Interview: Glenda Larke

This interview was originally posted at SentientOnline on the 9th June, 2011.

Firstly, could you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m an Australian who lives in Malaysia at the moment. I work sometimes as an environmental consultant on rainforest avifauna, and I write fantasy fiction. My latest trilogy is calledWatergivers in Australia, and the Stormlord trilogy elsewhere. The final book, Stormlord’s Exile will be out in end July/early August, worldwide. You can find out more from my website: http://glendalarke.com

Q: Starting off easy, there are heaps of writing programs out there, as well as the general Word, Notepad and Open Office. What program do you do your writing in?

Well, I began with an old exercise book and a pencil when I was eleven. At twenty-one it was a portable typewriter. I had my first computer in 1982, when I started with WordStar on a floppy, the very first DOS one! Yep, I’m a real dinosaur. Recently, I did try a dedicated writing programme, but I found it too confining. I felt it interrupted the flow of my story. So I continue to use Word, for either PC or Mac. However, because of repetitive stress injury (RSI) I am thinking about a dictating voice-to-type programme.

Q: How do you plan your writing? Some authors have storyboards, some have little index cards or a dozen A5 sized books… Or do you just start writing and see where it takes you?

I’ve used index cards to keep track of details, so I don’t say things like character X has black hair on p.34 and brown hair on p.334. I love using a whiteboard to keep track of timelines, especially when the narrative is following different people who are not in the same place at the same time.  I’ve also used colour-coded charts printed out from the computer when things get very complicated towards the end of a trilogy.

I write a synopsis (publishers like those) but I find it very hard to stick to them. Especially over the length of a trilogy. I keep on having better ideas! And the characters have a tendency to run away with the plot. Sometimes I let them.

I think the important thing for young writers to remember is that there’s no “right” way to write a book. You do what works best for you.

Q: Do you find you write better in certain conditions, or at certain times? If so, what are they?

My working life boss and my publisher don’t talk to one another, and my family largely ignores both sides. So I’ve found myself with publisher deadlines to meet when I’m in a tent in a forest or flying off to an atoll in the South China Sea or babysitting a grandson over the summer. If I was too precious about where I write, I’d never get anything done. I’ve sat on the floor in an airport, or next to the toilet on a fishing boat, or in a hospital bed, just to write another chapter…

Q: Some authors sit themselves down and don’t allow themselves to get up from their chair until they’d sat there for x amount of hours, or done x amount of words.  Can you tell us how do you write?

Wherever, whenever and however I can. Usually in small bouts to give wrists and my back a rest. With my present book, I am setting a target of 7,000 words a week, or an average of 1,000 a day. I think the maximum number of words I have ever achieved in a single day is about 6,000, the maximum in a week is about 20,000. Usually, though, there are too many other things going on in my life to get anywhere near that.

I start the writing day by reading over and correcting the obvious mistakes in what I wrote the day before. That helps the flow.

Once again, writers should decide what works best for them.

Q: You’ve said in another interview (Falcata Times) that you don’t get writers block – just with getting the book right, so you just keep rewriting. What would you suggest young writers could use as inspiration to keep going when their writing’s just not working?

If you have a destination in mind, keep writing anyway. Along the way to the end of a book, most professional writers throw away thousands of words that don’t work. Don’t get too hung up on “Oh, this is dreadful, boring writing, I’m no good…” Of course, it’s not good. It’s a first draft. You can fix it later.

If you don’t have a destination, then that could be your problem. In order for writing to work, you should have the end of the scene/chapter/plotline/book in mind. Your plot should always be driving along to that end. If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll be like the car driver without a map or a GPS, driving around in circles and getting nowhere. It’s better to halt and draw yourself a map – an outline – of your story before you go on.

Q: Do you have any specific way to get to know your characters well enough to be so passionate when writing from their POV?

I think about them all the time. While I’m doing other mindless things – housework, exercising, whatever.  I imagine being that person. I imagine what they would see, what they would feel, what they would like to do.

Q: Do you have any writing rituals? Certain authors listen to certain kinds of music, others don a special writing hat…do you have any quirks such as these?

No. In fact I try to discourage myself from habits. The nature of my more normal job involves travelling and working in odd, often uncomfortable places. I need to use odd moments in odd places to write – I can even write squeezed into an plane seat when the person in front reclines practically into my lap and I can’t lay my laptop flat on the flip-table.

Q: Was your first (published) novel a struggle to write? What kind of things did you do to get it done and at a stage where you could send it off?

Exactly the same things I do now: write, re-write, re-write, re-write… People ask how many drafts I do before I send off a MS. The answer is: as many as it takes. Some passages I don’t alter at all because I got them right first time around. Others I might do thirty times. I don’t count the number of drafts. I don’t care. I stop when I think I have it right. All novels are a struggle to write, believe me.

Q: On your website you say you sent off your novel to an agent… in the UK! What made you choose being published in the UK before Australia?

I was living in Austria at the time, not Australia. It was the 1980s, pre-internet. I had no idea of the name of any Australian agent, or any knowledge of how to find one. Britain, on the other hand, published a book called the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook… It listed all UK publishers and agents.

Q: Though you’re from Australia, you currently live in Malaysia. This could be compared to living remote in Australia, in a way. How does this effect getting your writing published and staying in contact with everyone necessary?

Remoteness was certainly one reason it took so long to get published. The cost of postage was a killer. When we moved to Austria, money stopped being an issue. Nowadays, though, with the internet, none of this is a problem. Now I do almost all copyediting, proofreading, marketing, etc through the internet. However, I do try to go to as many conventions as I can, in order to keep a foot in the real world. Besides, I like meeting fellow writers and readers!

Q: What are your thoughts on self-publishing vs traditional methods (agent and/or publishing house)?

Everyone’s path to publication is different, and all ways are valid in some respect. However, any new writer trying to break into the business should be aware that looking at the success of outliers is not usually a good guide. Yes, Christopher Paolini self-published and ended up a NY bestseller with loads of money and a film being made of his first book. But thinking you can do that too is like looking at the guy who won the lottery and thinking “I can do that too.” Yes, it’s possible, if you buy the ticket. But probable? Well, no. Not really.

And this is important: every writer who’s in the process of looking at getting published or finding an agent should read every article over at the Preditors and Editors http://pred-ed.com/ or Writer Beware http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/ websites. There are so many pitfalls on the way to self-publishing.

I think self-publishing works best for writers who have a reading public because they’ve already had fiction published, or because they have a public persona. And please, never believe that awful canard that you can only get published if you “know someone”. I knew NOBODY. At all.

Thank you, Glenda!

You can follow Glenda at the following places:

http://twitter.com/#!/glendalarke

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639444301&sk=info

http://glendalarke.blogspot.com/

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