This week we talk to AC Macklin, author, LARPer, and organiser of the SF&F writing event Right on Paper.
1. You regularly post “Twitterature”, a story told in 140 characters or less. How do you come up with so many fresh but concise ideas?
I outsource! Every so often I’ll ask for inspiring words from my Facebook circle, and people seem to enjoy coming up with obscure offerings. I put them all in a list and, when I’m writing Twitterature, I scan down and see which word jumps out at me. Usually it jumps with an idea already attached – an image or emotion, which I’ll then crystalize into a story snippet. Sometimes I look up the etymology of the word and an idea will come out of its history or associations. Homophones and puns also crop up quite a lot – I wrote one this morning about the urge to light up stars, inspired by the word ‘liturgy’.
As far as brevity is concerned, that can be a challenge but it’s very good for me. I’ve had to accept that I can’t necessarily tell all the details of the story in my head via a single tweet, and to let the reader fill in the blanks themselves. That’s a lesson that carries over into the rest of my writing.
2. You’re an active Live Action Roleplayer – do you find that participating in such events acts as a source of writing inspiration?
Absolutely! My current project, London Under, was completely inspired by a LARP event that I ran a few years ago. One of my early novels, Spiritus, was essentially the untold backstory of the family my LARP character at the time came from. I’ve often got in contact with players and asked what their LARP character would do in such-and-such a situation. It’s a fantastic writing resource for character actions and plot twists that you wouldn’t come up with yourself. LARP is collaborative storytelling and there’s no reason why that can’t continue onto the page, provided you have everyone’s permission.
3. You’re running an event for science fiction and fantasy writers called Right on Paper. What prompted you to take on the responsibility of organising such an event?
I’ve been to a number of writing conventions and – whilst I love hearing from other writers about their processes, inspirations and critiques – the talks I take the most notes in are those presented by non-writers providing an insight into their fields. My two favourite sessions from Nine Worlds 2017, for example, were led by a police officer and an architect. There are hundreds of books on technique and critical theory, but when you’re writing a London Met detective how do you get the details right? That research is difficult to access.
It occurred to me that having a number of these experts in one place would be a very valuable resource. As a genre writer, I know what areas are useful to research when world-building. I’m a conference organiser in my day job, so organising events and approaching complete strangers to speak at them comes fairly naturally. And my best friend (and Official Sanity Checker) got quite enthusiastic about the idea, which was all the encouragement I really needed.
The response has been very positive, with people sharing the event on social media and The British Fantasy Society kindly endorsing it. Tickets have sold out three weeks in advance, and I’ve even had experts in esoteric fields get in touch to say they’d be interested in speaking at the next one. So there will almost certainly be a next one – watch this space!
4. Your book, Corpus, has a goblin as the main protagonist – what made you decide to focus on a normally marginalised and vilified group?
One of my favourite aspects of world-building is the creation of cultures. In Spiritus, which is the prequel, I focused on a fae culture in which touch carries huge emotional overtones and is therefore used sparingly. I wanted the reader to know how important the handshake at the climax of the story is, without disrupting the tension for an explanation. The reader goes from thinking fae are cold and distant, to understanding and sympathising with the nuances of their culture.
In Corpus, I moved on to goblins, who are traditionally presented as very violent and uncivilised. By putting it into a context of cultural values of strength, courage and similar dominant evolutionary traits, plus strong family ties reinforced by rough-and-tumble sibling interaction, with a racial history of ostracism and oppression, I made goblin behaviour sympathetic without changing it. When the goblin protagonist faces off against a major fae character from the prequel, the lack of comprehension between them results in tragedy. The reader, however, understands the cultural drives of both, which heightens the pathos.
The underlying point is: vilifying a culture because you don’t understand it only makes things worse.
5. Tell us a little bit about your most recent publication, Read This First.
It began as a dream, corny as that sounds. I had a very vivid dream one night of a huge, abandoned library with a note by the door saying ‘look after the cat’ and the sound of something growling in the shadows. NaNoWriMo was just around the corner, so I decided to turn it into a story made up of journal entries posted daily on my blog. My blog readership rocketed and people got very invested, helped by the constant cliff-hangers of having to wait a day for the next journal entry.
Afterwards, a number of people asked if they could write sequels set in the library. I shared the details of the setting in a Facebook group and sat back. Within a couple of months, the group had shared fifteen short stories plus some beautiful artwork by Andrea Cradduck. When I arranged the stories (with minimal editing thrown in), the body of work tracked the evolution of the last library and its tiger. I published it through Amazon, and we’ve sold over 100 copies without any marketing beyond word-of-mouth. Not too shabby for an off-the-cuff NaNo project!
Liss Macklin is a cyber security conference producer by day and a SF&F writer by night. She has several short stories published in various anthologies, and is half-way through an MA on novel writing at Middlesex University. Her weekly blog on genre fiction can be found at everwalker.wordpress.com, and she tweets daily #Twitterature. In 2014-15 she ran a LARP called London Under, based on Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Kate Griffen’s Midnight Mayor series, which was nominated for ‘Best New LARP’ in the UK LARP Awards 2015. She’s also a classicist who considers anything more recent than 600BC to be ‘modern history’, and an unrepentant Supernatural fangirl.