Thursday 14 April 2011

Steve Mosby interview: Black Flowers

Black Flowers by Steve Mosby

Steve Mosby lives and works in Leeds. He is the author of THE THIRD PERSON, THE CUTTING CREW, THE 50/50 KILLER, CRY FOR HELP, STILL BLEEDING and BLACK FLOWERS, which is published today. You can find out more about Steve and his writing at: The Left Room.

Can you sum up BLACK FLOWERS in no more than 25 words?

A young writer investigating his father’s death discovers a book apparently based on a real life serial killer. Gory and thrilling metafiction ensues.

What was your motivation for writing it?

The same as always, I guess – something stuck in my head and I needed to do something with it. In the case of Black Flowers, it was the video for Peter Gabriel’s Digging In The Dirt, which I must have seen fifteen years ago. I love the song and the video, and one of the images – things growing in the shape of a body, presumably one that was underneath the soil – really stayed with me.

I loved the idea that a body might be buried somewhere and affect its surroundings in some way: that its presence might be felt. And of course, that actually is the case – as bodies deteriorate and rot away, they’re absorbed into the environment. But I liked the notion that a dead person, wrongfully dead, might almost send a message through their decay: that flowers might grow to form the word ‘help’, for instance. A physical version of haunting.

It took me a while to figure out what to do with that. But at some point I was thinking about violence in crime fiction, and the use of real crimes as a basis for stories, and the book started clicking into place. It became about how things can change and grow, and how an idea, transformed into fiction, might end up sending messages to people over the years that end up having serious repercussions.

How much difference does an editor make?

Every writer probably requires and welcomes editorial input to different degrees. For me, it’s essential. Every book I’ve delivered has benefited enormously from points and suggestions made to me by editors, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I first started out, I used to experience little twinges – I’d carry out changes slightly begrudgingly – but, these days, I know exactly how good I’m not, and editing feels like a vital part of the process. For one thing, I don’t pay nearly enough attention to being commercial or accessible; I just write what I’m interested in. For another, I’m usually so immersed in it by the end that I can’t see the wood for the trees. Someone with a fresh pair of eyes and a knowledge of the marketplace is essential.

So yeah: my books would have been very different – and considerably worse – without the advice of my editor and agent, and they’re always the first people I thank in the acknowledgements.

What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?

I’m sure there’s loads I’ve absorbed from books over the years – little pieces of technique, and so on. They’re all useful, but the most useful advice I’ve ever had is specific to me – sit your arse down and get on with it. Half the battle is turning up and putting one word down in front of another, day after day. When I’m working, I want 2000 words every day. I don’t really care how good they are at first – I just want to keep moving forward. And that’s basically what it comes down to. The advice is that you can always edit a page of absolute crap, but not an empty page.

What was the last good eBook you read?

I’m reading it at the moment: Deeper, by Jeff Long. He wrote a techno-thriller called The Descent, and it’s one of my favourite books. It’s about what happens when humanity discovers the real, archaelogical basis for Hell: countless miles of tunnels beneath the Earth’s surface, filled with the scattered remnants of our half-remembered ancestors. It’s a huge, elaborate novel – full of action, adventure, science, theology, genuine horror and – crucially – characters you really, really care about. I absolutely love it.

Deeper is the sequel. I didn’t even know it existed until a couple of months ago, and I’m devouring it now. It’s equally superb and I don’t want it to end.

How do you feel about anyone being able to publish?

Obviously, it’s always been possible. The difference now is that it’s easier and simpler to get the book into a big store like Amazon and – theoretically – find readers. It certainly feels like more of a viable route to take, now, as though the audience is closer.

And I feel cautiously positive about that. I mean, it’s always been a difficult industry, and we all know quality writers who have fallen by the wayside for no obvious reason. So I can certainly see how it could be in some people’s best interests – financially and artistically – to pursue the self-publishing route. Even before Kindle, I’d never personally attached any real stigma to it. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re writing then you’re a writer, and best of luck to you.

I do think, though, that you need to go into it with your eyes open. There’s a lot of rubbish talked that makes it seem like a golden ticket, as if the only existing barrier to your success has been removed. I also worry – purely as a reader – about the amount of shit that’s going to flood the online marketplace, the death of bookstores and libraries, and so on. As a reader, I’m pretty happy with the traditional model of publishing and the traditional gatekeepers.

And as a writer, I’m genuinely glad not to be starting out in this ‘gold-rush’ environment. I wrote seven books – close to a million words – before my first book was accepted, and if self-publishing had been so easy I’m sure I would have done it. Because I was a cocky little fucker. As with the question about editors, I didn’t realise just how brilliant I wasn’t. So I can’t tell you how relieved I am those books will never see the light of day. Rejection can be a good thing if you take it wisely.

What are your views on eBook pricing?

I follow the arguments, and understand the various frustrations on all sides. I mean, beyond a few nuances, pricing isn’t rocket science. A higher-priced eBook earns more per unit; a lower-priced eBook earns less per unit but is likely to shift more of them. Chart position roughly equates to visibility, and the more books you have available multiplies the effect. Beyond a massive helping of luck, I don’t think there’s a huge amount more to it, and I’d be wary of drawing any lessons at all from success stories.

It does feel weird to see people debating eBook pricing by, on the one hand, referencing this brave, digital new world – this revolution in publishing – and yet, at the same time, they’re clinging to difference in production costs as a way of evaluating price. I mean, the production costs of a best-selling eBook diminish to close to zero, so by that argument certain authors should now be refusing to charge anything at all – or readers should be refusing to pay. After a certain number of sales, any price for an eBook, big or small, is effectively arbitrary.

That’s why value is more interesting to me here than price. You’re not buying the delivery system; you’re buying what’s delivered through it – which is, as it always has been, a literary experience. So what are you willing to pay for that reading experience? In whatever coded form it comes to you, digital or hard copy, what is experiencing that story worth? Well, to me, it’s always going to be worth more than $0.99. It’s a matter of context. The experience of reading 1984 is always going to be worth more to me than eating a bar of chocolate, and more to me than the experience of drinking a cup of some generic branded coffee, and more to me than … and so on. Interesting times.

Which author should be much better known?

Oh, man. Too many to list. I know Ray Banks has a good reputation, but he should be way bigger than he is. I’m not really a massive fan of noir (sacrilege, I know), but his stuff is superb. Beautifully written – he’s a great prose stylist; it just sings along – clever, and totally uncompromising. And I do think John Rickards’s recent output as Sean Cregan deserved far more of an audience.

But I’d single out Simon Logan especially. We started out at the same time, both hanging around the old Terror Tales forums and arguing, politically, with the same people. I’ve still never met him in person, but it was obvious even ten years ago that in terms of writing he’s one of a kind. He’s basically invented his own style of fiction (not dissimilar to John’s books as Cregan, as it goes) and kept plugging away. I’ve always expected him to hit big at some point, and I’m glad to see him getting some of the attention he deserves now. I hope he explodes soon.

Well, you know.

Not literally…

Black Flowers by Steve Mosby

1 comment:

  1. Mosby is fantastic and I plan to check out Sean Cregan.