Thursday, August 4, 2011

Welcome, Graeme Smith

1: Thank you so much for being here, Graeme.  First up is the obligatory question. When did you first begin writing?

I first began writing at school. I hated it. They told me what to write (never what I wanted to), how long it was supposed to be and then told me the result was rubbish.
Mostly they were right J.
Later (much later – I was about 20, around the time I finished sanding down a cave wall in what would one day be Lascaux, ready for a local painter to get working), I got into PBM. That’s Play By Mail gaming. Players wrote ‘turns’ – a few paragraphs or so – about what they wanted their characters to do, sent them to a Games Master, who mixed them all up and sent back the results. Rinse and repeat.
I used to send, um, a bit more than a paragraph or two. Say, twenty pages a turn. Per game. Per week :-)..
Flash forward some few years, skip over the Jurassic period (exciting at times, mostly boring, lots of running screaming ‘mummmmmiiiiieeeeeee!’) and get to, oh, about 2003. I was in an online game (we had these computer things then). I’d been waiting for this game to be released for, oh, a year or so. I’d spent six months developing a back story for the character I was going to play (a dragon - he’s still there). I bumped into another player who wanted some help with something similar. Just a page or so…
Four years later, we’d written a book together :-).
Some people who bought it said it was rubbish. They were probably right.
Some people who bought it said it was great. They were probably right too. For them.
The rest is history. Or the future. Or both. I developed a severe inability to stop typing, and my wife got new earplugs.
I tend to hammer keyboards :-P.

2: What inspired you to write?

Remember those Role-playing games? Well, back in the days when I still had hair, I was still using paper and pen in a deep, dark dungeon. The Play by Mail thing (that’s like Lord of the Rings Online, but with really, really bad server lag). I’d write twenty pages a week about the deeds of someone like Ibrahim Yunus, Grand Vizier of the Hiyiros and part-time poet. Then I’d post them off to the mysterious Game Master and await the results. By post. Along with a whole mess of other people, trying to make sure they got what they wanted and I – or Ibrahim - didn’t. Then I realised I was looking at new games before they were released and spending perhaps six months inventing a ‘someone’. A real someone (as real as an invented someone can be) with real history, with real virtues and real flaws.
Kind of like you do for a book.
I got it. Eventually. I knew I liked playing those games, but what I really loved was making the ‘someones’. So I still play, but now I make a lot more ‘someones’. Someones like Segorian the Idiot. Like Charlie the ferryman turned trucker. Like - like a whole load I haven’t made yet.
But I will.

3: What do you like the most and least about writing?

What do I like most? I like starting. Not having the first idea where I’m going, but going there anyway.
Yes. I admit it. My name’s Graeme, and I’m a pantster :-).
What do I like least? Finishing. Finishing a book, at least. Once it’s done, once my wings have folded from that particular flight of fancy – the book sort of dies. Oh, there’s the whole new truck of work if it’s supposed to go out on the street – beta readers, edits, more reads, more edits, polishing, more edits – but the flying? That’s not really flying time.
I like flying :-).

4: What do you for fun and relaxation when not writing?

I’m still an online gamer - If you know Bard Elcano, you know me. If you know a grumpy old dragon called Sephiranoth, you know me. If you know a tall, dark, handsome but brooding vampire, charming witty and brilliant - we never met. That's someone else :-). I cook – nobody’s died yet. I write things that aren’t the things I write to put on the street (if you asked what, I might have to say the p word, and that’s really not a good idea :-P). I build the occasional web site and sometimes write computer code. Sometimes (a lot less sometimes) the code even works :-P.

5: Which authors do you like to read?

Phew. How long have we got :-P.?
See, when I was about ten I was reading around fifteen books a week. My mother actually had to talk the local library into letting me into the adult sections because I’d read everything in the other bits three times over. These days? Draws breath….
Tom Holt, Jim Butcher, Guy Gavriel Kay, Terry Pratchett, R. F. Delderfield, J. B. Priestley, Steven Brust, Craig Shaw Gardner…
I could go on. Well, and on and on and on and on… but most people already know I can do that. Go on, I mean. So I’ll try not to :-).

6: What’s the one thing you’d most like people to know about you?

Not much. I don’t think readers (I’d say ‘people’, but I keep hoping most people are still readers, even if not mine. Yet :-P) need to know much about the writer. I’ll chicken out and say ‘I’d like them to know they like to read what I like to write.’

7: Tell me about your current novel, where I can find it and your website/blog.

My website (Writing the Bright Fantastic) and blog can be found at
I tend to post blog entries as near once a week as I can, generally about whatever writing related madness has crossed my mind recently. As to current novel - hmmm. There’s more than once answer to that. My ‘current’ anything tends to be the one or more I haven’t finished yet :-).
The one closest to being available (to be published in 2012 by MuseItUp Publishing) is ‘A Comedy of Terrors’.
CoT tells the tale of Segorian, Court Idiot to Queen Sonea of Peladon. He was hired because he has the sort of face nobody ever remembers. That’s important. It’s his job to be blamed for anything that goes wrong, and be exiled-for-life. In a Queen’s castle, wine spilt down the wrong dress can lead to a declaration of war. So someone unimportant has to be blamed for it, and that’s the Idiot. He’s the Idiot that did it, for any value of ‘it’. Of course, as soon as he’s exiled-for-life out of the castle gate, he uses his back-door key and sneaks in. To wait for next time.
But that's not all the job. Someday, something really bad will happen. Really, really bad. Badder than a bad thing on a very bad day with extra badness. So when when the world’s about to end (or the washing up won’t get done – whichever comes first), who you gonna call? No, not them. They haven’t been invented yet. You call the Idiot, so you can risk someone nobody will miss if things don’t work out. And now Peladon has a case of dragon.
But like I said. The dragon may be the easy part. Segorian has woman trouble, and he’s the only person in the castle who doesn’t know it. Because to Segorian, women are an open book. The problem is, he never learned to read…

8: Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?

One thing I totally agree with is something Piers Anthony once told me (OK – that’s name dropping. He generously agreed to a very short interview on my site once :-P). He said:
write if it is in your heart to do so, but don't depend on it for money.’
The other thing I would say is something Doris Lessing (not many writers of Science Fiction also have a Nobel Prize) once said. When asked if she knew why she was so successful when so many others were not, she said (and the quote isn’t precise) that the only difference between her and the others was that she didn’t give up. Didn’t quit. Didn’t stop writing.

Smith’s Second Law (I didn’t write it, but I stole it and made it number 2) says:
If you can’t win, change the victory conditions.
That’s really it. If you write for money, if you write to be published, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Not to be a bad writer, but simply because it’s a packed industry right now that’s averse to taking risks on new writers. On the other hand, if (as Mr Anthony said) you write because that is what you have to do, I guarantee you’ll win with every word you put down.
And you may get the other wins too :-).

9: Do you base your characters on real-life people?

Well, I’m male and married, so I’m well qualified as the basis for a Court Idiot :-P.
I’d say no – but it may be yes. I tend not to create ‘characters’, but build them as I go (I already confessed to being a pantster and not a planner :-) ) from foibles and traits they develop. Though those traits and foibles may be from people I know or think I know.

10: Where do you get your ideas and what inspired you to write this book?

I’ll assume you mean ‘A Comedy of Terrors’ for now. ‘Road like a river’ is a different story, and not even under review as yet – though I have a large pile of form rejections :-P.
As usual, there’s a story in it.
I already mentioned the book I co-wrote. It was published (Print on Demand) by the games company that eventually commissioned it’s completion – mostly for their players (though it can be read by non-players – or so they’ve told me :-P). Anyway, my co-author was interested to see if it might get to a wider audience. So I wrote a Query for it.
I’d never written a Query. You can only guess how bad it was :-).
Anyway, I wanted to find out how awful the Query was (I had my suspicions). So I sent it to a well known Query Critique site run by a well known Agent. But I wanted to grab her attention, to get at least her eye. So I wrote a cover email. And I write it in a tone – well, I used the Idiot persona. I kept it (I hoped) light, amusing – and blamed me in advance for all its faults.
It worked. She published the Query. And quite rightly savaged it :-). Tore it to shreds. But – she loved the cover letter.
So I looked at the Voice, the name – and Segorian was born.
‘Road like a river’ – not even under review yet – was different. I was chopping spices and vegetables for dinner. For some reason an image came into my head of a truck, driving down a dark road. I knew the driver. I knew what he did. I knew why he did it. I knew he picked up hitchhikers – and I knew why anybody he picked up was never seen again.
I wrote the Prologue to Road in about ten minutes after dinner. It wasn’t a Prologue then. But it niggled me. So I typed some more…
It’s mostly like that. A concept. A point in time thought – and lots of late night keyboard bashing :-).

11: What are you currently working on?

I have a sequel to CoT – ‘A Not Summer Night’s Scream’ - part done (I may even finish it if enough people like CoT :-P). I have a possible free give-away novella in progress – I wanted to write a main character totally without sympathetic or positive attributes, then give the reader a reason to connect with him anyway – but not until the end. Jack Shadow is the result – or will be. And ‘Road like a river’ is complete and currently undergoing beta reads/ edits – it’s about a former ferryman who traded his boat for a truck. Well, maybe a bit more than that :-).

12. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you?

I’m left handed, and right footed. The night I was born, both Aries and Taurus were trying to take over the zodiac. But the result isn’t their fault – that’s all mine.
My name’s Graeme Smith. I used to work on a psychiatric ward. Now I write about people who believe in magic and dragons – and who live where the crazy folk are the ones who don’t. I’d like to thank everybody reading for giving me these minutes of their lives, and you for giving me the opportunity to take those minutes from them.


            Let me introduce myself. I’m an Idiot.
This wouldn’t be news to anybody who knows me, apart from my mother. She believes me to be an incredible idiot, and would be amazed I’d been able to improve to just 'idiot'. Her view is probably more accurate, as she's known me longer.
            If I'm going to be totally honest (a bad habit I’m trying to break), Idiot is but one of my names. To the Elves, I’m 'Oh-god-it-eez-eem-aygayn'. To the dwarves I’m 'Bugger-lock-the-door-and-keep-quiet-he-might-go-away'. To the Halflings - actually, I don't know what the Halflings call me. I can't ask. They have a restraining order, and really good lawyers. With writs. With nails in.
            But still, I’m an Idiot. And not unhappy with that. It's a well paying job with no heavy lifting.
            Job? Sorry. I can see you're confused. As you can tell, I'm not very good at this. Let me start again.
            Segorian Anderson. Royal Idiot. At your service. Well. Not at your service. At the Queen's service. And gods above, every ruler needs an Idiot. Queen Sonea? She has me.
            That’s Queen Sonea of Peladon. Or Sonea, Queen of Peladon. I can never remember the proper form. I’ll get exiled for it one day.
            No. I'm not the Jester. Not the Fool. I don't wear motley (whatever motley may be) and I don’t tell complicated jokes that nobody understands, giving me an excuse to bash them on the head with a pig's bladder. Besides, that's a different union.
            I'm an Idiot.
            Whenever something goes wrong, there has to be somebody to blame. When a visiting dignitary has wine spilled down their tunic - some idiot spilt it. When the generals lose a battle - some idiot read their plans wrong. When the Royal Pageant starts out on a bright sunny day, and the bright sun turns to dark clouds, and the dark clouds to hissing pourin.... Oh. I forgot. Nobody cares about the weather report. Anyway. Some idiot wrote down the wrong day in the Royal Calendar.
            I'm the Idiot.
            When the call comes, the Queen's people pull out something relevant. A servant's tabard, perhaps a Colonel's uniform - and I go to my duty. I stand where I must stand. Some people shout at me for a while, and I'm banished from the Kingdom forever for my grievous sins. The offended parties feel vindicated, and nobody important has to suffer unduly. I accept my exile, at least as far as the back door to the castle, and I slip inside. To wait. For the next time. Because everybody needs an Idiot.
            Like I said. It's a well paying job. And no heavy lifting. Or it was. Until the dragon...

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