Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Writer's Block Interviews: Stephen Henning

1. Tell us a bit about who you are, and where you live and work.

My name is Stephen Henning. I’m a writer based in Ipswich, in the UK. Ipswich is a small coastal town on the East coast, close to where all the US Air Force bases were located during World War 2 and the Cold War. (Something which just might creep into the book series at a future point...)

2. Describe your journey to becoming an author.

I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. Throughout my life I have drawn stories, written them, acted them out, and even filmed them. I’m into film making, and roped my friends into creating a mini superhero epic!

3. What kinds of books do you write? Who is your ideal reader?

My Class Heroes books are thrillers aimed at teenagers, young adults and hopefully adults too. The main characters are superheroes, although the aim of these books wasn’t to just translate a comic book into prose form.

First, because I think the kind of stories you can tell in the graphic novel/comics medium are totally different to books. Second, British superheroes in costumes fighting crime in Liverpool, Cardiff and Ipswich … it just doesn’t work. In New York it looks cool, at the British seaside it looks ridiculous.

The main characters in the books, James and Samantha Blake, are 14 years old. I gave them super powers as a means of telling big stories. When you suddenly become very powerful, all the usual problems that go with growing up are suddenly magnified. We all did silly things when we were in our teens, and in most cases those mistakes don't have far reaching consequences. But if you can do super-powerful things, then all of a sudden, the decisions you make take on greater significance. I think a lot of us are still convinced we are teenagers, so I hope the books will have a universal appeal.

I like to think my books are good holiday reads. There’s nothing better than buying a thriller book - something that’s intense, exciting and good escapist fun – and taking it away with you when you go on holiday. So I think my ideal reader is over the age of 13, likes action and adventure, maybe a fan of superheroes already and is just about to go away somewhere nice for a vacation.

4. Where do you find your inspiration for the characters in the Class Heroes Series?

A lot of the inspiration comes from … me. I can remember how it felt to be 14 and I remember wanting superpowers (actually, I still do). So a lot of what the characters feel and what they do comes from my childhood. There’s a certain amount of wish fulfillment in the books. I also took some inspiration from my two cousins. The poster image on the Class Heroes website was based on photos of my cousins from when they were 14, and was painted by a renowned book cover artist called Andrew Skilleter. Andrew has painted cover images for BBC’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Ruth Rendell Mysteries, and Doctor Who.

Andrew was a really nice guy. He’s a very accomplished artist, and I thought he’d be way too expensive for me. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a child. I had posters that he had painted up on my wall. I approached him, told him what I was trying to do with my books, and he was really interested and he came up with this brilliant movie style poster at a really reasonable cost. He’s a star.

5. Why did you start Elucidox Publishing? Describe your publishing process.

Elucidox Ltd is a company owned by myself and my friend and colleague Andrew Butters. We are primarily technical writers, i.e. we write training manuals, user guides and website content. I wanted to write the Class Heroes books, and it seemed logical to publish it under the Elucidox banner.

6. Who are your favorite authors? What is on your reading list right now?

I really like Lee Child, Michael Crichton, Terrance Dicks, and I’m currently reading Shada, by Gareth Roberts, Paper Money by Ken Follett, and The Drowned World by JG Ballard. Terrance Dicks is a prolific author of children’s books and it was reading his books as a child that made me want to be a writer. I love comic books too. I think the biggest challenge in telling a superhero story is finding the drama. If a character is super powerful, then you have to work hard to build the tension and create situations where the main characters are placed in genuine jeopardy, and can't just wave a magic wand to get them out of it. I think the Batman books/films work very well in that respect.

7. How do you promote your work? What methods have worked best for you?

I set up a website for Class Heroes, and I’m on Twitter, Facebook, and Google +. I want the Class Heroes books to be more interactive. They are eBooks after all, so I wanted the adventures to continue outside the confines of each book. Although the storylines are fantastical, I want them to be grounded in reality. So to try and add to the reality, I have set up a fictional News website (like Sky News or Fox News), which contains news reports and videos relating to the events in the books. It's called 24/7 Interactive News, and one of 24/7's news reporters appears in the first book!

I like the idea of people reading the book, and then going onto a "news" website and watching news videos about the events that have happened in the novel.
(You'll also find my mini superhero epic film "Rage" on the 24/7 News site.)

Also, the characters have their own blog and their own twitter feeds. It's a way for readers to find out more about the characters, see what happens to them in between books and engage with them on Twitter.

8. What are your upcoming plans for 2012?

I released the first Class Heroes book, A Class Apart, in October last year. My aim is to release 2 books a year. I’m hoping that the second in the series will be ready in May, and then the third later in 2012.

9. What is your definition of success as an author?

There are two definitions. I think the first is in actually writing a book in the first place. As I’m sure anyone who has tried it knows, it’s a tough thing to do. I’ve always written, but there are some books that I started and could just never complete. For some reason, it just didn’t work for me. But with A Class Apart, it just clicked. The feedback I’ve had on the book has been positive, and that's been encouraging and a relief! And of course, to have the books sell well would be amazing. I don’t really know what I’d consider a success in terms of sales. As long as a reasonable number of people bought it and said they liked it, I’d be happy.

10. What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?

Well, I wouldn’t presume to give anyone advice really. I’m just an aspiring author myself. But what has worked for me is writing about something I really love, believe in, and think about 24 hours a day. You’ve got to really live and breathe it. Oh, and reading lots of books too, including books on how-to-write.

Author Biography - In Brief

I'm a Technical Writer, by trade, although I used to work as a journalist and for a publishing house. I live with my wife, Rebecca, in the UK. Rebecca proof reads and edits my books. I spend a lot of time looking at my book stats :-) You can read a fuller biography of me on my website.

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