An Interview with CC Hogan, author of the Dirt saga (which is filled with dragons!)
If you want more information about his world, go to www.aworldcalleddirt.com
I’m not reviewing your current set of novels. From your other published novels, are there some that I should absolutely read?
Dirt is a bit of a never ending story, but I released a book earlier last year called The Stink. I was brought up in North London in the mid-seventies, a time of much industrial unrest and a time also when attitudes changed. Young people started to reject the restrictive tenets of their parents and created their own ideas, their own philosophy. If the sixties were a time of protest, the seventies were a time of reinvention. It was the true time of the teenager as well. Although the teen was invented in the 50s, it was not until the seventies that we got it right. I suppose it was in the seventies that the modern teen was created. Look at teens now and they are no different to us back then; we listen to the same type of music, even the same bands, go to the same festivals, drink the same drinks and get into the same sort of trouble.
And then, into the middle of this, landed 1976 – the longest hottest summer ever! We were sixteen, we had finished our exams and were let our of school early, and we had ten weeks to kill. The Stink is a comedy about one group of five who start a band. It almost goes right, but during the summer, they have to grow up, face racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, ridicule, love and even a murder. It is not just a caper, it is a little tip of the hat to my own youth too and perhaps it is, in its own way, a letter to my old town.
I both love and hate novels that don’t leave a discrete ending for the reader. Have you ever felt the need to write sequels for specific novels, other than this set?
I will write one for the Stink, but I haven’t left a cliff hanger. Dirt, obviously, is full of them. At up to twelve books long, I need to give people a reason to read the next, but The Stink ends properly – I ain’t going to tell you how, though! I will say that the sequel will be set two years later when the kids are now all eighteen years of age. They are older, ruder and probably a lot naughtier, and I am going to put them and their band on tour with a pile of punks. It will be a comedy again, but I am going to make sure that you do not have to read the first book to enjoy it, though it would help.
There’s always another novel in the pipeline to write… Tell me about it! Does it have even a working title?
There are two, or is that three? I want to right a conceptual love story. Actually, it is just an excuse for me welding together a pile of poems with some self-indulgent passages. However, I have another book or two in mind. The Stink, and its potential sequel, are both in a file called The London Novels. I was brought up in that mad city and I love it. I worked there for many years in the media business, mixing with crazy people and doing some crazy things. I would never write an autobiography because, firstly, I am not famous. More importantly, to make the book interesting, I would have to take the mickey and be insulting to people from my past who were friends. I am not prepared to do that. But it is a rich source of stories. So I have both a fake autobiography planned, written by a pretend rock star who is passed his sell-by date, and another book, set around the dives and bars of Soho. Not sure of a title for either of these yet, but I have a large pile of notes that are staring at me invitingly.
Some advice other writers have given is that your first novel is best sitting in a drawer for a while, because then you feel stronger about chopping up ‘your baby’. Do you still have a copy of your first novel? Whether this was published or unpublished, I need to know!
I have several, not quite finished, sitting up in the loft. One is around 120,000 words long and is a fairy tale, for adults, set in pre-Christian Russia. I also have a part written kids story, set on the moon, aimed at 12-year-olds. Oh, and a cartoons series. Although abandoned, they are not forgotten and were part of my decades-long learning process. All three, well two of them, are really strong ideas and one day, I will return to them and finish them. It may take another ten years, but I will get there. I have caught the bug now, you see, and in the last couple of years have written over a million words. It is an addiction; it may even be problem!
Do you have a dedicated writing space? How does it meet your writing needs?
I double up as a musician, so unusually for a writer, my computer has three huge monitors for my music software. My desk is covered with Mexican rugs and I have candles and guitars everywhere. An espresso machine sits on my right, a bottle of plonk on my left with a bowl of olives, and I always have a bottle of rum somewhere. Seeing that I am currently writing the second series of Dirt, the three monitors are emblazoned with wallpaper of the main continents of Dirt, so I can’t escape it. I open Word in the middle screen, Onenote on the right and Photoshop on the left. I also have a big, ancient Wacom tablet. This is an artist’s room. There are paintings on the wall, books on the shelves and it oozes fun and story telling. I love it.
What is your writing process? Have you ever thought about changing it? Other authors I have interviewed talk about having an outline – post-it notes in an office, or writing in paper journals. Is there something like that in your writing technique? Or is it all digital for you?
I am very digital because I am very computer literate. I design all my own websites, for instance, with a content management framework called ProcessWire. My primary tool is Onenote. Dirt is incredibly complicated. The story is set over 1000 years and harks back in time 12,000 years. Just to write the novels, I have had to create maps, timelines, family trees, histories, and religions. I have had to research longbows, hitching up carts, how fast horses travel, how fast ancient boats travel and work out how quickly a dragon can fly. The result is notes and research that are almost novel length in their own right. I dread to think how that would have been on paper.
Before I write, I make sure I plan everything, and then when I am writing, and inevitably think of lots nice extra bits, I constantly update my notes. On the Dirt website, are a list of all the characters so far in the first four books; all taken from my notes. However, I do plan slightly differently from others. I like to waffle, so when I create a character, I never put in my notes, “five foot six, c-cup, blond, blue eyes….” I write, “Silvi is right pain in the arse and though a bit on the short size, is quite able to shove her face up to anyone that annoys her.” That is a much better character and who gives a damn what her hair colour is! Anyone who says they can write freeform without planning, is fibbing – probably to themselves.
Having said that I am digital, if I manage to get a bigger work room at some point, I think I want to buy blackboards or whiteboards to help. I am very expressive and just a little eccentric. When I write, I speak out loud and when I read back, I often prance around the room performing the book. Dialogue is very important to me, so I need to make sure that it works and performing is the only true way to do it. The idea of scribbling on a huge board really appeals!
How do you know when a novel or short story is finished? How do you know to step away and let the story speak for itself?
I don’t! Well, I know when the story is finished because I normally run out of notes or full wine bottles. But just because I have written FIN, does not mean the work is over, and as they say, anything might happen in the rewrite! To be really honest, I hit publish when I am exhausted with it! Trouble is, I really fall in love with my characters and I have big problems letting them go. Some of them I have had to kill off, just to give me some sleep.
Do you have a preference for ebook or paperback format? This is for both your own reading and your novels.
I always loved paperbacks – never hardbacks as I like to abuse my books and I felt I had to be careful with hardbacks. Then, several years back, I had problems with my eyes and I gave up reading for fun. It was nothing terrible, I was just getting headaches and couldn’t seem to get the right glasses. Buying a tablet, brought me back to books again. For me now, I don’t really have a preference and for publishing, I will go for whatever people want, within limits. I am not quite up to hand-written illuminated manuscripts!
Social media is becoming a big thing. How does managing media outlets come into marketing your brand and your books?
At the moment, it is vital. I am an author; therefore, I am poverty stricken. I cannot afford advertising, so social media is my lifeline at the moment. As part of that is the world of the book blogger. You are an amazing group of people and a couple of you have gone way out their way to help with no returns. I suppose that is why I like doing things like this interview. I am a writer, so if I can make this a bit more interesting, even a bit of fun, then we all get something out of it. That is the secret of good marketing.
You have answered other sets of interview questions, is there something you wish someone would have asked you? Or conversely, something you wish they hadn’t asked?
My favorite food? First girlfriend? Actually, not as crazy as it sounds. When I wrote The Stink, one of the characters, the drummer, is a crazy Irish girl whose nickname is Aroma. Well, it is called The Stink! It was only when I had finished the book and was drawing the cover that I realised she was my first girlfriend – right down to the hitting the bloke she had fallen in love with and wouldn’t admit it. I don’t know where she is now as I lost contact in about 1977, but she was really cool and I have some very warm memories of messing around in the park doing everything we had been told not to. Oh, the food thing. Did I mention I am also a cook?