Two items of Q&A – with one ‘A’ from me and one, I hope, from you…! ;)

The first is something I was asked this week via the MySpace page of Jagmat from The Black Tattoo. Huge respect and kudos – partly just for not letting the whole shapeshifting blancmange monster thing put him off! – to Mykell, from Maryland, USA, who wondered:

What kind of research do u do when u are writing ur books?

Research… hmm. If you’re talking about facts and figures, details of setting and time and place and action… it depends.

I think details are important, especially in a fantasy story: they give the reader something to hang onto; they make things seem real. For instance, I got the fight scenes in Black Tat checked out by genuine martial artists. While I was writing the book, I met a lady at a party who turned out to be the ranking Number 3 North European Women’s Sabre Champion! She was wonderfully sporting about reading Black Tat’s swordfights for me: I got these excellent emails from her saying, ‘Well, ok: if I was fighting a thirty-foot-long hedgehog centipede beast, I suppose I’d start off on the back foot, with this sort of a grip…’ and off she went. I hope those kinds of details give some realistic weight and crunch to Black Tat’s fights. And if a story needs other kinds of information, I’ll find out everything I can.

But here’s the thing: that stuff should only ever be in service to the story. The story comes first. Because no amount of detail is going to make the readers care if they’re not involved in the scene, feeling for the characters, wondering what’s going to happen next.

The story is the hard bit – the main thing to focus on – it seems to me.

…Which brings me to my second question.

Jethrosplatter

Slice Three of JETHRO’S ACE OF HEARTS, the thirteen-part story I’m currently serializing on Trapped By Monsters, goes live for your delectation tomorrow (Friday 6th Nov ’09) at 12 noon GMT.

My current plan is to have Slice Four go up this Monday, Slice Five go up next Friday, and so on. But a couple of my fellow TBM prisoners think I should go up to three episodes a week – posting on Wednesdays, too.

You, reading this: Hello! What do you think?

I think savouring the story slowly would be best – three slices a week might dominate the blog, and the story would finish very quickly. Or am I just being mean and stingy?

Leave a comment on Trapped By Monsters either way: I’m all ears.

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Comments? Suggestions? Questions? Me and THE WEBSPHINX would love to hear from you! Drop us a line at the Tim, Defender of the Earth Guestbook for current or Tim stuff, or The Black Tattoo Guestbook for Black Tat stuff. First (or demon-!) names only, please. ;)

Meet Mr Theophilus

Jethro 1

He’s the star of an experiment I’m doing over at Trapped By Monsters. During the next few weeks I’m seralizing a short story of mine called Jethro’s Ace of Hearts. I’ve broken it down into thirteen chunks, each one of which – to my enormous glee and delight – has been beautifully illustrated by a fellow monster prisoner, the magnificent David Melling.

As a Halloween special, the first post goes live tonight, Sat 31st Oct, at 11:59pm GMT. So for a free nasty story from me featuring gourmet cannibalism, horse-drawn carriages and other fun stuff like that, check www.trappedbymonsters.com

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Comments? Suggestions? Questions? Me and THE WEBSPHINX would love to hear from you! Drop us a line at the Tim, Defender of the Earth Guestbook for current or Tim stuff, or The Black Tattoo Guestbook for Black Tat stuff. First (or demon-!) names only, please. ;)

Here’s a nice piece of Black Tat art that was sent to me this week:

Ethan  the blacktatoo 2009 no. 2

ebirk wrote: Charlie with the Scourge on his back in Hell. Thank you for the opportunity to submit my art.

Thank you for sharing it, Ethan! Whenever my stories inspire people to do or make stuff, that gives me an enormous thrill. This fine pic will be going up on the Black Tat Reader Art Page very soon. Anyone else reading this who wants to show me their work will find all the details about how to do that either there or on the Reader Art Page for Tim.

Meanwhile, here are some follow-up questions from yesterday’s Trapped By Monsters Halloween Event (which, btw, was an absolute hoot – click the link to read all about it!) A big thank you to Derek, 9, from my home borough of Hackney, who wrote into the Tim Guestbook to ask the following:

Why did it take you five years to write The Black Tattoo? And how is it fun?!

Why did Black Tat take five years? That’s how long it took to get the book written and polished into the best shape I possibly could. The polishing was what took the longest (you can find out more at the Black Tat website). Black Tat was a big project for me, no doubt about it. But like any big project, if you break it down into manageable chunks (small steps towards your goal), and you do them, and keep doing them, because you want it, and love it, and believe in what you’re doing, then you can get there. If you approach it like that, you can achieve anything you want.

Some of writing Black Tat was definitely fun. I was excited about the story. I had to be, because most of the process of writing it was work. But I did it, I’m proud of it, and when people write in and tell me they enjoy reading the book, that makes me very, very happy.

I also just wanted to ask how you became quite famous. Has anyone inspired you???

Quite famous”? Hee hee hee! I wouldn’t even go that far! :D

I’m not famous. Most authors aren’t. But I am published: my books are available in shops and libraries and online, and people can read them if they want. For ten years that was my biggest ambition, and now it’s happened. How?

Again, no easy answer I’m afraid: I worked for it. I wrote stories. I sent them off to publishers and agents and anywhere else I could think of. I built up a pile of one hundred and thirty-four letters saying ‘no’. But I kept working on my stories, writing new ones, pushing myself to get better at this job of writing. I kept sending my stuff out. And eventually, one day, someone said ‘yes’.

Who inspired me? Lots of people! In particular, there were two terrific authors who came to visit my school when I was young: a comics writer called Alan Grant, and a poet called Ted Hughes. Both of them absolutely amazed me: they made this ambition of mine seem possible enough for me to decide to give it a serious go. It’s my hope that by visiting schools now and speaking to young people such as yourself, I just might – might – pass that sort of inspiration on to a new generation. Or, heh, that’s what I’m aiming for, anyway! ;)

Thanks for your questions, Derek. All best wishes to you,

Sam

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Comments? Suggestions? Questions? Me and THE WEBSPHINX would love to hear from you! Drop us a line at the Tim, Defender of the Earth Guestbook for current or Tim stuff, or The Black Tattoo Guestbook for Black Tat stuff. First (or demon-!) names only, please. ;)

I recently received this from my friend, the brilliant illustrator Barnaby Richards:

this_and_that.72dpi

Long-term Trapped By Monsters followers might remember Barnaby’s work from last February, when he sent us poor, captive authors a Message of Support. The monsters certainly do: his ’support’ was for the monsters!

If you feel the urge to create some monster art of your own – and with Halloween fast approaching, what better time than now? – my TBM Monster Art Attack giveaway is still very much alive. What with Barney’s entry above and this one from Michelangelo, results so far may have been slow but they’ve also been spectacular. Ready to take a crack at it? Click here for all the details.

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Comments? Suggestions? Questions? Me and THE WEBSPHINX would love to hear from you! Drop us a line at the Tim, Defender of the Earth Guestbook for current or Tim stuff, or The Black Tattoo Guestbook for Black Tat stuff. First (or demon-!) names only, please. ;)

Some people might find the sight of two hundred expectant young faces looking up at them to be somewhat alarming.

trentcollege091009pic1

Not me. Yesterday I did my stuff at Trent College, near Nottingham, and spent most of the day cackling like a loon. :D

trentcollege091009pic2

A huge and gleeful thank you to everyone in my sessions there for welcoming me so warmly, listening so attentively and for asking such awesome questions.

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Comments? Suggestions? Questions? Me and THE WEBSPHINX would love to hear from you! Drop us a line at the Tim, Defender of the Earth Guestbook for current or Tim stuff, or The Black Tattoo Guestbook for Black Tat stuff. First (or demon-!) names only, please. ;)

This week (Oct 5th-11th) is the Booktrust Children’s Book Week – a celebration of reading for pleasure for young people here in the UK. The theme this year is Words and Pictures. Their focus is on picture books, which is awesome of course. But I and my fellow cave denizens at Trapped By Monsters have been thinking about another type of visual storytelling: COMICS. Follow this link to TBM to read more.

deathnotekirkmancomics1

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Comments? Suggestions? Questions? Me and THE WEBSPHINX would love to hear from you! Drop us a line at the Tim, Defender of the Earth Guestbook for current or Tim stuff, or The Black Tattoo Guestbook for Black Tat stuff. First (or demon-!) names only, please. ;)

My first school visit of the new academic year was a two-day booking at The Harwich School in Essex. It was brilliant. The library, where I did my talks, was equipped with a laptop and a digital projector. Since I’ve just this week been sent the latest version of what might become the cover for CRAWLERS, I took the opportunity to test it out on its target audience…!

topsecret

The cover is a work-in-progress, so I’m not going to show it to you any more clearly than this (above) for now. But I will say that people’s reactions ['Sick', 'Cool' and - especially - 'Ew!'] were pretty much exactly what my publishers and I are hoping for. HEE HEE HEE!

mrdace

A monster thank you to Mr Dace (above) for inviting me and organizing this terrific visit, and huge and gleeful thanks to everyone I met at Harwich for the wonderful, warm welcome they gave me. All the questions I was asked over the course of the two days were excellent. Here’s one from Bex, 12, who wrote in to the Tim Guestbook:

What’s it like being an author? I wish to be one when I’m older.

I love being an author. It’s my dream job. But like any job, it’s not for everyone. Luckily it’s an easy one to try: all you have to do is sit down, make up a thrilling story, and write it – it’s as simple, and as difficult, as that.

The internet is full of thousands of blogs and websites written by authors, which may also give you an idea of what being one is like. For a place to start, try www.trappedbymonsters.com , the joint blog I’m involved in with seven other authors (you can see a poster for Dragon Orb by one of them, Mark Robson, in the first pic above!) All their websites are fabulous, and they’re easy to find if you follow the links on the TBM ‘authors‘ page. But nothing will show you what being an author is like as definitely as making the time to give it a go for yourself.

Whether you find it suits you, or you don’t, I wish you the best of luck.

Sam

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Comments? Suggestions? Questions? Me and THE WEBSPHINX would love to hear from you! Drop us a line at the Tim, Defender of the Earth Guestbook for current or Tim stuff, or The Black Tattoo Guestbook for Black Tat stuff. First (or demon-!) names only, please. ;)

biggreenbestbookseverpicbysam

Awesome independent booksellers The Big Green Bookshop are currently running a rather wonderful poll. What (they ask) are your five favourite books of all time? Anyone who answers has the chance to win a brilliant prize: twenty books of their choice from whatever ends up in the Big Green Top Fifty when the results are tallied. Click here for all the details, and click here to find out about my top five — or top thirteen, depending on how you count ‘em! ;)

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Comments? Suggestions? Questions? Me and THE WEBSPHINX would love to hear from you! Drop us a line at the Tim, Defender of the Earth Guestbook for current or Tim stuff, or The Black Tattoo Guestbook for Black Tat stuff. First (or demon-!) names only, please. ;)

Slowly, quietly, I have started pulling ideas together for what may be Phase Four. As ever, ‘he sat there thinking,’ while true, doesn’t exactly make for riveting blog material! But on my breaks I’ve been putting stuff up on Trapped By Monsters: click the link for (lately) Warren Ellis on Rescue Fiction, Elmore Leonard’s Rules of Writing, the very latest in monster fashions plus, as ever, all sorts of goodies from my esteemed fellow cave-dwellers.

explosion

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Comments? Suggestions? Questions? Me and THE WEBSPHINX would love to hear from you! Drop us a line at the Tim, Defender of the Earth Guestbook for current or Tim stuff, or The Black Tattoo Guestbook for Black Tat stuff. First (or demon-!) names only, please. ;)

TWO amazing pieces of Black Tat Reader Art today.

First up, here’s Iain from Johannesburg, who followed up some cracking questions in the Black Tat Guestbook last week with this awesome manga-style image:

charlie

This is a depiction of Charlie. I decided to be subtle with his evil look and that’s why instead of him having the Scourge dripping off him, he has sinister looking wings. He has an “emo fringe” to illustrate the pent up emotions that Charlie has. His clothes are sleek and stylish as described in the book. Hope you like it. Iain

…And here is the final, finished version of this stunning pic by Ali from Illinois:

blacktattoofinalcopy

Seeing beautiful art like this being made out of things from my stories is an absolute joy. Thank you, Iain and Ali! And if anyone else reading this feels like creating something and sending it in, then please, be my guest.

PS: Over on Trapped By Monsters I’ve just put up a short post about one of my very favourite books EVER, namely Momo by Michael Ende. Take a look.

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Comments? Suggestions? Questions? Me and THE WEBSPHINX would love to hear from you! Drop us a line at the Tim, Defender of the Earth Guestbook for current or Tim stuff, or The Black Tattoo Guestbook for Black Tat stuff. First (or demon-!) names only, please. ;)

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