I made Christopher’s online acquaintance in an unusual way. He was a contest judge at Thinkerbeat where I submitted a story. It was accepted, so that part’s a happy ending, but the real thing that made this experience unique was the quality feedback he gave me. It turns out that judges see a surprising number of phrases and story elements as clichés (for more info, read my cliché post). As a gesture of thanks, I invited him to interview here. I was delighted when he accepted.
So, Christopher, you write many comic stories. What was the funniest mistake you’ve made as a writer?
When I first started out in writing I made lots of rookie mistakes – overusing adverbs was my main crime. But the funniest one was submitting a newspaper article with the phrase ‘pubic education’ in it to a newspaper editor. Should have been ‘public’… After that, I learnt to thoroughly proofread my work
I once read an ad for a grandfather clock that left out the L. That was a momentary shock. 🙂 Have you done any projects that took you way out of your comfort zone?
One of the characters in my first book was a paedophile. Writing about him was very uncomfortable and alien to me. At one point I considered dropping the character.
I’m glad I didn’t though. Keeping him in the story added to the tension and made the conflict more compelling. I also learnt how to write about sensitive or disturbing subject matters in a way that develops a story and doesn’t cause offence to the reader. I believe that working outside of your comfort zone can really help you develop as a writer.
Who’s your favorite character you’ve written so far and why?
I have two favourites:
- Doris, who is a nurse with a wicked sense of humour
- Colin, who is a demon with a dry wit
Both these characters are great fun to write as their sense of humour adds depth to the stories they appear in. Writing humorous stories can be challenging, but when you have characters that have an interesting outlook on life (and death), the humour can sit naturally within the story, making it more enjoyable to read.
What’s been the most memorable piece of research that you’ve turned up?
I once wrote a piece on Isambard Kingdom Brunel (a famous Bristolian engineer) for a local newspaper.
His most remarkable construction is the Box Tunnel near Bath in the UK. The tunnel is nearly two miles long, took five years to build, cost £6,500,000 and claimed the lives of 100 men. When the crews funnelling from each end eventually met in the middle, they were found to be only 1-¼ inches out of alignment.
The tunnel is also surrounded by myth and legend. It is said that on 9th April, Brunel’s birthday, the rising sun shines straight through it. This is something he is rumoured to have planned deliberately. Brunel undoubtedly had the skill to design the tunnel in such a way, but there are conflicting arguments about the truth of this story.
What’s the craziest story idea you’ve ever had? And did you write it?
It was a zombie apocalypse story that turns out to be a tomato ketchup advert. I did write it. It was published by World City Stories. You can read it here:
What about your upcoming work?
InkTears are publishing 5 of my short stories alongside stories from another 4 writers in their Showcase. The release has been delayed a few times now, but is due later this year. I really hope it happens, as the book will be published in hardback, which will be a first for me.
I certainly would love to see my books in hardback. What project are you looking forward to next?
Further development of the free writing resources on my website: http://www.christopherfielden.com/
I have loads planned and I think it will attract more visitors and help more writers become published authors. That’s the aim, anyway.
Who are your writing heroes and why?
In alphabetical order, David Gemmell, Douglas Adams, Robert E. Howard, Stephen King, Terry Pratchett and Ursula Le Guin.
All of these writers possess/possessed the most amazing imaginations. It’s easy to get lost in the brilliance of their stories.
All of those are indeed great writers. Do you have any basic writing philosophy or tips?
Way too many to list. 🙂 The best bet is to check out my book, How to Write a Short Story, Get Published & Make Money – http://www.christopherfielden.com/books/how-to-write-a-short-story.php. It’s crammed with tips and uses my published short stories as case studies so writers can clearly see how the advice and tips were used in practice to achieve publishing success.
How do you develop your characters?
I don’t have a set way of developing characters. I often spend a lot of time thinking about them before writing them. That way they are easier to write in a believable way. But they usually develop fully as I write about them.
Where do you come up with ideas for new characters or stories?
Anywhere. Literally. Everything I see and do can inspire a story, a character, a plot, a situation etc.
How do you come up with character names?
I don’t really know. They just happen. I find that as I write a story and a character develops, I will often go back and change their name once I ‘know’ them.
I also pick names that are very different in stories so the reader finds it easy to identify the different characters. You won’t find any of my stories containing similar names, like Ben, Ken and Jen for example. That just confuses the reader.
How do you decide where to set a story?
Most of the stories I write are fantasy. I have a map of the lands they are all set in, so I use that to decide on locations.
I also set my stories in the real world. When I do this, I tend to write about places I’m familiar with. I find it easier to describe and invoke a sense of feeling about a place when it is somewhere I’ve seen/witnessed first hand.
How much do you structure your stories before you write them?
The only thing I try and plan is the end. When I write with an end in mind, I find my stories develop well and get published. Sometimes, if I write with no idea where the story is going, it turns into an unsalvageable mess. I don’t like excessive plotting, but knowing how the story ends definitely helps.
I do something quite similar. Do you use a particular story structure, or do you pick and choose?
No. I allow a story to develop naturally as I write it. I often edit many times once a story is complete, to make sure the structure is good. But I don’t plan ahead.
Do you find it more difficult to write your first draft or to revise?
I find the first draft the hardest. Completing it requires discipline and determination.
Once I have a first draft, it’s very easy to go back and edit to make the story better.
Do you have any revision tips to share?
Cut out anything that is unnecessary. I often cut a story down by up to 25% when revising and editing.
Delete or reword clichés – they spoil the originality of an author’s voice.
Read dialogue out loud to yourself. This allows you to see if what you’ve written sounds natural when spoken. If it doesn’t, rewrite it.
Excellent tips–I’m still working on the second, but hopefully, that will make my work more publishable. What has been the hardest thing about publishing for you?
Discipline – I work to a plan now. If one of my stories is rejected, I submit it elsewhere immediately. If I receive any feedback or criticism I will revise the story first, but I always know where I’m submitting next in case a story is rejected.
Using this method has meant that around 80% of the short stories I’ve written have been published.
Any advice for aspiring authors?
Never give up. Listen to criticism, learn, edit, constantly improve your writing and keep on submitting. At least 50% of your time should be concentrated on marketing. I currently use around 80% of my time on marketing as I’m trying to earn a living from writing – I have to as I need to earn money. Getting that balance right is often difficult.
What’s the best part about being a writer?
For me, it’s using my imagination and coming up with original ideas, characters and stories. I find it very rewarding.
There’s nothing quite like it, is there? It’s like having extremely limited godlike powers–until you hit a roadblock. What do you do when you get stuck writing your story?
I work on something else and come back to it a few days or weeks later. A bit of distance can make it a lot easier to see what’s wrong with a story and what you need to change to make it better.
Do you write with a word count goal? If so, what is it?
No, not unless I’m writing for a specific competition.
The only time a struggle with this is when writing for flash fiction or micro fiction contests. Most of my short stories tend to end up around the 2,500 to 5,000 word mark. So writing very short fiction can be challenging for me.
How did you decide on your genre?
I love writing fantasy, so most of my stories end up being fantastical in some respect. However, I do write other genres on occasion. It depends on the idea I have and the characters that are bubbling in my head. I usually decide on the genre based on that – it happens naturally.
Do you have a favorite line or two that you’d like to share?
I can share a whole story with you if you like. This is a story I wrote recently for Mike’s Not-Entirely-Serious Wantonly-Rule-Breaking Adverb Writing Challenge. The idea is to use as many adverbs as possible, so it’s just a bit of fun really.
David the Relentlessly Greedy, Spectacularly Exploding Zombie
by Chris Fielden
Disgustingly devoid of decency, David deliriously drooled.
“Brains,” he burbled, excitedly.
Greedily, he ate, devouring the deliciously warm grey-matter zealously.
Samantha; beautifully buxom. Formerly his wife. Lately, a meal.
“Lovely brains; gorgeously gooey, gratifyingly grey,” said David, eloquently.
Abstemiously eating? Absolutely not. Zombies ate gutturally, chewing sporadically, devouring illiberally.
David was rapaciously greedy, fantastically hungry, becoming enormously fat.
His stomach gurgled eerily, churning wildly, crammed with brains, overly full. Yet still he gluttonously gorged.
He looked up suddenly.
He said, “Bugger,” solemnly.
He exploded spectacularly.
The council cleaned up the mess gallantly, immaculately disinfecting 10 Downing Street.
If you could instantaneously master one writing skill, what would you choose and why?
The ability to sell enough books to make a living. I can imagine some people saying, ‘That’s not a writing skill,’ but I think it’s one of the most important skills a writer needs to learn. If you don’t make money from your writing, you’re can’t be a writer for your profession.
I think that’s the one skill we all need to acquire, whether we like it or not. What author’s style do you admire the most?
Terry Pratchett’s I think. He manages to make fantastical stories and the Discworld believable by using strong characters that everyone can relate to. He does this brilliantly.
What is the single most important quality in a novel–what must an author do to win you over?
I think it’s strength of character – you really have to care about the main protagonist and want them to win.
What is the most memorable writing comment you’ve ever gotten? It can be the best, or worst; you decide.
This is from Anthony Howcroft at InkTears:
There is a comic book-esque quality to these stories which is appealing… Many of them are themed or appear to exist in a universe in which demons and entities like Death play a strong role in human fate. There is a tongue-in-cheek humour throughout the collection, which sometimes works extremely well. You may hate me for saying so, but it reminded me strongly of Terry Pratchett.
Needless to say, I didn’t hate Anthony for comparing me to Terry Pratchett – I took it as an honour.
What is the next big thing you want to write about?
The story I’m currently working on takes place after Death, in a realm beyond life. Due to the premise, the story is challenging to write, but I’m having great fun with it.
Name one thing that always makes you excited to write.
The most exciting thing for me is a new character – when I get the idea for one, it makes me want to sit down and write.
I feel the same way about characters. If they aren’t alive in my head first, the story doesn’t flow. So, if your writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do with your success?
I’d probably start a writing retreat somewhere, running courses, talks, reading events and things like that. I enjoy meeting likeminded people with a genuine interest in writing, and that would allow me to do it all the time.
Do you have a favorite quote you’d like to share?
Yes. Terry Pratchett on exclamation marks:
Use exclamation marks sparingly. It’s like wearing underpants on your head.
Needless to say, I don’t use them at all in my stories.
What is the best part about being an indie author for you?
The freedom to do whatever you want. I can write and publish and sell anything. I think the internet has changed the publishing industry dramatically, and is likely to keep on doing so. It’s also meant that there are hundreds of opportunities for short story writers now, which is great, because I love writing short tales.
Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
I play drums in three different rock bands, one of which is an AC/DC tribute. And I ride motorbikes.
How did your blog start?
My blog started as somewhere to publish my short stories. Once I realised that no one was reading them, I developed a lot of useful content for writers, to attract an audience. Now my stories are read a lot.
I could bang on about websites and marketing for ever (I used to be Operations Director at a digital agency) but will stop myself now before I find myself an encyclopaedia as an answer…
How do you decide on a title for your book?
Carefully, over a long period of time. I find that titles for books and short stories change repeatedly during the writing process. Eventually, something fitting and compelling develops, and then I have a good title.
What do you do for cover art? Do you do it yourself, hire an artist, or purchase pre-made?
I hire artists. I think a good cover is essential to sell books, so investing in the skills of an expert is a must. An amazing design catches the eye and means people are more likely to look at your book and buy it, both in a shop or online.
Best book to movie?
I could write a massive list in answer to this question… I think Silence of the Lambs. The film stayed true to the book, almost scene by scene. I guess that proves that the book was very well written.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
A friend of mine had a bad motorcycle accident when I was in my early twenties. When visiting him in hospital, he wasn’t always awake, so I used to write silly stories in his diary for him to read when he woke up. I’ve written stories on and off since I was a child, but that’s when I first got a real taste for it and started writing more often.
Tell us something that will surprise us.
I once starred as a spaceman in a pole dancing show. No, I am not going to supply a link to the video…
Pity–it might have been fun. 🙂 Thanks for the interview–I really enjoyed it.
A really great interview.
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You ask such spot on questions and Christopher answered so well, with lots of compelling insight and useful information. Really enjoyed this one.
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Enjoyed that interview so much! 🙂 It has been fun getting to know you, Christopher.
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Thanks for your kind comments, everyone, and to you Christopher, for sharing with us here. 🙂
Cathleen, thanks for the informative and entertaining write-up of the interview. It’s always a pleasure to see how other writers operate even though how they do may be completely different from how I do–the plan or not to plan controversy, for example. (I plan but leave plenty of room for improvisation and inspiration.)
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Loved this interview! 🙂