Tell us about your writing life.
Firstly, as a child, I wrote lots of little adventures starring myself, where I essentially became James Bond or Superman or Indiana Jones and then defeated loads of baddies. Each story was, of course, decorated with my own felt-tipped illustrations. I’m not sure what happened to them but I remember them being very awesome.
Secondly, between the ages of twelve and fifteen, I rediscovered writing and wrote over a dozen short stories for a local free newspaper called the Wot’s Wot? which was distributed around West Bridgford in Nottingham. These stories are a little cringe-worthy and have titles like Cappuccino from Another Planet and The Invasion of the Bubble-Gum Monsters. But I feel I did pretty well considering the brutally tight word limit.
I then stopped writing because GCSEs started taking up so much of my time. A-Levels came next. Then University. Then jobs. Suddenly, ten years had passed with no original writing (apart from essays and film reviews) under my belt.
Thankfully, I discovered the Birmingham Writers’ Group in 2011 and my dry spell was broken. This is the third part of my writing life and seems to be going well. I owe the BWG my thanks for helping me rediscover my flair for writing.
Since joining the Birmingham Writers’ Group in 2011, I have written over a dozen short stories and rhyming poems. I am still trying to work out my strengths as a writer so the stories vary widely in both genre and target audience.
I will continue to write shorts stories, try my hand at different styles and work out what I enjoy. Naturally, I will aim to get some of these stories published or shortlisted for competitions. But the main priority is conditioning myself as a writer and building that creative muscle.
Ultimately, like all writers, I hope to write a novel but you cannot run a marathon without months of training and, right now, I am still in Fun Run territory.
Do you write for yourself or for an audience?
I write for myself. As such, my stories contain the sorts of things that I look for in a story: clarity, escapism, playful dialogue, colourful characters and a good twist. I actually love re-reading my stories.
Trying to write for a certain audience can often fail, especially if your tastes differ from that audience. At least if you are happy with what you write then you’ll be guaranteed a minimum of one satisfied reader, even if it is yourself.
I always try to be kind to the reader. I want them to settle into the story quickly and have a clear idea of setting, characters and plot without having to work too hard. As a reader myself, I hate having to negotiate reams of poetic language before deciphering exactly what is going on. It just gets in the way of a good story. So, like Philip Pullman, I try to be simple and clear with my words.
I also try and be practical with my story-telling. Stories need planning. You have to be organised. I won’t even begin a story until I know exactly how it will end. The ending is the most important part of a story – it can leave the reader wholly satisfied or fuming with disappointment – so you have to get it right.
Also, you cannot improvise a twist at the last second. Twists have to be foreshadowed carefully throughout with lots of little clues otherwise it comes off as cheating. And because I love surprising my readers with a twist, I have to meticulously plan before I get all fancy with the language.
I believe that writers who make it up as they go along will probably lose interest in their story long before the end. Others, rather than abandon their story completely, will wrap things up abruptly but that will usually result in a flat resolution.
What first drew you to the Ten To One project?
I participated in Full Fathom Five, the collaborative novella which acted as a pilot for Ten To One, so I was always keen to progress to the full-length novel. The biggest draw was the involvement of Iain Grant. You need an organised and competent director for this type of project, especially one who is good with spreadsheets, and Iain is the tried and tested man for the job. He has a tendency to Make Things Happen and I have every confidence that Ten To One will be a success with Iain at the helm.
You need a director. Someone has to bring the writers and their characters together into some form of structure, thereby guiding the story. Iain Grant directed both of my previous two collaborative experiences and I am pleased he is directing Ten To One. Controlling the egos and creative whims of ten very different writers must be like herding cats. But Iain’s hyper-organisation and firm deadlines keep the project moving.
You also need an editor. Someone has to step back from the finished project and tighten up continuity in both the plot and style. Some instalments may need re-ordering or inter-splicing to improve the pacing of the action. There may even be grammatical errors. I edited Full Fathom Five and it was a painstaking process – not least because I had to convert five individual first person narratives into one seamless but still character-tailored third person narrative. But it needed doing and helped turned a five-way experiment into a consistent but diverse story.
One of the advantages of collaborative writing something like Ten To One is that each writer only has to write the equivalent of a few short stories. Also, you write little and often. Due to the frequent intermingling of the characters, each writer will only write a page or two before handing over the reins of the story to another writer. This means your writing quota is very manageable and can be completed alongside studying or full-time work without taking over your life.
The other great advantage to collaborative writing is the camaraderie. After all, writing a novel is a daunting prospect. Many writers have incomplete novels stashed away on their hard-drives. Some, like me, haven’t even managed the first page. But we all want to put our names to a novel. So why not work together? Collaboration keeps us motivated because no-one wants to let the other contributors down. It also keeps us inspired because there are new pieces of great writing popping up in Dropbox every day.
For those who haven’t read along so far, could you describe the plot of Ten To One?
In the seaside town of Skegness lives an old Romanian man called Mr Popescu. Everybody knows the name but few know the man. Even fewer know his past which he has tried to leave behind in the Romanian woods. But some of that past has followed him to Skegness. Now, Popescu’s acquaintances – the clown and the cultist, the painter and the paramedic, the gangster and the girl – find themselves dragged into a world of violence, crime and secrets.
And your character, Mungo Joey, has made it into the final three. Why? Is it about simply have a good Facebook following?
A good Facebook following certainly helps. After all, the public kept John Sargent and Anne Widdecombe in Strictly Come Dancing for a very long time. Any writer could survive until the final three provided they always come first in the public Facebook vote.
However, I hope the judges like Mungo too. I think clowns are fascinating and they offer a multitude of imagery for any writer: the costume, the circus, the tricks, the troupe and all the darkness that lies underneath the make-up. Whether you love them or fear them, clowns are guaranteed to prompt a strong emotional response from the reader.
I try and offer the reader a fresh adventure with each chapter. My Mungo chapters are essentially a collection of standalone short stories. One month Mungo might save a little girl, the next month he may visit the Underworld. I also attempt to inject humour into my writing too, which always appeals to me as a reader, plus plenty of literary references and a wide vocabulary to reward repeat readings.
How much of your protagonist is a reflection of you?
Mungo Joey? Good question. At first glance, not much. Mungo is an ageing, unemployed, inactive clown and I am a 27 year-old office worker who does a lot of running.
But I share a little of his world-weariness and have an equally cynical view of the great British public. I certainly share his love of junk food, although I have a little more restraint.
I enjoy reading about lovable, well-meaning underdogs who become unlikely heroes. There are many examples of this in popular literature. Some of my favourites are Lee Scoresby in His Dark Materials, Jon Snow and Tyrion in A Game of Thrones, Merry and Pippin in Lord of the Rings, Sam Vimes in Discworld and Eddie Dean in The Dark Tower.
Would you like to collaborate with any of the Ten To One authors again?
I would love to collaborate with Jason. I found his chapters very entertaining, from Bobby’s first conversation with Marcus, right through to his unexpected angel flashbacks. Perhaps there is a parallel world where the clown and the criminal join forces? Or maybe Mungo’s great-great-ancestor existed in the world of angels which Jason described? Maybe all of the characters existed in that world? That would certainly make an interesting spin-off prequel.
So, will Mungo have a life outside the Ten To One novel?
I wrote a short story called The Queen of Hearts about Ringmaster Romero when he was much younger. It was a sort-of prequel. However, I have not yet written about Mungo in any other context than Ten To One and it is unlikely that I will. I have been fortunate to stay in the competition until the final three and consequently I have been allowed to tell most of Mungo’s story.
Then again, as Mungo would say, the show must go on and the story doesn’t end when the book is closed. There is always more to tell.
Can people connect to you through social media?
I am on everything: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Foursquare, Thumb, Tumblr, Flickr, Audioboo, WhatsApp and Skype. I am looking into Pheed and still waiting for Android to embrace Vine. I am not retro enough for MySpace.
But the big two are below.
This blog originally published at www.mrclovenhoof.blogspot.com in January 2014
Extra special bonus!
Watch a video of Simon reading an extract from the finished novel, Circ…