Author Interview: Christopher Nuttall

 

First of all, just how many books do you have published? You seem to have so many that it is hard to keep track! 😉

Well, I have a complete bibliography here. It comes to over 100! It doesn’t count, I should add, my early works. Some of them will never see the light of day, some are available for free on my site.

 

Have you always been able to write books so quickly? Or has your writing process sped up with time?

It comes with practice, really. I started at a few hundred words a day and worked my way up, taking the time to learn the ropes as I added more and more words to my daily total. I picked up a few tricks – always have at least a rough plot, always keep a list of your characters – as I moved along, as well as listening to helpful critics and trying to learn from them. When I moved to Malaysia and started working full time, I hit an average of around 9000 words per day and I’ve tried to keep it that way for novels. (Novellas and short stories are often different – I’ve done a couple of them at reduced rates, at least partly to fit them in with my schedule.)
Not having a day job does help, to be fair. But I have kids!

 

You have made a lot of success, and all of it has been through publishing novels either yourself or through independent presses. What is the story of how you managed to achieve such a wide (and loyal) readership?

I think in some ways I got lucky – I churned my way through the first years of the writing life, learning what to do and what NOT to do before Indie publishing really took off. I posted originally on a number of discussion boards, listened to comments and learnt from them; I still have readers who read me well before I became successful. They bought the first books and helped to boost them, which made others notice and set off a series of buys, reviews, shares, etc. It wouldn’t have worked so well, I think, if I’d gone indie right at the start. There are countless authors who write a book, put it up for sale without doing even basic editing and sink without a trace. I got through the ‘learn the basics’ stage before I started selling books online.

The key is to give the readers what they want – the customer, as they say, is always right. (Yes, I have worked in shops; there are times when the customer is wrong … this isn’t one of them.) The better authors, the ones who take risks, do it with an established fanbase who are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Heinlein, for example, only started exploring more far-out ideas after he’d made a name for himself. In the real world, you don’t get to say, “I am the author. You are the audience. I outrank you!”
But then, in the real world, you’re not aiming for a flop either.

 

Do you have any tips for other talented writers out there who seek to get noticed?

Generally, work hard, learn to edit (and get an editor, because it’s hard to edit yourself), get a decent cover artist, and grow a thick skin. The internet is forever. There are authors out there who lashed out at their critics (to be fair, some of those critics were behaving very badly) and are remembered for that, rather than anything more important. Generally, block someone who is being an ass and forget them. And work hard; if you build up a body of work, you will be noticed.

 

 

If someone wanted to read you for the first time, which book would you recommend for them to start with? (I understand that you work in more than just one genre, so you can answer that question accordingly for each one of them if you like)

That’s a tricky question. If someone is into YA magic school fiction, they could start with The Zero Blessing or Schooled in Magic; if someone is into alternate history, they could start with Storm Front or The Royal Sorceress (which combines alternate history with fantasy); if they’re into military science-fiction, they could start with Ark Royal or The Empire’s Corps. Any of them would be a fairly good introduction to me.

 

 

One thing which I have noticed, whilst following your progress, is that you have several different series on the go, and you dip in and out of them frequently. Do you ever get confused and/or need some time to re-adjust yourself into each world when you switch?

Not that often. I generally write out plots and reread them (and the earlier plots) before I start each successor book.

 

 

Although you write through several different genres, the thing you seem to be most known for is the ‘magic school’ subgenre. You not only have several ongoing series where they feature as either a setting or theme, but also edit anthologies based around them. What is it about them which draws you?

It’s hard to say. I had a very bad experience in boarding school myself, which soured me on ‘pure’ boarding school novels, but I enjoyed Harry Potter and The Worst Witch. I suppose the magic helps overcome the problems. Hogwarts, for example, has all the flaws of the typical pre-1914 boarding school, yet it is also wondrous in a way none of the real schools ever were. But, at the same time, it’s also fun to deconstruct some of the tropes of the older magic schools stories.

I came up with the idea of Fantastic Schools, at least in part, as a way of giving something back to the community. Short stories are a good way for a new writer to get noticed, so I more or less committed myself to write a novella for each book to boost sales (and hopefully trigger a knock-on effect).

 

 

You have spent some time in Malaysia (as your wife is from there), has that ever inspired any of the settings or cultures in your books? And if not, is it something you might consider in the future?

In some ways, I think. Kuala Lumpur is a mixture of very rich and very poor, a blending of expensive shops from all over the world and street markets for the very poor, all jammed together. It helped outline what some of the bigger cities in Schooled in Magic would be like, although there were a lot of differences. (And a lot of the ‘magic’ words in the series are actually Malay; I have a reader who’s from Malaysia and he recognised them.)

More fundamentally, looking at Schooled in Magic in particular, I honestly could not have written the first books if I hadn’t been living in Malaysia at the time. Emily’s faint sense of disconnection from the Nameless World is akin to the feeling I had while I was staying there, even though – intellectually – I knew this to be nonsense.

 

 

What book are you currently reading?

Too many to mention, really. I was rereading Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician by Anthony Everitt, then Road to Suez: The Battle of the Canal Zone by Michael T Thornhill and The Brothers York by Thomas Penn. And I’ve also been reading a handful of new fiction books.

 

And finally, would you like to name for us three books which you feel more people should read, and tell us why?

Again, too many to mention. Personally, I think more people should study history; it might teach us a few lessons before we had to relearn them in blood.

Author Interview: Craig Meighan

Craig Meighan was born in Lanarkshire, in central Scotland. Both a keen drummer and a fan of science fiction, he grew up wanting to be either Animal from The Muppets or Douglas Adams. This has led to an unfortunate habit of smashing up his computer at the end of each writing session.

With the ambition of becoming a screenwriter, he attended film college in Glasgow. He spent a short time making corporate videos and then after attending one chance meeting, he accidentally joined the civil service. Intending to stay for one summer, he ended up staying for 12 years (so think carefully before inviting him round for tea).

He is too polite to say which of the killer robots, demons and other assorted antagonists that appear in his book, are based on his interactions with actual government ministers.

His first novel, Far Far Beyond Berlin, was written in the evenings, after work, every day for a year, at the end of which time his wife Jen convinced him it was time to finally leave the safety of the office job and pursue writing full-time. She cunningly incentivised him by promising that if he managed to get his book published, he could get a big dog.

Craig lives with Jen, just outside Glasgow, where they like to play softball, enter pub quizzes and do escape rooms. He is delighted to announce that they are expecting a greyhound.

 

First of all. Tell us more about Far Far Beyond Berlin. Considering your bio, it seems like it may have some biographical elements? 😉

It’s a book about a jaded, disillusioned office worker who ends up being accidentally transported to another universe. That universe is God’s first disastrous attempt at creation.  There are six of these ruined worlds and he has to find his way home by travelling along the chain.  Meanwhile, God has dispatched his angel of death, Fate, to kill the poor man as he is unknowingly on a path that will see him end all of existence.
In terms of it being biographical – the jaded, disillusioned office worker part is certainly biographical.  I worked as a civil servant whilst writing it and aspects of that job were deep in the process of draining my will to live.   Pretty much everything, until he gets sucked into his photocopier and transported to another universe, is somewhat based on real things.

 

Beyond the surface plot, what would you say are its principal themes?

I think there are probably two key themes:

  1. Failure – more specifically that everyone does it, it’s ok and failing for the right reasons is still a worthwhile pursuit in a lot of cases.
  2. Broadening your horizons – The character suddenly has to deal with the world beyond his computer screen and that was certainly something I was yearning for whilst writing it.

I was obviously delighted to immediately be prevented from going anywhere by a two-year global pandemic!

 

Was it the first novel you attempted to write?

I’d tried before a few times.  Part of the reason I got my head down and finished this book, is that I was becoming someone who was talking/thinking about writing a book without actually following through and finishing the thing.  I’d always wanted to write a book and I’d written a load of short stories.  I didn’t actually think it was possible for working class people from Glasgow to become published authors, unless they were writing deadly serious literary works about growing up working in the shipyards.

When it came to writing a novel, I started loads of drafts and rarely got very far before I lost my way and gave up.  Mostly it was because they were a bit shite (and some of them were a lot shite), but I think at least a part of it was that I put the concept of a novel on such a lofty pedestal that the volume of work required just seemed out of my reach and I wanted draft #1 to be perfect which is an impossible goal.

It changed for me when my wife Jen and I were watching Pointless one evening (we are VERY rock and roll) and they were talking about Frederick Forsyth. They said that he wrote The Day of The Jackal in 60 days whilst working for the civil service (which is where I working at the time).  I set myself the slightly easier target of 100 days to finish a book.  I had one draft I’d started which actually showed some promise so I worked on that.   Once I started treating it like a responsibility, with a deadline, my productivity went through the roof and I got the first draft done on day 100.

I have learned so much from writing a book and it has changed my philosophy on a lot of things beyond the limits of the page.  Taking creative endeavours seriously and treating them like you’d treat a job, doesn’t kill my joy for it in the way I feared it might.  It just makes you more professional in your approach and more vigorous in your pursuit of it.

 

 

How long did it take you to find a publisher for it?

I finished the book in late 2018 and I signed with Elsewhen Press in March 2020.  I got a reasonable amount of interest from various publishers and a small number of agents but there was a lot of nervousness about the religious characters that appear in the book, especially given that it’s a comedy and there is technically blasphemy throughout.  I can totally understand that, but it was really disappointing to hear the same thing over and over again.  This is a quote from one of the rejection letters I received:

“We loved this book; it is perhaps the most laugh-out-loud funny book we’ve ever been sent.  It was very entertaining from cover to cover and we have no real negative feedback for you (it does require some editing in places).  However, we have made the difficult decision to pass on the book as the religious themes and characters may make it difficult to place in the market.  We feel that it is too much of a risk to spend the money to take it to publication.  Other publishers may feel differently though, so please don’t be discouraged. We wish you success in finding a home for it.”  

I appreciated them taking the time to explain their thinking (you don’t always get that).  But it’s actually a more difficult rejection to take because you don’t have a clue what to do with the information.  I didn’t know whether to change the book, which seemed to be working as intended or whether to change who I was approaching etc.  In the end, indie publishers were much more receptive and I found that a really good group of small presses exist in the UK that are happy with a more specific product.

 

You studied at film college with the intention of becoming a screenwriter. Do you think this has had any influence on the kind of writer you became?

I think it has probably made me write more dialogue than other authors. That’s not necessarily good or bad, but it certainly affects pace and tone.  I’d say I have a more conversational style than most and a relatively quick pace as a result of starting with scripts.

 

What is next? Does Far Far Beyond Berlin have a sequel, or are you currently working on something completely new?

Far Far Beyond Berlin has a fairly definitive ending so was always intended to be a standalone.  I’m just about finished editing a second book I’ve written in a totally different genre and then I will be trying to finish a book I’ve started about a heist on a colonised Mars.   If I write that well then it is perhaps the start of a series.

 

Would you consider writing in any other genres?

I have just finished writing/editing a hard-boiled detective book set in 40s Hollywood.   Crime is my other passion, I love snappy, punchy, noirish stories with lots of dialogue and plenty of action.  Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett are my two favourite writers in the genre.

Other than that, I’d love to write something for children, I’ve not thought of anything suitable though!

Far Far Beyond Berlin has a picture of a nice cartoon goose on the cover, so some people have asked if they can get it for their children and I’ve said that it is, of course, their parenting decision to make, but that the book does have five instances of the word ‘cunt’ in it, so please take that into account!

So, given my sweary nature, it’s quite possible that I might struggle to write a children’s story!  I’d probably end up with an unpublishable story about a duck who isn’t allowed to play games with the other ducks, not because they’re bullies or he’s different, but because he keeps calling them “a bunch of quacking twats”.

 

What book are you currently reading?

I’m currently working my way through the Wheel of Time series for the first ever time.  I’m on book 4 The Shadow Rising and absolutely loving it.  These are the sorts of books (epic fantasy) that I just will never be able to write.  So, I am impressed and enthralled at the same time.  There’s an absolutely insane level of confidence involved in doing a series of that size.  If someone told me I HAD to write 14 books that are 900 pages a pop and have it all tie together and make sense, I would cry until I was a dead, dried-up husk.

 

And finally, would you like to give a shout out for three books which you feel more people should read, and tell us why?

Everyone should read The Salmon of Doubt.  It’s the unpublished works and correspondence of the late, great Douglas Adams.  You will find out that he writes letters to his agent that are better than most people’s novels.  The amount of creative energy he would invest in a letter, a foreword or a little short piece for some obscure pamphlet is absolutely inspiring.  And it’s hilarious throughout.

Tom Holt’s The Portable Door and all the subsequent books in that series.  They are the work of a master clockmaker. Intricate, detailed, high quality parts that all come together and work perfectly.  The level of intelligence is off the charts and he somehow also makes them funny.  He’s an unsung hero of the fantasy world, I think.  He should be as big as Gaiman and Pratchett etc.

The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler.  It’s a short story collection added to an essay collection.  In it, you will be given sage advice about story writing and then also see a master at work.  If you’re a person who suffers from writer’s block or get’s stuck at bottlenecks in stories, the advice is strong:

“When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand” – in other words, create an interruption which will force your character to do something in response.

And obviously you should read all books available from the good people at Elsewhen Press!

 

Far Far Beyond Berlin, was published in a digital edition on 19th March 2021 and will be published in paperback in May 2021.

Not everything goes to plan at the first attempt… In Da Vinci’s downstairs loo hung his first, borderline insulting, versions of the Mona Lisa. Michelangelo’s back garden was chock-a-block full of ugly lumps of misshapen marble. Even Einstein committed a great ‘blunder’ in his first go at General Relativity. God is no different, this universe may be His masterpiece, but there were many failed versions before it – and they’re still out there.

Far Far Beyond Berlin is a fantasy novel, which tells the story of a lonely, disillusioned government worker’s adventures after being stranded in a faraway universe – Joy World: God’s first, disastrous attempt at creation.


God’s previous universes, a chain of 6 now-abandoned worlds, are linked by a series of portals. Our jaded hero must travel back through them, past the remaining dangers and bizarre stragglers. He’ll join forces with a jolly, eccentric and visually arresting, crew of sailors on a mysteriously flooded world. He’ll battle killer robots and play parlour games against a clingy supercomputer, with his life hanging in the balance. He’ll become a teleportation connoisseur; he will argue with a virtual goose – it sure beats photocopying.

Meanwhile, high above in the heavens, an increasingly flustered God tries to manage the situation with His best friend Satan; His less famous son, Jeff; and His ludicrously angry angel of death, a creature named Fate. They know that a human loose in the portal network is a calamity that could have apocalyptic consequences in seven different universes. Fate is dispatched to find and kill the poor man before the whole place goes up in a puff of smoke; if he can just control his temper…

Bloodsworn: Book 1 of the Avatars of Ruin by Tej Turner (Book Review #874)

A review from Jeyran Main 🙂

Review Tales

Blood Sworn is a dark fantasy action-adventure set in a euro-centric secondary world. It is the first book of the Avatars of Ruin series, and it begins with Kyra running late for the males of Jalard are recruiting, and she really wants to be picked. It is tough to be chosen as the only woman there as they consider their arts to be only for their own kind. Her existence from the start is a nuisance to them as she perseveres them and proves them wrong.

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