Hello Readers and Writers!
Today we would like to introduce you to an author whose debut is a fun, punchy, Steampunk Murder Mystery novel! He is not afraid of other genres, however, and has plans for sci-fi and other projects. Well-traveled and well experienced in literary arts, our guest today has traveled to six contents and was honored to be shortlisted for the Lindisfarne prize in 2019.
Introducing Keith Dickinson!
RL: When did you start writing as a career?
KD: I have yet to make writing my full-time career, but I've been working on it since I was eight years old, so any day now.
RL: What's your current work in progress?
KD: I have two books on the go right one. One is a follow-up to Dexter & Sinister, called The Dragonfly Delivery Company, which involves airship couriers (The Dragonfly is the name of an airship), sky pirates, clans of criminals in the English Lake District, and a vegetarian chef called Mento Jones who does battle in a leather butcher's apron and very little else. The other is a reworking of a fantasy novel I wrote, called To Be A Thief, a noir-style crime caper full of revenge and betrayal.
RL: Your book "Dexter and Sinister: Detecting Agents" is a Steampunk Murder Mystery. Where did you get the idea for this book?
KD: Whilst reading one of the Long Earth novels, by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett, I came across the phrase 'dexter and sinister' (which are the Latin terms for right and left) and I thought "That sounds like a pair of private detectives." Then I thought, "Dexter sounds like a cat." Et voila, Dexter & Sinister was born. As for making it steampunk, I just love the genre, and I thought it leant itself very well to a murder mystery story. You can probably blame Sherlock Holmes for that.
RL: How does your book rebel against the status quo?
KD: Just publishing this book is a rebellion in and of itself. Mainstream publishing does not believe there is a market for steampunk (or so I have been reliably told), but my experience tells me otherwise. So confident in this am I that I parted ways with my former agent to publish Dexter & Sinister. I aim to prove mainstream publishing wrong.
Storywise, with Dexter & Sinister I have chosen to move away from the grim dystopian idea that you so often get, choosing to tell a simpler, more accessible, more human tale. There is no Big Bad trying to rule the world and no massive boss fight at the end. It is about the characters - which include Agnes Goodenough, a female Nigerian doorman (my personal favorite); and Nomko, a male Japanese engineer - about what they want, what they have to say, and how that drives the story forward.
RL: Do you have any plans to write outside of your current genre?
KD: I write in all kinds of genres, although usually with a hint of crime I find. As well as the Hammersmyth Novels, of which Dexter & Sinister is the first, I also have the fantasy thief series that I mentioned previously, as well as a scf-fi trilogy that I would like to do someday (it's all in my head, I just need to get it down on paper).
RL: Talk to me about the path you choose in publishing.
KD: When it became clear that mainstream publishing was not interested in Dexter & Sinister, I had no choice but to self publish. Self-publishing is a challenge, as you have to do everything yourself, but it is also a blessing, as it gives you a greater amount of control. I have the cover I want, that layout I want, I can market directly to the fans and interact with them. There's no one pushing me in one direction or another, but at the same time, I have to push myself, because if I don't do it no one else will. It isn't easy, but as long as you just do the next job, then the next one, then the next one, eventually you get to the bottom of your To-Do list, and you're standing there with a finished product you can be proud of.
RL: How was the experience of getting your book cover made?
KD: I am very lucky in that I have a background in design, so I didn't have to go into the whole process blind. I came up with an idea, then spent weeks trying to find artists that I liked (that I could afford). Once I had someone who was available, I got together a brief to give to her (that's where the design background kicked in), and she was able to come up with some ideas. Then it was just a question of agreeing on a final design and we were good to go.
Dealing with an illustrator/designer has its challenges, but I find that if you give them as much information to work with as you can, aren't afraid to ask questions, and are decisive when necessary, that you'll come out the other end with something that works (and quite often something better than you had hoped for).
RL: Where do you find inspiration for your short stories?
KD: I find short stories give me the opportunity to explore ideas that wouldn't stretch to a full novel. Or in the case of Miss Bloom's Final Summation, the story that got me shortlisted for the Lindisfarne Prize, the chance to write an Agatha Christie-style wrap-up scene without having to go through the rigmarole of writing the entire investigation. Generally, it all starts with "I wonder what would happen if..." and goes from there.
RL: Many authors have a hard time finding time to write. Do you struggle with this as well?
KD: I am lucky in that I fell into a career involving shift work, so I often have days off during the week. I also don't have too many demands on my time, so if I want to write all day I can. Basically I have workdays, writing days, and days off. Once I know what type of day it needs to be I jump in with both feet.
RL: You've traveled a lot in your life and visited six continents! Where was your favorite place to visit and why?
KD: I love Austria. Not only do I have lots of special memories of there, from when I trained as a yoga teacher, but there are so many gorgeous mountains and lakes it just feels like home to me. I grew up in the Lake District, so I like my land good and hilly. I try to visit Austria once a year, to see my friends and hike up something really high, and one day I hope to live there for a while.
RL: Have your travels inspired your writing?
KD: Everything you do inspires your writing, from the people you meet to the things that you see, to the situations you end up in. For me, it's usually about discovering different ways to look at things. We are all the products of our environment. We worry about the things our parents worried about, and sometimes it takes someone else to say, "Hey, y'know that thing that's stressing you out, that's really not as big a deal as you think it is. Why not do this instead, then your problem goes away." So many of the situations we end up in are dictated by how we approach them. Meeting new people gives us new ways to approach life. And new ways to approach life gives me a wide variety of characters to write about.
RL: What are you reading now?
KD: Right now I'm reading The Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L Powell, Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch, and Harvey Duckman Presents Vol.6, a collection of short stories. But those are just the books I've had open in the past week. My TBR pile goes WAY beyond that.
RL: What can readers expect from you in the future?
KD: I have at least six Hammersmyth novels planned, with more to come if all goes well. I'd like to get my Thief series out into the world, but I'd also like to do some screenwriting, as well as comics, and more short stories. There are too many ideas to limit yourself to one genre and one medium. I want to do it all, and I want to do it whilst having a laugh and making people smile. Books, film, and TV are all about entertainment for me. If I can have fun and entertain people along the way, then the journey has been a worthwhile one as far as I'm concerned.