Q & A with James Brogden - Published Author16:39
WEbooker James Brogen recently locked in a publishing deal with award-winning indie press Snowbooks for this horror/high fantasy novel, The Narrows. We're always happy to share the success story of a writer who's found a home for their book, so we're doing a two part question and answer series with James so he can share some info on his path to publication.
We'll kick things off with a bit about The Narrows and James' writing process. In parts two, James will talk more about how he connected with Snowbooks.
Tell us a bit about your novel, The Narrows. What genre best describes it? What’s the basic premise?
The Narrows is an urban fantasy novel with elements of horror, high fantasy and even a touch of dubious science fiction thrown in. It’s a bit of a mongrel, basically, but that’s entirely in keeping with the subject matter. The basic premise is that the Narrows are strange shortcuts through a shadowy otherworld lurking behind the alleyways and wasteland areas of the city, which are used by a community of vagrants and scavengers – called Narrowfolk - to travel and trade.
In their own words, the Narrows are places where the skin of the world is thin. The problem is that someone or something is closing the Narrows and kidnapping the Narrowfolk for arcane sacrificial purposes, and the story follows a young man from the ‘ordinary’ world who finds himself involved in this when he accidentally saves a Narrowfolk girl from abduction.
What inspired you to write this story?
I once held a job as a sales assistant in a big shopping centre in Birmingham, where the long shifts often had me commuting home by train late in the evening, and having read far too many horror novels than was good for me I naturally wondered what sorts of creatures were sitting out there in the darkness besides the tracks, watching my nice, bright, sane carriage going past with their flat eyes. One night my imagination upped the stakes and made a young homeless girl haul open the door next to me and climb up into the carriage, and of course I needed to know: who was she? Where had she come from? What was she running from? Everything in The Narrows spooled out from there. That scene appears in Chapter 4, and is probably the only part of the novel which has survived the endless rewrites and revisions pretty much intact.
The core of the story is an idea I had about a ley-line being like a length of rope buried in the beach; a child yanks the end of the rope and the whole length of it thrupps out of the sand. What would that be like on a geological scale and what would it do to anybody whom it hit? It got hooked in my brain and gave me the mechanism for how the Narrows work.
Tell us about some of the characters. Do you have a favorite?
All of the characters for whom I have any sympathy are the ones who recognise that they are in some way incomplete – Andy as the everyman character having to deal with being catapulted out of his normal world; Bex for arguing the toss with everybody about everything and never taking no for an answer; even Carling, the main antagonists’ psychotic henchman, for embracing the truth that being a monster doesn’t necessarily have to make him evil. The antagonist, a geomancer called Barber, is evil because he has no doubts about the righteousness of his cause. I have no time for fundamentalists, whatever they believe in. I like doubters.
There’s also a number of supporting characters including an ex-policeman, ‘Rosey’ Penrose, who I enjoyed sticking in a campervan with Bex on the motorway and just letting them bicker; a couple of young 50’s era lads who are an experiment in what would happen if you put the Famous Five in a John Wyndham novel; and a pseudo-Celtic warrior called Edris who is there for a bit of high-fantasy, demon-fighting hack and slay.
As I said, The Narrows is a bit of a mongrel, genre-wise.
What was your writing process like? How many drafts did you go through before you felt it was “done.”
This is quite embarrassing. It took me a hell of a long time. All I’ll say is that I completely ditched it and started again from scratch in 2006, after realising that the reason it was taking me so long was that when I worked on a computer all I did was go back over and over the same scenes tweaking little bits here and there and not actually getting on with the narrative. I heard somewhere that Neil Gaiman writes all his stories in notebooks, so I decided to give that a go, and I found that it worked a lot better. I physically couldn’t go back and change the ink on the page (beyond a certain amount of scribbling), and so I was forced to move forward.
Also, they’re a lot more portable and I’m not particularly disciplined so it’s good to have one to hand when the mood or idea strikes. I’ve had to fit writing around having a family and a busy teaching career, so that’s my excuse.
‘Semi-chaotic’ probably best describes the process. I have a rough idea in my head of ‘acts’, where I want the story to be at the end of a certain act, and maybe one or two set piece scenes based on a particularly striking line of dialogue or image, like the rope-in-the-sand, and I’ll often engineer events to fit that hook without any clear idea of where to go next. The best I can do after that is just try to imagine what a person would realistically do given the circumstances.
In this I’m helped tremendously by having spent years of my life playing role-playing games with my friends. There’s absolutely no greater tool for me as a writer to have come up with what I think is a lovely watertight plot and then have real-life people playing characters who walk straight through the holes I didn’t know were there.
Once I’d filled 4 big journalists’ spiral-bound notebooks I burned a month typing it all up, revised once for major plot points and added/deleted scenes, once again for typos and fine-tuning the language, and decided that was enough. I was happy with it, I’d written a story which pleased me, and figured that if somebody wanted to publish it then that would be a bonus.
About James Brogden:
James Brogden is a teacher of English in Worcestershire, UK, where he liveswith his wife, two daughters, one cat and far too much lego. When he's not writing or trying to teach children how to, he gets out into the mountains whenever he can, exploring the remains of Britain's prehistoric past and hunting for standing stones. Fortunately they don't run very fast.