C.C. Hogan was dragged up in North London in the nineteen seventies and spent many years in the media industry doing whatever it took to not kill clients. Making the leap into novels, he is working in two directions at the same time – a massive fantasy project called Dirt that is a saga spread over twelve books, and a series of novels set in London.
1) When did you first discover your love for writing?
I suffered a series of teachers when a child who punished me for my spider writing, bad spelling and general inability to write the rubbish they wanted me to write. For some reason, it did not kill my interest in words and communication and I have been playing with ideas ever since. The invention of the word processor probably was the most liberating thing that has happened to me, and I have been attempting to write something for years.
2) Do you have a favourite place to write?
I have a dream place to write which I have yet to realise; a tiny, two-roomed cottage overlooking a welcoming sea. You will find it in The Fight for Dirt. In lieu of that, I have a big, comfy chair sat before three large monitors and a large rug covered desk. My monitor wallpaper is the key maps of Dirt so that I am always reminded where I am meant to be and what I should be doing.
3) Do you have a writing routine or process that you adhere to?
Not especially. Since I am writing full time at the moment (while pulling in bits of panic work to pay bills), I just wake up, switch on and write.
I am, at heart, a story teller and believe that the written word is a poor substitute for the spoken word. In consequence, I read out loud constantly, sometimes even as I write. This probably makes me pretty antisocial, but then isn’t that what writers are meant to be?
4) Are there any authors or specific books you aspire to?
Two: Illiwhacker by Peter Carey and Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake. Both these writers have the ability to take the fanciful, exaggerated and incomprehensible and make it sound perfectly sensible. This is a rare talent and a powerful one. Although my current books are not as mad as those, I hope I have managed to make my characters believable and plausible, even if they have wings…
5) What inspired you to write Dirt
I should answer this by saying that I was out walking on a desolate moor when I looked up and saw, pushing against the highest winds, the beautiful form of a flying creature. Watching as the sun caused the vision to shimmer and distort, I thought of the dragon and how beautiful a world with such creatures would be.
However, the truth is that I sat down one day and wrote down a pile of ideas for books, each of them little more than a sentence, and I stopped when I got to the one about a young man trying to rescue his sister.
Yeah, I know, boring, but most brilliant ideas start that way. That is the joy of creativity; wonder out of the humdrum.
6) Can you tell us a little about your book?
In essence, Dirt is fantasy road-trip as Johnson Farthing races across the world of Dirt, hanging onto the back of a beautiful Sea Dragon, to rescue his captured sister. Yet, this is only the first small wing-beats in a huge saga that will take the young man from the poverty of his life and thrust him and his friends into war.
This is a tale of heroism, but the heroes are ordinary; they are pie sellers, well-diggers, goat-herders, all working together with dragons who are intelligent and cultured and do not live in damp caves.
As the story unfolds, the world of Dirt opens up for the reader and becomes, perhaps, the central character; a multi-layered persona of good and bad, beauty and ugliness, wonder and simplicity.
7) Do you have a favourite amongst all your characters?
Mistry, who we first meet partway through Dirt, which is the first book in the saga, is a very important character for me. She is only fifteen when we meet her, but she is thrust into the role of a hero as much as anyone. She has been working with her father from the age of ten and she is responsible and clever, but she is also young and being the hero weighs heavily on her and she does not always cope well.
She may be the bravest of them all, but she is also the most reluctant, and I think she represents how many of us would be in real life – we might do the brave thing, but it would scare us stupid and we would battle an inner fight not to just run away.
8) Does your book contain a message for readers to consider?
I have always been puzzled why in this world where we celebrate the hope of democracy, so many of our fantasy novels are about kings and queens. Even in Narnia, the young heroes run a feudal society.
So in Dirt, high fantasy it may be, but my heroes are fighting for freedom and equality. My main characters, male, female, human and dragon, are strong, but they are also ordinary. They are not super-sexy or scantily clad, but they are you and me and they want to do what is right.
More importantly, they are all looking for what we all look for – a home.
9) Would you be interested in sharing a teaser?
This is a very short extract from the first book of Dirt and is just to give a sense of a couple of the characters. Picking an extract that is not simply the first chapter is difficult because there are so many twists and turns that would be either inexplicable or a terrible spoiler.
“Weasel!” Mab-Tok shouted out as he landed nearly on top of them. “I need your help; Fren-Eirol has broken a wing!”
“What?” Farthing was dismayed. Suddenly all their plans were collapsing again.
“Magician, if we can hurry, we can fix it before it becomes a serious problem, she just caught it a few minutes ago. Jump on my back.”
“Can you take me?” Weasel had never flown on something so much smaller than a sea dragon.
“Of course, or I wouldn’t suggest it and I don’t have the hang ups of those big lumbering idiots on the hill.” Weasel shrugged, and pulled himself up on the back of the small dragon, like a child climbing onto a parent. To Farthing’s complete amazement, the small dragon just jumped into the air and headed straight off as if the magician weighed nothing. He and Jipperson stood watching the dragon disappear into the distance toward the village.
“So, a healer too, your Mr Weasel.” Jipperson said thoughtfully. “And a Bach-Iachawr and a sea dragon? My, but you have collected together an interesting crew, Mr Farthing.” He looked at the young man. “Come on lad,” he said in a much less formal tone. “Looks like they be headed for our Inn. Suppose we should be hurrying along?” Farthing nodded and the two headed up the road.
Fren-Eirol was leant back and braced against a tree with pain in her huge eyes as Weasel had hold of her wingtip and pulled.
“Harder, magician, I have to have it straight!” Mab-Tok could be a bully, but he knew what he was doing.
“Fren-Eirol,” started Farthing.
“Shut up boy!” the large sea dragon growled from between clenched teeth. Suddenly there was a sickening snapping sound and Map-Tok slapped a soaked dressing over the wing bone near the tip.
“Got you!” he shouted with triumph. “Okay, let it go … slowly!” Weasel gently released the dragon’s wing and she sagged against the tree with an audible sigh of relief.
“I haven’t done that since I was young,” Fren-Eirol said with a note of dismay as Mr Jipperson the elder appeared from the pub with a big pale of what looked like steaming warm water. “Oh, bless you, sir!” the dragon exclaimed and downed the contents in one gulp. Farthing blinked; he had rather assumed the water was for the wing. “Oh, and that had rum in it too!” A broad smile grew over Fren-Eirol’s face. Now it was young Mr Jipperson’s turn to look dismayed. He picked up the bucket and sniffed.
“Mr Jipperson,” he addressed his brother a little more abruptly than usual. “Exactly how many bottles of my rum did you empty into this pale?”
“Not enough for you to fret about, Mr Jipperson,” the elder brother replied with a smile. “Just the two…”
“Two!” Any pretence at formality disappeared in a flash. “Ronald, if I am short at the end of the week, you will be brewing me a new batch personally!” So, they did have first names, mused Farthing.
“Brother mine, I would never deprive you of your precious tipple, I have three crates in store, just in case.”
“Really?” The younger brother looked taken aback. “Well, Mr Jipperson, in which case, the large young lady here can have another to ease the agony.” But the large young lady was already out like a light, her head tilted backwards and her tongue lolling out.
“Strong spirit and dragons are an ill-advised mix,” Mab-Tok explained. “Don’t get me wrong, we like the taste, but we don’t handle it very well. Still, it will help the healing, which is why I ordered it.”
Farthing’s smile became a frown as he walked over to Mab-Tok. “Thank you Mab-Tok, but how long will it take to heal?”
“Well, it is not as dramatic as it sounds. What she did was catch the top of the tree and she had torn a bit of the cartilage. The dressing I have put on will set hard and that means she can fly, with a little care, but we should delay a day, I am sorry to say.”
It was much less worse than Farthing had feared. He had worried that they had been effectively grounded. The elder Jipperson was looking at the sea dragon with interest. She had slowly slid off the side of the tree and was lying on the ground belly up. Weasel had taken some of her cloths from the bag she had brought back and laid them over the dragon.
“Will she be alright, Mr Weasel?”
“She will be fine, Mr Jipperson,” Weasel told the older man. “Her headache should take her mind off her broken wing,” he added with a grin. “And not wishing to leave her feeling like an exception in the morning, shall we adjourn to your outside tables? Mr Jipperson, would you oblige us with some flagons of your finest stout?”
10) What would say has been your biggest challenge and achievement in writing Dirt?
Keeping track of a complicated and rich world. I realised part way through writing book one that I was running into trouble in several ways. I was naming everyone I met, I had no real idea how big the world was and I did not know how fast dragons fly. If I was to write a story that took in an entire continent, then I had better get organised. So I stopped and started that horrible process of planning properly.
I have written a few articles on planning and one of the most regular comments I get is, “I am an instinctive writer and planning gets in my way.” Well, rubbish. Good planning, I have discovered, does not get in the way, it liberates. Because I know exactly where I am heading, chapter to chapter, and I have complete notes on every character, place, weather pattern and time line, my writing has improved.
In particular, it has helped my dialogue. My characters talk a lot and it is the strongest area of my writing; removing the worry about where I am going has allowed me to have a lot of fun!
11) What have you learned about yourself as a writer through writing Dirt?
Much to my surprise I have found that I could be far more dedicated than I have been at any time before in my life. My world has been wrapped up in the media industries working with journalists, actors, musicians and some other amazing creatives, but most of the work has been glimpses of a whole and I have suffered from boredom very quickly.
With Dirt, it has been different. After many years of writing, I actually finished my first novel, The Stink (the first of the London novels) in 2014. It was a huge achievement for me and I was keen to write another, though I was fairly certain that I might not actually manage it. Fun to try!
Now I have published four more and have two more waiting to be edited and another part written. I just can’t let go. As I sometime say, I am addicted to it now and it might be a problem.
12) Do you have any advice for other aspiring authors?
Pretty much what I have just said – let yourself become addicted, become obsessed. Keep writing, even if it is rubbish. Don’t stop for anything. In my old job, commercial pressures kept you on your toes. Writer’s block didn’t exist; clients did not believe in it and so neither could you. So, whatever we all did, we kept creating, knowing we would have to sort it out in the edit.
Same applies to writing a novel. Plan fully – I mean, write pages of notes – and then just write and write and write. At some point, it will just go Click.
13) Anything else you would like to say?
I have gone the self-published, indie author route for my books. Why? Simple; I could not find an agent. It has been an interesting learning-curve and one I am only part way up, but I have learned several very important lessons. The first is that there are a hell of a lot of really, really good writers out there that cannot get agents, and a lot of really bad writers who have.
Secondly, we live or die on reviews and they are terribly difficult to get. A part of me thinks that we have become our own worst enemy and indie authors are continually on the lookout for the lengthy, great review. But actually, any review or comment of any length is brilliant.
If you read a book by an indie author and you liked it, just post on Amazon, Smashwords or wherever you bought it a quick note. “I loved it,” or “Great book,” or something simple is all that is needed. You don’t have to spend hours writing a huge commentary dissecting every word. Just a thumbs up – that means so much to us all!
14) And finally, do you have any future works planned?
I have another six (or more) Dirt books to write and that is going to keep me occupied for some time, however I have other projects too.
I wrote a Young Adult book called The Stink which people love, but I haven’t managed to shift. I want to get that moving and write the sequel. This is not fantasy, but about a group of young people starting a band in 1976. The sequel is set two years later when they go on tour in the back of a knackered old van. Should be interesting.
I also have planned more London novels and possibly a tome of poetry too.
Dirt website: http://aworldcalleddirt.com
The Stink website: http://thestinkbooks.com
Amazon Author Central: http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00CPQT8VY
When Be-Eirol met Mab-Aneirin and Weasel
The Stink trailer