Hi, so introduce yourself
Hello, I am Simon Fairbanks, a writer living in the West Midlands (in the middle of England). I have written a large number of short stories since joining the Birmingham Writers’ Group three years ago and I published my first novel in March.
Tell us about your current story. What’s it about and where can we get it?
My novel is a fantasy called The Sheriff and it would appeal to fans of His Dark Materials. It takes place in a world called Nephos, set on top of the clouds above our own world. The magical creatures fled to Nephos three hundred years ago because of the persecution they suffered at the hands of non-magical people. Now, the magical races live across the clouds in peace and a team of Sheriffs keep an eye on them to make sure the peace continues.
The Sheriff is a small taste of this world. It focuses on Sheriff Denebola who encounters a village being tormented by a winged demon. Denebola does not believe in demons so he investigates. However, he soon discovers that the demon is not the only shadow cast over the village. There are lots of twists and turns, not to mention some humour and heartbreak.
Why and how did you write The Sheriff?
I had written short stories for two years and thought it was time to graduate to novel writing. Short stories are like running on a treadmill. They are a great way to build your ability but you need to run a marathon if you want to win a medal. The Sheriff was my marathon.
I was inspired by lots of local writers, particularly Katharine D’Souza and Andrew Killeen. I attended their talks at Book To The Future, a festival organised by the University of Birmingham in October, and they gave me the motivation to write a novel.
Happily, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) began one week after the festival and I accepted the challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. I reached the target with just ten minutes to spare! It was a fantastic experience and I would recommend it to aspiring novelists.
Have you got anything else in the pipeline?
I have almost finished my short story collection, Breadcrumbs, which contains a mixture of horrors,
fantasies and fairy tales. It also contains a novella that returns to the world of Nephos and features Sheriff Denebola. I hope to release the collection next month. You can see some early artwork on my Facebook page.
I am also one of the ten co-writers of Circ, a collaborative novel which was written as a result of the Ten To One writing competition. Each of the writers wrote from the perspective of one character and a writer was voted out each month based on the chapters that they wrote. It was essentially the writing equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing!
Circ is a hard novel to summarise but it follows a misfit of characters and their interactions with an old Romanian with a mysterious past, all taking place in Skegness! My character is a clown called Mungo. Joey with an equally dark past. The novel is being launched at the Library of Birmingham on Friday 28th November and you can purchase tickets now. [Editor: I have a copy of this book to review too – keep an eye out around the 28th November to find out what I think!]
How do you write? What are the tools of your trade?
I write my stories on a laptop using Microsoft Word and store them safely on Dropbox.
However, my wife recently bought me a series of super-cool moleskine notebooks, with themed covers such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Lego! I now sketch out story ideas on the train. Bizarrely, paper and pen works really well for hammering out ideas. Sometimes whole reams of dialogue and description come flowing out of my pen, uninterrupted. This makes it so much easier when you eventually get to the laptop. There is nothing worse than staring at a bright white, vacuous screen for half an hour, waiting for the right words to come along.
Who are your writing heroes?
I am in awe of Stephen King and Terry Pratchett for their sheer prolificacy of high quality writing. They write one book a year (sometimes two) and they are always worth a read.
However, I particularly admire Philip Pullman for writing His Dark Materials, my favourite book of all time. He has a knack for conveying very complicated adult themes to young readers without ever losing focus on story, character or adventure. His writing style is brilliant: simple and clear but full of great language and dialogue.
What is your favourite kind of character?
I enjoy reading about lovable, well-meaning underdogs who become unlikely heroes. There are many examples of this in popular literature. Some of my favourites are Lee Scoresby in His Dark Materials, Jon Snow and Tyrion in A Game of Thrones, Merry and Pippin in The Lord of the Rings, Sam Vimes in Discworld and Eddie Dean in The Dark Tower.
Traditional Publishing or self publishing? Would you recommend it to someone else?
I wrote The Sheriff with a clear intention to self-publish. I hated the idea of working really hard on a novel, creating something I was proud of, only to then leave it stored on my hard drive for years, whilst I desperately searched for an agent and a publisher that might not even want it.
Self-publishing was quick, simple and free. My novel is now available in multiple formats on various sites, gathering reviews, and I even make a little money. I believe it is the way forward for first-time novelists.
All self-publishers hope for a traditional book deal one day. That seems to be the only way for overnight fame and fortune because publishers have the right connections to get you a review in The Guardian. But for now, I am happy to spend some time developing my craft and building up my number of titles.
If you had any advice to give to an aspiring writer, what would it be?
Firstly, write. Quite simply, if you don’t write, you cannot be a writer so find time to write stories.
Secondly, start small. Don’t launch into writing a seven-book epic to fill the void left by Harry Potter. Write a short story, then another, then a few more. Keep practising and training and flexing that creative muscle.
Thirdly, and most importantly, find a writers’ group. You cannot write alone. Writing can be hard and lonely and most people don’t understand the appeal. You need peers to give you motivation and feedback and empathy. Without the Birmingham Writers’ Group, I would never have rediscovered the joys of writing fiction. Their support has been priceless.
Where can we find you on the internet?
If you would like to stay in touch then you can sign up for my infrequent newsletter.