Wednesday 14 September 2016

Red Sparrow Writers Brought to Book: Remy Dean, Kim Vertue and Zel Cariad

The Red Sparrow Press is a new publisher promising us 'great books for young aviators of the imagination' and will be launching their first titles later this year. A few weeks ago, The Scrawl found three Red Sparrow writers in one place - at the Sci-Fi Wales convention, in North Wales - two veteran authors and one brand-new voice… So, for this special edition of our regular Brought to Book section, we asked Remy Dean, Kim Vertue and Zel Cariad about the words that have influenced, inspired and entertained them over the years.

Kim Vertue, enyoying an ice cream at The Dragon Café
Remy Dean, kissing The Red Sparrow during a reading at Plas Tan y Bwlch
What was the first book you can remember reading that really absorbed you and carried you off elsewhere?

Remy: That would be Elephant Adventure by Willard Price. I can remember sitting in school, during a reading class and I was at the back reading a book of my choice. It was the first time that the words I was reading disappeared and I started seeing what I was reading instead. I was in the jungle and then I heard the teacher’s voice calling my name, because it was my turn to go the front of class to do the reading test. It was like being pulled out from a dream. That’s when I first had an inkling of the magic of good story-writing. I then devoured the whole Adventure series over the next few years, in the right order, some of them I read more than once. I named my first goldfish Hal and Roger after the Hunt brothers in the books.

Before that, I had the Paddington books read to me and they were great. My brother used to finish reading one and we would go straight round the library for the next.

Zel: Black Beauty, it was an abridged version, I can’t remember the story that well. I enjoyed being able to read it and I remember it was good and had a horse in it.

Kim: Heidi was the first book I read entirely on my own and enjoyed in a spirited away sense.  We lived among the slag heaps of the St Helens coal and glass-making industries, so the idea of all those big mountains captured my imagination.  Also it focusses a lot on learning to read, the magic of how those words suddenly start to make sense and come alive.  I liked the idea of sleeping in a hayloft, eating grilled goats cheese and looking after goats too.

The Narnia books were great too.  Our teacher read the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to the class and I read the Silver Chair on my own straight way.  I liked the misfit heroes involved - Puddleglum of course – and the insight into the common fairy tale idea of being enchanted.  It was very difficult to break the enchantment of the silver chair and, for once, free a Prince rather than a Princess. I read the rest of the Narnia books in quick succession after that and I think Voyage of the Dawn Treader remains my favourite.

I loved Elyne Mitchell’s The Silver Brumby which I read when I was about ten.  It struck me as a more ‘grown up’ book even though it was in a learn to read series, and it was so clear yet poetic in its description of the Australian bush that I have wanted to visit there for real ever since!  I also love the way the speed and strength and sheer exhuberance of Thowra, the Silver Brumby, is described.  It reflects the way you feel as a kid when you just have to run everywhere and you feel pretty darn invincible.

Do you have a favourite book, perhaps that you have returned to more than once over the years?

Zel: All the My Little Pony book series, I probably have read Rainbow Dash and the Daring Do Double Dare a few times, and also the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic comics, the first four-parter, The Return of Queen Chrysalis, and Zen and the Art of Gazebo Repair are my favourite stories… Princess Luna’s continually changing T-shirts! Ha, ha… ‘Best!’

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Panels from The Return of Queen Chrysalis (left)
and Zen and the Art of Gazebo Repair 
I really love my Dragonology books! The Field Guide to Dragons is wonderful, I like how it documents dragons just like they are real, which maybe they are! Also, the Drogonology Chronicles - series of novels - which are great adventures. The illustrations, too, fantastic pencil drawings!

Oh, and the How to Train Your Dragon series… So basically, Ponies and Dragons for me!

And, The Land of Neverbelieve by Norman Messenger is a book I like a lot, the illustrations are nice and the ideas are great – really imaginative, I never get bored with that one, it’s like a world. I also keep going back to my factual books about science, animals and the real world.

Remy: I have a few favourites! Watership Down – I read that about three times a year as I was growing up – definitely more than a dozen times. I could speak fluent lapine and I used to play bob-stones with my pet rabbit. Recently, I read it to my daughter, twice, so far. I think it is the best Fantasy story ever written, and an inspiration to any writer of imaginative fiction.

When I was around seven or eight, my brother read Jonathan Livingston Seagull to me in one sitting, and it affected me profoundly. It is a book I returned to later and re-read many times as a college student. I use to buy extra copies to loan out or give to friends. It’s about the nature of reality, what it means to be free and transcending the bounds of physical limitations through imagination. I read it to my father during his final days, when he was in hospital… just before he transcended his physical limitations.

My brother also read the The Flies in the Market Place to me, from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, when I was very young - he didn’t mind challenging me and my little mind at all – and Nietsche has been a friend to me ever since. I have read most of his key works and they took me on a path right back to William Blake!

Songs of Innocence and Experience, I have already written a piece about why William Blake and this book are very important to me… You can read that on the I’m Hot Goat weblog.

Ham on Rye, by Charles Bukowski… pretty much anything by Charles Bukowski. I discovered him through the film, Tales of Ordinary Madness, starring Ben Gazzara in a definitive performance. I always saw and heard Ben Gazzara whenever I imagined Henry Chinaski… Then, a neighbour of mine lent me Ham on Rye when I was a living in Stoke-on-Trent. I had never read anything like that. The prose is the clearest, most beautiful word-wielding I know of. Even the most lowlife, unpleasant passages have that ‘twinkle in the eye’ that make them readable. No other writer does that as well. The humour and humanity really leap off the page. Also, I believe that Bukowski is a philosopher, the most original and alternative philosopher this side of Nietsche…

Marco Ferreri, Ben Gazzara and Charles Bukowski making Tales of Ordinary Madness (1981)
Snail, by Richard Miller, which could well be my favourite book of all, if I was really forced to select just one. Again, I first came across Snail in my formative years. I was a student, working on my final degree projects, which included a short film about teenagers ‘discovering themselves’ and racing snails. The college had taken a group of us to help with the re-design of The Brewery Arts Centre in Keswick, which, for some reason had a display case of model and soft-toy snails! So the synchronicity was really kicking-in there. Then I came across the book, simply titled Snail. I knew nothing about it, never heard of Richard Miller at that point, but there was a quote from William Burroughs on the cover and art by Clive Barker, and so with that and all the snail synchronicity I took a chance and bought it and it was a total delight - intelligent, flippant, funny, profound. Richard Miller is a truly great and hugely underrated writer!

Kim: I read Wuthering Heights when I was about 12 and have re-read it regularly since, each time with fresh understanding of the characters. It is still vibrant and gothic and unique. I love the use of main narrator Ellen Dean to portray the passion and tragedy which plays out between Cathy and Heathcliff and those in their wake.  It is ultimately a happier ending for their heirs which offers hope for the human condition. I am a great fan of Emily Bronte’s nature poetry too, and love the fact that like Emily Dickinson she wrote it mainly for herself, to better understand her own environment and inner world.

I regularly re read Picture of Dorian Gray each time with fresh insight. Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales too. Also Dracula, Poe, and I have re -read the Sherlock Holmes stories a couple of times…  I should update my Victorian Gothic taste! I have a fondness for Colette and Daphne du Maurier - Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel - although I have not re-read them for some time.

What is the most recent book you have read and thoroughly enjoyed?

Zel: Apart from My Little Pony books, I would say the Bartimaeus sequence by Jonathan Stroud. They are funny in parts and exciting too. I liked the characters, especially Bartimaeus himself, the wise-cracking immortal demon…

Remy: Yes, I think I have to agree with Zel on that one. I recently read the Bartimaeus books as part of the research before I interviewed Jonathan Stroud… for The Scrawl!

One of Shaun Tan's evocative illustrations for Tales of Outer Suburbia
Before that, Shaun Tan’s Tales From Outer Suburbia, profound and poetic short stories which brilliantly stitch together narrative image and text, I don’t think anyone else has done it so effectively, not since Blake. Shaun Tan has become one of my favourite contemporary creatives.

Kim: I really enjoyed the Bartimaeus books too!  A brilliant entertaining read.  Bartimaeus rocks.  I also enjoyed William Gibson’s The Peripheral, what a great tour of ‘what might be’…with characters you really want to win through.  Also Iain Banks, The Player of Games - working my way through the Culture novels again - for its breadth of vision... and Peter Hamilton’s The Great North Road. A true epic fantasy of future tech space exploration and detective story interlinked.

You have all recently ventured into co-written territories… What was the co-writing process like for This?

Zel: It was fun because I basically got to listen to it as it developed and say when I thought things didn’t work or if an idea needed improving, but that was very rare, because it was written well. Generally, we just chatted about story ideas on dog-walks and took a lot of inspiration from our surroundings, mountains, woods and lakes… I came up with a few random bits, I remember describing the attack of the snaky brambles. Oh, and Lucky too, who I think is a really important main character.

Remy: Zel is my resident expert of all things fairy and dragon-related. Her main roles were creative consultant and first reader. Basically we discussed ideas on walks, and then I wrote chunks and did test readings, when Zel would let me know if it sounded alright and if it was believable enough… if something needed to be explained more clearly, or if I had over-egged anything. She also ensured I described characters and places in enough detail to paint the picture, but still left enough room for imagination. One thing she does really well is ask the right questions.

...and for Welcome to the Dragon Café?

Kim: Co-writng on the Dragon Café has been great fun. I enjoyed how Zel and I snow-balled some quite wacky ideas into even funnier ones!  She really helps with her feedback on what works and how much extra description I need to give for it to unfold like it does in our heads. Remy is great with his encouragement and feedback too.

Which writers have you learnt the most from?

Remy: John Foxx, particularly the work with his band, Ultravox! He more-or-less invented the ‘New Romantic’ identity – ‘riding intercity trains, dressed in European grey’. I love the pictures his words can conjure up and how his lyric patterns just trip along – he taught me a lot about how to use the form of a word to help with the flow of a phrase.

A rhythmic pattern of words - John Foxx in the days of  Ultravox!
I am probably informed more by song-writers, Scott Walker, David McComb, Dave Graney, Ian Anderson, Kate Bush, Lydia Lunch… As for ‘writers’, then Bukowski - his prose has elegant simplicity and crystal clarity, without trading-in any of its poetic beauty... and, I have read so much Graham Masterton over the years that I may have absorbed something from him - by 'osmosis'.

Kim: All of the above feature large as my influence and sound track too… I love how songs can kick start the imagination when you least expect it.

I have a great debt to the clear elegant prose of writers like Bukowski and Hemmingway.  Also the stream of consciousness of Virgina Woolf’s The Waves, and the be-bop prose of Jack Kerouac – On the Road and Maggie Cassidy among others. Emily Bronte of course! James Clavell – I loved Shogun, its breadth and generosity. Also, Len Deighton – I love his spy thrillers, particularly the Samson Trilogy. The vitality of his prose and character portrayal is a real inspiration. The list could go on!

What are you working on at the moment?

Remy: Still recovering from writing the final draft of This – which should be available after Halloween this Autumn. Just underway with the next book, titled, That. They’re the first two in the This, That and the Other trilogy, which is an epic fairy tale fantasy that can be enjoyed by younger readers too. I am also developing my 'Corky, the Cicorc Conwy' story as a children's picture book.

And, for grown-ups, I am looking into finding an outlet for Dark Arts. It was developed as a six-part television drama, a couple of years ago, with the BBC in mind. So far, it is in the form of teleplays, but it’s going to work well as a series of short stories, or novels… Dark Arts is a period piece, set between the Wars, and deals with art, magic, horror and psychiatry… Think of a Hammer Films production of Brideshead Revisited, adapted by H P Lovecraft!

Zel: Helping with That, and I am always planning my own stories and comics. I have even finished a few of them! My latest series is currently broadcasting in my own head…

Kim: Finishing up on revisions for Welcome to the Dragon Café for release soon, yay! Other ideas constantly bubbling away too…including a story for young adult readers, Supermoon, and some Science Fiction.

Thank you Zel, Kim and Remy!

Non-fiction books by Remy Dean include biographies and critiques of Nick Cave, Henry Rollins, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Suede, Lydia Lunch, Celine Dion(!) and more recently the web-active history of art textbook, Evolution of Western Art.

His works of fiction for grown-ups include Scraps, a novel, Final Bough, a tale of the supernatural, and the recent short story collection, The Race Glass.

This going to be epic!
The new novel by Remy Dean with Zel Cariad
His forthcoming novel, This, is an epic fairy-tale-fantasy and is his first book for children and young adults. He is currently Writer in Residence at Plas Tan y Bwlch, the Snowdonia National Park's Study Centre.

Kim Vertue has written a novel and several short stories under different pen-names which have all been published internationally and in translation. She has also written for magazines and contributed to weblogs. Welcome to the Dragon Café is her first book for children and will be published soon by The Red Sparrow Press…

Zel Cariad is eleven-years old and is currently acting as creative consultant and first reader for Remy and Kim.

For more info and updates, check out The Red Sparrow Press website

and have a look at the offical Remy Dean author website

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