Name: Roland Clarke
Where are you from?
I live in Harlech, North Wales, with a view from my office window of Snowdon.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc:
I was brought up in South East England by an English father and Anglo-Chilean mother. Although I’ve had a privileged upbringing – money, private schools, and anything I needed, with such privilege comes a lack of real love, a lack of direction, and a lack of motivation. So after attempting to get qualifications at various schools, I tried to apply myself to something. But I job-hopped from photography, to marketing organic produce, to TV & film production, to equestrian journalist.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I’m now retired and coping with multiple sclerosis. Having got my first novel – Spiral of Hooves – published, I try to make time to finish various draft novels and shorts.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Although I wrote a few stories as a child – and made up stories in my head – it was in my teens that I began to consistently write fiction. Mostly fantasy and sci-fi but my first writing tutor – the late, great Roger Woddis – tried curbing my ‘purple prose’.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In non-fiction terms when I got my first full-length articles published in ‘The Field’ magazine, where I was a sub-editor – aged about 20. Fiction came decades later, when my first novel was released in December 2013 – age 60.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Observations during my years as an equestrian journalist, right back to my brief time at ‘The Field’. In my twenties, I had a rough idea for a story involving a Canadian and an English rider, but while watching a horse show in about 1998 the idea began to take shape. It took longer to get the right version written.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
A struggle between cryptic clues, ‘purple prose’, and plot-driven storytelling.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
‘Spiral of Hooves’ earned its title very early in the writing process. I wanted something that said ‘horses’ and the weaving of various strands/plots. But it was one of the elements, the role of genetics that gave me the crucial ‘spiral’ – loosely related to the DNA double helix.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Don’t let outward appearances dictate your actions.
The manipulation of science for profit and gain, can be destructive.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
I set the novel against the backdrop of the sporting world that I was involved in, so elements had to be realistic. All of the shows are based on real events, so where possible I tried to give a sense of the settings, using for instance fences that I knew were on the cross-country courses. Some of the actions and reactions are based on observations and interviews with riders, veterinary surgeons, breeders etc. Yet none of the characters resemble anyone in particular. I just had to ensure that my colleagues in the sport would recognize elements, and then accept that the fiction was possible – although not real. I was never aware of such murderous intent in my world – although maybe…
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Neither, but it is hard as a writer not to lift quirks from one person, an amusing incident, or the reactions of someone. I can take that and re-work it into the tale.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
J.R.R Tolkien’s “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” was the essay that set me on my quest into fantasy, although I had already read C.S Lewis and Alan Garner. Rachel Carsons’ “Silent Spring” converted me to green concerns, which included my commitment to organic food and to green politics. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella “The Little Prince” was a subtle but substantial influence on my outlook on life, although maybe it triggered thoughts that were already drifting around in my head.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
In terms of direct contact, the late poet-writer Roger Woddis, my first creative writing tutor. The author whose work I have learned from, would be Charles de Lint. However, my writer friends on Facebook are the ones that keep me inspired and writing.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I started reading Mira Prabhu’s Whip of the Wild God, but ground to a temporary halt because of the heroine – but I’m now reading this historical, set in ancient India, again. During the break read two other novels, and started Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons, an intriguing memoir set in an alternative world where dragons exist.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I am doing the final edit of “Storm Compass”, prior to my beta-readers seeing the draft. “Storm Compass” is the first eight short stories in my “Gossamer Flames Saga” – a set of tales set around a solar apocalypse. I’m also about to start re-writing “Fates Maelstrom”, a mystery-thriller about a young woman caught up in mistaken identity, doubles, minorities, ancestral secrets, and the power of folklore.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
The Tunbridge Wells Writers Circle – I was a member during the crucial stages of writing “Spiral of Hooves”, and some of my colleagues were the brave beta-readers. I’m still in touch with some, even though I’m living in North Wales.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
No, not in the sense that journalism was my career. But I will continue to write, and publish a few select words – if my readers keep encouraging me.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
“Spiral of Hooves” took so many drafts and years that I hope that the novel is as right as possible – barring ‘gambling’ errors. I am also using the sequel – Tortuous Terrain – to add in backstory that overlooked. Current WIP can still be revised.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Sometime in my early teens when I got the urge to scribble a few sci-fi/fantasy shorts. However, when I was about 12-years-old I was one of the winners in an essay writing competition, in which I wrote about ‘The Day in the Life of a Helicopter Pilot’ – more docu-drama than fact, I suspect.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
This is the opening of “Ghost Lights”, the first tale in “Storm Compass: Book 1 of the Gossamer Flames Saga”. I am in the process of editing this, so the tense might change to present – a suggestion from an editor friend, which I have applied in later tales.
Darkness should grant Arati the same protection as the others stealthing through the night. Darkness was perfect for keeping unwelcome eyes blind to their activities. But unwelcome eyes are in every shadow, she warned herself. They had always been there, one reason to be vigilant going outside after sunset. Yet, we are never alone in the darkness. Insects and creatures chittered and called unseen. Life was too precious to blunder into the night to find seclusion for personal necessities, but not when the ingredients for a better future lay ahead.
Someone moved ahead of her and she stiffened, listening and peering ahead. Fellow dissident or police? Or something worse?
Above the chirruping insects, she could hear footsteps crushing the ground. Against the moon, she recognized a familiar outline so followed, knowing it was the only path.
As a child that had been the solution. Wait until dark, go with her sister and mother, and follow a familiar track, yet trying to evade the prying eyes of the men. Then they would take turns at the latrine. Secure until one night…
“Arati? It won’t matter if we arrive together,” said the outline ahead, and her memories were buried.
“Two of us can’t do any harm, Chatur.” At least there was no grasping hand thrust towards her. Her friends had learnt to respect her space, once she had demonstrated that she was as good as them despite her sex. She might have been seen as second-class and a potential burden when she was born, but it had been men that had brought shame on her family.
Why then did they blame me? The Hindu scriptures teach that women are equal. Weren’t their goddesses meant to inspire me?
Yet she had run, carrying the scars and guilt that never left. At least the Jains had welcomed her as an equal.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The greatest challenge is finding time to write when my health is draining my strength. Beyond that, I struggle with the editing, never quite sure how to improve my drafts. I’m far better at plotting the original story.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
J.R.R Tolkien for the scope of his world-building and his poetic prose in “Lord of the Rings”, although there are passages that some might say are ‘purple’ or over-written. Yet, he can write simply and sparsely, as in “The Hobbit” and “Farmer Giles of Ham”. Among living authors, it would have to be Charles De Lint, as he manages to blend fantasy and urban grit in the same story, while using very evocative phrases.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
No longer. For “Spiral of Hooves” I went to the Cevennes in France, where some of the story is set, and I have tried to remember the atmosphere of India for some of “Gossamer Flames”. But I can’t rely on my perception as a white Anglo-Saxon when writing about another culture. I try to use input from others, mainly on the internet. For the US, I have insights from an American wife – a reason why I have set stories in some US states. However, I can get around North Wales with my wheelchair, so researching locations for my next mystery, “Fates Maelstrom”, is still possible with travel.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The evocative and mysterious cover for “Spiral of Hooves” was designed by Danielle Sands. My publisher arranged for this, and I feel that it really sells the book. If I self-publish the “Gossamer Flames” books, then I will be checking out designers. I am very impressed with the work of Berni Stevens, who has done covers for some of the authors I admire. Most recently the cover for Gorgito’s Ice Rink by Elizabeth Ducie.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Trying to edit the book down. In the early drafts, there were too many characters, and the story spanned a few years. So it took a few rewrites, and a few years, to produce a final version. Apologies to all those who had to struggle through draft after draft, either on paper or being read at Novel Group meetings.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
To outline tighter plots before the first draft. It’s better to start with fewer characters and one plot, than to start complex. The threads soon work their way in.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
As I’ve said, on other occasions: Don’t expect to complete that first novel overnight. It takes a lot of sweat and patience, plus discarded ideas and words, especially if all criticism is taken on board. Writing is a craft that we all spend years perfecting, probably a lifetime. Learn the craft well.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Many thanks for reading my work. Please be patient with me, and don’t expect as much writing to appear as other writers release. And finally I appreciate your comments, as they help me to struggle on knowing that you are out there.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Although “Winnie the Pooh” is the first book that I remember being read to me, the first I remember reading on my own was George Brooksbank’s “Old Mr Fox”, which I still have. With a cover by celebrated artist Archibald Thorburn, this was my father’s copy, which he was given in 1932 for Christmas, the same year the book was published.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
I laugh at good jokes, amusing situations, great comedies, and crazy antics. I cry at emotional music, precious memories, lost family, tragic stories, and when over-whelmed by multiple sclerosis.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
I would be fascinated to meet Mary Shelley, author of “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus”, published in 1823, and often seen as the first true science fiction story. Mary Shelley was a fascinating person, a writer in several genres, married to the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the daughter of the political philosopher William Godwin, and the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
“Dancing with the Dryads” – I’m not being cremated or buried in a churchyard, but having a green burial in an Eternal Forest, so the plaque has to be short and simple. I will be able to dance again, and in the trees with the nature spirits.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
Before I was in a wheelchair, my passion was exploring archaeological sites and travelling. With that restricted, I get outside and enjoy some token gardening. But my main pleasure, besides reading, is gaming – massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). My wife & I met in a game – Perfect World – and are currently playing Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I’ve always enjoyed good sci-fi or fantasy, such as the TV series “Doctor Who” and “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, plus movies like “Bladerunner”, “Lord of the Rings”, and “The Hobbit”. I also enjoy good drama from “Sherlock” and “Band of Brothers” on TV, to movies like “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Cinema Paradiso”.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
My wife’s Shepherd’s Pie, or an authentic Thai curry. Red and Green – colours and curries. Movie soundtracks – Lord of the Rings, Gladiator – classical including Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor and Stravinsky’s ballet works, plus rock like our friend Steve Hackett’s albums.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
A farmer. When I was a child, I wanted to be a farmer, and there were points in my career when I attempted to engage with that world. I even worked on a few farms, and marketed organic fruit and vegetables for a few years. Can I breed a few horses?
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
I blog erratically on at http://rolandclarke.com. Please drop by and say hello.
Many thanks, Fiona, for this opportunity to answer such penetrating questions.