This week we have R.A Smith in the chair, being expertly probed with Vampire mesmerism and ‘love bites’. He is the author of the Grenshall Manor series of books. Oblivion Storm and Primal Storm are out now and he is currently working on book 3 which also has Storm in the title but I am not going to reveal it in full yet…
What is the earliest memory you have of writing? What did you write about?
A solid memory comes from an English class, in which I got the best news ever in that our assignment was simply, “Write a story.” Not being a hugely keen on homework pupil, but brimming with ideas, I went away and worked on one for just about the entirety of the weekend. There were aliens involved, is about all I can remember, and it was in secondary school. We got back in on the Monday and our teacher happened to be in a bad mood, and decided, at length, to give the entire class a dressing-down. He spent longer with some of us than others, however, and I was called out in front of the entire class for having written “seven sides of rubbish.” To this day, I haven’t forgotten. I tend to remember harder when I need motivation the most.
When did you decide to become a professional writer? Why did you take this step?
A combination of unemployment and some unfinished business from my M.A. course got me started with what eventually became Oblivion Storm. It was a strange thing to be busier in out-of-work patches than I have been in 9-5 days, but set me on a path from which I’ve never truly stopped.
What would you consider to be your greatest strength as a writer? What about your greatest weakness? How do you overcome this weakness?
I think I have two big strengths: a love for writing a good action scene and a willingness to continue to learn new things about my craft. I love working out action scenes work and putting them into action. On the second point, I like the ‘research’ elements of reading in multiple genres, watching films and listening to songs and finding inspiration in these things. Sometimes it is a simple, “how would/should I approach this?” and other times just an appreciation of how wonderful a scene/character is to me.
Weakness? As usual, these things tie into strengths nicely. I can struggle for focus in slower scenes which are nonetheless essential either for exposition or another story purpose. You know the bits where things aren’t really happening but a conversation, flashback or even a painting which happens to be important to the tale can just feel like a grind at times. I handle it the same way as I do any other scene though, try and bring myself into the atmosphere a little with music or other ambience (within reason). Or, you know, I just double up on writing session snacks.
Tell us about the place where you live. Have you ever derived any inspiration from your home or from anywhere you have visited?
I currently reside in Manchester, but was born in Croydon, much further south in England. My home town has definitely had a part in my work before—specifically, a pub I grew up passing just about every day called The Half Moon. It closed down years ago but that actually kind of made it all the more useful for a fictional urban fantasy section. It was as it was rather than as I remembered it, having been way too young to go into it when it actually existed! There’s another venue before my time, a much more famous one, that I will be incorporating into my WIP, but its exact geography is almost a point in itself…
As for Manchester, well, it’s where Kara, an ever-present in the Grenshall Manor Chronicles so far, hails from. It’s another I’m hoping to delve into a little further in the next work.
Which book, if any, would you consider to be your greatest influence and inspiration?
This is what I like to call an evolving question. It’s amazing how I’ll change my answer to this from one week to the next, or depending upon where I am, who I’m talking to and/or what about. Because this is Vampire week, and because it comes up a lot, I’m going to choose Bram Stoker’s Dracula here. Just how much has been spawned from this one book? I find it incredible, and very inspiring.
What drove you to write about Vampires?
I’m kind of cheating here, in that I haven’t officially released a vampire novel as such. I have a scruffy manuscript at home on an idea I really want to come back to and develop one day, but I’m not ready to make it what I want to yet. It has very much been a spin-off tale from the Dracula universe though, I can tell you that much.
That said, certain aspects of the vampire novel live in certain Grenshall Manor Chronicles characters, in particular Lady Mary Grenshall and Aurelia Raine. They are very opposite sides of the coin in their inspiration though, with Raine’s main traits very firmly entrenched in the predatory aspects that only an adversary with her resources can. Wealth, status and access to raw supernatural power make her a foe to be reckoned with in Oblivion Storm.
Mary’s own power is as much a curse as a blessing, which I very much equate to the vampire’s necessity for blood to survive. It doesn’t work quite like that, and she won’t be biting necks any time soon, but in Oblivion Storm and Primal Storm, the reader will see her struggling with the significant price her powers come with. You’ll notice that if she cuts loose with everything she has, she is utterly formidable, but every power has a consequence. She can gain inhuman strength, but has to drain another mortal’s life energies by touch to do it [editor note: This is actually a good definition of a vampire – gaining power from the lifeforce of others]. She can extract memories from others by the same means, but she can’t just ditch them once she has them. If she really wants to, she is capable of raising the dead. BUT.
What do you think is the attraction for Vampire fiction? Why is it such a popular topic?
I find vampire fiction tends to gain popularity in cycles. It is often easy to equate to current social trends, to which I must point you at one of the greatest Cracked.com articles ever written in my opinion [link here: http://www.cracked.com/article_19402_6-mind-blowing-ways-zombies-vampires-explain-america.html ]
Also, since we decided there is a genre for just about everything going from A-Z, it’s a measure of the strength of bloodsuckers in our culture (allegorical or no) that they can be found under several headings. Gothic? We were there from day one, man. Urban Fantasy? Pretty much a staple along with their hairier counterparts (and often foes). Horror? You betcha! Comedy? Sometimes. Children’s stories? Plenty. The rules may change, but the game remains the same.
In a fight between all the greatest Vampires of fiction, who do you think would come out on top?
Despite Anne Rice’s Lestat being an epic-level vampire, I’m going to continue being a terrible Stoker fanboy and going for Dracula again. However I have the firmest possible reasoning. Count (pun intended) the number of times that Drac has been destroyed that you can recall. Now see how often he stays dead. Even BUFFY couldn’t keep him slayed! Should tell you everything!
What about in some other contest such as sexiness or dress sense? Who would win that one?
Pam from True Blood. One of my favourite characters anywhere, let alone one of my favourite vampires. Her wit is sharper than any vampire’s dress sense, and those bloodsuckers are dapper as hell.
How well do you think one of your characters would fare against the winner(s) of the above?
I doubt most vampires would want to go anywhere near any of the self-labelled New Musketeers. However, if I had to pick a champion, Lady Mary Grenshall is any vampire’s worst nightmare. She’s poor nourishment for them for a start, and can guarantee any one of them a bad night just by turning up.
Tell us the basic premise behind your latest novel.
My latest released novel is Primal Storm. It follows a year on from Oblivion Storm and shifts the focus from high-octane adventures with the undead to an action adventure in the living world—and beyond. Jennifer Winter, one of Mary’s new friends from book one, steps up to her own tale and we start with her attempting to get herself fighting fit almost a year after sustaining grievous injuries at the hands of one of the main villains there (note I am working hard to avoid spoilers to those who haven’t read Oblivion Storm). Though Jennifer, being way beyond normal human physical capability, needs to push herself a little harder. She takes up parkour and runs around London, straight into a daring robbery attempt upon the British Museum! What initially appears high-tech turns out to be something else entirely, and her interference sets her on a path which delves into her own origins, some of which she doesn’t know herself! Jennifer must endure a harsh voyage of self-discovery in an entirely new world before she and her friends can face their new enemy. Discover the prophecy of the Face of War and who or what is truly behind the robberies right here!
Russell is a displaced Londoner, now living in Manchester, and is writing in the hope of funding his car addiction. He lives with his girlfriend, two kittens, a small army of bears and two larger armies of miniatures.
An avid gamer, he is happy mashing buttons on a Playstation pad but happier mashing his mates in a field at weekends or slaying demons with dice, a pencil and paper.
He has held an eclectic collection of jobs, including editing a student magazine, several stints as a Tudor soldier and a mission in Moscow. He still does hold a Masters in Creative Writing, which he took to force himself to finish at least one novel. The plan worked better than expected.