How did you get into writing?
I used to do well with English writing assignments, but didn’t ever consider becoming an author, it didn’t seem like fun. I didn’t understand at the time that what frustrated me about the writing was it was all short form exercises (scenes) and often done in a hurry (under one hour) so there wasn’t enough time for my (slow) mind to build the story world enough for my creativity to blossom. I really enjoy long form writing. It’s only when you try and write a whole book that you discover the catacombs of thought in which you can get lost, and the delicious and slightly dangerous ideas that are drawn towards you as you wander about in that state of discovery.
How do you make up a story?
I’m still learning this bit, but a story is made from the links between events, the way one thing builds on another, and as such it’s an invisible net and quite hard to grasp. It is very satisfying when you link things up in the way that feels right (the story flows), but I find it very difficult to plan and plot it before the scenes exist. So the only way I know to write a story is to imagine some powerful scenes, then develop what would logically follow as a consequence, and try to join them into a cohesive whole as I feel my way towards the real story, which is the net connecting the scenes, and not the scenes themselves.
How did you know you would be good enough?
I only knew I wasn’t happy doing the career I first started (accountancy) or the part-time work I’d tried instead. The idea of being an author slowly grew on me. I began by writing short descriptive pieces with an insight into some aspect of flying (I’m a paragliding instructor), usually little stories about an adventure in the sky that taught me something about myself. I thank Richard Bach (author of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull) for that. I gathered the best of these and cobbled them together in a rather offbeat metaphysical novel called Beyond The Invisible. Then I began to sketch out ideas for what I imagined would be a ‘real’ novel, a grand epic fantasy which became The Tale Of the Lifesong. I learned as I wrote, drawing on many years of being an avid reader. I never ‘knew’ I could write a good story, I was just confident that if other people could do it, so could I.
What advice would you give to young writers?
If you’re a scholar or student, you might have more time you can free up for writing than most people can afford. You might be paying rent and working part-time, but your fixed costs are low compared to what will come to you later in life (house, children, pension, medical, etc). This puts you in a special position of being able to take more risks with your time than many other writers. This leads to greater creative freedom because you can experiment, explore and have fun with your writing. I’m not suggesting trying to write something wierd, just aim to write different kinds of stories until you find something that really ignites your mind. Then throw yourself into it.
If you could change one thing, what would it be?
I wish I’d started writing novels earlier, in my teens. Later in life it can become harder to find the time to write, as your responsibilities accumulate and the pressure to earn money increases. I frittered away a lot of writing time in my twenties with poems, journals and self-reflective meditations, which left me with lots of fragments that are of no use to anyone. If I’d put a basic story framework down and spent the time trying to fill it in I could have been creating assets and practising my craft. It does take practice to lose the cumbersome thinking everyone begins with and to move on to displaying the story instead of the inside of the author’s head (ugh).
I also wouldn’t advise spending too much time worrying about the dos and don’ts of writing style. The real learning comes from within, when you are writing, and good stories reach through the words and grip the reader’s attention. It might take you a few tries, but if you keep learning, you’ll get there.
Greg Hamerton | fantasy author