Saturday, June 1, 2024

Author interview with Chris Clarke

My next author interview is with Chris Clarke who first published in 2022. He pens thrillers but writing is his second job, as he works full-time in the movie industry. He's specialised in special effects for over 30 years, focusing on creature effects and animatronics - what a wonderful job (big envy here!) and I had to ask, does he think having this background impacts his writing?

'Yes, I believe it's helped forge my style. I regularly receive comments about how cinematic my writing is, and I think that can only be a good thing.'

I agree!  But I've got ahead of myself, let's meet him properly.

'I live in the Cotswolds in the sleepy town of Chipping Norton with my partner, Zoe, and have done for roughly 5 years.

Although I write 'thrillers', I have a foot firmly planted in 'genre fiction', but I do like to add the occasional skein of literary prose into my writing to add texture. It's fair to say, if you like your thrillers to reflect reality, and to make you feel more like a participant as opposed to the reader of an account, then my books are certainly for you. Dark, and at times, uncomfortably gritty, they immerse the reader in the worlds I’ve created until they feel they're up to their neck. 

As one reviewer put it – "Readers aren't mere spectators; they're thrust into the dark labyrinth of emotions, motives, and haunting memories that propel the characters into their actions." - Yes!'

Oohh! That sounds wonderful! And here's a tweetable version for you (tweet here):

By mid-July, Chris will have two crime thrillers published, with a third being roughed out, as well as two occult horror (Hobswyke, has just released, but was the first book he ever wrote!), so 5 books in 2 years, and he works full-time? That's very impressive!

Which route did he take in publishing his work?
'My first release was a Hybrid deal (all reading this, roll their eyes in unison, but it got me on the ladder!). My last three have been under the banner of Troubador. 

They're notable for being selective as a publisher, and not just anyone can drop them a request and get accepted. I was also attracted by the fact that the process culminates in a physical print-run, and not just print on demand, which – to my old-school sensibilities – makes for a better, more tangible product.'

What inspired him to become a writer?
'Good question... I guess it was my inability to write. I'm officially dyslexic, but after finding I could write poetry as a child, I began using that metaphorical foot in the door as a way – after decades of toil – to all but expunge the affliction from my life.

I suppose, on some base level, having a book published was one way of planting a flag atop that analogous mountain I have spent years climbing.'

Oh wow, congratulations Chris, that's a huge achievement 🎉🥳Being so busy, does he have a daily writing routine?
'It depends. If I'm between films, I rise anywhere between 4:00 and 5:00 in the morning and write until mid-day-ish. If I'm being honest, when between films is when a majority of my productive writing happens. 

But if I'm working, most of my 'usable' output happens at the weekends. I've tried adding to my manuscripts during the working week, with occasional success, but as I seem to need to re-read my last chapters to get back into the flow. The hour I get for lunch during an otherwise busy day just doesn't cut it. So I tend to edit and plan during the week and write during the weekends.'

I'm still reeling from the idea of rising at 4am (yes, I'm a night owl!). What does he enjoy most about writing?
'Definitely it's the world building. I suppose, working in an industry that relies on hundreds of people working in unison to forge its output, makes me enjoy that side of my writing-life. 

I enjoy being in control of the whole thing - my words on a page creating entire worlds that I then populate. All it then needs is someone to read it, absorb it, and let it percolate in their own minds to unleash the drama I've been instrumental in creating.'

I can see that would be fun! And what has he found the hardest part of the writing/ publishing experience?
'The thing I've found the hardest, and it's the one thing I still haven't accomplished, yet, is securing an agent. As I've never received anything below four stars for my work (on any platform), after literally hundreds of reviews, it feels like you've got no chance of being picked up. 

I even had one agent tell me that I wrote extremely well, but that they thought the manuscript I presented took far too long to get into the action, which was confusing. There's a body discovered in the prologue, a killing in chapter one, and by chapter two, the bodily fluids of some poor unfortunate are discovered painted over the wall of a supermarket! 

Both me and my bemused partner had to conclude that they simply hadn't even bothered to read it, and that can be infuriating, to say the least! But an agent is the one thing I need to free up my time only to write, as I find the social media side of it all really quite draining. I will keep trying.'

Aww, it's good to hear he's persevering, despite the odds. What's the best money he's spent as a writer so far?
'A long weekend away at Lake Vyrnwy to gather topographical info and texture for the opening chapter of One More Kill For Mother, which is out in July. 

I initially wrote the chapter having used Google maps and street view, but after the visit, it all changed. You can't beat going to a location. It added so much more to my prose and descriptions, but as one of the little guys, that's not always possible. In this particular case, it was well worth it. It was lovely.'

Oohh, I do love Wales! What does he find the most difficult thing about writing characters who are very different from himself?
'Well, I'm in fear of this sounding somehow superior or elitist, here, but as a performer and a puppeteer, I long ago realised I'm particularly strong as a cognitive empath, and I've found little problem relating to any of the characters I've penned so far. 

I sometimes speak to people of relevance, and read to glean information to fuel that process, but I do seem able to put myself in most shoes, which I'm obviously very thankful for. I also had – what could politely be called – substance problems in my earlier life, which can take you to some very dark places. 

It's in those moments and memories that I immerse myself when penning the more bleak and contentious aspects of my narratives, or indeed, the characters within them.'

I think it's true what they say - in order to write about life, first you must live it! So, moving onto his writing, which book should we read first?
'The Art Of Killing. It's probably the most polished of my offerings and is very typical of my style. It's also received the most glowing praise of any of my books so far, so I guess I should recommend it
for that alone! There is also a sequel out next month, so I suppose that's another good reason.'

Nice! Can he give us an extract? 

'He turned the bleached-bone coloured van into a gravelled driveway. The wet pebbles looked like a million flayed skulls carpeting the floor of hell in the hot, halogen glow of the sweeping headlights. 

He crunched along the path of sinners, approaching a red-brick building that had once been a working farmhouse, a lot like his childhood home, but that was now no longer alive to the calls of animals waiting their inescapable fates. He parked in the avenue of ghosts, and the engine fell silent.

O’Leary sat absorbing the calm, welcome after the storm of the week that had been.

‘Will I be considered a saint?’ he asked the empty cabin.

‘You already are, in mine eyes, and that is all that matters, and all that should matter. But rest assured, my child, the world will speak of your deeds for centuries to come, long after you have left this world and you are rightfully sat on my right hand.’

O’Leary gifted himself a smile he hoped God wouldn’t sense. He took up his phone and a wafer-thin carrier bag loaded with takeaway from his favourite Chinese and exited the van.'

I bet that whet your appetite! As he's now published four books, what's have been the highs and lows?
'This is a difficult one, since I was first published only in 2022. I'm not sure I've had long enough to 'cook', to have had any notable highs and lows. 

But like any other author, the rejection letters are a frustration, especially one in particular that enthused and gushed so very much about the way I wrote that they urged me to continue submitting, but then crowned the praise by saying the kind of book I write just wasn't for him... As you can imagine, that's a hard pill to swallow. 

But the highs are the reader's reviews, that are so complimentary it's hard not to feel warmth reading them, and I guess, in that respect, I'm successful, even if I'm not yet the millionaire we'd all like to be to take the pressure out of our writing.'

So he reads his reviews?
'I read pretty much every review I receive, and I'm embarrassed, but also pleased to say, I haven't yet received one that could be considered bad. I might get the odd remark here and there, but nothing that wasn't then balanced by a compliment. 

I know I will receive one, some day, and I'll let you know how that feels when I do. Until that day comes, I'll happily allow myself to feel pretty blessed.'

How lovely! What is he planning for future books?:
'I'm currently taking a break from crime fiction and writing a novel penciled in as 'Burn Them!'. It's set in 1652, the year after the cessation of the English Civil War, but when the witch trials were still in full flow. A band of 'men' are lured to a particular village in the West-Country by a rumour! I'll say no more… 

I also have my next DI Gutteridge novel outlined, and I'm pleased to say I have secured the services of the notable actor Sebastian Abineri to narrate the audiobook for the Art Of Killing, which is being recorded as I write this and will be available shortly. I've heard roughly half of the book so far, and he's doing a fantastic job of voicing my tale.'

It must be wonderful to have a great actor breathe life into your words! If he could go back in time and talk to himself at the start of his career, what would he say?
'I wouldn't say too much that supposes I must change the way I've done things. But I would advise myself that patience is to be learned, and embraced, and I would certainly advise against the hybrid route. 

Other than that, just encouragement that I have an ability that I should run with. Confidence was the biggest obstacle I had to conquer, having struggled – as I said earlier – during my schooling years with dyslexia.'

Good answer! He's hinted at his issue with hybrid publishing, but what does Chris consider the most common trap for aspiring writers?
'I hate to say it, but there are many to negotiate. There are an awful lot of people and companies out there, aware that there are many (like me) who dream of being published and seeing their names in print. They're quick to appear to be a conduit to fulfilling that dream. 
Here, Google can be your friend. Check them out. Google their name with the word 'scam' attached and see what comes up. Many of these companies and individuals simply don't care about what eventually hits the shelves - whether it's of quality, or in any way polished. That has the knock on effect of muddying the waters, and subsequently, it leaves a lot of rubbish clogging the system. It becomes extremely hard for the consumer to find good books to read among all the noise. 
Re-tweeters, too. I fell foul of this one when I first started. I'm not saying there aren't legit people doing it, but one I agreed on apparently had over 130K followers. But when I hovered the mouse over the multitude of names that liked posts regarding my books, they were all bot created, with zero posts on their pages and no followers, so beware. 
If people are asking for money outside of copy-edit services and proofreads, etc, they might not be there to help... You need people who care and who are invested to tell you what you need to do to be good enough. It's no use just blindly listening to 'yes people' if your outpourings need work, that won't, in any way, help you to hone your craft.' 

Oh dear, if you're just starting out, do be careful out there! If you'd like to learn more about Chris and work, please click on his links below:

Twitter: @CRClarkeAuthor

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