This is a real personal pleasure for me, because I’ve known Rhode Island native Clifford Beal since we met at Sussex University back in 1982. He was a visiting Masters Degree student studying International Relations (which stood him in good stead when he later became Editor of the prestigious Jane’s Defence Weekly) and I was a final year undergraduate about to sit for my European History degree. We discovered a shared passion for history (and Newcastle Brown Ale – don’t ask) and for dressing up in armour and smacking each other around the head (again, don’t ask). I’m delighted that Cliff is now carving a path as a successful novelist, most recently crafting a fascinating twist on the fantasy genre.
This series gives me the excuse to ask my guests six questions that I hope go to the heart of why they choose to earn – or attempt to earn – their living as writers. I’m featuring one writer every week, some of whom you will probably have heard of, and some of whom may not have hit the best-seller lists yet, but are beavering away to produce the highest quality work they can. Likewise, some will be self-publishing indies, whilst others will be ‘traditionally’ published, and yet more – like me – ‘hybrids’ spanning both paths. Gradually, the series will grow to represent a wide cross-section of authors, revealing how they ‘tick’ to aspiring writers and fellow authors alike. Do join in and leave your comments below.
1. What sort of writing you most love to do? Include as much as you like – fiction (including genre), non-fiction, blogging, copywriting, academic, courses, poetry etc.
Although I started writing short fiction as a teen, I eventually became a journalist and there was little time for fiction writing, although I “dipped a toe” on weekends. My first published book was actually non-fiction history [Quelch’s Gold], but after dusting off a novel manuscript and having another go at a rewrite, I was hooked again. Since then it has been novel writing and short stories all the way.
2. How long did it take to earn your primary living from writing (if, indeed, you do) and what were the major obstacles you have had to overcome?
How long? I’m still waiting. In Britain, the average annual income of an author is about £12,000 according to the Society of Authors. It’s only a small percentage of writers who become bestsellers and who gain the monetary rewards that go with it, but the only way to succeed is to keep writing more books and learning the craft. If you can manage it, being prolific helps. Getting more of your stuff out there in the marketplace, without gaps, can help establish your brand.
3. Briefly describe your writing and editing process. Are you primarily a plotter or a ‘pantser’?
I write mainly historical fiction and what could be called historical fantasy. Both require a fair amount of research before pen hits paper. I don’t need to complete my research before I start writing and once under way it becomes a parallel process. As far as the plotter vs pantser argument goes, it invariably depends on the stage I’m at in any particular work. Some books have practically tumbled out of my head non-stop. Gideon’s Angel was like that. But others, with multiple storylines and a large cast of characters such as my two Valdur epics, did require some outlining and storyboarding. Just going through the process of outlining can often help resolve plot holes that might be defying resolution in one’s mind.
4. Which writers, living or dead, do you most admire and why? (As many as you like, but just a couple will do.)
Far too many to list here but certainly, in terms of what I write Michael Moorcock* stands out. He’s one of the few writers who has done both SF/fantasy genre and more literary and historical works, winning many awards in both. Others that come to mind are Patrick O’Brian for his evocation of time, place and character, Robert Graves for his prose, Bernard Cornwell for his action, Len Deighton and John LeCarré as masters of plot, and Stephen King for his powers of suspending disbelief.
5. What advice do you wish you had been given when you set out to become a writer?
Start young, write about everything, read about everything, and always persevere.
6. Why did you decide to take the traditional route?
I think self-publishing has become a more viable option for writers only in the last few years with the arrival of publishing platforms, ebooks, and print-on-demand. It wasn’t an option for me to realistically consider when I first published in 2007 and the stigma attached to self-publishing and vanity publishing was still very much present. I wanted the professional validation of going the traditional route, finding an agent, and running the gauntlet of the editors and publishers. Knowing the huge competition and the challenges of getting a book contract, it is truly rewarding when you do succeed in getting one. That said, in future, I certainly would not rule out “hybrid” publishing: self-publishing some works via online platforms while submitting other works to mainstream traditional publishers. Authors have to be entrepreneurs these days and there are now many different roads to finding an audience.
Where can people find you?
Find Clifford Beal on Twitter @clifford_beal
Find Clifford Beal on Facebook
Thank you for your time and insightful answers, Cliff!
*I can personally attest to Cliff’s enthusiasm for Michael Moorcock. He introduced me to this legendary writer with Dancers at the End of Time way back in the early ’80s and I laughed until I nearly died.