TRUE OR FALSE... WITH ROB SANDERS (ANSWERS)
Check your answers below.
1 I was banned from the Library not once but twice for not returning library books.
TRUE Once as a child and once as an adult. Both times because of my rather fluid relationship with time.
2 I have been writing for Black Library, in one form or another, for ten years.
FALSE It’s actually been thirteen years since I wrote my first short story for Black Library.
3 My office is a perpetual mess, buried in books and trinkets associated with popular culture.
FALSE My office is intentionally tiny. Unlike many authors, I tend to restrict the amount of clutter – books, models etc. (what Philip K. Dick calls ‘Kipple’). I prefer a room, a screen and my thoughts.
4 I once wrote a short story with crime author Ian Rankin, creator of Rebus.
TRUE As part of a writing competition for the BBC called ‘End of Story’, I wrote the second half of a short story that Ian Rankin had started. The competition was the biggest creative writing competition in the country, attracting over 17000 entrants, both professional authors and amateurs (like myself at the time). I reached the top 6 and was featured in the television series that followed the competition.
5 I have a First Class Honours in English Literature and History.
TRUE My dissertation title was ‘Sexual Politics in the Early Gothic Novel – a Barthesian Approach.’ I very much enjoyed literary theory while everyone else around me hated it. Flying in the face of instinct I chose to base it on a collection of novels and a period I hated so I had no fear of ripping the texts to shreds. It worked.
6 I hate the plays of William Shakespeare – reading them, being assessed on them and teaching them.
FALSE I love the plays of William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and the Early Modern Period in general. My particular favourites are King Lear, Richard III, Anthony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare), Tamburlaine and Edward II (Marlowe).
7 When I was younger I had a collection of poetry published.
FALSE I had some pieces of poetry published in national poetry magazines. I did not have a collection of poetry published. Despite some early potential, my interest in writing poetry waned when I discovered how little critical and popular attention it received – which is a shame.
8 Starting as the Head of English at a local secondary school, I improved GCSE English grades by 20% in a single year.
TRUE A tumultuous first year in which I took over, brought in a plethora of new strategies / approaches and reassembled my staff into a fantastic team that could achieve such an objective. Ultimately, a pretty thankless task as it turned out. At least the students got to walk away with their grades.
9 My favourite film of all time is Aliens (1986) by James Cameron.
TRUE I must have seen it hundreds of times. A tour de force exercise in rollercoaster film making. Love him or hate him – you do not bet against James Cameron.
10 In my twenties, I spent a year in Nigeria on a Voluntary Service Overseas teaching placement.
FALSE I’m not much of a traveller, it must be said. A friend of mine from teaching practice looked into spending a year in Nigeria as part of a VSO teaching placement. As part of the placement, the VSO put you in contact with a volunteer who has been to the place you are being sent to. We went to see her and she had a horror story to tell. She was routinely robbed by the people she was trying to help and police officers stopped her on every street corner for a bribe to let her walk by. She had to call her boyfriend to fly out to be with her, but the pair of them got dragged into an alley and robbed with a gun levelled between his eyeballs. And that was that. They jumped on a plane and came home. Needless to say, my friend never went to Nigeria.
11 Despite not being religious, I once won a national fiction competition by writing a fictional book of the Old Testament.
TRUE The competition was run by Literary Agent Peter Cox (Agent of Michelle Paver, of ‘Wolf Brother: Chronicles of Ancient Darkness’ fame – optioned to be turned into a film by Ridley Scott). Just followed my instincts on this one. I wrote a fictional, biblical account of Cain banished from the Garden of Eden after murdering his brother. The story emulated language from the Bible and even came complete with numbers and notations. It did what it was designed to do, which was catch the eye.
12 I prefer silence while I am writing, since I’m dreadfully easy to distract.
FALSE I always listen to music when I am writing – mostly film soundtracks, because they already have an emotional architecture built into them. I have collections of track organised by tone – ‘Action’, ‘Emotion’, ‘Thoughtful’ etc that I like to have on in the background while I’m writing.
13 My first introduction to Fantasy and Science Fiction was through gamebooks.
TRUE I loved gamebooks as a kid. Even then I knew that I wanted to be in control of the story. When I play console games now I tend to favour open world games that allow you control over the character, where they go and what they do.
14 I wasn’t a big reader of fiction in my childhood, much preferring non-fiction – books on space and dinosaurs.
TRUE Even as a kid, I guess I would much rather be researching my own fiction than reading someone else’s.
15 My first published fiction came about by accident, when a friend of mine introduced me to editor Christian Dunn.
FALSE No. Before writing for Black Library I didn’t know anyone there, at Games Workshop or knew anyone else who knew somebody. I came in through the slush pile. I sent my short story ‘The Cold Light of Day’ in cold and Christian Dunn picked it up out of the pile for publication in Inferno! Magazine. I then met Christian after. This was a fairly rare occurrence, I came to learn, but it should give budding authors hope. You need skill – but even with skill, you still need a little luck. You need to get the right piece of work, in front of the right person at the right time. There’s many a good writer (published and not) who has fallen foul of one of those things.
16 Among the classics, my favourite novel is ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’.
FALSE Thomas Hardy is not one of my favourites, although the “because we are too menny” scene in ‘Jude the Obscure’ gets me every time. My actual favourite from the classics, is ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte. It is a structurally ambitions novel of such raw power, darkness and emotion, written by a sheltered young woman in her twenties. Incredible.
17 I have a Border Collie called ‘Gatsby’.
TRUE Named after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s titular character.
18 I tend to write first drafts by hand before typing them up on a laptop.
FALSE No. The laptop and my fingers – the screen and my mind - are as one. I increasingly find writing with a pen a slightly alien activity.
19 I did a work placement with my publisher, to experience the process of producing a novel from the editorial end of the process.
TRUE After producing my first pieces of published fiction I thought it best to try and understand the process of writing fiction from both ends. It was an eye-opener of a placement, in terms of how editors approach the fiction before them, the realities of the slush pile and the myriad demands of reader.
20 I have never played Warhammer 40,000, or any Games Workshop product for that matter.
FALSE It is true that I don’t tend to play very much now. My time is taken up doing the thing I love, which is writing. In my youth I did play a great deal but used to enjoy the planning part of the game more than the actual battles themselves. I also ran a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay club in the first secondary school I worked in as an English teacher. It ran every day at lunchtime for several years. It contained girls and boys from different years groups as well as the occasional teacher. It was very successful but eventually became too big to manage.
How did you do?