Writing superheroes: Cassandra Grafton

  Who is Splatt?  Read on and find out more…

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 If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes?

 The early days were not formative!

The first story I ever scribbled, all three pages of it, was penned around the age of ten and is thankfully long gone! My Barbie doll was my inspiration, and as I had no Ken doll to play the hero, I used to persuade a cousin to lend me his Action Man! Funnily enough, he never asked if he could borrow my Barbie by return!

I attempted many stories throughout my teens, convinced I was destined to be a writer – I am not sure why, as they were all equally appalling and awash with romance, many written during the evenings as I babysat for the children of family friends. I say ‘attempted’ because not one of these stories every reached completion.

By my early 20s, I had become a wife and then a mother, and any thoughts of writing faded into distant memory, all but forgotten for many years. The catalyst for change when it came was in the unlikely form of a boy wizard and took place in early 2002, as I approached my 40th birthday.Cassandra small

At the time, Harry Potter’s partner in crime, JK Rowling, appeared to have become victim to her own super-villains; four books telling Harry’s story had been released but there was no word on when or if there would ever be another. I soon found myself, along with every man and his dog, scouring the Internet for news and ultimately discovered a new world – a new planet, almost – called ‘fan fiction’!

I lurked for a few months on a Forum connected to a site (The Hidden Tower) where the quality of the story telling was excellent before taking the leap and joining in. It was a small friendly community with only a handful of regular posters, and eventually I began to co-write stories with fellow Forum member, Ada.

Nearly four years later, I discovered Jane Austen fan fiction (having been a fan of the author since school days), and after posting a few short stories online, I embarked on a full-length one that became my first book, A Fair Prospect.

 

What did your early efforts look like?

Prior to the epiphany above, dire and, as mentioned, always unfinished! As a teenager, I balanced my love of reading the classics with a hefty dose of Mills & Boon romances. I consumed them faster than calories, living on a diet of dashing heroes rescuing beautiful damsels in relatively little distress (compared to those in classic literature!) As a consequence, my story ideas were full of improbable scenarios I wasn’t old enough to really get my head around, and within a few chapters the inspiration for the tale would peter out.

 

Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?

Sadly, yes! We moved recently, which is pretty much the only time I come across my early efforts, but I can confirm that they are here in a large box file in our Swiss apartment (sealed with tape and marked ‘Top Secret’, of course!)

There are others, however, that have no physical form but remain hidden away on the Internet.

You see, once I had Ada’s help, my super-powers started to develop, and we wrote several short stories together along with a few chaptered ones. They still lie buried in the depths of The Hidden Tower (personal favourites remain a short story based on Chapter Two of Order of the Phoenix which is told entirely from the owls’ point of view and our very first co-write attempt, Harry’s Dilemma which still makes me giggle even today.)

 

All super heroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.

 Hmmmm, well, if you promise…

 My mild-mannered secret identity lay hidden for many years behind my nickname which became my screen name for any Forums I joined, and during my first ventures into flexing my tentative writing powers, it was my author name too. ‘Splatt’ became the perfect persona to hide behind!

 

Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?

My partners in crime are my husband, Julian and my aforementioned dear friend, Ada. Julian partners my secret-identity self and shares my day to day life, and Ada partners me in friendship as well as in my other guise as a writer – without Julian and Ada, I am no super hero.

Julian’s super-powers are his tolerance, patience and his all-round general goodness. Ada’s super-powers are her wonderful talents (art, writing and photography, to name but three) combined with a loving heart, generous nature and the ability to kick my arse into gear when I am procrastinating!

It is thanks to Ada that I ever rediscovered my love of writing and finally completed that first story.

 

Where do you get your superpowers from?

 I have no idea where they originated, but I do know, once they manifested themselves, they were nurtured by Ada, the Ghosts of The Hidden Tower* and the Pinkers** of Pinkershire, (a land that has faded now into the midst of time, though the Pinkers themselves continue to thrive in various lands (as do the Ghosts) and many remain amongst my closest friends).

 Without their support and friendship over the years since my ‘origins’ episode in 2002, I would – without doubt or question – not be a published author of one story and attempting to write another.

 *   Co-webmistresses, Casca and EmmyJean

**  Pinkers are the regular Forum members of Pen & Ink, a small website founded and run by myself and Ada from 2006-2013 to host fiction inspired by Pride & Prejudice

 

Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?

 I have just had to relocate my lair with our change of abode.

 It has a view out into the street so that I can procrastinate people-watch for inspiration. I can see the park across the road, the hills in the distance and, on a clear day, the peaks of the northern Alps.

 I need lots of natural light in my lair, so I am level with the treetops to encourage my imagination to soar.

 

What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form?

 I walk – for miles and miles and miles. If the weather doesn’t permit a long walk outside, I do what Julian and I call ‘a Bronte’, and I walk round and round the dining room table! I began employing this technique when I was struggling to complete my first book. I was working from home at the time for an extended period, so I couldn’t go too far from the phone or computer. I found it incredibly successful and inspiring and have used it ever since.

 

 How do you insure they are used only for good?

 My super powers? I try to avoid the pen (and the keyboard) when I’ve been on the wine! It’s amazing how incredibly clever you think you are and how wonderfully creative that bizarre idea is you have just had, only to realize the next day that you are, in effect, just an idiot who has consumed more wine than is good for you!

 I only share, therefore, my sober writings!

 

Granted, you probably don’t get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

 All hail the inventor of Lycra, the fabric of choice for all aspiring superheroes!

 For comfort day to day at home, I live in stretchy leggings (or “fat pants”, as they are affectionately known) though they are usually boring black, not really in the same league as your average super hero’s brightly coloured outfit. The top half of my costume varies, depending on my mood, but it’s always loose and comfortable and invariably green, as that’s my favourite colour!

 

What is your kryptonite?

Bad reviews! When I say “bad”, I don’t mean constructive criticism; I mean hurtful reviews (someone once took the trouble to come on Amazon to tell the world they threw my books in the bin) or ridiculous ratings that aren’t based on my writing ability. For example, another reader once gave me a one star rating, admitting they had enjoyed the story but marking me down because they had accidentally purchased the eBook boxed set of all three volumes despite having already purchased and read the story as three separate volumes. Bearing in mind it states clearly that it is the same story and you can easily get a refund from Kindle, it seemed incredibly unfair.

A bad review hurts me deep inside and destroys my Muse more effectively than too much wine, and once it has gone, I struggle to find it again for quite some time.

 

What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?

Procrastination and real life challenges over which I have no control.

 

What was the super-villain that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?

 There were two super-villains, both of whom sprang their assault in the last eight months!

 The first launched an attack on my lovely parents-in-law who were badly injured by a reversing car. Underhand, yes? But then, that’s what super-villains are. We dropped everything to go and live closer to the hospital for several weeks and could think of little else other than willing them to win the fight. These two incredible people demonstrated super powers all of their own, defying all the medical odds and vanquishing this super villain, teaching him not to mess with strong-willed octogenarians.

 Then, a powerful and all-mighty global super-villain (roughly translated, that’s my husband’s employer) sent all manner of minions to disrupt the remainder of 2013 in the run-up to our relocation from the UK to Switzerland in early 2014. These super-villains may have been small – and certainly less threatening than the one who attacked my in-laws – but when they launch an assault in formation, they are formidable!

 I am not so sure I vanquished these so much as survived them. How? By sticking my head in the sand – it was very effective at shutting out the ‘noise’ in my brain!

 

What important lessons have you learned along the way?

 Sand up the nose is neither a good feel nor a good look – not recommended!

 

What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?

 Oh gosh, almost too many to mention.

 That first moment, holding a physical copy of the books, a story I labored over for many long years, will be a pleasure I doubt I’ll ever forget. The fact that Ada was part of the project, creating the cover artwork for all three volumes for me (along with her equally talented mom, Diane) made it more special than ever.

 However, hearing from readers who have read the story and enjoyed it is also the best – I love it when someone contacts me directly to say my story gave them pleasure – nothing could inspire me more to want to make the next one better so they hopefully feel the same about that too.

 Then, being invited to join the  Austen Variations blog team was such an honour – I still can’t quite believe I am part of such a wonderful group of writers. I’ve just completed my first group-writing project with them (The Darcy Brothers), and I have learned so much from the team and the process.

 

 If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?

 I was very naïve when I came into indie publishing, but the mistakes I made are lessons learned, so I feel confident I will do those things differently. Most of my learning in this area relates to my lack of understanding of just how popular eBooks have become.

 I will also put the new manuscript in the hands of an editor, something that would have really helped my first story be a better reading experience. Why did I not do this last time? Aside from the aforementioned naivety, a lack of funds and a genuine belief that it wouldn’t find that many readers.

 As for what I would not change, that is my biggest challenge right now. I wrote A Fair Prospect with no intention of indie publishing it; it was a labour of love, and I poured my heart and soul into it. I am trying to apply the same approach to my present writing and tell the story that I wish to share, to write it for myself but in the hope others will enjoy it, but it is definitely different when you are aware there are readers out there who might be disappointed by it!

 

What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.

 Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself ie do as you would be done by. It is something I strive to live by in my personal and my professional life. Sometimes I slip up, but then I pick myself up, dust myself down and try all over again.

 

Tell us about you new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.

 Ah yes – well, there is no need to form an orderly queue at this stage! It is about half written but has a long way to go. There will be news about it in coming months, but not just yet, though there is a small excerpt over on my Blog. (link?)

 

What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?

 As well as my work in progress, I have, as mentioned above, been contributing to the recent Readers’ Choice story over at Austen Variations, The Darcy Brothers. It has been a fabulous learning experience and I, like the other authors and many of the readers, am more than a little smitten with Theo Darcy!

 LBD 1995 SC3 Painting1ALater this month, I begin posting a 12-chapter story on Austen Variations called Lizzy Bennet’s Diary (that’s not the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, of course. This was originally written way back in 2006, and the title was inspired by Bridget Jones’ Diary which, as you may know, is a modern-day retake on Pride & Prejudice.

 The story generally follows the screenplay of the 2005 film. Because I love the story so much, I can find something to like in all adaptations of Pride & Prejudice, and though it has its faults, I was swept away by the sheer romance of this film (clearly old habits die hard!)

 However, it did leave me with some small but unanswered questions that I was tempted to pick up on. These included: why was Lizzy the only Bennet daughter at the Netherfield Ball without gloves on? Why, when the Bennets left Netherfield after the ball, was Lizzy the only one not in the carriage? Where was she and how did she get home? Where did Lizzy’s coat go when she was at Pemberley, and how and why did she walk home rather than travel in the carriage as she had arrived?LBD 2005 SC3 painting1A

 Inconsequential perhaps, but I really enjoyed writing Lizzy’s thoughts and feelings throughout the story, adding a few of my own ‘scenes’, some prompted by the book, some my imagination, to enhance it. I believe it can be read with any ‘Darcy’ in mind, and I hope all fans of Pride & Prejudice will find something to enjoy in it!

 The poster from Bridget Jones’ Diary became the inspiration for a ‘cover’ for this story, and Janet Taylor of More Agreeably Engaged has produced the lovely images below, one representing the film and the other the popular 1995 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice.

 It was my very first attempt at capturing a Regency voice, having never written anything historical before. It is consequently a little raw in places but despite that, what is the most important thing about this story? Why, that I completed it, of course! 😉

    You can find Cassandra at:

Amazon~Facebook~Website~Twitter

 

 

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10 comments

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    • Joy Dawn King on April 20, 2014 at 8:15 am
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    What a wonderfully informative interview. Thank you. I was one of the hoards that waited impatiently for you to finish your three books. Theo Darcy has gained a permanent fan in me! Look forward to anything new from you. Did not see Janet’s artwork. Did I miss a link?

    1. I am so pleased you enjoyed it!

      Janet’s artwork is the two images of the mock-up post for Lizzy Bennet’s Diary. I think I misled you by saying ‘below’ in my comment there when they are actually above!

      Thank you so much for leaving a comment!

  1. Excellent interview, Cassandra! I found it very interesting and entertaining. I hope I can do as well next month when it’s my turn here.

    1. Thank you, Shannon, and for sharing!

      It was a lot of fun and I am sure you will enjoy it too!

  2. Loved the interview! It was such fun reading your answers and I laughed out loud when I read about sand in the nose! Don’t think that sounds like a good idea either.

    I’m anxious for your next book to be released and look forward to your chapters of Lizzy Bennet’s Diary at Austen Variations. Speaking of AuVa, I too am enamored of Theo Darcy!

    Thanks to both of you for a very entertaining and informative interview.

    1. Haha! No, sand up the nose isn’t much fun! 😉

      Thank you so much for stopping by and for commenting, Janet.

    • Jan Hahn on April 21, 2014 at 10:23 am
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    Great interview, Cassandra and Maria! I’m looking forward to reading Lizzy Bennet’s Diary, and you know how I love your writing. You are one talented lady. I’m also envious of your lair. Sounds absolutely lovely, inspiring, and distracting all at the same time!

    1. Thank you, Jan, you’re so kind!

      Sadly, I find it very easy to get distracted, so I’m not sure it’s the best lair for me!

    • Ada on April 21, 2014 at 1:08 pm
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    I love this interview and these interview questions. These questions inspired a history telling that I didn’t even know. Awesome!

    To Splatt: you give me way too much credit, but I am humbled and grateful. I do think our friendship has been a bit of magic and that a big part of why we are so close is because we’ve written together. Or maybe its a chicken/egg scenario. Perhaps we write together so well because we were friends soul mates (it’s not easy to marry minds and plots and styles and not offend each other when we don’t like the direction one of us went and yet we DO always tell each other because we both need to love our writing).

  3. Did you really not know some of that? That’s hilarious!

    Beautifully put as always – now, I’d best get my head down and stop looking out of the window – I am overdue with sending you the next chapter and I shall be nagged thoroughly if I’m not careful!!!!

  1. […] Last week, I was on author Maria Grace’s Blog, Random Bits of Fascination, answering her interview questions, and you can read this fun experience here. […]

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