Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today I’m welcoming Cameron to the tearoom. Welcome. What beverage would you like?
Thanks, Paula. Hmm, beverage? A dram of whisky perhaps, I like Lagavulin. Otherwise, hot chocolate is fine.
Now we have our drinks can you begin by tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
Most of what I write at any given time has been maturing in my head long before the first paragraph hits the notepad or laptop, and the reason is simply that ideas come more quickly and easily than the free time to start putting a particular story into words. I’m working on an apocalyptic novel at the moment and am about 40,000 words into an estimated 95,000. This will be the longest single story I’ve written as I’m first and foremost a fan of short stories and novellas, but the scale of the adventure and the importance of character development makes this novel a very different kettle of fish. The initial idea of writing a story in first-person with a pyromaniac as the protagonist came to me several years ago, but the idea of dramatically changing the setting from contemporary Australia to what the reader will probably decide is an apocalyptic Britain (the landscape is intentionally vague) came after a good friend told me she thinks my writing style suits dystopian fiction. You know what? Once I’ve finished this chat, I’m going to get cracking on the next chapter!
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
At a guess, four or five short stories, one novella, and a mystery/suspense novel that I just can’t stop tweaking. For me, an “unfinished” short story is usually one I have finished writing, edited a dozen times, and am now waiting for a suitable submissions window before polishing it again and sending it into battle.
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter?
Every story is different. I usually jot down some key elements, like an idea for a twist ending, or a particular atmosphere to evoke to suit the setting and season. I might create the characters and choose their names, whether quite randomly or with a hidden significance, and choose what particular traits they will have. When I write suspense, horror, and ghost stories, I generally do less planning than for a mystery, simply because the interplay between past, present, and future, and the importance given to even the smallest detail is crucial to getting the story right in a mystery. I don’t follow any set rules. There’s no reason you can’t write a first chapter, do a synopsis for the rest of the book, and then go back and change the synopsis. Likewise, you can write the dénouement first and then go back and write the story to meet it. In fact, I’ve already written the last chapter of my apocalyptic novel. I wrote it once I’d finished the fourth or fifth chapter, simply because the vision was there and it was time to get it down.
Choosing only five of your favourite authors, can you list them in order and say how have they influenced your writing?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: I always start with him, not only for Sherlock Holmes, but also for his tales of unease. I think what I most like about his work is that when you look at it from today’s perspective, you have a rich and fascinating interplay between the traditional and the revolutionary. Sherlock Holmes is a fine example of this, so quirky and unconventional while also steadfastly old-world in many ways. This character is undoubtedly the biggest single inspiration behind my own detective, Oscar Tremont, Investigator or the Strange and Inexplicable. Doyle was also a master of the horror story, drawing inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe, the writer most famous for having fans who can’t spell his name. Doyle really knew how to twist a short story and use imaginative and evocative ways of sending a shiver up the reader’s spine.
Ruth Rendell: She is by far my favourite suspense writer, herself greatly influenced by Agatha Christie and PD James. Her characters are fascinating and relatable, often disconcertingly so, and the way she weaves subplots together and makes you wonder how she’ll make them meet is thrilling. It’s said that if Christie is the queen of the whodunnit, Rendell is the queen of the whydunnit, and it’s true. She turns the English countryside and streets of London into a map of the human psyche and a collage of underlying social tension.
Roald Dahl: He’s famous around the world for his quirky children’s stories, like Doyle and Rendell, but I find inspiration in his even quirkier – sometimes downright filthy – short stories for adults. Full of suspense and nasty people, he has the impressive ability to make you feel repulsed and laugh at the same time. That’s definitely a reaction I seek in some of my stories.
J.G. Ballard: Yet another British writer, but quite different from the others. He’s widely considered a writer of “soft sci-fi” but his tales of the future, much of which is now actually the past, also fit the bill of suspense and indeed horror. The suburbs are his canvas and the recipe he uses in much of his best work is simple; take two parts current affairs and one part exaggeration. If pressed to choose my favourite novel of all time, I would probably have to say “High-Rise”. There’s nothing I would change about it. The opening sentence is probably the best ever and the escalation of conflict is perfectly timed. Few writers have documented the effects of technology and the urban/suburban landscape on the human psyche like Ballard.
Maurice Leblanc: Just to mix things up a little, I’ve decided to jump across the Channel and step back in time to Doyle’s era. Arsène Lupin was in many ways the opposite of Sherlock Holmes, he used his intellect and skills to commit the most dazzling thefts. I mentioned before that Holmes inspired my Oscar Tremont, but so did Lupin. His sense of cheekiness was a little sharper than Holmes’ and if we’re going to be honest, he was probably an even greater master of disguise. In terms of cracking codes and solving riddles, the game definitely would have been afoot between the two of them!
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I don’t really have a writing schedule. When I have time alone and no other duties, I write. That’s about it. I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly fast writer, but because I’m often thinking about a story when I’m doing something else, the words are usually there and ready to be written when I have the opportunity to write. One positive thing about this crazy year is that I’ve had more time than usual to write.
Do you set yourself a daily word count?
Not really. If I have a full day (let’s say about five or six hours) to write, I expect to get about five thousand words down.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
I’m not really supposed to admit this, am I? But it’s true. Several characters take aspects from people I know or have met. The only case of a character being directly inspired by a real person is Louise, the wife of my protagonist, Oscar Tremont. He’s Australian and she’s French, just like my wife and I. Coincidence? Hmm. It’s okay, my wife is aware of this and participates in editing any scenes involving Louise!
Did you uncover things about yourself while writing your books, whether that be a long forgotten memory, a positive experience etc.
I haven’t had any shocking flashbacks of repressed memories…sorry to disappoint. I guess what I realise most while writing is that I really am a bit of a revolutionary. My characters are often in a fight against injustice and inadequacies in the world around them, or are indeed anti-heroes who embody greed and cruelty, looking for profit and control at the expense of other people and the environment. I suppose when I’m writing, I’m the one in control and I can let my frustrations out, as opposed to being just another faceless and powerless member of society. On a more positive note, nature often plays a role in my stories. Like Ruth Rendell, I love to mention particular plants and flowers and I sometimes involve them in the story, whether in a nice way or nasty way à la Christie.
How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
It depends on the story, the setting, the period in time. A name often needs to fit a character’s generation, social class, ethnicity and so forth. I sometimes just go online and look up first and last names to find one’s that fit. I don’t think I ever know everything about a character when I start writing, but you need a foundation and the name is part of that. But, and this is important for anyone who does decide to buy any of my mysteries, I sometimes choose names to fit a key element in the story, whether it be a family connection, or an acronym, or just a hidden meaning. My mysteries are real traditional mysteries with puzzles, clues, red herrings, foreshadowing, and all that thrilling stuff. Don’t overlook any detail, and never take a name at face value!
How long on average does it take you to write a book or story?
How long is a piece of string? The first draft of a short story can take anywhere between five or six hours and twenty or thirty. As for novels, I’m still editing one I started about ten years ago while I wrote most of my second novel, The Tunnel Runner, which is the only published so far, when I was alone for two weeks several years ago. I managed to write the first 40,000 words of my current novel in about three months. In any case, I’m eager to get some words down today! Thanks for the interview and the refreshments. I had a lovely time.
Thank you for our chat, Cameron. If you would like to stay for another drink you’re welcome. Just let Brutus know when you’re ready to go.
To find out more about Cameron’s writing click on the links below.
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.