Author interview: Liz Williams

Need more advice as you finish your Pulp Idol story? To help you on your way we spoke to a number of people from the SF publishing world to get their insight into the business. What are their tips and tricks for writing fantastic stories? Even if you're not entering the competition, but have aspirations to become a novelist or even a screenwriter, some of the guidance here will be of use to you. This week we're giving you the complete Q&A with fantasy author Liz Williams, whose advice you can also read in the Pulp Idol features in the magazine.

SFX: Looking back after your years of being a writer, what advice would you give your younger self trying to get published?
"Essentially, to do what I did – to keep trying, not to take rejection too personally, not to become discouraged. It can be a dispiriting process but you just have to keep at it."

SFX: Writing a short story requires a different approach to writing a longer work like a novel. Do you need to write in a different way?
"With short fiction, I would recommend having an end in mind – more people fail to finish short stories because they can’t think of an ending than for any other reason. A beginning, middle and end - it is that simple. Readers need closure: they don’t want to finish the story feeling unsatisfied. I don’t think the creative skills involved are all that different, though, although a number of writers say that they find short fiction more difficult, because one has less space in which to get one’s message across."

SFX: Are there tricks for over coming writer’s block if you lose the flow of the story?
"A fear of being unable to pay the mortgage works for me. Seriously, if you’re not on deadline, then don’t obsess about it. Everyone hits the buffers occasionally and then it’s just a question of leaving the work to sit for a bit and go and do something else. That might be something creative, or not. But it’s like insomnia – the more you worry about it, the worse it gets. If you’re not on deadline, then I’d recommend projecting into how good you’re going to feel when you do finish the story. I don’t mind deadlines. I’m quite self-motivated – the result of years in academia – and so I prefer not to procrastinate and just get on with the work. So I write whether I’m under deadline or not; but mileage varies with different people."

SFX: Can you just sit at a PC with a good idea and begin writing: voila, a short story, novella, or epic trilogy will emerge?!
"I wish! No, I need to plan quite extensively. Some writers don’t need to do this, but I think they have more organised minds than I do. My writers’ group said that my first novel – which eventually turned into The Demon and the City – was like a kung fu movie: lots of action, lots of explosions, and impossible to tell what was actually going on."

SFX: What do you think editors, publishers and readers are looking for in good SF fiction?
"Good strong stories, imaginative and original ideas, and that old ‘sense of wonder!’ Experimentation doesn’t hurt, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the story. And good characters are a must."

SFX: How do you know when you’ve revised your story enough?
"For me, it’s when I’ve tied up as many loose threads in the plot as I possibly can. I’m never satisfied with what I write – it would probably be a bad sign if I was. You have to stop tinkering with it and just send it out, otherwise you’ll never send the thing off. Most people do have some sort of sense as to when that is."

SFX: What advice do you have for somebody starting out as a writer who’s had nothing published yet, perhaps is getting discouraged by rejections?
"They should keep trying, but they should also be realistic. Some people just aren’t cut out to be writers and if you think that might be the case, you may need to join a group or a workshop and listen to the advice that’s given to you. But it’s worth noting that the people who really persevere do make it in the end in some form. They might not get a book published (although the self-publishing route is a lot easier these days) but they’re likely to succeed with short fiction. We all get discouraged by rejections, but you need to push through it."

SFX: Thanks Liz!

You'll get more author, agent and publisher interviews every week on the SFX site while the Pulp Idol 2008 competition runs. We've spoken to loads of big names from the world of SF writing and they've kindly given us their tips and advice for aspiring science fiction and fantasy authors. Check back here regularly, and also look out for our writing features in the pages of SFX 169, 170 and 171.