Dawn Kentish Knox is a great friend and we have publishers in common – Cafelit and Bridge House Publishing in particular. We usually meet at the twice yearly Bridge House events (though technically the one in the summer is the Waterloo Arts Festival Writing Competition one, though Bridge House sponsor that). We are both missing these events this year though we have met on Zoom.
Along with Paula Readman, whom I interviewed a few months back, Dawn and I make up the photo that appears on top of the Scribblers Sans Frontiere Facebook group which is for authors published by Bridge House and its imprints (including Chapeltown Books).
Dawn and I also took part in an author event, along with Gill James, back in September which was good fun to do. We all presented aspects of our work and shared stories. It was a “live” event as opposed to a recorded one and that was good fun to do. Good experience also. It was the first time I’d prepared a Powerpoint presentation for use in this kind of format.
One of my favourite flash fiction books is by Dawn and is called The Great War. It is 100 x 100 word stories all featuring characters and situations connected with World War One and it is a deeply moving book. The characterisation is wonderful and this book I think shows what impact flash fiction can have. You do not necessarily have to write epic sagas to move people.
But there is another side to Dawn’s writing and that is the humorous side. She writes sublimely funny prose with characters you just love to laugh at. Check out her unforgettable The Basilwade Chronicles and her new book The Macaroon Chronicles is just as funny.
I thought I would invite Dawn on to Chandler’s Ford Today to discuss the joys and pitfalls of writing (a) funny stories and (b) chronicle series such as the two she has produced to date. So without further ado it is over to Dawn.
Allison: A huge welcome to Chandler’s Ford Today, Dawn. It is good to have you here.
Dawn: Thanks for having me, Allison!
What drew you into writing, Dawn?
I’ve always read lots of books and made up stories in my head, probably as a result of being an only child, but writing stories only began about fifteen years ago when I was trying to help my, then, teenage son to complete his essay homework. In fact, I was actually trying to encourage him to start it!
And the beginning of a story which I came up with interested me so much that I carried on writing it although I think my son thought of an idea of his own for his essay. But that incident began a real passion for writing and a few years ago when I had a bit of upset in my life and was feeling rather down I realised writing was therapeutic and could lift me out of my thoughts and transport me to a different world. I’ve been writing each day, ever since.
How long did it take you to become a published author?
I finished writing the children’s story I mentioned above and sent it off to lots of publishers throughout 2004 and 2005, but in retrospect, I’m not surprised that no one accepted it!
However, I was lucky that David J. Howe, of Telos Publishing and also an author, was a work colleague of my husband’s and he read my story and kindly offered me some positive criticism – and oodles of helpful hints!
I learned a lot from him and one day in 2006, out of the blue, he emailed me, telling me he was going to publish a horror anthology and if I could write a short story, he would submit it to the editor, Alison L.R. Davies. My first instinct was to refuse. After all, what did I know of writing horror?
But some defiant spark inside drove me on and I came up with a story about a seemingly sweet elderly lady who wrote poison pen letters and about her come-uppance. I must admit, I didn’t hold out much hope for the story but to my amazement, it was accepted. The anthology had been compiled for the charity debRA, (for people suffering with the genetic skin blistering condition, Epidermolysis Bullosa) and when I got my copy of the book, I saw that I was included in a collection of stories with Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker and other famous horror writers!
The book launch was in Nottingham at the British Fantasy Society convention which was attended by both Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker and I got to meet them both. My story had also been nominated in the British Fantasy Society Awards although it didn’t win but I must admit, I never thought I’d top that day! (I actually did, in 2015 – but see below for more on that.)
What are the three writing tips you have found most beneficial and why?
David J. Howe gave me the first tip and that was to read, read and read some more. Good advice, I think. After all, it must be hard to be a chef if you don’t sample different types of food and styles of cooking.
Secondly, type something in your document and make a start. It doesn’t matter how good the start is, because you will come back to it and improve it – even if you change it entirely. I always find the start is the hard part, so I have to stop myself overthinking it, and just dive in! Once I’ve begun, I can usually keep going.
Finally, if you think of a good idea, note it in your phone or in a notebook, don’t rely on your memory. Honestly, I can’t believe the number of amazing ideas I’ve had and then forgotten before I could use them!
What are the joys and pitfalls of writing humorous prose? I’ve found for the characters you’re writing “for” they mustn’t find the situation funny at all. It is for the reader to find it funny. Have you found the same? How can you tell when something “works” in terms of humour?
Hmm, Allison, that’s a hard one! I don’t have a formula at all and I’d find it impossible to explain my thought processes. I simply imagine a scene and the conversations, like watching a video, and if they make me smile, I hope they’ll make others smile too. It’s hard to judge. What amuses one person doesn’t necessarily amuse another.
For that reason, I always squirm inside when someone asks me about The Basilwade Chronicles or now, The Macaroon Chronicles because it seems presumptuous to say ‘humorous’ in case readers don’t find them funny at all. After all, most people can agree on a book being romantic, thrilling or horrific, so there’s no doubt there. But humorous? That’s so subjective. I usually say, “It’s a, hopefully, humorous book,” and then keep my fingers crossed that they’ll find it so.
What are the joys and pitfalls of writing a chronicles series? What have you loved most about writing The Basilwade Chronicles and now The Macaroon Chronicles?
I didn’t set out to write a series at all. In fact, I didn’t set out to write either of the books! Each one started with a main character and was only intended to be a short story to read out at my writers’ group! The Basilwade Chronicles began with Derek Carruthers, a socially inept man and I enjoyed writing about him so much, I wrote another story about him and one of the women he met at his speed dating evening. I then took a character from the second story and wrote yet another story.
And I kept going like that – lifting a character and writing them their own story. Each month, after I’d read it out at my writers’ group, I sent it off to Gill James at CafeLit and she published them. After there were quite a few, she suggested they be put together into a book and The Basilwade Chronicles was born.
The Macaroon Chronicles came about in a similar way although the central character, Eddie the Bald Eagle, (who’s really a chicken) was quite a departure from anyone in the fictitious town of Basilwade. Since Eddie was a chicken, the other characters had to be anthropomorphic animals too and I created the Isle of Macaroon on which they could have their adventures! I think what I’ve loved about writing them both is that they make me laugh! I love them all even if they are rogues like Eddie the Bald Eagle, and tactless, like Derek Carruthers!
Allison: Many thanks for a wonderful start to this two-part interview, Dawn. I highly recommend checking out both sets of chronicles as they are so amusing. And you won’t ever forget the likes of Derek Carruthers when you read about him, I can assure you!
More from Dawn next week when she tells us how she discovered flash fiction, how her link with her local radio station came about, and an aspect to her writing career that set her a new set of challenges to deal with – playwriting.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
Never miss out on another blog post. Subscribe here:
Subscribe to Blog via Email