The Stars of Speculative Fiction series – Tammy Moore
So Tammy, 2008 has ended being rather a big year for you and although we both know that I know everything you have done/are doing/will do, it might be nice for the masses reading this *checks to see his faithful five readers are online* to know what’s going on.
1. So what is going on Tammy, what’s the plan?
Plans are the weak! I subscribe to the Theory of Chaos Administration, a system based on the use of piles of things, scraps of paper with important things written on them and the occasional cat. (The cats are vital. Do not, repeat NOT, attempt Chaos Administration without at least one cat.) Actually, 2008 has been an extremely full year for me. First and foremost, the absolutely wonderful Morrigan Books decided to publish my novel The Even, which will be launched with all due fanfare at Fantasy Con in September (19th). I’m also working on a sequel, Shadows Bloom. I also have a short stories in the upcoming anthologies Age of Blood & Snow and Scenes from the Second Storey. I also write some non-fiction articles for local literary magazines and have been writing reviews for the SF Site, Green Man Review and Verbal Magazine. I’ll be attending Me-Con in Belfast at the end of this month and, as mentioned, going to Fantasy Con in September.
In non-writing news, I’ve stopped biting my nails and finally got the seatbelt in my car repaired so it doesn’t smear black oil on you every time you drive somewhere. Trust me, not getting covered with oil makes for a better start to any day.
*nods* The black oil, that was from the seatbelt right?
2. This ‘The Even’, then. What’s it all about? Any good?
The Even is a city built in a crack between worlds, where creatures that no longer have a place in the world, or never did, dwell. Gods, demons, spirits and even men – all they have in common is that they have nowhere else to go. Yet for some, ancients wearied with immortality and jaded by existence, nowhere is a better place than The Even. They want to die and they’ll take the whole world with them if that is that what they have to do. Only Lenith stands between them and success, and she’s the most jaded of them all.
As for whether it’s any good. It really is. I had so much fun writing it, building the internal mythology of the city, blending the mythologies together and working out what a city populated by faded gods and demons would be like. Hopefully people will enjoy reading it just as much. It feels awful immodest to toot my own horn (I’m Northern Irish, it goes against the grain to talk myself up.) but I think they will. It’s a great story, it’s well-written and I love the world.
(Although, strangely enough, when I sat down to write I was planning to write a children’s story. Fortunately, I don’t have an appropriate for children mind and we got the Even instead.)
Glad to hear the children’s book idea fell apart – although dark fiction for kids… *ponders*
3. Now as we both know very well, you have awful taste in music. Do you dare to involve that in any part of your writing or are you wise enough to keep them separate?
Yes I do and no I don’t. I actually did have a playlist for The Even, although I can’t find it right now. I do know it included songs from Poe, the Dresden Dolls, Gogol Bordello (It’s a gypsy punk band, how can you NOT love that? They sound like a stoned Shane McGowan at an Eastern European wedding.) and H.I.M. as well as Nightmare Girl by Aimee Man, Invincible by OK Go and Holy Fool from the Boondock Saints soundtrack and the original Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen.
I was getting ready to change my mind about you when seeing Aimee in there but then you went and mentioned Hallelujah. You know I had a fight once with Elizabeth Bear about how the Buckley cover is so so much better… just so you know.
Nightmare Girl is the only Aimee Mann song I actually listen to. And I actually have a collection of about twenty Hallelujah covers somewhere. It’s amazing how much the wording varies.
4. Who got you started writing, who was/is your inspiration?
I’ve honestly been writing for as long as I can remember. When I was in P.1 I wrote a story about a small child going to look for Santa and finding Merlin instead. (If I recall correctly he gave her (holy self-inserts, Batman!) a big present that turned out to be Excalibur when she unwrapped it on Christmas Day.) I never actually thought that I could be a writer – English teachers are dream killers – until a few years ago. I was part of an online RPG with a bunch of friends that had slowly evolved into a collaborative world. It give me the confidence to do a couple of OCA courses in Creative Writing and then go onto Queens to do my MA. All of which has led to kudos being rained on my head (at the current exchange rate 10000 kudos equals 20p) and The Even getting published.
As for inspiration: Joan Aiken and Alan Garner.
I loved Joan Aiken’s short story collections; I liked her novels too but it’s her short stories that have stuck with me. There was a dark fairytale aesthetic to them that mingled the most vividly bizarre events with an often prosaic approach to what was happening from her characters. They were lush, indulgently strange and, for a kid, really creepy.
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and the Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner were also influential. I adored those books. If there was nothing new in the library those were the books I’d get out to reread. They had genuine danger and suspense, mythology and the Morrigan.
Ok, I should probably have picked someone slightly more current – Neil Gaiman, Scott Lynch! – but it’s the essence of those books by Joan Aiken and Alan Garner that stuck with me all these years.
Plus, Joan Aiken really did have one admirably twisty mind on her.
*nods* I was brought up on Garner too!
5. You’re an up and coming writer, just getting going in the world of speculative fiction. What advice do you have for writers starting out?
For the…ahem…upcoming competition? *rubs hands together and cackles* Seriously, though, don’t give up. In my experience, most people who get to the point of actually writing a book have at least some talent and passion for the craft. Writing is hard work, whether some people believe it or not: it can be frustrating, it takes large chunks of time from your life and as far as monetary rewards go, you’re lucky if you’re able to make a modest living out of it. Few people with no talent are going to stick with writing through all that – some will, but not that many. So if you talent and passion, then you just need to keep trying. Go to classes, talk to people, read books – as many books as you can and always keep writing. If you finish one story, send it out and start another; if you write a novel, set it aside for a while and work on something else till you are ready to edit. When the rejections come in consider what they say and then came on going. Writing is like anything else, practice will help hone your natural talent.
Oh, and have a hide like a weather-beaten rhino, because those rejections I mentioned? You will get them. Seamus Heaney got them, Neil Gaiman probably got them. I certainly did. One of my first rejections from an agent told me to keep trying and perhaps I’d find a place with lower standards. Now, I admit that stung and I did rip it up…and then shred the pieces and then use them to line a bird cage…but I picked myself up and kept going.
Like a weeble. They wobble but they don’t fall down.
I think Iain Banks got rejected over 30 times with The Wasp Factory, voted in The Guardian as one of the 100 best novels ever written (and it is fantastic)!
6. What do you do when you’re not writing?
It’s such a swizz to say read isn’t it? Oddly enough though, reading and writing aren’t *that* linked in my head. It’s also a great way to smooth over the transition between writing and not-writing – which otherwise results in me wandering around in a vague daze while my brain refuses to stop worrying over the plot. I like photography too, although I’m anything but a professional at it! My digital camera is usually with me in my bag and I’ve been known to abandon all dignity at times and roam around a bit of ‘interesting looking’ debris trying to get a good shot. (I have a long standing desire to break into a derelict, burnt out school to get some good shots of the charred rafters and sad, smoke-stained murals but the combination of a canal on one side, a busy road out front and some bloke’s house on the other side have thwarted me.)
I’ve also been gardening lately. This isn’t that normal for me, I think that God invented the inside for a reason and who am I to argue with him?, but the combination of summer and the fact my garden is shrinking convinced me to get out the post hole cutter…well, to buy one after ten minutes of trying to mime what it is to a dead-eyed teenager in a B&Q shirt…and get digging. Which led to the discovery of a wasp nest in the bottom of my garden. (Discovery. It sounds so much dignified than ‘Arrrggggahhhh, WASPS! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!) So I spent a week steeling myself to, you know, kill them. Poisoning, apparently is the way to go. I did consider burning them out, I have one of those tiny flame throwers you can get from Lidl, but I decided that wasps were bad enough without them being flaming death wasps. So now there’s a wasp graveyard at the bottom of my garden, which creeps me out. I’m just waiting for the day when the cat’s habit of slaughtering shrews and leaving their heads in little piles about the garden calls up some dread force from beyond to revive the wasps as a zombie army.
Or a wasp factory…
7. You’re a star of speculative fiction. What the hell is speculative fiction?
I thought you knew! Stop recording and find me the producer.
I tend to use the term Speculative Fiction in two ways. One is an umbrella term for any fiction that speculates on how things would be if the world was not this way: horror, science-fiction, fantasy, alternate reality, magic realism and so on. It’s fiction that asks ‘What if the world was different’. I also tend, possibly quite randomly, to use it to describe any speculative fiction that can’t easily be further pigeon-holed within that category. Jennifer Fallon’s Second Sons trilogy for example – I’ll not give away the plot but although her books use the conventions of one sub-genre within speculative fiction they also draw heavily on others. (Although that’s just how I think of them. Other people don’t have to agree with me.)
Why don’t they have to agree with you, are you wrong? (Because I’m not sure how Jennifer Fallon would categorise her own work, and it seems rude to declaim about it:D)
8. You ever thought about becoming an editor at any point?
I actually was the editor of a magazine for two issues – the CWN magazine. There’s a few pages from it on my website www.nevertobetold.com. (pimp!) I enjoyed it: commissioning articles, publishing what I think is important and interviewing people. Doing the design was fun too, although I hated doing that final sign-off on the proofs before they went to the printer.
I think I have some of the skills that would make a good editor – I’m better at catching other people’s mistakes than my own and I’ve worked as a critical mentor before – but I don’t think I’d want to do it full time. Editing is a difficult job and if you want to do it right, and you owe it to people you’ve made a commitment too to do it right, it would take too much time from writing for me. (I’m being very stern with myself lately about not taking on more things than my brain can cope with.)
*remembers to check website before asking another question*
9. I’m interested in the CWN, as I’ve read quite a few posts about it and Gerard Brennan also seems to be involved. What’s going on there?
Well, I don’t work at CWN anymore, but it’s the Creative Writers Network and it’s an absolutely marvellous resource for local (Northern Irish) writers. They’ve been going for about twelve years now and the last couple of years and have run Creative Writing Workshops throughout Northern Ireland. Over the last few years they’ve been working to help writers take that next step towards publication, with workshops on setting constituted writers groups so they could apply for funding, workshops on how to design and edit an anthology and bringing over writers like Chloe Poems and Richard Bausch to give talks. One of the more exciting programmes they run is the Professional Mentoring programme, in which an already published author works extensively with an aspiring writer on their manuscript. Last year they even had spots set aside specifically for genre mentoring. Some of the authors involved have been Paul Kearney, Ian McDonald, Sam Millar, Damian Gorman, Moyra Donaldson and Annie McCartney. Gerard Brennan was one of the mentees, working with Ian McDonald on a short story collection that I believe has generated some interest since. A more recent extension of the mentoring programme has been the Critical Feedback programme, which is a compact distance version of mentoring where writers can submit the first three chapters of their work for critical feedback from editors and published writers. The last time these programmes ran, mentoring was completely free of charge and there was a £25 administration fee for the critical feedback. Which is actually astonishingly cheap considering what you get for it.
They also run the annual Brian Moore Short Story Competition that is open to writers from all over the world, so keep an eye out for that.
Sounds exciting, lots of stuff going on there!
10. Last but not least Tammy, why are you working within the area of speculative fiction (whatever that is), was it a conscious decision?
I’d like to claim it was, but not really. I’ve just always read speculative fiction – I read Stormbringer when I was eight – and that’s just how my mind interprets ‘story’. I have written some stories that weren’t fantastical, but even they tended to veer towards the odd and disturbing. The quote on my website about how people always say ‘But you seem so nice!’ happens a lot. I think part of it is become I’m Irish/Northern Irish and, culturally, we do seem to have a bent towards the dark and disturbing. Not always fantastical but definitely tending towards the gooey end of the literary spectrum.
I think it’s being an island nation myself, we’re always that one step closer to incest and cannibalism than the rest of you lot. 😀
You know, thinking about it? The ‘nicest’ story I ever wrote was ‘Wit and Wisdom’ and that was about a woman having a minor breakdown in a pub loo.
Thank you Tammy and I would say good luck with The Even but that sounds a bit weird considering who your publisher is…
The Even is available for pre-order and Tammy will be signing copies at Fantasy Con, Britannia Hotel, Nottingham, 19th-21st September 2008.