Interview: Thomas Heasman-Hunt

As the night’s draw in and the temperature falls, the best thing to do is look to spring. So, we settled down for a chat with our author Thomas Heasman-Hunt, to talk about writing, life, and his fabulous Cynefin Road debut, Legacy, which is set for release on the Spring Equinox 2017…

Image: Thomas Heasman-Hunt

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Keep doing it. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise the connection between the times when I was writing regularly and my general mood. In fact, I still forget sometimes even now… Plus writing is like anything else: you can read all the reference books and blog posts and #writetips you want, but unless you actually sit down and put one word in front of the other, you’ll never achieve anything.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I remember identifying very strongly with characters in books when I was young. I was an only child and quite introverted, so maybe I was trying to find something to latch onto, but I definitely felt the tragedies and triumphs of my favourite characters on a very visceral level. I’m a great proponent of the theory that the human mind is structured around narrative, and I think the fictional realities we experience when we read a story can sometimes be just as valid as what we see and hear in the real world. Certainly from a brain’s perspective anyway!

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

That depends a little bit on how you count them! I don’t have too many unfinished works because I tend to simply write a story from start to finish, and I write like I read, so if it doesn’t grab me in a short time, I’ll abandon it. But the sequel to Legacy is already completed, and the third book is half done. Beyond that, I have another novel set in the same universe but with different characters, an ongoing fantasy series, a dozen or so novellas in various genres and more short stories than I want to count! A few of these I’ve collected together and self-published, but most of the rest are on my blog. I also have my attempt at a first novel – a sort of picaresque magical-realism quasi-philosophical epic, which is complete, but also completely unpublishable! I wrote it just to prove I could really, and it was useful…but won’t ever see the light of day…

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

One of the joys of writing speculative fiction is the world building, which allows you to create a story with all sorts of layers and connections. It’s nice to show that work off sometimes, but you also have to keep some of it back and tease the details out where they’re relevant. Also, if you’re anything like me, you often don’t actually write any of the background anywhere and basically make it all up as you go along. So there are ‘secrets’, yes, but I think of them more as continuity nods that improve the verisimilitude of the worlds I’m portraying.

Does your family support your career as a writer?

They certainly do. Everything I write is for my wife – we have similar taste in books, so I try to write stories I know she’ll enjoy. My proofreading process is reading what I’ve written aloud to her to check the rhythm and flow of the story, so she’s party to everything I produce. Besides her, I think my mother is more excited about this book being published than I am!

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

My first novel – took me over a year from start to finish, writing in fits and starts as my enthusiasm for the work waxed and waned. That was a slog. I realised after finishing it that I needed a more productive method, so I switched to writing short fiction. Once I did that, it was like I’d opened a door in my head: I was churning out stuff daily, and for around two years I was averaging 50,000 words of prose a month. Legacy wasn’t actually written in one continuous stretch, but adding up the time taken for the separate parts, it took me just over a month to write it. The final book is mostly unchanged from that original version.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Planning. I mean that literally. If I write down any part of a story before I actually get to it in the normal course of the narrative – even just a brief outline – it kills it for me. If I commit anything to text, something in my head no longer feels any desire to write it properly. This was one of the reasons my first novel took so long: I decided I ought to sketch out some idea of where I was going, and from then on, the process dragged interminably. I have to write intuitively, as if I’m reading the story myself, that way I know the surprises and twists work…

What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

I’m a writer not a publisher – I don’t know enough about the industry to say too much about its practices either way! But, speaking from a writer’s perspective, there’s definitely a problem in this age of instant sharing and viral content with creators not being paid for their work. There’s such a glut of stuff out there, and when anyone can publish a few hundred words in the form of a blog post or thread of tweets, it’s very easy for content to be used without permission (or sometimes even attribution) by unscrupulous media for clicks. Pay your writers!

Tell us about Legacy…
It began, strangely enough, with a conversation on Twitter with a fellow writer, Emily Benet (@EmilyBenet). She was working on a short story about a woman who finds out a dark secret about her father after he dies and we riffed back and forth a little, with me joking that I might do something silly like put a sci-fi spin on it. A while later, I was putting together some of my short stories into a collection for Kindle and felt I needed something that I hadn’t put on my blog to round it out. I decided I wanted to do some good, old-fashioned space opera, and so I reworked the ideas we’d discussed into a short story that later became the first three chapters of Legacy, which was also the title I gave it then. In honour of the person who’d helped spark the idea (and with Ms Benet’s permission) I named the main character Emily.

Some months later, again stuck for something to write, I returned to Emily Ajax’s world and started writing another short story about her and her adventures. I didn’t pick up exactly where I’d left off, instead treating it like an episode of a TV series, even deliberately dividing the story into three acts. Happily, I found that Legacy (the original short story) naturally split the same way. I wrote six such ‘episodes’ altogether, each in three parts. That original structure remains in the book, which has 18 chapters, and can be divided into six distinct narrative arcs. I later added the prologue to round out the story and create more resonance for the ending, since it wasn’t even conceived of throughout most of the writing process! Once it was collected together, I called it ‘The Ajax Legacy’, but since losing the different titles for the episodes, it’s come full circle and is now just Legacy again.

Legacy is an adventure. A lot of what I write skews quite dark and cynical – and the book certainly has its share of moments that live up to that – but I wanted it to be fun and exciting, maybe even a bit pulpy. It takes a lot of careworn sci-fi tropes and hopefully reworks them enough to create something new and interesting. It has one or two larger-than-life villains and some genuine gung-ho heroics (‘swashbuckling’ is the term I keep coming back to), as well as introducing a vast and believable galactic setting that has a lot more to it than you’ll read in this book. But what I found to be most important and most enjoyable as I wrote it was the characters and their connections. Beyond all the spaceships and lasers and ancient relics of lost interstellar civilisations, Legacy is basically about friendship, and about the complex relationship between a woman and her incredibly famous father. There’s a smattering of romance and some butting heads in places, but the story is centred around three women who couldn’t be more different from one another, but who forge a bond through adversity and change the fate of an entire galaxy.

So it’s a bit daft and pays homage to a lot that’s familiar in the genre, but I’m rather pleased with it, and I hope you’ll enjoy travelling to the Four Quadrants as much as I did, and continue to do.

Submissions 2016.

We are delighted to be opening for submissions between the 1st and 20th of October 2016.

Unsolicited and unrepresented authors are most welcome and we will consider all genres and work aimed at all ages. We are looking to take on ten titles for release over the next twelve months.

Please follow the submission guidelines below.

 

  1. At the time of submission your work must be complete to at least First Draft and previously unpublished.
  2. In the first instance please send a detailed covering letter which tells us why you write, where life’s journey has taken you so far and where you want to be. Previous work should be summarised briefly, including any publication details. If you are active on social networks tell us about it and where to find you. We are looking for people we can invest in personally, people with a real personality and a story to tell.
  3. Please attach a one page, 500 word synopsis of the work you are submitting, including the title, word count, current completion status (no less than above), and pop in a two line elevator pitch before the synopsis. (Don’t sweat this, we know synopsis writing is an awful experience, but try to reflect the style of your work).
  4. The covering letter should be in the body of the email and the attachment should be in .doc, .odt, or .pdf format.
  5. If your work is illustrated, please also attach no more than two sample images of your artwork in .jpg format.
  6. Submissions must be recieved between the 1st and 20th of October 2016 by email to cynefinroad@gmail.com

 

You’ll notice that, in the first instance, we are not looking for samples of the work itself. Once your submission is in and the closing date arrives, we anticipate it will take around four weeks to select the authors and works best suited to us. At this stage full maunscripts will be requested for a final assessment with an interim offer and draft contract issued where appropriate.

Please do not expect template style rejections, we aim to provide productive feedback to all writers who approach us, because we know how tough the industry can be and want to change things for the better.

We look forward to getting started, good luck!

CR.

 

 

Underdog.

Everybody loves an underdog. It’s one of those psychological oddities of humanity, like the fear of bananas. Nobody knows why but it’s no less real as a part of the world we live in.

There have been a few studies of the underdog support phenomenon, one even concluded it was all a matter of BIRG – that’s basking in reflected glory to those of us not in the know. The basic conclusion is people find it more satisfying to watch someone destined to fail (the odds stacked against them by flaws or circumstance) succeed against something else more likely to win. This has been around in books since the Old Testament and is absolutely key to the success of getting a reader to invest in the story.

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Misery – the writer’s a mess, his feet have been chopped off, he shouldn’t win but we root for him to overcome and escape.

Fight Club – the narrator’s an oddball who fights himself, yet you want him to win the psychological battle against his split personality.

Spot The Dog – he’s been naughty but you want him to get a cuddle from his mum.

Personally, for what this opinion is worth, I like to think it’s because we all recognise our own flaws, the things which block us or leave us stuck, and we put ourselves in the shoes of a person with a fight on their hands. It’s not BIRG, not at all. It boils down to IIWMIWTWT – if it was me I’d want to win too. Which is much nicer than the other concept of underdog psychology: we all secretly want to watch the car crash unfold because we like to see other people suffer.

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Books are a creative reflection of life in which the best stories take the underdog then have them triumph. Life, every now and then, also reflects art. Which is where Cynefin Road has come from. Bumbling into an established, giant industry, without so much as knocking on the door or really knowing the rules. And these are the kind of stories we’re interested in too – and not just the books themselves but the writers as well.

So, Hello! from an underdog looking for underdogs.

It might not be a fancy mission statement but, by all accounts, it’s not a bad starting point.

Everybody loves an underdog. It’s one of those psychological oddities of humanity, like the fear of bananas.

CR.