So who am I? DJ Bennett. The author of Hamelin’s Child, that dark and deep psychological thriller everyone’s talking about--
Well, I can dream, can’t I? And yes, I am the same person as Debbie Bennett, who is well-known in the fantasy genre for running the British Fantasy Society, editing many small press publications and organising fantasy conventions. I was even once spotted banqueting at the same table as Neil Gaiman!
—Oy!. Stop name-dropping …
Sorry. Can I mention I once asked Stephen King to dance? Or that I had tea with Alan Garner?
—No. Get on with it. Why have two different names anyway? Sounds pretentious to me.
Why indeed? My reading and writing roots are firmly established in fantasy and although I have been known to veer to the darker side, it’s mostly always been relatively tame stuff that you wouldn’t mind your mum reading. But my thriller is very different – dark and explicit – and I wanted just a subtle change in author name, to reflect that there are two sides to my writing. It may turn out to be a huge mistake but I figured that the two markets are completely separate so I had nothing to lose.
—So have you been writing long? Been published before? Only you sound like a bit of a know-it-all.
I’ve been writing all my life. When the kids in primary school were handing in 2-page stories, mine was 10 pages. Then at secondary school, when my best-friend at my posh private school decided she’d rather be best-friends with someone else, and my local friends who went to the grammar school forgot to invite me out with them, I found myself with lots of spare time, so I started writing properly. I wrote what I wanted to read – we’re in the late 1970s here and there was no concept of YA fiction beyond Nancy Drew and Malcolm Saville and the like – so the story Cleveland & Co was born. I still have it, handwritten in a fancy notebook and it’s self-absorbed, self-indulgent rubbish, but at least I finished it at age 14. After that I wrote a sequel and then a post-apocalyptic sf/fantasy (I was reading John Wyndham and Robert Heinlein by then). None of them will ever see the light of day, but I do read them occasionally to see how far I’ve come.
My first published story was a sale to the UK’s Bella magazine when they still published twist-in-the-tale fiction. I was paid £300 (and this was back in the mid 1990s *and* I got a nice murder-mystery weekend thrown in too as it placed in a competition). It is, I am not proud to say, the only short story I have ever been paid for – although I have received royalties for stories in anthologies, so I guess that sort of counts. Some of my best stories are available in my kindle collection.
—Yep. Definitely a know-it-all. I thought as much. (Sigh). So what's the actual writing, then?
I’m a character writer. For me, plot comes out of characters being themselves. My novels are all 3rd person past tense, fairly standard stuff, although I usually have 2 viewpoint characters and sometimes more than 2. But somehow when I write short stories, I tend to slip into 1st person present tense more often than not. I’m not quite sure why I do that. It just seems the more natural form for me. Most of my characters are as real to me as any of my friends and they talk to me at the most inconvenient times. Oh and I don’t plot. I wish I did – it would be so much easier. But I don’t generally know what is going to happen to my characters before they do, which means that their reactions are fresh and genuine. I’ve written myself into more corners than a Mueller yoghurt (if you’re not from the UK, you’re so not going to get that reference, or do you have Mueller yoghurt where you live too).
—Moving on from yoghurt …
So – fantasy or thrillers/crime? Is there really a difference? In essence my fantasy stuff is about good versus evil, and so is crime; it’s just played out on a different stage. I have a YA fantasy novel I’m hoping to publish on kindle soon that has the tag line What do you do when you realise that the bad guys care more about you than the good ones? And that sums up a lot of my writing, exploring the similarities between good and evil. Even my currently-published adult thriller Hamelin’s Child – where the bad guys are very definitely bad – looks at how what starts off as a horrendous situation can change according to your perspective. Nothing is ever as black and white as it seems in my fiction.
When I first uploaded my short story collection Maniac to kindle, I used a work colleague to design my cover for me. He did a fabulous job – there are elements of all my stories in there and the overall effect is perfect. Pete did Hamelin’s
Child for me too – it was originally black and white, moody and effective. But when crime writer, agent and editor Al Guthrie told me quite bluntly that it wasn’t working as a thumbnail, I knew he was right! But he put me in touch with US designer JT Lindroos, and the three of us worked together on the new version which I’m really happy with. I’m about to upload a crime short story to kindle, so I’m off to Liverpool to take some photographs of the Liver Birds, so I can blow them up later in my story (the Liver Birds, not the photos).
—Yeah, yeah. Can we wrap this up now? The pub’s open. Anything more to add?
Check out my books at either my website or at kindleauthors. You know you want to…
I love that we, authors, share our work and knowledge with each other and with our readers. Let me tell you about my book Daughters of Iraq, which was published in Hebrew four years ago, recently,translated to English, and published in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and several other countries. It is available in soft cover and in eBook form.
I was born and raised in Israel, but both my parents immigrated to Israel from Iraq. This month is my twenty year wedding anniversary to Amnon, my husband and we have four boys ages 18, 15, 12 and 8. We also have a very sweet dog called Sheleg (the word "Sheleg" in Hebrew means snow). We share our lives between the Washington state and Israel.
Daughters of Iraq is a novel, telling a fictional history story, rooted in my personal family history.The book is close to the Memoir genre. I started writing the book with a great passion to tell the story of my family, especially the story of the women in my family.
My family lived in Iraq, which was Babylon, for many generations, and when Israel was established in 1948 most of the Jewish population immigrated to Israel. My family was among 150 thousand Jews who left Iraq. I wanted to tell their story because I felt that this part of world history, and especially Jewish women history, is not widely told or known.
My book tells the story of three sisters, and shifts in time and place between Israel and Iraq. Three timelines are intertwined. 1941, when there was a pogrom in Bagdad on one weekend, and up to 1950 when most of our family left Iraq. From 1951 when my oldest uncle and my grandmother managed to escape, at the very last moment before my uncle, who was wanted by Iraqi authorities, for being active in the Jewish underground was captured until around 1983.With the last period occurring in the nineties.
When I write I never plan ahead. I just sit at my computer and write, and I feel that my characters are pulling my story out of me, like they have their own wishes. I remember that when I was close to finishing writing my book how sad I felt that I had to say goodbye to them. I felt like they were real people in my life, and now I had to let them go. People that read my book told me how human they felt they were. Readers laughed and cried, and felt like they can really connect to the character’s life and feelings.
I love connecting with people, I love to hear people’s life story, and that gives me great pleasure lecturing about my book, everywhere. I go everywhere they invite me to lecture and tell the story of the book, because I think it is important to learn about different cultures, I love doing that myself. I think that when we learn about other cultures it helps us better understand people. I am a people person, I love talking to people, and think that each one of us has a fascinating life story I would like to learn about.
I am currently working on a second novel, which I write in Hebrew, and am hoping to publish it in the spring. Please visit me at my Website.
Thriller writer Seb Kirby wants his stories to thrill, entertain and inform. Sounds ambitious, I know. I want to give readers an intriguing story, of course. But I want to to leave behind themes that people will relate to after they've finished the book.
I don't write like Stephen King, but I work on a story the same way that he does. It's a high risk game. A high wire act. You write with no pre-prepared plan, no pre-planned plot lines, you let it happen. You do this by identifying your main character or characters and placing them in an unfamiliar situation. Then you make that situation worse. And then you make it worse again. Then, as you write, it's the characters that tell you where the plot needs to go. As Stephen King says, "If you don't surprise yourself in what you write, how are you going to surprise your readers?" And surprise yourself is exactly what you do. That plot line works out to be tighter than if you'd tried to pre-plan it because the logic of what the characters need to do demands that.
So, how to identify the characters to start with? In Take No More I wanted to place an ordinary person – James Blake – in an impossible situation. I admire thriller writers like Harlan Coben who have done this and, from an earlier generation, Eric Ambler. So Blake is not a supersleuth like James Bond nor an expert police detective or forensic scientist as in CSI, he's an ordinary guy. He has few resources to call on. How bad does it get for him? Well, he comes home to find his wife, Julia, dying from gunshot wounds. And how does it get worse? As he tries to make sense of what has happened, the police don't believe what he says has happened to him and try to pin the crime on him. Oh,and for some reason he knows nothing about, someone is trying to kill him. That bad.
Extract from Take No More
On the main concourse, a monolithic, artless statue of two embracing World War II lovers stood in sharp contrast to the smaller, more human statue of John Betjeman - trenchcoat blowing in the wind, suitcase in hand - that graced platform 4C. The recently rebuilt overarching roof gave the whole station a feeling of grandeur, but I could not remain interested in such things for long. My mind was set on the short trip downstairs, the walk past the new designer store outlets and whatever awaited me as I attempted to book in for the cross-channel train to Paris.
I also wanted to write about Julia. So, I do this in two flashback sections. I wanted her to be a strong, motivated character, but, of course, as a male writer, I had to work quite hard at imagining myself inside her skin. Perhaps it's a measure of my male-ness that I write the James sections from a first person point-of-view and the Julia sections from a third person point-of-view. Maybe I was insecure in my woman's skin. But I also chose to do the flashback sections in a more film-like way, as a series of short visual bursts told from the point-of-view of characters other than Julia and the third person point-of-view works best for them all.
As to locations, I have been lucky enough to travel and stay in some wonderful places around the world. When you do that you build up a list of the places that you go back to whenever you can. For me, three of those places are the South Bank in London, Florence, and Venice in Italy. Those are the three locations for Take No More. Not that I favour a great deal of description of character, appearance, or places. I'm aiming to be minimalist in these respects. After all, what I'm aiming for in writing a thriller is action and event and a satisfying pager-turner. But I'm hoping that the intimate knowledge of the places where the action takes place comes through.
I've been taking my trusty Lumix camera with me on my visits and I'm in the process of producing a Novel on my website and linking some of the locations to the text from the book. It's still a work-in-progress, and I haven't quite got all the photos I want from Florence. Darn it, I'll have to use my hard earned holiday time this year to go back there for a few more days….'
Like most people, I am many things to many people. I am a wife to one, a mother to two, and the friendly gal at the VOIP Help Desk who resolves phone issues to many. However, I like to think of myself as an indie author.
My writing career started in the back of an elementary school bus where I made up stories to entertain my friends on the long ride home. In middle school, I wrote teenage romances for my friends, and in high school, I wrote my first book for the heck of it amid lots of bad teenage poetry. From middle school through college I exchanged letters with a penpal a couple of times a month and during college, I wrote in real time chat forums on GEnie. As an adult, I write technical procedures and copious amounts of email. Now I've written a second book, my first published book, Tenderfoot, for an audience of complete strangers on the Internet!
Obviously, writing has been a constant in my life. As the audience changes, so does my skillset. Playing the persona of a character in a chat room was a daily experiment in how quick-witted I could be in real-time. Putting together a technical procedure requires being precise and writing simply. Writing letters to my loyal penpal was an ongoing opportunity to express my feelings about what occurred in my life. All of this was great training when it came time to write Tenderfoot.
Writing for me is like assembling a puzzle. Working together the characters, settings, and events is like picking up the pieces and seeing how they all fit together. Sometimes a certain phrase or twist occurs while writing and then part of the puzzle comes into view and I understand instantly how the next section of the story will be told. The other metaphor I like to use is weaving. I like weaving in elements to a story that pop up later, adding emotional significance to a scene or event.
Selecting first person to write Tenderfoot in seemed natural. I wanted the audience to know what it felt like to be Jules, the narrator and main character. She's different from her new friends in college and she knows it. She didn't grow up in one place like them; she has a fractured background from living abroad and losing her mother. All she wants is to be seen as normal and accepted. That's where I wondered "what if...?" and added the paranormal elements to the book. Jules is not normal, and never will be. How does she come to accept that? How does she manage this within the confines of her first major relationship? Going to college is pretty damn scary to start with so I loved adding the pressure on Jules. Yeah, she has a couple of freak outs, but ultimately she'd one tough chick.
Character development is what interests me most as both a reader and a writer. Even with TV shows, the ones I like best are about the characters, especially if there is tension involved. That's why there is tension between my three main characters Jules, Andrew, and Nick. They all have their own motivations and mistakes to make. They are flawed as individuals and I love them for it. Getting to know them was a journey for me. With a couple of big issues in the book, I sat down with a piece of paper and wrote from each character's perspective about how they viewed the issue. Those exercises felt like cheating - they are fun to do yet no one gets to read them!
I decided on a setting for my book that is nearby. I chose the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill because it's about fifteen minutes away and a lovely place to visit. As the oldest public university in America, it has a history of its own that weaves well into a story. The cover of Tenderfoot was taken in Battle Park, adjacent to UNC-CH. I believe it captures the feeling of my book well. I added in South Mountains State Park west of Charlotte, North Carolina, to get the characters out of the microcosm that is a college campus and into nature. I like to use the photos I took at these locations in my blog posts. For me, being able to bring readers with me to these beautiful places is a bonus.
While writing Tenderfoot I developed my own way of organizing the process using character summaries and an outline of a plot. Over time, these notes grew fat. Every few chapters, I go back and type in the notes penciled in the margins. A little bag of these notes, outlines, and maps goes everywhere with me as I never know when I will get a moment to slip away into the next part of their story, Blinded.
I'm excited about the developments in the next book. I know my readers have some questions about Nick, Andrew, and the mysterious bad guy who makes one short appearance in Tenderfoot yet looms over everything. I've got most of it hammered out with my mighty paranormal pen and I can't wait to offer it to my readers this Fall. Please leave a comment, or contact me on Facebook and Twitter.