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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Doing the Vampire Twist - an interview with Chloe Hammond



Chloe Hammond's debut novel, Darkly Dreaming, is already attracting lots of positive reader attention and reviews via GoodReads and Amazon - no mean feat for a new book, from a new writer, breaking into the highly popular Vampire Romance sub-genre... Here she takes time out from writing - and her busy human life - to talk to Remy Dean for IAWN about cats and dogs, vampires and the spell of the sea...


Chloe Hammond, author of the Darkly trilogy
Hello, Chloe! You describe your writing place as having a sea view – how does this affect and facilitate your writing? I am thinking Carl Jung – the sea as subconscious and that kind of thing?

I've always lived close to the sea, I was born in Liverpool docks, moved to Swansea, and then Kidwelly, and finally settled just outside Cardiff.

When my husband and I were looking at property in France for our planned great escape we found some lovely inland properties in breathtakingly pretty towns, but the only place than we felt we could actually imagine settling in for real was right on the coast. It's the draw the sea has on me. After my husband's heart attack we had to suspend our plan to move abroad and instead we chose a much smaller house in Barry, where we already lived, but this time I was determined to get more than just a snippet of a sea view.

Our little house looks right across the docks, the fair and out to sea, and watching the play of light over the water is mesmerising. So much so I've tried to paint the inside of the house to match the sea in it's many moods. I often find myself just gazing out to sea, the front of my brain caught up in watching the light dance while the back of my brain plays with my characters, revealing new ideas for my writing.

You have also described your environment as being populated by rescued cats and dogs – I believe we can learn a lot from dogs - Not sure about cats, but enlighten me! I recall the great SF author Larry Niven saying he wrote all his aliens from observing various animal behaviours, their languages and interactions.What have you learnt from interacting with animals?

I've always been a cat person, and have only quite recently, about two years ago, allowed myself to be won over by Bella, our whippet cross staffy. She is as cuddly and clean as a cat. There's not many dogs that will turn down a treat to have extra cuddles! However Bonnie, our other dog, is a very dogish dog and still challenges my acceptance. She licks a lot, and will abandon any cuddle for the prospect of food, but my husband adores her, so I put up with her, despite the doggy smell.

I have a personal theory that there are two sorts of people in the world; 'dog people', boisterous, love everyone, great fun, first on the dance floor, can't cope with being on their own for long, or provide their own entertainment sort of folk. And then there 'cat people' reserved, fussy, and only really like seeing one person at a time; viewed as stand offish, they are just deciding if they like you or not, and if they do they will love you intensely;they need time alone, and are often happiest when doing solitary activities, indeed their favourite sort of people are those they can do solitary activities in the same room with.

From a life time of keeping cats, and recently returning to keeping dogs for the first time since childhood, I have learned the value of love in all it's varied guises, and that sometimes your place in your 'pack' just is, and fighting against that is pointless, you should just relax and accept it, along your loved ones' roles, you'll be much happier for it.  Oh, and sometimes a combination of a cat and  dog person make the best match, as long as they love each others differences, and don't change one another.

So, tell us what you write about and why does it interest you?

I write about people, their relationships with each other, and the way life changes them. I point out the darkly humorous quirks we have, mistakes we make and recognise a person's imperfections are as lovable as their perfections,  and then I add a vicious vampire twist.

Darkly Dreaming by  Chloe Hammond
You mention in your on-line biographies that you started writing in response to anxiety and depression, so it is no secret and I hope you do not mind me asking this – Are you using writing for some kind of therapy, to deal with an ‘inner struggle’, and if so, why do you want to involve readers in this? OR, was the anxiety and depression, at least partly, resultant from suppressing your lifelong desire to write?

I do not mind you asking at all. I refuse to keep my own battle with mental illness a secret, anymore than someone with a physical illness should. It's just something that happened because I didn't look after myself well enough. My anxiety and depression arose for suppressing several factors of my essential self. At the time we were fostering teenagers with high support needs, and I worked with homeless teenagers, both of these jobs are challenging and cause you to come up against the ugliest side of humanity, because, sadly, where there are vulnerable children, there are abusers. Fostering is the most rewarding, and draining vocation, because you are genuinely working for twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, and you do not get a chance to make any plans, your life is governed by outside forces, and no matter what you want to organise, it can be, and usually was, all disrupted at the last moment.

We were anticipating many of the difficulties when we decided to foster, but as 'austerity' cuts stripped more and more funding from the front line services our role became more and more difficult. Instead of being a specialist service, we became incorporated by mainstream social service, but the whole point of our provision was that we were providing a specialist and difficult service. Eventually, after eight and a half years, and my husband's heart attack we stopped fostering, but I had been desperately wanting to stop for over two years. Not because of the children, but because I was deeply unhappy with the system and could see it was only going to get worse as the cuts sliced deeper, and deeper. Everyone was stretched, working at crisis point, and it was not sustainable. I have sat with police officers in tears because they cannot do their jobs properly anymore.

My day job was also dramatically different in the face of austerity, my case load had doubled, while the paperwork seemed to increase every week as the charity desperately sought different funding sources in an attempt not to lose essential services.  I was exhausted and I knew it, but didn't know how to stop it. My husband still loved fostering, and did not want to stop, he was committed to the children we cared for. So I ignored my own desires and needs, and put my husband's and the young people I fostered and supported's needs before my own for too long.

Combined with this, I had stopped writing after university, where I studied creative writing. I had dreams of writing, but had put insurmountable barriers into my own path. I have perfectionist tendencies I have to be very wary of; I felt that it was only worth writing if I took the time to plot and plan and perfectly structure a work of literary genius. And so I did not write. Indeed I did not do anything creative, always putting creativity off until tomorrow, when I would have the time, energy, and head space to do it perfectly.

Becoming ill meant I had to face the fact that I needed to change how I did things, so I became kinder to myself, and just started to write, not worrying if it was perfect. Editing is the time to polish and shine, just getting the story down was all I aimed for. Then I sheepishly showed it to my 'trusty criticals', the brave folk who read my first versions and make suggestions of changes and improvements, and they loved it. That inspired me to keep going, to write, and rewrite until I had something I felt sort of confident enough to launch into the world. I have decided not to be precious, not to aim for perfection, and to just enjoy the learning process involved in self publishing.

You talk about your characters as if they ‘call the shots’ - I love it when I lose control of a story because the characters become so strong...

I had never experienced the phenomenon of characters developing lives of their own and taking stories in their own direction before I started Darkly Dreaming. Previously, I had written mainly poetry, with only a smattering of short stories where I had not bonded with my characters so completely. I used someone I know and love as the template for Layla, Rae's best friend, and she was very much a secondary character to Rae. However, the people who read the initial versions of the novel consistently wanted to know more about Layla, so I wrote her some chapters to intersperse with Rae's, giving her opinion and viewpoint on things. And do you know what the little minx did? She inserted her own slant on everything, suddenly a different, less innocent version of her appeared on the page, she demanded a rewrite of the whole book, during which Rae really came alive, demanding her own version of things too.

It was very strange, I would have an idea, or have already written a scene, and one or the other would just change the slant on something I was writing, which would then offer far more scope for what would happen in book two and three, introducing undercurrents and ripples that become tsunamis later. It caused me a lot of extra work, but I am delighted with the result, I feel my characters are far more imperfect and believable for it. The reviews I receive for the book consistently highlight these characters and their relationship as a favourite. I have even done Facebook takeover events and parties as my characters, which is amazingly good fun, and helps me to root even further into their different personalities; Rae, cautious, shy, careful, with sudden and suprising surges of mischief, and Layla, fun loving, naughty, a risk taker, sure that everyone will love her, and if they don't that's their problem, not hers.

How do you write? Longhand? Straight into word processor? Combinations of methods?

Word processor. I'll write chunks to myself as an email if I get an idea for a scene when I don't have my USB stick with my Work in Progress on it. I used to have a lovely Nokia N97 phone, which slid open to a decent qwerty keyboard, and used Word, so I could write anywhere, bus, train, park on my lunch break, and then add it to my saved document. Unfortunately that took a little swim down the loo, and they don't make them anymore so I can't get another one. I think all the writers in the world should unite and tweet Nokia with requests for the large N97 to be resurrected.

Can you tell us a little about your writing process? What is your beverage of choice when writing? Do you have a ritual or regimen – a best time of day and so on?

Although I love coffee passionately, and confess to an addiction, I actually drink Earl Grey tea while I write. I drink a lot, I keep a kettle and my favourite mug in my writing room, and brewing up my tea is all part of my preparation, sipping it gives me reflection time, and making another gives me a little break when I need to think something through. I especially love to add a slice of lemon, and stir with a cinnamon stick. If I drank that much coffee I would become jittery and unable to slide into my almost trance like writing state.

I love to put headphones on, plug into Spotify's acoustic folk, or country love collections, close my writing room door and then lose myself in the world of my own creation. I do this best in the evening unfortunately, which can mean late nights when inspiration strikes. I have learned to always stop writing while I still have something to write. Book two has not been as easy to write, since I've had a lot of upheaval with job changes, building work, and having to learn how to promote Darkly Dreaming, which really does not come naturally to me. So to over come the frozen feeling I developed when I was faced with the weight of my own expectation, I save something each time so I can confidently start each writing session knowing what I'm going to say.

I've also reduced my word output expectations. With book one I could happily trot out three, even four thousand words in an evening after work, with book two I've learned to be satisfied with four or five hundred words a day. I am however aware that my writing is now of a better quality, strengthened by practice, so this book shouldn't take as many rewrites. I really hope not, because it's still not finished, and I'm really hoping for a Halloween launch! If that needs to be postponed though, I won't beat myself up too much, it's better to create a high quality product I am confident with. It took many rewrites, polishes, edits and reedits to finally reach a point where I felt in my gut that Darkly Dreaming was ready.

What is the first book you can remember reading that really grabbed you and carried you off to somewhere else?

I used to read Nancy Drew as a little girl, and would get completely absorbed into the feisty little miss's adventures

What is the last book you read and thoroughly enjoyed?

That's really difficult, I read so many books, and enjoy different types for different reasons, whether it be a bit of lightweight escapism, a glorious writing style, or a story wrapped around social history that I learn new things from. The last book I can remember reading that left me really dazzled and awed was Blus Sky July, by Nia Wyn Jones, it's an exquisite love song to her disable son, who she refuses to give up on despite all the doctors advice, and he rewards her dedication with every drop of his being.

If you could meet one of your literary heroes and ask them a question, who would it be and what would you ask?

I follow Anne Rice on Facebook and Twitter, and before her recent bout of ill health limited her energy and sight, she was marvellous at chatting with her fans. I loved reading her posts and interacting with her. I'd love to meet Poppy Z Brite, her vampires lit up my early twenties, and I'd love to talk to her about their creation.

Thank you very much, Chloe Hammond!

Chloe Hammond was talking to Remy Dean



For news and updates, follow Chloe on Twitter 

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