I hope you will join with me today in welcoming Dave Higgins, author and blogger, to Tasha's Thinkings. He very kindly agreed to be interviewed for Writerly Wednesdays and after you have enjoyed his answers to the scintillating questions, please check out his links and books :).
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I'm a voracious (or addicted) reader. In an average year, I’ll read well over a hundred books of various genres, and I have difficulty not reading everything I come across including random notices and cereal packets.
The amount of time I spend reading has probably increased over the last couple of years as I share my home with two cats who love me very much; so I tend to be buried under fluff and purrs if I sit down for a moment. Fortunately, I never travel anywhere without at least one book, so I do always have something to read if I can’t escape.
When I was in my early teens, my English Mistress suggested I consider studying law. The text books I borrowed from the library made sense, so I went on to read Law at university. I still enjoyed it, so I did a post-grad in legal practice.
I didn't find a permanent job straight out of university, so I ended up taking a six-month role with Bristol City Council embedded in an environmental services team to explain new duties and powers under the Environment Act. The task turned out to be easier than they predicted but the role was fixed term, so I needed to do something with the rest of the time; as they had a backlog of raw results from a transport survey, they asked me to see if I could get some order. I discovered the logic I learned in Law was enough for simple programming, so I built them a database. After that, I built another one, then I moved on to tweaking part of the website and compressing an image collection.
After I left the Council, I found full-time work in law and spent many years doing that. However, when the firm I was with commissioned a new project management system, my prior experience with the Council made me ideal as an intermediary between the lawyers and the developers; so, I was seconded to IT as a Business Analyst for two years.
I moved back to law full-time again, but in September 2012 the partner decided to wind up the firm. While I was looking for a new job, I decided to tidy up the folders on my computer and found some short stories I’d written when I was an undergraduate. They weren't great, but one of them wasn't terrible; so I tried polishing it up and posted it in an off-topic section on a forum. It was a pleasant break from applications and job searches, and people liked the story, so I decided to enter a monthly flash fiction competition; and won. I placed in the top three another four times over the next six months, so I decided to try writing more professionally.
Tell us about your books.
In mid-2013, I had two stories accepted for Fauxpocalypse, an anthology based around a predicted end of the world not happening.
I’d expected to rack up a few more short story credits to build some presence while I considered whether to pitch to agents or try self-publishing. However, the publisher of Fauxpocalypse decided to stop all their projects in late 2013; and rather than terminate completely offered to pass the anthology rights and existing materials to a contributor. As the anthology wouldn’t come out without someone taking over, I decided I didn’t have anything to lose if I tried and failed. None of the others wanted to do it, so I ended up self-publishing a little earlier than I intended. I’m still divided whether (given another publisher accepted the stories) I count it as two publishing credits or not.
In early 2014 a second anthology that I’d written a piece for closed down, this time without the option for someone to take over. I didn’t (other than as a comic aside) consider myself cursed; but I did decide that, having set up publisher accounts on many of the common retailers and gone through the rigmarole of international tax certification for Fauxpocalypse already, I could release a collection of short stories myself rather than only submitting.
Pulling together pieces I’d submitted to various competitions or calls, I published, An Unquiet Calm, five dark and speculative stories, in March 2014 and followed up with State, five science-fiction tales, in November 2014.
Towards the end of 2014, I decided to experiment with writing a weekly serial. I published the first part of Seven Stones, a swords-and-sorcery tale, in January 2015 and have published a new instalment every Saturday since. I released the collection of the first nine episodes, titled Alone No More in August 2015, with more collections planned for the future.
In addition to writing various dark and speculative stories, I co-author Greenstar, a comic science-fiction series also inspired by classic serials such as Buck Rogers and Star Trek. Season Three came out on 1 December 2015 (or should I say will come out as I am answering this question in November).
What is your favourite, book writing or blogging?
Tricky choice. Mostly because they are different aspects of the same desire to share my perspectives with a different time scale.
Blogging definitely produces a clearer effort to reward chain. If I spend an hour writing an article, I can have the pleasure of publishing it the same day or the day after, and the pleasure of seeing people’s reactions within a couple of days. Whereas, an hour spent writing a book is only one hour in months of work, so the pay off of publishing doesn't come near enough to the effort for my emotions to connect them; and then the audience feedback takes weeks or month from that.
However, the pleasure of having published a book is vastly greater than that of an article, and each review of a book is almost always more enjoyable than a discussion in the comments of an article.
I like analysing and theorising, and have the sort of unconscious that sticks random ideas together, so an article that claimed the waterproof e-reader removed the last weakness of e-books could easily trigger an hour spent wondering what the world would be like if there were classic Hammer vampires but they weren’t affected by weaknesses. Those ideas turn into possible fiction.
But the thoughts could equally be about modern real life. For example, if terrorists are trying to make people afraid, would a good answer be to not mention acts of terrorism on the news? Those ideas turn into blog posts.
Thus - while some ideas (such as potential changes to laws) could produce either - without both, I’d lose a way of expressing some of the perspectives.
I suspect my wife also thinks I should do both; otherwise she’d spend even more time with a soundtrack of me explaining a thought I've had.
What is the hardest part of a book to write, beginning, middle or end?
The hardest part is almost always the page in front of me at the start of any one writing session.
As with many authors, one of the things that triggers a new project for me is a powerful scene, so I often have either a beginning or end in my head when I start planning. This can make that part of the draft fly onto the page. However, as with many authors, the image I see in my head often isn't a complete scene that merely needs turning into prose. The description never seems to quite match, and sometimes the idea turns out to not even work once I write it down.
And, even when I do have a strong idea for a start or end, I need to find either an end or a start that forms the other end of the arc. Thus, at least one end of a book takes effort to find.
Middles on the other hand are rarely the epic part of the book that drives me to pick that story over another, so lose the momentum of a good beginning and seem an obstacle to a great ending. On the other hand, the middle doesn’t have to be a tidy set-up or conclusion either, so there’s more room to write whatever seems right at the time rather than sticking to a narrow idea.
When you blog, how do you pick your topics?
Usually I pick the topic based on something I’ve seen or read shortly before. I do keep a list of possible topics for future posts, but I only refer to it if a topic hasn’t come to me by mid-morning on the day of a post.
I do schedule some topics in advance (most usually things related to my books); but my blog is about me not a specific subject or service and I rarely have a day without something striking me as interesting in some way, so I prefer the freedom to post about an event that amused me on the way home from the shop rather than sticking to a message calendar.
The one exception to that are my book reviews: the time readers are most likely to buy a book is the end of the week, so I post my weekly review on Friday so it arrives at the time people are looking. That way, readers and authors both get the greatest benefit.
Do you have any advice for other writers and bloggers?
Two things: write as much as you can; and finish what you start.
While professional writers do need to consider saleability and such, the best way to learn your own style is to write whatever you want. If you aren’t tied down by ideas of what you should write, you can experiment to see what works and what doesn’t.
Sometimes a piece you wrote for the fun of it will turn out to be very saleable as well. One of my stories that nets the most discussion is a short that I wrote because I’d never tried writing straight romance; the published version is closer to speculative fiction, but the first draft was pure realism.
Similarly – while trying new things is a great way to learn – don’t flit from project to project. The most trite and rambling draft in the world is easier to fix in editing than one you haven’t written. So, once you decide to work on a project, complete the stage you’re working on before you give up. Once you start expanding an idea into an outline, outline the whole thing; once you start editing, edit the entire piece before you declare it unworkable.
Even if the piece you thought it was really doesn't work, parts of it might be useful later. Another of my popular short stories spent two years sitting on my hard drive as the first draft of a different story in a different genre.
The same underlying theories apply to blogging (or any form of creativity). You don’t know whether or not you are good at a particular type of post until you try, and you can’t judge whether a new feature or subject works on the basis of a single post.
Do you have any blogging tips for someone just starting out?
First, don’t lose hope. Every blogger I know took a while to get their first comment, first link/reblog, more than single figures of subscribers, and views every day. The successful blogs you see have almost always been going for years. So don’t give up if you don’t see the same results immediately.
Second, know roughly why you’re blogging. You don’t need to make every article only on topic (that might even be counter-productive), but if you know what the blog is for you can focus your efforts. For example: someone who wants to sell a service will want posts that show their expertise and appear high in search results for their topic because that is how many people find service providers; whereas most people looking for fiction look on Amazon or other retailers, so having your blog appear high in searches is less important.
Third, mix things up a little. If you only blog on a single narrow topic, people will come for that; but many of your core audience probably share some of your other interests, so if you blog on other things or include the occasional humorous post among the serious ones, they will start coming for you. Finding something to blog about is also easier if you aren't making every post about the same thing.
Do you have any odd (writing/blogging) habits?
I don’t know if it’s odd or not, but I find it hard to write anything if I have to stay sitting down. Often I can work for hours without leaving my desk, but sometimes I need to take a wander around the room or act something out to get the words to flow; and even if I don’t need to move around, knowing I can’t niggles at me so I can’t concentrate.
I drink large quantities of fresh-ground coffee when I'm writing too; although that’s fairly common among authors and bloggers, and I do when I'm not working as well. So it’s not very odd. I'm less productive without a drink though, so it’s definitely a habit.
Do you ever cast your characters with actors in your head?
I actively try to avoid it. Even actors who’ve successfully avoided being typecast come with all the characters they’ve played, so if I cast a character I find it harder to write that character rather than a version of a character that the actor played.
Are you a dog or a cat person? Why?
Pet-wise, I much prefer cats. They aren’t pack animals, so when they decide to spend time with you there isn’t that little niggle that they are doing it because they are programmed to need social validation.
I’m probably more cat than dog too: I’m comfortable in my own company; I like observing the world from a comfortable spot; I don’t slobber all over random people.
Normally, freezing to death in deep space is pretty permanent. But Engineer Josie Stein was just defrosted a thousand years in the future, aboard the U.F.S. Greenstar, a recycled spaceship on a mission to stop the self-destructive aliens of the galaxy from wiping themselves out.
If that wasn’t enough, she’s immediately elected captain. The last captain’s success rate was one hundred and sixty-seven alien species extinct to zero saved, so she can’t really do any worse. But how can she deal with aliens when she can no longer understand her own species?
Inspired by Star Trek and Buck Rogers, Greenstar is a funny, action-packed take on the future, filled with strange aliens and neurotic characters.
Free at all good retailers. Pick up your copy today:
Born in the least mystically significant part of Wiltshire, England, and raised by a librarian, he started reading shortly after birth and has not stopped since. He currently lives in Bristol with his wife, Nicola, his cats, Jasper and Una, a plush altar to the Dark Lord Cthulhu, and many shelves of books.
It’s rumoured he writes out of a fear that he will otherwise run out of things to read.
To receive notification when Dave releases a new book, sign up to his mailing list at :
“Dave Higgins weaves a cocoon of dread around you and won’t let you out” - Simon Cantan, author of the Bytarend Series.
“There’s a running theme of the otherworldly, ranging from the very grounded and possibly-coincidental... to the dangerously potent....” - Neil Murton, author of Magpie Tales.
Blog: davidjhiggins.wordpress.com | Twitter: @David_J_Higgins
Google+: google.com/+DaveHiggins | Pinterest: pinterest.com/davidjhiggins
Click to Enter (Ends Dec 10th)
(occasionally you see a page not found, but wait a second and it will redirect you to the right place - I think sometimes the server is overloaded)