Author Spotlight – STARK HOLBORN
Stark Holborn is the author of the Nunslinger series. Formerly the resident western movie reviewer at Pornokitsch, Stark is also a games writer who has worked on projects for the BBC, Adult Swim and Cartoon Network, and will be writing for the upcoming SF-noir detective game Shadows of Doubt. You can sign up to Stark’s newsletter here.
Welcome to the Hive, Stark Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Tough one… I’m reading a lot for research at the moment, but that’s bizarre historical stuff that probably won’t be of interest to anyone. In terms of fiction though, I’ve been obsessed recently with Hard to be a God (1964) by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (the authors of Roadside Picnic). It’s incredible, and feels eerily current. Not, err, a light read, but it filled up my head for weeks. I’m also reading Lavie Tidhar’s new book, By Force Alone, which is envy-inducingly good.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
Well, I play a Tiefling rogue in our current campaign. So… short bow, rapier or dagger I guess! Though I’m notorious within our party for trying to use ball bearings in any and all situations.
Our Head Editor plays a Tiefling! And gets easily distracted by shiny things.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?) Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
I can’t write to anything with lyrics, but I love ambiences. I once listened to about 10 hours of the sound from Deckard’s apartment in Blade Runner. My latest ambience of choice has been this four hour track of wind through a tree in the Mojave desert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Je-4Okke4BE Classy.
I write on an ancient macbook, with lots of hand-scrawled notes about the place. Too much planning bogs me down. It means I make mistakes, of course, and wallow around for a bit before I figure out what I’ve done wrong, but then I generally go back and fix things. I do have a sort of star system I use for chapters – red for action, yellow for character development, green for description – that helps me get an overview of the dynamic range of a book.
What (or who) are your most significant fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
I grew up on Tamora Pierce; I still love those books and quite often go back to them as comfort reads. These days, I tend to read more SF than fantasy, but I love writers who mess about with genre to create vivid worlds; Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber is a particular favourite. I like my fantasy on the weird side. Aliya Whiteley is one of my favourite authors writing today; her books are genre defying and totally original.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
Don’t know about recently, but I’ve got some great films lined up for the next few days, including Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouaï, Kim Jee-woon’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird, and of course, the 1994 Brendan Fraser *classic*, Airheads.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
In this dream, I’m guessing Covid doesn’t exist? [Yes – pre/post/non covid!] So I’d probably gather a group of people, and go sit in a little taco bar I know. It’s so easy to spend hours there, drinking margaritas and micheladas and eating tacos. I review westerns on my blog, especially weird and obscure ones, so I’d probably head to my local DVD-rental shop 20th Century Flicks – they have a tiny 11-seat cinema you can rent – and have a movie marathon. (P.s. they run a DVD postal delivery service, if anyone is in need!)
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
It’s a feminist, SF, acid space western: think Mad Max: Fury Road meets Cowboy Bebop meets Dune.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
My first novel went on submission and was universally rejected. It was so disheartening at the time, but someone told me to put it aside if I could and just keep writing. I did, and that second book was the one that got picked up. So – keep going.
Also: don’t try to write to what you think the publishing industry wants. My current project is one I’m writing totally for me, with not one thought for who might buy it, and I think it’s far better as a result. Same with Triggernometry; it did the rounds, but trying to persuade UK publishers that there’s any sort of market for weird westerns feels like a losing task, which is frustrating, because there definitely is! That’s why I decided to release it myself. It’s been a great experience so far, and has meant that I get to work closely with some excellent, talented people, like editor Jon Oliver and artist Phil Harris.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I think a lot of it is about changing state, even if that’s just a matter of listening to something, or having a drink beside you, or going to another room. I sometimes trick myself into writing by saying “I’ll just do ten minutes…” then of course, it’s an hour later.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Probably the American West of the 1860s. Not for any romantic reason; it would be a terrifying, disturbing, heart-breaking trip, but the era is so heavily mythologized that it would be fascinating to see it first-hand, without its layers of fiction.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I always recommend The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones by Charles Neider (1956) as an alternative to Cormac McCarthy; it’s something of a lost novel, but the writing is so rich in detail and imagery.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
If you like feminist, high-stakes adventures with cliff-hangers, outlaws, shoot-outs, morally grey characters and vivid settings, then my books will be for you!
Brilliant! Thank you so much for joining us today Stark, and good luck with your upcoming release!
Triggernometry will be released as an ebook on 8th April. You can find more information here.