Before me sits the first draft of my next book, the follow-on to The Knightmare. Two-thirds of it, I might add, the rest is a labyrinth I have yet to navigate. This draft has been fermenting for awhile (in other words, put aside while I’ve had other commitments). That’s no bad thing. Fresh eyes are good. And perhaps calling it a ‘draft’ is a bit of a hoity-toity label for what is basically a whole lot of spin-off stuff I had to get out of my head to keep it clear and reasonably functioning. But it comes with challenges.
I mean, when last I counted, I have 19 separate threads in this ‘draft’. (Remember, this is two-thirds the way through.)
Clearly… a bit of editing has to be done.
But that’s the way I work. I know the first line, I know the last. It’s everything in between that has to be figured out. Sort of like a car journey across a continent. Without a map.
I know writers who outline, plan the whole thing in advance. I can’t figure out how they do it. I’d find it overwhelming. And perhaps a wee bit boring. It’s like life, if you know everything that’s going to happen that day, it doesn’t make getting up in the morning quite so interesting. I like to be surprised (hopefully, in a good way). Also, I find my characters muscle their way in and start doing their own thing. I can’t make them do anything. And thank God, I know I’m not the only writer who works this way, it’s reassuring to think I’m not alone is this sky-dive approach. I take comfort.
Every writer finds their own way of working, it’s individualistic, it’s what makes it fun. Believe me, there’s no reason to do it if it’s not. It’s time-consuming; the research, the head-banging first draft, then the long editing process – which is great fun, don’t let anyone tell you different. It’s when you see things you didn’t expect, find threads in the story that bind it more strongly, throw out the rubbish and refine your sentences. It’s then you discover that you might have actually communicated something. Joy!
But back to the mess before me. It’s daunting. I will, no doubt, lose hair. I will smoke too many cigarettes. I will, on occasion, burn dinner. Yet… it’s a bit like visiting old friends you haven’t seen for a time. You worry, will we still have things in common? Will one or the other of us have become boring? Will it be a dire occasion where I lose the will to live?
In the end, you get reacquainted. You laugh. You may cry. You will remember why you’re friends. It’s all fine. At the end of the day, you’re glad to be there, doing what you’re doing. It’s a jolly good time.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
Well, I was born in Southern California but never felt I fit in there. For one thing, I was raised in the desert and really, really hate the heat. In fact, I didn’t realise how much I hated it until I moved to the Sierra Nevada mountains and discovered I didn’t have to live in a puddle of sweat. An amazing revelation! Then when researching my third book, Fine Distinctions, I lived in Ireland for awhile. Loved the weather! It was winter and truly miserable. I was in seventh heaven. But lovely as Ireland was, it didn’t feel any more like home than California had. But when I arrived in London, that was it. I felt at home. I can’t say why, really. It’s something indefinable. I just feel more comfortable here. It was as if when I was born, no matter how nice California may be, I was accidentally dumped in the wrong place. I took British citizenship and have never looked back. That was many years ago now.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
The Knightmare is a historical fantasy adventure with more than a hint of romance at its core. It started in an unusual way. I had a friend who wanted to be a F1 racing driver even though at the time, he knew he was already too old to be starting out. Like most sports you need to start training really young! But he wanted to give it a go. Now, I’d always liked him, but never considered him a particularly serious-minded person. But when I saw him race, I got a shock. He turned into a man with total focus, complete determination, a real strategist. It was an awe-inspiring transformation.
Somehow, in the deranged links that make up the composition of my mind, I put this together with a medieval story I’d always been fascinated by – the true story of Abelard and Heloise. They were amazing scholars – celebrities in their day – and their love affair scandalised France. Especially when, after the birth of their son, Heloise’s guardian sent thugs to castrate Abelard. They ended their days as an abbot and an abbess. But I always wondered what this tragedy would do to the psychology of their son. What would his attitude to love be? It seemed unlikely he’d be enthused about the idea of romance. So the character of the Knight Templar was born – a warrior monk, a medieval workaholic totally focused on his career trying to escape his parents’ mistakes. And when he does meet a woman who captures his attention, as is the way of these things, she’s the worst possible romantic candidate – a pagan, considered a witch! Never mind that he is a monk on top of all…
So, that’s how it started, the idea of a career-focused racing car driver with a past life whose issues carried over into the present one, causing no end of adventures when he is transported back into that past life and has an opportunity to resolve his issues in this one.
I did change all the names, so Abelard and Heloise are not called that in the book. And I played a little fast and loose with the time frame. But this is not a history book; it’s a fantasy adventure with a human truth at is centre.
How do you create your characters?
I always think of a writer as a kind of petri dish, so that if you isolate one bit of yourself a whole other person grows, just like bacteria in one of those little dishes. It takes on its own life, its own form and attitudes. You just are the conduit to let that character fly. This is especially true with the central characters; the others just seem to sprout around them as need be – like more bacteria!
What inspires and what got you started in writing?
Like most fledgling writers I was a voracious reader. I suppose writing was always in the back of my mind. When I was in my early twenties a friend of mine, a psychologist, asked what I was going to do with my life. I mumbled something about possibly going into cooking – something I really liked and was good at – and she said, “You think like a writer, have you ever thought of writing?”
I covered up the text of an issue of Architectural Digest and began writing about the pictures, imagining the lives of the people in those houses and rooms. Out of that grew my first novel, Unorthodox Methods, and before I’d finished the first draft I knew I was home. This was what I did. Many thanks to Janet Linville, she got me started! Otherwise I might have faffed about for years before I got going. My second book, A Collector of Photographs, is dedicated to her. And I think it’s true that something visual always kick-starts my ideas.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to
write (music, drinks?)
I write at my desk in the sitting room. It has big bay windows; I require a lot of light, the feeling of space. I also play the same CDs over and over and over again, usually some kind of medieval music. It would drive any sane person mad because when I say over and over and over again, I mean it! It helps me focus. I need an animal nearby. These days it’s Miss Garbo, a tortoiseshell tabby rescue cat. And cigarettes. Lots of cigarettes, no matter how un-PC that is.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
As I said, something visual kick-starts it – a painting, photo or sculpture. Also, a tension point between two characters; I build the whole story around that. It’s hard to say where these things come from, but there’s so much inspiration from what’s in your life it just filters through.
What do you like to read?
Something with an element of the fantastical. I’m not your person for the literary kitchen-sink drama. I’ve read a number of great books lately – The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I also just read a lovely piece of historical fiction, The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant. For non-fiction, I read a lot of medieval history. A LOT. I love history.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
Read. Write. But unless you really feel you can’t do anything else, that if you don’t write you can’t breathe, don’t try to be a professional writer. It’s tough. But if it IS the way you feel, get on with it. Try different types of writing, not just ‘creative’; it will teach you discipline. Learn all you can, read all you can and have a LIFE. Life’s the thing that will inform your writing.
Anything else you’d like to share?
That, if you are a writer, there’s nothing better. Nothing more fun, nothing more satisfying. On the higgledy-piggledy road I’ve travelled, I can’t think of any other life I could have lived.
About the author: Deborah Valentine is a British author, editor and screenwriter. She is the author of three books published by Victor Gollancz Ltd in the UK, and Bantam and Avon in the US. Unorthodox Methods was the first in the series, followed by A Collector of Photographs and the Ireland-based Fine Distinctions. A Collector of Photographs was short-listed for an Edgar Allan Poe, a Shamus, a Macavity and an Anthony Boucher award. Fine Distinctions was also short-listed for an Edgar. They featured the characters of former California sheriff Kevin Bryce and artist Katharine Craig, charting their turbulent romance amid murder and mayhem. They are soon to be available as eBooks on the Orion imprint The Murder Room. With the publication of The Knightmare she has embarked on a new series of books with a supernatural edge. For more visit her website http://www.deborahvalentine.co.uk/ or The Knightmare Facebook page. She is a Goodreads author.