Odd Voice Out
One of the things that amazed us about ‘For Hugo’ was how it contained so many rich believable characters and relationships for such a short piece. What’s your process when it comes to crafting characters, both major and minor?
Thank you for the compliment! Characters are the heart and soul of every story, that’s why it’s crucial for me to get them right. I might have an unusual process when it comes to creating characters. When I start writing, I kind of become my characters. It’s similar to acting, which I have always been interested in. I take on a role and go with it. I imagine what this character would say and do in a certain situation. I round it all off by giving everyone something specific to differentiate them from the others. To me, it’s important that they have interesting personalities and traits, be it humor, a vivid detail, the way they speak and see the world, or vulnerability and flaws which make them human and relatable. I love writing dialogue since characters especially come alive while interacting with each other. It’s a fantastic opportunity to show what they’re made of, and I’m glad the result was convincing.
Are you more of a meticulous plotter, or a seat-of-your-pants style writer?
For short fiction I’m more of a pantser, as in I start writing and see where the sories and characters take me. I have a vague idea of what I want to convey, but that’s about it. I found that for flash fiction I write my best work when I don’t censor myself and just let the words flow.
As far as longer fiction is concerned, I need some kind of road map to guide me, otherwise I might get lost and write myself into a corner, which means more work during the revising phase, which I don’t enjoy as much as the drafting or writing part. So I’d say I fall into the famous plantser category.
Your narrator, Xander, is autistic, something you convey very authentically through his way of thinking. Do you have any personal experience with autistic teenagers and did you conduct any further research prior to writing this story?
Thank you. My younger cousin in Greece has Asperger’s. He’s a sweet and very smart kid. I didn’t have any direct experience with autism before I met him for the first time eight years ago. He and his family were facing challenges due to misunderstandings in communication or misreading of emotions as well as prejudice that affected their everyday life.
He inspired me to try my hand at a story with a neurodiverse protagonist. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to believably tackle a sensitive topic I didn’t have a lot of personal experience with. The more important it was to me to do my research, which involved reading many articles and personal accounts on the internet, and to post the draft to my online writing group for feedback.
Your prose has a wonderful sense of humour. Is funny writing something that comes naturally for you, or do you have to work at it?
I do consider myself a funny person, and I try to include humor in all of my stories if it fits the tone of course, so yes, I believe it comes naturally, especially in dialogue. Comic relief in fiction is something I enjoy to read. I suspect adding humor reflects my outlook on life in general, that despite all the negativity in this world, there’s also plenty of hope and joy.
What other writers out there inspire and amaze you?
Tough question, since there’s so much talent out there. I’m a big Stephen King and Joe Hill fan. Their characters are so well-rounded and Hill always comes up with such creative and imaginative plots. Other writers’ work I admire are Neal Shusterman, Brigid Kemmerer, Pierce Brown, Jandy Nelson, Lois Lowry and Laura Ruby, just to name a few.
I loved Xander’s obsession with reptiles and the animal imagery you wove through his narration. What was your approach to the importance of pets in this piece?
Animals are adorable, and the way characters, or people in general for that matter, treat their pets reveals a lot about their personalities. I wanted to explore different sides of Xander. We can see that he cares deeply for Hugo, we sense his affection for his pet lizard, but at the same time he struggles a little when it comes to social interaction with others. It was a nice contrast, showing that there are more sides to autism, that it’s not just black and white, but multifaceted and complex. Moreover, pets don’t discriminate. They accept you for who you are and love you unconditionally. At the end, Hugo brings Xander and his stepdad together, and he even succeeds in transforming an embittered Mr. Sakoulis.
Being a polygot, how many different languages do you speak and how many languages do you use for creative writing?
English is my third language. I was born to Greek parents in Germany, so I speak Greek, German and a little bit of Spanish and French. I used to write in German, especially poems as a teenager, and I have an unfinished fantasy novel I’d love to come back to at some point, but in my opinion English is a more flexible, more imaginative language, that’s why I chose to stick with it for my stories, even though writing in a foreign language definitely has its challenges.
What’s next for you in the writing world?
I’m currently editing my first YA novel. I want to get it ready for beta readers soon, then I can start the exciting and daunting querying process this year. In the meantime, I love distracting myself with flash and short fiction in various genres.
Tonia is currently editing her first novel. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Medium at @toniawrites.
In The Vagabond Stage by Kell Cowley, the reader is introduced to Timony, the new apprentice in Makaydees' travelling theatre. In the first of his picaresque adventures, Timony finds himself on a perilous journey through the Elizabethan underworld, at the same time as he is getting to grips with his role playing the leading ladies in the troupe's tragedies. In The Player's Craft, we catch up with Timony two years down the road. Now that he is confident in his acting ability and has embraced his female roles, we find that a conflict is brewing between the young star and his playwright master over the future aspirations of their company.
Scene Two (excerpt)
“Your hair looks like a bird’s nest.”
I ran a hand through my scraggly curls and it took a moment to pull my fingers loose again. When they came free they brought with them a cluster of twigs and dirt. Makaydees took a comb from his pocket and stroked its bristles like he were testing the sharpness of a blade. I shuffled over to the dreaded seat and he set about raking the comb through my long locks, ripping apart the tangles and wrenching at my scalp.
“If I had a wig, I wouldn’t have to go through this torture every time,” I muttered, breaking the silence between us. “Real actors wear wigs, you know.”
“And what is a real actor, pray?”
“An actor who struts the boards of playhouses and palaces instead of roadsides. An actor who wears dresses with farthingales and furbelows, ruffs and puff sleeves. An actor who has fame, riches and roles that’ll be known through the ages.”
Tears stung my eyes as I took another stroke of the comb.
“Frills, frippery and empty poetry,” Makaydees retorted. ““Players such as that are nothing more than dolls for the rich to set dancing. Their only real talent is for sycophancy, making names for themselves through flattery. For whatever station it might earn them, their plays are worthless. There’s no life blood in licensed theatre these days. It all must be tamed to suit the sensibilities of the Puritans and Privy Council.”
“You don’t know that!” I protested. “Tis over a decade gone since you left London. And the word on the road has it that the city is now home to the best actors and playwrights England has ever seen.” I twisted my neck to meet his stare. “Is that why you won’t go back there, Mak? Because you don’t want to face the competition?”
I held the tears in my eyes a tantalising moment longer. I let them sparkle prettily before I blinked my lids and felt them slide down my cheeks.
“Don’t take on so.” He clasped my chin and turned me away. “I’ll admit that our repertoire has become tired. What I need is time and peace to write a new play. And not just any play. The time has come for me to write my masterpiece before my mind dulls with age and my back can no longer hunch over parchment.”
“I want to write it with you,” I dared to demand.
“I write my plays for you. Be grateful my quill favours the female parts. No city playhouse would allow its boy players to take the leading roles like I do.”
“But my girls never get to speak what they truly wish to say…and why can’t they ever live in the end?”
“Because nobody lives in the end. I won’t sell our audiences any lies. Though I like to think your girls lend a little grace to our collective certain doom.”
Makaydees ceased his brushing and stared pensively at his comb, now twined with the threads of my abused curls. He tapped my shoulder and nodded to the ladder in the wagon’s corner leading up to a poky crawl space where I made my bed.
“Go,” he ordered. “Get your beauty sleep.”
The Players Craft will be released by Odd Voice Out later in 2020. The Vagabond Stage is available now in Kindle and Paperback form through our books page.