My thanks to Mark Goddard of Snakebite Horror for the following interview for his terrific new website. :D
What gave you the idea for CRAWLERS?
The first spark came from the real location where the events of the book take place a London building called the Barbican. Built in the 1950s and '60s the Barbican was intended to be the most futuristic structure its designers could possibly think of: now, over half a century on, stranded by time, it looks wonderfully sinister and bizarre. I thought it was a great place to set a horror story.
Partly, too, Crawlers came about because I'd been thinking about survival horror that classic "mixed group trapped somewhere, menaced by something" situation and how the best survival horror stories are as much about the group as the threat. I'd been thinking about that might work particularly well in a book for young readers, because of how much survival horror situations are actually just like school. Can you remember your first day at a new school? Being trapped in a roomful of people you don't know, possibly don't even like, and being expected to get on, team up, do things? All right: you're not technically under threat from zombies, werewolves, aliens, whatever. But you might as well be.
Then, of course, there was the monster. I wanted something that could take over or infect members of the group something that would make them as distrustful of and paranoid about each other as possible. I was thinking about John Carpenter's The Thing; I was also thinking about Jack Finney's Invasion of the Body Snatchers; stir in a dash of good old Alien/Half-Life parasite action and away you go.
The monsters were fun. As anyone who reads my books will notice fairly quickly(!) I love thinking about monsters. But the characterization writing eight individual, believable teenagers and how they react to each other that pushed me out of my comfort zone until my blood felt like it was going to well out of my eyeballs. I'm pretty proud of Crawlers. I hope people get a kick out of it.
What made you write books for a younger audience?
An agent suggested it, after reading a short story I'd sent her soon after I graduated from university. I was surprised at first, but after a while I realised that this was one of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given.
I particularly love writing for the age I write for eleven to fifteen because, for many people, that age is the 'last chance saloon' for reading. That's the kind of age when, if you haven't yet come across a book that shows you, personally, why reading is so amazing, then you might as sadly happens all too frequently never actually read a book again. Conversely, if you're that age and you do find the right book the first one that makes an afternoon fly past without you noticing, that makes you worry about the characters when you're not reading it, that sends that particular jolt to your mind and heart that only the right book at the right moment can do then you'll never forget that book for as long as you live. You might even become a reader for life.
If you're writing for young people, those are the stakes. Would writing for adults offer anything that compelling? I don't think so!
I don't want to give the impression that I think of my books as people, because obviously that would be weird. But what you're asking is a bit like: 'If there was a fast-burning fire in a house containing all of your family and friends and you knew you couldn't save everyone, who would you save?' I'm glad I don't have to choose.
The further along I get with writing, the better I'll get at the technical aspects I hope. But I try to put my passion and commitment into every book I write. That means that all those books (and all the ones I hope to write) have a piece of my heart inside them.
I write standalone books: I reckon each one can hold its ground, fight its corner. The reader can choose their favourite - not me!
What inspired you to get into writing?
I wrote stories at school, but because they tended to have (ahem-!) monsters or space battles or murders or wizards or explosions or swordfights in them, sometimes my teachers were disparaging. Still, nudged by a friend I signed up for a creative writing course as part of my English Language and Literature degree at Manchester University - and I loved it. By the third year my stories were being graded, contributing to my final result: I still loved it, and I came back home to London afterwards pretty much set on being a writer. Ten years, four previous failed novels and one hundred and thirty-four rejection slips later, The Black Tattoo was published. Tim came out in 2008. Crawlers was out this year, 2010. There'll be plenty more where those came from - if I keep pedalling. ;D
Yourself, Andy Briggs and a host of other authors have gotten together to create the web site Trapped By Monsters. How did this come about?
Trapped By Monsters is the mutant brainchild of Tommy Donbavand, author of the awesome comedy horror series for younger readers, Scream Street: he had the idea of putting together a joint author blog that, we hope, appeals to young readers as much as to their gatekeepers. We have a very silly premise (for which I must admit I'm largely responsible, having provided the name) and from there we talk about whatever we want. We offer writing advice, of a nuts and bolts kind. We talk about each other's books so it's a good promotional opportunity, sure. But we also blog recommendations for anything else that we think is brilliant, together with competitions, illustrations, guest spots, stories, rants, etc, etc. It's about enthusiasm and delight about books for young people, as well as passion and commitment. And, obviously, monsters.
As it happens (exclusive announcement!) the site is about to move into what we hope will be a very exciting phase: as well as the original eight of us, we're going to be joined on the blog by a whole new group of authors - a sort of Trapped By Monsters: The Next Generation if you will. While keeping true to our scurrilous roots the aim is to make TBM the go-to place to hear from the latest up-and-coming authors of thrilling new writing for young people. Tentacles crossed. :D
What do you read when you are not writing?
All sorts. From first thing in the morning when I'm cleaning my teeth to last thing at night when I'm about to go to sleep, I read any chance I get. For a selection of my favourites, and what I'm reading now, check my LibraryThing profile. And in the hope that the above has made you want to find out more about me and what I do(-?!) here's my homepage.
Thanks and best wishes to everyone who reads this Sam (31st May 2010)
This interview at The Book Zone marked the opening salvo of an entire month of horror-themed posts and just happened to coincide with the launch day for Crawlers. It also contains a strong hint about Phase Four of the Sinister Masterplan. Snee hee hee!
How did you get the idea for Crawlers? The Barbican is a great location for the story how did you decide to set Crawlers there?
Hi! I'll start by answering both these questions at once if I may, as the two are very much related: I got the initial spark for Crawlers when I was walking around the Barbican one night.
For those who don't know it, The Barbican is an extraordinary building. At the time it was built (the 1960s) it was an extremely futuristic piece of architecture the most modern-looking structure its designers could imagine. It's still a fantastic centre for the arts: theatre, music, cinema, all sorts. But now, isolated in time, instead of looking modern and futuristic the Barbican looks weird!
The night I first started thinking about what would eventually become Crawlers, I was looking at the Barbican. I saw its bare concrete walls, its pulsating carpet, its flickering striplights, its lifts that don't necessarily take you to the floor you want to go to and I realised (like Ben in the book) that the place reminded me of something: games. I started imagining what it would be like to be chased down those corridors by something unspeakably horrible. And that's how the process of writing Crawlers began.
If you're serious about your writing you don't wait for ideas to come to you: you make them come. Sometimes I do that by asking myself questions (particularly: 'What sort of book would I, personally, most love to read?') But also, like most writers, there's a part of my brain that's always on the lookout for something that might when you take it out of context, or twist it a little turn out to be the spark of a story. Incidentally, I think that's just a hugely entertaining way to live and walk around in the world. I love this job!
What do you see as the main influences on your writing?
The biggest influence on my writing is probably the desire for there to be more stories that I love in the world. I get intensely infuriated by mediocre, lame, unimaginative storytelling particularly unnecessary remakes and disappointing sequels. Conversely, when I find something I love be it a book, a film, a game, a comic, animation, theatre, whatever there's almost nothing that makes me happier. The possibility that one of my stories might have that effect on someone else (the latter effect, obviously!) is an inspiring goal to strive for, it seems to me.
Who are your greatest literary influences? (this is a question from one of my blog readers)
It's crucial for a writer to read as much and as widely as possible, because that's how you learn the tools of your trade from seeing how others do it. So while this is a fair question, I have to say that a straight answer would take too long: there's just too much to list here!
You could check my LibraryThing profile. There you can find five hundred of my very favourite books books that I think are amazing, and that people who like my stuff might like, too. But that list changes all the time. ;D
What is it about the horror genre that interests you so much? What do you think it is that draws so many young people to horror books?
I'll answer both these questions at once, too this time because I think the answer to both is the same. People of all ages are fascinated by horror, and I'm no different.
The roots of horror go deep. When our caveman ancestors sat around the fire late at night telling stories, you can bet those stories weren't about people talking out their problems over cups of tea. Those stories would have been scary: stories that made people shudder, and huddle a bit closer.
I love the physical reactions that a well-turned horror tale can provoke in the reader: the tingle, the hairs' prickle, the nervous thrill when you turn the light out afterwards. And horror is compulsive. As a horror fan you want the storyteller to push you to your limits, test how much you can take, but at the same time you don't want to be bludgeoned by too much 'shock and gore' because your sensitivity to fear and suspense is what gives the experience of a good story its edge, its savour. I can't think of any other type of storytelling that has that sort of effect on people. Can you?
What was your first introduction to horror in literature?
I'm a little embarrassed to admit this(-!) but at first, when I was the age I write for, I adopted a disapproving attitude to horror. Despite perhaps because of what I've said above, horror has always had a reputation for being dodgy, dubious, even dangerous. I fell in with that prejudice because it was what some of the adults around me were suggesting I should feel: it seemed like the 'grown up' position to take.
But then, to my enormous good fortune, an English teacher at my school started reading some classic ghost stories to my class as an end of term treat. I remember vividly the first time I heard Rats, by M R James. That was it: that was the moment. After the climactic scene of that story I knew that anything that made me shiver like that just couldn't possibly be wrong - HEE HEE HEE! I've been a horror fan ever since.
Do you have a favourite horror book or horror movie?
There are a few that I seem to keep coming back to. The novel Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin is a low-key stone cold classic, as are several of his other books. I give Jack Finney's The Bodysnatchers a nod in the dedication of Crawlers because it's fabulous, period quirks and all. Filmwise the original Night of the Living Dead and The Abominable Dr Phibes are both firm favourites with me, albeit for very different reasons. For a more contemporary horror dose I'd recommend Ryuhei Kitamura's stunning film of Clive Barker's The Midnight Meat Train. And watch out for the novels of Joseph D'Lacey: you have been warned!
Have you seen Rabid? I know it's a bit cheesy these days, but hey - the front cover of Crawlers so reminds me of the delightful horrors you have in store for you, if you haven't already seen it (another question from one of my blog readers)
I have seen Rabid, and Shivers, and more: I love that early Cronenberg stuff! And I'm glad you like the cover of Crawlers. Rhys Willson, its designer, did a brilliant job. I adored that image as soon as I saw it but when, on a school visit, I first showed it to a roomful of potential young readers, and saw the way it reduced them to dead silence except for occasional whispers of 'Ew!' and 'Sick!', I knew we were definitely onto a winner.
What scares you?
Callousness. Lack of empathy. Small-mindedness. And just how horribly tempting and easy all those habits are to slip into, particularly as one gets older.
Some people think that horror writers must be a little weird to come up with their stories. Would you agree with them?
But everyone's weird. People are weird. I'm sorry if this comes as a surprise, but anyone reading this who thinks they aren't weird is kidding themselves: in fact they're probably weirder than most, because there's nothing more strange, more desperate, even harmful, than an obsessive desire to be normal.
Dark thoughts are an inescapable part of being a person. People repress those thoughts or make deals with them all the time: they have to, to get through the day. But those thoughts are still there, in everyone. Part of a writer's job (not just a horror writer any writer) is to pick the darkest and juiciest of those thoughts and drag them out, squirming, into the open. Why? Because those thoughts make the spiciest ingredients for exciting stories!
I think that kind of awareness and feel for darkness actually makes horror writers less weird than most people. But I guess I would say that, wouldn't I? HEE HEE HEE HEE!
Do you have time to read any of the many books for children that are published these days? If so, are there any other books or authors that you would recommend fans of your books to read?
When I read books for young people I don't get any pleasure out of it: it's research, and it's terribly difficult and special and important and No, I'm sorry, what I've just said is nothing less than an absolute out and out lie. I love reading books for young people, and right now (says he, aware that he might sound biased!) I truly believe that we're living through a golden age in literature for young readers. There is some brilliant, radical, experimental, thrilling storytelling being published in this area right now.
My current favourites include Chris Wooding, Bali Rai, Anthony McGowan, Alexander Gordon Smith, Kevin Brooks, Graham Joyce and all seven of the awesome other authors on Trapped By Monsters, the joint blog I'm currently involved with. We're always recommending books we love, so TBM and (as I mentioned already) my LibraryThing profile are two places you might want to look if you're after pointers to further fine reading. As well as this excellent blog, of course. ;)
Can you recommend one book that you think every boy should read at some point?
I don't mean to be rude, but I think it would be wrong to pick one book and tell everyone to read it. Every reader is different. Also (unlike more visual story forms like films and games) every book means something different to every person who reads it and that's just one of the amazing things about reading. Reading is the single best way for a person to attempt to understand the wider world around us, and what it is to be human. It's also, I believe, one of the greatest pleasures in life. But I also believe that everyone should be free to choose what they read for themselves: fiction, biography, history, criticism, science, journalism, car manuals, whatever. 'Each man skin his own skunk' as a friend of mine used to say.
I know Crawlers hasnt even been released yet but can you give us any hints as to other writing projects you are working on?
Certainly. My next project is a novella about a heist on the Bank of England. I'm particularly pleased with the climactic ninja fight, in the Bank's most secret vault, between the central character and his mum, but the scene with the sucker pads and the laser booby-trap isn't bad either (hee hee hee!) I'm also currently working on another full-length novel, but I'm afraid the details of that are going to have to remain a secret for now. I can tell you that it's for the same age-group as my other books. It's set in contemporary London, it will be fast and (I hope) thrilling and it's got monsters in it. But I don't think any of those facts will come as much of a surprise somehow or not to anyone who's familiar with what I do. ;D
Is there anything else you would like to say to the readers of this blog?
Thanks, best wishes, and Happy Reading! Sam
Here's an interview with me by Tracy Baines for her blog, Tall Tales & Short Stories. Tracy's brilliant blog is a great information source for aspiring and up-and-coming authors. I did my best to pass on a bit of whatever wisdom I've managed to hang onto so far. This interview was also the first time I announced the title of Crawlers in public!
Hi Sam, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Hi! My name is Sam Enthoven. I'm thirty-five years old and I write fantastical action thrillers aimed at eleven to fifteen year olds. When I'm not writing I sometimes play guitar in a band called Sour Mash Daddy and His Sixty Wives.
How long have you been pursuing your writing ambitions and what have you done along the way to improve your writing?
I've been in print since September 2006, when my book The Black Tattoo was published by Random House Children's Books. It took me about ten years to get to that point and one hundred and thirty-four rejection letters before I got the one saying 'yes'!
Creative writing workshops formed part of my degree (English Language and Literature, at Manchester University) and that's why I decided to pursue this, but since I graduated (1996) I've taken no courses or consultancy. I just read as much as possible and keep writing, doing my best to learn as I go.
What made you think 'I want to write for children? Is it a genre you enjoy reading?
When I was about to go part-time at my job to give me more time to write (I was a bookseller) I sent a short story out to around fifty agents, hoping for advice. One wrote back suggesting I try writing for young people. It was something I'd never considered, but after some thought I realised this was one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received.
I love the challenge of writing for an audience who aren't even sure whether books are for them. The stakes are high. If, at the age I write for, someone hasn't come across the right book the one that shows them, personally, what the big deal is about reading then it's possible that they may never read a book again. Equally, it's the books I read when I was young that made me the gleefully omnivorous reader I am today. If one of my stories could be the one that has that effect on someone now the one that first introduces someone to books and what they can do? Wow. That's something to aspire to, it seems to me.
Have you ever tried writing for adults? Is it a market youd like to write for in the future?
I was writing for adults before I started writing for young people. But now I don't see myself ever going back. I mean: what for? ;)
Have you got an agent, would you recommend having one and, if so, why?
Yes. Definitely. In one way, it's a simple business decision: a good agent will bring you much more than what you'll pay them in commission. Publishing deals are an agent's daily bread and butter: they know the very latest going rates for what (and where) you're writing, what's normal in a contract and what you should expect and they know all this to a level that would take an individual author an enormous amount of time and research to discover for themselves. Agents also know publishers in other countries (including the USA) who might be interested in your work: international rights deals are a valuable potential source of extra revenue (and readers!) that, even with the benefit of the internet, I would hardly have known where to begin finding out about.
Agents are specialist negotiators: in a clear-sighted, businesslike way they will fight your corner, and make sure that you get your due. They'll also find even more opportunities and avenues for you and your work outside of straight publishing: they know film scouts, tv producers, games companies and so on contacts that an author working alone would have to be very lucky to possess.
Example: my book Tim, Defender of the Earth has been optioned by Universal [SQUEE! Ahem: 'scuse me.] Without my agent Penny Holroyde, of the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency I don't believe that would have been possible. Penny negotiated the deal (the contract was sixty pages long!); she's made sure we get paid on time; she talked me through the whole process and, perhaps most importantly, she knew to whom to give the manuscript so Universal got interested in the first place.
And of course, agents are brilliant in all sorts of other ways, too. I recently had a meeting with Penny to discuss the next stage of what I (modestly) call my Sinister Masterplan to Conquer the Universe. The meeting was in a pub and took all afternoon, involving deep (and loud!) discussion of the global state of publishing for young people and what we could try to do with it, plus a splendid lunch, numerous (ahem!) refreshments, and a lot of laughter and fun. In short? Agents are AWESOME.
Did achieving a book deal change the way you approach your writing? Do you find you are more productive as a result or do you still write the same amount a day? Have you adopted a specific way of writing, structured hours or you do you write as the muse strikes?
Working with editors (as opposed to getting advice from my mates!) was definitely different. Promotion website work, organising visits to schools, etc that's a part of my working day that wasn't there before the book deal, too. But as to productivity, the daily discipline of the job? No. For me it hasn't changed at all. For most of the ten years before I got my first book deal I was working evenings and weekends at a bookshop, Blackwell's, on London's Charing Cross Road. Money was tight: mostly I lived off instant noodles. But it did mean that I could spend the day writing, and though I've left the shop (and currently eat noodles only when I choose to!) that's exactly what I still do now.
When I'm working on a first draft, I have a quota: a thousand words a day. I like a wordcount as a measure of a day's writing. If things go well, I get it done quickly (three hours maybe) and then I can do something else. If things go heh, more normally, that quota will take me five or six hours, sometimes more. Redrafting involves a similar system: I divide the number of pages by the number of days I've got before the deadline and that gives me a rough idea of how I'm doing, how fast I should be going. In terms of daily hours, my working day usually comes out quite similar to most non-writers': something like eight or nine hours a day total, not including breaks.
Muses are a lovely idea. But even if they were real I wouldn't want to depend on them. Like Harry Crews once said: 'The secret to writing? Put your ass on the chair.'
Do you plan your stories in advance, or do they happen on the page?
I plan as much as I can. I like filling a story with things I'm excited about, things I'm looking forward to writing. I also like knowing that a story is going to come to an end! But no matter how much you plan, there's always a point where you realise you won't know any more until you're writing it. Then you have to close your eyes, hold your nose, and jump.
Do you use your own children or any others as a 'sounding board' for your novels?
I don't have kids of my own, and don't presently intend to. But I do believe in taking my stuff out on the road and testing it on its audience, so I do as many author visits to schools as I can. At my events I usually do a reading or two, but they're essentially Q&A based: I talk about whatever I'm asked, trying to be a straightforward and unpretentious as possible. However: while I hope the audience get something out of listening to me, I know that I get at least as much out of listening to them! Hearing what young people are interested in, what they have to say, is a great privilege. It's enormously inspiring and it has a direct effect on my work. More on this later.
Which authors/stories did you enjoy reading as a child/teenager? How do you think they compare to the children's/YA novels available today?
I loved fantasy, SF and action thrillers. Two authors in particular combined all three for me: John Christopher with his Tripods trilogy and Douglas Hill with The Last Legionary Quartet. Those may have dated a little now but they were brilliant: I remember being so excited by Douglas Hill's books that I could hardly sit still enough to read them! However, apart from those I also remember having a lot of trouble trying to find stories back then that gave me the same kick.
Thanks to Anthony Horowitz, Eoin Colfer, Darren Shan, Robert Muchamore and others, things are much better now. Writers like Dean Vincent Carter, Barry Hutchison and Alexander Gordon Smith are producing wonderful new work which is as it should be.
If we're seriously going to try to attract to books and reading people who normally get their story buzz from films and (particularly) games, then I believe that contemporary thrilling writing for young people is more important now than ever before.
What do you think children of today want to read?
It's unwise to generalise: different people want different things from stories age makes no difference to that. But I do have one theory I've been working on. I've been doing events at schools, talking directly to the audience I write for, for about three years now. Over that time, in about two sessions out of every three, I've had a conversation that goes something like this:
Young Person: OK, your books sound pretty good. Maybe I'll give them a go.
Me (absurdly pleased): Great! Fantastic!
YP: One thing, though. How long are they?
Me: Well, The Black Tattoo is sort of an epic, around five hundred pages. Tim, Defender of the Earth is shorter, though just a cheeky three hundred or so.
YP: Woah, that'll take me six months! I think I'll wait for the movie.
I believe that, bluntly, there should be more short books for the eleven-plus age range. I don't know if it's to do with Harry Potter, Eragon, Twilight or what, but it sometimes seems like publishers' prevailing wisdom these last few years has been that tomes the size of tombstones are all that will sell to this age group. I've obviously got no problem with long books per se: if you're a keen reader already, great. But if you're a young person at that point I've discussed, when you're not sure if reading is something you could ever actually do for pleasure (and as a result, perhaps your literacy skills aren't all they could be) then the massive time commitment that a long book represents will be a factor that might put you off potentially permanently.
Don't get me wrong. This isn't about underestimating the audience. Just the opposite: just because someone's not a keen reader it doesn't mean they don't expect a brilliant story. My aim is to write that story in a form that tempts young people to pick it up and be grabbed by it!
So: for the last two years I've been working on a book that packs everything I've learned from Black Tat and Tim into less than sixty thousand words a comparable length, incidentally, with the works of H G Wells, John Wyndham, John Buchan and many other classic storytellers whose work I adore and admire. Keeping to that length without skimping on the story wasn't easy: in fact I think it was harder than a longer book might have been. But the result, a standalone horror novel called CRAWLERS (exclusive announcement!!) should, I hope, be coming out in Spring 2010.
Is it what a lot of young people want to read? I can only hope so. I know I'm excited, so tentacles crossed!
Regarding artwork for the book covers. As the author did you have any input into the choices made or is the decision left entirely to others?
I'm delighted my covers so far have looked as good as they do. I really have been amazingly lucky. Because the fact is that, as a new author, you don't have much influence over what your books look like.
Publishers will ask your opinion, sure. But you have to accept that at the same time they're also asking a lot of other people whose opinions are, bluntly, more important to them than yours. The sales team want to love and believe in what they're selling. What the chains and supermarkets think of a book's look will have a direct effect on how many copies they take, and how prominently (or if) your book is displayed in their shops. The book may be your baby, you want it to look nice, but that's not up to you. So unless the cover is utterly unsuitable [Justine Larbalestier's recent troubles with her US publisher putting a white girl on the jacket when the central character is black, for example sigh] then when asked their opinion, an author should answer carefully. Throwing a tantrum about it, as authors are sometimes known to do, is counterproductive. Constructive suggestions, however, seem to be very welcome. When I suggested that RHCB add a flaming London skyline to the UK cover of Tim and they did I was delighted!
What sort of publicity and marketing have you undertaken? Was it arranged for you, or do you have to initiate your own ideas?
A bit of both. My publishers have great ideas about how to promote my books: they arrange events for me around launch time, they send my books to people who might review them and they come up with all sorts of other cunning plans, too! But these days no sensible up-and-coming author could or should leave publicity and marketing entirely up to their publishers. The best thing to do is to combine forces use their powers and your own, together.
I arrange my own events at all times throughout the year at schools, libraries, bookshops, festivals and anywhere else that invites me. I keep a page on the excellent website ContactAnAuthor, and get most of my gigs through that. But I keep an eye on book trade developments, and if I spot anything that might be useful I'll approach directly myself. A great recent example would be The Big Green Bookshop, a fantastic independent that opened last year in Wood Green, London, not far from where I live. I've done a bunch of events with them they're brilliant!
Then there are my websites. I pay my friend Katie, who is a genius(!) to build and maintain a separate website for each one of my books. As well as interviews, bonus short stories etc, those websites have guestbooks where readers can reach me directly. That's in addition to the various social networking sites where I keep profiles so people can get in touch if they want. These things are part of my ongoing writing progress: as I've mentioned, I'd like young people's opinions to have a direct effect on the stories I write. Plus, it's fun! I also have a blog that I update around once a week that syndicates to various places. I have a YouTube profile and every so often I make silly clips to post there. I have a Flickr page where I post pics from my events. I have a Twitter page where I post a new favourite word every day. I do other stuff, too, and I'm always on the lookout for new opportunities.
While some self-promotion is essential publishers, rightly, expect you to make some effort to put yourself out there I don't think everyone has to go crazy with it. It's up to the author to decide how far they want to take it. No single promotional activity will give you any guarantee of sales, fortune, fame, whatever so be true to yourself. And enjoy it! I get a big kick out of this stuff. I mean: having people contact you from all over the world about your work? That's AMAZING!
Aspiring writers are often told how important a title is - do you have any advice on what a good title is?
This question reminds me of a story I think I read in Story, by Robert McKee: '"Ugambo,"' (says the jaded Hollywood producer) 'is a lousy title. But "Ugambo, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall"? Now, that's a GREAT title!'
The obvious guiding principles are that you want something that catches the eye, and that says something about what sort of a story it is. I personally don't tend to go for titles that have the central character's name in them particularly if it's the name and nothing else ('What? I'm supposed to be interested just because of the name the author gave this person??') But that's just my opinion, and I'm a curmudgeon sometimes. ;)
The fact is, if the publishers don't like a title they'll ask an author to change it. While of course I take care choosing mine, I've discovered that titles are a lot easier to change than some other things I've had to part with so far in my books(!) So it follows that I don't think titles are as important as all that, and they're certainly not something to get too hung up on.
You set up a website with seven fellow authors called Trapped By Monsters. I understand its aims are to encourage kids to read. Can you tell us more about it?
Trapped By Monsters is the mutant brainchild of Tommy Donbavand, author of the awesome comedy horror series for younger readers, SCREAM STREET. He noticed that joint author blogs in the UK (particularly those involving authors who write for kids) have so far tended to be rather serious, focusing as they do on writing, and what a terribly hard and grim and special and difficult job it supposedly is. Well, Trapped By Monsters is for FUN. We have a very silly premise (for which I must admit I'm largely responsible, having provided the name) and from there we talk about whatever we want. We occasionally offer writing advice, of a nuts and bolts kind. We talk about each other's books so it's a good promotional opportunity, sure. But we also pass on recommendations for anything else we've discovered that we think is brilliant, together with competitions, illustrations, guest spots, stories, rants, etc, etc. It's about enthusiasm and delight about books for young people, as well as passion and commitment. And, obviously, monsters.
Was The Black Tattoo your first attempt at writing a novel or did you have other manuscripts hiding away?
Black Tat was my fourth finished book. But those previous manuscripts are going to stay where they are: buried at crossroads with stakes through their hearts, for reasons I'll come to in a moment.
What inspired you to write The Black Tattoo?
One of my favourite authors, Lee Child, was asked for the best piece of advice he could give to anyone thinking of writing a book. 'Write the exact book that you yourself would be thrilled to read,' was his answer. When I read that it was like a door opened in my head. Before, I'd been trying to write something that I thought 'would sell' doing my best to second-guess what the market seemed to suggest 'ought' to go in a book for young people. That had got me nothing but rejection letters and heartache. Instead, I started thinking about what I, personally, would love to find in a book. In Black Tat's case, it was swordfights, monsters, flying kung fu, demonic possession, the end of the universe, a seven-way gladiatorial monster fight to the death set in Hell things like that! Black Tat started as a wish list. Then, slowly, I worked out how to put it all together.
How long did it take you from initial inspiration to finally achieving the publication deal?
Five years. That's not including the year out I took to go write something else that may (possibly) turn out to be another book.
Rewrites and Revisions: How much did you have to do throughout the writing of The Black Tattoo?
Masses. The finished book is a chunk, but the first draft was more than twice as long: more was cut than actually ended up in the final version. I'm happy with those cuts. Every bit of redrafting made the book better. But yes: around half of those five years was spent rewriting and polishing, polishing, polishing. I learned an enormous amount.
Is The Black Tattoo a stand-alone novel or part of a planned series?
Like all my books right now, it's a standalone. That said, all my books currently take place in London, and at the same time. They're all aimed at young people. They're all fast and (I hope) thrilling, and they all (surprise!) have monsters in them of one kind or another, because that's what I do and what I love. So there's a continuity between them. But for now I have no intention of writing sequels to any of them.
At face value, The Black Tattoo is a spectacular fantasy adventure with a kick-ass heroine, an every-boy hero and some OTT demons, yet at its heart there seems to be some intriguing interpretations of some commonly-held beliefs: Hell, demons, heaven, God(frey). How much was intended and how much developed as you wrote the story?
Once I decided to set so much of the book in Hell, everything else came with it. The setting itself, however, came from thinking about the traditional conventions of fantasy for young readers particularly the idea of the gateway to another world. I wanted to approach that from what I hoped would be an unusual angle: by including a world that the reader might think they knew about already, then playing with their expectations.
Are any of the ideas youve used in the book taken from existing mythology? (I particularly liked the vomiting bats.) Do you use myth and mythology as a basis for your books? If you do, how much research do you do?
The ideas in my book are taken from a bubbling stew of every single thing I've read, watched, heard or played mythology included. I don't attach any extra weight to any particular source based on how old it is: I just look for the tingle at the back of my neck, the sparks it sets off in my brain. That said, for Black Tat I did gather and research every version of Hell that I could lay my hands on. The research depends on the story: I do whatever it takes. Glad you liked the bats!
The creation of extra strong swords using bird mess: true or false?
Hah! True, as far as I can tell. Like Raymond says, I've heard of chickens being used, and ostriches. Not pigeons, I admit, but a London story needs a London bird!
What inspired you to write Tim, Defender of the Earth?
Again: it's the exact story that I would be thrilled to read. In this case, it came from an obsession with giant monster films particularly old-school Japanese kaiju flicks, with people in rubber suits stomping on stuff. I figured out why I loved them so much: it was because I was imagining being the monster. Now: admittedly, for a big, clumsy oaf like myself, who waves his arms about and sometimes destroys things by accident, that's perhaps not the conceptual leap for me that it might be for another person! But I've loved those films and stories ever since I was little (I read The Iron Man, by Ted Hughes, about ninety times). As soon as I started thinking how much fun could be had with a British monster who was the same age as the target audience, I got very excited. Then came the input from audience themselves. When I was touring schools and libraries and bookshops with Black Tat, I asked the young people I spoke to a particular question: Which famous London landmarks would you most like to see DESTROYED in a story? As you might imagine, I got a lot of enthusiastic answers to that. And you know what? I managed to work pretty much all of them in. Hee hee hee!
How long did it take you from initial inspiration to finally achieving the publication deal?
The US and UK deals for Black Tat were for that plus another book: that second book was Tim. But I didn't get to take five years over it! Tim took about two.
Rewrites and Revisions: How much did you have to do throughout the writing of Tim?
Not too much that time, luckily. I wrote a solid first draft. The UK editors, the US editors and myself all managed to agree on what we wanted (mostly!) and by the third draft (not including copyedits) Tim was fully formed.
You have two main human characters Chris, male, and Anna, female. Do you find it easy to write from a girl's perspective?
It depends on the girl. Characterisation is hard, and some characters are much harder to write than others. But I would prefer to think that's down to individual cases, more than anything as general as gender.
The bad guy, Professor Mallahide, is quite an ambiguous character. On one hand he wants to help people, there are several incidents which show his good, benevolent side then, on the other, he abuses his power. We see him as the good guy in opposition to the military and the uses they want to put the nanobots to. Was it intentional and crucial to your novel that you explore the many facets of good and evil? That there is no black and white answer for why people do the things they do? That power corrupts?
That's a very flattering question, and I'm thrilled and delighted you've asked it. But, as with your earlier one about religious beliefs, I'm going to leave the book to speak for itself and swerve around it a bit! I will say I love stories where you can understand the baddie's point of view. In fact in most stories I find it's the baddie I'm cheering for. (Does anyone else do that? Or, erm, is that just me? ;p)
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
If you like fast-paced storytelling, I'm hoping Crawlers will knock your socks off. There are plenty more where that, Black Tat and Tim came from, but if you don't mind I'll keep any more of my sinister masterplan under wraps for now: MOO HOO HA HA! Um, sorry.
Words of wisdom and advice to any aspiring writer?
Just the same ones again, for emphasis.
From Lee Child: 'Write the exact book that you yourself would be thrilled to read.' I tell you, it's a lot easier to get through the tough bits if you love and believe in what you're writing.
From Harry Crews: 'Put your ass on the chair.' It's not going to happen if you stop.
But (and here's a bonus one) if you keep going, IT IS POSSIBLE. It happened to me. That proves can happen to you.
Anything else youd like to mention?
Thank you, Tracy, for interviewing me! And my thanks and best wishes to anyone reading this.
-Sam, 4th August 2009
I am a huge fan of Sam Enthoven - he's been there and done it. In fact, he's still doing it. Back in the he worked in a bookshop, saw the gap in the children's market for well written, funny and off-the-wall stories for kids and decided to try it himself. And whaddaya know, he's managed to pull it off. He is a personal hero of mine and also incredibly funny and entertaining to interview. He has very kindly agreed to take part in the Horror Blog fest.
Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about you and your writing career.
What is your most recent novel about if you are allowed to tell us?
Tim is a giant monster smackdown in the classic kaiju style, over the course of which pretty much all London's famous landmarks are thoroughly and gleefully destroyed MOO HOO HA HA! Um, sorry. If you're talking about the one most recently written (as opposed to published this one's not currently due out in shops 'til April 2010) then my latest project is a survival horror story. I visit lots of schools as part of my work: when I recently explained to a roomful of ten-year-olds that the new book is a bit like Alien meets Night of The Living Dead I was worried they maybe wouldn't get the references. Not a bit of it: they cheered!
What do you think makes the horror genre so fascinating to readers and writers?
People love to be scared. Or at least, scared in a way that's supposed to stop when the film ends, the game finishes, or you put the book down.
As a horror writer / fan, what sells a story / concept to you?
Atmosphere and psychology are important. A payoff that justifies the buildup is crucial. But I'm a 'Show Me The Monster!' person at heart. If it's got monsters, I'm there. :D
What movies / books influenced your development as a genre writer? Similarly, what books, movies, comics, get you excited as a fan?
Influences? Wow, too many to list here but do check my LibraryThing profile if you like. Right now (April '09) I'm into Robert Kirkman's comics (smart, superfast, light touch storytelling: try The Astounding Wolf-Man brilliant!); the Dresden Files books by Jim Butcher (I have to pace myself with those or I'd devour the whole series in one gulp) and everything by Neal Asher (Monsters! Spaceships! Obscenely large-calibre weaponry! Huzzah!) Also I just read a terrific book called Invisible Fiends, by Barry Hutchison. It's not out 'til next year but he's a name to watch, for sure.
Who do you go all fan-boy about when it comes to the horror genre? Have you ever met anyone more famous than yourself and how did you react?
Liz already knows my Neil Gaiman story: that was embarrassing enough. But my personal nadir in the gibbering fanboy stakes was the time I met Alan Moore [You've read his run on Swamp Thing, right? That's some of the finest horror writing ever!] His book Voice of the Fire had just been published, and until I bothered him he was quietly going around the bookshops in London's Charing Cross Road signing copies. I said, 'Mr Moore?' He turned to look at me - and I promptly lost the power of speech.
I stood there for a while like a landed fish, my lower jaw flapping up and down uselessly. Mr Moore blinked a couple of times, then in a very kind voice said: 'Is there something you'd like to ask me?' -'YES!' I squeaked. He signed my V For Vendetta and we ended up having a wonderful and, to me, enormously inspiring chat. But it wasn't the most auspicious first impression I've ever made on someone, I imagine!
Lights on or off when watching horror flicks?
Off, except (heh!) for a very dim bloodred floor lamp I keep especially for the purpose.
Which do you prefer: Romero originals or remakes?
The original Dawn is great of course, and the black and white Night is just unbeatable. But I'm not a 'fast zombies bad' hard-liner: I thought the Zack Snyder Dawn was excellent.
What is the best advice you ever received from someone about horror writing?
It's all about the characters. Sometimes I wish it wasn't so: characterisation is hard! But it's true. You can have all kinds of mayhem going on, but the only thing that's going to make audiences and readers really jump is if it's happening to people they care about. Not necessarily like (see above re NOTLD genius!) But, know and believe in? Definitely.
The horror genre has seen many incarnations over the past few years what do you think the future holds for the genre?
I couldn't begin to guess. That's one of the things I love about it. And the possibility, however unlikely, that my stuff might influence a whole new coming generation of horror creators wow, that makes me very excited!
Do you have a zombie apocalypse survival plan apart from going to hide in the Winchester, that is! and will you be able to implement it?
Have you read World War Z, by Max Brooks?? If it happens, we're screwed: I'll be straight down the pub, and I ain't coming out 'til I'm zombie nosh!
Are there any 'how to' books on your bookshelf you would recommend to aspiring authors?
I see previous interviewees have picked this already, but it's worth saying again: On Writing, by Stephen King. Never mind horror, anyone who's thinking of writing anything should read it. It is, without doubt, the single best book I've come across so far on the subject.
If you had a chance to invite any horror legend, be it actor, writer, director, author (living / dead / undead) over for some tea, who would you choose and why?
I don't drink tea. But if you're talking about something stronger, to be sipped, perhaps, in comfy leather armchairs, in a book-lined room, with no light but a flickering log fire and the occasional shattering flash from the storm outside, then having M R James and Saki round trying to out-spook each other would be pretty much my ideal. Hee hee hee!
Thanks and best wishes to anyone reading this Sam