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Been at work all day, but better late than never. I have been tagged in The Next Big Thing by the wonderful writer, Priya Sharma, whose short stories are appearing in more and more places by the day, including Interzone and Black Static, Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year and upcoming in Tor.com. Her short story, ‘The Ballad of Boomtown’ from Black Static#28 is on the current HWA Bram Stoker Award reading list.

Here are my answers:

1) What is the working title of your project? It’s a novella of around 35,000 words called ‘The Lempkin Variation’ that is a completed first draft, but still needs a fair amount of work.

2) Where did the idea come from for the story? I’m a closet chess fan and have always loved the potential the game holds to be used as a dramatic device. I particularly love the hustler-like atmosphere of the outdoors speed chess players in places like Washington Square Park, New York. It’s a place steeped in history and colourful characters, and has its share of ghosts. It just seemed a wonderful setting for a ghost story that I originally called ‘The Grandmaster’s Ghost’.

3) What genre does your book fall under? Horror, I guess. Much more so than some of my other writing, which I think often falls between genres, and I hate the whole genre-classification thing anyway. But, in this case, I would say this is a horror story in the fairly classic mould of ghostly/demonic possession with a Svengali-esque antagonist.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? I would love to see Max Von Sydow as my evil Grandmaster Igor Lempkin. The part of Alex, the angry seventeen-year old chess prodigy, I’m not so sure about. If we were to go back in time, then a young Jason Schwartzman would be perfect.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? A teenage chess prodigy enters into the most dangerous game he’s ever played with an old Grandmaster who is not what he seems.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Nowhere near that point yet, but I doubt it will be with an agency due to its length, so I hope to sell it to one of the many excellent small press publishers around. I don’t think self-publishing is quite for me.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? I had the first five hundred words written for almost two years, and then the rest all happened in the space of about four months.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I’ve no doubt someone else could give me many examples, but I can’t think of anything off the top of my head.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book? Simply, the game of chess. When I first seriously got into it, I loved the way chess notation looked like some sort of arcane mathematical equations. There is a particular magic to the game of chess that, for me, surpasses so many other games. It has a philosophy about it that can be applied to any area of life. There are so many doomed, tragic, insane figures associated with it, and therefore an almost unlimited wellspring of stories. This story began life as a sentence I wrote, which read ‘Why not write a book about chess?’ Combine that with my love for fast, 3-minute ‘Blitz’ chess and the characters I’ve met over the years involved with that and so the idea formed, adopting a theme of the old vs the new, which in chess is very much about the stuffy old guard of male-dominated tournaments vs the rising tide of fabulous young players utilising the internet and computers to learn from an earlier and earlier age (some of the youngest grandmasters are now 12 and 13 years old). And also the rise of players from countries like China and the huge talent pool of female players suppressed by the ridiculous rating system that separates them from the men. That is all changing now, with the rise of players like the Kosintseva sisters, and Alexandra Kosteniuk and You Hifan and all the women competing at the top level of the game.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest? At its heart, the story is a thriller, and it’s about identity. The New York locations. A peek into a world you might otherwise not have a chance to see.

So I now have to tag some other authors and pass the task on to them. It’s supposed to be five, but as this meme spreads it becomes harder and harder to find an author who hasn’t already been tagged.

I’m tagging: Gio Clairval, Henry Szabranski and Michael Keyton, whose answers should hopefully be found on their respective blogs next Wednesday 5th December.

Gio Clairval is an accomplished translator, having contributed several translations to The Weird, and is a published short story writer.

Henry Szabranski writes short stories and novels, and regularly contributes work to Daily Science Fiction.

Michael Keyton is a prolific short story and novel writer with several short stories published, and recently an essay in Strange Horizons.