Interview by Thomas J. Wolfenden.

Recently I was interviewed by talented author Thomas J. Wolfenden. Thom has penned two great post-apocalyptic books, One Man’s Island and One Man’s War. I’ve read both and recommend them heartily.

Anyway, Thom sent me thirty-nine questions a little while ago asking me about myself and I gave thirty-nine answers. Let’s face it, who doesn’t mind talking about themselves?

So here’s the link to his blog and the interview.

Them’s Writing Words

I write in the mornings. I have to: I work in the afternoons and evenings. But I think I’d write in the mornings anyway, given that my mind is then fresh and I have some kind of enthusiasm going for me.

Now I have book contracts out there, I have deadlines. And meeting the deadline is what turns things into a need to churn out a certain number of words a day. I often hear other writers say how many words they do per day: 2,000, 3,000 – even one who boasted she’d done 22,000 in one weekend. Some do 20,000 words a week. Some can churn out a novel in six weeks.

I set myself at 1,000 words a day for five days a week. After 1,000 words my brain starts to scream at me to stop the pain, although the most I did once was 4,000 in one sitting. My first book, ‘Days of Iron’, too me ten years to write. It’s still due for another edit. It could be better.

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Nicholas Monsarrat, author of ‘The Tribe That Lost Its Head’ and ‘The Master Mariner’, wrote 600 words a day. He did this after consuming two beers for breakfast. R. F. Delderfield wrote 23 pages a day. Georges Simenon, 20 pages. Jack London, between 1,000 and 1500 per day; Stephen King, 2,000. It took J. R. R. Tolkein eleven years to write ‘The Lord of the Rings’, which is a hefty 670,000 words. That works out to 245 words a day.

Every writer has their goal of words per day. I guess in the end it doesn’t matter, as long as the thing gets done.

Apart from words per day, writers have their own schedules for drafting, research, editing. I tend to research as I go. My current series, ‘The Jabberwocky Book’, (https://www.facebook.com/writerproctor) needs a lot of research as it’s set in London in 1901. While I’ve been to London, I wasn’t there in 1901. A lot has changed. In the first novel of the series, ‘The Red King’, there is a scene set in a hansom cab – an action scene involving an escape from kidnappers. My heroine (Dorothy Gale from ‘The Wizard of Oz’) fights off an attacker while the cab barrels along the road late at night. Only thing was, some of the things she did to escape were not possible in a hansom cab. I had to research about the design of cabs in order to re-write the scene. The second book, ‘An Unkindness of Ravens’, is set in New York. I have to research carefully as to what buildings were in existence back then.

Research is vital. I read a book recently in which the hero reads ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce. Problem is, the book was set in the Nineteenth Century and ‘Ulysses’ was first published in 1922. Readers will pick up things like that. So, I research as I go. I’ll write something and then stop to do research when the story goes in a certain direction.

Editing is another thing writers have to plan for. I edit my books several times over, changing things a lot the first few times, not so much in the end. And I still find things I wish to change even after the book is out. Getting friends to read what you’ve written and giving advice is another essential thing, although sometimes they take too long.

So, writing is hard work, and the results are not guaranteed. But, of course, we continue to do it. Simply because we have to.

So I write in the mornings and work in the evenings. It’s a good life. I allow myself Sundays off, sometimes. Often I’m doing research or whatever, or trying out other ideas. Or writing a poem.

So, back to the grind. I haven’t done my 1,000 words yet. And I need to research a few things about cathedrals.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

My Early Writings and Other Embarrassing Confessions

 

I haven’t posted anything for a while, as I’ve been hard at work writing the first draft of my new novel, The Red King. For more information about it, and an excerpt of the first chapter, go to my website http://www.russellproctor.com/.

What I want to tell you about here is my writing process and my early attempts as a teenager to write. Because sometimes I like to embarrass myself, okay?

Quite frankly, this is the fastest I have ever produced a first draft. I’ve been trying to write 1,000 words a day of The Red King, which I haven’t quite achieved, but it has been at least a goal to try and move things along.

My last two books, Days of Iron and Plato’s Cave, both took years to write. Literally. Days of Iron was started when I was just seventeen. I wrote a few thousand words (by hand) and thought it was load of rubbish and put it aside. Thankfully I never throw that sort of thing out, and years later I took it out again. What prompted that resurrection was 9/11.

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Days of Iron is about terrorism 400 years in the future. But it wasn’t always. It started out as a book about a future society that keeps its citizens under surveillance rather like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. After 9/11, I thought it might work better (and be more contemporary) as a book about terrorism, so I started writing it again and managed to finish it. It had its critics. There is a scene with a suicide bomber in it and an editor I had look over the book suggested that it might be “too close to home” and I should delete that scene. Thankfully, I didn’t.

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Plato’s Cave began as a result of a lecture I attended at university about the allegory of the cave that Plato discusses in his book The Republic. I was fascinated by the concept and started writing a story based on the idea. It, too, was judged rubbish after a few thousand words and relegated to the filing cabinet. After Days of Iron was published, I was looking for something else to write, and pulled Plato’s Cave out of the cave. It was still crap, but crap with potential, so I completely re-jigged the story, took out some of the quite frankly stupid stylistic experiments, and managed to finish it, too, in record time (well, record for me).

I have attempted other books, like all authors, and have a filing cabinet full of seminal works. Almost all are total crap. I still have the manuscripts, however. My early teens were filled with efforts to write copy-cat fantasy stories based on J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis – but I guess most fantasy/SF writers had teenage years like that, emulating the giants. Two that I remember (and occasionally read to remind myself what a totally untalented wanker I was) were The Horsemen of the Wind (wanker title – sounds like a story about a troop of cavalry on a ration of baked beans and cabbage!) and The Grey Swordsman (better title, although still not good, and generally better story). Both were initially hand-written, but The Grey Swordsman was eventually typed up on a manual typewriter by me over the course of an entire school holidays. It remains unfinished – the last chapter concludes at the end of the cataclysmic battle between titanic armies of demons and dragon-riding warriors over a literally bottomless chasm, but the resolution breaks off in mid sword-stroke, as it were.

The Horsemen of the Wind, written earlier in time, had a half-written sequel, The Quest of Linhir, which actually had some attempts at characterisation, unusual for teenager-written action-adventure fantasy stories. The fact that every character in the book, including the female ones, acted like a teenage boy was beside the point. I was making an effort.

The Horsemen of the Wind was about two teenagers (boy and girl, although their names kept changing throughout) who are transported by some mysterious means (mysterious to me, too) to another world where they meet the only survivor of the Sheerdawn, the eponymous Horsemen, who have been wiped out by an invading army of totally non-scary warriors from a distant land. The teens help the survivor, whose name also changes practically from one page to the next, to warn a neighbouring country that they are the next for the chop from the invaders. There are two major battles, which said teens somehow manage to survive despite having absolutely no ability to fight at all and they stay there afterwards to live happily ever after until the sequel. In the first draft, they return home to our world, but I thought that was too neat an ending.

The Grey Swordsman was set entirely in a fantasy world that consisted of a series of ‘islands’ that were actually the tops of mountains rising out of a bottomless abyss that extended forever. In this story, the hero , the Grey Swordsman, inherits the title from his father, who is too old for the job of guarding The Sword (I was really good at inventing names back then) which had a legendary history of having one been a set of chains that bound an evil monster. The original Swordsman stole the chains and forged them into a sword to defeat an enemy attacking his country at the time. The Sword was then passed down father to son. The hero of this story is called upon by the ruling gods of the world to return The Sword as it is now needed once more because the original monster the chains were keeping in check has returned in the form of a black flame. So he sets off to return it and ends up having to defeat the flame himself with the help of a good-looking witch (who he actually has sex with in one chapter – racy stuff when you’re sixteen) and a rather unfunny bit of comic relief in the form of a wandering minstrel (whom he doesn’t have sex with).

Legendary stuff.

Of course, there have been other attempts by me to write books. Some of them are ideas I keep on the back burner as I may return to them one day. Phosphorus is set in a clockwork universe. Born and Become is a story about a race of time-travellers engaged in a civil war. I’d like to write the story of my climb up Mt Kilimanjaro (I really did that) and the safari through Africa that followed it. That one would be called Up, Down and Sideways.

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But I need to get back to The Red King now. Set in Edwardian London, a serial killer is causing fear and panic through the streets and only two people stand in his way – Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He doesn’t stand a chance!

– Russell Proctor www.russellproctor.com

Things I Love About Brisbane

If you aren’t an Australian – and I know there are some of you out there – you may not have been to, or even have heard of, Brisbane. It’s the capital of Queensland. Other than that, some people know very little about it.

I knew a friend of a friend from Sydney once who hated Brisbane. Sydney was better than Brisbane in every possible way, he said. It was livelier, had more entertainment, was faster, bigger, more interesting. He had definite opinions about this and expressed them to visiting Brisbaneites such as myself on a continual basis. I could hardly say anything in his presence without him disputing me as an ignorant Queenslander who really had to be pitied for not living in the greatest city on Earth (Sydney).
One day I asked him when he had been to Brisbane, since a lot of his information was out of date. “Oh,” he replied with a straight face, “I’ve never been there.”
He said it proudly, as if visiting Brisbane was like catching malaria.
He had all those opinions, based on no personal experience.
There was another man I knew, many years later, also from Sydney who hated not only Brisbane, but Queensland generally. Everything was better in New South Wales. One day we were standing in line waiting at a work-related barbeque (Australians are good at barbeques, and waiting in line for them is an art form). He was behind me in the queue drinking a particular brand of Queensland-brewed beer. He took a swig, made a face, and looked at me. “Even the beer is bad here,” he said. I made no reply, but he no doubt caught the look on my face and he shut up. I later commented to someone else that if he hated Queensland so much, why didn’t he go back home? Eventually he did, but he stole teaching materials belonging to other teachers and the school in doing so.
Now, I have nothing against Sydney or New South Wales. It was mere coincidence, I’m sure, that both of these Brisbane-knockers came from there. They are just the other side of the tick gate, after all.
(The tick gate is the wonderful border between Queensland and New South Wales that prevents Queensland nasties like ticks and fruit flies crossing over south. Like a gate is going to stop them doing that. It’s probably as effective at keeping out unwanted alien bugs as the US/Mexico border is at keeping out Mexicans.)
Anyway, I’m not wanting to maintain what Brisbane has over Sydney, or any other place for that matter. Brisbane is its own soul. May as well compare London and Lima, or San Francisco and Seoul. They both have people in them, that’s about it.
What I would like to do is list some of the things I like about Brisbane. I’ve lived a sizeable chunk of my life here, and there are some things, places, institutions and attitudes I’ve some to love. So here they are:
1) The Thomas Brisbane Planetarium.

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This is such a cool place it features in my novel ‘Plato’s Cave’. You can lie back inside and see the night sky outside. It’s educational and awesome at the same time.
2) The way public transport passengers say “Thank you” to the bus driver or the ferry deckhand as they leave. That’s nice.

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3) The Brisbane River.

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We are known as The River City. I’ve written about the City Cat ferries before. They are a great way of seeing the place. But the river itself is also very scenic and immensely practical. It floods more often than is desirable, but the city is built on a river plain. It’s remarkably flat and, yes, a wide river flowing through a flat plain is going to flood with monotonous regularity. But the old Queensland-style house, up on stumps, is designed to deal with that. Pity they don’t make those anymore. And while on the subject:
4) The architecture.

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Queenslander-style houses. The Banana State’s contribution to house design. Brisbane is a mix of old and new. I know a lot of cities are, but here we have places like Spring Hill that resist the new to the death and give the old a lovely charm.
5) We beat New South Wales at football every damn time.

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Sorry, I had to slip that in. Queenslander!
6) Mount Coot-Tha.

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This is the highest point around this flat river plain. They put the TV transmission towers up there and they make a distinctive skyline. The mountain is also full of bush walks and waterfalls, etc. And besides, how many other cities have a mountain with such a weird name? Mount Coot-Tha. It’s actually pronounced ‘Mount Cootha’. You can tell who the tourists are.
7) The Story Bridge.

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Another Brisbane icon, also featured in my novel ‘Plato’s Cave’ – look, why don’t you just buy a copy? The bridge’s distinctive shape is eye-catching.
8) Queen Street Mall.

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It’s not large, it’s not the best in the world, it’s not awe-inspiring. But it’s a great place to sit and watch the world go by. I frequently do. People watching can be a great pastime. Street entertainers also make things…well, entertaining.
9) Moreton Bay.

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Coochiemudlo Island in particular. We have had a holiday house there since the early 1970’s.

10) The weather.

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A few weeks ago, in the depths of what passes for winter up here, someone wrote to the local paper complaining about Brisbane people rugging up against the “chill”. There is a bit of a chill here in winter (which usually occurs on a Friday in July). He was from Canberra (which is REALLY cold) and thought we were a bunch of weaklings for dressing like it was cold and complaining about the temperature being below 20 Celsius. Well, you see, the temperature isn’t often below 20, so when it is it makes a real difference. Our weather is great. Warm, sunny (except when it rains, and then it really does rain. Remember that flood-prone river?) and a little hot in summer, but then that’s when all the southern people come to Brisbane for the Christmas holidays, so they mustn’t complain about that too much. But Brisbane’s weather is amazing no matter what it’s doing. Sunshine, storms, rain…it has it all.

There are things I’ve left out, but this is just ten off the top of my head.

Remember, I’m not saying Brisbane is better than anywhere else. It isn’t. But these are just some things I like about it.

And if you want to complain, just go back home.

Russell Proctor – www.russellproctor.com