AN INTERVIEW WITH… BRIAN SHERLOCK

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Brian Sherlock has made it to his early 30s and lives in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne – he was eight years old when he decided he wanted to write novels for the rest of his life. 
Chaos Surging, the first part of his adult fantasy trilogy, has been in the works for going on seventeen years and he’s very happy to have published it independently. 
When he isn’t writing he enjoys backpacking and eating… but he has no stomach for Krispy Kreme or tinned beetroot!

When did you start writing “Chao Surging”?

I wrote the current and final draft back in 2018 over the course of about eight months, but speaking truthfully, I’ve been working on it since 2003 – that was back when I was 14. I’m 31 now so a lot of time and energy has gone into it.

Did the title come naturally or it was some of those titles that kept changing?

The book has had many titles over the years – my working title was Dragonfly but it’s also gone by Alchemist Rising and Escape of the Alchemist. That was back when the storyline was very VERY different and Dylan and Cassey weren’t to be seen whatsoever (the original plan had them appearing in the second and third parts of a series). It took me some time to come across Chaos Surging – I wanted a title I could carry over to the two sequels in some way (spoiler, the sequels will have ‘Chaos’ in their titles) and had a watery reference.

What inspires your stories and characters?

Inspiration comes in many different forms to me so the question is a little tricky to answer – when it comes to characters, though, it can come down to my wanting to write someone very different from myself (ie a Brazilian dentist for example) or I’ve got a friend with an awesome name or look who I think should play a supporting role in a plotline (three of them will appear in my trilogy).

Do you start writing your stories on a general premise and evolve them from there, or do you plan it all in your head before you sit down to write it?

When it comes to plotting and pantsing I consider myself to be somewhere in the middle.

Can you tell us something about your beginning in the indie world?

About ten or so years ago I found the idea of indie publishing quite intimidating – I didn’t think I was up for the challenge of doing the grunt work by myself but fast forward to today, I feel really comfortable with it all. There are things I’m yet to learn but that’s supposed to happen when you take on new things.

As an indie writer, how important and how difficult is it to have a social media presence?

Very VERY important to have a presence – this wasn’t something they were talking about in writing courses a decade or so ago so I hope it is now. The difficult part, for me, is juggling so many platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Insta. I learnt somewhere to start small so for me I’ve been focusing my efforts on Instagram – I have been thinking about putting a Facebook page together but I’m not sure when that will happen.

Writing, editing, proofreading, cover design, marketing… Do you wear all these hats yourself, or do you have some trusted person helping you through it all?

I had a very small budget to self publish Chaos Surging so I made the decision to devote my funds to the creation of the paperback and ebook covers – my cover designing skills are very much laughable so my old writing teacher, Euan Mitchell, recommended a designer, Luke Harris, outside of Melbourne who gave me what I wanted. I’m very happy with the end results.

Regarding the writing, editing, proofreading and marketing parts… those are hats I wear myself mostly because I have to. I’ve been taught how to edit and proofread and being on a strict budget it was an easy-ish process – if any little errors pop up in the final product I accept responsibility. 

When it comes to marketing… it’s something I’d love for someone else to tackle.

Do you find that living in a city rather than another one can influence a writer’s career?

I’d say yes – a lot of industry members occupy urban settings so it can be useful to be in said setting.

Did you start by writing novels or did you “evolve” after writing a lot of short stories?

I started on some poorly plotted novels first – it wasn’t until I finished secondary school that I started dabbling in short stories.

Do you have a formal writing instruction (for example, a degree in creative writing)? Do you think that a formal instruction helps writing?

I earned my Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing back in 2008 from Box Hill TAFE outside of Melbourne – the course and campus are sadly no more. I’d say that a formal education into writing is highly beneficial, but at the same time, a lot of what I learnt in TAFE can and has been taught outside of a higher education institute. There are a lot of writing industry members who are happy to share their knowledge for free.

 Have you ever killed a character you didn’t want to?

Definitely – I tend not to look at myself once the deed is done. 

Do you choose your characters’ names following some particular concept, or you don’t really care about it?

I can spend a bit of time naming my brain babies – the final decision gets made after I’ve written said name down and have spoken it aloud several times. Additionally, I have a collection of names in my head and the Behind the Name website is insanely useful.

Was fantasy a prominent genre on your bookshelf growing up or has it surfaced as an adult?

I read a lot of fantasy when I was young – Harry Potter had a lot to do with it. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I started, and seriously, reading books set in the real world. 

Is there anything you find bad for the fantasy genre? (For example it being too niche, people not getting it, or even it limiting writing a particular kind of scenes…?)

Something I’m not big on is when epic fantasy doesn’t include that which makes it a fantasy – I’ve put books down because unicorns never existed in the first place.

What, if anything, is currently missing from the fantasy genre?

At the risk of contradicting my answer for the previous question, I’d like to see a touch more drama in fantasy reads. Yes, there can be a unicorn running around but I’d like to see the human characters… and non human characters… enduring doses of what we go through here in the real world. I really enjoyed watching that sort of thing when it happened on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Is Chaos Surging taking on some of the current socio-political climate’s issues, or it’s a struggle between two fantastic faction that people can identify as they see fit?

I always told myself that if I ever completed this book there would be conflict between humans and novi – originally I figured I’d be looking through the history books for events and eras to help get the themes and tone of the story written, but for the bulk of the writing all I had to do was watch and read the news. There’s a lot happening around the world I can’t stomach.

Chaos Surging has its fair amount of same sex activities content. Were you trying to nod at the LGBT+ community or is that simply something you thought it would fit the characters better?

The answer for this question comes down to several things – 1) I do like to challenge myself by writing characters who are very different from myself. 2) A random thought of Dylan and Asher being in an intimate relationship came to mind and I liked it. 3) I’m a fan of the Wachowski Sisters and those two, as well as others, make me want to include more diverse characters in my fiction – LGBTQ people are one group I’m deeply invested in portraying.

Chaos Surging also has its fair amount of foreigner languages. Did you have someone you could check the grammar with or how did you do it?

I’ve learnt Google Translate will never be for me so I hunt down native, or very fluent, speakers to help me get the right words on the page. I have several friends (some of them interpreters), friends of friends and people I’ve never seen in person helping me out. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish, finding a fluent speaker, but it’s something I’m very serious about – I’m currently looking for an Amharic speaker and the struggle is very real.

If you could erase one fantasy or fiction in general cliché what would be your choice?

I hate it when every female character has a given name ending with an A. Get creative people!

 Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?

I’m comfortable writing about the good and the bad but I draw the line at writing, in detail, about sexual violence. I’m happy for the page to end before an assault takes place.

Do you ever write other genres?

I do – I’m eager to write an Australiana read at some point like Four Fires and Cloudstreet.

How important it is to use a editor?

VERY IMPORTANT! I do what editing I can by myself (small budget remember) but I wouldn’t object to sending a manuscript to an outsider.

Do you want to tell us about your current project?

I’ve completed the draft for Chaos Surging’s sequel (title to be revealed when I feel like it) and I’m figuring out the final book in the trilogy (the third part is the hardest to land, I’ve been told). I’m also getting some words down about mythic beings and creatures living in modern day Dublin and Belfast which I’m having fun with.

What do you do when you’re not knee-deep in writing?

I love my MCU movies, seeing my nieces and nephews and backpacking – given the current climate I’m unable to put my backpack, Luna, on and see something new so I’m looking forward to the day that international travel becomes a reality again. I’m really interested in Central Asia at the moment.

 What do you listen to, if anything, while writing?

My playlist differs from book to book and scene to scene so the answer will be lengthy – when writing Chaos Surging I listened to a lot of The Weeknd, Khalid and Martin Garrix, Lorde, Switchfoot, Ryan O’Shaughnessy, Hozier, Johnny Cash, The Gaslight Anthem and Sigur Rós.

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