Tag Archives: Tiny Owl Workshop

Guest interview: June Taylor

16 May

Leeds-based writer June Taylor (flash fiction author and YA/New Adult novelist) discusses the frightening experience of writing about Krampus, tells us when she finally felt able to say ‘I am a writer!’ and insists that counting isn’t her strong point.

Follow June on Twitter @joonLT . June also tweets for Script Yorkshire @ScriptYorkshire

June 2

June reading ‘When Krampus Comes’ at the UK Krampus Crackers launch.

If you had to describe yourself and your writing in fifty words or less, what would you say?

I’m a writer from Leeds and very proud of my Yorkshire heritage. Like many writers, I need to write. Some days I wish I didn’t, but most days I’m glad that I can. I write mainly novels, but also plays and flash fiction. My novels are YA/New Adult crossovers. I’m interested in characters on the edge of themselves or on the edge of belonging. I’m particularly obsessed with mothers and daughters at the moment. I think you need a good plot but it’s the psychology between the characters that makes it interesting.

(That’s more than fifty words, sorry. I’m hopeless at counting.)

What made you get involved with the Krampus Crackers project and what inspired your story?

I love Tiny Owl Workshop and was involved in their Halloween flash fiction napkins a couple of years ago. They do some really innovative things. So when Vicky put the Krampus Cracker call out I couldn’t resist. And flash fiction is a great way of finding your way into bigger stories and characters. I often use it as a warm-up exercise. However, I have to confess that with my Victorian Krampus story I was totally led by Krampus himself. Really I was just his typist. It was a rather frightening experience. Then, when I was recruited as an elf to assemble the crackers I think I incurred the most paper cuts out of all the elves. It was horrific. You just don’t mess with Krampus.

What are you working on at the moment? Can you give us a sentence from your work in progress?

I’m working on my second book, ‘Two Summers’, a psychological page-turner told from a mother-daughter perspective. My agent is currently trying to sell it (see next question).

It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves.” I didn’t write this sentence, André Gide did. But it sums it up pretty well and I was told to put a clever quote on the first page.

What’s your proudest writing achievement so far?

In 2011, I was runner-up in the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition with my YA novel, ‘Lovely me Lovely You’. I got my picture in The Times newspaper and everything! It made me feel like a proper writer and able to say, finally, without shame or mumbling into my sleeve: “I AM A WRITER.” It also convinced family and friends that perhaps I’m not barking up the wrong tree after all – just a very tall one with some rather precarious branches. Anyway, I got a literary agent off the back of that success but – familiar story – although the book nearly found a major publisher, it didn’t in the end. I now have a new agent, the fabulous Shelley Instone, whose aim it is to champion Northern writers. I’m proud to be associated with Shelley. We’re a good team.

Which novel or poem etc. do you wish you’d written, and why?

Which poem …? Poetry generally doesn’t do it for me if I’m honest, unless it makes me feel something right away. If I have to search hard for its meaning then it loses its magic. I’d love to be able to write poetry/lyrics like Leonard Cohen. Music and poetry, that’s when it works best for me, I suppose. Or when it has some real relevance, like Simon Armitage’s ‘Black Roses: the killing of Sophie Lancaster’, which is an incredibly powerful use of poetry that conveys the tragic waste of a young life.

Which novel …? Perhaps a cliché in one sense, but I’d love to have written ‘Catcher in the Rye’, or ‘The Bell Jar’. I’d like to write a ‘best-friend’ book that connects with young people and stays with them through life.

Which screenplay …? ‘Thelma and Louise.’

Which radio drama …? ‘Under Milk Wood.’

Which stage play …? Anything by Shakespeare I suppose would make me look good.

If you could only have three books to read for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Well, at the risk of sounding pretentious I think Proust’s ‘A La Recherche du Temps Perdu’ because it would keep me going for life. I’ve only read one volume and there are seven to get through. (I’m assuming this counts as one choice though). Then also ‘Kes’, a book I never tire of reading. Third choice, maybe my book of fairytales I had as a child. I don’t have it any more but there were stories from all over the world in it, as well as the more well-known ones, and the illustrations were magical. It was massive. My chubby little fingers couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. But if that was never to be found again then maybe something else from my childhood, like ‘Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Or ‘Daddy-Long-Legs’. Or ‘L-Shaped Room’… That’s actually more than three books, isn’t it? Told you I’m not very good at counting. Oh well, I’d try and smuggle the extra ones into my carrier bag.

Who said anything about a carrier bag? (I made that bit up actually. I’m good at that).

 Thanks June. I hope you got some enjoyment out of the Krampus Crackers experience. 🙂

Guest interview: Samantha Braham

25 Apr

Thanks to Sam Braham for being the latest UK Krampus Crackers author to guest on this blog, revealing the inspiration behind her flash fiction, what she has in common with Bridget Jones, and her dream of living with the Oompa-Loompas…

You can follow Sam on twitter to find out more about her work. @BrahamSamantha 

DSCN2145Sam at the Krampus Crackers launch event in Leeds.

Describe yourself in 50 words or less:

I’m a writer who doesn’t write as often as I should! I have a busy life so it’s hard to fit everything in. But I’m also a paradox – a busy person who is essentially lazy so any free time is usually spent gazing out the window or eating biscuits.

Why did you become involved in Krampus Crackers and what was the inspiration for your story?

Until about a year ago, I’d never heard of Flash Fiction and then I discovered a couple of American writers on WordPress that write Flash Fiction stories in 100 words. As I have the attention span of a gnat and fail to get beyond page 8 of anything I write, I thought this could be just the thing for me. I’d just finished writing my first ever Flash Fiction piece, Wishes, when I heard about the Krampus Crackers project. I enjoyed the challenge of writing Wishes so decided to try and write a story about Krampus, despite not having any idea who or what he was. After researching his myth and legend, I was struck by his increasing commercial popularity; in particular with chocolate-makers in Austria. I began to wonder what Krampus would make of it all and, from there, came the story.

What are you working on at the moment and can you give us a sentence from your current Work In Progress?

I’m currently working on pieces I’ve previously written. I’m rewriting/editing two pieces of Flash Fiction and a short play. I find it helps to put some distance between myself and my writing so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes I even surprise myself as it isn’t as bad as I originally thought! A line from my short play Lara and Liam (a working title, I’m rubbish at thinking up titles) is “If your Mam were like mine you’d understand.”

What’s your proudest writing achievement so far?

That would be the Krampus Crackers project. The whole thing was an amazing experience for a new writer like me. The opportunity to have a story I had written placed in a cracker and left in venues around Leeds for other to read and – fingers crossed – enjoy was fantastic. That would have been enough in itself but I also got to have my story illustrated, attend a fabulous launch event and have my story read by the Liars’ League in London by a professional actor. Wow, what an experience and I loved every minute of it! A big thank you to Vicky for organising and running the project. She did a tremendous job!

What novel do you wish you had written?

That’s a difficult question as there are so many I love and admire. I suppose I should say something intellectual or cool, quirky and edgy but instead I’m going to say anything by Roald Dahl. Not a novel writer but, for me, the supreme story-teller. Widely fantastic, completely original and totally anarchic! As a child, I was obsessed with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I dreamed of being one of the lucky five children who finds a Golden Ticket and is allowed inside Willy Wonka’s factory. Of course, not being a spoilt, over-indulged brat I would be the last one standing, inherit Wonka’s factory and spend the rest of my days surrounded by chocolate and Oompa-Loompas.

If you could only have 3 books for the rest of your life, which 3 would you choose?

Aaarrrggghhh! What an awful question! Ok, I’m going to make this decision on what I do read time and time again, and also on having a bit of variety in my reading if I’m only allowed to ever read three books again.

1 – Bridget Jones’ Diary – I think one of the reasons Bridget Jones is so successful is that most women can see a bit of Bridget in themselves. From dating disasters to messing-up at work, worrying about how many calories I’ve eaten, and drinking too much alcohol and smoking too many fags (I gave up fags many years ago. Can’t say the same for the booze though), I can place a huge tick next to each one and howl with laughter every time I read this book. Also, Helen Fielding’s inspiration came from Pride and Prejudice, which is another of my favourite novels. She paid homage by creating her own Mr. Darcy whilst I did the same by giving one of my daughters the middle name of Elizabeth. Sad, I know.

2 – To Kill a Mocking Bird – Despite loving English, the only book I read for my ‘O’ level English Literature (yes, I’m that old) and enjoyed was this one. Enjoyed is an understatement, it totally blew me away and I read it in two days. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read it since. This book should be on everyone’s top ten reading list.

3 – Great Expectations or The Harry Potter Series – Getting tricky now. I didn’t read Great Expectations until a few years ago. Since then I’ve read it three or four times. I was hooked from the first couple of pages but, what do you expect, it’s a Dickens. Harry Potter isn’t even in the same league, I know, but the truth is I’m a massive Harry Potter nerd. Just recently my twin daughters have developed their own Harry Potter obsessions. When we’re not reading the books or watching the films you can often find them in Gryffindor robes pretending to be Hermione or Ginny. So for the shared family experience I’m going to choose Harry Potter because it would be a shame if my children didn’t have all this wonderful magic in their lives. And I know I’m cheating because there are seven books in the Harry Potter series but I’ve always been one to bend the rules; especially if it’s to my advantage.

Thanks very much Sam, and sorry for asking difficult questions!

Guest interview: Nick Clark

8 Apr

This week, Nick Clark, one of the UK Krampus Cracker authors, answers my questions about writing, his work in progress, and the books he’d choose if he could only keep three…

Find out more about Nick by following him on twitter @ngfclark

DSCN2149Nick at the Krampus Crackers launch event in December 2014.

  • If you had to describe yourself and your writing in fifty words or less, what would you say?

I’m a Leeds-based fiction author with a long-held interest in all that is speculative, sublime and surreal. I like to work with genre fusions and subversions of traditional tropes. My roots are in myth and folklore and worlds behind wardrobes. I plan sober, write drunk, and edit hungover.

  • What made you get involved with the Krampus crackers project and what inspired your story?

The Krampus name leapt out at me when I was skimming through potential story submission opportunities. I’d written an article on mythical Christmas beings the previous winter, so I was already clued up on Krampus and his ilk. The Tiny Owl project allowed me to explore the demon through a creative response, which I really enjoyed.

Flash fiction is entirely new to me. Most of my ‘short’ stories tend to hover around the 5,000 word mark – not really ideal when the typical competition out there caps a 3,000 word limit. Still, I was eager to give flash fiction a go, especially with a theme I was interested in.

I’m a big fan of the short stories of Kelly Link, and I knew I wanted to do something that placed a similar emphasis on stylisation and stark imagery. I wrote the story, edited it, and submitted it over five days. I didn’t have especially high hopes for it because of how little time I had, so I was overjoyed when I got the good news from Vicky. It also spurred me on to develop the setting into what might become a Yule-themed fantasy novel. I love it when the writing process starts linking things together like that!

  • What are you working on at the moment? Can you give us a sentence from your work in progress?

Helwick’s tower stood in the middle of a small island, and the sea encircled it – rising up for more than a hundred feet, so high that the sky above was framed by a ragged edge of restless ocean.

This is from my current project, a YA novel set in a post-apocalyptic flooded world. I know the whole ‘water planet’ concept has been done before, but I’ve always felt it was such a rich source of ideas that hasn’t been fully explored yet. This is my own take on it, which fuses the consequences of catastrophic climate change with epic fantasy, and aims to subvert some of the typical ‘high seas adventure’ tropes. It’s about a magician who wakes up after an enchanted sleep he cast on himself wears off. He’s suffering from amnesia, so we follow his exploration of the drowned world whilst he slowly uncovers his past – not all of it to his liking.

  • What’s your proudest writing achievement so far?

Aside from Krampus Crackers (of course), it would have to be my short story Rattenkönig, a ghost story that got published in Tethered By Letters’ quarterly journal. It was my first story to win a competition, my first to get illustrated, and my first paid gig as well. Needless to say it made me outrageously happy. TBL are really generous with their cash prizes and passionate about helping new authors. They’ve recently revamped their website so take a look.

  • Which novel do you wish you’d written, and why?

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. I was sixteen when I first read it, and it completely changed my view of what fiction could achieve and where it could go. I think it represented a direction I would have liked to take my own ideas of writing – if I’d been any good at that point – so of course I was immensely jealous of someone who could set out such accomplished and thought-out storytelling. Still am.

  • If you could only have three books to read for the rest of your life, what would they be?

OK, I’m going to give you a very practical answer for this:

    • Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer – Without books my writing would get very stale so a writer’s guide of some description would be essential. This one is beautifully illustrated and full of insightful detail.

    • Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism – It’s a book I’ve had since uni that contains absolutely tons of critical theory from throughout its history. Theory often requires repeated reading to get your head round it, so there’ll be plenty of time to do just that.

    • The last A Song of Ice and Fire book by George R R Martin – Obviously.

Thanks Nick!

Guest post: Madeleine McDonald.

8 Feb

Madeleine McDonald was one of the UK Krampus cracker authors, and read her flash fiction at the launch event in December. She’s a busy and talented lady, and you can read more about her on her blog. Madeleine has kindly agreed to share a post with us, reflecting on what led her to get involved with the Krampus crackers project. And for the record, all three of her entries were great.

HAVING A GO

 

I entered the Krampus Krackers competition in order to try something different. The first draft of my third romance novel was finished but it had been a long, lonely slog. With a sigh of relief, I put the manuscript away in a drawer. As with all first drafts, I had convinced myself I was trailing a cadaver that deserved only a decent burial. Nonetheless, I limped along to The End and told myself the historical research had been interesting.

 

To clear my head, I googled writing competitions and had a go at anything and everything. Within the discipline of a short word count and a set subject, my imagination roamed free. For better or worse, I produced science fiction, cosy crime, regency romance, regional fiction, time travel, magical realism, political satire or poetry. Vicky placed no limits on submissions, so I bombarded the poor girl with three variations on the Krampus theme.

 

The heartening result was two tongue-in-cheek cosy crime stories published and an invitation to read out my winning Krampus krackers story in Leeds. Thanks to Vicky and my fellow winners for an enjoyable evening.

 

And that misshapen first draft? Not so bad when I take a fresh look at it. As with all first drafts, radical surgery is required. Now it’s time for my competition shorts to take a rest in a drawer, while I edit and polish.

 

———

Click on this link Enchantment in Morocco to buy Madeleine McDonald’s first romance novel, on special offer from Amazon at 99p.

Enchantment - Kindle Rev 1

The morning after the Krampus before.

31 Jan

In December 2014, the flash fiction project that I’d been curating on behalf of the wonderful Tiny Owl Workshop culminated in a launch event at Outlaws Yacht Club in Leeds.

Having deliberated with my fellow judge, Steve Toase, over which Krampus-themed flash fictions to choose and print, I’d then spent many a night putting together a batch of around 1000 Krampus story crackers, aided by a team of wonderful elves. (June Taylor requires a special mention here for her dedication to the cause, both as a cracker manufacturer and delivery driver. :-))

When the night of the launch event arrived, the first sets of crackers accompanied me to the venue, ready to be unleashed on the general public.

Nine of the Krampus authors attended the event to read their flash fictions, and they did a great job of it, keeping the crowd so enraptured that apart from the occasional burst of laughter, or horrified sucking-in of breath, you could hear a pin drop.

As for me, well, my first attempt to compere a launch event went fairly smoothly. However, if I ever do anything like this again, there are a few things I’d do differently. This is the advice I’d give my future self:

Don’t eat a goat’s cheese and beetroot sandwich while greeting authors.

I would advise anyone running a literary event to eat well in advance of it. You might have good intentions, and be thinking to yourself “Ooh, I’ll have at least half an hour at the venue to grab a bite to eat,” but be warned – that time will disappear in a whirl of last minute checks and queries. You will end up trying to stuff down a ciabatta in the precious moments before your first author appears, leading to you greeting them with slightly pink teeth.

Try not to come across as an alcoholic.

As the Krampus authors arrived, I accosted them with a cry of “Free wine! Have some free wine!” This was my attempt – funded by the lovely Sue Wright at Tiny Owl – to give them a little something as a thank you for attending, but combined with my nervous energy (read, wide-eyed panic), may have come across more as a manic attempt to force-feed them alcohol. In combination with my pink teeth, I’m not convinced this generated the best possible first impression….

Don’t set fire to the furniture.

I’d just like to reiterate that the smoking lightbulb incident was entirely accidental, and that no sofas were seriously injured in the making of this launch event. Next time, I’ll do my best to remember that it’s not a good idea to leave hot items resting on a combustible surface, especially if you can’t see them, therefore missing the first tell-tale wisps of smoke, which have to be pointed out to you by audience members. Enough said.

Try not to traumatise the people in the front row.

When, mid-way through the event, I leant towards the crowd in a friendly manner and informed them that it was Krampusnacht the next day, I forgot about the red light shining down on my face, lighting up my eyes in a devilish fashion. In hindsight, I could have missed out the part where I warned everyone to behave so as to avoid being dragged to hell in a sack, but to be fair, I hadn’t realised how close I was to the blokes at the front.

They did look a bit terrified. I’d already set fire to the sofa at this point.

And breathe…

Actually, the evening went really well. The authors were fabulous, the crowd were fantastic, and everyone loved the crackers. I am slightly OCD when it comes to organising events, and this seemed to pay off, because, aside from the exceptions above, everything went to plan.

Anyway, Krampus must have approved, as there wasn’t a single lump of coal in my Christmas stocking.