The latest <10-minute video interview to be offered is with Kazuo Ishiguro and can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-31815725 where there are also links to previous videos.
The latest <10-minute video interview to be offered is with Kazuo Ishiguro and can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-31815725 where there are also links to previous videos.
Welcome to the six hundred and ninety-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Roger Hurn. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Roger. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Roger: I live in South East London and I spent quite a few years as a teacher in the inner city. The pupils there can be pretty challenging as anybody who’s ever stood in front of a class of bored teenagers on a wet Thursday will tell you, but I found the best way to survive was by telling stories with cliffhanger endings. These grabbed the kids’ attention and made them eager to hear more. It meant that I could use the stories as a way of keeping order and creating an atmosphere conducive to learning. Believe me, if my stories weren’t up to the mark they didn’t hesitate to let me know, so I soon learned how to tell a lean, mean narrative with colourful characters and an all-action plot. Then, when I’d mastered that, it seemed to be a natural progression to write them down and try and have them published.
Morgen: I’ve just started teaching adults creative writing, two evenings a week (more next term), and love it because, apart from talking about my favourite subject for two hours, they’re there because they want to be, not have to be and they’re so keen. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Roger: I started off writing books for children, particularly for those kids who are classed as “reluctant readers”. I wanted them to discover the joy and pleasure that reading brings so my books for them are like a springboard they can use to dive into the world of their imagination. Judging by the feedback I’ve had, it seems to have worked for an awful lot of children and I’m very proud of that!
However, these days I’m really enjoying working on a series of crime novellas for adults. These feature Ryan Kyd, a hard-nosed, but soft centred ex member of the elite Diplomatic Protection Group. In his time, action man Ryan has guarded Royalty and Prime Ministers and faced down terrorists. Now he’s set up on his own as a Private Investigator on the mean streets of South London.
This may seem like quite a jump from writing for children but I think writing crime thrillers for adults is not so different for writing attention grabbing books for kids. Both have high standards and want crisp no-nonsense writing, sharp dialogue, interesting characters they can believe in and action packed storylines that keep them turning the page. And, above all, the writer has a duty to entertain his audience and leave them demanding more – so that’s what I try to do.
Morgen: Absolutely. No one should write down to children. They’re highly intelligent and won’t thank you for it. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Roger: I have had over eighty books for children published and now I’ve had three Ryan Kyd books published plus a Ryan Kyd Omnibus. I don’t use a pseudonym, for better or for worse I am who I am.
Morgen: 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Roger: The Ryan Kyd books are published by Endeavour Press, who claim to be the UK’s leading independent digital publisher, so they are all available as ebooks. My involvement is in writing the books and then handing them over to my editor at Endeavour. In fact it works in exactly the same way it does when I have a paperback book for children published.
I love reading books but am now downloading the vast majority of the books I read onto my Kindle.
Morgen: Me too. I get a daily email from http://digitalbooktoday.com/free-kindle-books with a list of free ones so apart from collections of short stories for review (and most of those are sent to me by the authors) or I spot an author I like, I don’t have to buy eBooks. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters?
Welcome to the four hundred and forty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. Today’s is with novelist, poet and publisher Sam Smith, and today we talk about his writing and publishing so I hope you’re sitting comfortably with a large mug or glass of something. 🙂
Morgen: Hello, Sam. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Sam: I’m currently based in Maryport, Cumbria, and have just started to receive my state pension. I decided to become a writer though in 1968 when sitting above Breakwater beach in Brixham, Devon, having just read Henry Miller’s ‘Smile at the Foot of a Ladder’. It was his then one work of fiction and I decided that if my own worthless self could create something as wonderful as Henry’s my life would at last be worth something. I became a writer that day. Took a fair while longer to become an author.
Morgen: I’ve not read any Henry Miller but what an inspiration. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Sam: First thing I wrote was a poem, but what I most wanted was to create whole worlds, so I got stuck into some novels. Wrote 3 the first year – one mainstream, one fantasy and one SF – all long-since destroyed. And I have since continued switching genres, from crime, SF and mainstream to historical fiction. Also poetry.
Morgen: What a shame you’ve destroyed them. Even if they were dreadful they could have shown you how far you came but then I guess you’ll know that already. 🙂 What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Sam: I write under my own name, Sam Smith, though because of my output I am considering a pseudonym. I’ve had 27 full books published so far. That’s 18 novels, one war memoir, and 9 full poetry collections.
Morgen: Wow. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Sam: I had 23 years of rejections. I’ll rephrase that: I had 23 years of not getting published. There were of course many straightforward. “Thanks but no thanks.” But at least once in every one of those 23 years a publisher or an agent expressed an interest. But then the interested editor left that publisher, or the one-man-band publisher went bust or died, or the agent couldn’t find a publisher for that book… The last of those 23 years saw a new publisher getting me to rewrite a whole novel… and when that enterprise too went tits up I decided, desperate to see something of mine in print, to try getting some of my poetry published. I hadn’t up until then. Within months I had magazines accepting my work, some of which had been written 21 years before.
Having become a publisher and publisher’s editor myself I know that some submissions, however well-written, are simply not to my taste or are not what I’m looking for at that moment, and not wanting to enter into a correspondence by giving a specific reason for not taking that work, I return it with a pro forma rejection. I knew that when submitting work such had to be the case, so I looked for somewhere else to submit the work. Or I looked at the work again. Or both.
Morgen: How frustrating but you clearly love writing or you wouldn’t have stuck at it – they say “a successful writer is one who didn’t give up” and I think most of us are still working on that. 🙂 Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Sam: I had a poem, ‘Important Information for Canoeists’, longlisted in the 1996 Forward Prize. Even got to read on Radio 3! My SF novel, We Need Madmen, won the 2004 Skrev prize for science fiction. My thriller, Sister Blister, was entered for the 1996 (I think it was) Booker prize. That year’s chair of the judges, Simon Jenkins, however refused to read it as it was the first eBook to be entered for the competition. Sister Blister is now also available in hardback. My SF novel, The End of Science Fiction, was shortlisted for a 2001 Eppie. And my poetry collection, ‘An Atheist’s Alphabetical Approach to Death’, was shortlisted for the 2009 Erbacce Competition.
Morgen: Congratulations (and I love your titles). 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Sam: I don’t. And I’m not sure that one needs an agent nowadays in order to get published. If anything it’s harder to get a genuine literary agent to read an MS now than it is a publisher. But once published an agent would certainly be helpful in getting promotional bookings and in the negotiating of rights – foreign rights, performing rights, audio rights, film rights, etc. For instance I tried for over a year to get Michael Douglas to read Sister Blister. I thought it was the kind of novel that would really appeal to him. I even tried getting hold of him via Catherine Zeta Jones, via their agents, any name I came across remotely connected to Michael Douglas. Then a review of Sister Blister suggested that the principal character would be well played by the late Pete Postlethwaite. He didn’t get back to me either. An agent could well have opened doors for me then.
Morgen: What a shame. Michael is great but I loved Pete Postlethwaite… very down-to-earth British. 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Sam: All of my in-print novels are. Only one of my poetry collections, The Complete Pieces. Although most of my fiction sales now are digital, I’m still not sure about eBooks for poetry, where so much can depend on the appearance of the poem and different e-readers can alter the shape of that poem. Add to that many poetry books being an artwork in themselves, and I think we might well see a divergence here between the publishing of fiction and the publishing of poetry. Especially as most sales for poetry continue to be in paper form and take place at author readings, personal appearances.
When Smashwords started I did look out a couple of my older works and got them converted to eBooks. At the moment I have a logjam of recent works awaiting publication and I could see no likelihood of those older two, ‘2 Bridgwater Days’ and ‘The Eviction from Quarry Cottages’, finding a conventional publisher so I adapted them to eBooks on Smashwords, price per copy up to the reader. And if no-one pays to read them they are at least now being read and not stuck in the bottom of my cupboard.
Morgen: That’s pretty much how I feel and have free eShorts and only charge $1.49 for the eBooks, and I write to be read rather than make a load of money (although both would be nice). 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Sam: With the ease of social networking one can very easily fall prey these days to over-exposure. Especially if all that one does is to promote one’s own work, mention one’s own appearances. On the likes of Facebook and Twitter for instance one very soon scrolls past those authors who mention nothing, yawn, but themselves and their own works.
Having begun my published life as a writer with poetry, and always happy to go along to a reading, I find the face-to-face promotion of my poetry far easier than that of my fiction. Just in the number of poetry venues on offer as opposed to those for fiction. Read a few poems and, with a bit of luck, the audience won’t haven’t lost interest, will want to read more and some in the audience just might buy the collection. How much does one read aloud of a novel, though? And make it entertaining? I shared a platform with Margaret Drabble at the Porlock Literary Festival and it was such hard work that I reverted to reading some of my poetry.
What do I do for Sam Smith the brand? I suppose I try to keep myself in the public eye, as here. But mostly with my other work – publishing The Journal, Original Plus, and as editor for other publishers, my hope is that possible readers are curious enough to look for and try a work of mine.
Morgen: I listen to (and take part in) Radio Litopia every Sunday night (they’re on a break now ’til 26th August) and one of the regular panellists said he gets loads of Twitter followers who follow, he follows back then he gets bombarded with ‘buy my book / feature my book’ requests, bad enough but he says most don’t even build a rapport with him first. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Sam: Neil Marr of BeWrite Books says that although you can’t judge a book by its cover, a good cover can certainly sell a book. I agree with that. What Neil and I don’t always agree on is the cover itself. My daughter Shelley, for instance, came up with a terrific cover for ‘The Care Vortex’. Neil didn’t like it, and we ended up with one that Shelley and I were none too happy with.
Shelley has come up with some terrific covers for me – for my novel ‘Marks’ and the poetry collection of ‘pieces’. And that’s aside from those she has done for Original Plus. But I’ve been lucky in my book covers.
Morgen: They are striking and that’s what you want, isn’t it. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Sam: I’m in the process of building up a couple of poetry collections, provisionally titled ‘Changes to Your Terms and Conditions’ and ‘Scenes from a Country Life’. And I’m working on a novel provisionally titled ‘Trees’.
Morgen: How intriguing. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Sam: Whatever day job I’ve had I’ve always snuck in at least a couple of hours writing a day. Often it’s a rewriting, but whatever its nature I’ve made sure that if only for 10 minutes I’ve been sat at my desk.
And no, Morgen, I have never suffered from writer’s block. Does such a thing truly exist? I’ll admit to dry periods. But, if uninspired, I have simply ploughed on putting pen to paper; and when I have worked out what I was trying to say, chucked the draft away.
Morgen: My interviewees’ opinion of writer’s block I’d say is about half:half but as you say putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) does the trick for me… even just a keyword can set something going. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Sam: Both. Start off with a loose plot, a plot outline, and then run with ideas as they arise.
Morgen: I love that. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Sam: I have no formula as such. Don’t like the Dickensian trait of names that fit the characters. If anything I prefer to write against name type – create a soft character with a hard G name. And what, and I speak now as an editor, renders characters readily unbelievable is poor dialogue. So many novels’ credibility collapse because of clunking dialogue.
Morgen: You sound like a prolific poet, why do you think it’s such a difficult market to break into?
Sam: Is poetry a difficult market to break into? I suppose it depends what you mean by market. I can’t think of anyone, aside from stand-ups, who got rich writing poetry. Or publishing poetry.
If you mean, Morgen, that poetry is difficult to get published then I’d say the opposite. It’s very easy to place most kinds of poetry somewhere – from klunking end rhymes to off the wall free verse. And I notice that now self-publishing poetry on the web is being seen for what it is, lacking any form of quality control, that paper poetry magazines are making a comeback. The Journal is certainly picking up subscribers by the issue. And in a recession!
Morgen: That’s really encouraging. I’ve been surprised how many people write. I’ve ‘spoken’ to over 1,000 authors (I have another 200 interviews booked in with another 700+ questionnaires sent out) and I’m sure I’ve only seen the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Are there any tips you could give to someone wishing to write poetry?
Sam: Read poetry. Check out the poetry libraries, see what magazines are publishing what. And if you can’t get physically get along to any of the libraries check out the sample magazines they have on their websites. And once written don’t waste your time or the editors’ sending to inappropriate magazines.
Morgen: Not reading the guidelines is the biggest bugbear I’ve heard of… and you’d think it would be so simple. Do you write any non-fiction or short stories?
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Sam: I write draft after draft after draft… and still find that the wastepaper basket is this writer’s best friend.
Morgen: 🙂 Do you have to do much research?
Sam: For fiction, yes. Nothing worse than the book being published and then you discover the one piece of information… collapse of hitherto stout fictional edifice.
Morgen: Someone will find it if there is one. 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Sam: Depends on the book. Often I’ll find third person too restrictive, doesn’t allow for inner dialogues, and switch to third. And sometimes I’ll find the first person too restrictive, the narrative being confined to only what they know, so I’ll switch to the third. The second person can come across with either a fake intimacy or as hectoring. Can sometimes work in a poem, possibly in an epistolary novel.
Morgen: Second person is like writer’s block… it has a split ‘audience’. Personally I love it but most editors (and many readers) don’t so I write it for pleasure more than to submit anywhere. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Sam: Some I hope don’t. At least in their present form.
Morgen: 🙂 You’re a publisher as well as a writer, can you please briefly explain the structure of your publishing house… perhaps who’s involved along the process of an acceptance to the book / story being published.
Sam: My publishing house – actually it’s a small garret room – is a poetry press, and like the room, Original Plus is a very small press; and, like my room, the press has only enough room for me in it.
Morgen: Compact and bijoux (as an advert a few years ago). 🙂 You’re a writer yourself, does this help with deciding which projects to take on?
Sam: I started the press having been published by Odyssey Press, then based in Coleridge Cottage. Derrick Woolf, who ran the press, showed me the nuts and bolts of how it was done. His enthusiasm was infectious. I began with The Journal of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry – all then A5 and perfect bound. It wasn’t until 2000 then I switched to the A4 (A3 folded) version.
But, yes, being a writer myself definitely influences what work I take both for The Journal and for Original Plus. Often it is the kind of work that I know better than to even attempt myself.
Morgen: 🙂 The $64,000 question: out of all the submissions you receive, what makes a book / story stand out for all the right reasons?
Sam: I can go beyond poetry here as, once I’d been published, I got taken on by a few publishers as reader and / or fiction editor. And what makes a book stand out is a feel for language. By which I don’t mean flowery, but that it both engages and cheers – in that one wants to applaud its use. Even if that is pared-to-the-bone narrative.
Morgen: For me, flowery just means a writer is trying too hard (a polite way of saying “showing off”)… ‘purple prose’ as the phrase goes. And then, without naming names, what makes a book proposal / story stand out for all the wrong reasons? 🙂
Sam: Sloppy self-editing. Over-selling, by which I mean their claims for their own work are excessive. Immediate evidence that their concept of good writing is an over-use of adjectives. A tin ear for dialogue. A belief that sex alone / violence alone / sentiment alone sells. And what is guaranteed to put any editor off – being told in the introductory letter that here is an opportunity to make loads of money.
Morgen: I’m one of the judges of the H.E. Bates Short Story Competition and the last couple of years I’ve been really surprised (and if I’m honest, disappointed) at how unnecessarily vile some of the content of the submissions has been. I like, and write, dark (and this year the Head Judge is crime writer Stephen Booth so we’ll probably have plenty of those) but you wouldn’t want to read some of them while eating. What genres do you accept? What would you suggest an author do with a cross-genre piece of writing?
Sam: Poetry aside, for those publishers I’ve worked for the only genre they seemed to draw the line at has been erotica. As for anything cross-genre I’d suggest the author decide which is the dominant genre and present it as such. My novel, The End of Science Fiction, for instance is a crime novel set at the end of the world, the title though categorises it as SF.
Morgen: Is there a genre that you haven’t published and would like to?
Morgen: Is there a genre that sells better than others or that you can’t get enough of?
Sam: Poetry is a hard sell. As for what in fiction sells better than others … the publishers I work for know better than I.
Morgen: How can an author submit to you?
Morgen: Can you suggest some do’s and don’t’s when submitting to you.
Sam: If you haven’t had poetry published by The Journal, or if I have had no other contact with you, I very much doubt if I’d consider publishing a collection. And certainly not outside the UK. I work on a covering costs basis and postal charges make publishing a collection for anyone outside of the UK a non-starter. Best always to try a sample of your poetry at The Journal first.
Morgen: Are there authors that you deal with on a regular basis and / or perhaps represent directly?
Sam: Running the magazine and the press, as well as all my other hats, yes there are many authors I deal with on a regular basis, indeed far too many to pick out and name here.
Morgen: 🙂 This is a question that I ask authors but I think is just as relevant to you as a publisher: what was the first book / story you published?
Sam: From the poets published in the original Journal of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry came the first Original Plus collection, Don Ammons’ Andetsteds. Don is an American exile living in Denmark; and we published a dual text collection, his wife Betty Søndergaard having made the translations into Danish.
Morgen: Do you run competitions, do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Sam: Although I’ve been asked to judge competitions before this is the first year I’ve run a competition – the Silversmith Poetry Competition. It’s a collaborative effort with my daughter’s Maison Vee company, first prize publication in The Journal and choice this year of a pair of Maison Vee earrings.
As to competitions in general, how helpful to the writer they are depends on the competition, the publicity it gets, and its purpose. If its purpose is solely to raise funds for the organisers then it’s best to give it a miss. And one also has to be wary for how long the competition might hang onto the winner’s copyright, meaning that’s the one limited outing that piece of writing might get.
Morgen: I spotted a conversation on LinkedIn only this week where a publisher had announced a new romance short story competition with a prize fund of $1,000 but a fee of $39. I queried this and gave some example comparisons of established competitions and after some discussions with myself and a couple of other LinkedIn members, they reduced it to $15. 🙂 To your knowledge, have any of your published books / stories won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Sam: Not that I’m aware. Can’t remember. I’m of that age….
Morgen: Oh dear. Well, I’m going to be 45 in just under a month and my memory has always been fairly shocking(ly bad). 😦 What do you feel about an author writing under a pseudonym? Do you think they make a difference to their profile? And would you recommend an author writing under different names for different genres?
Sam: I suppose if a writer is slumming it, churning out predictable commercial work for the sake of the pennies, then probably a pseudonym for that genre is probably a good idea and must needs be kept secret. Other than that I don’t see the point. The result gets publicised as ‘Stephen King writing crime under the name of ….’
Morgen: It does indeed: Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman, and Joanna Trollope writing as Caroline Harvey. Another semi-priceless question: do you think an agent is vital to an author’s success? How would you suggest an author gets one?
Sam: Seems that the only way to get an agent these days is to enrol on an expensive writing course that guarantees that the participants’ works will be seen by a visiting literary agent. As to their being vital, that more than a few literary agents are becoming publishers now suggests that even they are questioning their role.
Morgen: I’ve noticed that too. Now for, in theory, a simple question: what’s your opinion of eBooks, do you publish them and do you read them?
Sam: Original Plus doesn’t publish ebooks. As I’ve said elsewhere poetry doesn’t lend itself to eReaders ability to change typeface, size, etc. But the publishers I work for have all enthusiastically embraced eBook publications. From my own royalty statements I know that digital sales are now well in excess of paper.
I have eReader downloads on my PC, but haven’t yet got around to reading any books on them. Oh, apart from those I’ve reviewed. Meanwhile I have shelves of paperbacks waiting to be read and have felt no need yet to acquire an eReader.
Morgen: I have one (a Kindle Touch) but still read both, most people do. Poetry and short stories are, in my opinion anyway, the two most hard done by genres… what do you see as the future for them? Do you think the eBook revolution will help given that eBooks seem to be getting shorter?
Sam: I think eBooks might well be the saving of the short story, but believe that this is where printed poetry returns to being an art form. Not that types of poetry won’t find themselves in an eBook, but for sales it will still be paper.
Morgen: Is there a plot that’s written about too often?
Sam: No. Always a new twist to an old tale.
Morgen: I like that. 🙂 Do you have to do a lot of editing to the stories you accept or is the writing usually more or less fully-formed?
Sam: Some submissions arrive needing but an occasional tweak. Some require being returned to the author for substantial rewriting, and which then – the central concept being attractive – require editing aplenty.
Morgen: I’ve heard mixed reports of Dan Brown’s and EL James’ (Fifty Shades of Grey) writing but they’re so popular because they tell a good story (I guess :)). Have you had any surprising feedback about any of your published works?
Sam: The majority of critical responses thus far have been positive.
Morgen: Excellent. Is there a story, section or theme of a book that you’ve printed, or yet to print, that you’re particularly fond of? And why?
Sam: I loved the shaped poetry in Carol Thistlethwaite’s ‘The Field Book’ (BeWrite Books); and I loved the narrative prose that accompanied the poetry and drawings in Siobhan Logan’s ‘Firebridge to Skyshore’ (Original Plus)
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Morgen: A successful writer is one who didn’t give up. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you could recommend?
Sam: BeWrite Books’ submission guidelines lay out pretty starkly the state of publishing today.
Morgen: Ooh interesting… given that more emphasis these days is put on the author to market their published works or indeed themselves as a ‘brand’, how involved are you generally with your authors post-publication?
Sam: Aside from press releases and publicity I try to get along to their launches, push their books to sympathetic reviewers, enter their books for competitions and generally help where I can. Where the authors are not in the UK then generally all I can offer is moral support.
Morgen: Apart from your website, how do you market yourselves? Are your authors involved in marketing for you / themselves?
Sam: You said before how involved authors have to get involved in the promoting of their books. If they don’t the book dies and I’m left with boxes of books crowding me out of my garret room. Once an author overcomes their stage fright and gets stuck in, the books tend to sell themselves. Always though they require the author doing something, even if it’s only going through their address book, joining every conceivable forum, while still staying in their garret. Going beyond their garret or garden shed, if they can wangle themselves some air time on their local radio, TV, some space in their local paper… a piece of mine in a local paper once got picked up by Reuters… Who knows where it all ends up? I took to organising a festival for several years, its one purpose the selling of books. That worked. The hope is that all these efforts take on a life of their own. But if one doesn’t even get out there and try the certainty is that nothing will happen.
Morgen: Absolutely. Like me with this blog, you get out what you put in. 🙂 You’re based in the UK, do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about, or distributing, your publications?
Sam: I’ve never had any problems letting people know. Distribution however relies on our mismanaged and now very expensive postal service.
Morgen: It is, isn’t it? Now they’ve hiked their prices (and I mean really hiked; a first class stamp going from 46p to 60p in April), I do wonder if they’ll start making a profit. They certainly won’t from me, I send very little by post. What do you think of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and more business-related such as LinkedIn? Do you think they’re invaluable or too time-consuming?
Sam: It really is hard to estimate the sales generated by such sites; and I’m sure that too much exposure on them can be counter-productive. They can certainly be time-consuming. For the moment though the jury’s still out….
Morgen: I’ve heard that no-one should tout more than 10% of the time (vs 90% informative) but I’d say less than that would be good… 5% maximum). Apart from the stories in your publications, 🙂 what do you like to read? Any authors (including those you’ve published) that you’d like to recommend?
Sam: At the moment I’m working through the entire ouvre of Haruki Murakami. Interspersed with heavier doses of A S Byatt. Dannie Abse is top of my poetry reading stack, Christopher Pilling’s translations of Catullus next…
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Sam: Robert Schumann, when describing how it was when he composed, said that it was like touching moments as they passed. Beyond that simple exhilaration what has given me the most pleasure has been people getting in touch with me from different parts of the globe and saying what my words have meant to them.
I don’t think there is a least favourite. Maybe that’s the surprise. No, I know what the surprise was, and it was a real treat, being asked to read my poetry at the Nunney Jazz Café. To be up on stage with some excellent jazz musicians exceeded my wildest expectations. And they invited me back! Twice!
Morgen: How exciting! 🙂 If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Sam: I’ve met a few of my literary heroes, and have invariably found myself tongue-tied, or blurting out something I blush about years after. Writers should stay each in their rooms and communicate sparingly with one another.
Morgen: Oh dear. Some writers I know are quite shy and would be happy to be locked away for time immemorial but I love going to writers’ conferences etc. (I’m booking two today – one over my birthday weekend and another a couple of weeks later… probably my only ‘holidays’ for the rest of this year). Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Sam: Dear Sam… (You wouldn’t believe, Morgen, how many people submitting call me Sir or Madam, even after being previously published by The Journal. And sometimes the discourtesy of no introductory letter at all. Such abruptness does not generate a positive response to the submission.)
Morgen: Needless to say I get ‘Morgan’ all the time (even ‘Morgan with an E’!). I get ‘Sir’ or ‘Mr’ too despite my caricature being splattered everywhere… being called that shows me that they’ve not even opened my website before contacting me… not a great first impression. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Sam: I’ve been editing The Journal (once ‘of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry’) for almost 2 decades now, and publishing Original Plus poetry collections. I also act as publisher’s reader for one publisher and have been editor for a couple others. I also started and ran the Taunton Poetry Festival, we called it the Brewhouse Bash, for 3 years; and I’ve organised one-off events since. I suppose what takes up most of my time now, beyond the above, is being one of the fiction editors for BeWrite Books as well as their poetry editor
Morgen: How lovely. I’ve volunteered at three literature festivals (Oundle, Chorleywood, Chipping Norton) and had a wonderful time. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Sam: I walk, cycle and clamber up the fells here.
Morgen: You mentioned forums earlier, are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Sam: I’m on a few, but find them as much a distraction as a help.
Morgen: Oh me too but sometimes I just have to ignore that ‘ping’ (hard to do). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Sam: The great majority of writers will need day jobs. Which is no bad thing. Which I would not have relished being told when younger and having to go from one day job to another, all of which took me away from my writing. Some of the experiences those jobs gave me though proved invaluable to me as a writer.
If someone needs to write then they will write. Getting read will be another matter all together.
Morgen: Isn’t it just. I gave up my day job in March and turned to having lodgers to pay for it but now can’t imagine having a proper job again. I’m living many authors’ dream. 🙂 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
‘The voice goes dumb’
The voice goes dumb
in the crackling mobile
I edge forward
in the nervous dark
hear the waves launch
from the harbour walls
adding the words of centuries
to the swell of sadness
Morgen: That’s really moving, thank you Sam. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Sam: My website – http://thesamsmith.webs.com.
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Sam: Yes. How did you come by all those stars on your Smashwords books. Mine have been up there for ages and got not one review yet.
Morgen: Really? That’s a shame. Well, as you can tell I blog a lot so I talk to a lot of people. I have my eBooks as links at the end of each post and am fairly prolific on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I occasionally tweet about the free ones hoping that it will lead people to buy the $1.49 ones and it works on the odd occasion. They say that you get out what you put in and with over 1,100 posts on this blog it certainly feels like I’ve put in plenty. 🙂 Thank you, Sam.
I then invited Sam to include an extract of his writing and this is the opening poem of ‘pieces’. Sam says… “and probably one of the best things that happened to me as a writer. I read extracts from the unpublished ‘pieces’ at the Purple Patch Poetry Convention in Birmingham. Kevin Troop was in the audience and offered there and then to publish the whole collection.”
Love is love: a tenderness shown, fingertips
brushing at specks on a beloved’s shoulder;
unconscious acts of familiarity, hand or wrist
taken when walking, and the whole body turning
in towards and touching the other, hip to chest. Love.
Tower guards fire bursts down at the dogs
that disturb the graves beyond the fence.
Gate sentries have been seen to follow,
with their gunsights, a highflying crow
or gull, say “Bang.” The dogs are left unburied,
grave rags and pink bones partially uncovered.
Bartering morsels for medicines, attentive to
the other’s every breath, this one man advertises
his love, beams his pleasure in his lover’s recovery.
Other prisoners look on this enactment of love’s gestures
with dumb wonder, recall themselves being fathers,
that same gentling kiss upon a son’s sharp hair,
headslant smile of companionship to a beside-them wife.
and the synopsis of Sam’s book ‘Something’s Wrong’…
The making of these tapes began as his attempt — an aide memoir and thus a means of bringing some order to his fragmented thoughts — to discover the ‘something wrong’ that he feels is hiding away somewhere within his mind.
Cataloguing all that he feels might be important he describes his day-to-day life in a residential home in a seedy seaside town. He reports too on the puzzling behaviour of the town’s inhabitants, along with that of the staff and the other residents of the home.
While he tries to work out what it is that is wrong there is a robbery, arson, and a local girl is murdered. All of which he initially suspects himself being responsible for. Then he helps an evicted girl move into a stone hut, and this action on behalf of another frees him from his self-suspicion.
The ‘something wrong’ that he had subconsciously registered, but belatedly realises with the arrival of this year’s statement, is that the trust fund that his late father created for his welfare is being used to pay for his enforced stay in the for-profit residential home.
Editor of The Journal (once ‘of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry’), publisher of Original Plus books, Sam is also proud to be Poetry Editor of BeWrite Books. Born Blackpool, England 1946, now living in Maryport, Cumbria, freelance writer, Sam has been a psychiatric nurse, residential social worker, milkman, plumber, laboratory analyst, groundsman, sailor, computer operator, scaffolder, gardener, painter & decorator… working at anything, in fact, which paid the rent, enabling him to raise his three daughters and which hasn’t got too much in the way of his writing. He now has several poetry collections and novels to his name.
Update December 2012: “BeWrite Books will cease trading March 30th 2013… but as one door closes another can be seen slightly ajar, and so on we go. IDP have scheduled the release of my novel, Marraton, for some time in 2013 and Original Plus has just brought out Paul Lee’s final collection, ‘Us: who made History.’ The next issue of The Journal contains a selection of entrants for the Silversmilth Poetry Competition as well as the winning poem by Alethea Redfern, who I’ve lost contact with. So, Morgen, if you know of anyone who knows Alethea please tell her to please get in touch.” I don’t, Sam, but I see she’s on Facebook and Pinterest. 🙂
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
** NEW!! You can now subscribe to this blog on your Kindle / Kindle app!
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You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internet, view my Books (including my debut novel, which is being serialised on Novel Nights In!) and I also have a blog creation / maintenance service especially for, but not limited to, writers. If you like this blog, you can help me keep it running by donating and choose an optional free eBook.
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As I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t unfortunately review books but I have a list of those who do. I welcome critique for the four new writing groups listed below and / or flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays. For other opportunities see (see Opportunities on this blog).
The full details of the new online writing groups, and their associated Facebook groups, are:
Morgen’s Online Non-Fiction Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Novel Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Poetry Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Script Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group
We look forward to reading your comments.
The twenty-seventh special episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 13th June 2011 and featured the fifth day of five as a volunteer at Oundle Literature Festival here in Northamptonshire, England. The content has never been released other than links on my website.
Sunday 20TH March @ 2.30pm: Katherine Jakeways
Despite having not arrived at the Queen Victoria Hall (my first visit) until 2pm, I was one of the first people to arrive (although the last volunteer), and could hear the rehearsing for that night’s Murder Mystery taking place in the main hall. As I was a member of the public for that event, I was forbidden from entering. So as members of the public started arriving, they joined me in the foyer.
I remained there until just before the event started at 2.30 so I could sneak in the back, armed with my laptop so I could take notes. The hall itself seated approximately 100 people and was pretty much full, with some having bought tickets on the day.
The event was introduced by writer Nick Perry, who explained that he’d met Katherine as a barmaid over 20 years previous and listed some of the other things she’d been in. Katherine introduced Nick Dunhalf (her husband and BBC Radio 2 Arts & Entertainment Correspondent), Paul Foster (director and actor and involved in S1 of North by Northamptonshire and actress Felicity Montagu who I’d recognised immediately and who Katherine said was a hero of hers and mentioned that she’d been in Alan Partridge and Doctor Martin amongst many other things. Katherine then introduced a short audio clip of the beginning of the first episode of ‘North by Northamptonshire’; predominantly a monologue, female narrated (by the great Sheila Hancock) with occasional intersperses from other villagers (played by McKenzie Crook and Felicity). Nick then started interviewing her:
Q: How did ‘North by Northamptonshire’ come about?
A: She went to drama school, started doing comic characters on the comedy circuit in London then did two solo Edinburgh shows and it spawned from there.
Q: Did you come up with the characters or location here?
A: Katherine thought of the hall as being Wadenhoe village hall (a nearby village) and characters who were isolated from each other (played only by Katherine; mostly women and a young boy) and she finds a link between the characters. She said she creates them then finds a reason for them to be together (hotel, family etc) so her idea was they’d met in the village hall (in classes, groups, performances etc). As a result she was asked to put a proposal together from an executive of BBC Radio 4 who’d been in the audience. She’d had dealings with the BBC before (previously submitted once). It was then a joint effort for them, coming up with something that would work in the radio. It was commissioned 2008 then it took two years to write it, being performed in 2010 (draft 15 – first drafts were for stage sketch show and were completely different). She’d originally written it for late night comedy clubs and was told early on that it was going to be aired at 11.30am which restricted the material she could use and she’d planned for her to play all the parts but Radio 4 staff suggested using famous actors which she was more than happy to go along with.
Q: Was it a difficult process changing it all?
A: Yes, she said, but added she’d see what she could get away with in the early drafts but it had been heavily edited to form the final version.
Q: Nick said that her work had always had dark elements but warmth to it and perhaps middle class.
A: Katherine explained that at the beginning, she was finding her feet and had found Edinburgh quite challenging as really she’s more of a warm writer. Wanted ‘North by Northamptonshire’ to be warm.
Q: How did Wadenbrook become a town rather than village?
A: She said that a village was too restrictive and as the town grew it allowed for different ages, backgrounds etc. Having one location, e.g. a hall, would be incredibly boring. She picked Oundle to ultimately base it on as she knew it so well. She didn’t want to call it Oundle as that would be too weird, she said so picked the name Wadenbrook from a mixture of local villages Wadenhoe & Polebrook). Felicity asked her whether the Co-op is now Tesco (to which Katherine explained that the Co-op still existed and said that Tesco would always be ‘Amps’ (obviously a previous name) to her to which the audience agreed). Katherine said that she’d tried to ‘homogenise’ Oundle as she felt that Northamptonshire (Northants) doesn’t have a stereotypical image whereas Yorkshire, Essex or Cornwall do have stronger identities. She went on to say that Northants is the 24th biggest of 48 counties so definitely average.
Q: Nick said they were about to play a clip with a narrator and said there hadn’t originally been one.
A: Katherine explained that as sketches became scenes a Radio 4 employee suggested it should be narrated like Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, which Katherine found extremely useful as she loves Under Milk Wood and the narrator is the audience’s way into the programme.
Felicity, Paul and Katherine then performed a scene from episode 2 which was hilarious; starting with Mary (played by Katherine) calling in on Jan (Felicity) narrated by Paul. The humour was hilarious with so many play on words (inc Jan asking Mary what her husband Graham did before his heart attack, meaning for living, but Mary replied “well he clutched his chest…”) and that the town was not missed by anyone other than the A1(M) (www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00sp454 lists episode / characters). Knowing that there had been 15 drafts did make me feel better but it was so clever that I could imagine the first draft being very skilled.
Nick then resumed the question and answer session by saying that there is a great variety of character ages, although predominantly more mature.
A: Katherine said that she was very fond of the characters she’d made, which I’m sure we can relate to.
Q: Nick then asked her that, once a narrator was decided upon, whether she’d always planned having a woman?
A: Katherine said that as she started writing, she had, mainly because the main characters are women; Jan and Mary.
Q: She was then whether it would have been odd for a man to talk about their relationship?
A: Again she agreed saying that a woman makes it more realistic, and that a man may have seemed sarcastic.
Q: Nick then asked her how Sheila and the other actors became involved?
A: Sheila was perfect, Katherine said, as her background is very working class, although she has a middle-class accent; she’s an ‘every woman’, and she’d had Sheila’s voice in her head when she was writing her, before she was even approached. While they were recording Sheila was doing Sister Act in the West End and a TV programme so they were very lucky she said “yes”. Felicity added it that it was so surreal that she was there during recording which made me laugh that a famous actress (by sight anyway) could still be in awe of the other (I’m sure it would be reciprocated as Felicity is a great actress).
The conversation then turned to the opportunities available and how difficult was it letting go of characters that you’d played – Felicity said she’d really hoped that question was going to be asked.
A: Having brilliant people to play it, Katherine said she could see their interpretation. She was heavily involved in the notes process which a writer normally isn’t and Felicity said that it had really been useful as Katherine knew the characters so well. The conversation went to how the recording was done; an episode a day so there was no time to make mistakes (and no rehearsals or director!). Katherine’s also been involved in Armstrong & Miller on TV where they have a week per episode and because the timescale was so tight with ‘North by Northamptonshire’ she’d requested that everyone meet beforehand. Mackenzie and Sheila recorded their parts separately and apparently Sheila didn’t like it and wants to be there for the whole recording next time, which is great.
Felicity, Paul, Katherine performed another scene from episode 2, which was hilarious; set in the village hall at a karate lesson lead by Esther (Katherine) calling in on Jan (Felicity) narrated by Nick. Esther’s husband Jonathan was played by Paul.
Q: Afterwards, Nick said that she’s working on series 2 now and asked whether she finds the writing process easier now?
A: She said she found it easier starting from scratch, except now knows the characters well so she knows what they’d do. They have a 2-year-old daughter so it’s difficult finding time but can be productive when she can get chunks of time.
Q: So as a writer you need no distractions, Nick added.
A: She said that it’s great working from home but there are too many distractions. So she went to the library for a week (9-5) and did really well.
Q: Nick then said that Series 1 was recorded with no audience; would she do the same for Series 2?
A: She said there were discussions but it was really useful hearing the feedback today with an audience as we laughed at different places to those she’d expected. Felicity said she prefers to work without an audience (for which she apologised) as there’s less pressure. Paul said that they had talked through the script in a meeting with about 12 people with some feedback. Katherine added that radio is guesswork, quite often without an audience.
Q: Nick then asked that having done other work did she glean advice or experience from colleagues?
A: Katherine said one of the most useful experiences was on Extras with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant; they work really quickly and only weekday daytimes. They were excellent at direction, knowing exactly what was required, and gave the advice that if you’re having trouble, go back to original thought of the character and BIN it! So perhaps the character isn’t how it was originally expected. Paul quoted that the 1970s / 80s (1978–83) TV series ‘Butterflies’ (which I watched and loved) had 24M viewers but Wendy Craig spent most of the time in her kitchen, although apparently the scenes people most remember were the trysts with Leonard.
Felicity and Paul performed a further scene, again from episode 2, where Jan and Jonathan meet in a coffee shop. Katherine played the narrator this time and one of the highlights for me was the rather wimpish Jonathan being a volunteer for the Leicestershire Infertile Male Project (LIMP) and wearing a top with the acronym on it.
As we had heard the beginning and saw three scenes from Series 1, a clip of the end of the final episode was then played, ending with Jan coming home from a holiday (which she’d hoped Jonathan would join her on but he’d chickened out) and saw that life was pretty much the same, she just had photographs from the trip to remind her of it. The narrator, Sheila Hancock, then said that everyone has a dream and compared it with real life which was nice note to end on. There were then questions from the audience:
Q: To what extent did you base your characters on real life?
A: They’re inspired by but not based on. Names are similar to or sections of (Jan Baynard’s name was based on a school friend Emily Baynard).
Q: I asked: You clearly enjoy writing scripts, have you ever been tempted to write prose. I’m more of a prose writer but have dabbled in scripts and found them really hard.
A: Katherine explained that she had an acting background and found dialogue and characters easy rather than description and plot then went on to talk, in quite a lot of detail about script layout etc.
Q: Another member of the audience then asked how much editing is done, and whether there a stereotype for Radio 4?
A: Don’t go for anything wildly different. TV is a minefield; too many people doing it. Felicity thinks that Radio 4 has a strong reputation. Katherine doesn’t listen to much Radio 4 but her experience was that she was being pushed to middle class / middle of the road; Felicity agreed that it did tend to be like that but added that she feels that it’s a terrific channel with a wider demographic. Katherine said that she felt that the show was still hers and wanted it to stick to her idea.
Q: Committee member Paula Prince then requested that the Literature Festival featured in it and then asked when Series 2 was going to be released?
A: Katherine said she’s writing it now and said that whilst Series 1 was just four episodes, Series 2 was likely to be six). Felicity championed her writing and said she would have a long career. Paul joked that the extra two episodes would be dedicated to the lit fest, which raised a laugh.
Katherine then said that if anyone in the audience had ideas for Series 2 to let her know, so me being me, waited in the (rather long) queue to speak to her (most of the others having known her when she was growing up in the village) and I asked if she was serious, which she was, so gave her my card.
On cloud 9, I then headed to the remaining coffee shop (of four in the town) that I’d not frequented during my 5 days but found it didn’t open on a Sunday so headed back to ‘Beans’, where Denny later joined me until it was time to go to the evening event; the ‘Rhymer’s Revenge’ murder mystery evening.
Sunday 20TH March @ 7.30pm: Rhymer’s Revenge
One of my Monday nighters, Denny and I were one of the first to arrive and armed with a picnic (the food mostly thanks to Denny) we had a choice of tables. Like the literature quiz the previous Thursday evening, I was attending as a member of the public so didn’t have a clue what was to be expected. Denny, however, had been the previous year so filled me in on everything other that the plot of the story, which differs each time. This one featured a small group of actors in a village including a Lord and Lady of the manor, unscrupulous vicar, a conservationist, a not-so-rich playboy, a tart with a heart and rivalling sisters. As you would expect, there were several threads going through the short play (written by local author Nick Perry) with the aforementioned sibling rivalry (both dating the vicar), a large disputed building project which had the conservationist and Lord of the manor at loggerheads as well as threatening to disrupt the stability of the village. The evening was split into two, in between which we could ask the actors questions to which they could only answer “yes” or “no” – harder than you might think). It turned out that they didn’t know who had done it until they lined up on stage at the end and opened envelopes and read out from cards.
One team guessed the murderer and motive, although it had been suggested during our discussions (by me and another member of our team) but it wasn’t the winning (although it would have been nice) but the whole atmosphere that made for a very enjoyable evening.
Conclusion of volunteering at the Oundle Literature Festival
As you can probably tell by listening to any of these five episodes, I had a wonderful time and despite being the ‘new girl’, I felt very welcomed and would have no reservations assisting again in whatever capacity they would like and that time affords me.
According to the 2001 census (thank you Google) Oundle had 5,345 residents to Northampton’s 194,458 and despite both being towns, it’s hard to imagine Oundle as anything but a village. As Paula said in our interview (special episode 12 – listed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/bwt-podcast) its residents are incredibly friendly and I can imagine that if I lived there I’d see someone I knew every time I went out, something which Northampton couldn’t possibly guarantee. Whilst I live in one of the older and greener parts of my town, I did feel like I’d stepped back in time when visiting Oundle and am already looking forward to next year’s Festival, in whatever capacity that might be.
So, that’s what happened on day 5 out of 5 – links to the transcriptions of the other days are here.
The tenth episode of my Bailey’s Writing Tips audio podcast was released on 25th October 2010 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website www.morgenbailey.com) so I hope you find this information useful. In the first nine episodes (see earlier blog posts), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels and writing for children. This episode talked about scriptwriting.
Where novels are a mixture of settings, plot and dialogue, scripts are mainly stage directions and dialogue. Many novels have been made into films, e.g. ‘I Robot’ originally a novel by Isaac Asimov, ‘I am Legend’ (by Richard Matheson), ‘Atonement and ‘Enduring Love’ (both by Ian McEwan), ‘Sleeping with the Enemy’ (Nancy Price), ‘Trainspotting’ (by Irvine Welsh) and of course, ‘Harry Potter’. Few novelists write their own screenplays, and film companies may have a scriptwriter in mind when buying film rights…but if you do write scripts then that could be something to negotiate on when you sell!
So, how do you write good dialogue? Firstly, make it realistic. Listen to people around you; in a queue or in non-fiction television programmes (documentaries, news reports, interviews etc.), although you’ll obviously want to remove the “um”s and “ah”s. Also watch programmes in the genre that you writing for. If you’re struggling with dialogue (which is obviously the major part of script writing) there are many books on the market and I’ll mention some of these in a minute. In any fiction, remember the threads of your story and be consistent – if you mention something, however insignificant, it must remain the same when mentioned again (most readers have good memories!). If anything changes it should be because something has happened to make those changes.
The BBC’s website www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom is a must-visit site for anyone writing, or interested in writing, scripts. It’s packed with tips, example scripts and the BBC welcomes submissions of unsolicited manuscripts. Their TV drama tips page says:
Advice given on www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/insight/first_ten_pages.shtml says:
Their ScriptSmart page (www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scriptsmart/index.shtml) has a variety of script templates or take a look at their completed scripts which are listed under the headings of TV drama, TV comedy, Radio drama, Radio comedy, Films and Children’s drama.