The Duffy and Nash Chinwag

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Frank Duffy this week. Frank asked some decent questions which helped me chat more than I normally do. He is running a series of author interviews with some great people on his FB page, The Online Presence, so be sure to check it out.

As well as an interviewer, Frank is the author of the collections Unknown Causes and The Signal Block and Other Tales (Gallows Press). Other publications include the three novelettes Mountains of Smoke, Not The End Of The Story and Ambiguous, collected in one volume (Gallows Press). He’s the author of the novelette Photographs Showing Terrible Things (Sideshow Press). His work has appeared in print and online magazines, as well as in several anthologies. He’s currently writing an eight part supernatural TV series for parties as yet to be disclosed. He lives in Warsaw with his beloved dog Mr Mole.

Frank: Hi Nash. Many thanks for joining us today.

Nash: It’s a pleasure, Frank. Good to be here.

Frank: I’d like to start by asking you when you first started writing?

Nash: I embarked on my first novel when I was ten years old. It was high fantasy and I managed to complete one chapter. After that I concentrated on short stories, and in my late teens an indie micro-press published an epistolary story of mine concerning a little boy who fell into a goldfish pond in his back garden and was never seen again.

Frank: What drew you to genre fiction as a writer?

Nash: Well, I blame my love of Horror on my Irish grandmother who told people’s fortunes in the tea leaves and was much sought after for those talents apparently. From about five years old I remember staying at hers, we’d sit together, Nan with her bottled Guiness, me with my milk stout, and we’d binge on black and white horror movies. Where fiction is concerned, I would say all of it is genre fiction, even literary. I just write dark shit (careful with the intonation in that sentence

Frank: What are some of the themes and ideas which drive your stories?

Nash: I like to insert a slice of the macabre or the weird into the everyday. I explore the human condition and have a soft spot for gods and folklore, the latter is evident in my latest short fiction, Magic, published last month by Demain Publishing.

Frank: Do you have a typical writing routine?

Nash: I have a day job, so like many, writing is pushed into the evening. Sometimes I manage an ealy morning session; that often produces some great results. Mostly I come home, do what needs doing, then settle at my computer. I’m not able to shut myself away, but I find moving devices out of reach helps a lot! A couple of hours is the best I tend to manage and I’m not immersed in the zone until after the first sixty minutes, so it’s slow process. As such, I try to write everyday; one doesn’t improve without practice.

Frank: Are you one of those writers who takes a notebook and pen everywhere you go? Or are you a post-it-note kind of writer?

Nash: I like the idea of the notebook, and I tried it for a time. The result was a muddle of thoughts, WIP notes, characters, ideas, overhead conversations, and quotes penned in by a hardback cover. Post-Its are the droppings of a devil. Now I just use Word on my phone – notes added to appropriate documents and at hand 24/7. Modern life, eh?

Frank: Do you plot everything you write, and if so, what’s your method of approach? Do you write in longhand before, or do you use a card index system, or something completely different?

Nash: With my novel (not the High Fantasy one of my childhood, but another), I had Word documents for the plot and sub-plots. For my short fiction, I have various approaches dependent on how well-formed the initial idea. I’m writing a short at the moment from a one line idea, and so I’ve added plot ideas etc to the text in a differentiating font, and delete these when included sufficiently in the story, rather than planning it. Perhaps the amount of plotting I do in advance is directly related to how frightened I am of beginning the story, Frank.

Frank: Kurt Vonnegut was supposed to have written each page multiple times before moving onto the next, thus only ever doing one complete draft the first time around. Whether apocryphal or not, how do you approach writing when drafting a short story, novella or novel?

Nash: I’ve written and rewritten scenes in the first draft before moving onto the next scene. I’ve also completed first drafts of whole stories that I wouldn’t show to a six-year-old! So I haven’t got an approach as yet (and probably won’t ever have). Maybe this has something to do with how formed the story is in my head. I also realise that a first-draft is most likely to be completely different, sometimes unrecognisable, after the sixth edit.

Frank: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given about writing?

Nash: Read good writing.

Frank: Many writers talk about the difficulty of writing dialogue. What are your thoughts on this?

Nash: Personally, I don’t struggle with writing dialogue, which isn’t to say I write it succesfully. If I were having difficulty, I may try to eavesdrop more and maybe write conversations down for study purposes, and remind myself that dialogue is an extension of character.

Frank: How long does it take for a story idea to make it onto the page? What’s the gestation period before you sit down and hammer it out?

Nash: Oh it all depends, I may have an idea but not settle to form it into a story for months, other times it could be hours. And I guess I’m still gestating until the final draft of the piece because with editing you’re weaving in threads to add layers, many of which have been thought of during a previous draft. My story turnaround at present seems to be a rather tardy three months.

Frank: Can you tell me about the first stories you had published? How did it feel to receive your first acceptance? Did you celebrate it in any particular way?

Nash: After my epistolary debut, writing as a career faded somewhat. I had been writing a novel on and off for a couple of decades. I d finished it abour six years ago, realised it was terrible and have vowed to rewrite it at some point. It was after I finished, not knowing what to do with myself, that I gave myself a challenge: submit a new short story to a publisher, and if they reject it stop writing, if they accept it, don’t stop. The publisher, Firbolg Publishing, were looking for Gothic horror for their Rogues Gallery flash fiction anthology so I submitted Felicity Cinch. That great team accepted my work, so here I am feeling very relieved. There’s almost a secret belief that the story you’ve just finished will be accepted, I mean you have to believe in that story to say it’s finished, and until the first rejection it’s still the author’s baby. More often than not there’s a series of no’s and you reread the work a month later and think, by the gods, why WOULD they publish that. But when that acceptance finally comes I feel so elated that I beam for weeks.

Frank: What’s the best piece of constructive feedback you had on a rejected story?

Nash: “Unfortunately, we won’t be using your submission[.] Do want you to know, however, that you came very close. This story is beautifully written, so beautifully that at times the narrative gets lost,”. Of course the editor was correct about the lost narrative and after a rewrite it’s hopefully just “beautifully written” enough to be published.

Frank: In your own personal opinion, what’s been your best piece of published fiction so far?

Nash: What I regard as my best published work would be Magic, which as mentioned is my most recent. There’s an older one of mine, The Handwritten Journal, that is an absolute personal favourite because it was so much fun to write, but it’s not my best.

Frank: How easy or difficult is it writing for a specific market, such as a themed anthology?

Nash: The past couple of years I’ve done less of this, and concentrated on various themes of my choice. During this time, however, I haven’t written that much. Picking a market and writing for it focusses you and provides a deadline. It’s how I started writing short fiction.

Frank: What are you currently working on now?

Nash: I usually work on a rolling cycle of at least three stories – working on one draft while the other stories are resting – but after Magic, I found myself out of sync without any new ideas, so it’s taken me about a month to begin a new story. It’s topical and I’m experimenting with a real-life horror and supernatural horror running parallel to each other. I’ve also come up with four more ideas so I should be back into my comfort zone fairly soon. I’m also working on a short fiction collection with another author, a second collab with a bunch of inspiring creatives on a poetry/photography book with an abandoned places theme, and am compiling my first short story collection entitled ‘Marrow’. Busy times!

Frank: What are your general writing aims for the future?

Nash: To up my output and to write a novel of which I’m proud.

Frank: Which three authors would you recommend to people new to the genre?

Nash: Crikey, that’s a hard one. Okay, Clive Barker for sheer delight, Poppy Z Brite for taking you where you don’t want to go and letting go of your hand, and Ray Bradbury for magic

Frank: Many thanks for talking to me today, Nash.

magic 4

Magic, my latest release just 99p (or equivalent) on Amazon UK and US.

Tales From The Graveyard

(some thoughts on my editorial role for North Bristol Writers)

The third North Bristol Writers anthology, Tales From The Graveyard, had its launch on Saturday 2nd March at the cemetery that inspired many of the featured stories. If you came along, thank you, if not, you missed a couple of relaxed and insightful hours.

Way back during October 2017, we held a storytelling evening, entitled Tales From the Crypt (yeah, I know – we’re working on originality, I promise), in the Anglican chapel at Arnos Vale Cemetery as part of the Bristol Festival of Literature, and from that sold-out evening the anthology was born.

TFTG launch promo

The editorial team was agreed and consisted of myself (Acquisitions Editor), Pete Sutton (Senior and Copy Editor), and Ian Millsted (Assistant Editor, better known as Devil’s Advocate). Though one can argue how much acquisitioning is active in a submission call sent out to members of the NBW group and a few other Bristol writers, at times the use of a third editor in tipping the balance proved vital.

It was never the intention for the anthology to be horror-specific – yes, Pete and I both write in the horror genre, but there aren’t many more in the group who do – so the writers’ brief was kept suitably broad: the story must be set in a graveyard and contain a ‘weird’ element. And while the book contains ghosts, the Gothic, and a splattering of gore, it also has surrealism, pulp, humour, fantasy, and dystopia.

The content and individual word count of the accepted stories ended up so varied, that creating a TOC with enough momentum to keep pages turning filled me with a Lovecraftian dread. However, with a little research and a little more determination, the task turned out to be highly enjoyable. One could even suggest that the stories organised themselves.

The important first slot went to Kevlin Henney’s quick story for its strong opening that provides a philosophical slant which really works for, and certainly does no harm to, a book full of dead people. This bled into a murd’rous stab of fiction penned by the chilling Clare Dornan. The epics (of which there were a few) I spread throughout the book so their length would hopefully go unnoticed. The first of these, Chrissey Harrison’s fantasy action/adventure contrasts perfectly with the preceding stories. Next, two ghostly tales with child protagonists: Jon Charles’s simple tale followed by Louise Gethin’s wandering child which then ties into the gruesome wandering husband in Grace Palmer’s piece. I thought the reader now ready for a change, thus Darkfall by Dev Agarwal submerges all who feast upon it into a truly bleak dystopia. Then up for a gasp of putrid air with Amanda Staples’s creepfest, followed by the two more unusual stories of our anthology courtesy of Ken Shinn and Jay Millington. Placing both centrally highlights the differences between the two, and the rest of the book. They also act as “tentpole” stories (John Joseph Adams, source below*). Of course, what type of graveyard fiction does not contain Gothic? Behold, Chloe Headdon’s contemporary and Scott Lewis’s traditional tale. Both make an appearance in the latter part of the book allowing the reader to experience other aspects before this ubiquitous theme. Shock horror, courtesy of Grimdark queen Maria Herring, felt a natural follower-on from this, partnered with Tanwen Cooper’s seedy tale of rotten humanity. The last stories mirror the two openers, and are intended to leave positive flavours lingering on the reader’s palate; Piotr Świetlik’s humour and multiculturalism (both much needed in the world at present) and Alex Ballinger’s hopefulness. Ballinger’s ‘Messenger’ is philosophical and resonates with Henney’s opening story.

With the publication of the book, we now have a sexy little bunyip of a product that has been presented beautifully by the Typesetter (and writer), Harrison, and all wrapped up in a classic cover designed by Fabrice Mazat. And, of course, my editorship has come to an end. I’d like to thank North Bristol Writers for the opportunity to become part of this terrific book, and the insights into the other side of publishing.

*With thanks to John Joseph Adams and Cat Rambo for their articles on editing.

You can purchase Tales From The Graveyard on Amazon UK

Previous North Bristol Writers anthologies are:

the DH

 

The Dark Half of the Year, AmazonUK  (Both Dornan and Shinn had an honourable mention from Ellen Datlow for their stories in this book.)

 

 

North by South West

 

North by Southwest, AmazonUK 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Simple Steps to Get the Best from Critiques.

I’ve been reading, writing, critiquing short fiction for the past few years, and reached the following steps by trial and error. This is what works best for me today.

  1. Write the story.
  2. Write several drafts until you think you can’t make it any better.
  3. Put the manuscript down for at least a month and work on other projects.
  4. When you pick it up again you’ll see the draft wasn’t so great. Edit until it’s a lot better.
  5. Don’t stop. Work on the story until you think it’s the tits, and importantly, you’ve pushed yourself to the limits of your ability.
  6. Ask your writing group to critique your masterpiece. Oh, and tell them to rip your work to pieces.
  7. Go back to step 2.

Another writer’s opinion could be a chisel or a sledgehammer. Either is a tool. Use it well.

Tired Writer

An Exercise in Editing.

edward-scissorhands

I completed the final edit of a story the other week; proud of a killer story. Yesterday, I saw a call for submissions that was perfect for it in all ways, it ticked every box, stroked all the editor’s needs, even I fitted the requirement. Everything matched, except for the word count: the story was 1500 words, the editor required 1200 max. (no, really, 1200 firm, I know because I asked). Originally, the piece was 2000 words, so I had been quite ruthless already, and could not imagine losing a further twenty percent.

I continued to check other markets while some needle-monkey inside my head told me that that first one was decent, and it was the right story. Treat it as an exercise, I thought. So I did, after making a copy of the first version.

That story is now 1198 words and has been mailed to the editor. I’m chuffed, thinking: I didn’t ruin it, it’s a tighter story. I guess that truth will be proved with an acceptance.

What Is It Really About?

 

The werewolf is used as a trope for many societal issues. Like that particular shapeshifter, I’m discovering that my story, Hashtag Rewilding works on quite a few levels too. Although, this is not a bad thing, I feel that is important to keep a short piece of fiction simple if you want to keep the reader engaged.

In preparation for the first edit, which – rightly or wrongly – I’ve undertook with hardly any downtime, I asked myself what is this story really about. This time around the answer – a clue to which is the title – was found when I asked myself a different question: why did I start to write a serious werewolf story when two weeks before I believed it would be many years before I could write such a thing without it being a spoof.

With that in mind I have begun eliminating any thread that may obscure the true nature of this story; any sentence that does not draw the reader in to hear what is whispered between the lines. I guess I’m editing, aren’t I?

My point here is this: Ask yourself what you’re trying to say before you begin to edit.