Monday, May 9, 2011

Dead in Time with Anna Reith

Today I welcome Anna Reith to my world. Those of you who know me have a good idea that I'm a sucker for stories involving musicians, and when Anna's Dead in Time landed on my desk as a review book, I just about had kittens the moment I started reading. Anna's writing hits all the right spots. Part murder mystery, part paranormal thriller involving the ghost of a glam rocker, it's one of the best novels I've read in a long while, and I'm not joking when I say I rate Anna as highly as some of my permanent favourites, like Neil Gaiman, Poppy Z Brite and Storm Constantine.

But, without further ado, thank you to Anna for dropping by for a little Q&A...

What is it about the glam era that appeals to you? Did you have a soundtrack you listened to while writing the novel?

I think it’s hard to explain why you love any particular style of music or culture, and glam can be a pretty wide-ranging term, running from the absolutely quintessential and commercial 1970s bands – T. Rex, Sweet, Mud, Suzi Quatro – to acts who incorporated elements of the style into something broader, such as Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Nick Gilder, or the much-maligned Jobriath.

What appeals to me, I think, is the sheer sense of unrepentant fun in so much glam music. I listen to a lot of classic rock, rock ’n’ roll, rockabilly and blues and, for me, glam is often the place where those things intersect. In a lot of cases, you can really hear the roots of earlier music coming through, but approached in a very off-the-wall way. I’d point readers towards T. Rex’s Electric Warrior album for an ear-candy explanation: songs like Mambo Sun, Lean Woman Blues, Monolith and Raw Ramp (available on the album reissue) are not the chart-busting hits the band are best remembered for, but they are awesome… and very, very glam.

As for a soundtrack… I have to confess it probably wasn’t much different to what’s usually playing while I write! However, there are a lot of nods to songs in the book, as well as several bands and artists; John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and, of course, the legendary Marc Bolan, to name but a few.

Damon Brent, on many levels, is a totally self-centred character one cannot help but be fascinated by. Tell us a little about the character and his creation process. If they had to make the movie for your novel, which actor would you cast?

Damon is, in a lot of ways, an irrepressible child. He’s passionate about his music, and sees the world through it, usually while completely failing to consider anyone else. Essentially, he’s a cheeky South London boy who struck it lucky a little too young. He’s been terribly na├»ve sometimes, but he’s not above being a manipulative little toerag when he wants something… and, as we discover, his charm has never saved him entirely from trouble.

Damon’s character is very rooted in the Bermondsey area of South London (non-UK residents are probably best off thinking of Michael Caine as a reference point.), and in both the whole Zeitgeist of glam as a means of escapism, and the cultural revolution it was set against. The 1970s were, in many ways, an incredibly bleak and difficult time in Britain – both economically and socially – and Damon represents that determination to break free with some colour, noise, and, yes, sequins… yet he’s never quite managed to leave his background behind him.

As for actors… I always say the same thing when asked this question. What I would love most, apart from actually seeing a film made (there’d be so much music! Oh!), is for a complete unknown to get a break and make the part his own. That said, I wouldn’t say no to Johnny Depp playing under his age in a blond wig, either. *grin*

Who are some of your literary influences, and which three novels will always have a space on your shelf?

If I had to whittle it down, I would probably say – in no particular order – Terry Pratchett, Edmund White, John Steinbeck, Iain Banks, and Jeannette Winterson although, to be honest, I pull influences from all over the place, all the time.

Books I couldn’t be without, however, would have to include The Lord of the Rings, for its breadth and detail, Of Mice and Men, for its elegant, lucid simplicity, and Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay, for reminding me that – contrary to popular belief – a little ambiguity is usually a good thing.

How did you approach the creation of Dead in Time? It's clear you had to do a fair bit of research. What particularly struck me was your knowledge of the music industry. Care to elaborate?

Frankly, once I had the basic shape of the plot, it was a case of just immersing myself in everything I could get my hands on from the time… concert footage, other people’s reminiscences and anecdotes, archives of newspapers and music publications like NME, and anything else available. The only material I purposely steered away from was biographies of or lengthy interviews with specific artists, so that my characters would never be based too closely on any one person. That said, plenty of allusions to well-known rock anecdotes and running jokes have wormed their way in there (M&Ms, anyone?), and there were some pieces of the history of that particular time and place that I wanted to celebrate, such as the role of Eel Pie Island, and the whole Ladbroke Grove scene.

The internet is an amazing resource for this. I doubt I would have been able to get access to so much archive material without it. As for personal experience, I have plenty with London (and Brighton), and a fair amount with the banality of green rooms and Continental hotels, but less so with the music industry itself. It is a hugely different business today, compared to the way it was, so much of my research was paper-based – although you can never underestimate the importance of plying every musician you know with beer until they spill their embarrassing stories.

You've elected to self-publish. How do you approach this process? Do you have any advice for authors considering to do the same?

This is an interesting one. For me, it boiled down to being the quickest and simplest way to get a book that I believe in out into the marketplace, even at the potential cost of lower returns. I had been told by several different agents and publishers that Dead in Time was "not commercial", but I wasn’t prepared to drastically alter it, or rewrite it as a paranormal romance – although I actually do write romance under a couple of other pen names.

Again, the internet is an amazing thing. It opens up so many opportunities for authors to either go it completely alone, or make use of the numerous print-on-demand and distribution services that are out there (such as Lulu, Createspace etc.). I’m still on something of a learning curve here, but I’d recommend authors considering going indie do as much research as possible before making decisions. Joining discussion communities and reading others’ experiences are great ways to get some information on services before you purchase – although I do think that some of the packages targeted at authors are ridiculously overpriced. Yes, self-publishing can be expensive, but hiring a good freelance editor or cover artist instead of being persuaded to a package deal can save you money without sacrificing results. (Of course, as I offer a range of freelance services myself, I may be biased!

Ultimately, it is complex. Expect to spend a lot of time formatting, particularly if you want to get your books into distribution channels such as Kindle and iBookstore. Start with a firm idea of how many skills you’re prepared to master for yourself, and don’t be afraid to outsource when you need to, or to keep redrafting and redrafting until you get it right.

Distribution is a key point. Just because your book has been published doesn’t mean anyone will actually buy it, and so many people seem to feel that the most important thing an author can do is promote their work. I believe that’s true to an extent, but I pretty much fail on that point myself. I have an intermittent presence on Twitter and Facebook, and I occasionally guest blog, but I tend to feel that – if you are producing the best work you can – you don’t need to shove it down readers’ throats.

I would much prefer my books to stand on whatever merit they have, than be associated with me as a brand. Of course, it is possible I’m just lazy.

Are there any upcoming releases folks can look out for?

There certainly are! I have a number of short ebook-only titles due out over the next few months, which will be collected in a print edition of creepy horror, paranormal and ghostly stories, released in October.

I’ll also be releasing some sci-fi and fantasy stories produced in collaboration with AD Leland, a great friend and author of fantastic gothic and cyberpunk fiction. She sadly passed away in 2005, leaving a large quantity of unfinished work which it has been my privilege to edit and recompile.

The first of these, a short novel called Battlefront, is due out this summer:

with the first of AD’s highly anticipated Sparhaven Chronicles following later.

Further linkage:
As ever, readers can find the latest news, reviews and releases on my website – – or catch up with me on Twitter or at my brand new Facebook page

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