- How we learn the writing craft.
- Starting a publishing company and building a writing business.
- Writing tools and self-publishing.
I believe you learn the craft mostly through osmosis. You have to submerge yourself in the best writing and then let that accumulated knowledge pour out when it’s ready.
Welcome to the eighth episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft.
In this episode, I chat with fantasy and weird fiction writer Paul Huxley about developing the craft and how he started his own publishing company.
Arthur: You mentioned to me that you’re a part time writer, and your other job is looking after your kids. Are you a stay at home Dad? How do you find time to write being a full-time Dad? During naps? Late at night? Early in the morning?
Paul: I do have at least a couple of days a week to myself, those are often taken up with writing commissioned work. That is to say things I’m paid to write whether that be screenplays, ghostwritten novels or simply editing other people’s work. I do try to squeeze in some time to work on my own stuff. Recently I’ve taken to writing on my phone on the fly, which has lead me to produce a lot more short fiction.
Arthur: Do you have a daily word count you try to achieve? How do you manage your writing schedule?
Paul: I tend to schedule procrastination into my day. If it’s inevitable there’s no point denying it. So the mornings will be reading articles or Twitter and then finally when that’s out of my system I put my head down and keep writing until it’s time to stop. I like to have at least 2k words done a day, though that can go higher if I’m in the ‘zone’.
Arthur: How did you start writing? How did you grow into it and learn the craft?
Paul: I was a reader from an early age but when I moved with my parents to France I was suddenly starved of my native language. This didn’t last long as I soon discovered an English language library and devoured absolutely everything they had. Mostly Stephen King, but Orwell and H.G. Wells too. I believe you learn the craft mostly through osmosis. You have to submerge yourself in the best writing and then let that accumulated knowledge pour out when it’s ready. I studied film rather than literature and found that to be a good learning ground for structure and imagery, then later applied those films techniques to my fiction.
I have a very rigid and rationalist perspective of the world we live in, so inventing something as absurd or incongruous as “the block” satiates my need for – let’s risk sounding pretentious – the Divine.
Arthur: What inspires you to write weird fiction, such as your short story, “BLOCK?”
Paul: I’ve always wanted to write a more traditional novel–and I have, as a ghostwriter–but when it’s my stuff it comes out all weird. I think it stems from wanting to see things I’ve never been shown before. Another thing that occurred to me recently was that I have a very rigid and rationalist perspective of the world we live in, so inventing something as absurd, or incongruous, as ‘the block’, satiates my need for–let’s risk sounding pretentious–the Divine.
From a more literary perspective I think I’ve always been trying to match Clive Barker’s unparalleled short story collection ‘The Books of Blood’. The man has a way with the strange.
Arthur: It’s been said by many writers that to write well, one must also read. Do you agree with this statement? What books and authors do you enjoy reading?
Paul: I’ve come to accept that I have a penchant for genre fiction. I’ve tried reading more literary work and even non-fiction, but I always come back to horror, sci-fi and fantasy. Of course the scope within that is huge so my intake is still quite varied. Dan Simmons’ work is exceptional from the space opera of Hyperion to his arctic adventure The Terror. Iain M Banks too, and his Culture novels, are a masterclass. Cormac MacCarthy is an inspiration, especially Blood Meridian which revealed to me that anything was possible with words. Recently I’ve been making my way through NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy which is game changing.
Arthur: In “BLOCK,” the scene with the doctor and the needle (I won’t give away any more details) really got to me. Some horror writers hope to make their readers uncomfortable as part of the reading experience. If this was your goal here, it was accomplished. What inspired you to write this scene, and others that may be similar? What kind of experience are you hoping to create for your readers?
Paul: I am super squeamish. I can’t watch any medical shows, I faint at the sight or even the thought of a needle. So that part you’re referring to is there to revolt myself more than anything. In a story with so much fantastical and exaggerated horror going on I wanted a moment of what I feel is truly horrific. Even as I write this it’s making me squirm. I rarely go into a story aiming to scare or to horrify, rather it’s to thrill with something extraordinary and novel, which can often be scary or horrifying.
I rarely go into a story aiming to scare or horrify, rather it’s to thrill with something extraordinary and novel, which can often be scary or horrifying.
Arthur: You’re located in the United Kingdom. What are the popular genres there for books and movies? Do you have a target audience for your writing?
Paul: To be honest I’m more in tune with the American market. My clients are often from the US, but you certainly see trends being mirrored globally. I’ve written cozy-mysteries which has its origin in the UK but is huge Stateside. One particular genre that is culturally unique to Britain is the Football Hooligan genre, think “Green Street” with Elijah Wood. There’s a certain audience that laps up anything to do with rival ‘Firms’ fighting each other after a match. It’s closely associated with Gangster fiction and is utterly incomprehensible to me.
Arthur: Do you write with pen and paper, or on the computer?
Paul: My handwriting is atrocious, though I do have several notepads in longhand full of ideas that I’ll one day act upon. When I’m writing properly I always type. I find the ability to revise on the fly is essential and frees me to make mistakes and to experiment. One of the BLOCK stories is from the perspective of someone dying and I typed that very fast so lots of mistakes were left in intentionally to represent his fading consciousness. I don’t think I could have done that with a pen.
Arthur: Is Twin Monocle your own publishing company? Based on one of your blog posts, you started it because the stories you wanted to publish were a bit too strange for the general public. Has “blank tapes” been successful? What is your vision for volume two?
Paul : I’ve been involved with self-publishing for so long without releasing something myself that it seemed the right time to go ahead and do it. I knew that some of what I like to write was a tough sell, so to give it extra legitimacy I came up with Twin Monocle. The ‘blank tapes’ anthology series was part of that thinking, almost an attempt to make a genre of super-strange fiction aligned with slipstream and ‘weird’ fiction.
Volume 1 was a learning curve for me, from a logistical and technical perspective. So going into the second collection I had a lot better idea of what was needed. I’ve had such a great response from contributors that it’s double the size of the original. I might even have enough for a third volume.
The first sold more than I thought it might, but it’s the second one I have high hopes for, however it’s all about building up the brand at the moment.
I find the ability to revise on the fly is essential and frees me to make mistakes and to experiment.
Arthur: Does Twin Monocle have any other upcoming projects besides Volume Two of “blank tapes?”
Paul: Making an anthology is such a time sink that everything else is on hold. Had I known in advance I might not have started the project, but it’s been so much fun so maybe I’ll go one more round then let it lay fallow for a while. That’ll give me time to work on a novel based on the ‘perseverance’ section of the BLOCK triptych, or even my epic fantasy book I’ve been planning for far too long.
Arthur: Since you have your own publishing company, do you monitor trends in the industry, such as declining book sales and increasing podcast and audiobook sales? Does Twin Monocle intend to publish any stories in audiobook format?
Paul: I absolutely want to do audiobook! It’s the main way I consume literature nowadays. I’ve been practicing my reading voice and my accents. This is where having two kids helps. Bedtime stories are an excellent training ground for audiobook performance.
The one trend I’ve picked up on, and this is reflected in sales of ‘blank tapes’, is that the demand for printed editions is still high in relation to e-books. I’m not sure how actionable this is but it’s something to bear in mind.
Arthur: Do you have a vision of what you hope Twin Monocle to be in the publishing industry?
Paul: It’ll be the place where I launch projects I don’t think other outlets will latch on to. Somethings I write, such as a YA scifi adventure I have chomping at the bit, will go through traditional publishers, but for everything else I’d like to maintain control. Additionally I’d like it to be a place for other authors to give legitimacy to their wild and weird projects. There’s definitely a niche out there I’m keen to be the authority in.
This is where having two kids helps. Bedtime stories are an excellent training ground for audiobook performance. ”
Arthur: Within “weird fiction,” do you think the stories revolve more around strange things happening versus character development? Or can there still be character-driven stories within the weird fiction genre?
Paul: Weird fiction has solid roots in two wildly different writers, Lovecraft and Kafka (with a special mention to Burroughs and Ballard). Arguably both worked better in short form and that holds up with modern big names in the genre. While there’s certainly room for character driven stories when dealing with the weird, given the room afforded by a few thousand words that’s not always possible. That said a lot of what’s strange in these stories is often an externalization of the main character’s internal struggle. You don’t need to look any further than Kafka’s Metamorphosis for this.
I’m certainly working on long form weird fiction but we’ll have to see how that pans out.
I’d like it to be a place for other authors to give legitimacy to their wild and weird projects. There’s definitely a niche out there I’m keen to be the authority in.
Arthur: Thank you so much, Paul, for sharing your wisdom with us. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Twin Monocle and am looking forward to more weird fiction from you.
Next week, I chat with Bryan Aiello about his writing process and how he has such a high output between his blog, short stories and running two podcasts.