I can remember how I first ran into Ed. We talked seriously about WWF wrestling on Twitter. I checked his timeline, as you normally do. It was clear, and has been proven so, that Ed has a lot of time for a lot of people. A kind decent man. Unshakable in some filthy conviction. He was perfect online company for an impending, frightening job interview in his home town. He might know he made my day a whole lot easier. And he writes beautifully. A pen and hammer combination. Sturdy and delicate. Like so.
“Hi, my name is Ed. I was born in London but I really became who I am now in a town on the south coast of England. I didn’t apply myself at school at all and so I never did the great university adventure. Instead I married, we had a whole bunch of kids and I let life teach me what I needed to know.
I first started writing with conviction in 2002. I discovered quickly that I wasn’t very good at it, so I practiced. I’ve gotten much better since then. I’ve written eight books (I’ve self-published two of them), and three screenplays. My greatest achievement to date is clearly my marriage and relationship with my kids and family. It always will be.”
Who is Gita Askari to you?
When I came to write Blank Canvas I laid down a series of rules that I would stick to. Rules that would shape the story, yes, but also ones that would shape this character. I wasn’t allowed to shout ‘Zombies Attack’ when a problem appeared in the book, or I found it difficult to get to the next piece. I wasn’t allowed any random violence or any untimely explosions to create chase scenes. I wasn’t allowed to take the easy door. At first this seemed like I setting myself up to fail by removing some basic plot shake-ups, but then I realised that the book was purely about this character. It was her, alone, and that I had to focus all of my attention on her, or I’d lose. So I did just that. I focused and found that she represented the single hardest challenge I’d faced in writing to that date. I knew she’d make it through, and I knew she’d triumph in her own way, but I also knew her story wasn’t done.
Gita Askari represents much of what I think makes up modern Britain. She’s complicated – a product of a difficult relationship that continues to prove turbulent. She is royalty, and yet she has no power, no sway. She reminds me of the past and yet she wears the face of modern Britain – an empowered and artistic Anglo Asian woman that is aware of her roots, but is very much a part of the thriving western society. Yet within that society she sees the lies and the ugliness of privilege, and though she feels great waves of emotion her default setting is one very much set to stiff upper lip.
The decision she makes at the beginning of the second book sets her on a path that many must walk. How do we cope when everything is taken away from us? How much can we really take before we brake and realistically, above all those things, are we really strong enough to make the hard decisions to affect change in our lives.
Gita Askari has a wounded soul, but it doesn’t stop her being an explorer, a philosopher, an artist and a human being. In fact, it’s that damage that drives her forward.
How deep do you go in terms of character manifestation?
For me, I don’t do method stuff (is method writing a thing?). I have a great key that unlocks the story, the characters, the events If a and the reactions of those people I include in the story – they are unlocked by the wonder of music. I find albums that have the right ‘feel’. Those albums are listened to as often as possible before I start and then I use them in the writing time. It becomes an easy way to switch off, meditate and just write, plus, I can make decisions about the book while washing up, because the music is there for me to feed on.
Mood, that’s the key. If I get the mood right then I can smash out large word counts and be safe in the knowledge that they are going to at least be partially useable. That they will fit into the rest of the work, if they are indeed good enough. The characters come from the mood I strike when I think about them. They do what they want to on the page. Obviously there will always be pieces of me in there, and pieces of the other important people in my life too. That’s unavoidable. And they have to drive the story forward. They have to follow some rules. But the majority of the time they write it for me and I just stick my fingers on the keys.
As an experienced self-publisher what lessons have you learned?
Write as much as you can. If you have finished a book, great! Get on a blog and write about it! Don’t gather dust waiting for the ‘breakthrough’. You have to make your own luck, you have to push your own story and you have to keep your eye in. Write.
Don’t rush. Approach agents when your work has been edited. Get someone else to do that. You won’t find the mistakes, they will. Once a piece of work is done I’ll run through it, then I’ll send it out to readers. I know there are a tonne of mistakes, as do they, but I also know a copy editor will sort them out. The readers are there to make sure it actually works. If a certain event is flagged up by one test reader as having a problem then that’s probably taste. If three people highlight it then it bears looking at seriously. If five people point to the same bit of the book and flag up problems then I have to swallow my pride and change it, no matter how much I like it as it is.
Sink all the love you can into the book. Write with passion and pleasure. Make yourself cry and laugh. Invest your soul. Then, when you have finished writing it take a day or two, before returning to the beginning and editing, picking at the fabric of the rug, neatening the edges, being anal. Each stage of the writing process requires commitment to the work. You have to put your head down and go at it. It’s hard work. Take the leap and get an editor. She/he may be a copy editor or be up there for a full editorial role, that’s up to you and your wallet to decide, but engage one so you can selfpublish with confidence, or approach agents and know they are getting a book in the best shape it can be.
Oh, and don’t give up. If you write one hundred words a day for three months then you end up with somewhere around nine thousand words. Do that for a year and you have thirty six thousand words. Do that for two years? Seventy two thousand words. Boom. Even better, take a target date and give yourself a realistic goal, but one that requires you to really put the hours in. Let the people around you know this is happening, so they understand you will be going into writing tunnel vision mode, and then write with conviction. Make the story come alive. You have to put the hours in to improve, to reach your goals, to find the things that work for you, and also the things that don’t.
A diamond is a pretty piece of coal. It was forged with the application of time and pressure – make your own diamonds.
How do you find the time to write?
I work in the construction industry as a labourer. There are times when work just simply isn’t about. When that happens then I write all the hours I can and make the most of the time. When I’m working then that becomes more difficult. In the end though, it’s important to me, so I make the time. Currently I’m engaged in a fairly long contract and I’ve been booked for work straight after this one finishes. That means I have to MAKE time, this is one of those times that the music comes in handy. I have the mp3 player rolling all day. I get home and cook for a family of nine, then pitch in and either do the washing up or bath the kids. Realistically, eight o clock is the earliest start I can make on a week day. That’s not so bad though, I’ve spent all day preparing through the music. I stick the c.d in, switch the computer on, spend twenty minutes checking email, talking to my Twitter pals and looking into the movie news, then I write.
Generally I’ll set myself a goal based on how hard a day I’ve had, what time I start and what kind of period the book is in. If it’s flowing then I’ll give myself another five hundred words to hit on top, generally I don’t walk away from the computer until I’ve hit at least one thousand five hundred words. I generally hit one thousand eight hundred an hour if I’m flowing and typing well, so that isn’t so hard to hit for me. I like the feeling of knowing I’ve done a full days work and then still cranked out three thousand words. That makes me feel like a writer.
What is your favourite smell?
An odd question for me as I have a really bad sense of smell. I think it’s probably due to all the dust from building sites, but I can’t say I have strong reactions to smells. I can tell you I love the smell of slightly sugared tea just as it slips under my nose. Tar and also the distant whiff of tobacco are up there too (I used to smoke, and in truth, I loved it).
If you had superpowers (you can choose two) what would they be and how would they combine to benefit the other?
Well, on face value I’d be interested in some standard hero packages. You know? The Wolverine – Healing factor and Adamantium skeleton. Or the Nightcrawler – Teleportation and stealth. Looking closer though I know I’m not a fan of pain and so would hate being cut up constantly, and if I could sneak about I just wouldn’t trust myself. Before long I’d be watching people getting naked, or nicking their bank codes and accounts. It wouldn’t be good.
From a standard role I’d have to pick Captain Britain’s power set. Flight and super strength. Big amounts of power that are aided by his magical force field. He’s powerful, but not like Superman. The burden would be less, I feel.
In reality though I’d much rather have the ability to connect with technological equipment and interface with ease. I could write while I worked on site, getting ideas down and always storing those stray story ideas that I get but lose because I don’t write them down quick enough. Back that up with an ability to conjure tea out of thin air and I’d be laughing.
Why the beard?
As it stands, I have a very young face. I was always getting carded in pubs and clubs in my drinking days (now long gone, I’ve been t-total for about ten years now). I always used to grow what I could thinking that it would make me look older. It didn’t, it just made me look scruffy. Why do I have the full on mountain man beard now? Well, shaving is boring. My wife likes it. It keeps my face warm in winter. I like to know what I had for dinner yesterday?
You can follow Ed at @eddsnotdead and purchase the stories (and lovely cover art) of Gita Askari here (Still Life) and the following Blank Canvas here. I’d suggest doing all three.