10 questions: Alys Earl, author of Time's Fool

Today's fellow Unbound-signed author is Alys Earl. No shilly-shallying today, it's straight on with the interview:

AK author pic.jpg

1. Who are you and what’s your book about?

I am Alys Earl, and my book – Time’s Fool - is about what happens when the supernatural invades the normal, or, perhaps, when we’re so hungry for something different that we invite those things into our lives.

More specifically, it’s about Steven and Sophia - two young people who experience a coming of age when they befriend a mysterious stranger, and about a monster who still remembers what it was like to be a man. It’s about what happens when those two storylines cross.

2. Why should folk read your book?

Because, as well as being a dark, gripping horror novel, it also captures that moment in early adulthood where the future is entirely uncertain, when you are still carrying all the dreams of childhood, but are suddenly aware the world is a much larger and more uncaring place than you’ve ever realised.

3. What’s the appeal of your book?  

It’s a love-song to the Gothic – but it is not an uncritical one. Time’s Fool has all the concerns, themes, and atmosphere the Victorian supernatural fiction, but it questions the place of those things in the modern – and postmodern - world. Plus, it’s spooky and a bit sexy, and that’s always fun.

4. Sounds great! Where/when can I get hold of a copy? 

Currently, it’s fully funded and in editorial development with Unbound – which means you can still pre-order it, and be listed as a supporter, on their website www.unbound.com/books/times-fool. However, it will be available to buy online and in bookshops in the autumn.

5. Describe a typical writing day, or at least a typical day with some writing in it:

I wish I could make this sound exciting and glamorous! Basically, I get the kids to school, tidy up downstairs, make a cup of tea and then shut myself in the box room to tap out words or do admin until it’s time to pick them up again. I tend to sort out all the plot problems on that second walk, and then can’t work on them at least until my partner gets home, or the sprogs are in bed. That’s the ideal conditions – though I’ve been known to write literally anywhere and on anything I’ve got to hand.

Some days I write a lot - others I just stare at the screen for hours on end wondering why I chose to do this to myself, but either way, I still prefer it to the admin.

Back before I was a parent, I used to write in the evenings with a glass of wine or whisky, or pull an all-nighter if I got into the zone. I miss that sometimes.

6. Pick one book about writing. What it is and why have you chosen it?

This is going to sound terrible, but I don’t read books about writing. I’ve always been of the opinion that for every opinion about it, there is an equal and opposite opinion that has just as much in its favour. Besides that, I am really argumentative and hate being told what to do, so I used to get very frustrated, and it was just better for everyone that I stopped. What I do like, though, is writing which deals with creation thematically – so I’m going to go with Baudolino by Umberto Eco, which is an absolutely wonderful book about the power of lies.

7. Pick three books that have influenced or inspired you as a writer:

I don’t think any book has ever had so profound an effect on me as Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber – it’s justly famous, so I probably don’t need to go too deeply in to why, but it simply showed me what could be done language, by story, just by everything. It’s an entirely perfect collection of short stories.

On a similar note, I read Poppy Z Brite’s Lost Souls at exactly the right age, and it was like a punch to the face, to be honest. I don’t think I’ve ever read another book – besides those two – that have actually taken my breath away. I just sat there, staring at the page thinking, “Is fiction allowed to do this?” So, the Carter was possibility, but Brite was permission.

And, finally, going a bit further back, Robin Jarvis’ The Wyrd Museum series – especially the final book, The Fatal Strand was really what set me on this path. I already wanted to be a writer, I have done since forever, but I wanted to do it like that. I wanted to give people the kind of nightmares that gave me – I wanted to make that rich, glowing sense of magic and dread that pervades his work. I still read the series periodically, and it still has that power over me.

8. Pick three desert island books - works you couldn’t live without:

Nooo! My idea of hell is not having many, many books available at all times! But the ones I couldn’t live without?

Little, Big by John Crowley – people don’t seem to know this one so well as they should do, and it’s really hard to do justice with words. Part myth cycle, part generational family saga, part apocalyptic novel, almost part philosophical mediation, it is a book I could go back to endlessly and never tire of. It tells of the interactions between the Faerie Court and the descendants of a visionary architect, in New York State over the course of the twentieth century and if that sounds really bizarre, then you’re partway to understanding how strange and wonderful this book is. Plus, Crowley’s prose is gorgeous, which is always a plus.

A much more recent one is A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers. This one goes right to the heart – AI and genofixing in an imperfect galaxy, a novel about rights, identity, family, and home. I don’t think another book has ever moved me so much.

Then, American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Everyone knows about that now so I don’t need to tell you why it’s so brilliant, but it’s still my favourite book.

9. Any words of writing wisdom?

I nicked this from Jane Casey, because she said it to me. Stop apologising for your work.

10. Let’s make a movie of your book. Give me the high-concept pitch:

M R James for the student loans generation – what happens when you leave it to the Arts and Humanities students to face the vampires.

Social media contacts:

@alysdragon on Twitter and AlysEarl1 on Facebook

Unbound URL: unbound.com/books/times-fool/

Previous publications:

Scars on Sound – a collection of illustrated ghost stories with a folk horror theme. Available here


Huge thanks to Alys for playing along. Anyone who recommends Eco's Baudolino is alright by me. Hopefully, you find Time's Fool intriguing, and you'll get yourself a copy. The book can be pre-ordered here.   


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10 questions: Paul Holbrook, author of Domini Mortum

As noted in other posts in this series, these questionnaire-style interviews have come about as part of being interested in how others going through the same process - crowdfunding a novel - approach their writing. Today's guest is Paul Holbrook, author of Domini Mortum, so without any further ado (barring the now-statutory link to my own book East of England) here's Paul:


1. Who are you and what’s your book about?

I’m Paul Holbrook, I write things that fall out of my very confused mind.

Domini Mortum is a supernatural murder mystery set in Late Victorian London. It tells the story of Samuel Weaver, an illustrator and writer for the Illustrated Police News, who helps the police with their investigations into a series of ‘orrible murders.

2. Why should folk read your book? 

It’s riveting, entertaining and just the right side of creepy. Imagine Ripper Street but with ghosts and evil cults, or Sherlock Holmes versus the devil. It will satisfy the desires of anyone who enjoys a ripping yarn!

3. What’s the appeal of your book?

The book will appeal to all those who love a twisty turny mystery, with generous dollops of grisly murder, lashings of spooky thrills, and more Victorian grime than you can shake a stick at. When I wrote the book, my first aim was to create a novelised version of one of these great Hammer/Amicus/Tigon movies, the type with Peter Cushing fighting the forces of evil, or Oliver Reed growling menacingly as he commits a murder, or even Ian Ogilvy looking dashing in his pre-Saint years. Anyone who is a fan of that great age of British horror movie will see a lot of what they love in the book.     

 4. Sounds great! Where/when can I get hold of a copy?

It is due to come out in the late summer, most likely September, and will then be available in all of the best book shops. There is even still time to get your name included in the book in the list of supporters. Imagine that, your very own name in a book!  


5. Describe a typical writing day, or at least a typical day with some writing in it: 

A typical writing day for me always starts first thing in the morning, I like to treat it the same as a work day and be punctual and ready to go by about 8.30 or 9. I’ve found that this is the only way that I can get a satisfactory amount done in a day is if I throw myself into it early on.  Otherwise, a myriad of distractions seem to appear and before I know it the day is over and very little have been written.

I am very strict; all social media off, mobile phone in another room and forgotten about, and family know that it’s writing time and not to disturb the grouch.

I always set myself a target for the day, be it to complete a chapter, write two or three scenes, or just a word count (usually between 2 and 3 thousand words).

I write because I enjoy it though, although I have a strict structure to my day, the moment it begins to feel like work I am quite happy to just say ‘sod it’ for the day. There’s no point grinding out words that there’s no enthusiasm behind. That only makes bad words.

6. Pick one book about writing. What it is and why have you chosen it?  

For me there is only one book: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. It’s not just because it’s Stephen King who I read an awful lot of when I was in my teens and early twenties. This book is like my rulebook on how to write stuff that’s actually worthy of reading. It’s part autobiography, telling about his childhood and how he developed a love of writing, but then the second half is more like an instruction manual for writing great fiction.

I didn’t read it until I’d been writing for a few years, and it was a revelation to me. Part of this was because some of the things he recommended to do I was doing already (which made me feel quite smug) but then there were other parts that suddenly made the process of writing so much easier, especially when it came to the progression from first draft to second draft. I cannot recommend it enough.

7. Pick three books that have influenced or inspired you as a writer: 

Selected Tales – Edgar Allan Poe

A demonstration of how it is possible to delve into the recesses and dark places of the mind and create a new art form.  Poe is the perfect kind of crazy genius that I aspire to.

The Devil Rides Out – Dennis Wheatley

I discovered this book when I was very young, maybe eleven or twelve. (Bizarrely, I think my Nan had a copy.) I read it, was very confused and was not sure if I liked it that much, and put it back on the shelf and forgot about it. I found myself haunted though by images and scenes from the book though, sometimes in dreams sometimes in the sudden absence-like daydreams which I still suffer from today when suddenly filled with an idea for a story or a scene. I didn’t connect the two until I read the book when I was older, and also saw the fantastic movie adaptation, which remains one of my favourites.

That for me is something to aspire to – weaving images and pictures through words that stick with the reader and become part of their unconscious (some would call it hypnosis, I just call it clever writing)

Conversations with Spirits – EO Higgins

I never really began writing until around nine years ago, I always thought about it but never did anything. And then by chance I saw a tweet from Stephen Fry with a link to a new writing website called Jottify. It was basically a place where writers could upload their stuff for other writers to critique and enjoy, enthuse and encourage. In a fit of madness, I joined and began putting up some of my poetry. Then slowly I moved onto trying to write a short story or two.  I met a lot of great writers on the Jottify site (sadly it is no more) writers who became and still are very dear friends. The daddy of the site though was an EO Higgins, where my little stories were getting one hundred or one hundred and fifty views, his opus, Conversations with Spirits, published chapter by chapter had views in their thousands. I think by the time the Jottify site died it had had sixty-seven thousand views. It was picked up by Unbound and became one of their first published books.

I love everything about the book, the characters, the storyline, just the feel of the thing.  When I finally decided to have a go at a novel Conversations with Spirits was the benchmark I aspired to, and still is in whatever I write.

8. Pick three desert island books - works you couldn’t live without:  

Legend – David Gemmell

My dad bought me this book when I was fourteen and I immediately became lost in it. I think I may have read it twenty or thirty times now, it is part of me. It’s a fantasy novel about a huge invading army of barbarians and a small outnumbered group of men who defend the entrance to their country, literally until only a handful remain. Kind of like the Alamo but with axes and swords rather than guns. Gemmell wrote it while waiting to find out if he had cancer or not.  Luckily for him, he didn’t and he went on to write lots more books until his early death in 2006. I have all of them although none is more loved by me than his first.

It’s not the best-written book on my overladen shelf, but it is the one most dear to me.  The thought of not being able to pick it up and read it is not one I would like to dwell on.

Weaveworld – Clive Barker

Why this book hasn’t been given more attention since its publication I have no idea. It is a brilliantly told tale of fantasy mixed in with reality. A whole race of people being hunted to extinction are hidden by weaving them into a magical carpet. It sounds a bit bonkers, and it probably is but somehow it works.

I don’t know why it has never been made into a film or television series, although there is always the risk of ruining it by committing it to film. I also have a graphic novel version, which is very well done too.

Swan Song – Robert R McCammon

Another one that I have read countless times over and over. It’s basically an apocalypse story; the world has been destroyed by nuclear missiles and the survivors try to erm… survive.  But is is really well written. Each chapter is short, contains one major addition to the storyline and ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.  It was released at the same time as Stephen King’s The Stand which was unfortunate as King got all the plaudits. To me though, Swan Song is a much better book. Characterisation, plot twists, parallel narratives, it has it all.

9. Any words of writing wisdom? 

Only a couple. Be brave when your’e writing. The words are there, within that turnip of yours, and they will do no good until they come out. Be brave enough to commit them to reality, even if you then discard them as rubbish. The amount of brilliant ideas that I have lost over the years from not being brave enough or giving the time to write them down is tragic.

Be brutal, with your editing.  It can save you a lot of heartache when the time comes to show it to someone else. I have a thick skin, and can take criticism when given in the right way.  Sometimes though I have had advice from those who know better to really be brutal with cutting stuff that’s unwanted or unnecessary. It’s easy to become too involved and attached to your work, sometimes an outside view does really know best. Be willing to make those cuts.

10. Let’s make a movie of your book. Give me the high-concept pitch: 

OK (said in deep rumbly trailer guy voice)

In a world where violent murder happens every day, only one man, Samuel Weaver(Tom Hardy/Tom Holland – any of the Toms) is brave enough to search out the truth.

He must face an unearthly killer with supernatural powers, an evil cult led by a man who seems to be above the law, and the horror of his own brutal and shadowy past.

WATCH, as he meets the mysterious and drunken Edward Higgins (Benedict Cumberbatch/Johnny Depp/Robert Downey Jr)

SIGH, as he falls in love with the beautiful but doomed Alice (Emma Watson, or Emma Stone – any of the Emmas)

SCREAM IN TERROR, as he faces terrible demons, from the depths of hell, and from his own twisted mind.

Domini Mortum – Sometimes the darkest evil is within.

Social media contacts: 

Twitter @cpholbrook

Unbound URL:  www.unbound.co.uk/books/domini-mortum 

Previous publications:  

Memento Mori - a type of prequel to Domini Mortum.  Available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Memento-Mori-Paul-Holbrook/dp/1530722675/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1530440555&sr=8-6&keywords=Memento+mori

Big thanks to Paul for his time. As he says, the book is coming soon, so keep an eye out for it!


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