Interview – Christopher Stokes, author of The Distant Glimmer
Self-Publisher’s Showcase: Today we are joined by Christopher Stokes, author of The Distant Glimmer, and the Squirt the Elephant children’s books. Welcome to the Showcase Lounge, Christopher.
Christopher Stokes: Thank you for having me; it is a pleasure to be part of such a great author network.
SPS: For any of our readers that have not come across your work previously, can you take a moment to tell us all a little about yourself?
CS: Well, I am nineteen years old and I live in Walsall in the West Midlands with my parents and my sister, last year I completed my A-levels and achieved two level 3 diplomas in I.C.T and Physical Education. Following my time at sixth form I needed to begin thinking of what I would be doing next in my life, I have always had a passion for writing since a young age when I started writing short horror stories about a phantom. During my first year at sixth form I began writing my first full length novel and when I finished school for good I decided to finish my novel and look into getting an agent or a publisher, but as all authors know this isn’t an easy task, that is when I discovered Amazon’s KDP eBook self-publishing service, it gave me an opportunity to develop as an author and it gave me a chance to get my work out into the public, it also allowed me to start working on promoting my work and is giving me the opportunity to become an author as a full time career, I have now finished my second novel and I have also illustrated and written six picture books for children, all of which I have self-published on KDP as eBooks and also now on create space which is another self-publishing platform that allows authors to create paperback versions of their work. I am now trying all I can to promote my work and get my name out there as well as continually writing more books and developing and improving what I create.
SPS: What are your perfect writing conditions, and how often do you write?
CS: For this past year since I finished sixth form I have probably spent nearly every day of every month writing in some way, I have released eight books on Amazon since November last year and it has required me to write and illustrate for a lot of my time in order to release them to the public. Some days I have spent eight hours just trying to complete one chapter of one of my novels, and the time I have that isn’t spent writing I am trying to promote my work in any way I can think of. As far as my writing conditions are concerned I simply sit with my family in the living room and type away tirelessly on my laptop, I do like quiet though, I certainly cannot listen to music as this distracts me and I can’t get the most out of my writing.
SPS: Can you put your finger on the moment where you decided that you wanted to publish your work?
CS: It was probably last July when I was about half way through writing my first novel The Distant Glimmer, I still didn’t know what I wanted from the future, but as I sat writing I thought, hang on a minute, why don’t I do this, maybe I can turn my passion for writing into a career, and that is when I first discovered KDP, so I finished my novel and didn’t hesitate when it came to self-publishing it as an eBook and a paperback.
SPS: Why do you think it is that you have found yourself writing in the style/genres that you do?
CS: I think I write horror and fantasy novels because those genres intrigue me and I find them highly enjoyable to read and watch, especially with fantasy as your imagination isn’t restricted, you can create an entire new world and anything you want to put in it is O.K because it is fantasy. I also write children’s books mainly because my mom is a team leader at a children’s centre and she works with children on a daily basis, I myself also did work experience at a local nursery so I know how important books are to children and I know how they need them to learn and develop, so I thought up a good child friendly story and I put my drawing skills to good use and created Squirts Lost Her Spots. As for the style of my writing it really varies depending on the book I am writing as the types of books I write are so dissimilar.
SPS: Can you take a moment to tell us all about The Distant Glimmer?
CS: The Distant Glimmer was everything I personally would want out of a book or a film. I created an entirely new world where I could transport both my mind and the mind of the reader. I liked the idea of having a new undiscovered planet, doing that allowed me to make the planet my own and I could do whatever I liked with it, such as creating different coloured skies, strange terrains and giving it inhabitants that you would never dream of finding on earth. The Distant Glimmer is set in the 1960’s when computing and technology was just beginning to develop, it was also a time where ventures into space were only just becoming reality, so I gave the story a group of scientists who monitor space and research the universe, they have never before set foot out of their own country so when they end up finding a new planet which their Prime Minister wants them to go and visit their lives are completely changed. When they finally reach the planet they find many mythological creatures inhabit the planet and a journey of bravery and friendship ensues when one of the scientists sons are kidnapped by the stories antagonist Malvo a dark, evil wizard.
SPS: A group of scientists are sent across space to a distant planet. Are they all keen to go, or is there some trepidation there?
CS: I don’t think that any of the scientists at first really think about the reality or consequence of what they are doing, they are not trained for such work and don’t understand why they have been chosen to venture into space and travel to a distant planet. However they still willingly do what has been asked of them, and it isn’t until they reach the planet and unforeseen events unfold that they begin thinking that maybe they haven’t made a very good decision.
SPS: Where did you draw inspiration from when creating the antagonist of your work, in the dark wizard Malvo?
CS: I feel that all good fantasy stories have got their antagonists, like Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, it was those characters in those books that made me want to create my own evil antagonist with a troubled background history, all he wants his is power back which the other wizards took from him, he also wants revenge for what they did to him and the only way of doing this is to use our human scientists from planet Earth. I created Malvo as I wanted someone who could test the mettle of our protagonists so to speak.
SPS: Which character would you say sees the greatest growth during the work?
CS: I would have to say Dr. Bernard Stantham, as at the beginning of the story he is the team leader of the scientists who works alongside the Prime Minister to supply the UK with new discoveries regarding the universe. It is Dr. Stantham that makes the decision on behalf of his team to travel into space and it is he who constantly wonders whether or not he has made the best decisions. I feel he sees the greatest growth as it ends up being his son who is kidnapped by Malvo and he sees it as being his own fault for what has happened and it is then up to him to do something about it.
SPS: Have you left it open to continue their story, or is it all nicely wrapped up?
CS: I have most definitely left the story open for more as I don’t feel all that I want to be told has been done in the first book, originally I intended for this to be a trilogy of books, so I think that in the future there will most definitely be a sequel as the characters and the world I have created still have room to develop and grow even more, besides I haven’t had an opportunity to use the dragons or the giants yet.
SPS: Moving on to your children’s books. Tell us about Squirt and where the idea for her came from?
CS: I feel that children all love a particular character in their child hood, like Elmer the Patchwork elephant or Winnie the Pooh; mine personally was Woody from the Toy Story movies. So what I wanted to do was create another new character that children could read about and look at pictures of, a character they could associate with and grow to love, and I though giving an elephant spots and calling her Squirt would make her one of these distinguishable childhood characters. The idea for Squirt didn’t really take much thinking about, I think she had always been there in the back of my mind just waiting to come out and play as the first Squirt story flowed from me like water. The Squirt the Spotty Elephant series is all about fun and learning, for example the first book teaches children basic colours and the second book begins to teach them how to count to ten. I wanted to create a series of books which children could enjoy to read but at the same time they were also learning something from them.
SPS: What do you think are the main ingredients for a children’s book?
CS: I think all good children’s books need a lovable colourful character that children can come to love and remember for years to come. A children’s book also needs to be fun and keep the child intrigued as they read, following a rhyming pattern helps to do this as the child can then interact with the book and join in with the rhymes and the story, I also think that a children’s book still needs to follow a journey, the story needs to lead up to a big finale so that the children can feel like they have been on a journey with the character, for example the first book ends with a big party with lots of friends and family and colourful balloons. Finally I also think that children’s books for younger children need to contain element s that make them learn something from what they are reading probably without them realising they are doing, such as learning their colours or counting.
SPS: What age group in particular would you say that the Squirt books are best suited for?
CS: The Squirt books have been written for children between the ages of two and six as they are old enough to begin learning to read and they can also take something useful from the books as they are great learning aids for the basics they need when they are beginning to develop at their early ages such as learning to count or learning their colours, and even for learning to read and follow sentences.
SPS: How do you decide on Squirt’s next adventure, do you already have future stories planned?
CS: The Squirt books follow similar patterns, they all rhyme and contain repetition but the settings of the books are different, and the journey they are on also differs. For example I like to write the Squirt books in different environments at different times of the year, the second book is set in winter in the snow, the third book is set in the summer at the beach, but all of the books follow the journey that Squirt is on and they all lead to the big finale when her journey is over. I think I can write a Squirt book for any occasion as she is such a diverse character that can be put in any situation at any time of the year, a little like the Mr Men and Little Miss books, I think there are lots of stories I am still yet to write where I can use Squirt the Spotty elephant as the central character, like Christmas for example which is not too far away, I am sure you will be seeing Squirt reappearing then…
SPS: Which comes first, the text or the illustrations?
CS: Most definitely the text, I like to get the story written down on paper, only then can I imagine what illustrations I need to draw, I layout the book with what text I need on each page then I draw an illustration that matches the text on that page, and eventually the story all comes together nicely.
SPS: You have just this month released your latest work. What can you tell us about it?
CS: My new novel follows the story of a wealthy businesses man accepting his inheritance of an old manor house in the London country side. He relinquishes his position as CEO of his company and moves his family to the manor house. Along the way his youngest child Matt begins seeing a young girl staring at him. Eventually they arrive at the house and whilst there his son becomes possessed and he discovers the history of the manor wasn’t quite what he was expecting, and the first owner of the manor from over two hundred years ago, never quite left.
SPS: Horror is quite a change of genre, what were the reasons behind it?
CS: When I was younger it was always horror that I used to write about, I loved to write short stories about horror and absolutely loved Halloween and dressing up to go out trick or treating. At the beginning of the year after having finished my first novel and after having released my first children’s book an idea came into my head of an old haunted house sitting near a calm lake in the country side, then gradually the story began to unfold in my mind, I created the Gold family and thought up the name Black Manor as I thought it sounded dark and sinister, so, I began to write it and I have now only just finished it and released it on Amazon as an eBook and a paperback. I like to diversify my books as I don’t like being trapped in one genre as feel as an author you should be able to write about any genre that you enjoy and want to write about.
SPS: What kind of responses have you received from people who have read your work?
CS: As of yet I have had no negative feedback from those whom have read my work, children love Squirt the elephant and I have already had a top amazon reviewer give me a four star review on amazon for my horror novel and it has only been out for about a week. People seem to like what I write and I haven’t had much negative feedback as of yet, my goal now is to try and get more people reading my work and hopefully they will like what I have written as well.
SPS: What’s next on the self-publishing horizon for Christopher Stokes?
CS: As I said earlier, I am still not finished with Squirt the Spotty elephant as there are so many stories I can write with that character and with Christmas just around the corner, I think it will be another Squirt book that I will self-publish next.
SPS: Was the Self-Published/Indie-Published route always your preferred route for your work?
CS: No it wasn’t, I initially wanted to find an agent or a publisher who would accept something I have written, but it is hard work and takes time to find someone who may want to represent you, so when I found out I could try and do it myself with Amazon, I didn’t hesitate and I self-published my work straight away. However I am still sending my books off to agents in the hope that I can still eventually get professionally published as there are some things which self-publishing doesn’t offer, such as board or textured children’s books and the chance of getting my books into bookstores and supermarkets.
SPS: Has the experience so far been all that you thought it would be?
CS: I thought that having your books on Amazon visible to people all over the world that I would sell more than I actually am, but even self-publishing requires a lot of work and promoting those books you have self-published still takes time, because if people don’t know your books are out there, they are not going to buy them, so I am now trying all I can to promote myself and my books if I have any hope of this becoming a full time career.
SPS: If you could give one piece of advice for someone looking to get into writing, what would it be?
CS: Don’t stop writing, keep your imagination running at full speed and write all you can, don’t let any ideas you have slip away as the chances are you may have an idea that thousands of people may like, and if you write something, share it with others, self-publish what you have done if you feel it is right for you as you have nothing to lose.
SPS: Before we bring this interview to a close, it’s your chance to name-drop. Anyone who you feel is deserving of more recognition at present or someone whose writing you have recently enjoyed? Now is your chance to spread the word…
CS: I would just like to mention another author call Lucy Onions who has also self-published a book called Good for Nothing on Amazon as an eBook and paperback, as she like myself is also trying to spread the word about her book, so check it out if you have the time. I would also like to mention a local independent book store near to where I live called South cart books who help authors like myself who are trying all they can to spread the word about their books, and finally I want to thank another fellow author A. Stuart Williams who gave me his press release list and has helped me get onto the radio, I am hoping to be live on BBC WM at the end of August.
SPS: Thank you for joining us today, Christopher, and all the best for the future.
CS: Thank you, it has been a pleasure.
SPS: For more information on Christopher Stokes and his work, please do visit his Showcase Author page here.