Saturday, 26 March 2016

An Interview with C.C. Hogan

Earlier this month I posted a Spotlight on Dirt by C.C. Hogan. Today C.C. has left the world of Dirt and joined me here for an interview.

Hi  C.C. and welcome to Just Books. I know you're busy so I'm just going to jump straight in with the questions!
Would you tell us about your writing routine; what’s a typical writing day for you?
Coffee, very strong, read the news, drink more coffee and just start. I do not believe in writer's block, but I do believe in a lazy writer. So, I get going quickly. Falling in love with your characters helps – you can't resist but to climb into the story with them.
Then it is lunch, more writing, dinner, writing and booze.

And how do you spend your free time, when you’re not writing?
I grow chillies. I also cook and write about cooking. And there is that composer thing, so my world is full of guitars, flutes, piano, and other things. I am also a terrible artist, so I have arty bits everywhere as well.

Have you always wanted to be a writer..? and was there a particular moment you thought, ‘I can do this!’?
Sort of yes and no and I probably don't really know. I have written poetry since I was a very small child (very badly) and in another life I am a composer, so writing is in me somewhere. I have had several attempts at writing novels over the years, all doomed to failure, even though I was writing professionally for corporate communications as part of my job.
Back in 2014, my situation changed and I had some free time on my hands. I took one of the abandoned projects, The Stink, and I sat down and finished it. 130,000 words and they were all mine! Suddenly, I knew I could do it. I think I might have even been afraid before then, scared that I could never finish a novel. Now that has gone, and I am writing my seventh book and loving every minute.

Who or what do you think has helped you become a better writer over time?
I am not sure am better yet. I have been digging through some of my old, old notes, and there are some really great ideas in there and some good writing too. However, the biggest difference between now and then is planning. I plan in the greatest detail now. I draw maps, make timelines, write essays on the characters (I avoid character templates like the plague – they produce robots, not people), I scribble notes about lands, and back stories. I have learned to really enjoy it and the trick for me is to keep waffling – er, a little like I am doing now.

What was the biggest challenge in creating your series?
By far the biggest challenge has been writing a High Fantasy which is missing some of the main elements. If you take two classics, Narnia and Lord of the Rings, then the resolution of the story is that a king/queen wins the day. In effect, this means that the hero is an autocrat running a feudal society.
In Dirt, I wanted the opposite to be true. This is a fight for freedom, a war against the oppressor, and the stars of the show are ordinary people. The hero of book one digs holes for a living. His friends are cheese makers and foresters, old sergeants, pie sellers and others that struggle at the bottom of the heap.
But I did not want this to be some dystopian saga where all the characters frown continuously if they are not bonking in a bed somewhere. I wanted my people to laugh and joke and make silly comments, and still be capable of grief and tears. Basically, I wanted them to be me and you, even if they have wings.
In a High Fantasy, that is a challenge. I hope I pulled it off.

Did you learn anything from writing your books?
I have learned all kinds of things. How to hitch a wagon, how fast a horse travels, how primitive villages manage to live, and how they sometimes don't. I have learned about bowmanship, about armies, and even about digging holes.
Most of all, I have learned a lot about how little our society has changed. Dirt might be set in a world which is stuck in a pre-medieval era, but it is remarkably like our own in so many ways. Enough that I have realised that in series two especially, there are some very unintentional parallels with things that are happening in our own world today, like the Syrian refugee crisis. We should be very careful of not being too arrogant about our world, or thinking that we're so much better now; we are closer to our distant ancestors than we think.

Did you write any of your personality traits into any of your characters?
Er, one big one. There is a lot of food and beer in the books and my characters love it all.
And why not?

From the many characters in your books who is your favourite and why?
Picking one is hard. In series one, my favourite is probably Mistry. She is very like a friend of mine when I was young. She is feisty and funny, but she is a bit screwed up inside as well and that trips her up. I suppose I like her because she is so stuffed with faults and is very, very real.
Dirt is multi-layered and there are some unexpected elements, like the odd poem. Without giving away too much, Mab-Onin, a dragon who chooses Mistry as his rider, once wrote a poem about her that was lost for many years. You can read it on A World Called Dirt.

...And how about your least favourite character?
Dirt is written, quite intentionally, from the point of view of the goodies. We only meet the baddies through the goodies. I wanted to do this because the story is a journey and we must travel with the main characters; if I had leapt back and forth, then we would not have been taking the journey with them. This makes it hard to pick a least favourite character. I suppose if I was to pick one, it would be the character Geezen. She does not play a huge role, at least not that we know, but she is important none the less. She is an overbearing, controlling woman who loves people because she must, rather than just because she does. In many ways she is quite selfish, but she does the right thing, even if she is irritating.
Difficult question that.

Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process? and please tell us about your covers and how they came about.

There is no question that covers are important. People are magpies and like bright shiny things; advertisers have known that for years.

Self-published authors have a problem. They can either spend a lot of money on an artist (which they may never recoup) or they can buy stock photos (a lot of the romance lot do that) and risk that they might not be the only one using that image, or they can do it themselves. If, like me, they have zero budget, that is their only option.

I wanted a particular feel for the covers and that meant they would have to be drawn. I simply did not have the money, so I have done them myself. I am sure plenty of people will call me a fool and tell me they are crap. On the upside, I have had a lot of fun and at least they are 100% original. Also, I do think Fren-Eirol has a lot of charm! (She is on the cover of book one.)

Before you rush off back to Dirt, tell us where your dream holiday would be?
I want to travel to the Island of Hope and play with Be-Elin in the sea. If that doesn't work out, get me to a pub on the coast of Cornwall with hot pies and great beer and my guitar, and I will be as happy as anything.

...And finally which fictional character, book or film, would you like to meet?

When I was younger, I mean about ten years old, I would have done anything to meet Sophie Wenders from the book the Chrysalids by John Wyndham. I had a right little crush on her, but I also admired her bravery. She had six toes in a world that would have condemned her as a mutant.
As an adult I am not sure who I would like to meet. If I met Thomas Covenant in the books by Stephen R. Donaldson, I would probably punch him for being so miserable.

If I were to choose characters to invite to dinner, it would be Tom Bombadil with his beautiful wife, Goldberry. I would cook them pasta al funghi and would laugh with him all night.

Thank you for joining me C.C., it's been interesting!

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