Sunday, January 30, 2011
Interview with Stuart Aken Author of "Breaking Faith" and more.
Welcome to your interview, Stuart.
I would like to dig a little and find out what makes you…you. Please share with us where you were born?
My birth was a bit like a story. Hull, in northern England, was much battered by bombing in the 2nd World War. My father had worked as chief engineer on the small boats that guarded the English Channel from U-boats. As a result of his dedication to duty, eating on the job in rough seas, he developed a duodenal ulcer. When he returned to civvy street to become a mechanic for a local garage, his job entitled him to the house next to the work place; a valuable asset in those days. But when he died, as a result of the ulcer bursting, my mother found herself homeless and pregnant with my 18 month old sister in tow. My short story, Ella, a contest prize-winner, is a semi-imaginary account of the period around my birth.
Do you still reside in the area?
In the area, yes. The city, no. I dislike cities as places to live and even the small market town of Driffield, where I now live, is too large. I'm a village person, really. But I've lived all over England and in homes as diverse as an abandoned railway wagon on a cliff top and a military barrack block built to house 3,000.
Your mother passed away when you were barely sixteen years of age. Your father was already deceased. What sort of affect did the loss of your mother cause? The grief would have been very severe; did you have other family members you could turn to?
My mother was also my best friend. I could talk to her about anything. She was a gifted artist who was prevented by early poverty and later responsibility from pursuing her dreams. It was she who gave me my initial love of reading. Her death, just before my school exams, resulted in me leaving school at sixteen with few qualifications. It also moved me from the family home, where my loving but grief-stricken step-father was incapable of dealing with the children.
You called your mother, May, instead of mother or mum. Why is that?
I referred to my mum as May only to identify her as a person. I always actually called her 'Mum', however.
Sixteen would have barely had you finish your schooling, how did that impact on you as a writer?
At school, the only two subjects that resonated for me were English and Technical Drawing. Had the teacher of the latter been more sympathetic, I might well have become an architect. But that's old history. My English teacher was a pretty young woman whose sexual presence was quite stimulating for an adolescent. When she encouraged me to write, it made some impact.
After leaving school, I went into photography, partly to repay my step father, a part-time photographer, for his care of his adopted son. But, although I was a good photographer and did my first serious writing for the photographic press, it was never what I really wanted to do. Life intervened eventually and I entered a contest with a radio play. Hitch-hiker gained me 3rd prize in this national contest that was won by Willy Russell and where I was interviewed by Tom Stoppard. The play was broadcast on national radio; BBC Radio 4.
My fiction writing developed from that early experience.
Are you married with children?
I am twice married. No children in my first marriage, which ended after 18 years due to my first wife's unjustified jealousy. I fell in love with my current wife on sight and we're still like teenagers together after 22 years (I know, those sceptics will need a sick bag, but, hey, we're happy!) We have a lovely daughter, currently finishing her schooling and hopefully due to enter university in autumn, where she intends to study...photography (at which she is very talented).
When did you discover the love of writing?
My English homework frequently consisted of essays and stories at school; it was the only homework I actively enjoyed. At 14 I was encouraged to enter an annual writing competition by my English teacher. I won the cup. I went on from there to some journalism and playwriting to novel and short story writing, which I continue to write.
When did the idea for Breaking Faith surface?
Years ago. I was walking in an area of outstanding natural beauty, the National Park of the Yorkshire Dales. Teetering on the brink of oblivion at the edge of a sinkhole (a sort of vertical cave) with a distant rocky bottom visible, I was visited by the image of a woman's body lying there. That was the starting point.
How long did it take you to write Breaking Faith from word one till final draft?
Impossible to say now. I started the idea in the 1970s and wrote about five different full length versions, but work, family life and illness all prevented me completing the process until 2007, when I revised the whole book. It was published at the end of 2008.
The novel is intensely moving. Did you find it emotionally draining to write?
Thank you for that. I wanted to move, entertain, shock and even maybe educate my readers. The initial writing was stimulating rather than draining. I write without editing from beginning to end. I then revise and review umpteen times. It was in the editing that I experienced the emotional effects of the story.
When were you approached by publishers interested in the work?
I sent the MS to several agents and not a few publishers. There were some interesting comments with the rejections but no one wanted to take it. I suffer from impatience and decided to take advantage of an offer by YouWriteOn, a website I'd belonged to for a while, when they decided to publish some of the work of their members. That's how the paperback came about. Recently, as I own the electronic publishing rights, I published the book as an eBook through Smashwords and then converted it into a Kindle book to make it available at a better price on Amazon.
The plot is woven throughout with jealousy, young love, innocence, and intrigue. The antagonist is a misogynist, was he difficult to write?
You've clearly read the book thoroughly, Soooz. I've come into contact with innumerable people in my time on the planet, some good, some bad, some evil beyond understanding. My characters tend to be amalgams of people I've met, either fleetingly or as friends or acquaintances. The one thing I try to avoid in developing a character is judging them. I try to relate to them as people I know. Mervyn was no more difficult to write than Leigh or Faith. But I couldn't like him.
You have entered the head of a young and very naive woman, and you have done so with a keen insight. Have you modeled Faith on someone you know?
Thank you, Soooz. Faith, in common with most of my characters, came to me as a physical type at first. This may sound counter-intuitive, but I've found I need to be able to accurately visualise my characters in order to turn them into flesh and blood creations (my early photographic training, I guess). So, she first emerged as an actual picture of someone I didn't know, probably taken from the internet, as that's where I gather most illustrations for my characters. I asked her questions, gave her a history, beliefs, views, personality traits and then allowed her to become what her upbringing had to make her. My stories always start with characters rather than events, so that they are character driven. This is not considered the best approach for thrillers, of course. But Breaking Faith is classified as a romantic thriller only because it doesn't appear to fit any other genre.
BREAKING FAITH the storyline:
A naive young woman, emerging from obscurity, a philandering photographer and his glamorous models, and a jealous misogynist eager for revenge turn the pages of this novel. Older friends, mistaken parents and a younger sister, all with their own motives, complicate Faith's voyage of self discovery. When she falls in love, her inexperience places her in great danger.
Breaking Faith, a romantic thriller, is about the influence of corruption in society and includes some explicit erotic content.
The novel is primarily a romance, heightened by aspects of the thriller. It is set mostly during the heat wave of 1976, in the Yorkshire Dales. The eponymous heroine, Faith Heacham, is naive and trusting. Raised in isolation by her hypocritical, abusive, Bible-bashing father as his skivvy and as nursemaid to her disabled sister, she has no knowledge of the wider world. Made to find work, in order to support the household, she takes a job with Leighton Longshaw, a notorious local photographer. His misogynist assistant resents her presence and threatens her with violence. Just as Faith realises she is falling in love with Leighton, she rediscovers her estranged, beautiful, and sexually active younger sister, Netta, and introduces her to him without understanding the likely outcome of their meeting.
Reviews on Breaking Faith:
By Mr. P. F. Field (UK) (Real name)
"Breaking Faith" is the story of Faith, ignorant, naive and completely overshadowed by the sadistic bully Heacham. Faith struggles to nurse her brain-damaged younger sister, skivvy for Heacham and be the family's total financial support.
Awakening comes as she gets a job with Leighton, the local glamour photographer and she falls in love with him, despite the terrifying threats from Leighton's assistant, the disgusting Mervyn.
I read this book in one sitting, unwilling to put it down, immersed in the Yorkshire of the sweltering summer of 1976 and Faith's journey from darkness to self-knowledge. Her sometimes frightening honesty wash all hypocrisy away, for she is a girl who sees things as they are and tells it the way it is. The book is written from the alternating perspective of Faith and Leighton, giving the reader a greater understanding of their interactions with each other and those around them. The characters are drawn with a fine brush, especially Faith's mother and father. The denouement is sudden, violent and completely satisfying.
By Michelle Mccabe (Gateshead, North East England) (Real name)
I thought this was a really original story with an intriguing hero and an even more intriguing eponymous heroine. I also felt an intense dislike for some of the other characters meaning Stuart Aken's characterisations were really well done and the denouement tied all of the plots up to a surprising conclusion. Switching the first person narrative from one to the other and looking at the same events from both sets of eyes was a wonderful means of seeing the reasoning behind both of their actions. The story compelled me to read and read and read (a habit that, with an eight year old son, I confess, I have lost recently).
I would recommend it to anyone and look forward to reading Stuart's next novel!
Karen Wolfe (Author)
This is a story of triumphant human spirit. Heroine Faith's rite of passage from horrific neglect and abuse to fulfilment and true love is an inspiring one. Stuart Aken's novel, set in the summer of 1976, simmers with heat, lust, decadence and sexuality, all of which Faith transcends to become her own woman. I loved the Yorkshire Dales setting, and I was rooting for Faith all the way to her well-deserved happy ending. Stuart Aken is indeed a writer to watch.
Linda Acaster (Yorkshire, UK) -
This review is from: Breaking Faith (Paperback)
This is an ambiguous exploration of actions and consequences through characters who profess truth to each other while lying to themselves. Lost in the glamour of his glamour photography and the willing women he exploits and who exploit him, Leighton despises those who buy his product to satiate, or fuel, their lust. Faith believes herself untouched by the sexual rapacity around her because she interprets in an academic black and white, draping her frankness in the colours of naïve honesty, yet willing, at the last, to control as she was controlled.
Alternating first person viewpoint is difficult to accomplish, but Leighton's tone and photographer's eye for the natural curves of his human subjects is as artistic as that for the rugged Dales landscape that presses in, claustrophobic while seeming benign, towards Longhouse and its inhabitants.
Read for its depth, it will leave the reader considering afresh blinkered human frailties.
You have a second book, “Ten Tales for Tomorrow” a collection of dark short stories, share some of the storylines with us.
This anthology came about almost by accident. I'd edited an anthology of stories for my very supportive writing group, Hornsea Writers. A Sackful of Shorts was such fun to compile and publish as an eBook that I thought I'd have a go with some of my speculative fiction stories.
As for storylines: Smoke is about the far future of space travel and its possible consequences on alien species we might meet. Rebirth was inspired by the fact that the male chromosome is gradually deteriorating and is likely be non-viable in around 100,000 years time (a mere blink in evolutionary terms). PHOBIA is a bit of rather dark fun with a serious message about the nature of quasi-military organisations. Adrianne Zultan – An Official Enquiry is a hard-hitting swipe at the possible future of a world dominated by celebrities. And A Gastronomic Treat at the Edge of the Galaxy is another piece of dark fun dealing with humans as possibly seen by an alien species. There are others, of course. The book is priced low enough for most readers to risk a look, I think.
When was it published?
I published it on Smashwords around the New Year and then published it as a Kindle edition a few days later.
Do you prefer one book over the other?
They are such different books; a romantic novel against a collection of dark short stories. I enjoyed writing both and I'm proud of them for different reasons. I just hope readers will find the quality of the writing and story-telling equally good in both.
How long did “Ten Tales for Tomorrow” take you to complete?
The individual stories were written over a period of about seven years. The compilation, editing and design of the cover took a few days.
We as writers develop an emotional attachment to our characters. I imagine that Faith would have been very difficult to say goodbye to when the book was completed, did you find it so?
I'd lived with her for a long time. But because I tend to start something new as soon as I've finished a piece, I was able to let her go. She's out there in the world now, where she should be, for others to love and enjoy, I hope.
You have suffered ill health for a number of years, share that if you will.
At 28, I was investigated for 3 types of terminal cancer. I was such a 'typical' sufferer that my GP and I had already discussed and arranged my easy exit should the diagnosis be the worst (I was looking at 18 months maximum with a very painful end). In the end, my condition turned out to be something called Sarcoidosis. At the time, the medical text consisted of a very short paragraph and not much else. But the condition was benign and treatable with steroids. It was debilitating and sucked my energy, leaving me breathless for about 2 years and, although the medical authorities mostly consider it to be over once treated, the symptoms have recurred at times of stress throughout my life since.
Some years ago, I was diagnosed with ME/CFS. At the time, the medical profession in UK considered Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to be a manifestation of clinical depression and treated it via psychiatry. It quickly became clear, however, that the depression is a symptom of the condition and not its cause. (Hardly surprising that formerly active people become depressed when they are unable to perform even the most undemanding physical tasks.) There was no treatment and I was informed that 85% of sufferers lose their jobs and don't return to work. Oh, good! After 6 months of patchy attendance at work, I negotiated a part-time contract I felt I could handle. As the sole breadwinner for my family, I could hardly just give up. The condition has some 180 recognised symptoms. I was lucky in that I suffered only 20 or so. The constant pain in my trunk and the tinnitus were probably the most difficult physical problems and the loss of short term memory and disruption of perceptual skills were the most difficult mental aspects. I followed a regime advised by Action for ME and, over a period of years, managed to remain at work and actually improve. There have been a couple of set-backs due to over-exertion, but I currently maintain a regime of frequent rests between active periods that allows me to lead an almost normal life again. I doubt I'll repeat the half marathon I ran for charity in 1986, or play badminton and table tennis, swim and run as I did. But I can do a lot more than I could seven years ago. Some are completely cured, but most suffer in one way or another for the rest of their lives. I consider myself fortunate to be able to continue living at a reasonable level.
Has it affected your ability to write?
It has inevitably reduced the time I can spend writing, but I've devised ways of working smarter instead of harder and have learned a lot about my capabilities.
Do you have anything else you are working on at the moment?
A long time ago, I drew up a map of an imaginary land and marked it with places and features, all imagined. That was the beginning of an adult fantasy novel. The history, religions, myths, customs, geography, societies and politics all followed until I had a world that seemed real enough to stand as a setting for the story. I've written and edited the first volume of The Seared Sky, but at 277,000 words I suspect it's a little too long to attract most publishers. Once I've finished this interview, I'm going to read the typed MS from beginning to end and see if I can split this first volume into two books before I start to write the next part of the story.
What are your plans professionally for the remainder of 2011?
To finish the adult fantasy to the point where it can be published; volumes 1 and 2. I've a few stories I'd like to compile as anthologies and there are writing contests to enter, magazines to submit my short stories to. My website and blog need constant up-dating if they're to be of interest and help to my readers, and I hope to attend my writing group regularly for the weekly meetings that prove so supportive and inspiring. So, not a lot, really.
The publishing world is changing on a daily basis. Where do you see paperback novel sales in the next five or so years, given the huge popularity of EBooks?
Radio came along and the end of the theatre was announced. TV emerged and the cinema was about to die. Each new technology brings change to that which precedes it. Paper books can now easily be produced on demand and no longer require long and expensive print runs, so I view the predicted decline of the paper book with a degree of scepticism. EBooks, with luck, will engage a new generation of readers and bring them into the world of fiction. Inevitably, some who read on eReaders will also buy the physical books and some who prefer paper in their hands will experiment with digital text on some screen or other. I doubt that either will destroy the other and, if the publishers, booksellers, agents and authors get their acts together, we could actually increase the exposure of our writing and bring many more people into the world of reading.
Please share with my readers your other websites.
Stuart Aken: Author of Breaking Faith & Ten Tales for Tomorrow.
Editor of A Sackful of Shorts. Find them on my Author page at Amazon:
UK - http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=stuart+aken&x=15&y=19
Or USA - http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=stuart+aken&x=12&y=17
Sample or buy as Ebook: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/stuartaken
Web site: http://stuartaken.co.uk/
Tweet with me: http://twitter.com/@stuartaken
Posted by Soooz Burke at 8:43 AM