Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Born in 1980, Stuart Sharp (Stusplace) is a writer, ghostwriter and increasingly occasional historian who started writing part way through his PhD and hasn't stopped since. Although he started off writing urban fantasy, these days he is mostly to be found producing things with more jokes in. He lives in East Yorkshire, in the UK, on the kind of farm where squirrels find it perfectly acceptable to wander up to the windows and look in to see how the next novel is going. He likes writing jokes about pubs, despite not actually drinking, and dislikes writing fight scenes, despite having practiced a wide variety of vaguely violent things.
Please give Stu a big welcome as he talks about his writing process, publishing trends, and his latest comedy/fantasy novel COURT OF DREAMS. My review is below his guest post.
Hi, I’m Stuart Sharp, and Donna has been kind enough to offer me a guest spot on her blog today. I’m the author of the comic fantasy novel Court of Dreams (Pink Narcissus Press, 2012), as well as the urban fantasy novels Searching and Witch Hunt, not to mention numerous shorter pieces. Thanks to some news I received earlier, it looks like another strange fantasy novel ‘The Glass’ might be coming out later this year. Oh, and I’m a full time ghost writer who has worked on over thirty-five novels, novel length collections, or non-fiction works since 2010, when I finished my PhD.
I’ll get to that briefly later on, but for now, I thought I’d talk about my process for Court of Dreams, because it answers quite a lot of the normal writerly questions along the way, really. Court of Dreams had quite a long and convoluted development. It was an idea I was playing with at university, even before my previous urban fantasy novels. I was doing my PhD in medieval history and realizing that what I really liked about university was the opportunity to write long things, rather than the opportunity to write long things about the Middle Ages, per se.
It was a period where I was reading a certain amount of urban fantasy (Laurell K Hamilton, Kim Harrison, that kind of thing) and weirdly, I’d only read the sort with vampires rather than the whole urban faerie thing, so I thought it might actually be stunningly original to do something with a character who was a lost royal member of a fairy court (spellings optional). I even started to write it, with a half-faerie girl, an evil faerie princess and her pet thug… it fell apart after about five chapters.
I tried again, starting writing up on the top floor of Hull University’s Library, looking out at the wind turbine over the city. I put together a whole book this time, about a man called William Grey who was a changeling forced to solve problems for a faerie queen from an odd “Court” called the Dreaming Court. And the first job he had was all about half-human children being murdered. It wasn't exactly right, and I’m one of those annoying people who tends to delete things when they aren't right. Still, it gave me the Courts, and Erithnae the Dreaming Queen, and even some semblance of a plot.
Then somewhere along the line, I lost patience with the idea of serious urban fantasy. Or perhaps seriousness in general. I think it was around the time some of my royalty statements for the urban fantasy novels came in, and I realized that these novels I’d written following a trend hadn't made me rich and famous. So I might as well write something I wanted to write. Well, what did I want to write? That’s always the awkward question, isn't it? But I’d read quite a lot of Terry Pratchett, and more importantly Tom Holt, because his work convinced me that you could do this stuff without being the great man himself. So I decided to write something funny. So I tried. And failed. And deleted.
There were still things that went strange: Melissa comes in at the end of the book because I really didn't like the way things were going with Nicola, the MC’s girlfriend. The ending came in because I didn't want the traditional big fight at the end of a fantasy novel. The thing with the banana and the magic mirror… well, sometimes I just get lucky. Although it may also be that as a side effect of having a number of hopelessly violent hobbies, I don’t actually like writing fight scenes that much.
All of which must sound monumentally chaotic when you consider that I now make a lot of my living as a ghost writer, and started doing so really around the time I was playing with Court of Dreams. I’d ghost-write by day and then write at night, or on weekends. Which is probably like an accountant taking up mathematics as a hobby. It’s a very different process though, because when ghost writing, I’m taking someone else’s idea and trying to be the very structured, focused one to let it come out the best way it can be. I get to be creative, but I also have to adapt my process to fit how they want to work and the story they want to see. In a lot of ways, it has been useful for me having those deadlines and expectations. I can’t just throw half of something away when I’m ghost writing and proclaim it awful. That’s the client’s prerogative, not mine. Thankfully, it hasn't happened often.
I know there are people who don’t like ghost writing, but I also know that there are people who are intrigued by it. Getting into it is hard. For a long time, I didn't make money, because I wasn't established. People will only pay for someone who can prove they can deliver results, and you don’t get to do fiction straight away. It’s usually SEO and marketing instead. In many ways my first two novels were springboards there. They helped me land a lot of YA and urban fantasy work.
I don’t find the majority of ghost-writing problematic, but there have been jobs I have turned down. I won’t do academic ghost-writing, for example, and I’d be very careful about doing anything with a dead writer’s world unless I knew that their family was okay with it and it was clear that this one wasn't ‘really’ by the writer. My basic test is always ‘does it matter whose name is on this piece of work?’ In the case of the majority of fiction, and even much non-fiction, the answer is no. What matters is that the reader gets a piece of writing up to the required standard. Indeed, in some cases the stories wouldn't get told at all without my work on them.
I was so caught up in ghost writing for a year or two that I didn't really do much with Court of Dreams. I would send it to a publisher here and there, but not make much of an effort. I finally found a fit almost by accident, when I sent a short story called ‘Testing the Waters’ to Pink Narcissus Press for one of their anthologies. I happened to note that they were opening to longer works, and I became the first novel they published.
They did a wonderful job. I often feel that these days, it is better to self-publish than to publish with a small press, and certainly, my experience at my first publisher was that I got nothing for them I could not have done myself. Josie, Rose and the others at PinkNarc on the other hand did a lot to add to what I had, from some involved editing to some great cover art produced by Abigail Larson and then added to by Duncan Eagleson. In that sense, every novel is a collaborative experience, and it’s almost strange having these other people care almost as much about your idea as you do.
I suppose in a way, novels have that element to them even before they get that far. Certainly, Court of Dreams benefited from being read by a couple of friends, in the form of Adam Wilson (who is in many ways my favourite writer, even if he never publishes anything), and Bronwyn, who added the words ‘yay, I like smells!’ to a draft of the first chapter a long time ago. I've also benefited from getting to know other writers online, although I've noticed that it tends to be individual relationships, rather than writers’ groups and so on. I know there are people who push hard for mass recognition online, but frankly, I can’t be bothered. I’d rather just make people laugh when they read the book.
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Let me assure you my fellow book readers, I did laugh when I read the book. Thanks for guesting with me today Stuart. It has been a pleasure.
Court of Dreams by Stuart Sharp is uproariously funny. The story has a bevy of strange and quirky characters, a fantastic setting, and enough side splitting humor to satisfy even the most finicky reader in your family.
The adventure begins as perfectly ordinary Thomas Greene is attacked by a giant while breaking up with his girlfriend Nicola. Instead of the killing blow that Thomas expects however, he and Nicola fall through the trunk of a tree, and are separated in the fall. Both have their separate adventures in this strange land full of strange creatures called figments, roses that drink the blood of intruders, fruit trees that dub as entrances to human dreams, and all paths that lead to the castle - the last place that Simon Strange, a figment gone rogue, says Thomas should go to for answers.
The novel is light on plot; but heavy on action, fantastically interesting characters, and a cheeky play on words. There is murder and blood shed, mayhem and nefarious plots, anarchy among the monarchy, and of course, a unique kind of romance. As mentioned before, all of it family friendly, with not a standard foul word or inappropriate sexual innuendo. The scariest creature is a face licking boot (especially given the terrain it stomped through prior to its debut) and the misguided antics of the multi-pocketed villain Grave.
If you're a fan of Alice In Wonderland, A Series of Unfortunate Events, or Monty Python type adventure and humor, then this book will definitely satisfy your reading pleasure (and tickle your funny-bone in the process. Good clean fun with an ending that lets you write your own ever after, or perhaps a set up for a sequel as Thomas Greene further explores his new-found heritage and faerie powers.
I give Court of Dreams 5 stars for humor, intriguing characters, an imaginative setting, and more twists and turns than a bag of pretzels.
Double Dragon Author page
Click here for more information about Stuart's writing credits
Amazon UK purchasing site
Amazon US purchasing site