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Alex Perry (‘son of Cecilia’) has just published his first novel, ‘The War of Undoing’*. Although this is a massive fantasy novel and completely different from anything of mine and so in some ways it doesn’t fit into my blog very well, I thought I would write something about what it’s like to have two writers living in the same house, and that led me to the idea of interviewing him properly.

King Neptune

King Neptune

Personally I feel very lucky to have someone else in my family who also writes novels. This is not entirely because I’m hoping at some point Alex will publish an international bestseller and keep me in luxury in my old age, or because we can talk about grammar and character development without boring each other’s socks off. It’s mainly because he doesn’t give me the look that sometimes passes over people’s faces when I tell them I write novels. The look is a sort of mingled incomprehension and panic. I think the panic is in case I try and get them to read something I’ve written and they have to confess they didn’t like it. Not everyone has that look, I hasten to add – one of my friends ‘secretly’ reads all my novels and suddenly said to me only the other day ‘If you keep writing them, I’ll keep reading them’.

Anyway, on with the questions and answers. There is a little treat – or at least, I hope it’s a treat – at the end, so keep reading if you’ve got this far.

Cecilia Peartree: What made you want to be a writer?

Alex Perry:  I can’t remember, but I know what makes me want to keep being a writer: it’s an escape from all the worry and uncertainty of real life. When my brain is boiling, writing cools it down. I also like the idea of connecting with strangers who share some unspoken sensibility with me. Plus I don’t have many practical or social skills, so at this point writing may be my best hope at a career!

 CP: When did you start writing?

AP: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I don’t know what the first thing I wrote was, but I think my first full book was The Thinking Tunnel, a shameless rip-off of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series, which I loved. Then I wrote The Red Water World Mystery, a meandering fantasy starring a boy called Alex, then Super Bubble Mix, an even more meandering Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy rip-off. After that — when I was about eleven or twelve, I think — I started writing a bunch of beginnings for epic fantasy novels, one of which eventually mutated and grew into The War of Undoing.

CPHave you always wanted to write fantasy?

AP: Yes. For one thing, many of my favourite books are fantasy: The Hobbit, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, Discworld. Almost everything I’ve ever written has some element of fantasy in it. I like it because it allows us both to escape from the real world and to confront it. Somehow these two are not mutually exclusive in fantasy. That’s part of its magic.

CP: Did you ever consider separating ‘The War of Undoing’, which is a very long novel, into more than one book?

AP: I did when I started seriously thinking about publishing it. All the advice I read told me that debut novels should be less than half the length that The War of Undoing was. But by then I’d already written a draft, and there was no good place to split it — the story only seemed to work when told in one piece. So my rebellious streak kicked in, and I decided to ignore the ubiquitous advice. I’m wary of writing advice anyway — I don’t like strangers assuming they know all the problems with what I’ve written without having read it. I suppose I’ll find out for myself if publishing such a long book was a mistake.

 CP: Do you write from an outline or make it up as you go along?

AP: A bit of both. The basic plot for The War of Undoing was born one day when I had the idea for the big thing that happens at the end of part three (I won’t spoil it here). Suddenly a bunch of other elements I’d been playing with for ages fell into place around that, and before I knew it I had a four-page outline. The first draft more or less followed this outline, though I got to know the characters a lot better along the way. Then, at every stage of rewriting, the story changed a little more. Mostly I just wove more story threads in between the ones I already had, until the book felt nicely dense with character and theme.

CP: How much time do you spend every day writing?

AP: That varies wildly. I used to only write when the mood took me, which is why the first draft of The War of Undoing took years. But after university, when I decided to treat writing as a career, I came up with a routine which involved writing for six hours a day (I now split this into three blocks of two hours each). That’s how I got TWOU from an early, messy draft to a finished, slightly less messy novel. But I still have trouble staying productive — I tend to have two or three week bursts where I follow my six hour routine, punctuated by weeks of trying to find the motivation to get back into it.

 CP: What do you do to relax?

AP: I’d say reading, but nowadays there’s always that jealous voice in the back of my head telling me I’ll never write anything as good as this, or, less frequently, that bitter voice telling me I could write something better. So reading isn’t exactly relaxing, although I still love it. I enjoy working on smaller projects like podcasts, songs, silly short videos and so on, but these inevitably become stressful in their own way. The only way I can really relax is to completely tune out of reality for a while — for the past few years I’ve mostly been doing this by watching Let’s Play videos and other nonsense on YouTube, and listening to podcasts about subjects I’m not too personally involved in. I know this is a waste of time, but there’s something incredibly soothing about it, especially once you get to know the voices.

 CP: Is there somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit? Or to live?

AP: In theory I’d like to visit pretty much every country in the world and experience all their cultures — Italy, New Zealand, India and the US spring to mind — but in practice I’m not a great traveller. I tend to get anxious, stressed, travel-sick, sleep-deprived, or, more often than not, all of the above. It is an ambition of mine to get over all this some day and go on a round-the-world trip. But for now I’d probably be happiest living somewhere peaceful and secluded — maybe a cottage in the Scottish highlands.

CP: Do you prefer cats or dogs? Or don’t you like either?

AP: I like both. Dogs want to be everyone’s best friend, which is a nice quality, but a little exhausting after a while. As an introvert I can relate to cats more.

CP: What’s it like when two writers live in the same house?

AP: It’s great! I would feel quite isolated if I didn’t have someone to talk to about the writing process, rogue characters and fiddly grammatical matters. It’s even better that the other writer in this house has already been through the self-publishing process many times and can encourage and advise me about it. And in this case she also pays the bills, so I can’t really complain…

 Now for the treat….

Way before all this Kindle nonsense came along, Alex and I used to write scripts together for a children’s drama group – writing collaboratively was a good but different experience, and writing to a deadline could be a nightmare at times,because we didn’t put a line in the script unless we had both approved it. We re-wrote some of the traditional pantomimes such as ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Snow White’, and Alex also acted in them. At some point we recorded a few of the songs with my older son, and I have set up a short video based on these, with photographs that may or may not be relevant. For instance, as far as I know this is the only place on the internet where you can see me dressed up as a pirate and hear me singing! Or at least I sincerely hope it is. Fortunately Alex is the lead singer in this selection. If you want to have a look / listen you will find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hLYjJorG_s

(Please note that the third song seems to have been recorded with the volume a bit lower than the other two)

*The War of Undoing by Alex Perry is available here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/War-Undoing-Alex-Perry-ebook/dp/B00VTGOKUK

or here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/534042

Find out more about Alex here: http://www.alexperrywriter.co.uk

I’m now happy to report to those who are waiting for ‘Pitkirtly IX’ (no definite title yet) that I’ve now got about 25,000 words of it written, and the story is well under way. As usual it isn’t going exactly as I thought it would, but I like to think that’s how I deliver the twists and surprises every mystery should have. It isn’t long ago that someone said to me at a live event ‘I suppose you have to have everything well planned when you write a murder mystery’ and then reeled back in horror when I confessed that actually in some cases I didn’t know who the villain was until the second last chapter. In ‘Pitkirtly IX’ it took me a few chapters to work out who the victim would be, never mind the killer!

new covers (1024x909)

Because part of my brain likes to make things difficult for the other part, I always have an irresistible urge to work on something else at the same time as writing, and on this occasion I’ve chosen to re-do all the Pitkirtly covers. So far I’ve finished 3 of them, of which I’ve managed to get round to making the first one, for ‘Crime in the Community’, live. There is something odd about re-doing a cover you once vowed never to change, after it was featured on a ‘lousy book covers’ website. Maybe it’s a sign I’ve grown up at last. Or something. I plan to change them all to this style. People who already have the ebooks will perhaps recognise the photographs, which I have kept the same. Many of them are from my late brother’s collection of photographs, mostly of places in Scotland, and in fact the cover for ‘Reunited in Death’ features the churchyard at Lintrathen where one set of our great-great-grandparents are buried.
Another little project I have just embarked on, in case I didn’t have enough to do, is to try and make paperback versions of the series available on Amazon. This is one of those things I was hoping to have time for once I cut down the hours I work in my day job, and I’m very pleased to say I am now finding I can fit more writing-related tasks into the week, and I’m also happy that they are a lot more fun than managing a database.

This is my contribution to the Work in Progress Blog Tour. You can follow the links to and from my post to find out about what various writers are doing at the moment.

Thanks to David Wailing, author of the ‘Auto’series – an often very scary glimpse of what we might be in for if social media and other technology carries on developing the way it’s going – for nominating me to carry on the tour. Here’s a link to his own post about ‘Auto 2’: http://www.davidwailing.com/2015/02/work-in-progress-blog-tour/

 

These are the rules for participants:

  1. Link back to the post of the person who nominated you.
    2. Write a little about and give the first sentence of the first three chapters of your current work in progress.
    3. Nominate some other writers to do the same.

 

I see David has joked in his post about how much I write, so I don’t think it will come as a surprise when I reveal that I have multiple works in progress just now. In fact this isn’t always the case, because it can be much harder to write more than one thing at the same time. But it has happened this year that for some weeks I couldn’t face even looking at the novel I wrote in November for National Novel Writing Month, so I planned the third novella in my Edwardian series in the mean-time, and then I managed to write the first draft of the novella while the NaNoWriMo novel was away for printing (a proof-reading copy) after some essential edits and the addition of around 12,000 words. It has also happened that I’ve decided, for reasons that are fairly mysterious even to me, that I should probably make a start on the ninth novel in my mystery series in March, so I’ve been mulling over scenarios, titles and plot ideas for that as well as almost making myself late for a meeting by taking a few preliminary notes.

 

Anyway, because the novella is the freshest in my mind as well as being a guilty pleasure because it was such fun to write, I will use that as my ‘work in progress’ for now.

This story is set in Edinburgh in 1911 when dramatic events occurred at the Empire Palace of Varieties – and not just as part of the scheduled stage acts, either. I have chosen to view some of the scenes from the viewpoint of an Italian clarinettist, Antonio.

 

Chapter 1

 

Antonio stared at the woman. She had been watching the rehearsal from a box on the first tier, her sketchbook balanced on the ledge in front of her. From time to time she leaned over the book, apparently drawing in it with a pencil or perhaps a stick of charcoal.

 

Chapter 2

 

‘Could we not get the train instead?’ whined Betsy as they crossed the road at Canonmills and made their way along by the Water of Leith.

‘We’d just have as far to walk to get to the station,’ said Mrs Martin. ‘I don’t know why you’re so tired all the time. When I was your age we used to have to walk everywhere. We didn’t have the money to get the train or the tram. It didn’t do us any harm.’

 

Chapter 3

 

The Great Lafayette was in an even worse mood today. One of the violinists said his dog, Beauty, famously the most pampered canine in Europe, was ill. But at least the rehearsals were over and done with, the show had gone ahead and the audiences had poured into the theatre as usual.

 

 

But that’s more than enough about me for now. I have asked fellow-writers Matthew Drzymala and Anne Stenhouse to continue the tour. Their posts about works in progress will be available any day now if you follow the links below.

Matthew is the writer of the Bumpkinton series of stories set in a quintessentially English village. I think if you like the Pitkirtly Mysteries you will be interested in his work too. Here’s a link to Matthew’s blog: http://matthewdrzymala.com/

Anne is a writer of historical novels including ‘Bella’s Betrothal’, set in Edinburgh in the 18th century. I’ve very much enjoyed reading these, and I look forward to finding out what she’s working on next. Here’s a link to Anne’s blog: http://wp.me/31Isq

This morning I reached almost 7,000 words in ‘Adventure at the Palace of Varieties’. I think I may be nearing the halfway point with the plot as it will probably be about 15,000 words altogether. It has been quite difficult to re-capture the lighter style of the first two ‘Edwardian adventures’ as I know there is a really grim real-life event just about to happen in the story! It will be even worse later on if I take the characters forward into World War One as I am sort of planning to. But (a bit annoyingly as there are at least 2 more things to be written before that) I’ve had an idea for an interesting approach I can take to it.

Backstage tour ticket

Backstage tour ticket

There is quite a lot of information online about the Empire Palace of Varieties because of the grim event I’ve mentioned above, and some people reading this may already have heard of it. I won’t go into detail just now, but apart from doing internet research I often like to visit relevant places as I write. In this case I discovered I could get a ticket for a backstage tour of the Festival Theatre,  which is built on the site occupied by various theatres over the years, dating back I think at least to early or mid Victorian times. One of these theatres was the Empire Palace of Varieties, the setting for my story. Another more recent one was also called the Empire, but it ended its working life as a bingo hall, before the Festival Theatre was built in 1994.

As you will see from the picture, the earliest I can get a ticket for the tour is April, so I am hoping all the people who have bought tickets for February and March are not also researching for similar stories! I will have most of the thing written before then and indeed I hope to be well into ‘Pitkirtly IX’ at that point, but there will undoubtedly be some gaps I can fill in after the tour.

The WordPress elves, monkeys or whatever they are, have produced some rather generic reviews of the year for all my blogs, which are more of interest to me than to anyone else, although I’ve posted one on another blog just to see what it looks like. This blog post is more specifically a review of my writing year and a little glimpse into how I see 2015 going as I unveil my annual writing plan. I’ll start with that.

Writing plan 2015

Writing plan 2015

I’m not sure how it has already managed to acquire the statutory coffee stain! Another familiar feature is the arrow moving something from one part of the year to another, this time before the year has even started.

I am all ready to start on two things tomorrow. One is to attempt to read right through my November NaNoWriMo project without losing the will to live halfway through, and the other, which I hope will be a lot more fun, is to start a new Edwardian story, ‘Adventure at the Palace of Varieties’. I apologise to anyone who might prefer me to write another Pitkirtly mystery first! I’ve been waiting to write the ‘Palace of Varieties’ for quite a few months.

Anyway, that’s for next year! (You can probably tell from the way I’ve approached this blog post that I prefer to look forward than back.)

After resolving at about this time last year not to try and write/publish so much in 2014, I managed to publish 3 novels and my small set of 2 novellas during the year as well as writing the first draft of a novel in November. Looking back at my records, I see there was ‘A Tasteful Crime’ in February, ‘Two Edwardian Adventures’ in late July followed swiftly by ‘The Coronation Quest’ in early August, then  a more sensible gap before ‘The Christmas Puzzle’ in mid-October. Both the latest Pitkirtly mysteries were more successful than I had ever dreamed of, with ‘The Christmas Puzzle’ reaching no. 1 in the cozy mystery category on Amazon UK and hanging around the top 20 for several weeks – it is still in the top 40 at the time of writing this. ‘A Tasteful Crime’ also did very well, but I can’t remember if it actually reached no. 1 or not. I discovered during these times that it takes a lot of sales to stay in the top 5 even of such a relatively small category.

I’m not even going to bother trying not to write so much in 2015. I will just go ahead and write as much as I feel like writing. I have quite a few ideas for writing projects, probably enough to keep me busy long past this time next year, as you may see if you look closely at my writing plan!

A Christmas Treat

A Merry Christmas to all my readers, and please welcome my guest, Matthew Drzymala

Matthew

I think if you read on you’ll see why it’s particularly appropriate to post my interview with him today, Christmas Eve. Our writing has something in common, which is that we write stories set in places that haven’t quite got themselves into the 21st century yet (or even the 20th, some might say). I’ve enjoyed reading some of his stories and I have a couple more on my Kindle waiting to be read over the festive season.

Here’s a link to Matthew’s blog: http://matthewdrzymala.com/

You’ll be able to find out more about him and his writing over there. I hear he interviewed a really famous mystery writer recently as well!

Anyway, let’s move swiftly on to the questions.

1. First of all, something which is possibly foremost in your mind at the moment. Please tell me about your latest publication.

My latest release is called Albert’s Christmas. It is the fourth story set in my fictional village of Bumpkinton and the second to be set at Christmas. This story is set around the village tramp, Albert Scatterhorn who steps forward to fill some very big black boots and a fluffy white beard.

Albert has had small cameos in two stories and has a sad past. I touch on that in this story, but not too much, I have a draft of story that is all about Albert which explores how he became a down and out, but I don’t plan to release that for quite some time yet.

[Here’s a link which should enable you to buy ‘Albert’s Christmas’ from your local Amazon store wherever you are (clever, isn’t it?):  http://authl.it/B00Q1J55GS]

2. Do you like Christmas yourself? Are there any special festive traditions in your family? Or do you like to do anything in particular on Christmas Day?

I love Christmas, always have. We don’t have traditions as such, no. Since meeting my fiancée we tend to spend the day together. We open presents while listening to Christmas music (non of that Wizzard and Slade rubbish, more like Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and Chris Rea. Who doesn’t love Chris Rea?).

We stay in or sometimes meet our friends for a drink but the evening is spent watching TV. I tend to take the telly for Doctor Who and Elaine for Call The Midwife and Strictly. We just love spending the day together. If the weather is nice we may have a walk in the park. You see all the kids on their new bikes that you know will probably mangled by May in a dusty shed somewhere.

3. What made you think of Bumpkinton? Is it based on a real place or is it your idea of a perfect, old-fashioned English village? (or maybe not quite so perfect)

Bumpkinton came about due to tiredness. It’s true. I took a creative writing course and we wrote a lot of stuff. As the months went by I was writing a lot of dark stuff. I was writing murder stories, quite horrific stories that involved a lot of bloodshed. We had to write a story for our last lesson and I was mentally drained. I really couldn’t think of much, I was struggling to find anything to write.

Then I thought ‘Write something light’. It was that simple really. I took to the internet and asked my friends to throw lots of names at me for characters, normal and a bit silly and a few of my Bumpkinton characters came from there. Then I just wrote a very silly story.

Thatis the story about Albert. It was the first one I wrote but due to events that happen in parts of it, I need to write a few stories before I get to that point in time. In essence everything I’m writing now is a prequel to the original story. I think I will save that story until I decide to put Bumpkinton to bed. The storyline of that one always makes me smile. For now it’s gathering dust, but one day it’ll be out and I think it’s probably going to be the silliest of all of the Bumpkinton’s.

It’s not set on any village that I know. It’s really just a setting for a colourful band of characters. The village is bigger than I’ve shown and there are more characters to come who haven’t even been mentioned yet. They will appear eventually. I intentionally didn’t base it on anything real. The characters at times are very caricature. I want to make the stories light and fun, hence there’s no swearing in them. The worst I’ve put is in Albert’s Christmas when a character says ‘Balls’ but that’s about as bad as it gets.

4. Have you ever lived in a place like Bumpkinton? Or would you like to live there, among your characters? Would there be any downsides?

I’d love to live in Bumpkinton. Father Whitworth O’Grady is the character I love writing the most. Everything I write for him is just effortlessly easy. Some characters are more awkward, but Whitworth is just a pure joy. I’d like to meet him and have a pint at The Ploughman’s Itch (the Bumpkinton pub, nothing sordid!)

I think Amelia Goose, the village busybody would irritate me to hell. She is there to annoy and believe me, she can be annoying to write. I feel though if she grates on me to write, she will grate on readers and that is exactly what I want her to do. I want people shouting ‘Shut up, Amelia!’ because invariably she ends up being silenced for her annoying views.

Other than her though, I think I’d fit right into Bumpkinton. I wish it existed.

5. Now some background information. How long have you been writing fiction?

 I started to write when I took part in NaNoWriMo in 2011. I wrote a children’s novel which I still haven’t perfected. However, I’m working on a collection of short stories that involve the main character when he was younger than he is in the unfinished novel. I will finish it one day. I want to flesh him out more in the short stories and it may give me more options with the novel and help piece some bits together.

I wish I could say I’ve written since I was little, but I can’t. I was an avid reader and did write some stories when I was small, but it kind of died away in secondary school. However, taking part in NaNoWriMo fired my enthusiasm to try my hand at writing stories. I’m still learning, I know I can get better but that will come with experience.

6. What was your first story about?

If you mean that I remember writing, I’m not sure. I do remember one I wrote when I was eleven in school. It involved three friends going to a haunted house and one of them fell and got their leg caught in some broken floorboards. I can’t remember too much else about it though.

My first published story was a duel release. Last Christmas was written in a week as a very late Christmas tie-in for my first Bumpkinton novella, Bittersweet. They were released on 21st December 2013 (the day before my birthday).

7. Are you working on your next publication at the moment? Or perhaps having a well-earned rest?

 I have bits and bobs written but I’m not concentrating on one thing at the moment. I plan to write five short stories with my novel character. I’ve written one so far and I have a chunk of next year’s Bumpkinton novella written, although I did that last year!

I may make that one into a novel, I’ll have to see how far it goes naturally. It also has my favourite story title so far. I can’t announce that yet, but if people thought Amelia Goose and Artichoke Caruthers were odd names, wait until they see the name of the character in the title of the next one.

However, I don’t plan to write much more now until January.

8. What do you do when you’re not writing?

 Watch TV shows, mostly. I watch a lot on catch up. I’m currently working my way through The Walking Dead at the moment. I like to socialise with my partner and our friends and watch football. I’m a Manchester United fan, which raises a few eyebrows living in Liverpool. Let’s just say I’m not very popular with taxi drivers when they want to talk about Steven Gerrard and I tell them I’m a Mancunian. I’ve had a bit of colourful language thrown my way in the back of a cab in the last year or two! Haha

I probably don’t do too much to be honest. I used to Snowboard when I lived in Manchester as it has an indoor Ski Slope but I don’t get to it much anymore.

9. If you could go and live anywhere in the world, where would you choose?

Anywhere Elaine wanted to be. Wherever she is is the best place in the world.

Or Vienna.

10. Would you be interested in being part of a colony on Mars?

Only if I get to handpick the people that go :D

 

 Thank you, Matthew, for some very good answers. I’m very much looking forward to my own Christmas visit to Bumpkinton.

 

I would quite like to spend all my time in Pitkirtly. It seems a pleasant enough place, apart from all the suspicious deaths and the weather, and once you get used to the people they are fairly friendly. I’ve always wanted to live by the sea as well, at least when I haven’t wanted to live in the hills or in town.

Brighton in the rain

Brighton in the rain

Mostly when not in Pitkirtly I don’t go too far away from it – not as far as Brighton, pictured here for no particular reason. For example, I am currently writing a sequel to my dystopian novel of Scottish independence for National Novel Writing Month. Somehow this has managed to involve people messing about in boats on the Forth and other people trying to find their way around in the Cairngorms. Sadly the plot is too long for November so I may have to summarise the last part in order to get to the end of this first draft. Even more sadly, this situation isn’t unprecedented. In fact I can reveal that I did the same thing while I was writing ‘Frozen in Crime’. Towards the end I wrote something like ‘But they didn’t know what really happened until much later’, and filled in the details during the first edit.

Occasionally I do stray quite far from Pitkirtly, either geographically or in time. I plan to do this again around Christmas, when I will have two weeks off work, only one of which is taken up with helping with pantomime props, i.e. hanging around back-stage at the theatre for hours on end and springing into action every half hour or so to make sure something gets on to the stage. Or, in the case of a football that once had to be carried by a very forgetful actor, sprinting down to the dressing-room to fetch it.

Anyway, after all the props are packed away for the next time, I will be either still researching or actually writing a new novella in my ‘Edwardian’ series. I was very tempted to write this for NaNoWriMo as I thought it would be more fun than the grim dystopian future, although in fact the grim etc etc has turned out to be a bit lighter-weight than I thought and may turn out to be the only comic grim dystopian sci-fi novel ever written.

But if you’re now wondering why I haven’t plunged into ‘Pitkirtly IX’ yet, I want to get to the stage where I am really looking forward to visiting the place and the people again before starting on it. I haven’t made my 2015 writing plan yet but I’m guessing this will probably happen round about February or March. A more complete 2015 writing plan will follow later.

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