The Next Big Thing

Cat in the window by Marie Loughin - courtesy of WANACommons

I’m honoured to be tagged in The Next Big Thing blog hop by PiP at Piglet In Portugal – and offer my thanks for considering me worthy of being tagged. As is the way with various types of blog tagging, the person tagged simply answers 10 questions about them and then suggest others to do likewise, and so on. However, this is slightly different as it relates to authors and their writing projects. A subject I’m particularly keen to talk about.

As I’m as yet unpublished, though striving toward that goal, I’m eager to be part of this Next Big Thing and share in the hopping of blogs! PiP took the plunge in 2012 and participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and appears to have enjoyed it immensely.

Her NaNo novel is the story of a woman’s courage to escape from the heartache of her everyday life and follow her dreams while maintaining her sense of humour. Having read and enjoyed PiP’s blog for a number of years I anticipate her novel to be every bit as witty and insightful as her posts.

Question time!

What is the working title of your book?

The Range, named after a small community on the Norfolk coast . I have started work on a follow-up, tentatively called The Survivors, though as this is a fairly common title I’m considering a change to The Holt, named after the town of Hunter’s Holt in north Norfolk. The Range is close to Hunter’s Holt, and the story moves from there to Cambridge, a city I love for its history, vibrant characters and general hustle and bustle.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A lifetime of devouring books and watching movies, particularly science fiction, war, heroic, action packed yet thought-provoking, and of course zombies! I should add that there are no zombies in The Range, well, not your typical zombie anyway, if there is such a thing.

The initial idea and short first draft of 30,000 words or so was to write a story from the view-point of a video camera. Not original I know and I found it limited the scope of how the characters could be portrayed and whether a reader would relate to them or be as engaged as I wanted. A second draft, more of a re-write, swapped the POV to third person. Sadly I wasn’t comfortable with this either.

It wasn’t until the fourth draft, based on a first person perspective, that I found my stride. I am currently waiting for feedback from my beta readers on the sixth draft before I make any changed on a seventh, what I hope is the final version.

What genre does your book fall under?

If I were to slot it into categories on Amazon for example, I’d choose Adventure > Science Fiction > Apocalypse. The story takes place during and after a collapse of society. This is not the focus of the story which is character driven rather than plot driven. The aim was to be as realistic as possible. Therefore my characters don’t grab the nearest gun and start shooting the bad guys. They’re normal people like you or I.

The story is about survival, not just in the physical sense, but mentally, spiritually and morally. It’s about loyalty and honour and how people offer support and friendship in a crisis and how they deal with defending themselves against those who mean them harm.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Damn, what a question! As my novel is set in England I’d prefer to use English actors, though I wouldn’t say no to anyone if they had a believable English accent. Jennifer Lawrence from The Hunger Games would suit my main character, Samantha. Or possibly Dakota Blue Richards from The Golden Compass and Emma Watson to play Louise (Samantha’s best friend) who is somewhat of a loud and larger than life character than Miss Watson is often portrayed.

I’d like to see Russel Tovey, Rupert Grint or possibly Joe Dempsie play Garf, a red-headed nerd who tends to be shy and awkward but finds he’s not lacking in courage when it’s needed. I’d like to see Chiwetel Ejiofor or Harold Perrineau to play Lyndsay, the American survivor who bands together with Sam and Lou in Cambridge. They both have a captivating way of portraying good emotional states, raw and realistic.

As for my older character, retired Cambridge University Professor, Charles Llewellyn, I’d be knocking on Ian McKellen’s door without a doubt. Charles is a refined gentleman, set apart from the rag-tag band of survivors he joins. He insists that a collapse of society isn’t cause for lack of manners or an excuse to behave like savages. So perhaps Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon would also be good actors to play Charles.

As for my bad guy I fancy Bill Nighy or Terrence Stamp to play Mr Pedley. They can both do subtle and quirky evil quite nicely.

As for the rest of the cast, well, I could go on. The Range doesn’t have a massive list of characters, and some that have limited page time go on to have a greater part to play in The Holt.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

After the collapse of society, best friends Samantha and Louise travel to Cambridge to save their friends and stop the dangerous Mr Pedley from destroying their safe haven on the Norfolk coast.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

This is something I’ve thought long and hard about. I’d love to see my book on a shelf in a book shop. Nothing would make me more proud or give me more satisfaction after all the hard work. I can’t deny the lure of self-publishing via the likes of Amazon Kindle isn’t a strong pull. I’ve read a lot of amateur fiction, free eBooks etc, where the quality is severely lacking, and I whilst I know I have a solid grasp of my craft (still learning every day I might add) I don’t like the idea of being tarnished with the same ill feeling many have toward amateur self-publishing authors of eBooks.

I guess only time will tell. When I’m ready I’ll start contacting agents and take it from there. I like the idea of the process, from initial idea, writing, re-writing, spending time finding an agent willing to take me on, and one I am happy with, and the journey to publication and seeing my work in a shop.

Something makes me think it’s all too easy to produce an eBook and say: “Yes, I’m a published writer.” The world of publishing is ever-changing and even though I love my Kindle, part of me still clings to the idea of striving to tackle the traditional route first and foremost.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The first draft of The Range was started in early 2010. At the time I called it Zombie Juice, a title I really liked but it felt a little comedic for the serious nature of the story. Drafts five and six took about nine months to edit to a point I was happy to give copies to my beta readers.

I took a month off in November 2011 (and some way into December) to write a NaNoWriMo novel, Shadowrealm Stalkers, which reached 70,000 words before I forced myself to stop and concentrate on The Range. I’ll return to that project one day and continue with those characters, who deserve to have their story finished.

I write every day, even if it’s just a few pages, yet I find I need space to mull things over every so often. After handing my baby to my beta readers in December 2012, I stopped trawling through the story and left it alone. I find this method allows me to examine what needs to be changed and why, much the way we think about books and movies long after we’ve read/seen them.

I make mental notes about scenes/characters/slight plot changes etc, then when they make the short list in my noggin I jot down my ideas in a note-book. For me it’s all about looking at one tree at a time instead of constantly gazing at an entire forest not being able to work out which tree needs or wants my attention.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I guess there’s a plethora of similar stories like The Range – apocalyptic novels are common, though sometimes it’s not easy to find one that is well written and original enough to hold my attention. I’m a fan of Charlie Higson’s The Dead series, and Alex Scarrow’s Last Light and Afterlight. I figure every writer wants to think their story is original, but the truth is they seldom are. With only so many plots to choose from, I think it’s the characters that make the difference, not the actual plot or backdrop.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve been writing since I can remember and I always will. My inspiration comes from many sources, watching movies, reading, people watching and observing how they behave in strange situations. For many years I wanted to write a zombie story, the genre fascinates me. Not necessarily the physical entity of a zombie, whether that be supernatural or as realistically portrayed as possible. It’s the impact such an event could have on people and a population that intrigues me.

For all my desire I couldn’t find an angle that could retell what is a limited plot – virus makes humans into zombies > survivors fight zombies. In the end I decided not to use zombies at all, similar to 28 Days Later in that respect. You’d be surprised how many zombie movie lists and horror enthusiasts include that movie in the zombie genre. The people in it aren’t dead.

The clichéd “end of the world” scenario has a morbid attraction, yet it’s the human reaction to such chaos I find so enthralling. How would an individual cope with life changing events – how many would mourn the loss of their mobile phone? Or celebrate it? Would unlikely hero’s rise through the calamity? How would a group overcome simple things like learning how to grow food, make clothes, cure illness without modern drugs – and so on.

Ever been asked the question: “What would be your ideal home?” For me that is something akin to a small hut or self built house on a beach, simply furnished with what I needed, with limited luxuries. A means to feed myself and above all peace, quiet and no dependence on modern technology. I don’t need a mobile phone, computer, internet, car, clothes made in China and 24/7 anything. I use them because it’s convenient.

Part of that yearning for a simple life is what inspired The Range. I have no desire to experience any sort of apocalypse or for anyone else to either. Yet I wonder how much life for everyone would be improved if modern garbage were to be removed.

Aside from media driven influences I thank my Dad for sharing his love of writing and stories. His passion rubbed off on me from an early age and he is never afraid to point out the flaws in my writing, as well as highlighting the quality. I don’t always agree with what he says but I understand the reasons why.

What else about the book might piqué the reader’s interest?

If you happen to live in England then the settings could be of interest. The story moves from East Anglia, north Norfolk to Cambridge. It is told in the first person (not diary style, more a telling of events that have happened) by Samantha, a female university student. Considering my manly (if I do say so myself!) photos at the top of this page, I’ve strived to look at the events of the story through the eyes of a woman rather than a man.

There are several reasons for this. I wanted to capture the sensitivity of a woman and combine those with what I believe can be ruthlessness and determination of spirit that men seem to lack somewhat. I know, I’m generalising here, but if I’d chosen a man as the central character I’d be tempted to be very macho about his actions, and I wanted more depth than “grab gun, swear, run, shout, kill, sweat and drive cars very fast” type of thing that action adventures tend to lean toward in order to grab a reader’s instant attention.

I wanted subtlety, the combination of gentleness, grace, inner struggle and the determination a woman can have to protect those she cares about whatever the cost. Sure, a man can achieve all those things but it didn’t feel right for this story. It’s funny how this is the first time I’ve written about The Range in such depth on my blog before. Once again, PiP, thank you for tagging me!

To continue on The Next Big Thing tag, here are five budding authors who deserve recognition. Please check out their blogs!

Sadly because I was a little absent from NaNoWriMo 2012, and haven’t engaged much on Twitter or Google+ as I would have liked in recent months, I can think of only one person to tag, a lady for whom I have enjoyed reading her blog for a long time.

Joss Burnel at Crowing Crone – She who walks in beauty, started her NaNo project last year and whilst she states she only wrote 10,852 words of the 50,000 word goal, I am pleased for her that she started the journey of telling her story.

50,000 words is merely a goal and 10,000 words is a very good start. Given the wonderful nature and tone of her blog I know her novel will be an absorbing read. I’d be proud to have a copy on my shelf. Joss seems very in tune with people, and has a brilliant way of communicating her thoughts and ideas with her readers. A wise woman with great spirit who does indeed walk in beauty.

So, Joss, I nominate you to carry on the torch of The Next Big Thing.


Photo: Cat in the window by Marie Loughin at WANACommons on Flickr

6 thoughts on “The Next Big Thing

  1. “it’s the characters that make the difference, not the actual plot or backdrop.” and of course the writing style!
    I never even thought about Zombies until I read your blog…now they’re everywhere and I even dream of where we can have a Zombie shelter, just in case.

    Good luck with your book Dave and I hope I will see a blog post this year announcing you have found a publisher!

    1. Aww thanks PiP, you’re a gem! I love how using the word zombie can conjure up feelings of dread but it’s a great way of prompting people to think about potential times of uncertainty or chaos, like a natural disaster for example. There’s no harm in being prepared, even if your preparedness merely stretches to thinking about it.

      And yes, it’s not just the characters that make a difference, the writing style has to engage the reader too. Likewise PiP, I wish you the best with your writing adventures!!

  2. Just had to comment on your description of the macho male: “grab gun, swear, run, shout, kill, sweat and drive cars very fast” – had me in stitches! Best of luck with The Range 🙂

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