Today on the Words & Sound blog post I am pleased to interview, writer, poet, theatrical sword wielding traveller (have a look at their twitter bio), and I am honoured to say friend; Alys Earl. I caught up with Alys recently to discuss their latest novel; Time’s Fool.
[CS] Hi Alys, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. So first things first, tell about Time’s fool.
[AE] Time’s Fool is a contemporary supernatural Gothic. That means it’s set in the recent past – specifically, the winter of 2006-7 – and is an atmospheric, slow burn kind of horror, which features supernatural elements, in this case, vampires. It’s about two bright students who befriend a mysterious stranger, while, around them a series of increasingly brutal murders take place in the city around them. And it’s about what happens when the stuff that we try to conceal starts to come out in to the light.
[CS] I am hooked already! Is it a stand alone or could you see more being done with these characters? You must get quite attached sharing a mind with them?
[AE] I am quite attached to all three of them, but as the story is a kind of coming of age to some extent, there is a huge difference between being attached to a character at the beginning of the novel, and to the same character at the end of it. The problem with being a writer is that you can’t be your characters’ friend, because otherwise there would never be a story.
As to sequels, it was always intended to be a standalone tale, although I will admit to having planned a short sequel involving one of the main characters and their life some time after the events of the novel – but to go into too much detail would be very heavy with spoilers. There is also a prequel, Some Chequered Affection which deals with an episode from Julian’s past and is available to read for free on the Unbound site, and can be bought for £5 in a limited edition chapbook – funds going towards Time’s Fool.
[CS] This may be a silly question, but who is Time’s Fool aimed at?
[AE] Obviously it’s aimed at an adult audience – it’s a little bit sexy, maybe a bit edgy and, it’s quite disturbing in places. But it isn’t gory horror, really, it’s for people who like your mist and manners kind of story – things like Sheridan le Fanu, Bram Stoker, M R James – but with a bit of a modern edge.
[CS] Names I know very well. I’m going to put you on the spot – who is your favourite?
[AE] It’s got to M R James. His were the first traditional ghost stories I got in to and he’s a huge influence on me and my work. But, also, he was just a master of the form. I’ve read his collected stories dozens of times, but if I’m in the house alone at night, they still have me jumping at shadows.
[CS] You are publishing through Unbound. How does the process work?
[AE] So, the Unbound process starts when you pitch to them, just as you would with any other publisher, and if they like what you’ve written, they help you set up your campaign and video on their site. After that, it runs like a crowdfunding campaign, raising the production costs through pre-orders and people pledging for extras. Everyone who supports it get their name printed in the back of every edition of the book as a sort of thank you, and I’ve done a lot of giveaways, rewards and silly videos to get interest from people who might support it. Then, when it’s fully funded, it goes in to production.
[CS] What happens once the book is fully funded, will we be able to buy Times Fool in the shops?
[AE] YES! Once it’s funded, Time’s Fool goes through a editorial process, we get the cover design and ultimately it is printed. At that point, everyone who supported the campaign gets their copy, but it also become commercially available – like any other book.
[CS] What advice would you give first time authors?
[AE] Just keep going, really. Whatever stage you’re at, just keep working at it – it worth it. So, write that novel, hone your craft, submit to that competition. Writing is a really long learning curve and we all started in a very similar place. Every novel starts as a blank page that seems to be judging you. Every publishing contract was preceded by goodness knows how many rejections.
The other, most important thing I’d say, is to find your voice. I wouldn’t say ignore all writing advice, but not all of it will be relevant to what you’re trying to do, or the kind of story you want to tell – and that may change, but its not worth losing that. It’s why you’re writing in the first place, isn’t it?
[CS] That is really great advice! How did you get into writing?
[AE] I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t writing, and it wasn’t my grand plan. I’ve always written stories, poems, novels. But I was really fortunate to live in place with a vibrant arts scene when I was a teenager, so I cut my teeth as a performance poet, really – it gave me a lot of confidence in the power of words, and has paid in to my storytelling and reading style. After that, I went to the UEA (University of East Anglia) and studied creative writing along with literature, and that’s when I moved in to prose more seriously.
[CS] UEA is quite prestigious in terms of creative writing isn’t it? Did you enjoy your time there?
[AE] I really did! It was an incredible experience and I think to an extent, it made me as a writer. In some ways, it is quite an insular place, and there is definitely a writing culture there which perhaps not one in to which I fit easily, but it was really good to be taken out of my comfort zone and pushed to improve myself. I’m a much better editor of my own work since then – and, also, it was great fun being around other writers in a similar place to me.
[CS] What does a normal day for Alys look like?
[AE] Far too much of it goes in to housework and a lot of childcare! I write articles and stuff from home, so normally once I’ve got the kids to school and tidied down a bit, I’ll try to get my admin, crowdfunding and blog posts out of the way, so that – hopefully – I can move on to some original writing, whether that’s articles, or fiction. Fiction is my favourite, of course. Some days, I admit, I skip the grown-up stuff and plunge straight in to a story. I try to get about 2000 words done of whatever I’m working on before I have to pick the kids up from school.
[CS] Where do you write?
[AE] At a desk in the spare room, which I grandiosely call ‘my study’. I can write elsewhere, and often do, but the discipline of sitting down at a desk and getting on with it helps.
[CS] What kind of books do you like to read? Do you have any favourite authors?
[AE] I read very widely and eclectically. I love horror, obviously, as well as mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, science fiction, historical – whatever there is, really. If it’s well written and the characters are engaging, I’m really not fussy – if it’s creepy or unsettling that is bonus. I especially love things centred around folklore, and unconventional people and relationships. My favourite trope at the moment is what I call ‘found families in space’ which is basically where a bunch misfits and damaged individuals come to rely on and look after each other against a background of space opera and intergalactic politics. Becky Chambers – who is one of my favourite writers is amazing at this. But I am also very much about the dark and the morally challenging – so gothic writers like Angela Carter and Poppy Z Brite are huge favourites.
[CS] What do you do beyond writing?
[AE] Does storytelling count? On a small scale, I’m a folklorist and medievalist – and I occasionally do talks on that side of things. I practice a martial art – Kuk Sool Won – which a Korean discipline that combines both hard and soft forms, and I’m currently working towards my black belt in that. I’m also a bit of a tree-hugger, which surprises people sometimes who only know me through my fiction, so I have an allotment and home-brew country wines – which is a very rewarding hobby…
[CS] Thank you very much Alys. Last question… Where can people find you and find out more. Are people able to contact you if they want to say hi?
[AE] If you want to say hi, the best place is always Twitter, where I am @alysdragon. But if that’s not your thing, I also have a Facebook page as AlysEarl1. I also have a website, www.alys-earl.com, which has links to my blogs as well as more general information, and obviously, on the Unbound site www.unbound.com/books/times-fool, where I run a blog about the crowdfunding campaign.