Cornish Reading Challenge: Jane Johnson describes her Cornish roots

Jane Johnson is from Cornwall and has worked in the book industry for over 30 years, as a bookseller, publisher and writer. She was responsible for publishing the works of J. R. R. Tolkien during the 1980s and 1990s and worked on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, spending many months in New Zealand with cast and crew.

In 2005 she was researching in Morocco for The Tenth Gift, the bestselling novel that went on to sell in 26 countries, when a near-fatal climbing incident caused her to rethink her future. She returned home, gave up her office job in London, sold her flat, shipped the contents to Morocco and six months later married a Berber chef, Abdellatif. The couple live in Cornwall and winter in a village in the Anti-Atlas Mountains, where Abdel runs a restaurant. Jane still works, remotely, as a publishing director for HarperCollins, where she is responsible for publishing George RR Martin, Robin Hobb, Dean Koontz, Jonathan Freedland, Michael Marshall Smith, Mark Lawrence, and SK Tremayne. Her own novels include The Tenth Gift, The Salt Road, The Sultan’s Wife, Pillars of Light and Court of Lions (July 2017). In 2012, Jane was made an honorary cultural ambassador between Morocco and the UK by HRH Princess Lalla Joumala of Morocco (currently Morocco’s ambassador to the US).

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During the first Cornish Reading Challenge in 2015, you told us about your family ties to West Penwith. Would you like to tell us more about your family history?

I researched our family history back in 2004 when I was working on the book that would become THE TENTH GIFT. I knew our Cornish family had deep roots here, and so it turned out, with parish records taking us back into the early seventeenth century. There were a couple of different branches – Kittos and Martins – but I wanted to trace the Tregenna family, since that’s a name that has all but died out in Cornwall, though there are Tregunnas and Tregenzas to be found, and we all know how fluid spelling could be in bygone times. I already knew that the Tregenna family originated in the Penwith and Roseland areas; but on my second genealogical foray last year I turned up another arm of the Tregenna family in the area outside Looe, in southeast Cornwall, where I grew up: around Duloe and Pelynt. The earliest of these ancestors turned out to be the rather gorgeously named Valentin Tregenna, born in 1608 – so a contemporary cousin of Catherine Tregenna, the heroine of THE TENTH GIFT, whose parish records logged her birth in 1606 (and no marriage or death records anywhere: hence the surmise that she was one of those taken out of the Mount’s Bay church by the Barbary raiders). I also turned up the fascinating fact that my father (who wasn’t Cornish at all!) owned and ran the bookshop in Falmouth just after the war: and my first event for THE TENTH GIFT just so happened to be at the Falmouth Bookseller. Life is indeed stranger than fiction.

Which book(s) would you recommend?

I read so much for work (I’m a publishing director at HarperCollins, responsible for several authors there) that reading time for pure pleasure is very limited (mainly to the 10 minutes before I go to sleep!). This year I have been immersed in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, a truly phenomenal tour de force of characterization: you grow with the two central characters from early childhood till they are elderly women, through broken hearts, broken marriages, broken bodies, through childbirth and tragedy, careers and political upheaval. While you’re reading these books, you live in them, and the people in them feel like your own family. You find yourself wondering about them during the day; I’ve dreamed of Naples at night. So I’d heartily recommend these books: Naples, like Cornwall, is a poor area of the country where people do whatever they can to get by: I found I could draw lots of small parallels.

Beyond that, can I recommend to anyone who hasn’t read her the magnificent Robin Hobb? Again, characters are the key to her success: this is not fantasy of the sword and sorcery tradition but deeply rooted in the human experience and condition: you laugh and cry with her central characters – both abandoned/cast-off children trying to survive in a cut-throat world. As with the Ferrantes you watch the pair grow from childhood to late middle-age, their loves and losses, bonds and betrayals, disguises and deceptions. The series started with ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE and I’ve edited every single word of the 17 books that make up the series, which completes itself with ASSASSIN’S FATE, publishing this May. She’s in the UK for publication – I can’t wait to see her! – like her characters we too have grown older together in the very nearly 30 years we’ve worked together.

What are you currently working on? Anything interesting going on?

I’m in the interesting phase of thinking about two possible book projects, both set in Cornwall: one in Elizabethan times, one rather more recent. It’s been a busy year: I have two novels out in the UK this year after a bit of a dearth (slow researching and writing!). COURT OF LIONS is published in hardback in July. Here’s the description from the publishers:

Kate Fordham, escaping terrible trauma in her life, has fled to the beautiful sunlit city of Granada, ancient capital of the Moors in Spain, where she is scraping a living in a busy bar.

Sometimes at the lowest points in your life, fate will slip you a magical gift. One day in the glorious gardens of the Alhambra, once home to Sultan Abu Abdullah Mohammed, also known as Boabdil, Kate finds a scrap of paper hidden in one of the ancient walls. Upon it, in strange symbols, has been inscribed a message, or a poem, from another age. It has lain undiscovered since before the Fall of Granada in 1492, when the city was surrendered to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Born of love, in a time of danger and desperation, the fragment will be the catalyst that changes Kate’s life forever.

Worlds collide as two unusual love stories arc towards one another from the fifteenth and twenty-first centuries. COURT OF LIONS brings one of the great hinge-points in human history to vivid life, telling the story of the last Moorish sultan of Granada as he moves towards his cataclysmic destiny.

I’ll be doing a number of events in Cornwall and the rest of the country to promote it, including a launch in Central London and an evening at Waterstones Truro with some Moroccan food, clothes and jewellery, and a talk and reading.

And in the autumn, the University of Central Lancashire are publishing my Siege of Acre novel, PILLARS OF LIGHT, with a beautiful cover by Sancreed artist Noel Betowski: there will be a launch in Penzance.

What’s the best thing about living in Cornwall?

Cornwall is home for me. I lived here till I was 18 (in Fowey, then Looe) and went from school in Liskeard up to university in London, followed by 20 years working in the book industry in the capital, before my Moroccan adventure. Cornwall is where we all come back to, because it nourishes the soul. I can live an outdoor life here – walking the coast path, walking to shops in Newlyn and Penzance, writing outside in all sorts of beautiful hidden places (the subject of my blog) in a way I can’t anywhere else in the world. It’s also the place I feel drawn back to wherever I am in the world and it’s where I find my spiritual ease, as well as practising tai chi and kung fu at local classes, the discipline of which I love. It’s always good for the soul to be told you’re doing it all wrong and be taught with great care and attention how to do it right!

What are you reading right now?

I’m coming up on the very end of the final Ferrante and I can’t bear for it to end. I have a pile of about 15 books beside the bed into which to dive next. Which one I choose – thriller or historical, literary memoir or travel book – will depend on what mood Ferrante leaves me in. I hope it’s not too dark and desperate…

Jane Johnson | Facebook | @janejohnsonbakr

 

Ask The Author: K. M. Baginski

Author K. M. Baginski drops by The Bandwagon to talk about her writing process.

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Kisa Baginski is a middle school science teacher and author of the Windstalker Series. Rehumanized Drew (May 7, 2017) is a spinoff novella from Baginski’s debut novel, Windstalker: Awareness, and follows the plight of a man in his early 20s, Drew Royce. After turning into a “Windstalker”—a Nephilim subspecies who can transform into air/wind in order to feed on human organs for survival—Drew has managed to become human again, which forces him into hiding. Haunted by his disturbing actions as a Windstalker, Drew must decide between causing more harm to the human world or hiding out until death finds him.

What inspired you to start writing?

I just realized one day I loved stories enough to contribute in any way I could. I cherish so many sci-fi, mystery, horror and dark fantasy stories about the multifaceted nature of humanity. There are also what I consider “many rooms” in my own imagination that I hope may help entertain more than just my family.

What do you wish you’d known about the publishing process?

If anything, I wish I understood more about the art of editing. Finding a great editor is like finding a lifeline. My editor for Rehumanized Drew taught me so much about good storytelling. I felt I had a mentor in her, that I wouldn’t have to guess at conveying meaning as much as I did when writing my first book. Also marketing is its own universe. I wish I understood the value of launching with a complete marketing plan and team of amazing professionals, before releasing the first book.

Tell us more about your book.

In Rehumanized Drew, Drew Royce is a criminal, kept ward by an Evolved Nephilim race (Windstalkers) and used as a weapon against their enemy. But the victims he’s left behind have a way of finding him and make living, in the meantime, a nightmare.

This book is a spin off of my developing Windstalker series. Windstalkers are a supernatural Evolved Nephilim species which survives by feasting on human energy. Drew Royce is a key character from Windstalker: Awareness. Rehumanized Drew picks up exactly where Awareness left him.

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What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

At risk of blurting a cliche, anyone who loves stories should probably just write one! Or more. I don’t think you could ever make a mistake investing time and energy when you’re doing what you love.

What are you currently working on?

I’m writing the next Windstalker novel, Windstalker: Prophecy, the actual sequel in the Windstalker series. What’s interesting about Prophecy (book 2 of the series) is it also picks up right where the first book, Awareness, leaves the readers. But instead of following Drew, it follows the lives of the other characters just after a major event (Drew’s re-humanization procedure, returning he and the girl he sired to human again).

What are you reading right now?

Right now, I’m reading a great epic fantasy/drama called Phoenix 2.0 by Daccari Buchelli. It boasts lyrical prose, a powerful tale of magic and betrayal on the scale of the Golden Compass and Royal territories known as the Four Realms call forth George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Its quite the filling bedtime story!

Facebook | Twitter | Website

Ask The Author: M.K. Williams

Author M.K. Williams joins The Bandwagon to talk about her writing process.

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MK Williams is an Indiana-born, Philadelphia-raised, Florida-transplant working and living beneath the sunny, and often rainy, skies of Tampa. Williams’ writing influences include a lifetime of watching suspenseful mysteries and action movies and reading Stephen King, Ian McEwan and J.K. Rowling.

What inspired you to start writing? 

I’ve always enjoyed writing, some people like to paint or draw, I have always liked to write. I find that I genuinely enjoy the creative process of writing and I think I would keep on writing even if I didn’t keep publishing my work. I have always liked to read and my mom was always encouraging to me to write. I dedicated my most recent book to her, she definitely inspired me to pursue honing my craft.

What do you wish you’d known about the publishing process? 

I wish someone had asked me about my goals sooner. My husband was actually the one to ask me to define my goals. Did I want to be an international bestseller? Did I want to just have my book published? That actually helped me to define my goals and what success would look like for me. If someone had asked me sooner I may have been able to get to where I am now years ago.

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Tell us more about your book.

My latest book is a collection of short stories called The Games You Cannot Win. I love writing in all of its various lengths and forms and short stories are where I started out before I wrote my first novel. The four stories in this collection all follow a different character as they feel trapped in their career, trapped in their goals and what society expects, trapped in a scandal, or trapped in the past. In each one they feel that they are part of a game that someone else is playing with them, or on them, that they can’t get out of. Each story delves into the characters and tackles some serious issues in our society today.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Don’t plan that writing will replace your day-job. When you write with the mindset that you are going to make a million dollars and quit the job you don’t like, you write from a very different place. Write because you enjoy it, that joy will come through in your words and will lead to your success.

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu. It is a non-fiction book on marketing in the 18th and 19th centuries and how advertisers are constantly finding new ways to steal our attention. I am reading this as research for my next book.

You can buy The Games You Cannot Win on Amazon, Nook, and iBooks. Visit Williams’ website, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Ask The Author: Niki Meadows

Author Niki Meadows chats to The Bandwagon about her writing process. Niki has also chosen The Bandwagon to reveal the title of her new book!

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1) What inspired you to start writing?

Well, I thought it was fun to keep a diary as a kid and journal as a teen that I kept up into adulthood. I tried my hand at short stories and fiction over the years but it never went anywhere. I’d get started and it would fizzle out. I loved to read fiction but I wasn’t very good at writing it. I just assumed writing wasn’t for me to share. I couldn’t let go of my love affair with writing and decided to try blogging. The first time around I didn’t know what I wanted out of my blog and set it to the side. The second time, I was able to better identify what my blog would be about and that felt like a more natural fit for me. I really enjoyed engaging with others and saw that my posts sharing my life in a way others could learn from and be encouraged felt right. I’d long abandoned the idea of writing a book until I was inspired to write something I’d never considered: non-fiction.

2) Tell us more about your book.

The book breaks down the process I used to conquer a 17-year battle with depression. At the time it was less of a “process” and more of me just doing whatever I could to climb out of the bottomless pit I’d been in for so long. I’ve been on this journey for four years and realized that looking back I was able to identify key steps I took consistently to overcome depression. I was Divinely inspired to write the book and saw signs of confirmation all around me encouraging me to go through with this book. The biggest encouragement was sharing the idea of the book to people I would meet just through natural conversation and them being so interested in wanting it to use for themselves. It got to the point I was so fueled by the possibility of helping someone that I couldn’t imagine not putting this out there. I ended up combining my personal experience with my life coaching skills to write the book in a way that challenges the reader in a positive way, sparks inspiration, and elicits action on behalf of the reader.

3) Why did you decide to self-publish?

I wrestled back and forth with this as many first-time authors do. In the end, it felt like a better route for many ways. I decided to start with an e-Book first because I knew I would stall the process longer than necessary getting caught up on unnecessary things had I gone the print route. Self-publishing felt more personal to me, I’m all about connection and this was a way to have the book really embody who I am and what my message is about. The final aspect came down to cost. I was able to do most of the process myself, which made the investment a matter of time not money. I was able to lean on my network from my inner circle to my blogging community for the things I wasn’t able to do on my own. This has been such an amazing experience that I’ll cherish and I’m so grateful for everyone that supported me along the way!

4) Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Stay true to who you are. In a world of information overload, it’s easy to be swayed and try avenues you think will lead to success because they worked for others. I think you have more of the answers than you think, and you should listen to your gut. I’m all about research and information but ultimately I pursue what feels right and encourage others to do the same. There is no right way, just the way that feels right to you.

5) What are you currently reading?

I’m actually reading a few different books at once. My grandpa always did that when I was growing up and I never understood how he could. I’m not able to do that with fiction because I typically stick to one genre and end up mixing the details up. Non-fiction makes it easier to do so. I’ve got Sacred Contracts (Caroline Myss), The Gift of Dyslexia (Ronald D. Davis), and Adventures of the Soul (James Van Praagh) on my Kindle app that I’m reading. In print, I’m reading Abundance Now (Lisa Nichols & Janet Switzer), The Gifts of Imperfection (Brene Brown), and The Book of Chakras (Ambika Wauters).

6) Who are your feminist heroines?

My mom is one of my biggest heroines. She’s done an amazing job of teaching me to be the person I am through her own example. Oprah is what I consider a student teacher of life, a giver, and an inspiration as a female entrepreneur and woman. Ellen DeGeneres is also on my list. Her transparency, courage, and kindness are traits I admire. Queen Rania of Jordan for the amazing job she does bringing social issues to the table. I also admire women to promote and encourage self-acceptance.

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Niki’s book, Wage War On Your Mind & Fight For Your Life, will be published in April. Make sure you grab a copy!

Ask The Author: Ruth Francisco

Author and fierce feminist Ruth Francisco chats to The Bandwagon about Catfish Pearl, and her writing process.

rf_5544_2Ruth Francisco worked in the film industry for 15 years before selling her first novel “Confessions of a Deathmaiden” to Warner Books in 2003, followed by “Good Morning, Darkness,” which was selected by Publishers’ Weekly as one of the ten best mysteries of 2004,  and “The Secret Memoirs of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.” She now has ten novels, including the best-seller “Amsterdam 2012,” published as an ebook. She is a frequent contributor to The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and currently lives in Florida.

What inspired you to start writing?

I started this venture into pirate lore when I was on a panel of Florida authors in Tallahassee. One of the other writers was explaining some peculiar local jargon, such as “square mullet” (marijuana smuggled in bales) and “catfish pearls” (a calcification of calcium carbonate behind the gills of a sail catfish). When I heard “catfish pearl,” I sat straight up, sparks shooting out of my head. “Catfish Pearl! That’s the name of a female pirate!”

Sometimes a character chisels at your brain and won’t let you rest until you write her story.

I started to research local history during the golden age of pirates. I live near one of the first Spanish Missions in Florida, and came across an amazing story. The Apalachee Indians who lived at Mission San Luis, invited the local Deputy Governor and his family to a fiesta at a neighboring mission. During the church service, the Apalachee trapped the Spanish inside and slaughtered them. The unborn child of the Deputy Governor’s pregnant daughter was cut from its mother’s womb. There is no record of what happened to that baby. Seemed to me the perfect beginnings for my heroine Catfish Pearl.

From there, research, and the indomitable spirit that emerged from merely the name Catfish Pearl, led the way.

Tell us more about your book.catfishpearlcover4

From a feminist perspective, female pirates seem like the first feminists. Anne Bonny and Mary Read, Grace O’Malley, Cheng I Sao, Rachel Wall. In reality, some were never pirates at all, merely scofflaws who fell in with pirates. But in mythology, they are feminist heroes, leaders of men, planning dangerous exploits, controlling ruffians and rogues and their own destinies. The common thread among all of these women, both in reality and in mythology, is that they did what they had to in order to survive. They refused to be victims.

I wanted to write a book about survival, how a scrappy, clever girl makes the best of every situation, lives through kidnappings and slavery, physical abuse, loss of family, loss of identity, and emerges stronger and smarter, capable of forging her own empire. It is this element of survival that makes the mythology of the female pirate queen so alluring, even to modern readers.

What do you wish you’d known about the publishing process?

I knew nothing when I started, which, at the time (pre-electronic books), was probably a good thing. I would never have had the courage to even find an agent. Now, things are very different. The old route of writing a few short stories, submitting them to magazines, then writing a book, finding an agent through queries and writer’s conferences, relying on the agent to sell your book, is long gone. Now, even agented authors with a string of traditionally published books have a hard time getting published with a publishing house. So what do I suggest?

  • Write a blog about something you feel passionately about and develop a following. Participate in other blogs.  Use social media to promote your blog.  (I used to suggest writers keep a diary; blog writing also makes you write every day, but gives you an audience.)
  • Before you embark on a novel, take a serious look at the marketplace, and see if you can find a home in Romance, Science Fiction, Horror, or Mysteries, genres that are easier to break into.  Imagine your book as part of a series.  The trick here is to be absolutely unique and fresh, but at the same time fit into the genres.
  • See if you can write comedy, satire, or parody.  Humor breaks all the rules.  If you can make people laugh, doors will fly open for you.  Wit and comedy spread through social media like nothing else (for example, Saturday Night Live’s Trump parodies).  You may doubt your comic gifts, but try it, read it, study it.  It will make you a published author.
  • Self-publish on Amazon, but first make your book as good as possible. Edited, a good cover, a good blurb.  Then self-promote.  Use Twitter and Facebook and other social media, participate in blogs, help other writers.
  • Agents?  Are they necessary?  Perhaps not, but keep yourself open to one.  Bear in mind, agents and publishers will only be interested if they see something they know will be a best seller.  Originality, brilliant writing, great story–nothing matters unless they see a big market for it.  Don’t approach them unless you can honestly see your book as a huge seller.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Set aside time to write every day.  Be disciplined.  Don’t check your emails before you sit down to write.  Be curious and aware.  Listen to the way people actually talk.  Read your work out loud.  Read newspapers and nonfiction for fresh ideas.  Just today there was a story on AOL about the wives of dictators around the world.  How fascinating!  What they must put up with.  The compromises and sacrifices.  How do they live with themselves?  Why do they stay?  Could make a fascinating book.  Every day the news will give you ideas.  Keep a list.  See if one ignites.

Also, I can’t impress enough about trying to write comedy and satire. In this political climate, there is a huge (yuge!) market for it. We need brilliant feminist comic voices.

What are you currently reading?

I read mostly non-fiction in my leisure. Since I’m currently obsessed with pirates, I’m reading “A Pirate of Exquisite Mind” about William Dampier, a 17th century explorer/buccaneer. I believe the more you know, the more convincing you are as a writer. Take for example how incredibly knowledgeable George R.R. Martin is about medieval history, and how it brings a brilliance to his writing the transcends the genre.

Who are your feminist heroines?

Elizabeth I of England, both in fiction and reality. To whip a country into shape, dominate and control a completely misogynistic society, politically out-maneuvering them all. Talk about survivors! She demonstrates what current feminists are grappling with. What sacrifices do women have to make in order to compete in a world not only still dominated by men, but configured on traditionally male power structures? Elizabeth gave up any hope for love or family. Can we have it all? Really? What are you willing to sacrifice?

Catfish Pearl | Amazon UK | Goodreads

Ask The Author: Theresa Braun

Author Theresa Braun chats to The Bandwagon about her writing process.

Theresa Braun was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and has carried some of that hardiness with her to South Florida where she currently resides with her two fur babies, who are her creative sidekicks. She enjoys delving into creative writing, painting, photography and even bouts of ghost hunting. Traveling is one of her passions—in fact, her latest adventure took her to Romania for a horror writers’ workshop where she followed in the steps of Vlad the Impaler. She writes horror fiction and the occasional romance. Oh, and she likes to guest blog about writing, television shows, movies, and books, mostly in the horror genre. Her short story “Shout at the Devil” appears in Under the Bed Magazine, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in Hindered Souls, and “Dead over Heels” is soon to be published by Frith Books.

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What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve always had a creative streak. Whether it be pencil drawing, painting, or crafting stories, I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t creating something. It’s one of the things that drives me and makes me feel alive. Being an English teacher and reading all kinds of fiction has helped me to connect with writing even more. Now when a story idea comes to me, I jot it down in the notes on my phone and can’t wait to delve into it, making it come to life. I’ve learned to face my fears about the writing process. It can be really daunting having thoughts about whether or not I can finish the piece and make it as good as it can be. The whole process is rather exciting.

What do you wish you’d known about the publishing process?

I wish I’d known how difficult it can be to market your writing. It’s almost as much work as creating the stories. Luckily, I tend to get motivated to do it. It comes in waves and I know that I have to ride that wave when it hits. And, then I go back to working on another story.

Which authors do you look to for inspiration?

I’m a big Stephen King fan. At the moment I’ve been looking at several modern writers to see what is new in the horror genre. I find that horror anthologies can be a great way to get exposed to a number of authors. This past year, I’ve read quite a few anthologies: Fright Mare, Killing It Softly, Fresh Fear, and Once upon a Scream, to name a few.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

My advice is to find a fantastic editor that you can trust to help you polish your work. I find that I have to have an instinct for whether or not a story is done. To get unstuck, I have a couple of editors that I know I can send the piece to for them to see what I can’t see. Sometimes writers can get a kind of tunnel vision and we need someone not so close to the work to look at it. It took me awhile to realize that lots of writers do this and that it can be helpful in getting the story to that next level. And, always, always, let someone proof your work for grammar. I consider myself rather skilled in that area, but another set of eyes is always key. Get someone who is superior in this area. I’ve read through books that have had several errors in them and when I mention it to the author, he or she often tells me it has been professionally proofed. Don’t skimp on the editing—ever, ever. My last piece of advice is to network with other writers. It’s helpful to talk shop to get through ruts or writer’s block, etc.

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Tell us more about your book.

“Dead over Heels” started as a quick sketch several years ago. It sat on my computer until one day I decided to revise it. I was inspired by some of the local ghost lore in Ft. Lauderdale, having been on the ghost tour downtown and also having had worked in the area when I was younger. I infused a bit of online dating frustration into the story—knowing from experience that it can be somewhat horrific and soul-crushing. So, I wanted to mix the paranormal with the lives of two people who meet and think that they have a chance at true love. However, since relationships always have their challenges, they must face their pasts. They find that they have more than a romantic connection. Their lives are tangled in ways that they can’t even imagine—and, it’s supernatural to boot. The story is about how they confront this and whether or not they can get out alive.

What are you currently reading?

I just loaded Nicole Cushing’s The Sadist’s Bible and Hunter Shea’s The Jersey Devil onto my Kindle. They were listed as some of the best horror of 2016.

What’s next for you?

I just submitted my latest tale to a vampire anthology. And, I have several unfinished stories that I’m working on. I’ll be tackling a sort of time travel into another dimension in one. Another story involves a group of satanic teens and what happens when they invite evil into their lives. Eventually, I’ll tackle finishing a novel or two, but at the moment I’m having too much fun working on shorter stories.

Amazon Author Page | Facebook | Twitter @tbraun_author

Ask The Author: Connor Grant

Author Connor Grant drops in to The Bandwagon to talk about his writing process.

authorpic1Connor Grant is a 23 year old writer based in the north of England, specialising in Lovecraftian Horror, Thrillers, and Crime fiction. When not writing, he’ll be found reading, or at the least pretending to. Connor studied Journalism at Huddersfield University, before moving on to his real passion in life – writing.
What inspired you to start writing?

One of the main things, really, was that I’ve just always loved reading. There’s something timeless about getting a book, a good one, and spending decent time reading it. Growing up, I read alot of the classics; The Narnia Books, things like that. As I grew up, I got more into science fiction, fantasy. I remember seeing the Lord of the Rings books as a child in the school library, and thinking what huge hulking things they were. It was a little over my level, so I waited.

As I hit secondary school I started to get more into horror writing, Stephen King, some of Gaiman’s stuff. I was also kinda fascinated by things like the movie Platoon. I ended up writing as part of my GCSE a 64 page novella titled “The Changing Man,” which dealt with things such as PTSD at the like. I got an A* on it, so that was pretty reinforcing that I must’ve been doing something right.

Then I hit college, and a friend of mine by the name of Aiden gave me a copy of “At The Mountains of Madness” by H.P. Lovecraft. It was unlike anything I’d read before – it was sort of mythological, and contained elements of horror and science fiction that I loved but felt hadn’t been explored properly. Things like the Ancient Astronaut Theory, and how humanity started. It was just fascinating to read.

After that, I kinda started metabolising the idea of my e-book “The Visitor”, which came out in around about February time. I started getting a little more momentum, think about what worked and what didn’t in that book. I then kind of wrote Years of The Worm as a semi-autobiographical piece, and as a kind of back-up placed it in the same world as The Visitor. It was an idea just to add a little more depth, but I’m quickly finding that writing stuff in a shared universe is actually pretty fun and a little daunting – you put ideas and seeds and references and try not to step on the other books toes. It’s fun.

Back on topic, it’s those early books, definitely; and also my friend Aiden and that old beaten up book he gave me once on the walk to the bus station after College.

What do you wish you’d known about the publishing process?

I wish I’d known a few things – especially because I was shooting for a self publishing angle. I’m considered shopping around, looking for an agent, but to test the waters, I settled on going on the old fashioned route.

Self publishing is a strange beast – there are things that you go into it expecting, sure, but there’s things in there that I certainly wasn’t aware of. I have a marketing and PR background, but even so, getting a name out there for yourself can be very, very challenging.

One thing that I wish I’d known before was formatting. That’s a big, big part of self publishing – you can slave away at a 85+k book, and then find that due to the requirements size wise for your print edition, it can end up taking just as long to format. That’s a big one. That applies with things like covers, too – I try and keep mine relatively simple, just because I think there’s an old kind of qaulity to it. Even then, there’s things like the format and size of your cover which you need to consider. They seem obvious after the fact, but beforehand it can be easy to not even register them. Spine size relative to page length, color of paper, finish on the cover – a great many heads to that particular thing.

Which authors do you look to for inspiration?

I mentioned H.P Lovecraft earlier, and I think he’s a good one. His views outside of his work are a little sketchy, but his actual creativity is envious. I also quite like a chap by the name of Thomas Ligotti – he writes philosophical horror, and it can be a very heavy thing to read. There’s something in the way he can construct a sentence, though, that reminds me of a more refined, arguably better Poe.

I quite like Stephen King, too, because he’s a very honest writer. His books can be a little daunting to read; I think The Stand was some monolithian thing that took me a couple years on and off to read. Neil Gaiman is a good choice – mostly because there’s a quality to his writing that makes it seem almost like magical realism. He’s just a great guy.

One guy who I also like is a Graphic Novel Writer called Garth Ennis. He’s a big one for me at the moment. There’s a few people who don’t consider Graphic Novels and comics literature, but I think that’s silly. Ennis, for example, can take some horrible situations, and with his dialogue, craft a strange kind of heartfelt beauty to them. His series Preacher, for instance. There’s a line in that near the end which goes something like “Now take my hand and I’ll love you till the stars go out.” It’s a horror franchise, kind of, but there’s lines like that which can take you back and make you feel something. End of the day, that’s what books are supposed to do, doesn’t really matter in terms of format.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers? 

Keep at it, and if people start to scrutinize or belittle what you’re doing, do it more. It can be hard starting out – there’s the conversation when you meet people of “what do you do?” and you say “a writer” with as much dignity as you can, but there’s the sense that they might not consider that a real job. Screw them, do it more.

Another thing I’d advise is, if you’re struggling, ask yourself a “what if” question to get the ball rolling. That’s the best, most honest thing you can do – two juxtaposing ideas, no matter how farfetched, and make it work.

Tell us more about your book. years_of_the_worm_cover_for_kindle

I have two currently, a third one on the way. That sounds like I’m talking about kids a little. Weird.

Anyway, the first one is called The Visitor, and deals with a small town in Oregon called Point Truth where a local girl was killed. A man comes out of nowhere with a promise to the grieving mother that he not only knows who killed her daughter, but that he can get them for her. It’s kind of about small town paranoia, and also government exploitation and the treatment of PTSD. A little heavy, sure, but fun to write. I kinda tried to get that vibe of the old 80’s action movies like The Terminator and spin a little bit of Lovecraft in there.

My second is called Years of The Worm and is set up the road from my first one; and deals with a writer who goes back to his old home town in the Dakota’s to try and find out what happened to them as kids, after a friend from his youth turns up at a book signing and later goes out to commit murder, then commit suicide. It’s a dark thing, but I put a lot of myself into it. There’s some stuff about young love that hurt to write, but that’s why it works.

My next one (currently like ¾ of the way done) is called Eden Parish, and is sort of a strange mix of detective and noir, with supernatural horror, vampire fiction, and Lovecraftian influences. It’s a fun little thing, and has a pretty dense chunk of lore to it that was fun to write. I can’t say too much, but if you like books with moral ambiguity in a protagonist, then you’ll be fine.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading a few things – Bazaar of Bad Dreams by King, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and also a book called Uzamaki  by manga artist Junji Ito. It’s pretty damn creepy, and his artwork is beautiful.

What’s next for you?

Well, I’m aiming to get Eden Parish done with the next month or so, then after that I have another book that I’m drafting called A Place to Bury Horses, which is kind of a vigilante book within a book. It’s a tricky thing, because I’m experimenting with formatting and seeing how it goes. After that, in May I’m gonna be selling Eden Parish,The Visitor and Years of The Worm at a horror convention in Sheffield.

After that, we’ll see how it goes, really. Got a feeling it’ll be a good year, all the same.

Connor Grant | @Con_Writes