To celebrate the release of his novel The Court of the Air in paperback this week, we asked SF author Stephen Hunt to pen a few words about the writing life.
A CUPFUL OF CONFIDENCE AND A CAN OF JOLT COLA
"Ah, the life of a SFF author. The first hurdle is getting people to believe you actually are one. Much harder than you think. Even after you've tricked a publisher into believing that you're a cross between Michael Moorcock and HG Wells with the sales potential of JK Rowling and your new tome is sitting on the shelves in Waterstones and Tesco (and you thought getting that far was the hard bit). There’s always that awkward moments at the school gate when you tell the other parents waiting to drop off their little rug-rats what you do: 'No, really?' or 'Well, my daughter did tell me that her friend's dad writes novels, but we don't believe anything she says anymore – she thinks zombies live behind our shed.'
"Yeah, but dude, she only thinks that because my latest homebrew bedtime story is Howard the Dragon and the Decaying Demons of Death of the Shed of Doom , and that yarn has legs... it's currently being retold around the playground in the hushed tones of a tale that would have an R certificate if it ever made it onto celluloid.
"You can take your last book with you and wave it around, and all you get is, 'Yeah, but how do we know that's really your details on The Court of the Air – the writer could just have the same name as you, or you might have changed your name by deed pole?'
"After you've finished shaking them half to death and stopped screaming: 'Then I would have changed my f^^%^& name to someone like Terry f$%£^& Pratchett and be wearing a floppy f^%%£$$% fedora and be lying about writing The Colour of f$%£^& Magic , wouldn’t I?', it’s time – as they said in Reservoir Dogs – to get to work.
"So you slink back to your PC and try and type your way out of the red mist, chanting the Zen-like mantra: 'I am an author, I have an ISBN number, I am an author, I have an ISBN number.'
"Now, the actual act of writing is a mystical thing. A holy thing. Blessed creation itself. The blank space of VDU screen (HP w2207 wide screen, you simply can’t stint on these things) is filled up with tales of daring-do, the void of a notepad (WH Smith Reporter-format) is scribbled on with little driblets of genius – and if the fairies of creative writing refuse to show up, then it’s time to punish them.
"Listen carefully dear readers; I am about to pass on the secret seal of all authors – a confidence that is only usually divulged by one of us skiffy writers when your first fantasy novel reaches the giddy heights of the Times Bestseller List (I was told by the ghost of Heinlein one night).
"It's … Jolt Cola, the 'Dean of Caffeine'. If you intend to write full time, you need a fridge stocked full of Jolt Cola, you need this like the desert needs the rain, like Simon needs Garfunkel, like Guild Navigators need spice.
"Lost the plot? Creative juices need to flow? Pop the tab on one of these bad boys and it drives the literary equivalent of an armoured humvee through your writer's block. Oh yeah, now that’s what I’m talking about. Last minute edits to the follow-up to The Court of the Air , The Kingdom Beyond the Waves ? Bring them on, HarperCollins, bring them on."
Stephen Hunt, September 2007
Stephen Hunt's novel The Court of the Air is available in paperback from 12 September, priced £7.99 (a bit cheaper from Amazon.co.uk it seems). As well as being a caffeine-fuelled author, Hunt also runs the SF Crowsnest website, so go check it out.