Meet Jack from The Elevator

This interview featured on a fellow writer’s blog in January 2019. It was a departure for me—I’d never been asked to give an interview as one of the characters from my books before—and a little daunting, but it turned out to be a great deal of fun to put myself back inside the mind of an old acquaintance.
The hardest part was deciding which character to be interviewed. There were a number of candidates: Quirke from That Elusive Something, or a protagonist from one of the novellas in Moths, or any of a dozen characters from the Earth Haven trilogy*. In the end, I decided to go with someone from the Elevator trilogy—Jack—whose story was the subject of the first sequel.
Having decided on the character, I had to choose when the interview was to take place. I picked a moment towards the end of the first book (The Elevator) where Jack and his companions are enjoying a rare breather after what has been, to put it mildly, a trying day of interdimensional travel. Although Jack is still in his couldn’t-give-a-shit phase, the event which begins to change him fundamentally, and for the better, has already occurred.
Apologies for the swear words, but Jack was actually reining it in a little—his language is far worse ordinarily.
* I subsequently did another character interview and that time chose Milandra from the Earth Haven trilogy. I’ll share it here sometime.

1. Please introduce yourself.

My name’s Jack. Yeah, I have a surname, but I don’t see it’s any of your business. Besides, I hate it—it’s also her name.

2.Where were you born?

I was born towards the end of the twentieth century in a shitty British town much like any other shitty British town.

3. Do you resemble anyone well known?

Yeah, I’m like a cross between Deadpool and Marcus Fenix. Nah, not really, but I enjoy giving stupid answers to stupid questions.

4. Tell us what it was like where you grew up?

What’s there to tell? I grew up in the same shitty town where I was born and almost died. If there’s one good thing to say about my current predicament, it’s that it doesn’t look likely I’ll ever return there. Good riddance, too.

5. How old are you?

I’ve not long hit my twenties. Like, so what?

6. Tell us about your childhood. Was it happy?

About as happy as having fingernails torn off with pliers. You see, my… I hesitate to use the word ‘mother’, since that implies love and nurturing. My childhood more or less consisted of dodging blows from whichever dysfunctional boyfriend was flavour of the month, until I reached my sixteenth birthday when she chucked me out onto the streets.

7. How has your upbringing affected you?

After living for a while in a council hostel, I discovered drugs. Actually, I’d already discovered weed, filching some when she and her latest beau were too pissed or stoned to notice, and smoking it in woods near her council flat. When I was sixteen, I learned about the hard stuff and it nearly killed me, causing my heart to stop and leaving me with a permanent defect that the doctors say will foreshorten my life. No big deal—it’s a poxy life anyway.

8. What do you value above all else?

Look, I share a flat with a bunch of wankers. The people I work with are worse than that, but I’m trying not to be too foul-mouthed. I’ve had no contact with her since she threw me out, apart from one birthday card the council forwarded—I don’t even know where she currently lives. I have no other family, no friends, no belongings worth talking about. What’s there to value?

9. Is there anything you obsess about?

Until a few hours ago, I would have answered this with the same lack of enthusiasm I’ve replied to most of the questions above. But then the elevator called at the Second Floor. (Shit a brick! That Yank, Kim, has got me calling it an elevator, too—it’s a lift for crying out loud.) That’s where I met Miriam in a far-future world she called Terra Two, right before its dying sun destroyed it. You see, I’m learning to become a computer programmer and if there’s one thing above all others that’s a wet dream to computer geeks, it’s AI. And I’m sure, though I only had time to talk with her briefly, that Miriam is advanced AI and would sail through the Turing Test and any other test we can devise. Now I’m sitting here eating watermelon in what used to be the Basement, but is now a grassy hillside next to a sluggish brown river, and all I can think about is Miriam.

10.Do your beliefs improve your life or the lives of the people you care about?

Have you not been listening? There is nobody I care about. As for my belief that Miriam is genuine AI, it won’t do me any good unless I can find a way of meeting up with her again. Since she’s on a different planet in a far-flung future, that’s hardly likely. Still, none of this jaunt in the elevator (lift, damn it!) falls within the bounds of likely, or even possible, for that matter, so who knows? I might yet encounter her again.

11. What’s your biggest fear?

Miriam provided me with a taste of something bigger and better and worth striving to attain. I guess my biggest fear is that I’ll never get to sit down to the full banquet.

12. Is there a line you’d never cross?

Well, I’ve never killed anyone…

13. Name the best thing that’s ever happened to you. And the worst.

Seriously, dude, you have to pay attention to my previous answers. Meeting Miriam is by far and away the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I suppose the worst is suffering a heart attack before I was out of my teens. By the way, I’m not looking for pity. No one forced me to ingest every illicit substance I could get my greedy mitts on.

14. What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you?

At the height of my days as an addict, I was stumbling along the high street on my way back to the squat, stoned on something new that turned the contents of my bowels to slush, but not stoned enough not to notice the wrinkled noses and looks of disgust from passersby when my bowels exploded without warning, ejecting a foetid lava-flow that followed me like some hellish slug trail.

15. Would you be willing to share a secret?

You’re kidding—I just told you about my slug impersonation and you think we still have secrets?

16. What one word would you use to describe yourself?

Aimless.

17. What are your current life goals?

Not to have to set foot in that bloody lift again. Wait—perhaps I’m not so aimless now, after all. I am going to do whatever I can to find Miriam and the future she inhabits. Got to be better than returning to my old shitty life, right?

The Elevator trilogy – available individually in ebook format only, or as an omnibus edition in both ebook and paperback.

Writing a Trilogy

[First posted August 2015]

In May 2013, I sat at the computer and wrote the description of the symptoms of a deadly virus. It was a scene from an apocalyptic story I’d had kicking around in my head for years and transferring it to paper (at least, to a hard drive) opened the floodgates. Nine feverish weeks later, I had written the first draft of a 90,000-word novel.

The story was nowhere near finished. It would need at least another novel to complete, probably two. Although I would have finished the story no matter what – once a tale is in my mind, the only way to dislodge it is to write it – here’s one advantage of a trilogy from the writer’s point of view: I could see how well the first was received before committing to the second.

The Cleansing was published in December 2013. I sat back and waited with bated breath for the first reviews to come in. Thankfully, they were positive and so I sat down to write the second book.

Before writing The Cleansing, I had completed two novels, both of which are standalones. This would be the first time I had attempted to write a sequel.

Here’s the thing with writing a sequel: the writer owes it to the story, to himself and, most of all, to the readers who enjoyed the first book, to make the second as good as or better than the first. He’s also not working with a blank canvas; at least, that’s how I felt. Although I introduced new characters into the second book, I was still working with those who had appeared in the first and they needed to continue being the characters the readers of the first had come to know, while continuing their arcs and developing as good characters must.

While I worked on the sequel, reviews for The Cleansing continued to come in. Still mainly positive – phew! – but increasing the pressure for the second novel to build upon those good vibes.

The Beacon was released in January 2015. This time, the wait for early reviews was more nail-bitingly angst-filled. Unlike with the first book, readers would be parting with their hard-earned cash this time around in reasonable expectation of reading a story that matched or improved upon the standard of The Cleansing.

I had already begun work on the final instalment in the trilogy when The Beacon was published, but it had been slow going. I found it difficult to build momentum without knowing how the second book would be received. (Also, life or, more accurately, death – of a good friend – interrupted progress.)

Then reviews of The Beacon started coming in; another huge sigh of relief when they were, in the main, positive. Now I could press on full steam ahead with the final instalment.

This proved to be the most difficult one to write. Not only did I need to make this one as good as or better than the first two, I also needed to ensure I tied up all loose ends. With the first two books totalling around two hundred thousand words, there were a lot of loose ends. And the biggest pressure of all? Ending it in a way with which readers will hopefully be satisfied and that fits the overall tone of the story.

There are writers out there who pen many series and serials. They must all be familiar with these issues, but this was the first time I had experienced them. Whether I managed to overcome them, well, that remains to be seen. I have sent the completed and edited manuscript of The Reckoning to my publishers and await hearing whether it will be accepted for publication.

If it is, by the time the first reviews come in, I shall have no nails left.

[Update July 2018: The Reckoning was accepted and published in December 2015. The Cleansing is by some distance my bestselling novel to date and, thankfully, the sell-through rate to the sequels is pretty high. ]