Friday 23rd December - DW Brownlaw

Sixteen Questions for Sixteen Authors

Editor spotlight : DW Brownlaw

Silence descends. The moment has come for the last interview. The lights dim, plunging the theatre into total darkness, then a single spotlight shines vertically down onto the stage to pick out a black cloaked character shrouded in its harsh shadows. A dramatic flourish exposes a red lining and a man's figure dressed in an old-fashioned black suit, white shirt and black bow tie. Slowly, his shadow-obscured face lifts into the light, allowing the audience to see the most hideous and terrifying creature of fear and despair ... an editor.

Unlike his fellow editor, PC Darkcliff, DW Brownlaw does not have a story in the “Dragon Bone Soup” anthology (published in December 2019). Instead his involvement started with submissions co-editor, then progressed to publicist and publisher, both learned on-the-job, making mistakes and having fun.

What is your real name and what name do you write under (if they are different)?

My real name is Douglas Brown and, to be honest, I would prefer to write under that name. But with so many Browns out there writing books, how was I to stand out? No matter what Christian name I put in front of “Brown”, and believe me I tried lots, there was already an author of that name. In the end my friends and I picked DW Brownlaw. It is only three letters different from my real name and unique. At least, it was unique. I took too long to register my domain names and, in the meantime, another DW Brownlaw (a lawyer, what else?) grabbed the COM domain.

“He who hesitates is lost”. Lesson learned.

Where do you hail from?

That’s hard to say. I have moved around a lot in my life and feel comfortable anywhere in the South East of England. I now live in the Thames Valley and the house I share with the love of my life is a literal stone’s throw from the meeting of three county borders. The relevant institutions and bureaucracies seem unable to agree who is responsible for our well-being. So for matters like health, street cleaning, voting, libraries and so on, we appear to live in three different shires.

What is the greatest thing about the place you call home?

A maximum of an hour’s travel by road or rail takes us to whatever we want to do and to the finest of its class, be it walking, cultural, entertainment, shopping, dining, you name it. Also, our valley was famous in medieval times for its cattle market, long gone now. Not a lot of residents know that.

What are your hobbies?

I retired in 2017 from a 41 year career in the IT industry, the last ten as an editor, so there is now no longer any distinction between work and play. So let’s eliminate the obvious answer of writing and editing, calling them my “work”. Outside of “work”, I keep tropical fish, act and practice Tai Chi.

I have enjoyed many roles in the theatre, but acting is my chief love. Earlier this year I played the lead role of Jefferson Steel in “A Bunch of Amateurs”; it’s a big role, he is on stage in all scenes except the first. More recently, I was in a run of MacBeth, playing King Duncan and Seyton (traditionally pronounced “Satan”). Also, check out the Unbelievers Pilot Miniseries on Youtube; I play Stan - the slim one with the beard - a paid gig!

For exercise, I practice the martial art Tai Chi several times a week and, after working at it for five years, I am almost unbeatable except by the very slowest.

That was a Tai Chi joke; you may laugh now.

What is your favourite book, story or poem? And why?

Only one? That is so unfair! I could pick so many books written by Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Ursula K LeGuin, not to mention the Lord of the Rings trilogy which I have read umpteen times. I don’t suppose a trilogy counts as “one book”, does it?

OK, deep breath, if I really must choose one, then it has to be either the Bible or “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ms LeGuin. At risk of eternal damnation, I’ll pick the latter. It completely draws me in every time I read it. I feel I am there on the ice world of Gethen along with Genly Ai, feeling as perplexed and as chilled as him, even if I read it in summertime. Seriously, if you only ever read one book, make it this one. It changed how science fiction was written.

Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

For me, my inspiration was a “what”, not a “who”, and no it wasn’t school. All my teachers said I should be a writer, but I was too caught up in my own imagination to write anything down. However, a revolutionary new game came out in the 1970s which led to a whole new category: role-playing games. Appealing to the actor in me, I was hooked on playing Dungeons and Dragons (tm) and still have many of the original first edition books and boxed sets produced by Gary Gygax (RIP) and friends. Every story I have written can be traced back to that game.

What comes first for you – character, plot or setting – and why?

Hold on to your crash couch: for me, the setting came first and I’d be nowhere without it. To be part of the trendy in-crowd these days, you’re always supposed to answer “character”, but consider what inspired me. Like so many players of D&D, I thought I could create a better magic system and a land to play it in. The magic system did not survive long (getting that right is hard) but the setting stayed with me and, through 40 years, I amassed a lot of notes on it. The land became a world, and the world became an alternate universe with its own rules of physics. Finally, around 2015, a plot and characters flowered in my mind. And thus the idea of writing fiction came about.

What was the best writing advice you ever received?

If you want to learn the art of creative writing, there is a lot of advice available on the web. There’s enough “out there” to help you reach MFA level, for free, but you have to be careful that the advice is solid and reputable. By far the best writing advice I found was about writing in Motivation Reaction Units – a silly name for a powerful technique. Finding and trying this technique was a lightbulb moment for me and my writing; I recommend all new writers to look into this too.

What is your main style of writing?

Motivation Reaction Units are now only one tool in my writer’s toolbox and I suppose (hope) my style can be summarised as “Deep POV”. I still have a long way to go and, as for any art, I will never feel I have perfected it.

When writing, do you “become” your character? Is that a help or a hindrance?

Yes. I get right inside the character’s head and live their life through their experience. Sixty years of acting experience, of “getting into the part”, is definitely helpful here. It also helps crafting realistic dialogue, but as you didn’t ask me about that, you can have that as a bonus answer.

Which super-power in your writing would you most like to have in real life? And why?

There is a real super-power which I think we all have but we don’t have full conscious control over. It is the ability to stretch time and react faster to whatever happens.

I was driving a car at the national speed limit on a motorway when the wheels of the lorry in front threw up a large stone. My passenger only experienced a loud report and the windscreen becoming opaque - crazed-over with a bazillion cracks; for him , these were without warning and simultaneous. My experience was totally different. I saw the stone arcing lazily towards my face and had time to move my head to one side in case the stone came through the glass and hit me. Luckily, it bounced off the glass to disappear behind our vehicle and, for a moment of relief, I thought the emergency was over. But then a fine spider’s web of cracks radiated slowly from the impact point, obscuring my view inch-by-inch. This gave me time to aim the car onto the hard shoulder (escape lane, you may call it) where I brought it safely to a halt. Had my experience been the same as my passenger’s, we might both have died. Like many others, I have experienced time dilation several times but this was the most dangerous occasion.

I have often wondered what life would be like if we could use this ability at will. So, of course, it features in some of my stories as an actual super-power and The Metaverse has been designed to allow it.

What is your favourite quote about writing?

Neil Gaiman wrote a wonderful set of rules for writers which you really should look up. Rule 5 has been very helpful to me for dealing with critique and criticism.

Quote: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

This rule also reminds me to stay humble when I am editing other writers’ work. I will point out quite bluntly where something does not work, but any remedy I note is only offered as a tentative suggestion. The author always knows best.

Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?

I sincerely hope that future is far, far away but at my age there are no guarantees. So let’s assume I live long enough to finish everything I want to write and that I still have energy to enjoy life. I would spend more time editing for other authors, more time in the theatre, and become glacially slow and therefore unbeatable at Tai Chi.

What are you working on right now?

Everything I write is set in The Metaverse. I am writing a fantasy serial titled "The Orison" and a military science fiction serial titled "The Battle Hymn of the Asbahri". I drop episodes of both onto my website but I am lucky to have won an agreement with the Nebula Tales sci-fi anthology to publish the latter in its quarterly editions.

Full disclosure: I wrote “Here be Dragons” (6,600 words) for Dragon Bone Soup, but some stories just need to be a certain length. With four characters in six relationships, I could not trim it down to the word count limit of 5,000 words, and as a submissions editor I had the surreal experience of rejecting my own story! Never mind; it is set in The Metaverse and will fit nicely on my website.

What are your plans for the future?

To continue developing the setting of The Metaverse through a universe-load of short stories, serials and novellas, and put them all on my website for everyone to read for free. Eventually, I hope this website will become a huge collection of backstories that readers of my eventual trilogy can find, lose themselves in and enjoy.

How can readers find you online and on social media?

See my Author Page for books containing my stories.

You can find me everywhere online through linktr.ee/DWBrownlaw.

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