedy, pointed ears twitched and each strand of its thick coat of black, blood streaked fur, seemed to stand on end. Then, in a movement so lightning fast it rendered the wolf a blur, the beast bounded forwards. Yelling her fury, Red curled her fingers tight around the sword’s hilt and thrust the blade forth, driving it up and into the exposed belly of the wolf. There was strangled yelp, a sickening crunch of bone and a wet splashing sound as Red tore the sword free, releasing the wolf’s innards.

Heart thumping, entire body trembling, Red stared down at the great wolf, dead at her feet. Then, she turned her back on the beast and set off for the village silhouetted in the distance. A wind picked up, Red’s scarlet cloak rippled about her. In her hand, the bloodied sword glistened in the last traces of twilight.

 

 

My author interview with fantasy writer Su Williams

Here is the link to an interview i did with fantasy writer Su Williams, author of Dreamweaver. You can find out more about me and my writing. 

http://dreamweavernovels.blogspot.co.uk/

Life after Harry Potter

“The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.” Reading the final line of the Harry Potter saga was a strange experience, i can’t imagine what it was like for J K Rowling. But for me it felt as if a journey i had never wanted to end just did and i was left feeling, sounds corny, a little bit empty. Harry Potter had been something that was just there, virtually all of my life, it had been present. I had read each of the books, multiple times, seen every one of the movies, multiple times and now that it was over i didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t get into he book i picked up immediately after finishing Deathly Hallows because i just wanted to read another Potter book. Even the prospect of more Harry Potter movies couldn’t satisfy my appetite for another adventure at Hogwarts. 

Eventually, though, i realised there were countless other awesome series’ out there. And whilst they would never provide a journey and experience quite like the Potter books, they would satisfy my appetite. A few of the books i enjoyed after Potter are listed below, but believe me, there are plenty more. 

Rick Riordan is an author i highly recommend any Potter fans to check out, i read the Percy Jackson books alongside the Potter books and the Camp Half Blood is just as awesome a place as Hogwarts. What’s also great is that the books are still going, with the Kane Chronicles, Heroes of Olympus already available and a Norse series in the works, Riordan has ample reading for anyone missing Potter. 

Another series i can’t recommend highly enough is Will Hill’s Department 19 (of which there will be 5 books). It’s less Harry Potter, more Van Helsing in the modern world, but there is plenty of action, adventure and monsters to satisfy any fantasy reader and there is rarely a dull moment in these books. Check them out.

Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull, is a middle grade-young adult series that should appeal to Harry Potter fans. Its based around the idea of a sanctuary for magical creatures but there is a whole host of sub plots and a gripping story arc. It may appeal more to middle grade but i certainly enjoyed all five of the books and would highly recommend you check them out. 

The Wardstone Chronicles, or Last Apprentice series in the US, is another must for Harry Potter fans. Its more horror/fantasy than just fantasy, but its extremely entertaining and the characters are great. Again there are plenty of creatures, adventures and action to appeal to any fantasy reader and Joseph Delaney is a great storyteller. This is definitely one for Potter fans to try and with a movie soon to be released (the seventh son) it could be the next big thing. 

The books of beginning by John Stephens are similar, somewhat, to Harry Potter and if you’re looking for an action packed, magical series to get involved in then this is perfect. I think its aimed at a middle grade audience but the writing is intelligent and witty and i had no problem immersing myself in this series. 

More recently, Chris Columbus (director of the first two potter movies) has released the first book in a series, The House of Secrets. Again this will appeal to Harry Potter fans and with an endorsement by J K Rowling you just know how awesome its going to be. A really enjoyable read and a series i will definitely be following in the future. 

Whilst Harry Potter can never be replaced, there are plenty of worthy successors, only a few of which i have recommended here.