Interview with Kieran Mark Crowley

Grab a coffee and ten minuets:

first met Kieran Mark Crowley at a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators) meeting in Cork.

After haveing read his middle grade books ‘Colm and The Ghost’s Revenge and Colm and  the Lazarus Key I am delighted to get the opportunity to interview him for my blog readers.

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Hi Kieran and welcome to my blog. So, you are a fan of Bram Stroker, eh? Did you know; Stoker was bedridden with an unknown illness until he started school at the age of seven, when he made a complete recovery. Of this time, Stoker wrote, “I was naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years.” Perhaps, his time of recuperation lead to Dracula, who knows? Where do you think your inspiration awoke from?

Hi Michelle. Thanks for inviting me. I didn’t know that about Bram Stoker. Dracula played a big part in my childhood years as I used to read the Dracula comics with my dad and then when I was a little bit older I read and loved the book. I’m not sure where my own inspiration came from. I read a lot when I was a child and then I watched far too many films when I spent a year working a video store in my late teens. I think anyone who does either or both of those things develops a real love of story and so it seemed natural to want to come up with my own. Most people like being creative and expressing themselves in some way and writing is my way. You just hope that when you do write something that someone wants to read it, but even if they didn’t, I’d do it anyway.

You started out writing screenplays while you worked the day job, how did you find the time and motivation to write on?

I was lucky. I decided – quite arrogantly – after watching some terrible film, that I could write something better than that. I was working a 7 to 3 shift job then, so I had plenty of free time in the afternoons. I had no idea what I was doing though. I didn’t know anything about how a script should be formatted, the ten page rule, act breaks, all that stuff. I just wrote a story I thought was hilarious (it wasn’t) and naively sent it off to some Irish film production companies. This led to a meeting with one of them and the screenplay was optioned. I thought I had it made. Little did I know back then that many, many scripts get optioned and only very occasionally do they get made (or indeed that the writer gets paid). But that meeting gave me the confidence to keep going and so I wrote another spec script, for a children’s film this time. Again, I just sent it off blindly, and I got optioned again. Eventually, this script was taken seriously and went into development. There were meetings, rewrites, castings,conversations with directors and so on. In the end, the film didn’t get made, but by that time I had been sucked into the world of writing and it was too late to escape.  
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You shared that after writing a children’s screen play you were spurred on to write a children’s book, I also know that you wanted to write a book for your niece, tell me more – did she love it?

I think so. She said she did and I hope she did, but it’s hard to know if she was able to read the book objectively when it was written by her uncle. Of course, she’s a teenager now and into a different world, but I remember reading her the opening chapters before I’d sent it to a publisher and she was very eager to know what happened next. I hadn’t told her that I was dedicating it to her so it was fantastic seeing her face light up when I gave her her own copy of the book.

Your wife is a primary school teacher; do you think that her experience of children has informed your writing? Is she a beta reader for you?

I write the stories I want to write and then I show them to her. She’s my first reader, all right. If she likes it, I’m happy. My aim is to pique her interest so that she’ll keep turning the pages. She’s brilliant at picking up on the things that I don’t notice and she asks all the right questions. She has a natural rapport with children and she understands their mindset, so she instinctively knows when I’ve written something that doesn’t ring true. Of course, it’s not always easy for her, because pointing out flaws in someone’s work isn’t a particularly pleasant thing, but I’d be lost without her.

For your first novel, you wrote the story as it developed, without much planning. Was redrafting a nightmare?

More for the second book than the first one. I wrote the first three chapters of ‘Colm & the Lazarus Key’ and sent them off to the publishers. They liked them and asked to read the rest of the manuscript, which I hadn’t got around to writing yet. Instead of being honest, which would have been much more sensible, I told them I was in the middle of a rewrite and I’d get back to them in a few weeks. I wrote the rest of the story at breakneck pace. Apart from some minor changes for clarification and the correction of a few typos, they didn’t ask me for a second draft at all. With the second book, things were a little different. I completely rewrote the final third of the manuscript a number of times and there were quite a few discussions with Wendy, my extremely helpful editor, before I finally got the book the way I wanted it. Redrafting can be tough going when you’re stuck in the middle of it, but it’s what makes the story in the end.

Tell me more about your writing routine, so far I know that your desk faces a wall as a window would lead to distraction!

That’s right. I get distracted far too easily, especially at the beginning of a book. Even though I love writing, there’s times that any other task seems more preferable than sitting down and typing. I work a day job for most of the week, so I try to write for a couple of hours in the evenings. My aim is to write two thousand words a day, but this doesn’t always work out because writing two thousand words is hard. I feel guilty if I don’t write though and guilt can be a great driving force. Also, and this is something I’ve discussed with other writers, you just don’t feel right if you haven’t written. It gnaws away at you. So, after some procrastination, I sit down, put on some music and start working. After ten minutes, I have an idea if the evening is going to be productive or not, but even if it’s not going well, I plug away and sometimes something good comes from it.  

I have read that writing can be a lonesome task, is it important to have a network of writers?

I can see the benefits, especially when it comes to supporting each other and critiquing the work. As I mentioned earlier I’m lucky in that my wife reads my manuscripts. I have a couple of non-writer friends who are happy to help out too. It’s important to get feedback for your work and it’s extremely helpful when you are preparing a manuscript for submissionI find the CBI events  are great for meeting other writers. I always come away from them feeling energised and eager to write and it’s great to talk about the good and bad parts of the industry. It’s nice to know that other people face the same hurdles and pitfalls. On the whole though, I don’t mind the ‘lonesomeness’. I think that if you’re the kind of person who wants to sit down and write a story, you’re generally going to be comfortable working by yourself. 

What sort of fiction books do you read? Now that you know how to construct a plot do you see through the techniques of books?
All sorts. I read a lot of children’s books over the last few years as a sort of catch-up. When it comes to fiction, I’m happy enough to read anything. I love Charlie Higson’s books, I like some of the Scandinavian crime crowd and I thought ‘Capital’ by John Lanchester was brilliant. I’ll read pretty much anything. I don’t have a preferred genre. As long as the story is gripping, I’m happy. As for your second question, if the book isn’t very well structured, or the plot flags, or the characters aren’t particularly engaging, then I start to notice the techniques and become aware of what the writer was trying to do. When it comes to the really well-written books I get completely lost in the story and come to think of the characters as real people.

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I prefer reading non-fiction and poetry over fiction, what sort of non-fiction books do you read?
I like sports books like Matthew Syed’s Bounce and biographies like Treglown’s Dahl biography. I read a lot of books on film. Favourites include the Truffaut-Hitchcock book and Peter Biskind’s ‘Easy Riders, Raging Bulls’. I try to read some of the popular science books, but unfortunately most of it goes over my head. When I was younger I wanted to be an astronomer. It was around the time Halley’s comet was visible. I saved up and bought a telescope. I thought I’d found Venus in the night sky until my dad pointed out that I was looking at the moon. That experience might have nudged me gently towards the world of fiction.

I know that you now plan and that you find it a more productive experience. How do you plan? (mind-map? Plot lines? Chapter summaries? Hair-pulling?)

Hair-pulling is a big part of it. I do like the idea of mind-mapping, but I still haven’t got around to trying it. I make notes of anything that I find interesting or I think might work as a story and I let them swirl around in my head for a few weeks. If it’s a good idea I’ll keep coming back to it and adding bits and pieces. Then I’ll write a rough plot outline. I’ll start adding bits of dialogue and then the characters begin to develop. When I’m happy with what I have and have a fairly clear idea of where the story is going I’ll write the first draft. I don’t always adhere to the outline. If something suggests itself or the characters begin to veer off in a different direction, I’ll go with it, but I like having a sort of blueprint. I’m one of those people who prefers to shop with a list. Boring, I know, but you’ve got to go with what works best for you.

I read on your website, you have finished a new book The Shadowmen, can you tell us anything about it?

It’s a (hopefully) exciting adventure story about a boy who dies for a short period of time and when he comes back to life finds that his family and friends no longer recognise him. It’s an idea I’ve had for quite a while and one I really wanted to write, but I couldn’t find a way in to the story until a couple of months ago. 

I have read your tips for writers on your website, if you have anything else to add please do so.

I read the best writing tip recently: don’t read writing tips. Most of what you need to know can be learned from writing and then analysing or discussing your work. This isn’t advice I’ve always heeded myself. I spent lots of time reading ‘How to’ books and there are a few good ones out there – Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and Alexander Gordon Smith’s children’s writing book come to mind – but there are plenty that are a waste of time, especially those written by people who don’t seem to have had a hugely successful writing career. The trouble is that these books are very often an enjoyable waste of time. In a way, they’re the writing equivalent of the fad diet books. We keep reading them, searching for some magical, ie, easy, way of doing things that deep down we know require hard work. Most of the diet advice can be summed up in ‘eat less, exercise more’ and in the same way, most of the writing advice can be boiled down to ‘read a lot, write a lot’. Having said that, I still spend time reading blogs, articles on writing, etc, because it’s fun. I just don’t count it as part of my writing time.

I hope my blog readers enjoyed this as much as I did. 

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