Breaking Faith, discusses his book, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.
DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Breaking Faith?
STUART AKEN: In Breaking Faith, the eponymous heroine is an innocent; naive and unworldly, she's been raised by the brutal man she thinks is her father to act as his skivvy and nursemaid to her disabled younger sister. Sent to find work to support her family, she encounters Leighton, a local glamour photographer with a reputation as black as Bluebeard's, but his is the only job offer available. Her growing relationship with Leigh, as his assistant, is constantly disrupted by his liaisons with his beautiful models. And, lurking in the background, Mervyn, his misogynist and hate-filled printer, is a constant threat. When events bring Faith's youngest sister, Netta, back into her life, she inadvertently introduces her to Leigh and all hope of her growing romance seems lost. But jealousy, betrayal, murder and love combine to bring about an unexpected resolution to the novel.
DAVID WISEHART: How do you create and maintain dramatic tension?
STUART AKEN: I always start a story with the characters, once the initial trigger is there. Encouraging the reader to care deeply about those who people my fiction, I place characters in situations that make them scared, shocked, anxious or in unknown danger so that the reader feels all the character's emotions. It is this empathy that makes for tension; using the reader's feelings to allow them to experience through the characters.
DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
STUART AKEN: It may seem counter intuitive, but I always start with a physical image; usually a photograph taken from the internet or from my own files. I used to be a professional photographer, so I have a visual mind and I find that I can more easily build a character if I have a picture of him or her to work from. I then give the character a family, history, views and opinions, ask them certain questions—a favourite is, 'What do you want, and what are you prepared to do to get it?' Their answers inform the development of the character until I have someone I feel I know well. I'm currently writing an adult fantasy in which I have 53 named characters, so far, and each is an individual known to me. By that, I don't mean I base characters on people I know, but that I get to know my character so well, they become like real people I know in real life and become friends or enemies depending on their characteristics.
DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?
STUART AKEN: People for whom relationships are important, whose emotions aren't suppressed, where hope is an ever-present factor and love is always a possibility. For I'm a romantic at heart; an optimist in spite of my experiences rather than because of them. My ideal reader loves language, people, and looks for character driven fiction with something to say about the human condition and a damn good story forged from the actions of the participants. Like all writers, I write initially for myself. But I know that, although we hope we are each individual, there are many people out there very similar in outlook and experience.
DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?
STUART AKEN: At 14, under the influence of an attractive English teacher, I entered and won an annual school essay contest. She, and my mother, encouraged me to continue to write. I'd read widely as a child, exhausting the children's section of local library at 11 and able to borrow adult books from that age. We had no TV until I was 14, so I read a lot as a child. But, as things will, circumstances got in the way of further writing until I was older. My mother's death, 2 days after my 16th birthday, plunged me into a world of confusion and turmoil and I left home. Three years in the RAF improved me physically and helped me develop self-discipline but stifled my creative spirit to the point where I had to leave.
I started writing illustrated articles for the British photographic press when I was 19. But I didn't really get involved with fiction until I entered a radio drama contest in the 1970s. First place was taken by Willy Russell of Educating Rita and Blood Brothers fame. I was placed 3rd and had my play, Hitch Hiker, broadcast on national radio. It gave me a taste for fiction and drama. An agent approached me and encouraged me to write TV drama but, although I was often close to production, my material was too radical for the conservative TV folk and I now look on those 12-13 years as an apprenticeship. Events and chronic illness prevented me writing for a few years. But when I met my second wife and fell in love with her on sight, my creative spirit was rekindled. Breaking Faith was actually the fifth novel I wrote, but the first published.
DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?
STUART AKEN: I always begin with characters. The people in my stories are the driving forces for the action. I have a vague idea, a sort of loose collection of possibilities and a perceived outcome, but sometimes characters go in a different direction and I'm forced to revise my plans, such as they are. A story where the action is outside the influence of the characters, where the people make no real difference, has no hold on me.
Once I have my characters close to me, I can start to weave them into the loose fabric of whatever first inspired me to write that particular story. Breaking Faith, for instance, was triggered by a visit to some remote vertical caves (sink holes) in my native Yorkshire. I was visited by the question, 'What if there was a woman's body down there?' Where that question came from I have no idea, but it led, eventually, to the novel.
DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?
STUART AKEN: As I said, I've read extensively and I can't now recall all the authors whose pages I've turned. But I admire William Golding for his facility with language, John Fowles for his ability to craft a great story, William Horwood for the empathy I feel with his characters, Richard Adams for his imagination of different worlds and J K Rowling for her creative, imaginative and delightful story-telling. There are many more, of course, including Stephen King, who's ability to raise and maintain menace and tension is second to none. I can only apologise to those countless authors I haven't named here; I suspect that every book I've read has influenced me in some way or other, and not always positively.
DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?
STUART AKEN: There's a question! In one sense, the answer is none. But that bald statement may sound pompous. What I mean is that I write the books it's right for me to write and can't imagine myself writing someone else's imagined world. But, to give you some sort of answer, I would love to have been first with something like Lady Chatterley's Lover by D H Lawrence, Maia by Richard Adams, or The Magus by John Fowles. But I don't know what that says about me!
DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?
STUART AKEN: With difficulty. The creative side of a writer is at war with the salesman in so many cases. The two roles require skills, temperament and attitudes that are almost the opposite of one another. So, I struggle with the task of promoting whilst I love creating. I've formed a following on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Goodreads and I run my own blog and website, which I keep updated as often as I can. At present, on my blog, I'm interviewing other authors occasionally, explaining my daily work in editing my adult fantasy, providing an explanation of one word a day in my 'Stuart's Word Spot' and offering occasional book reviews of those books I've enjoyed. All this is aimed at providing a service for readers and, consequently, writers. Readers are our lifeblood and I hope to provide them with something they can enjoy.
DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?
STUART AKEN: Breaking Faith was published in paperback by the Arts Council sponsored website, YouWriteOn.com and has been available online and in bookstores (to order) since 2009. But the world of publishing is rapidly changing and digital editions are a way of getting work out to a wider readership. Fortunately, I hold the electronic rights to the book. Kindle, once it arrived in UK, was an obvious choice as the most accessible medium for both author and reader. The Amazon system is easy to use and the community is supportive, so it was the natural choice. I've now published 3 books on Kindle; Ten Tales for Tomorrow, a collection of short speculative fiction, A Sackful of Shorts, a compilation of short stories from my writing group, which I edited, and my novel. I'm currently planning a short anthology of semi-autobiographical tales. The pricing on Kindle allows an author to give value for money, when operating as an independent. At present, the mainstream publishers seem to be as blind about digital publishing as the music industry was some years ago. Pricing an ebook at the same level as a physical copy is such blatant profiteering as to be an insult to the reading public and I wish publishers would recognise that their pricing needs to reflect the minimal costs of digital publishing.
DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?
STUART AKEN: Make sure your book is well-written, free from grammatical, spelling and other errors. 'That'll do' won't do at all. The fact that there is usually no professional editing does not excuse poor presentation. In fact, it should make the author all the more concerned to produce a pristine book free from errors. I'd also hope that the writer actually has something interesting to say and has developed the skills to say it in an interesting, informative and entertaining manner. Without the filters normally in place in mainstream publishing, it is too easy for a careless indie author to clog up the works with unworthy material and ruin the reputation of the system itself. All that said, if you have a book worthy of publishing, go for it; the Kindle process makes it easy to do. And good luck to you.
DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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