It’s our extreme pleasure to welcome Rod Humphris to the POTL blog today. He is the author of Dead Ground and Mr. N. claims, “he’s my new favorite author and I can’t wait to read more of his works.” We asked Rod if he’d like to be interviewed (because frankly, we’d love to get to know him better) and he agreed. We think you’ll find his answers insightful and witty. So, without further ado, please give a warm welcome to Rod Humphris. Take it away, Rod:
What is your writing process?
I invariable start with a sense of place and hopefully a feeling for the arc of the story. After that I start developing characters and then I disappear into the alternate reality of it and re-emerge, blinking into the light, a year later. I like to start early in the day and I’ll write anywhere; on the train, in a café. The greenhouse is good.
Do you have any odd writing habits?
When I’m stuck and confused, not unusual, I walk round the woods with the dogs talking to my phone. I lay out to myself where I’ve got to and where I think I’m going and what the problems are and record it. I’ve never actually used the recordings. I try not to go anywhere where I’m likely to meet another human.
What book do you wish you could have written?
A million. Often what I’ve just read. Recently Kim by Rudyard Kipling. A few notables would be: Kidnapped! by Robert Louis Stevenson just for the character of Alan Breck, The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler for the final scene in the bar where Marlow realises who he’s sitting next to, almost anything by P.G. Wodehouse for his amazing use of our language – “I have here in this sack a few simple rats.”, etc.
Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you?
John Buchan has an abiding place in my heart. Not just for the well known books but also for Prince of the Captivity and Sick Heart River. I rather like unreliable characters; Ian Flemming, Lawrence Van De Post and Axel Munthe. I admire the much missed Ian Banks for his courage and originality. Countless others.
If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?
I’m not sure who should play Si, Tom Hiddleston perhaps? I think Bill Nighy would make a great Guy Wealden. Kaya Scodelario would make a great Sam and Georgina Campbell could play Soumy. Benedict Cumberbach would do Bill brilliantly.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
I try hard to choose good names but I don’t think I’m good at it. The trouble is that I sometimes just use the first one that comes to me to get going and then get very confused when I realise I have to change it later. Names, like all words, have resonances and layers of meaning and definitely matter.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
If I can’t write anything good then I just write something bad and then throw it away later. I persist.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In a beautiful villa on the Mediterranean shore – well, I didn’t take to this line of work to engage with reality, did I?
Have you always liked to write?
No, but I’ve always liked to read and I’ve always liked to make things; now those two things have come together.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
Forget any idea that writing is an occupation for nice people. To write well you write your own words against all the other possible words there could be. Be a ruthless egomaniac and exclude the voices of everyone else that may be lurking in your head – and then when you’ve written it, find a good editor and listen to them.
If you didn’t like writing books, what would you do for a living?
Do I have to? I’d quite like to own a game park in the Kalahari, or sail a beautiful yacht around the world delivering… well, something or other, or perhaps try running the country. I’ve often found taxi-driving very useful so that’s possibly more likely.
Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I alternate and sometime get myself into trouble with it. I like to have a feeling for where I’m going but I also believe in the phrase, ‘there’s no such thing as plot, only character’. The characters often develop in unhelpful ways. Sometimes I throw away the character and start again. Sometimes I recognise that they are right and I just misunderstood what I was doing. Sometime I just go and bang my head against a tree until it all starts to make sense.
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
I do but I’ve never responded to one. I also read all my rejections from publishers (to my agent). It worries me though; I go up with the good and down with the bad. One day I will be float serenely above it all like a cloud. Advice – take the bad and swallow them down; if you want to be a writer it’ll make you want it more.
What is your best marketing tip?
Find someone who’s brilliant at marketing and lay your sword at their feet.
What is your least favorite part of the publishing / writing process?
I struggle with the conflict between publishing and writing. I get pulled into the publishing side of things when I really want to be writing. I’m hoping this will improve in time.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
I give myself permission to write about anything whatsoever if I find it interesting. If I found something interesting and didn’t write about it because I thought someone else wouldn’t like it I’d be disappointed in myself.
Do you have a favorite spot to write? What is it?
I like my own writing room a lot but my favourite place to write is a small cottage in the French Pyrenees. I sometimes go there with my dog when I really need to concentrate.
Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?
I find the hardest scenes to write are the ones where I haven’t invested enough in one of the characters in it. They end up sounding wrong. If I have to, I get up and walk about being that person, trying to think their thoughts and feel their feelings. It can be quite hard work.
Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?)
The first book I wrote lives in the proverbial drawer and can stay there. I’m currently re-writing my second full-length novel and I’ll be very, very glad if I ever manage to present something half decent to my editor.
What are you working on now? What is your next project?
After I’ve finished the one I’m struggling with I want to spend time (probably just in my head) in the South of France. I’m having a bit of a love affair with the area at the moment; it has a romance for me and so much history and confluence of people.
Do you write naked?
Yes, but not in the café.
What is your biggest failure?
In writing? At the moment the book I’m working on. Failure is the means to success.
What is the biggest fib you’ve ever told?
“No, I don’t really mind that you didn’t get round to reading my book.”
Have you ever been in trouble with the law?
Yes, but I think they’ve forgotten about it.
Have you ever gotten into a fight?
A few times but only through being young or stupid (I think I mean drunk). I’m no fighter and I’m perfectly comfortable with standing behind someone else who’s bigger than me if necessary.
Characters often find themselves in situations they aren’t sure they can get themselves out of. When was the last time you found yourself in a situation that was hard to get out of and what did you do?
Every time I try to write a book. My main character has always found a way out so far but I know that sometime I’m going to have to write something where he doesn’t. I’m not looking forward to it. When there’s no way out all you can do is endure and wait. I had a job in once IT that was a bit like that.
Do you drink? Smoke? What’s your vice?
I like alcohol but I’m not a big drinker. Good wine seems to me to be one of the great things in life. Never smoked. The marzipan filled chocolate that you can get in some supermarkets can be a problem for me. I’ve also had some trouble with Jaffa Cakes. I have to be strict with myself to work and not go fishing.
What is your biggest fear?
Possibly success. I’m working on that one.
What do you want your tombstone to say?
Rod Humphris, 1966 – 2200. Let it be smooth and worn and lying flat in mown grass in a sunny, mossy churchard and do please sit on me and eat your sandwiches.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
All the time I need to do all the interesting things in life and to know all the amazing people there are to know.
If you were a super hero, what would your name be? What costume would you wear?
My name would be my own name and my clothes would be my own clothes – and no one would ever know.
What literary character is most like you?
What secret talents do you have?
I can do a pretty good eye-splice.
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?
The Nikka plateau in Malawi.
If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
I’d be my cat. It’s a lifestyle thing: no deadlines, mice to catch and someone to rub my belly at any given point.
What’s on your bucket list (things to do before you die)?
Finish writing this damn book! Be at the helm of a 25 metre Van Heok (sailing yacht) on a fast reach with full canvas spread somewhere beyond the horizon.
If you could have any name in the world, what would you choose?
Well, I suppose I could if I wanted to. What’s to stop me? I’m okay with this one.
Do you have any scars? What are they from?
Not that you can see. Didn’t we talk about reviews earlier?
What were you like as a child? Your favorite toy?
When I was pretty small I used to sleep with an old carburetor, but I’m not sure why. I think relevant adjectives for me as a boy would be, free-range and organic. I’m still more comfortable with most animals than I am with most people.
What do you dream? Do you have any recurring dreams/nightmares?
I often dream about the characters I’m writing about. There are days when I go to sleep thinking about a part of a book and wake up still thinking about it, almost as if there was no intervening time. Not that I’m obsessive at all.
Title – Dead Ground
Author – Rod Humphris
Genre – Historical Fiction, War & Military, Thriller
Publisher – Rat’s Tales
Book Blurb –
In the mountains and passes of Nuristan the men of patrol base Azun grind through their days and nights of constant vigilance. They hunt the Taliban and try to win hearts and minds. Trouble is coming, that is certain. How or when, where and in what form, they do not know. They fear it and also long for it.
Only Lieutenant Simon Ellice, with a clarity born of grief and anger, can see the shape of it. Only he, being beyond care, will do what has to be done and pay the price. Not that he will be the only one to pay.
Dead Ground is a story of the impossibility of the task assigned to British forces in Afghanistan and the heroism of some of those who attempted it.
“[Dead Ground]… unfolds with stealth, careful observation and close detail combining to produce an explosive ending. The battle narrative is superb, understated and economical, it’s an immersive, terrifying and moving experience.”
The world was going on and I couldn’t stop it. I didn’t want to feel anything except my anger.
I left my pack at the door and went into the busy, cluttered, low-ceilinged ops room of the patrol base Azun. Major James Snowhall was at his usual place in conference with Dan Granger, the 2IC. I stood to attention in front of them and said, “Sir.”
“You’re back, are you?” he said, looking up from his laptop.
“I see. Well, you’d better get to work then.”
I hadn’t expected much of a welcome. I turned and went to the exit.
I stopped, turned round and waited.
“Your men will be glad to see you. Gerald will get you up to speed. Come and find me at nineteen thirty.”
I went out into the hard light. The mountains hanging over us had a dusting of snow now and I knew that it would be cold later. I heft my pack onto one shoulder and walked the long way through the omnipresent dust to the bases’ living area. This took me past the mortar pit, the southern Javelin station and the main sangar from where we kept watch. There were a group of men in full kit on QRF duty lounging about at the foot of the raised platform. They called rough greetings to me which I returned with their name, or nickname. The unremitting tension seemed to have etched itself a little deeper into their faces. Mostly they turned back to their card games or play-stations, but some followed me with their eyes as I went on.
At the fifty cal I stood with Spicer and Deaks for a few minutes and looked at the terrain. It hadn’t got any better. There were children playing tag in the dust in front of the mosque and women moving about carrying their burdens.
“You’re back then, Lieutenant Ellice, sir,” Spicer said, giving me an exaggeratedly proper salute undercover of the Hesco wall.
“Yes, Spicer, I’m still a lieutenant. They haven’t promoted me yet,” I said.
That made them laugh.
“Good to have you back, sir,” Deaks said.
“Good to be back, Deaks,” I said.
“Really, sir?” he said.
“Actually, yes, Deaks,” I said.
“Fucking hell, sir,” he said.
“Quite,” I said.
I left them to it and went to look for Gerald. I found him in the tent that served us both as home.
“Fuck me. You’re back,” he said.
“Apparently,” I said, pushing a pile of papers off an empty missile crate that was doing duty as a chair and sitting down.
Buy Links –
B&N (Nook Press): http://bit.ly/29MzR4Y
Author Biography –
I have no special qualifications to be a writer except that I want to be. I live where I’m from in the West Country in the UK and work in a small room above a pub in Bath, which is possibly the nicest city in the world. I spend my days thinking about, learning about and writing about whatever is interesting to me, which is possibly the best job in the world.
I’ve been working away quietly for many years, learning my trade and starting to build up a body of work. Now, at last, it’s all starting to happen. The first full-length novel of my Simon Ellice series goes to print shortly and will be available in all the usual places.
To introduce the series and the main character I’ve released a short story called Dead Ground in the digital formats. Set in Nuristan, Afghanistan, it tells of how a young man begins to deal with his personal grief amid the chaos of war and is launched on a course that will get him into a lot of trouble in Morocco a year later…
Social Media Links –
Twitter – https://twitter.com/Rats_Tales
Pinterest – https://uk.pinterest.com/ratstales/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/simonelliceuk/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/simon_ellice
Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.com/simon_ellice/