Writing Journeys – G. R. Matthews
Today I welcome G. R. Matthews to the blog. Many of you will know him as a FantasyFaction reviewer or judge in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. He’s also a damn fine writer. I’m in the middle of the first Corin Hayes book Silent City and enjoying it thoroughly. So, over to Geoff!
I started writing at a young age. Not preternaturally young, but young enough that the joy of stories was embedded in my heart and soul. Primary school writing lessons were the best. I’d happily scribble away in handwriting only a doctor’s most long-serving and trusted secretary could read. My teacher would be happy with my work and my mother would keep the ‘manuscripts’ forever – I know they are still in the attic somewhere.
I suppose you can view those early efforts as my first ‘trunk’ novels. Alongside that, I read. A lot. Patrick Moore books to begin and then on to Arthur C Clarke (A Fall of Moondust is a book I still remember with great affection) and Isaac Asimov through my secondary school years. Oh, I interspersed other books amongst the heavyweights… whatever the library up the road had. Living in a small(ish) West Country village in the 70s and 80s meant there wasn’t a lot of choice around and YA was almost unheard of, but I read whatever took my fancy.
A lot of it I’ve forgotten, but those books I bought (from the bookshop in the nearby town), I still own. Elizabeth Boyer’s ‘Alfar’ series were excellent; the atmosphere, the other worldliness. Louise Cooper’s ‘Time Master’ series has a place in my heart. Eddings’s ‘Belgariad’ are still amongst my favourite books. Gavriel Kay’s ‘Fionavar Tapestry’. Rosenberg’s ‘Guardians of the Flame’ too. Kurtz’s Deryni saga. Lyndon Hardy’s ‘Master of the Five Magics’. My roots are there.
Sunday afternoons of D&D with the local club to fire up the imagination. Dreams of writing novels, recorded in journals and on loose leafed paper, were hidden in drawers and cupboards. ZX Spectrum, C64 and Amiga games littered my teenage years. All fertile ground for the seeds of imagination to germinate.
Do you know the biggest barrier to my writing a novel? Chapter three. That was the ultimate barrier, the road block, stumbling block, unsolvable Rubik’s Cube, and unclimbable mountain in my path to success (I’m still climbing). I have so many books that never made it past chapter three. Some of that may have been a lack of desire, of laziness, a lack of instant gratification… writing books is hard work. Anyone who thinks it is easy is wrong. Dead wrong.
I tried to climb that mountain, battle that cave troll and solve the cube for years, but nothing worked and I drifted away. I still read, still had the desire to write and tell stories. How to do it? Sharpen my sword? Buy a book of solutions? Some better quality rope?
My solution was more simple that any of those. I decided to learn how to write, to study writing and build my toolkit as I did so. And that’s really what writing is; using personal tools, honed and sharpened by your past and present, hopes for the future, influences, expectations, dreams and disappointments, to craft the story you want to tell. Along the way, you pick up tips and tricks. Little ideas that blossom into full-blown devices that drive your characters and plot forward.
Three years of study, part-time, alongside my career and family, wife and two young kids. They’d go to bed, and sometimes stay there, but not always, and I’d get on with reading, writing and redrafting. Workshops for feedback, online and personal ones. Tutor days at colleges and university. Pushing the boundary of likes and dislikes. Poetry, never my favourite but I found some I liked a lot and can admire the cleverness of the poet themselves – selecting words for their texture, flavour, and harmony like the finest 3* Michelin chef (I may have just watched the Masterchef final… influences, eh?)
From those three years of study, The Stone Road was created. The original idea, as I’ve documented elsewhere, comes from a line or two in China; A History by John Keay, a book I was reading while completing my final year. Two or three lines of an old myth about two warring states and the cunning scheme one came up with to destroy the other. Even that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, has little information on the events that took place in around 316BC. However, with that spark, the book not Wiki, and a love of Kung Fu movies, the series took shape.
It wasn’t fully formed when I began. It was a notion, an idea and direction. I knew the format I wanted to use, the points of view and even a little about the characters. I was pretty sure of the some of the tropes and clichés to avoid and which ones I wanted to play with. Would it be a single book or a trilogy? I mean, every fantasy fan loves a trilogy.
Better than that, one of my co-workers was authoring away at the same time, both of us completing our first books. The chats, discussions, shared battles and victories over the keyboard were invaluable. It also provided a lot of the motivation to keep going. A lot of writers write in solitary, but there is something to be said for sharing your woes and angst as you go.
Book 2, The Blue Mountain took the story forward, but of more import to me were the little hints I’d dropped in Book 1 bore fruit and some that I hadn’t realised I’d dropped came to the fore. Even better, if such could exist, was Corin’s birth.
One Sunday morning, I wrote a short story. That is to say, I started it and got to four thousand words that day. By fifteen thousand the story was done and less than a week had passed. I liked the character and the voice, but it wasn’t finished. I knew that. It niggled away. Always there. A burning ember in the back of my mind while I finished The Blue Mountain and got The Red Plains underway.
And then, three-quarters of the way through The Red Plains, Corin came back with a vengeance. I’d been teaching Creative Writing and discussing planning and plotting with my students. We’d looked at the TV for different models and one of them seemed to fit Corin… so I used it and wrote it. Took those fifteen thousand words, excised a few thousand, rejigged a few thousand more and added to it. That ember had become a roaring fire that had to be given fuel to burn.
Along the way, I started writing for Fantasy-Faction – reviewing books, writing articles, and getting involved in the two SPFBO competitions so far have been an amazing learning experience. And I suppose that’s the key to writing; you never stop learning and improving.
One of the best things took place this year. I went to BristolCon and met up with some of my beta readers and fans (I have fans… it is still a shock to me). They’d brought some bookmarks, with quotes from the books on them. One of them wore a dress, self-designed and covered in quotes. A scarf based on Corin Hayes’s adventures. And we drank the day and night away… it was great fun and reaffirming (and hangover making).
Now I am on to writing Corin Hayes book 3, a series where you don’t need to read in order, each adventure is self-contained and darkly humorous (so I am told), plus a new Work In Progress that so far I’ve described as ‘The A-Team meets World of Warcraft’… and that’s quite often about as firm as my ideas get until I put digit to keyboard. Along the way I make notes, draw up scenes, think of clues, ideas and plot lines… a lot of which I abandon or change along the way. That’s my style of writing.
Even I don’t know the ending till I get there.
Makes it more exciting. Now, where did I leave Corin… ah yes, he was about to get punched. Poor Corin.
Geoff Matthews began reading in the cot. His mother, at her wits end with the constant noise and unceasing activity, would plop him down on the soft mattress with an encyclopaedia full of pictures then quietly slip from the room. His father, ever the pragmatist, declared, that they should, “throw the noisy bugger out of the window.” Happily this event never came to pass (or if it did Geoff bounced well). Growing up, he spent Sunday afternoons on the sofa watching westerns and Bond movies with the self-same parent who had once wished to defenestrate him. When not watching the six-gun heroes or spies being out-acted by their own eyebrows he devoured books like a hungry wolf in the dead of winter. Beginning with Patrick Moore and Arthur C Clarke he soon moved on to Isaac Asimov. However, one wet afternoon in a book shop in his home town, not far from the standing stones of Avebury, he came across a book by David Eddings – and soon Sci-Fi gave way to Fantasy. Many years later, Geoff finally realised a dream and published his own fantasy novel, The Stone Road, in the hopes that other hungry wolves out there would find a hearty meal. You can follow him on twitter @G_R_Matthews or visit his website at www.grmatthews.com
Come back tomorrow for a post from an author who needs little introduction – Mr. Mark Lawrence!
fantasy authors, G.R. Matthews, writing journeys