Welcome to the fortieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story author, bloggers, biographers and more. Today’s is with author of all things “weird” (with a bit of humour) Shaun Allan. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hi Shaun. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Shaun: Something about myself… That’s a question that’s always been destined to give me writer’s block! Erm… I’m 44, have a wonderful fiancée, two crazy daughters aged 7 and 8, and another little girl who’s five weeks old and gearing up to be as crazy as her sisters! I’ve written from being a child, apparently. I used to write stories and draw pictures to go with them, so I’m told. What kick-started it from something I did to something that was part of me (or at least made me realise that was the case) was hearing my English teacher (who Sin is partly dedicated to) reading To Kill A Mockingbird to the class. I realised I wanted that to happen to me. Either my book being read to a group or one person reading it but being lost in the story.
Morgen: Wow, overwhelmed by women. And knowing you wanted to write so young; it took me nearly 40 years. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Shaun: I don’t know that ‘weird’ is a genre. I don’t specifically write one type of story; each story takes its own path. Whether that path is horror, science fiction or supernatural thriller – or even children’s – I don’t know until the story has unfolded. Either way, I try to inject humour in the stories.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Shaun: I have had numerous stories and poems published in various small magazines around the world. I’ve also had a non-fiction article on the founding of Grimsby (where I live and where Sin is partly based) – all hidden royal heirs and treachery – published, possibly most notable as they spelled both my names wrong on the full page piece!
Morgen: As did I when putting you in the blog schedule. I should know better as my name is often spelled ‘Morgan’.
Shaun: This year, though, with the completion of my book Sin (which has taken 10 years to write), I’ve begun publishing in earnest. I’ve yet to have my book on a shelf, but they’re there in the virtual bookstores! Sin was the first, then Zits’n’Bits – a wacky children’s poetry collection. I followed that up with some of the stories I’d written along the way, some of which I’ve offered free.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Shaun: Being self-published, you have to do all the marketing yourself – although you meet some wonderful people along the way (Morgen ) who are more than happy to help you. Marketing can be a minefield and can take over, sometimes, but if you persevere it can reap rewards (I hope!). One of the main ways I push the book is by writing Sin’s blog. It’s his diary from within his asylum (that he’s escaped from in the book) and follows his experiences and the people he meets, and it’s entirely from his perspective. It makes Sin more real – but then there’s a lot of me in the character.
Morgen: In all of us perhaps. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Shaun: I have won various small competitions along the way but nothing major. I keep meaning to look for appropriate ones, but life seems to get in the way! A competition, I think can definitely help with a writer’s success, but I’ll let you know how much when I manage to win one!
Morgen: Oh yes, please do. I’ve listed a few competitions on here (in the ‘competition’ category). Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Shaun: I don’t have an agent. I started to look for one, but then decided to self-publish. About 15 years ago I ran an online magazine that accepted submissions from all over the world. It gained the attention of Sky TV who asked me to appear in a debate about the pros and cons of online publishing as opposed to the traditional route. My opponent was a buyer for literary agent Curtis Brown, which was daunting as I ran the ezine from my own home! I did, though, have the last word.
Morgen: Your books are available as eBooks, what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Shaun: Yes, all my books are available as ebooks. I like reading them too, as it’s much easier to find gems that you might miss otherwise. On my kindle app I discovered a book recently that I know I wouldn’t have seen in my local bookstore, and it was excellent.
Morgen: Ooh, do tell. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Shaun: My first real acceptance was the first part of my story ‘Tooth, the Whole Tooth and Nothing But The Tooth’ (called ‘Beryl’ at the time). And it’s still a big thrill!
Morgen: Sorry Beryl but I prefer ‘Tooth, the Whole Tooth and Nothing But The Tooth’. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Shaun: I have had rejections, and on work that has had rave reviews since. They’re part of life, so I don’t worry about them!
Morgen: Just not the right thing for the right person at the time. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Shaun: I have a few projects ongoing. I have the sequel to Sin started, but that’s on hold until I finish a story about the Four Horsemen.
Morgen: I have a book I’ve been planning to read for months (Raymond Khoury’s The Last Templar) and the beginning is amazing (involves the Four Horsemen). I didn’t actually start reading it and put it down but came across an extracted book and bought it from that… yes, marketing that worked.
Shaun: I recently found 30,000 words of a children’s story that I forgot about (somehow), and am reading that to finish it off, as I’m quite pleased with what I’d written so far. I also have another children’s story called ‘Zombie’s Are People Too’ in progress.
Morgen: I love that title; sounds like a hilarious story. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Shaun: I don’t manage to, actually. I have a full time job, a new baby and more. I squeeze it in, which can be very frustrating when the words are overflowing. I’m not sure how much I’ve written in one day, but I went on holiday to Egypt last year and was so ‘in the zone’ I managed 15,000 words!
Morgen: Wow, that’s great! What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Shaun: I have had it, yes, and I hate it! To cure it, I generally put down the piece I’m on and pick up another. The words are always there, but sometimes not for the story I’m on at that moment. At one point I didn’t pick up Sin for a whole year!
Morgen: But I bet the story was better for it. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Shaun: I always get an idea and run with it. Sin’s blog is a prime example of this. For each entry, I have just the first sentence and no idea of what’s going to happen. I have started, to offer ‘alternative’ book promotions whereby the characters from your book, or something of the plot is written into a blog entry, and I add your book cover and links to your book. It’s very offbeat but those that have had it done really like it. I still don’t know, really, what will happen, but that’s about the only time I have an idea of it!
Morgen: That sounds great. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Shaun: Not really. The names are just there when the characters appear. Some are based on real people, but the names are changed. As for what makes them believable, I hope it’s the way I write them. With Sin, he’s a big part of me. My sense of humour and my ‘dark half’ are very much in his characterisation.
Morgen: Only half? Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Shaun: My fiancée is very supportive of my work and always has been. I also have an old school friend who loves what I do to. He’s in the US now, and we’ve been on the phone for hours discussing various aspects.
Morgen: If he’s a writer would he like to do an interview? Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Shaun: Usually my writing is fully formed as I go. I do go through it again, but often tend to change only minor pieces.
Morgen: Me too usually. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Shaun: I don’t have one. Well, clearly I do, as I write… but I’m almost always thinking through scenes or ideas. As I write whenever I can, I don’t have a routine or ritual. I sit, I write.
Morgen: Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Shaun: It depends on what’s available. I prefer a computer, as I only have to type it up anyway, but when I was in Egypt, I went through two writing pads for the 15,000 words.
Morgen: Wow. I find I’m so used to a computer that I’m pretty slow (well, slower than my brain usually) writing by hand so unless I’m out, it’s computer all the way. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Shaun: I write in third often, but I prefer first. I haven’t tried second. That’d be interesting!
Morgen: It’s great. Well, some people find it tiring but I love it and would recommend anyone trying it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-person_narrative explains it). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Shaun: Yes. I wrote one piece that was, effectively, exorcising my demons. It did its job nicely, but it’s too personal to publish. Plus there are a few bits that I’ve been happy to hit the delete key on. Sometimes, though, I’ll keep a piece and use the ideas, if they’ve not quite worked as they are but they’re worth developing.
Morgen: I have a whole novel like that and it’s not even the first one. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Shaun: Time. As Clare Maguire says in her song, I was told Time tiptoes by, but I can hear his footsteps running past me. I never have enough time to get the words down.
Morgen: Oh, how well do I know that feeling – I’ve recently got into the habit of 5-hour sleeps and they so don’t suit me. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Shaun: With Sin, I wrote the original short story ten years ago. I thought that would be that. But then I realised Sin was a lot more vocal than I first thought, and the short story became the prologue to what is now the novel. And even then, he won’t stay silent, as is shown by the fact he has his own blog! My surprise is that, I originally thought I wrote the characters and the stories and now I know they are quite capable of doing that themselves!
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Shaun: Go for it. Keep trying and don’t worry about rejection. It’s a fact of life and there’s plenty of others who will quite possibly love what you do. Persevere.
Morgen: Absolutely. It’s a well-worn saying but “a successful author is one who didn’t give up.” What do you like to read?
Shaun: I like reading other self-published authors. Pay it forward. We’re all in this together so it’s a great way to support and be supported. Otherwise, I like Stephen King, Dean Koontz (both of which Sin has been compared to – how humbling is THAT!).
Morgen: That’s great!
Shaun: And I also really enjoy the fantasy books of David Eddings and Terry Brooks, both of which I’ve followed for years! I enjoy the Dan Brown-style books too.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Shaun: Smashwords for a start. That gave me my break into ebook publishing. Kindle Author. Your own website is great.
Morgen: This blog? Ah, thanks. (I also have a more traditional website at http://www.morgenbailey.com)
Shaun: Goodreads is another. And Michael R Mathias wrote a book, available on Amazon, about The First Ten Steps for publishing. It’s a great book with some excellent tips. As is Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ which I enjoyed (it’s a memoir as well) and took some advice from. How he talks about writing compares very closely to how I wrote anyway!
Morgen: Ah yes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Writing has been mentioned a few times in these interviews and each time I say “I have it and I should really read it” and then don’t so I’m taking it off the shelf… right now and putting it by my bed… OK, I’m back. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Shaun: I’m from the UK. I used to think this was a hindrance as everything seems US based, but, in reality, Facebook and Twitter and the Internet dissolve the boundaries.
Morgen: Isn’t it great? I forget in LinkedIn that I’m often chatting to non-UKers. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Shaun: Facebook and Twitter are very useful. I find it hard to dedicate the time, because of so much going on, to find other places, although I know I should – there’s so many out there.
Morgen: Many of the other interviewees have suggested sites so that could be a start. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Shaun: I have my own website Sin’s blog, Facebook and Twitter, as well as pages on the Independent Author’s Network and Wattpad amongst others:
My website: http://www.shaunallan.co.uk
Morgen: Wow, that’s quite a gallery. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Shaun: Things are moving all the time. When I appeared on Sky, and had my magazine, you could only really access electronic writings online. Now I have apps on my Android tablet and my mobile phone! There’s pretty much nowhere where you can’t pick up a book in one form or another now. Things are moving at an incredible pace.
Morgen: Hopefully in the right direction. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Shaun: Read my blog, buy my book, enjoy.
Morgen: Yes, if you’re reading this and like what you read, please do. Shaun has kindly provided an extract of his work…
She walked forwards, slowly, a few steps then motioned for me to follow. I did so and stepped to her side. Her close proximity seemed to bolster my flailing courage (although that implies that courage had existed in the first place), but only to the extent that I didn’t run away screaming. She held my hand and squeezed tight, and the light around us went out. Did I scream? Squeal? Like a kicked piglet? Or was it only in my head? All I could feel was Joy’s hand in mine. The world had been snuffed out, a candle on a birthday cake blown out by the birthday girl. Make a wish. I couldn’t feel the air – no breeze nor breath brushed my face. I couldn’t actually feel my face. The ground beneath my feet had vanished and I felt as if I was standing, but not floating, on nothing. Terra Firma had become Terror Firmless. Was this sense depravation at its most extreme? People paid money to float in tanks of water, lying in an insulated cocoon to become one with their innermost being. Or some such nonsense. Maybe it works, or maybe you just go crazy from the complete lack of stimuli.
A writer of many prize-winning short stories and poems, Shaun Allan has written for more years than he would perhaps care to remember. Having once run an online poetry and prose magazine, he has appeared on Sky television to debate, against a major literary agent, the pros and cons of internet publishing as opposed to the more traditional method. Many of his personal experiences and memories are woven into Sin’s point of view and sense of humour although Shaun can’t, at this point, teleport. He lives with his one partner, two daughters, three cats and four fish!
Morgen: I love the negatives… ooh, you should send me a short story (or a longer extract) for my new ‘red pen’ podcast episodes. And I love the ‘Like a kicked piglet?’, although only on paper. And now for his book blurb…
What would you do? Could you kill a killer? Does the death of one appease the deaths of a hundred? What about that hundred against a thousand? What if you had no choice? Meet Sin. No, not that sort of sin, but Sin, crazy as a loon (you ask Sister Moon), and proud of it. Sin locks himself away in an asylum and, every so often, gets violent. That’s only so they’ll give him those nice drugs, though. The ones that help him forget. It’s a pity they don’t work. Sin, you see, has a serious problem. Well, it’s not so much his problem, as ours – yours, mine and everyone else’s. People die around Sin. He doesn’t like it and there’s nothing he can do about it. But someone else knows, and Sin must stop them… and himself… Flip and catch…
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