Blog: In Defence of Saladin Ahmed

This is the first in what I’m going to call my ‘blogging series’. I’m aware that I run a blog, so technically every post is ‘blogging’. However, most of my posts tend to be less about me and my opinions and more about topics. They’re more magazine-y in style, because that’s the type of content I enjoy reading.

So, from time to time, I’ll write a true ‘blog post’ which I’ll use to discuss myself and issues that I want to talk about and share my opinion on. Hopefully you guys will read them and enjoy them just as much as my other content.

Today I want to talk about a certain fantasy author called Saladin Ahmed who broke onto the scene in 2012 with Throne of the Crescent Moon. It was a fantastic book and I even reviewed it for this blog. So late last year I decided to go looking for the sequel (assuming there was one). Much to my disappointment I found nothing on Amazon and nothing in my local bookshop either. I decided to check out Mr. Ahmed’s website in December last year and I finally found answers.

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Author Interview: Jen Williams

Just a couple of weeks ago, I posted an article discussing my most anticipated fantasy debuts of 2014. That article had a fantastic response and I’m so pleased that I am able to introduce these new authors to those of you who hadn’t yet heard about them. One of those new authors is Jen Williams, whose novel The Copper Promise is released in just under a week’s time.

Author Photo

Following that, I’m pleased to report that Jen has kindly agreed to give an interview for Fantasy In Motion! So, without further ado, here is what transpired…

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Hi Jen, thanks for joining us today.

I wanted to start this interview talking about you as a writer. When did you first know you wanted to write fantasy? What inspired you to take that path?

I’ve always leaned towards fantasy. When I was a kid I refused to read books that were set in our world, or involved normal kids doing normal things. My very first stories, always heavily illustrated by me, were about dragons, pirates, and secret treasure – so not a lot has changed. I loved stories set in strange lands, in places that didn’t exist in our world, and as I got older I became more interested in mythology and folklore. When I first started thinking about writing a book I didn’t even question what genre it would be; fantasy has always been the place where anything could happen, and I found that deeply appealing. With The Copper Promise, I had quite suddenly fallen back in love with traditional fantasy, and it occurred to me that I’d never really written anything like that. I wondered what would happen if I embraced the kind of fantasy I’d grown up loving, and the book was the result of that.

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The New Wave: Fantasy Debuts in 2014

As promised in my previous article Fantasy: What’s Next? these are my most anticipated fantasy debuts coming in 2014. If you have any recommended reads for this year, please share them in the comments below. I hope you enjoy!

(These are in no particular order!)

#1 – Traitor’s Blade (The Greatcoats) by Sebastian de Castell

It’s being marketed as Joe Abercrombie crossed with Alexandre Dumas. Heroic fantasy with a streak of darkness. Plus, some awesome cover art makes this a compelling debut.

Traitor's Blade

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.

All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…

Release Date: 6th March 2014

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Author Interview: Dawn Finch

We interviewed Dawn Finch, author of Brotherhood of Shades, her debut novel, a contemporary YA fantasy set in London. Brotherhood was published last month in paperback by HarperCollins and is set to be the start of an exciting and unique fantasy series!

Dawn Finch Author

Dawn, welcome to Fantasy In Motion. Thanks for joining us.

Thank you very much for inviting me, I’ve enjoyed reading your blog a great deal and I’m a huge fan of fantasy maps. I have a designer working on a map of Brotherhood locations at the moment so I’m looking forward to sharing that before the end of the year.

Could you start by telling us a little about your novel, Brotherhood of Shades?

Brotherhood of ShadesBrotherhood is a contemporary ghost story with roots in the sixteenth century. Adam, a streetwise homeless teenager, dies of cold and starvation on the streets of London and after death is recruited into a clandestine organisation called the Brotherhood of Shades. The Brotherhood is an organisation of ghosts set up after the Dissolution of the Monasteries to oversee the passage of the living through the World Between.

The book details Adam’s transition into the Brotherhood, and their battles with demonic forces as they attempt to retrieve a coded manuscript, and protect the world of the living, from the world of the dead.

How did the idea/inspiration for the story come to you?

One of my first jobs was at the education office of a Cathedral and I used to dress as a monk to take children on guided tours. I was aware that young children worked in monasteries and had a brutal and harsh life there, and I felt that it was an untold story. Brotherhood started off as a short story but I liked the central character and knew that he had more to say and it grew from there. I’ve always loved ghost stories and felt that I wanted to bring classic ghost stories to a modern audience.

I was interested to see that you’ve previously worked in publishing and in libraries. Do you think that working with books has helped you as a writer?

I have always worked with books, but my first job in publishing was hardly what I’d call “in” publishing. I worked in the post room and one of my jobs was sorting the slush pile and making sure the unsolicited manuscripts reached the right desk – or not! Some of the manuscripts were, well, shall we say, odd! I certainly learned how not to submit a manuscript after wading through manuscripts that were sometimes barely legible. I think my favourite was one written on serviettes that had clearly been written whilst very drunk and made no sense whatsoever but became increasingly angry as the pile of tissue went on. The writer ended up ranting about how the publisher would be insane to reject them, but never actually got the point about the subject matter.

I have worked for over twenty five years in libraries and I am the current vice-chair of the London and South East School Libraries Group. I campaign hard for all schools to have a library and a librarian as I see this as essential to the literacy of our children, and our adults. Working in libraries has taught me so very much about books, and I read constantly. I always say to young people that if you want to write, first you must read!

Who would you say are your favourite authors/books?

That’s an impossible question! My favourite author is always the author of the book that I’m currently hooked on. When I find a book that I really enjoy my immediate response is to buy the entire back catalogue and read everything. I have so many favourites so it wouldn’t be fair to pick one out.

What was your first encounter with fantasy fiction? Have you always wanted to write in the genre?

I’ve always loved fantasy. I grew up in a hard-up area and the future did not seem promising for any of us kids. For me fantasy was the perfect escape and it remained that way and so when I came to write myself it was fantasy that drew me. I was never really interested in reading about the real world, and was far more interested in the world out of the corner of your eye.

I read Ray Bradbury, Susan Cooper, Ursula K LeGuin, Alan Garner, Brian Aldiss, Joan Aiken, the list is very long, shelves full of doorways to different worlds.  I wanted to be somewhere else, I wanted to be chased across moorland by ancient spirits, battling my way out of dark houses in whirling snowstorms, fleeing scarlet-eyed wolves across wild moorland, conjuring spells to hold back demons, escaping dark forces hell bent on destroying me… basically anywhere other than a tatty and cold school heading for a job in a factory.

When I came to write myself it was not as if I had a choice. I think that all writers need to find their voice and the story will roll out. I didn’t really choose my genre, it chose me.

What was your route towards publishing your first novel like? Any advice you would give to any of our readers who are looking to publish their first book?

Oh dear, my route was very long and complicated! This book was almost published a number of years ago and then the imprint went under and I was left without a publisher. I was lucky in that I did have an agent and he supported me and encouraged me to keep going. My book still didn’t sell (the public seemed to have moved on to an obsessive desire for sparkly vampires and ghosts were not deemed fashionable) and so I focussed on my other work in school libraries.

Writing is a very isolating business and a friend encouraged me to upload my work to the writer’s site – Authonomy. I wanted some feedback and it was nice to have the opinion of other writers. My book was very quickly spotted on there by the man who almost took it to print the previous time! He remembered Brotherhood and recommended it to the rest of the team and they enjoyed it so much that they took it to print. These days it’s not about pleasing one person of course, your work has to be enjoyed by a team of people including the marketing team.

My advice would be to be prepared and get some professional editing if you can afford it. I’d buy the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook and try to get an agent first. There are a few writer’s conferences throughout the year where you can meet agents and publishers and those are a sensible investment. Work on your pitch though! If you can nail your plot down to a sharp thirty second pitch, and then hand over a card with your details on, that can do it. I know a good number of people who have secured agents on a “could I ask for thirty seconds to pitch my work to you?” Agents are used to this approach, and a good one won’t mind. If they do mind and react badly, you wouldn’t want to be stuck with them anyway!

Where do you stand in the print vs. e-book debate? Do you think paper novels have had their day or is there room for both formats?

Video did not kill the radio star! I think there is more than enough room for both formats, and we need both. I love my e-reader as I travel a lot and can’t possibly carry hundreds of books around with me in any other format, but I also love print books. A recent survey suggested that people often read the book first on e-reader, and then buy the print copy to keep if they enjoy it – I know I’ve done this! There will always be books that simply do not work in e format, academic and study books for example. Students need to be able to annotate several texts and compare them all at once using several indices, that’s just not possible in e-book form. You simply can’t lay six kindles out in front of you and jot down notes on the pages!

I think that print publishers need to start to be more creative and to offer more for the print version to encourage people to buy it. Maps work so well in printed books, and extra material only available in the print version, or beautiful binding and covers, and maybe offering a free e-version if you buy the print version?

There is a good reason that books will last, they are the best at doing what they do – carrying words. The main thing is that they do not become unreadable. Twenty years ago I remember working with floppy discs and microfiche but now these formats are virtually unreadable, whilst books hundreds of years older are still perfectly accessible.

I think there is space in the market for all formats and we need to remember that it’s the story that counts, not the object that carries it.
Do you have any ‘top tips’ for aspiring authors out there?
Don’t give up, and don’t be precious – get advice and share and grow a very thick skin! I know so many people who say they want to write a book and seem to think it is easy, and that’s why people quit. The first time they get a knock-back, or hear something negative, or actually can’t stick at it to get those words on paper, people quit. If you really want to write a book you need to first accept that it is incredibly hard and time consuming work. It is not something to take lightly and dip into now and again, it takes time and dedication to get over a hundred thousand words down! Once you’ve accepted that it is hard work, and that you will have to make sacrifices to achieve it, then you can do it.

Young people ask me all the time how to become a writer and I always say – write down all the things, and then write down some more!Are you able to share with us what you are working on at the moment?I am currently working on the sequel to Brotherhood which is set in some stunning locations from nineteenth century Paris, to London and on to a remote Scottish island. The sequel is very Steampunk as I have a bit of an obsession for automata and machines. I’ve had this idea churning away for some time and am hugely enjoying writing my machines, and avoiding all jokes about the ghost in the machine!

Dawn, thank you very much for your time!

Thanks again for inviting me on board, and I very much look forward to reading more!

Brotherhood of Shades is available now from Amazon. You can also keep up to date with Dawn at her website.

Our Author Interviews

We’ve had the opportunity to speak to a diverse bunch of authors here at Fantasy In Motion. So what better way to kick off your week than to check out our interviews so far? This is also a great opportunity to let you know that we have more interviews coming soon, so be sure to Follow us to be kept in the loop!

Author Interview with…

Carl Alves

Kimberli Renee’ Campbell

Morgan L. Busse

Orson T. Badger

Zacharias O’Bryan

Chris Stevenson

Elizabeth Moon

Michael J. Sullivan

Tim Marquitz

Luke Scull

More on their way very soon…

Author Interview: Igor Ljubuncic

Igor Ljubuncic is a physicist and a self-confessed Linux geek, amongst other things, but his real passion is writing. He is the author of The Betrayed, the first in the Lost Words fantasy series. Here’s a short taster to whet your appetite:

A war is brewing in the Realms. When the new religious sect of Feor from Caytor invades the Safe Territories, the home of the old gods, Commander Mali of Eracia scrambles to counter its advance. To that end, Adam, an Eracian prostitute who awaits hanging, is spared to join the army. In the Territories, a former criminal Ayrton and his young protégée Ewan face the threat of the invaders. Can the ruthless followers of Feor be stopped, and the old faith be saved?

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Hi Igor, thanks for joining us.

Hi James, it’s an honor to be invited.

What first inspired you to start writing?

Uh-oh, a difficult question. I started writing at a very young age, probably seven or eight, although my first book, so to speak, did not come to life until three years later. It was a silly childhood thing, a ninja-flavored world adventure. I guess the early insipiration for that came from a weird combination of ninja comic books and the mystery revolving around them, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. Go figure. That was more than two decades ago. What hooked me into fantasy was The Hobbit. I read it when I was twelve or so, and the world changed. Bit by bit, I spared more time reading fantasy and science-fiction, as well as writing. Eventually, I wrote my first proper fantasy book over the span of three years in my early twenties. It’s a waiting-to-be-published monstrosity with some 700 A4-format pages.

What inspires you now to carry on writing?

I think it’s a deep, internal need. I do sometimes get inspired by events and people around me, but the real motivator comes from somewhere inside. I cannot imagine life without writing.

If you had to pick three, what would be your favourite books?

We’re talking about books that stirred me emotionally in a special way, not necessarily the most read or the most entertaining and engaging. Well, The Hobbit definitely. It’s a must for any fantasy author, any child. It does not have the modern flair you see around, nor the gritty realism or the complexity of some of the masterpieces we enjoy today, but what it has is charm and magic that remain unsurpassed today. In the second place, Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett. Again, it comes with that genius mix of nostalgia, purpose and intimacy you rarely see elsewhere. Something about that book triggers thoughts on a different level. The third would be Catch-22. It’s such a profound lesson in humanity.

How do you go personally about planning once you have a story idea?

Ideas usually come suddenly, sometimes when I dream. But once formalized, I am extremely meticulous about planning the rest of it. I create the story arch first, then think of the several sub-plots that should form it. Then, I expand on the characters. Sometimes though, some pieces remain unknown until after I have written them. The fact I surprise myself probably lends to the unpredictability of the story.

Has writer’s block ever been an issue for you?

Yes and no. I have been activitely writing for the past ten years without pausing really. My work falls into two categories – fantasy books and stories on one hand, and mostly software-related for my website, on the other. While sometimes I take a pause from the books, I continuously keep baking articles for the site, so the block is genre-specific. Usually, in winter, I am less inspired to write fantasy.

What do you think about maps in fantasy fiction? Are they a help or a hindrance to the reader and author?

I think the maps are a must for the author. For readers, less so. As a reader, I tend to not pay too much attention to maps, and sketch the world setting in my head. All that said, I think maps should be simple and generic, and too many books feature super-highly-detailed illustrations that do not belong in the medieval-era worlds.

Do you feel that the eBook revolution has helped fantasy authors or not?

I am not sure, really. I think the accessibility of reading material through a Web browser and reading devices definitely makes it much easier to distribute, sell and read content. However, I do not know if there’s a clear correlation between technology and success. I believe a good book will reach its audience, regardless of the medium. eBooks probably make the chance of that happening somewhat faster.

Could you tell us about your writing and where people can find your stories?

I have recently published The Betrayed, the first book in my epic fantasy series The Lost Words. There’s a website dedicated to that work, http://www.thelostwordsbooks.com. I also keep a sizable collection of short fantasy-genre stories on my other website, http://www.dedoimedo.com, in the so-called Life section. For those interested, I have a whole bunch of technical articles and books, too, but they are rather boring for most people.

Thank you very much for your time.

Thank you! It’s been a pleasure.

Author Interview: Tim Marquitz

Welcome to another Monday morning, the start of a new week and a brand new interview with author Tim Marquitz!

Me

Tim is the author of the Demon Squad series and a myriad of fantasy and horror stories. He once worked as a gravedigger, loves martial arts and is a familiar face on fantasy forums across the web.

I’m really excited to have had a chance to pick at Tim’s thoughts. Read on to discover what he had to say… Continue reading

The Olympic Games

Welcome to a brand new week and the start of our new posting schedule! Don’t forget, you can leave me your feedback using the form that appears above.

I just wanted to talk a little bit today about the Olympics. I watched the GB team win a lot of gold and silver over the weekend and thought it was pretty impressive, seeing how we weren’t expected to win very much at all. It got me thinking that the support of the crowds and fans at home probably contribute towards some of their success and give them a real boost both in confidence and focus.

As a writer, it would be really nice to have a stadium full of fans there to cheer me on when I need it. You can’t lie, it would be pretty damn nice, wouldn’t it? Having said that, I do have my family who encourage me and show interest in what I do, so that’s a huge bonus.

Usain Bolt

As part of this Monday post, I’m going to set you all a challenge.

Think of an Olympic event that has inspired you recently and try to capture some of its spirit to infuse into your writing. Whether it’s Usain Bolt winning gold with ease, Andy Murray beating Federer or America’s domination of the swimming pool. Find out what inspires you about these things and try to use that to inspire your readers in the same way.

That’s all for today. Remember, there’s no new post on either Tuesdays or Thursdays, but there is plenty of other stuff to check out on the blog when you visit. Check along the sidebar on the right-hand side and you’ll find reviews, interviews, writing advice and tons more! Make sure you come back Wednesday!

~ James

Author Interview: Michael J. Sullivan

Welcome to another fine Monday morning and to another brand new author interview!

Michael J. Sullivan

We spoke to Michael J. Sullivan, author of the Riyria Revelations, featuring the inseparable thieves Royce and Hadrian. Michael started out by successfully self-publishing his books and was then picked up by fantasy publishers Orbit. It’s the kind of success story that writers dream about. Want to know more? Read on… Continue reading

Author Interview: Elizabeth Moon

I promised you all a new author interview this week and I’m very pleased to be able to fulfill that promise! I mentioned a while back that we had interviews with Elizabeth Moon and Michael J. Sullivan coming up–here’s the first of them. Let me just start by saying I feel really privileged to be able to pick the brains of novelists and get their thoughts on the genre and writing itself. Everyone I speak to, whether they’ve been in print for years and had great success, or if they are self-published and just starting out, has had some really interesting and useful insight. You should go read our other interviews–if you don’t, you’ll be missing out on some important advice and experience.

So, I had the opportunity to interview Elizabeth Moon, a bestselling sci-fi and fantasy author. Just some of her work includes The Speed of Dark (2003 Nebula Award Winner) and the Paksenarrion saga. She has collaborated with Anne McCaffrey, served in the US Marines and is an accomplished fencer.Image

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The Brand New Fantasy In Motion Revamp!

You may have noticed one or two new changes around the blog lately. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s new:

  1. A brand new visual design with a crisper, cleaner look.
  2. A new navigation/menu bar – you’ll now find helpful articles on the grey bar beneath the menu items! You can also now access the blog’s RSS feeds directly from the menu.
  3. More search functionality – a new search bar at the top of the screen and a second one as you scroll through posts.
  4. More content – along the right-hand side of the blog, you’ll now find loads more links, articles, interviews and features which any self-respecting fantasy fan will be sure to love!
  5. A featured review every week – you can find this on the right-hand side of the blog. Regularly updated reviews from SFF World.com!
  6. Re-focused posts – you’ll find more about writing, the latest fantasy and publishing news, helpful advice/tips and even more author interviews! Sadly, I will no longer be posting new webcomic episodes to the blog’s front page, but will regularly update the webcomic’s own page. I have also tidied up the blog’s articles and scrapped certain features that didn’t quite fit in with the blog’s theme.
  7. Fantasy In Motion “Champion Posts” – top quality posts containing signature content unique to Fantasy In Motion! You’ll find a special badge on these posts when they crop up, so keep an eye out!

I hope you all really love the changes as much as I do. Please feel free to drop in your thoughts and suggestions below!

~ James

The Best Laid Plans of a Writer

Writer's Stop

Right, let’s get back on track with some posts about writing. After all, that’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? 🙂

Now, today I want to talk about planning. First, let me start out with a little story:

One day, there was a writer who didn’t like to plan. He had loads of ideas swirling around in his head and he wanted to write everything! But each time he would think of a story to write, when he sat down and started typing out the first chapter, he realisedhe didn’t know what would happen next.

‘Oh, bugger!’ he cried. ‘Oh well, never mind. I’ll just write something else.’

And so he was stuck in an eternal loop of unfinished stories and unfulfilled dreams of being a published author.

Yeah, that’s right, that was me. Until a few months ago, that is…

‘What happened a few months ago?’ I hear you ask. Well, I’ll tell you.

I learned to plan.

It’s not a particularly easy thing for a writer to acknowledge, but I knew deep down that my writing was suffering from a lack of planning and I am by no means a naturally gifted and “special” writer who can just rush through a story without anything to show them the way. You know what those sorts of people are called? Pantsers. That’s what us writery types call them, anyway.

Here’s the official definition of the word. *cough* taken from urban dictionary *cough*:

Pantser

A NaNoWriMo term that means that you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ when you are writing your novel. You have nothing but the absolute basics planned out for your novel.
This outlook towards writing is often opposed by the ‘planner’, who knows exactly what is going to happen, when it will happen, and where it will happen. There is often enmity between the two types of writers.
Another pantser?! Seriously, GTFO.

Take note of the second paragraph. Planner. That is what you should aspire to, more or less.

I hate planning, I will admit that, but it does have HUGE benefits. Take a look at this example:

Chapter One

  • Swordfight / conflict
  • Rain
  • Slippery footing
  • Main char – discussion about amulet
  • Discovers amulet’s power / destiny
  • Attacked by assassins
  • Almost poisoned – fear
  • Escapes with amulet into city
  • Who do the assassins belong to? Who wants him dead?

That’s it. That is as much as I write about any one chapter. I tried out this method after browsing the web on the search for planning advice. Before, I had stuck to strict play-by-play summaries of each chapter and I’d always burned out and got bored. I like it when there’s still a lot of freedom to move in my writing. Think of each bullet point as an island and imagine there’s just blank space in between each one. That blank space is where you can really use your imagination and play around as much as you like. So long as you stick to the bullet points and hit each one of them at some point, you can’t go wrong. I guarantee it. Just make sure you have a few points that conjure up an image and set the scene, a few points that deal with the plot and character’s progression and then a couple that are just action/movement and finally one that asks a question for the chapter to end on and draw the reader deeper into your story.

As for the overall structure of the plot, I approach it like so. This is advice I adapted from Michael Moorcock’s brilliant How to Write a Book in Three Days, by the way:

Part 1 – Hit the hero with a heap of trouble. Give them a problem to overcome. Give them a reason to try to overcome it.

Part 2 – Increase the trouble that the hero is facing. Give him more crap to deal with. Keep giving him a personal reason to keep trying to overcome it.

Part 3 – Put your hero in so much trouble that the reader isn’t sure he’ll survive it. Break him, bash him about, make him beg for mercy.

Part 4 – Find a way for your hero to triumph. Tie up any loose ends. Provide a satisfying conclusion.

All you need do is fit your chapter plans in and around those four parts and you’re already halfway to the finish line.

My Top Ten Planning Tips

  1. Whenever you feel lost or don’t know what to write, just look at your chapter plan and make sure you’re sticking to each bullet point.
  2. Cover everything and don’t try to rush.
  3. If your characters insist on going in a different direction, stop and plan ahead a few more chapters to see if it works.
  4. Make sure that you have the ending already planned out.
  5. Plan out at least one chapter from the middle of your story. Make it an event/scene you really want to write.
  6. Make sure all your characters and their motivations/goals are clear in your mind before you plan.
  7. Think of a few objects and images that will form the visual theme of your story. Incorporate these elements into your plot.
  8. Don’t plan out every single chapter before you start writing (unless you enjoy planning). Most likely a lot will change as you delve into the first chapters of your story and you’ll only demoralise yourself. Plan ahead by two or three chapters at all times.
  9. Equally, make sure you have the entire journey/arc of your story clear in your mind. Just in very basic forms (e.g. amulet discovered, hero goes on journey to east, takes part in huge battle against demons, confronts antagonist in ruined temple).
  10. Enjoy your writing! The best advice I can give you is to write what you find interesting and fun. If you’re bored writing it, people will be bored reading it. That’s the secret to writing well.

What do you reckon? Got any of your own planning tips or stories to share? Are you a pantser or a planner?

Author Interview: Chris Stevenson

Welcome to the new author interview slot here on a (cloudy) Monday! While I’m sure everyone’s happy to be back at work/school/college whatever, I feel like I need something to ease me into the new week. So, what better way than a brand new interview with author Chris Stevenson?

As well as writing fiction, Chris also runs the brilliant Guerilla Warfare For Writers blog. Check it out, I promise you won’t regret it!

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Hi Chris, thanks for your time today.

It’s a pleasure to be here. Continue reading