I’m Stephen Clarkson, Civil Engineer by day and author by night. Earlier this month I self-published my first piece of work–Vitalize: A Zombie Novella. As the name would suggest, it’s a novella… about zombies. Well, it’s about a hell of a lot more than that; family, friendship and sacrifice, but there’s definitely zombies too.
I actually started Vitalize as a side project to the fantasy novel I’ve been working on since I started writing in November 2015. At first, I thought I could happily work away on several projects at once. I quickly learned I can’t, which is fine–lots of people work on lots of projects synonymously, others don’t. As writers, we are all individual creatures and we all work in our own quirky ways. Hence why no one in the world could tell a story the same way you can, but I digress. My point is, it turns out and I’m a one project dude. So when I started Vitalize for a little fun halfway through my novel, it swept me up and didn’t put me down until it was on the shelf. It was a hell of a ride, and I’m incredibly grateful I let myself get distracted. I’m ecstatic with how the book turned out.
Since the release, I’ve picked Aeana back up and I’m storming through it at rocket pace (compared to before I published Vitalize, anyway). If I can maintain my current pace, the first draft of Aeana will be done by the end of November. Exciting times!
Oh, I’ll take my coffee with milk and two sugars. Awesome. Thanks.
#FP: What do you love most about writing? What speaks to you?
SC: The escape. It’s that simple. I’ve always been an imaginative individual. I spent my youth conquering the videogame world–I still play, but it’s not so much conquering as limping along slowly for a couple of hours every so often when I find the time. I always used to read a little but never really delved into the fantasy world except for some of the harry potter books–like some kind of mud-blood I stopped reading at ‘Order of the Phoenix’ because I was a teenager and had the attention span of a goldfish. As I got a little older, I developed an obsession for crime-thrillers, namely the works of Tess Gerritsen. I loved her Rizzoli and Isles series but eventually moved away from that too. Then bummed around without reading much for a long while before I discovered Peter V Brett’s ‘Demon Cycle’ series. The first book–The Painted Man–did it for me. I was hooked on fantasy and I couldn’t stop. Ever since that book, I’ve been a voracious reader of all things Fantasy, Sci-fi, and my other guilty pleasure, Zombies! (What else?) After a lot of reading I decided I’d write a book. My first attempt–A novel titled ‘Chronicle Z’ –was a train wreck, and when I got 30,000 words in, I gave up. A couple of years later, after a not-so-enjoyable short break in Paris, I decided life was too short and easily expended to not do what you love. For me, that feeling you get when you’re entrenched in a scene with a character, feeling everything they feel, is incomparable. I’ve never felt any emotion so strongly with film, music, art, or any other media, as when I’ve been writing. It’s incredibly addictive.
#FP: So, what have you written?
SC: A couple of blogs on my website. (I always intend to write more of these but never find the time!)
A couple of flash fictions on Wattpad, one of which is a teaser for a planned novel.
A couple of short stories; A dark fantasy story titled ‘Manor Dark’ and a submission to a zombie anthology titled ‘Outbreak Earth’. (Also available on Wattpad)
A novella, the first I officially published, titled ‘Vitalize: A Zombie Novella’.
And I’m currently 83k words into my first full length fantasy novel, currently titled ‘Aeana’.
#FP: When did you know writing was for you?
SC: I enjoyed the process the first time around in 2013 but I got frustrated when I couldn’t make it work and thought my characters were boring. Hence my giving up. The second time around in 2015, I fell in love with writing. I wanted to learn everything I could about the craft and still hunger to learn everything I can to make my stories the best they can be. It helped when I discovered the amazing community to which aspiring and indie authors belong. I have never met such a large group of helpful and motivational people.
#FP: What are you working on at this minute? What was the inspiration for it?
SC: As I’ve probably mentioned far too many times already, I’m currently writing my fantasy novel Aeana.
The summary on my website reads thus:
‘The city of Oralen – The first to conquer to thriving jungles of Oralea.Where a divided population fights a constant battle against the flora that tries to reclaim the stolen land. When rising tension between the Noble and Lesser classes ends in a family being torn apart, a young boy is forced into the harsh jungle where he must learn to live like one of the savages he had been taught to fear.
Deep in the jungle, he learns that everything he’d been taught is a lie and that there is much more to Aeana than the people of Oralen knew.’
I need to tweak this. When you break it all down, it’s a story about family, prejudice, revenge and sacrifice (did you spot some similar themes to Vitalize?).
It’s hard to say where I got the inspiration from. When I decided to write a book, I spent a short while sitting around trying to come up with an idea. Then one day, I was sat in my car in the car park of the local supermarket with my girlfriend, and the idea just hit me. I came up with the world and the magic first and foremost, then came up with the spark of a story, then it evolved from there.
#FP: Do you work to an outline or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you? Plotter or Pantser?
SC: It depends on the story. The longer the story and deeper I need to dig into the characters/world, the more detailed my outline. For my short stories, I tend to do a few bullet points, maybe have an idea of a beginning and an end, then just go from there. For Aeana, which will probably be a trilogy when all is said and done, there’s a chapter list, a timeline, an ‘encyclopaedia’ of the world (plants, animals, cities, cultures, religion, disease, etc.), a dictionary for some of the ‘Nuta’aalan’ phrases that appear in the book, and a character list. I’m not too rigid with my outlines though, I leave plenty of wiggle room, for the characters to do what they need to do on occasion.
#FP: How do you find #FP helps your writing?
SC: It’s a fun way of helping me stretch my creative legs. It’s challenging because of the 140 character limit (137 if we’re being pedantic), so it forces you to try to tell a story to the specified theme in a very short space. Sometimes I like to try and conjure an image, other times a very short scene. I always try to hit different styles too so I can keep my mind fresh. My latest favourite invention was the Hamsteraptor (a hybrid hamster-velociraptor), which got a series of #FP tweets dedicated to it. When the theme allows, Hamsteraptor will definitely be rearing its fuzzy, scaly, terrifying head again.
#FP: What draws you to flash-fiction, to #FP? What do you love and hate about it?
SC: I enjoy it because it allows you to create a little micro-universe for a small space of time. There’s no pressure to be profound, or push boundaries, or anything. It’s a little bit of fun. It’s a way of breaking your writing cycle and keeping fresh. Although it’s not happened for me, I’d be interested to learn how many writers have taken a concept that started with #FP and turned it into a full blown story.
#FP: What inspires you most about writing?
SC: The thing that inspires me most with scenes is music. Often, I’ll have my idea for a story and I’ll ponder over it occasionally in the same way we all do; when I’m walking, driving, showering etc. Sometimes I’ll be listening to music and a scene will burst to life in my mind. I’ll be watching the scene in my head, often some cataclysmic fight scene with some music that’s heavy on the bass.
Take ‘Founding Dark’, for instance–A prequel novel I have planned for ‘Manor Dark’. I knew I wanted to write a prequel that explored more of the world; specifically a group of people known as the Order of Reapers. I had an idea for some characters and was forming something of an idea about a plot. Then this song came on SoundCloud as I was shuffling along:
(Yeah, I have odd taste in music… I vary between classical, classic rock, metal/heavy rock, hip-hop, whatever is in the charts, then lots of weird and wonderful stuff while I’m writing).
I was on the way to the train station at the time, this song came on and a scene came to life. A huge battle, with several of the main cast demonstrating the new technique they’d discovered for harnessing the power in their soul shards called Pulsing. It was awesome.
#FP: Who are your writing inspirations? How do they influence your creativity?
SC: My writing inspirations have to be my favourite authors, of course: Brandon Sanderson, Peter V Brett, and Mark Lawrence. I’m not sure how they influence my creativity to be honest. I love their stories, and hope that I can write stories as entertaining, evocative, and captivating as theirs. One thing I’ve loved about all their work is that none of it has been the standards knights and dragons fantasy that everybody pictures when they think of the genre. Damsel’s in distress, noble knights, gluttonous kings, trope after clichéd trope. In that same way, I’ve wanted to deviate from these standards the best I can. That being said, Manor Dark and Founding Dark have that clichéd medieval Europe type setting, but I’ll forgive myself that oversight because of the lore I’ve managed to conjure up.
I feel like I’m doing a disservice to all of the other fantastic authors who I’ve enjoyed over the years, but it’s safe to say that every one of them has inspired me in one way or another. If I could list every one of them, I would.
#FP: What is your favourite motivational phrase or musing on writing, and why?
SC: ‘A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit’ – Richard Bach
I love that saying because it tells us that anyone can become a novelist. You don’t need a degree from Oxford, or a PhD in English Literature of the 18th Century. Hell, you don’t need stunning grammar or outstanding spelling. All you need is an idea.
That’s not to say that writing a story is easy. Beginning a story is easy. Seeing it through to the bitter end, slogging through the dreaded ‘middle’, editing, editing, then editing again, then sending it off for someone else to look at and hoping all your sleepless nights have been worth a damn, is insanely hard. Giving your writing to another human being is not something to be taken lightly. These creations that spawn from our deepest desires, that are born of our burning passion, are all precious to us. Even that story that was complete rubbish was precious. It was ours, and we wrote it because it meant something. But we distance ourselves from it, we listen to the feedback and we work our asses off to make that story the best it can be. We do whatever we can to make sure the characters, plot, and setting live up to the astronomical expectations we have of them.
#FP: What is the hardest thing about writing for you?
SC: Time. Always time. There’s never enough of it. After working, and commuting, and driving, and speaking to friends, and doing everything that allows our existence to continue, finding a spare hour can be difficult. I’ve managed to find a routine that’s working for me at the moment. I’ve also set myself the goal of 1000 words a day. No excuses. So far I’ve been hitting it. Sometimes I smash it out of the park, sometimes I’m scraping the barrel for motivation after 600 words. It’s working though; I’m writing 1000 words a day and that means every day I’m 1000 words closer to my finished manuscript.
#FP: What do you tell yourself every time it gets hard? Every time the stars stop aligning? What do you do when writer’s block knocks on your creative door?
SC: Punch it square in its beady, drooling face.
In the year I’ve been writing I haven’t really been plagued by the dreaded block. Sure, I’ve had days where I sit at the laptop and think, ‘what the hell am I going to write about today’ but I don’t let that stop me. This is where having my outline helps. Usually as long as I start, even if it’s complete crap, it’s enough to inch open the gate and get the juices trickling. Then the more words I get down, the more the gate opens. Another effective saying, ‘You can’t edit a blank page’. So, don’t worry about writing perfect, beautiful prose, just worry about getting something, anything, down on the page, then come back and perfect it later.
#FP: Do you have any secret and wacky writing rituals that help the words flow?
SC: Usually, I wait until the moon is in Capricorn then form a spirit circle with my neighbours. I lure one of my hundreds of enemies into the circle, often with some kind of delicious sugary treat, then we sacrifice them to the writing gods. That bags me a good fifty words.
Failing that, I sit down, put my headphones in and bash the keyboard until sentences happen. Coherence and depth are a bonus.
#FP: What advice would you give to aspiring writers and poets, anyone who wants to free the art within? What helped you make it to this point?
SC: Do it. No, stop scrolling through Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest or Myspace or Grindr or whatever else (unless of course it’s the witty tweets found on FridayPhrases newsfeed–we can call that inspiration). Use the time you spend thinking about writing, or telling people you want to write, to actually write!
Even if you spend 20 minutes a day writing, you are still writing. There’s no time limit. No rules. And once you start, don’t stop–some people will write a chapter then go back and edit it, then keep going over it and over it. Once you have that momentum pushing forward, seize it. All the editing can come later on.
Also, join some writing groups on Facebook or twitter. Or give Wattpad a whirl, it takes some dedication, but it can be very rewarding. Speaking with likeminded authors who are willing to help you every step of the way is incredibly motivational.
#FP: What genres do you find yourself most drawn to? In your books and in your #FP’s?
SC: Fantasy and Sci-fi are my go to genres–though I do have plans for a paranormal crime novel… I just love having an entire world or universe at my fingertips, not being bound by the laws and shortfalls of this one giant, watery, dirt ball we call home.
With my #FP’s I like to try and stretch my legs a little, so I might do something a little romantic or try and do something funny. Not to say my books are devoid of humour and love, but they aren’t the driving themes.
#FP: How can readers discover more about you and you work? (*Include links to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube channel, whatever you’re on and wherever you are.)
SC: I’m always happy to talk writing, reading, gaming, or anything else for that matter on social media and my website. Obligatory links below:
Website – www.stephenclarkson.co.uk
Twitter – twitter.com/ste_clarkson90
Facebook – facebook.com/stephenclarksonauthor
Wattpad – www.wattpad.com/user/StephenClarkson
Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15905823.Stephen_Clarkson
Be sure to sign up to my mailing list for announcements on my upcoming novels!
Chapter 1 – Swift
Swift swung over the eaves, landing in a crouch on the moonlit roof and taking deep breaths as she listened for signs of movement below. Glancing at her hand, she dashed across the tiles. Her form-fitting black gi clung to her allowing no rustling in the gentle breeze. Silence had been her first lesson.
The Manor remained quiet beneath her. No windows lined the walls for light to escape and only two heavily guarded doors permitted entrance. There was one more option for Swift, difficult for any normal warrior but well within the skills of a woman of her calibre.
This night had been weeks in the planning and timing was key. She paused, sparing another glance at the tiny silver watch carefully sewn into the fabric of her glove. The moon glinted from its hands as the time ticked away rapidly before her. A watch with a hand to mark the passing seconds was a large but necessary expense. Her actions required vital precision. The rewards would be worth the cost.
Darting into motion she ran along the crest of the roof towards the bell tower. Less than sixty seconds to midnight. The bell would be rung twelve times to mark the hour and at the final ring, she would strike. She reached the tower and crouched below the battlement with only seconds to spare.
The bolts to the tower hatch clashed as they were worked free, the number of locks confirming the Lord’s rumoured paranoia. The trap slammed open and a grizzled man in servant’s uniform rose from the void, a sword tied hastily at his hip. He went to his task without hesitation. He pulled on the rope and the great brass bell resonated deafeningly. Swift felt each ring in her bones, yet her heartbeat was normal and no sweat trickled on her brow. She let a peace settle over her, calming the thrill she felt before every mission and allowing her to look upon her task with perfect clarity. No emotion would mar her judgement or slow her hand.
Anticipation held the breath in her lungs as she counted. The final ring sounded out and she hopped onto the rail next to the servant. He had no time to react before she slammed her blade deep into his neck, cutting off his cry. Arterial spray shot from the wound, spilling hot blood over the wooden platform. She took his head and removed the slender dagger, lowering him gently to the tower floor. An innocent bystander in a terrible crime but the loss was necessary. It had been a long time since she had felt even a flicker of guilt. She wiped the blood from the steel onto his shirt. A blood-soaked knife was prone to rust and she had a particular fondness for this one.
She slipped through the open trap, her time short before the guards would question the man’s return. The complete absence of light staggered her while her eyes settled, but it was of little import. Darkness was a familiar ally. She slithered down the tower and listened at the door to the Manor’s upper corridor. Hushed mutterings accompanied by the quiet clink of guards armour as someone approached. She counted only two voices. Time was moving against her. They were already searching for the missing servant.
“The Lord would go into a frenzy if he knew that fool was bumbling about up there.”
“Should I shout up to him?”
“No… We mustn’t wake Lord Armis.”
Their lantern light pooled in the doorway to the tower. She could hear each footstep, every rustle of the chain on their arms as they walked. The peace washed over her. Her training had been extensive and brutal, preparing her for any challenge she might face. This would be the night’s first true test.
The lantern came in first with an armoured arm attached. She pursed her breath and waited for her opportunity. The guard leant in and craned his neck back to look up the ladder. In that instant, her hand darted out like an arrow, carrying her blade in a fatal slash across the guards exposed neck. Blood sprayed in a violent eruption, his screams muted by severed vocal chords. The walls became a symphony in crimson. The voiceless guard dropped to his knees in a startlingly loud clash. The second only managed to get his sword half drawn as she emerged from the tower and cut his life free. In her mind, she cursed the eager guards for breaking her silence. She would have to increase her paced. The lanterns soft orange glow was dazzling in the infinite abyss. She blew out the flame as she wiped her blade clean on the fallen guards tabard. The plush corridor was an assassin’s dream, her footsteps falling like feathers as she stalked her prey. The informant had said the Lord’s bedroom was the corner most room. The pervading dark made finding the final door its own challenge but through accustomed eyes, the corridor awoke in dull grey tones. Simple yet expensive decorations, paid for in blood and broken bones, stirred the bile in her stomach.
She found the handle and eased the door open, bracing herself against the stone wall, where she awaited a final line of defence but was greeted by only looming quiet. Peeking into the room, she saw her target lay still in his bed. Her heart threatened to burst free of her chest, but the familiarity of the dagger’s grip soothed her as she stepped into the doorway. There would be no honour in gutting the Lord in his sleep, but honour could never return what he had taken.
Her anticipation mounted with each step, forcing steady breaths as she approached the bed. She stopped, hesitation gnawing at the back of her mind. Pausing with full lungs, she allowed the unease to manifest, waiting for her senses to assess and enlighten her. The figure was too still in its slumber. Her heart thundered as she cast her eyes around the room. Suddenly a figure darted from the shadows, great and powerful hands wrapped around her shoulders and lifted her into the air.
“It seems you really are quite skilled,” her attacker said in a refined tone. He seemed excited, thrilled by the presence of the viper in his den.
She planted her heel on his neck and thrust as hard as she could, attempting to collapse his larynx. He might have been an iron statue for the good it did. He smiled the Devil’s smile and wisps of smoke burst from the his chest. His shoulders broadened and his body bulked as he grew. She struggled in a rising panic, facing down the monster with no way out. His face grew stern and angry as she fought, his hands like vices as he shuffled her down.
Her neck snapped like a rotten twig.
He dropped her limp body and began to shrink as the power faded. With a sigh he pulled the pendant from his shirt. The purple crystal cracked and faded before his eyes. The shard, black as coal, crumbled away from the chain as ash and flitted gently into the air.
“A pity to waste a crystal on one so… weak.”