Today, in the serie of the Crimelines interviews, I’m talking to a wonderful author,
Tell us how you got involved in the Crimelines project?
Almost by accident…I had contributed a story for the Timelines anthology, ‘Lucky Hits the Skin’, a story set during the Napoleonic Wars. We’d had plenty of notice so I had spent a great deal of time honing and editing it over the course of more than a month. I lived and breathed it, the smell of blood and gunpowder in my nostrils, so to speak. I’d heard that Iris and Livi were planning a follow-up but I didn’t think I’d get a chance to contribute this time, as they like to feature as many first-time authors as possible. So I didn’t give it any thought. Then, when the opportunity arose, I only had a week and a bit to write something, which was daunting but quite liberating at the same time. Although I didn’t want to let Iris and Livi down, if I couldn’t come up with anything in time I’d lost nothing, like a goalkeeper in a penalty shoot-out.
Was it your first time writing a short story to be published?
I work for a toy company so I write stories and comics all the time, but ‘Lucky…’ was my first published piece of fiction as ‘me’, with my name on it. It was, therefore, rather momentous, hence the associated flapping and navel gazing that went into its production. Writing ‘Crimes & Punishment’ was far more relaxed in comparison, although I was worried that I hadn’t flapped enough by the end.
What is it you enjoy most when writing short stories?
If you’re working on a novel manuscript it can consume your life. You train up this creative mind and then, when it presents you with a new separate story idea or concept, the temptation is to push it aside. You just don’t have time or resources to concentrate on it, or develop it adequately. You can also get blinkered. The ‘book’, the magnum opus, becomes everything and being creative for its own sake seems like an indulgence – of course, it isn’t. It’s an essential. Suddenly getting ‘permission’ to write just a few thousand words without having to turn it into a 60,000 word novel, or incorporate them into one, is hugely liberating. You can just start writing and see where it takes you.
What are the main difficulties?
It’s a two-edged sword. 3000 words is such a small palate with which to paint a picture, even in the stripped-down world of writing for children and young adults. It can require a gargantuan editing job and a lot of nerve. You might have a neat, little, economical and well-crafted phrase that says something important. It might be a nice piece of writing, but in a tale of just a few thousand words you might have to kill it, leaving something more fundamental that you like a whole lot less. You have to get it right, there’s no margin of error. Also you need to tell a tale. There’s an argument that a short story doesn’t need to adhere to traditional narrative forms, that it doesn’t need a beginning, middle and end, or any of that stuff. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of that kind of thing, as I believe there’s a human need for some closure. In my opinion, a short story isn’t the first few pages of a novel or a listless description of something. You don’t have to have a happy ending with all the loose ends tied-up, but you need to start in one place, travel somewhere else and then provide a point of some kind, even if it provides more questions than answers…I think. Obviously that’s a gross over-simplification. Give me a month to hone that argument and it might be worth reading. ANYWAY, yep, it’s hard.
Tell us a little bit about what’s ahead of you as a writer.
Right now I’m finishing ‘Skating on Embers’, a novel for young adults set in World War Two. It’s the story of an orphaned Jewish girl at the outbreak of the war who ends up working for a British agent. It’s both a bleak, historically accurate tale of oppression and a ripping spy adventure at the same time. It gets a bit ‘Malory Towers with Nazis’ and then gets darker from there. It’s intended to be the first in a series, which is dangerous as I have a clearer idea what’s going in the next six books than I do of the next six pages. However, I’ve got a hard deadline to work to so one way or another it’s getting finished by October.
Thank you Matt for this great interview, and looking forward to reading ‘Skating on Embers.’