Frank Duffy pic above.
FD: Hi Alyson. Many thanks for joining us today.
Me and a werewolf created by the talented Darren Grassby
AF My pleasure Frank.
FD: I’d like to start by asking you when you first started writing?
AR: As a kid I wrote stories like ‘The Griffon of Death’, aged 11; but I got writing seriously whilst I was tutoring children in the 1990’s and had a couple of children’s books published and after a break to raise my family, I started up again about 7 years ago.
FD: What drew you to genre fiction as a writer?
AF: Well- truthfully I write what I am interested in, to entertain the reader and I enjoy telling stories. I have read a lot of ghost/horror stories and watched many horror movies and I just love that genre – so it was a natural development.
FD: What are some of the themes and ideas which drive your stories?
AF: Memories of old films, like Lon Chaney in Phantom, (see pic below) Val Lewton’s Cat People, Hitchcock and the film noirs of the 1940’s – all inspire my stories. I did a History degree and enjoy visiting derelict buildings and reading about the Victorian era. I like to blend my interests into my stories:- so haunted churches, demonic ventriloquist’s dummies and dolls feature heavily.
FD: Do you have a typical writing routine?
AF: The guilt that question gives me! At my old p.c in my study, staring at pics of old movie stars, in bursts of energy, lasting hours or days or then nothing at all till the writing itch starts again.
FD: Are you one of those writers who takes a notebook and pen everywhere you go? Or are you a post-it-note kind of writer?
AF: I’m a notepad/whiteboard/stickers/ scribble on back of hand type writer.
FD: Do you plot everything you write, and if so, what’s your method of approach? Do you write in longhand before, or do you use a card index system, or something completely different?
AF: I only now write my poetry longhand- old habit that. I keyboard the rest of my fiction- if it’s a novella or longer I do keep notes for each chapter and a time line on a whiteboard and the characters’ traits. If it’s a shorter piece I tend to do a rough draft then edit, edit, edit.
FD: Kurt Vonnegut (see below) was supposed to have written each page multiple times before moving onto the next, thus only ever doing one complete draft the first time around. Whether apocryphal or not, how do you approach writing when drafting a short story, novella or novel?
AF: Yeah I read that and I use Vonnegut’s top tips in my creative writing classes. I binge -storm- write my first draft, really just going for it, not worrying about punctuation. This is fun and high energy. It’s very rough but there are good bits in there worth keeping. I might start in the middle of the narrative, not at the beginning. The ending might not come to me straight away either. Then I rewrite – a lot.
FD: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given about writing?
AF: You’re learning all the time, persevere and don’t be too hard on yourself.
FD: Many writers talk about the difficulty of writing dialogue. What are your thoughts on this?
AF: I avoided dialogue for quite a while, I think, because I was scared of it. I’ve been on workshops, read a lot, co written with writing mates and practised so finally dialogue is a bit less scary than it was! It’s tricky and you need to be clever and careful with it. It’s a game as well. What can/can’t your character say? What do they know? How do they tell their part of the story?
FD: How long does it take for a story idea to make it onto the page? What’s the gestation period before you sit down and hammer it out?
AF: Anything from 5 minutes (flash fiction) to 5 years (Y.A.novel).
FD: Can you tell me about the first stories you had published? How did it feel to receive your first acceptance? Did you celebrate it in any particular way?
AF: In the 1990’s when I began having my poetry accepted and then sold a children’s book to Harpercollins, I was beyond thrilled. Huge personal highlights. Now I’m older the buzz is still there. Getting my début collection of flash out with an indie publisher was mega exciting for me. I keep a record of every publication credit for myself. They are each stepping stones on the journey. I drink a glass of bubbly now and then to celebrate like when Demain accepted Night of the Rider for their Short Sharp Shocks! Series.
FD: What’s the best piece of constructive feedback you had on a rejected story?
AF: From the editors of Pseudopod, last year, and I printed it out because it was so encouraging and helpful.
FD: In your own personal opinion, what’s been your best piece of published fiction so far?
AF: Tough one- I am proud of a few pieces of flash, like Cannon Fodder about the WW1 soldier which got onto Calum Kerr’s Flashflood journal; my children’s book for Collins was a big deal; getting into Short Sharp Shocks was pretty special too.
FD: How easy or difficult is it writing for a specific market, such as a themed anthology?
AF: I don’t find it that hard. I wrote a 1920’s story, for DeadCades last year and I’ve had a story accepted recently by Twisted Wing for their Strange Girls antho. I’m quite flexible I think as a writer.
FD: What are you currently working on now?
AF: A new horror story, inspired by a 1920’s silent film.
FD: What are your general writing aims for the future?
AF: Keep on enjoying writing, trying different styles, like flash, poetry, short stories, getting published.
FD: Which three authors would you recommend to people new to the genre?
AF: Shirley Jackson, early Stephen King and Susan Hill.
FD: Many thanks for talking to me today, Alyson.