H.O. Charles was born in Northern England, but now resides in a beige house in Suffolk.
A Cambridge graduate who really ought to get on with writing a PhD, Charles frequently becomes distracted by writing fantasy fiction instead. Hobbies include being in the sea, being by the sea and eating things that come out of the sea.
City of Blaze – The Fireblade Array
Hidden by monument and pride, the city is crumbling beneath a mountain of its own indulgences. Its army abuse the castle’s servants, confident that deadly wielders have been exterminated; wars are fought to encourage otherwise absent mortality; countless people suffer from the terrible pangs of nalka, the hunger for intimacy; and all the while its king concerns himself with choosing which of his disappointing concubines to execute next. The duty falls upon his emotionally withdrawn son, Morghiad, to restore the city’s strength and the army’s purpose. In his attempts to do so, he uncovers darker horrors and encounters a young servant who could either be his greatest ally or his greatest hindrance. City of Blaze is a story of changing allegiances, self-control and love.
1. Did you always want to be an author? If not, what else would you have done?
No. It wasn’t until very recently that I gained the confidence to write both professionally and in my spare time. For years I kept all my stories in my head – it just didn’t occur to me to write them all down! But when I started… oh, it all poured out like a slurry truck emptying itself after its final collection. And a slurry truck is probably a good analogy. My first efforts at writing were pretty dire/diarrhoetic.
2. Would you rather win the lottery, or end up writing the next big book?
By “big book”, I’m guessing you mean one that sells very well, rather than one you could use to chock aeroplane wheels. Ho ho ho. Sorry.
Yes, of course I would enjoy the adulation of millions of people who had fallen in love with my characters and my writing, but the reality of best-sellers isn’t always that wonderful for the author. Fame has its drawbacks, and I quite like my anonymity. No writer has the ability to please everybody, least of all me. Fame would inevitably attract some very vocal critics, and being a number one best-seller amplifies the noises of the critics just as much as it amplifies the noises of the fans.
If writing were all about the money, I think I’d prefer to win the lottery and enjoy my millions in secret!
For now though, I write for personal enjoyment. It’s a thoroughly selfish thing, but it does have the added bonus that my thrill is exponentially greater when someone else says they enjoy my books. In my day job I research to advance knowledge and improve society and blah, blah, blah. All that altruism can get a bit too much, so writing small books is my ‘me’ thing.
3. Was your road to publication a delightful stroll in the park or the voyage of the damned?
Haha. A bit of both, really. The writing and receiving positive reviews are certainly the best parts. There have been difficult moments, of course. I think the worst aspect of the publishing world is being ignored. I hate it utterly! In the real world you can put the right clothes on, wear the right voice, put the correct expression on your face and find a way to make most people listen. In this world, especially online, you become one of a billion voices. Many people in publishing, reviewing and even those reading in their own homes have become jaded by the superfluity of authors. There’s such a glut, and all of these authors are out there, clamouring to be heard by typing with unwarranted vitriol or a weird sort of drooling eagerness upon their keyboards.
I found this transition to nothingness particularly hard, as I’d already worked my way to some small standing in academia, and had grown quite used to being heard. It’s very trying to be thrust into the position of being a complete nobody all over again!
The other tricky thing about publishing is the continual stream of experimentation you have to go through. Does this cover work, or is that one better?Will advertising here do anything for me? Is that price right? Gah! There are days when the changes you make will have a positive effect, but most of the time they do absolutely sod all.
4. Who is your favourite author and why?
I’m not sure now. A while ago, I could have picked one with some certainty, but these days I’m too wibbly and indecisive. I still have a lot of love for Thomas Hardy. Ursula Le Guin is good. Maybe some Ian McEwan.
5. What is the most difficult for you to write: Characters, conflict, emotions?
The trickiest thing is describing movements through space without sounding like a total brick or a try-hard. For example, one of your characters is in one room, and their movement to another room needs to be described in some way – a way that is not: “He walked into the other room,” or, “He drifted into the room upon fronds of his own dreamstate, wrought stone by the heaviness in his soul.” Erm.
6. Do you already know what to write next? Can you tell us?
I have a million book ideas in here! They don’t stop coming and there’s no time to write them all! Noooo!
I can tell you what I’ve got on my immediate to-do list, however.
I have the fifth book in the series, The Fireblade Array, to complete. Artemi’s fallen into the Nightworld, and she’ll have more than her fair share of problems to solve there. Plus, there’s the on-going threat that her love will lose his mind and make the universe all broken and unusable.
I’m also writing a fantasy book that could be described as a gritty romance; it deals with some fairly heavy subject matter and many of the characters are horrid people. Unlike my other books, however, it will have a happier ending! The provisional title is Shatterlight.
7. What influenced or inspired you to write?
I was at a point where I didn’t know if my PhD would receive continued support from the university and I had no idea what career I would fall into, or where I would find employment if it didn’t work out. Basically, I felt as if I had nowhere left to go and I was utterly subject to the whims and decisions of people I didn’t know. One day, I sat down and started writing about the stories I had in my head. It was the only thing I had power over at that point.
8. What was the hardest part for you when working on your book?
Distractions. On some days I’m very focussed. On others it only takes a pigeon to land on the bird table and I’ll be staring at it for hours.
9. What makes you despair?
Oh, lots of things. Bills! Forgetting passwords for online web forms, thinking about my uncertain future, my parents’ mental state. I could go on.
10. Where do you get your ideas?
I’m not sure, really. Sometimes it’s after reading something utterly unrelated or watching a TV programme. The best ideas usually pop into my head just as I’m waking up in the morning. I don’t know where most of them come from.
11. Describe your writing style.
Variable. I used to love short sentences and avoided using commas as if they were the grammatical equivalent of brussel sprouts. These days, my writing is a little more relaxed.
12. Do you have only one WIP, or do you bounce around between projects?
I used to be able to concentrate on one, but now I usually have two things on the go at once. I think my brain would explode if I had three.
13. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
H. O. Charles is my pen name. I invented it because I wanted to write in private but have my books available in public. As a consequence, I don’t tend to share too much about the real me online – not even my gender!
14. What are your thoughts on marketing and social-media?
I think it’s changing so rapidly that it’s hard to say anything very definitive! If you look at the early (4/5 years ago!) authors who exploited social media, it was much easier for them to get away with self-promotion, spamming and advertising. That sort of behaviour isn’t tolerated now because everyone’s sick of it! There are new opportunities, but you need a combination of luck and careful thought to find them.
I’ve ‘friended’ quite a few authors on the various networks (Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter) and regularly receive book plugging messages from them. I always think it’s a bit silly – authors advertising to other authors, but it’s inevitable. The worst place for that is Amazon’s Meet Our Authors forum. Have you ever been on there? It’s crazy.
Now that Amazon has Goodreads, I wonder if they’ll scrap the old customer discussion forums. They are very old-fashioned – you can’t even embed images!
But back to marketing/social medial: in the last two years, new sites have popped up to advertise books and new services are always being provided as a way for readers to discover unknown authors. It just takes lots of searching to find them.
15. Are you self-taught, or did you study writing in school?
Here’s an embarrassing secret. When I was eighteen, my essay-writing skills were non-existent. I had ‘A’ grades in my GCSEs and A-level arts subjects, but that meant very little in terms of literacy. I realise that sounds dismissive for all those students who’ve worked hard for their grades, but looking back at my essays from that time… I still had a great deal to learn about writing!
I was lucky when I came up to Cambridge because I had a tutor who made me write, and read, and write, and read! I think that’s the only way you can learn: look at how other people do it, have a go yourself and repeat until wrinkly.
16. Novel you would like to see turned into a movie?
My own! Oops.
17. Movie you would like to see remade?
All the good ones ought not to be remade, which leaves the bad ones. Then again, if someone remade “The Room”, they would destroy all that was wonderful about it! I like the reinterpretations of classic literature though. There was a phase of turning Shakespeare or Austin into modern teen films a few years ago. It might be worth revisiting some of those ideas again and combining them with another genre like fantasy or sci-fi.
18. Who is, hands down, the sexiest actor of all time?
Not sure. I don’t seem to find any of them inherently sexy. It’s the characters they portray that I like.
Male: Iain Glen as Ser Jorah.
Female: Jessica Rabbit!
19. Book you could have written so much better!!
Haha! Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber. There was so much that frustrated me about those books.
20. Do you write under a nom de plume?
21. Who would you go gay/straight for?
The two individuals above.
22. How important is it for you to keep your life as a writer and your private life separate?
Very. I’m not sure how well academia and fantasy would mix! I certainly don’t want members of my department reading the sex scenes. I’d never be able to look them in the eye again.
23. Are you in introvert or an extrovert?
24. Where is your favourite place to write?
At home, on the sofa. Mmm, sofa.
25. Are you an island unto yourself in your writing, or does the input of critique partners push you along?
I’m an island most of the time, but when someone has something to say about it, I do listen and make changes where necessary.
I listen to readers most of all. There’s a really wide range of opinions, of course, and I cannot hope to fit my selfish fun in with all of theirs. Quite a few people have said they dislike the cliffhanger endings of my books, but I would never change those endings. To me, a book in a series isn’t any good without a decent cliffhanger, and that was always how The Array had to be constructed because of a certain character’s nature.
On the other hand, some readers found the terms in my book too impenetrable and complicated. It was always my intention that a careful reader would be able to work out what the terms meant from context, but I hadn’t made allowances for speed readers. That’s why I added the glossary, and why I moved it to the front of the book. If you fancy more of a challenge, you can still flick past the glossary and work it all out for yourself. Personally, I find that full-immersion sort of reading more rewarding.
We will be back on Friday with the second part of this two part interview.