THERE’S A DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN
Now is we were to talk in stereotypes for a minute, the world of science-fiction and fantasy has a certain reputation for male domination.
JRR Tolkien, Stephen Donaldson, William Gibson, Iain M Banks, Terry Pratchett, Tom Holt, Philip K Dick, Graham Joyce, Phillip Pullman, Arthur C Clarke, all the way back to HG Wells…and not a woman among them.
Then take another stereotype – the 30-something married mum, tucked away in her country pile, quietly tapping away at her laptop as she constructs the latest offering in the chic-lit stable…to give the world this year’s reworking of Bridget Jones’s Diary…
What is a little less usual, perhaps, is a 30-something married mum planning out her follow-up book in her Victorian Gothic manor house in Barton – especially when her recently released debut novel is entitled Tourniquet: Tales from the Renegade City.
But then the word ‘stereotype’ is not something that easily sits with Kim Lakin-Smith.
Brought up in Barton, she studied English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Glamorgan and won a scholarship to study an MA in Writing at Nottingham Trent University.
She says that she found her spiritual home among Nottingham’s rock scene, but also lived in London, Ghana and Vancouver – balancing her literary aspirations with a career as an advertising executive, copywriter and web designer.
And to add to the complexity, the Renegade City of the book’s title – which will be the setting for a number of planned sequels – is not on some distant world or in a mysterious other dimension. It’s actually Nottingham…but not as we know it.
Sitting in the upstairs kitchen of her Barton home, the house where she grew up, dressed in clothes which one could describe as ‘gothic’, after escorting her four-year-old daughter Scarlet to her nearby nursery, Kim seems at ease with these paradoxes.
“When I was living in Nottingham with my now husband, we were very active in the city’s rock scene,” she explains.
“We were sitting in our local pub one night and we started talking about how wonderful it would be if a city existed that we felt completely at home in – when you move in certain circles, you can sometimes feel quite isolated from the mainstream.
“What really interested me about Nottingham is that it is a wonderfully historic city which has developed an increasingly bad reputation in the media.
“I wouldn’t say the gun violence in the city was an inspiration for the book – Nottingham has a reputation for being very welcoming and I thought it would be interesting to explore what would happen if it was taken over by an alternative society who made it into something very different.
“There is a level of violence within the novel but it’s at an appropriate level.”
But the story does spring from Nottingham’s perceived problems with gun crime – “Future Nottingham has earned its tag as the UK’s gun crime capital” says publicity put out by the book’s publisher.
The book tells of how Origin, the greatest rock band of the century, buy off local government, and revamp and remarket Nottingham as a goth-noir paradise called Renegade City.
The freaks, geeks and greebos of the world move in, find a new religion called Belief and, with it, the freedom to live as they choose.
But lead singer Roses dies in suspicious circumstances and his brother – drummer, Druid – is left looking for his killer…so, no Mr D’Arcy character then?
Well, no, but there are a host of street punks, demonic gangs and animalistic bikers to keep fans of sci-fi, fantasy, cyber-punk, dark fantasy and horror genres happy…
And with Kim’s snappy prose, narrative tension and engaging characters – as well as the fascinating, dark and cruel world that she’s created – Tourniquet should also prove a hit with anyone who’s enjoyed Blade Runner, The Matrix and even Dr Who…so say I.
And yet the lion’s share of Tourniquet was penned in green and pleasant Barton – well away from the sometimes grim and troubled streets of Nottingham.
“It actually helped being in Barton when it came to writing the book,” Kim says. “It was nice and quiet, which helped me to focus, and being away from Nottingham really helped build the city in my mind.
“It was strange and nice coming back to the village because it’s a very inspiring setting and it allowed me all the space I needed to imagine all the mayhem of Renegade City.
“Now, on the days that Scarlet goes to school, I start writing at about 9am and go through to 5pm. Then I’ll go and collect her and play mum until bedtime, after which I’ll write again between about 8pm and 10.30pm.
“My husband Derrick works in London in the week as an IT consultant, so the weekends become family time for all of us when we’re all together.”
Kim cites the fantasy author Graham Joyce as a key contributor in honing her talents – he taught and, according to Kim, regularly shouted at her during her time at Nottingham Trent.
She says she is also inspired by the artist HR Geiger, music video director Floria Sigismondi, rock legend Marilyn Manson and the scriptwriter Joss Wheldon – “artists who take pop culture, crack it open and hatch something new”, according to Kim.
But it was a chance meeting with another legend in the world of fantasy literature that finally set Kim on the road to success.
Fantasy writer Storm Constantine had set up Stafford-based Immanion Press in 2003 – initially to publish her own back catalogue of out-of-print novels, but the company was soon publishing new and established writers in the sci-fi and fantasy markets.
And, hearing that Storm would be giving a talk at the Derby Alternative Book Festival, Kim booked herself a ticket.
“I went up to her as she was having her dinner after she’d done this question and answer session and we talked for ages and she gave me lots of very good advice,” Kim recalls.
“I told her about Tourniquet and she asked me to send her the first three chapters, then about a week later the phone rang. It was her telling me that my book was just the sort of thing she wanted to publish.”
Tourniquet finally hit the bookshops in May and is selling well, while Kim is hard at work on its sequel ‘Revelations’ – pencilled in for release in 2008.
“I’m at the planning stage at the moment and I can’t wait to be back into the cut and thrust of the writing,” Kim concludes.
And about stereotypes – does she feel like a lone female voice in the world of dark fantasy?
“Not really,” she says, “There is a perception that the literary world is populated by bearded men in Christmas jumpers and it’s true that female writers have a tougher time breaking in than the majority of male authors.
“But ultimately, if you do get through as a female writer, you’ll be more interesting as a result, because of the journey you’ve been on.”
Dark fantasy author, Kim Lakin-Smith, lives in Barton-under-Needwood. After gaining a First class honours degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Glamorgan, Kim was awarded a scholarship for her MA in Writing at Nottingham Trent. Her debut novel, Tourniquet: Tales from the Renegade City, was published by Immanion Press in May of this year. She now works as a full-time writer and runs workshops and readings in the local area.
What kind of person would you expect to see at your book signing?
I’d expect Tourniquet to appeal to anyone interested in genre fiction, creative writing, and/or the alternative music scene. But I’m a ‘welcome one and all’ kind of a writer. Authors should never underestimate how blessed they are to be able to stand up in front of an audience who want to be there. It’s a dream come true.
You have a very poetic writing style. Do you also write poetry?
I dabble in poetry, but my passion is for prose. I love unexpected combinations of words. My writing has been described as very filmic. I love the idea of painting a celluloid image with words!
What do you look for in a book, and does this reflect in your own writing?
I enjoy the poetic fiction of Angela Carter, Margo Lanagan and Oscar Wilde. Daphne du Maurier is fantastic at characterisation. When it comes to genre fiction, I’m a big fan of Mark Chadbourn and China Miéville. I hope this reflects in my own writing. It’s essential that a writer reads in quantity. We all learn by example.
Are your characters based on anyone you know?
I take inspiration for my characters from a mix of real-life character quirks and tear sheets made up of photos, artwork, articles, ads, clothing, etc. But once they come to life on a page, my characters evolve beyond all recognition. I’d say some characters pay homage to people I know, but the resemblance is only skin deep.
Your book is based in a decaying city but you live in a rural location. Could you tell us about that choice?
I’ve lived in Pontypridd, Vancouver BC, Accra in Ghana, Nottingham, and London, and am now back not only in the village I was raised in, but the house I was born in. Barton is a very inspiring village with a real sense of history. It lets me conjure dark cityscapes in the knowledge that what lies beyond my window is anything but.
Does your book have a political/social message?
In Tourniquet, the greatest rock band of the decade turn against a manufactured music industry, return to their home town of Nottingham and plough their royalties into regenerating the city. One of the ironies of the book is that in doing so, the ‘good folk’ leave and a black parade of freaks, geeks and greebos move in. I’d say that’s a political premise.
Also, there is an argument that people read for escapism. For me, the notion of escapism is political in itself. Why do they need to escape and from what? I like to think that my book champions the ‘outsider.’
Have you found it difficult as woman writer writing for a male dominated genre?
It’s a challenge, but this is one of the few industries where a woman can make it, and make it big. Women always have to work that little bit harder. I’m part writer, part mother, part wife, and part domestic goddess!
Will there be more Tales from the Renegade City?
Definitely. I’m currently working on Revelations, the second book in the series. As long as fans keep wanting more, I’ll keep writing about the city and characters that I love.
Do you have any advice for budding creative writers around the village?
Author, Graham Joyce, talks about the ‘graft’ behind the craft of writing. Very few of us are natural storytellers. Writers never stop learning. If you want to succeed in the publishing industry, you need to be thick-skinned and tenacious. Join writing groups, workshop pieces online, take courses, attend conventions and learn to network. Practice, practice, practice, and never lose your sense of humour.