Welcome to the first installment of Starving Interviews, where our humble Starving Reviewer presents his series of piercing, illuminating questions to the various literary chefs braving the Reviewer’s discerning palate. So, without further ado, let’s open up the floor for Michelle Knight, author of today’s subject, Check Mate!
Please introduce yourself to my literary foodies!
Good morrow dear people! I’m Michelle Knight, one of the people stranded on the isles of the United Kingdom. Mid forties. Born in Wales, (that’s the bit tacked on to the side of England … or the bit that has England tacked on to the side of it, depending on your viewpoint,) but I’ve lived and worked throughout a chunk of Europe and currently live in the South of England.
Do you do any work outside of the writing kitchen? Any non-work interests?
Oh yes. I have a nine to five and my major career is Information Technology; hardware, software, networking and IP Telephony. I’ve done other things to earn a living, which includes egg packing, truck driving, food, parcel and mail delivery and baking the daily bread (and doughnuts) among the various other things that one does to keep the wolf from the door. Let’s face it, my writing income wouldn’t cover the mortgage on a dolls house!
In addition to that, my hobbies are walking, photography and music. I play a keyboard (badly) and … oh yes, there’s that writing thing that I do as well.
What is your latest dish to be served up? Are there any past pieces of literary cuisine you think we should take a bite out of?
Well, the latest which is hot out of the kitchen is Check Mate, the sci-fi comedy which is being tasted on this very site as I write! As my first comedy of any length, I’m just praying that the last laugh isn’t on me! The other cuisine, however, is of a rather specialist taste, and I’ll outline this in the longer response to question four.
What made you want to put on the chef’s hat and whip up your own books?
This is actually a bit of a long story, so please go back to your seats, place your tray table up, return your seat to the upright position and fasten your safety belts!
I was born with a destiny; which was to smash some of the barriers that society has put up to protect us from Mother Nature’s villainy. Firstly, I was born transsexual and secondly I have a penchant for BDSM.
A transsexual has only two options; one is to bow to the pressure of society and forever live with the inner torment, and the other is to do the necessary tinkering inside to make oneself whole, and the rest of the world just has to live with whatever emerges from the chrysalis. There is no, “winning,” move to play; if you’re born transsexual, then you’re going to lose whatever you do. After spending a number of years talking with people who had gone through this, I determined that I would have to do the latter if I was to stand any chance of being happy within myself; so I lowered my head and charged the red/white striped social barrier with all speed and smashed it to pieces.
The result was that I took part in a self help group called, “Change,” and put up one of the first web sites in the mid 90’s, along with appearing on radio and newspapers. I joined a number of people who were getting our message out to the population that we’re actually perfectly nice people really, and no one is going to catch transsexuality from us. The result was that many people had the mists of confusion lifted from their eyes, and society gradually changed to an attitude of acceptance. There’s still a long way to go, though.
That left the BDSM element, for which fairly well the same thing was done; I wanted to increase the understandings of how things really are, because there’s a lot of misconception out there, thanks to exaggerated, popular fiction stories. After working in Germany for nearly two years (in amongst other places) I gained the confidence to start a web site in 2002 and then wrote a film script, “The Companion,” in 2005 which was based both on my real life BDSM experiences, and those of people I met. That was registered with the WGAW a year or two later, but no one would look at it with a view to production. In fact, no one would actually look at the script at all! In the mean time, along came Fifty Shades and I determined to turn my script in to a book, which was launched in 2014.
Actually, my first ever book was published in 1995, and I had short stories published as well. However, I was a mere 25-ish at the time, and using fiction to explore my own boundaries, so I wouldn’t recommend anyone hunting those down, or the other things I wrote in those periods; as they are terrible, and quite dramatic fiction. You know; the sickening things that you write when you’re testing the boundaries and working things out for yourself. I was actually so embarrassed of what I had written that when I saw a copy of my first book on Amazon for £60, I chipped in a review and said, “As the author, I can tell you, it’s not worth that!”
Anyway, Companion was published (because I already had a publisher; but even that is a complicated story in its own right!) and the test readers came back to me with positive feedback, wanting to know more about the characters, and saying that they enjoyed the book to the degree that they thought I had missed my true calling. So I expanded the series to four books in total, as there were other truths about BDSM life that I wanted to get off my chest. I deliberately set the fourth up to include death as I wanted the series to end there, no matter how much anyone wailed at wanting to extend it further.
The BDSM series, called, “The Submissive Heart,” was the story I wanted to get out of my heart, and with that done I am free to write other works like, “Check Mate.” I have a list of works that cross fantasy, horror, political thrillers and experimental worlds. As an example, 0.6% of the population are born blind; but what would the world be like if everyone were born blind and only 0.6% were born sighted? I think there are very valid, entertaining and moving stories that can be written, while exploring humanity.
So at the end of it, I have donned the chefs hat because a few people have tasted my duck a’lOrange and licked their lips.
Do you have a genre of specialty or do you dabble? Why?
At the moment, I don’t think I’ve written enough books to have a speciality. In photography we always say that as you learn, your style will come forth; and that’s what will probably happen with my writing. However, my primary drives are the stories that pop in to my head. It is those that dictate whether they will have to be written as a thriller, horror, sci-fi, or whatever, and I have to learn whatever skills I will need, to be able to write them.
Style! Every literary chef aspires to have their own unique one! What do you think sets yours apart and why?
I don’t really have a style at the moment. I did hear one fan talk of Stephen King, that they never know what to expect from his books, but that they know they will be treated to a ride and deposited safely at the end; and that is what I aspire to. It is why I believe that I’ll end up writing everything under my own name and never take on pen-names. Because I’m highly unlikely to ever earn enough to give up the day job, I won’t be so prolific that I’ll have a significant presence in any genre, to actually justify segregating them with pen-names, if you know what I mean.
Even the best of us find inspiration is the dishes of others. Do you have any literary inspirations, heroes, and influences?
Oh heck; long list. Asimov, Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Tom Sharpe, hang on while I go to my bookshelf (I’m terrible with names) … OK, so the list didn’t turn out to be that long! Those are my main influences; the rest on my bookshelf are either single book/series authors or I.T. technical manuals and photography. (The tech manuals are great for insomnia.)
Let’s get into the meat and potatoes: the art and craft of writing itself! Do you have a preference of points-of-view when you write?
I do tend to write third person as it gives the ability to jump in to a ,ock-first person for a section, if needed. ie. I can zoom the literary camera in on them, and still run inside their head as if I was writing first-person. Some people said that I write like they would watch a film, which seems to be the way that many of us think these days. It wasn’t a conscious decision; I think that because Companion was written as a film script initially, I simply translated it to book in the same perspective, and then carried on writing that way.
Sparse or wordy, how do you like your descriptions served up? Are you a Hemmingway man or do you like some saucy adjectives with your nouns?
I think it should be tailored appropriate to the situation and the pacing. On occasions, it is necessary to learn more about the colour of the wallpaper, while on others, it isn’t. Sometimes, an elaborate description can be used to hide one detail that the reader must be told, but not let them know that they’ve been told; so that later in the book they get that, “Oh!” moment.
Picking off the menu of base literary conflicts, what’s your favorite and why?
I don’t have any favourite, in particular. I just prefer a good journey. Nothing wrong with a man.v.machine that later turns out that the machine was simply the puppet of another man. I don’t really follow too much with compartmentalisation and, indeed, we do seem to be playing havoc with these conflicts; like the new Terminator is … um … almost man AS machine?
What do you think is more important to your recipes, plot or characterization? Why?
I think they’re both a critical part of any recipe. One of the most consistent compliments fed back to the kitchen is that the characterisation was really tender and the taste filled the mouth; but at the same time, the plot is critical. I don’t think that any one can sit above the other. I think one piece of review on Companion said that the characters were all fully fleshed out, real people; and that feedback I took on board.
We all know that the first taste means the most! What do you do to get that first bite hook with your readers?
I don’t think it does. I hear of people, and have a colleague, who struggled all the way through the three Shades books because they wanted to know how the story ended. From what I read, when people talk about this subject; the book has to be particularly bad for a reader to DNR it. I have to admit that Companion being a film script, it did have a buy-in, and when I was writing the second in the series, “The Reluctant Leader,” I had taken on too much advice from people, to put action in to the start; I think I over-seasoned the beginning of that book. By the time I hit the third, “From The Cradle,” I thought I had it just right; a nice little twist. Then I moved on to Check Mate, and I had turned off the idea of having a big hook. My thoughts are that a book is like a roller coaster; that first few moments when you’re just rolling along the flat and up the slow ascent, with anticipation in your soul not knowing what’s coming next. As long as I can give the reader an easy lead in, and not jerk them around the carriage, I think they’ll stay until I can deliver a more quality twist, rather than a quick, cheap shock.
The most important of questions: Cake or pie?
Oh! The agony in decision making! Please! Why do I have to choose! Argh, this is torture; please, turn that bright light from my eyes! … um … pie … more filling, less sugar and fat.
Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to aspiring literary chefs out there, what would it be?
Write. The first step in finding your voice, is to speak. It seems that the people advising aspiring authors to read, is coming from the people who sell books! That was a bit of a joke, but the first few books should be written and then thrown away. You get nowhere if you just read, and read, and read. A lot of mistakes are best learned by making them. Also, whenever you pick up a book, whether you enjoy it or hate it; try and work out why. I know this is actually going to be more than one piece of advice, but I really, really must say to new authors that whatever you do, you should never … (Unfortunately, communication with the author was cut at that important point in the interview. Her answer will be lost to history.)