As some of you may know, my eBook publisher, Untreed Reads, celebrated its first birthday earlier this year. Untreed Reads now has published works from over eighty authors. What a tremendous year it has been.
But here is a little history. Untreed Reads started its publication of eBooks with a work by British Author Anne Brooke entitled "How to Eat Fruit". Anne has been kind enough to take some time to field questions from yours truly, The Accidental Author, and give us some insights in to the process she goes through when writing fiction.
Welcome, Anne Brooke!
The Accidental Author: First of all, thanks so much for agreeing to be a part of this interview series, “Inspiration to Publication”. Just recently, I've switched gears and transferred the focus to the writing process itself. In spite of that, I feel compelled to ask you a few questions about your inspirations. I notice that in “The Girl in the Painting” and “A Woman Like The Sea”, art, and specifically paintings, play some part in the story. Do you find yourself inspired by visual art?
Anne Brooke: Yes, I do find art and artists very inspirational, probably because I’m a complete dunce at painting and wouldn’t have the first idea where to start! I suppose I envy the skill and also, on the other hand, get a great deal of pleasure from visiting art galleries. I write a number of poems about art or particular paintings and am fascinated by people like Lucian Freud or Jackson Pollock. Vermeer is wonderful too – I could look at his paintings for hours. One day I’m definitely going to go to art classes – but beginners’ ones for sure …
AA: What other types of things inspire you to write? Music? Movies? Other books? Pure observation? All of the above?
AB: Certainly, other books can suggest ideas, and I’m quite convinced I’d never have started writing fiction at all if I hadn’t read Maria McCann’s As Meat Loves Salt or the works of Patricia Duncker, both of whom can write very lyrically about people who aren’t quite in step with the world around them. The idea of the outsider really attracts me. Sometimes as well, the things people say or talk about can inspire ideas or ways stories could go. Strangely, I also occasionally dream the beginnings of stories and then have to write them down so I can see how they end – I wish I could turn that ability on at will, but I can’t!
AA: You seem to have a proclivity for writing short fiction (as do I). Let's turn our attention to the process of writing now. When you set out to write a short story, do you tend to “shotgun” and just start writing, or do you spend some time on more “mechanistic writing” techniques (outlining, character bios, etc)?
AB: I’m definitely a “shotgun” fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of writer. I get a beginning line(s), a situation or person and then I run with it and see where it takes me. With short stories, I don’t do outlines or character bios, though I do use character bios for my novels (but even there I don’t start them till I’m about a third of the way through a book, when I’m beginning to get to know the characters more fully). I suppose I work on gut instinct rather than logic. I often don’t even know what the ending will be until I get there, though sometimes I do have a vague idea what it might consist of once I start writing. It’s a weird approach, but it seems to have worked so far so I hope I can stick with it!
AA: In “A WomanLike The Sea”, you paint a very three-dimensional character in Veronica in very few words. How do you approach developing a character in a minimal number of words when you write a short story?
AB: I suppose at heart I’m a fairly minimalist writer in the sense I want to say something once and then not have to repeat it. With that situation in mind, I try to show a character in as intense a way as possible, often by what they say, how they react or what they do, or even any unusual characteristics they might have. It has a lot more impact if you show the reader someone directly rather than trying to explain it to them – that way the reader can develop a relationship with the character without the writer getting in the way. If you see what I mean! I suppose the old adage of “show, don’t tell” comes into its own here.
AA: Do you follow a concrete or recurrent schedule for writing, or do you tend to write when time (and the muse) allows?
AB: I tend to work on short stories in the evenings at the start of the week, where I can, as I work at my non-writing job on Mondays to Wednesdays. On Thursdays and Fridays, I like to get down about 2000 words of my current novel, and then over the weekend, I’ll either do more short story writing or another 1000 words of my novel, depending on what mood I’m in and what I feel I might have neglected most. I think the trick for me is to just sit down and type. If I wait to be inspired, I’d probably be waiting forever! Inspiration for me comes in the physical act of typing.
AA: How organic are your stories? In other words, when you set out with a specific story arc in mind, does the story have a tendency to stay faithful to the original story, or do you allow it to evolve on its own?
AB: I’m happy to let the character and the story evolve – it’s much more fun to write that way for me when I’m not quite sure what will happen or who a character is until he/she shows me. If I had it all in my mind before I set out on the journey, I don’t think I’d bother with it. On the other hand, if I’m writing to a set theme or topic or for a particular submission, I will keep to that, but within the guidelines, I’m usually fairly free.
AA: When you sit down to write, what items are absolutely necessary to have in your writing space (other than a computer)?
AB: Bottle of still water and my water glass. My once-a day BIG mug of coffee (mmmm). My dictionary (couldn’t be without it). My handbag (ditto). Post-it notes (small & medium sized). A biro. My clock. My plant (poinsettia at the moment, but that might change soon as I don’t think it’s very happy …). Plus the internet – I can’t write well if it’s not there in the background. I tend to write a paragraph or two, surf for a few minutes while my writing brain thinks, then go back to writing, then surf, etc etc.
AA: Do you need silence or music while you write?
AB: Definitely silence! I can’t write with music on at all. Though the birds are always lovely to listen to in summer with the window open.
AA: Are you a “revise on the fly” kind of person, or do you have to have a complete working draft before you start revising?
AB: I do both. I revise as I go along, and then at the end I do a massive “whole picture” revision. I do like that final stage, when the story is really coming together and finding its own flow. I enjoy the feeling of having something definite to play around with and improve on – and I think I actually enjoy that more than the creation stage. Sometimes anyway …
AA: Your writing style (in my estimation) is very classical in the sense that it isn't full of gimmicks or post-modern prose techniques. Do you prefer reading more traditional literature? What are you reading right now?
AB: I would agree that I’m a reader who appreciates a traditional approach, though I’m not averse to the odd post-modern book. But I couldn’t write them myself. I imagine it’s a result of having two degrees in English literature – one BA in English, and one MA in Medieval English with Latin. I’m probably marked for life now! Currently I’m reading The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard (a novel about a daughter’s search into her dead mother’s past); Princess Nest of Wales, Seductress of the English by Kari Maund (non-fiction about a Medieval Welsh princess and her climb to power); Supreme Being by Martha Kapos (modern poetry); and What is the Point of Being a Christian? by Timothy Radcliffe (spiritual reading). I always like having a novel, non-fiction, poetry and a Christian book on the go at the same time, as I feel that gives me a full reading experience!
AA: What are you working on right now?
AB: Right now, I’m working on finishing the third book of my fantasy trilogy, which is called The Executioner’s Cane. The first book, The Gifting, is due to be published by Bluewood Publishing later in 2011. I’m also working on an m/m erotic story, For One Night Only, and an erotic fantasy novella, The Taming of the Hawk, for Amber Allure Press. In addition, I’m trying to schedule in another literary story for Untreed Reads, but I’m not quite sure what my theme is for that yet – I’m still thinking about how to start!
AA: Finally, since I understand that your story, “How to Eat Fruit” was the first official publication from Untreed Reads just over one year ago, are you taken aback at the massive growth of Untreed Reads over the last year?
AB: I think it’s been astonishing and I am simply so amazed and impressed by how far Jay Hartman and his team have taken Untreed Reads in little more than a year. The man must never rest! He’s doing a really wonderful job and it’s fantastic to be published alongside so many great authors. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what the second year for Untreed Reads will bring – whatever happens it will certainly be exciting.
AA: Finally, if you had any piece of advice for the author that is trying to make the transition from “writing for fun” to “writing for fun and profit (such as it is)”, what piece of advice would you bestow upon them?
AB: Commit to getting better at the craft you do. I’d encourage people to join writing groups, either locally or online, and to go to any writers’ conferences or workshops they can get to. It’s amazing how much you learn about writing and how much you improve from making this kind of regular commitment to it. Also, don’t worry about what anyone else is doing – concentrate on finding and developing your own voice, and writing in the best way for you. Be flexible though – as I’ve found that my writing style and approach does subtly alter from book to book. Finally don’t be afraid to submit work that’s the best you can make it to a place that suits it – rejections will almost certainly come, but be prepared to learn from those, and move on to the next possible home for your work. Someone out there will one day say “yes” to you, and that’s the best feeling ever. Good luck to all and may the muse be with you!
Anne Brooke’s fiction has been shortlisted for the Harry Bowling Novel Award, the Royal Literary Fund Awards and the Asham Award for Women Writers. She has also twice been the winner of the DSJT Charitable Trust Open Poetry Competition. She is the author of six published novels, her latest being A Dangerous Man, a thriller about art, love and murder. This year, the first of her fantasy trilogy, The Gifting, will be published by Bluewood Publishing and, in addition, her short stories are regularly published by Amber Allure Press and Untreed Reads. She has a secret passion for theatre and chocolate, preferably at the same time. More information can be found at www.annebrooke.com.