Author Interview: Crispina Kemp, author of The Spinner's Game series

Crispina Kemp is a blogger, photographer, prehistorian and writer who has just released her fantasy series – The Spinner’s Game – for pre-order on Amazon Kindle (see links below).

Following on from my previous post where Crispina related the books’ evolution from initial ideas and blog posts to finished novels, she joins me this week to discuss mythical inspirations and future projects.

*

LL: Hi Crispina, thanks for dropping by.

You’ve described The Spinner’s Game as a story told across five books, as opposed to a five-book series. But what did you take as inspiration?

CC: The inspiration hides in an earlier book.

I had written a story set in the Neolithic period in southwest Britain with an antagonist named the Head of Kerrid. Keen as I am on Celtic mythology, I took the name Kerrid from the Welsh goddess Cerridwen. But I realised this antagonist needed a backstory. Why was she called the Head of…? Why was she so against my protagonist? And what were her mysterious powers? It was at this point I slid that particular story onto the backburner and focused instead on Kerrid.

LL: So Kerrid began life as a goddess?

CC: I chuckle to myself. And answer yes.

LL: A story told across five books suggests a high word count. Was that as you planned it?

CC: No, definitely not. I didn’t even want a trilogy.

For years I’d used the local library for reading fiction and know there’s nothing so annoying as to become lost in a book, only to discover it’s book six in a sixteen-book story (e.g. Wheel of Time) and there’s a three month wait for the others.

Besides, what traditional publisher invests in a trilogy from an unknown author?

On first completion, the book weighed in at 150,000 words. But even that is too high for a debut book. How to trim it? I paid for a critique. With my next version, I doubled the wordcount. Oops. And with every subsequent edit the wordcount grew. Though with the final brutal tidy-up and edit I deleted out 200,000 words! Oh yay! The wordcount across the five books is now 550,000 words, which averages at 110,000 words per book.

LL: If the story is told across the five books, must a reader read every one?

CC: I’d recommend it, but it’s not essential.

Kerrid takes the five books to complete her quest, but each book offers a complete story. I’ve been careful not to leave the reader dangling, yet with sufficient incentive to read the next book.

LL: Why ‘The Spinner’, where did that come from?

CC: I love word-play and have an affinity with textiles.

I liked that The Spinner might be a spider spinning its web or she might be the person who spins the thread from the fleece. If the latter, that spinner spins a yarn… i.e. a tale. If the former, that spider spins a web to entangle, delay, hold captive, and ultimately to devour. I liked that the Spinner might be both creator and destroyer. And as with yarn and thread, the word ‘web’ is loaded with imagery.

LL: How long has it taken to write The Spinner’s Game?

CC: From the very first draft? That was back in 2006. But I’ve not worked on it continuously.

When I arrived at a wordcount of 500,000 (in 2009) I knew no publisher would take it so I set it aside… until 2012 when I created two blogs, one as a regular blog, the other to carry the story that has now become The Spinner’s Game, posted in weekly instalments. It took three years to complete! Meanwhile, I worked on other stories.

I thought the blog’s potential for ‘world-wide’ exposure might satisfy me. It did not. In November 2017 I announced my intention to publish the story on Kindle. The story now took on its five-book structure. And since then it’s been beta read and critiqued and pulled apart and rearranged and revised, and edited, edited, edited. Until here we are. It has been a long journey.

LL: And what are your plans for the future? Any more books in the pipeline?

CC: My critique partner is critiquing my next book as we speak.

Written in 2012, it combines two novella-length historical fantasies I’d written earlier with one of a contemporary setting to create a fantastical time-slip story. As with The Spinner’s Game, I posted it on my blog in instalments. Now that’s to receive the full KDP treatment. And after that… yes, I do have more planned.

***

The e-books – The Spinner’s Child, Lake of Dreams, The Pole That Threads, Lady of First Making, and The Spinner’s Sin – are available on Pre-Order. But Pre-Order isn’t available on paperbacks; those become available shortly after the publication date of Saturday 21st March.

The easiest way to access the books is through Crispina’s Author’s Page on Amazon.com. From there, a click on a book will take you to whatever your usual version of Amazon. Alternatively, crispinakemp.com/books has all the book descriptions and the Amazon links.

As a gift for those who Pre-Order, Crispina is offering a full-sized, full-colour fantasy map of Lake of Skulls (see image below) as a high resolution (2048 x 1536 px) pdf. Just send proof of pre-order (a screenshot would be ideal) via her Contact Me page and a copy will wing its way to you.

New Year's Eve 1973

Image: sjdents0 Pixabay

‘Lesley Howard?’ Patricia pulled on her cigarillo, puffed a cloud of blue grey smoke into the air. ‘Is that the Brief Encounter chap?’

‘No, that’s Trevor Howard. Leslie Howard was Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind.’

Patricia selected a card from the hand she was playing and slapped it on the green baize table. ‘So in answer to the question, “which film actor would you want to be”, you choose the one who loses the girl.’

Bobby rubbed his stocking feet against the flank of a dozing Labrador. Firelight flickered around the living room, casting picturesque shadows over the threadbare rug, the stacks of mouldering newspapers. ‘Always seemed like a decent sort,’ he said. ‘Shot down over the Bay of Biscay, 1943.’

‘A dead war hero? So decent, so proper, such a good egg.’

He recognised the hard chink in her voice. ‘You and Scotch do not make happy companions.’

She raised a hand. ‘I’m just saying you sound very alike, you and your dead actor.’

‘Oh, yes?’

‘Always doing the right thing. Fighting for King and country. So noble. So very, very bland.’

Bobby reached for his own glass. New Year’s Eve and she was as impossible as always. Well, this year he refused to bite. ‘Who would you be then? Greta Garbo, I suppose, wanting to be alone?’

Patricia’s teeth chinked against her glass tumbler as she threw her head back, laughing hoarsely. ‘No, not Garbo. Too sulky. Perhaps Marlene Dietrich in Morocco. Remember that scene? Her in a top hat and tails?’

‘Huh. Very, very you.’

She raised her glass. ‘I always was the butch one, dear.’ She drained the last of her Scotch, rolled the glass between the palms of her hands. ‘Ideally, I would have been Gable.’

‘Clark Gable?’

Patricia nodded. ‘That sharp moustache, the oiled hair, stamping around the Deep South, shooting Yankees.’ Then with a watery smile, she added, ‘Not giving a damn.’

***

I’m currently planning a new novel and these are two of the main characters. Their spiky relationship keeps drawing me back and Patricia talks to me, even when I don’t necessarily want her to.

For reference, the novel is set in the early 1970s and they’re both in their 70s, hence the selection of old film stars.

NB For those too young to know…

To learn more about Leslie Howard, Trevor Howard, Brief Encounter, Gone with the Wind, Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo, follow the links.

What Pegman Saw: On the foreshore eating apples with Dad

Image: Google Street View

Dad was a crane driver at the docks, loading and unloading shipping containers, ten hours a day, six days a week.

Often, to keep us from getting under Mum’s feet, Dad took us with him, left us mudlarking on the foreshore as he swung the sulphur crane limb towards the sea, towards the shore.

I was small then, unable to translate the containers’ markings into words, the words into thoughts.

Dad would join us on the pier at break time, share a square of cheese, chewy ends of loaf, one soft apple.

I’d pester, ‘What’s inside the big boxes, Dad?’ ‘Where are they going?’ ‘Who would need so many things?’

He’d shrug, look mystified, as if it had never crossed his mind to wonder.

That was the difference between us. I needed to know how the world worked, he was content that it did.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. Today we are in Paraguay. See here to join in, share and comment.

Lessons in Novel Writing: Sat Nav or breadcrumbs?

When I was at school, pretty much my favourite thing was creative writing. Back then I wrote dark stories with plenty of ghosts, fairies, wicked stepmothers, vampires, monsters and ordinary kids like me being caught up in fantastical situations. Only my protagonist’s use of a magic amulet/sword/potion (supplied by a mysterious stranger, of course) or their own untapped abilities would win the day.

Many of those stories finished along the lines of

And they were never heard of again…

My endings have (hopefully) improved, but otherwise I pretty much write about the same things. Love a ghost story, would write vampires but they’re a bit ‘done’ and though I might not employ magic potions, I still recognise that my heroes and heroines – even if they aren’t a magical Chosen One – should find qualities within themselves to achieve their goals.

One major thing that has changed is my ability to plan.

When I wrote those childhood stories, and even when I began writing novels, my enthusiasm for an idea would have me rushing to my exercise book/keyboard, hammering out scenes in the order they appeared in my head, plucking characters from the air, smushing the whole thing together like play dough, hoping it would stick together.

That worked when I was a kid. Or at least I was happy enough with the results. As an adult? Not so much.

With my first book (my first three in fact, all unpublished) I returned to the same, tried and tested method of sitting in front of a screen and emptying my brains. The result had some pleasing moments… and flat, aimless characters, meandering plots and an end product as loose as Nana’s knitting.

Then I began to write for a women’s magazine and funnily enough, the editors required rather more than

Well, there’s this girl and I’m thinking maybe she falls in love and does some other stuff – probably to do with horses or goats – then she argues with the guy cos he does something stupid, but then he kisses her…

No. Editors want the first part of a proposed serial, they want character bios. Most of all, they want a synopsis.

Now, if you’re like me, just the mention of the S word will have you scuttling into the corner with a blanket over your head.

But once I’d dragged my inner writer kicking and weeping to the task, I actually found something interesting. A synopsis makes me focus on the shape of the story, its highs, its lows, the start, the resolution. It helps me know whether the idea is going to hang together and whether I can tell the story I want in the required word count.

It’s a cliche, but a synopsis is like having a Sat Nav in your car. You might take a different turning here and there, but if you have one – a good one – it makes it a heck of a lot harder to get lost.

So on my current journey through the realms of Novel (fifth go and yes, still unpublished), I’m taking a Sat Nav with me and not just relying on a trail of breadcrumbs to get me home.

How about you? Do you plan before you write or just go boldly where your creativity takes you?

Lessons in short story writing: Go watch TV

lace making, lace, threads
Image: Pixabay

Toward the end of this year, I had a particularly inspired time as a short story writer. This was due – in very large part – to the change of seasons.

Autumn and winter days are gloomy and brief, the nights long and forbidding as one of the original Grimm fairy tales (before they censored the really nasty bits). The weather here in the UK is by turns warm, wet and windy, and clear, still and crystal bright with frost.

While the summer inspires me to be outside, writing never feels a more attractive prospect than during the colder months, when there are no butterflies to chase and bees to bother.

And so this autumn I found myself entering several writing competitions*. Okay, it helps that Halloween brings a swollen crop of writing challenges and there’s nothing excites me more than dipping my stubby toe in the murky waters of the dark and the creepy.

The idea for one competition sprang from another favourite past time – television.

The Antiques Roadshow was on the box. For those unfamiliar with the programme, the Roadshow is a BBC staple (it first aired in 1979) which encourages people to raid their attics, empty the contents into the grounds of a stately home and stand for hours in the pouring rain/blazing sun waiting for an expert to tell them their treasure is worthless tat or – very occasionally – that it really is treasure.

The fun comes in watching the reactions of the owners as they hear the news, usually falling into two camps,

The ‘Well-I-love-it-anyway-despite-how-obviously-ugly-and-worthless-it-is’ Camp

and

The ‘It’ll-stay-in-the-family-despite-being-terrifically-ugly-and-worth-more-than-my-house’ Camp.

Which if you believe them means no one sells anything that’s been valued – ever.

Anyway, we were watching an episode that featured Victorian mourning jewellery made from human hair. Because the Victorians had very different views on death and thought it perfectly acceptable to pop their dead granny down to the photographic studio to have her portrait taken for the album before lopping off her hair and having it woven into a brooch, a watch chain, a ring or even a framed family tree – if there were enough dead relatives to make a tree of course.

Watching this fascinating piece, my writer’s mind wandered …

Along the back streets of Victorian Manchester, to a lace maker down on her luck who one day takes on a rather unusual commission …

I came runner up in the Writing Magazine Dark Tales competition with the resulting story, The Lace Maker. To read the story, the judge’s comments and to see my equally creepy author head shot, see here.

And the moral of this tale?

Don’t let anyone tell you being away from your laptop/typewriter/notepad is a waste of writing time. Watching TV and films, reading books, going for long walks and communing with bumble bees all have their place in the writers’ life and in feeding your inspiration.

Just make sure you get your bum on a seat afterwards so you can carve a story from those sparks of creativity.

***

*Of the other three stories I wrote this autumn, I wasn’t placed in one and haven’t yet heard about the others. Watch this space. Or not, because, let’s face it, I’ll only write a post if I win.

Lessons in novel writing: panning for gold in the rubble of rejection

Image: Pixabay

Writing novels is a strange way to spend your life.

You take months (in my case, years) working alone on a project then there comes a point – if you want your baby to develop, to grow and not remain swaddled to your over-protective breast forever – when you must push what you’ve made into the world and watch from a safe distance to see if it will fall on its face or walk, perhaps even run.

But what if it manages to both face plant and saunter cockily round the block on the same day?

A few weeks ago, I learned I’d come second in a Writing Magazine competition (more on that nearer publication day). My prize was either a modest amount of cash or a critique of 9,000 words.

Now, as I’m a writer with heaps of artistic integrity and a yearning to polish my craft until I can see my squadgy face in it, I opted for a critique of my Urban Fantasy novel opening.

On Tuesday the critique popped up in my inbox and I avoided reading it for three days.

This was my Schrödinger’s cat moment. I left the email unopened for the same reason it takes me weeks to check the numbers on a lottery ticket – if I don’t look, the unread critique/lottery ticket has the potential to be at once a marvellous review of my talent/worth millions and a hideous rip in my self-esteem/a worthless scrap of paper heading for the recycling bin.

Better not to know, right?

Except of course, wrong. I had to know because otherwise what’s the point in any of it? I opened the document …

And read the most delightful feedback I’ve had in a long while. The opening was engaging, the reader said, the characters realistic and sympathetic. My descriptions were good. I create a sense of mystery and the only thing that she truly found disappointing was not being able to read more.

Now, I’m British. Pretty reserved generally.

I tell you, I was dancing round the kitchen in my slippers after reading that. I fist bumped the air and I’ve never fist bumped anything in my life before.

Filled with renewed self-confidence, I sent a (very polite) follow up email to an agent I sent my chapters to back in August and submitted to three new ones. This could be it. If a professional reader at the UK’s bestselling writing magazine thinks my story has promise, it could be the vehicle that sees me become a published novelist, right?

Towards the end of the afternoon, another email popped into my inbox. From the agent I’d sent my (very polite) follow up to.

After apologising for taking so long to get back to me, she took around a page to say:

  • That no publishers want Urban Fantasy just now.
  • That the perspective in the first scene was confusing.
  • That the premise was too well-trodden to grab her interest.
  • Basically, that she didn’t think the story was strong enough to sell.

At this point there was not another euphoric little dance around the kitchen. A professional had now told me my story was unoriginal, not good enough to warrant a read in full.

A black hole, a nobbly Hell especially for writers would surely now open up in the lino and swallow me whole. Tiny demons armed with nothing but sharpened quills, reading extracts from Fifty Shades of Grey would poke my eyeballs for all eternity, whispering, If E.L.James can get published, why can’t you?

Of course, this didn’t happen.

Because she also:

  • Said the mystery at the heart of my story was a strong one.
  • Said I wrote well.
  • Actually gave me a personal response, took time to read my submission carefully and gave me guidance on how to improve. And anyone who’s been down the submission route will know that getting any kind of personal response feels like a small win.

So, what have I taken from yesterday?

That writing is utterly subjective. That what one professional enjoys another will not.

That I need to be more adventurous with my story telling, not just thinking outside the box, but climbing out of the box – hell, I just need to burn the bloody box!

And that I can write. I really can.

And for now, that’s all the speck of gold I need to keep me panning for more.

***

NB For my dear, generous beta readers, Maureen, Chris, Jane, Karen, Sammi, Jane and Lauren, I’m not giving up on finding Caro and Neil a home just yet. And whatever the story’s merits, you’ve helped make it that way. Many thanks again, all of you.

Crimson’s Creative Challenge #14: Four and twenty blackbirds

Marsh Road

CCC#14

‘Blackbirds!’ called Aunty Evie, hopping excitedly from foot to foot.

‘They not blackbirds, dumbo,’ said Cass. ‘They’re crows.’ He limped on towards the telegraph poles, lame foot dragging on the cracked road. ‘Twice the size of sodding blackbirds.’

‘Leave her be,’ I mumbled. ‘Every black bird is a blackbird to her.’

She was singing a nursery rhyme now, reedy, rushy voice a mix of adult and child.

‘Simple,’ muttered Cass. ‘Brain like a bag of candy floss.’

Up ahead, Evie struggled through long dried grass, hand outstretched to a boundary fence. Beyond, the field was already dull, waiting to sleep.

Cass pointed with his cane. ‘Stop her, will you.’

I saw what she was reaching for – a row of wings pinned to the wire, flapping a black rainbow in the wind.

Somewhere we’d taken a wrong turn.

***

Written for Crimson’s Creative Challenge#14. See here to join in.