What is your favorite writing and reading genre?
It’s very difficult for me to decide on a “favourite” genre for either reading or writing. Reading, I really enjoy general fiction (e.g. “Wolf Solent” by John Cowper Powys, or “Titus Groan” by Mervyn Peake.) I also love SF (PK Dick, Michael Moorcock, JG Ballard), Fantasy (Michael Moorcock, Richard Pullman), and Horror (Lovecraft, Poe, Barker) and I dote on action-adventure and thrillers (e.g. Len Deighton). Historicals, too: (Goodbye To All That, by Robert Graves)
Writing is easier to categorise. I love to write action-adventure and SF. My new novel is general fiction, but when I was writing it I assumed that I was writing young adult fiction. I’m writing a sequel, and I am also working on an action-adventure set in the UK.
Where and how did you get your idea for your books?
Usually, some random item sets off a chain of thought that results in a premise. All I need to begin writing is the premise, because my stories are character driven. I imagine the setting and place the characters in it, then watch them in my mind’s eye while they interact. It’s just like running a video in my head. It can be an instantaneous thing.
For instance, a friend came to stay over Christmas. He’s a guy who enjoys telling tall stories to see how much people believe. Over dinner he said that he had paid “cryogenic insurance” so that when he dies, his head will be preserved in liquid nitrogen. I began laughing at the idea and said, “Health care costs are out of control today! What makes you think you’ll be able to afford to have a new body made (or grown) to fit the head, when they revive it?” Immediately the words came out of my mouth, I connected the dots and had this vision of the head being put to work controlling widget manufacture on a production line, or as a domestic slave driving a glorified vacuum cleaner. This latter idea struck me as so funny-horrible that I immediately grabbed a pen and pad and wrote down the premise for my SF novel “Rebody”. At that time our family dog was a bad-tempered St Bernard called Bruno; so Bruno became the fascist leader of the Dog Tribe, and having dreamed that idea up, I had to counteract it with a tribe of Marxist cats.
I’m working on a screenplay called “24 Hours To Vietnam”. This idea came from a couple of different stories I was reading at the time. The premise is that Donald Trump, Tony Blair, and a few other similar VIPs are inaugurating Pres. Trump’s latest hotel, which is in fact a converted ship that was washed into a jungle by a tsunami. During the party an earthquake occurs and a second tsunami washes the boat out to sea again, where it is caught in a hurricane. The VIPs, waiters, and hotel manager must somehow become the “crew” and take control and make the ship-hotel work once more as a ship.
When did you decide to become a writer?
If a movie or TV show would be created for your books, whichactor/actress would you like to see playing the lead roles for yourbooks?
How did you get your book published? How long did it take for you to get it published?
I modelled my main character in “When Things Go Bang” on Christian Bale, who gave such a stunning performance in the movie of JG Ballard’s novel, “Empire of the Sun”. Of course he’s far too old now! Since it’s set in England I’d need a strong British actor for the father, like Alan Rickman (Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows) and for “Old Beardy”, Ian McKellen!
When did you decide to become a writer?
I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was a pre-teen. I made many attempts to write (it was always a novel) but I didn’t understand how stories worked, despite having been an avid consumer of books since about 5 years old. My early efforts were attempts to create SF stories around weird dreams I had experienced. That didn’t work, because dreams are non-linear structures and a good story has to have structure.
Finally I joined a critique workshop, Novels-L. I spent years with the workshop, first learning how to write and then helping others. My first novel was plot-driven, very elaborately plotted in fact; but I was just moving my characters through the story, so my characters came across as mere 2-D cardboard cut-outs. Then I decided to try first person and to let the plot develop naturally, based on the needs and wants of the major characters, and got my first novel published by a Florida imprint.
What is the average time for you to write a book?
I’ve already discussed part of this in the last question, but I have to say that in common with most writers, I wasted a lot of time trying to get my first novel published (traditional route – querying agents). Finally a British agent wrote to tell me that my plot was great but the story was a complete turn-off due to the 2-D characters. He said, “Make me laugh, make me cry, preferably both – but this story makes me yawn.” As a result of his note I realised that it didn’t matter how much effort I spent rewriting, without credible characters who stood up off the page, my stories were doomed. For my second novel, I began with the premise but no plot to speak of; I let the plot develop as I went on. This resulted in instances of “block” when I had to prune back to the good wood, but for the first time I believed in my characters. I began querying small imprints rather than agents and after about 3 months had an offer.
Do you ever get writer’s Block? If so, which book did you get the worst while writing?
Block! Yes, I do get blocked. It used to really bother me at first. Finally I realised what my blocks are caused by: it’s when the story has taken a wrong direction, typically if I’m trying to force a character to act out-of-character. I had a lot of trouble with the SF novel, Rebody, possibly because I put the poor guy in such a horrendous situation that I found it very difficult to imagine what his state of mind would be, and what actions would have to result. I had to remind myself that I wanted to write a story that could be read “straight” or as a satire. I’d say I have been less successful with the satirical aspect.
What is the average time for you to write a book?
Oh wow, what a question! Hard to answer. Writing a book takes me a long time. Typically over a year. I can’t say for sure because I’m usually working on more than one. When Things Go Bang took me over a year to finish but then another year to rewrite, and at the same time I was working on my memoir of the international radio business (currently looking for the artwork; the text is finished at 103,000 words). My first draft is usually quite readable, but then I need to go through it adding “Easter Eggs” for my readers. What I mean by Easter Eggs is mainly writer’s tricks: I love metaphor and simile, metaphor in particular, and so I examine each paragraph carefully to see if I can dream up a metaphor or simile that will make the reader go “wow”. I am a great admirer of the way the late JG Ballard used metaphor and simile in his novels.
For your own reading, do you prefer kindle or paperback books?
I used to prefer to read paperbacks. (While I love hardbacks they are so darn heavy!) Now, however, I am old enough to need reading glasses for paper books and so I prefer to read on screen. I do miss the special smell though. Perhaps Amazon could be persuaded to make a version of the Kindle that smells like old books?
How are the covers made for your books?
Covers! I have pretty strong opinions on this. First, I believe the cover should reflect the story inside. Otherwise it’s mere decoration. I do not believe in paying $10 or for that matter $50 for a cover pasted up from “stock images”. Such covers tend to look like many other covers (hardly surprising really). The book took a year or more to write, so to use a cheap cover would make me feel as if I’m selling myself short. I’ve worked with two artists so far: David Rabbitte, a New York artist well known for his SF&F work; and Gabe McIntosh from the West coast. Gabe did the cover for “Alien Seeding” a novel by Perry Defiore; I published it through my small press, Citiria Publishing. So you could say that I believe you can judge a book by its cover, at least to some extent!
What advice would you give writer wannabes and future/young authors?
Writer wannabes and future/young authors, I believe, need to understand that the competition is very fierce and that they need to be certain that they only release their best. It’s such a difficult market to be in. First you need a good story with 3-D characters. The reader must be able to readily identify with the protagonist. Then, the editing has to be perfect. I know there are ‘naturals’ out there who can write fine stories with little apparent effort, but most of us benefit enormously from the peer-review process. Joining a review / critique group can be the best way forward.
What do you do during your free time, how do you relax?
I’m officially retired, so I have as much time as I want to write and to edit for other writers. Too much free time is not good for a person, so I have a little start-up, a personal care company, Pear and Peach. I love chemistry so I design products such as skin creams, shampoos, and conditioners. And I teach English – that seems appropriate.