Questions, Questions

This was an interview I completed in May 2018. I sent it off and didn’t hear another thing about it. I don’t know whether it was ever featured, but I’m guessing not.

As usual with reproduced interviews, I’ve changed the wording of the questions, although they were already quite generic, to avoid potential copyright issues. My answers I haven’t touched.
 
 

 

1 Give the elevator pitch for your most recent book.

My most recent release is called The Lord of the Dance, the final book in The Elevator trilogy. (Well, you asked for an elevator pitch…) It’s a dark fantasy tale that begins when four people step into an elevator, expecting to be deposited at their dreary workplaces. When the door opens, it isn’t a drab office that greets them.

The first book, which was intended as a standalone short novel, shows the unwilling companions whisked to various strange worlds—there are seven floors, including the basement—often inhabited by aggressive creatures. There are science fiction aspects, with elements of time travel and the pivotal appearance of an AI machine. Oh, and there’s a dragon.

The first book left me wanting to know what became of one of the characters (explored in the second book, Jack’s Tale) and to know more about the main antagonist (the eponymous title character of the third book). Thus, it became a trilogy.

2 What made you want to write this tale?

A couple of years ago in my regular job, we had to decamp to an upper level while our groundfloor office was refurbished. Most days, I climbed the six flights of stairs to the temporary office, but now and again I couldn’t be bothered and took the lift—it’s what we call an elevator in the U.K.

As I would wait for the lift door to open on my floor—there was always a pregnant pause while it made up its mind to lurch open—a question kept asking itself: what if, when the door opens, it’s to another world in another time?

When I started considering the answer to that question even when not riding the lift, I knew it was time to write the story.

3 Which part of the story is your favourite?

I was going to say the first time the door to the elevator opens and the occupants gaze out onto a new world, because that is the moment that kept nagging at me every time I rode that lift up to my temporary office. But there’s another moment that occurs at the very end of the second book, Jack’s Tale, that I didn’t see coming until the last minute and which ties the second book to the first, whilst setting up the third, in a manner that is wholly unexpected and satisfying to me. I only hope that readers feel the same way.

4 Has a character ever turned out to play a far more significant role in your story than you intended?

My apocalyptic science fiction trilogy, Earth Haven, is about the Earth being cleansed of humankind to pave the way for an alien species to make it their home. The character in question is a sixteen-year-old girl by the name of Bri (like the cheese but without the e), who doesn’t even appear in the first novel, The Cleansing.

I introduced her in the second novel, The Beacon, initially as little more than a companion to another new character, a ten-year-old boy called Will. However, Bri had suffered a head trauma, which resulted in her developing certain abilities. Those abilities, together with her general no-nonsense attitude to life and her determination to protect Will, made me realise that she wasn’t going to let me keep her in a minor supporting role.

Difficult to say too much without spoilers—suffice to say, her significance to the story grew out of all proportion to what I’d originally thought when introducing her, to the extent that she plays a key role in the final novel, The Reckoning.

5 What books did you fall in love with as a child?

I wrote an article for a magazine about major influences in my life, which I called ‘Enid Bloody Blyton’. I described her books for younger children as ‘insufferably quaint’, which probably makes it sound like I was having a dig at her. In fact, it was quite the opposite—I felt then as I do now: I owe her a great deal of gratitude for opening my eyes to the unboundless possibilities of the imagination and to the delights that can be found within the pages of a book.

As soon as I learned to read, I began to devour her books: The Enchanted Wood, The Magic Faraway Tree and Adventures of the Wishing Chair. Read them over and over until they began to fall apart. Bought new copies for my first-born and read them to her.

I graduated to her books for older children. She wrote tons of books aimed at children between the ages of six and ten, but there were two particular series that I adored: The Famous Five books and the Adventure stories.

Looking back with the cynicism of adulthood, the plots of these books were outlandish, involving unlikely spy rings and treasure maps and, memorably, anti-gravitational wings being secretly manufactured in the depths of a hollow Welsh mountain—you know, I’ve lived in Wales for most of my life and haven’t once heard anyone add the words ‘look you’ to the end of a sentence like the Welsh characters did in The Mountain of Adventure. But never mind the ludicrousness of the storylines or the stereotypical supporting characters, I was seven and lapped it all up.

That’s enough about Enid. There are too many others to mention. Books like The Wind in the Willows and Watership Down. The works of Roald Dahl and Mark Twain. The gripping Run For Your Life by David Line.

One afternoon in school, when I was nine, our teacher took out a book and began to read it to the class. It was about four children who are sent away to the countryside as evacuees in World War II to stay with an eccentric uncle in a rambling old mansion. I was instantly captivated. The book was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and so began my lifelong love affair with C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. I couldn’t wait for the teacher to finish the story in class; I had to get my hands on my own copy. When I discovered there were another six books in the series, I probably went into raptures.

I moved on to Tolkien and Stephen King and Heinlein and many, many others, but those are the books that most stick in my mind from early childhood.

6 What are you currently working on?

I’m writing a novel set in 1950, which hasn’t yet decided if it’s going to be science fiction or horror. It will probably turn out to be a fusion of the two. It’s going to have a pulp, B-movie feel to it; don’t ask me why—it simply feels right for the story.

I also have the seeds of a time travel series germinating, and a fantasy novel clamouring to be written, so that’s the next year or so taken care of. *

7 What are you currently reading? And which book is the best you’ve read in the past year?

I’m currently reading Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, who’s a new author to me. It’s a tale about Earth becoming uninhabitable after the moon is destroyed. I’m around thirty per cent in and a little ambivalent about it so far.**

The best book I’ve read in the past year? That’s a tricky one, but I’m going to plump for The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp. It caused me a few nights’ disturbed sleep, the sign of a good horror story.
 

* the novel set in 1950 turned out to be a novella and retained its pulpy, B-movie feel, which I was quite pleased with. I bundled it together with two other dark novellas and published the collection as Moths.
I am in the process of writing the fantasy novel—around 50,000 words in, aiming for 180,000 in total.
What I didn’t know when I answered these questions was that I would soon be embarking on producing my own audiobooks, a massively time-consuming task, and so my flippant remark about ‘the next year or so’ being taken care of proved to be an understatement of epic proportions.

** I ended up enjoying Seveneves. Though I felt it went on a little too long at the end, that’s a minor gripe and it’s a good read if you’re a fan of science fiction.

Links to works and articles referred to:

The Elevator trilogy
Earth Haven trilogy
Moths
Enid Bloody Blyton
When I Was Three I Ate Mud  (favourite childhood books)

Why We Write

[This article first appeared on a friend’s blog in September 2014. She asked me to talk about why I write, citing books that influenced me growing up. I took this to be an invitation to talk about books that I’ve loved over the years, although I remembered to tag a paragraph on the end that mentions writing.

It might seem faintly ridiculous that a man then a few months shy of 50 with a tendency towards the Dark Side in both his reading and writing tastes was talking about Enid Blyton, but her books are the ones I devoured as a young child. So shoot me.]

From the moment I learned how to read, I read. We’re talking more than forty years ago so my recollections are a little hazy, but the first books I can remember reading were by Enid Blyton. I guess I was around the age of five when I started to read The Adventures of the Wishing-Chair. When the wings first sprouted on the chair’s legs, thus opening a world of adventure for the children who owned it (who probably had names like Fanny and Polly and Dick and James), something sparked inside me, something that still burns all these years later.

The flames were fanned by The Enchanted Wood and The Magic Faraway Tree. I moved on to her books for older children and discovered a taste for adventures. A series of books (that I read over and over) about four children and a parrot that started with The Island of Adventure and ended with The River of Adventure. There was even one (The Mountain of Adventure) set in my homeland of Wales.

And The Famous Five. I remember the first day of the summer holidays when I must have been six or seven, my parents taking me to Smith’s to buy the next book in the series. I recall it cost me £0.25, but that probably represented a month’s pocket money. I took it home, read it the same day, pined for the next one. I got them all – all twenty-one – and read each of them more than once. ‘Lashings of ginger beer.’ Did they really say that?

I discovered other authors. Run For Your Life by David Line. Wonderful; I read it until it was falling apart. Some classics: The Three Musketeers, Coral Island, Robinson Crusoe. There were more, but my attention was diverted.

A new teacher started in our class. One afternoon, she gathered us around and began to read a book to us. A book about a land of snow and magic that could be reached through the back of a wardrobe. I was instantly captivated. The sense of wonder that began with Enid Blyton, the sense that anything is possible within the pages of a book, was firmly entrenched by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I soon acquired the book and the six others in the series, and read them over and over. I read them to my daughters when they were growing up as an excuse to read them again.

On entering my teens, I discovered shock horror authors like Guy N. Smith. James Herbert struck all the right notes with books like The Rats and The Fog.

Then I bought a book by a writer I hadn’t heard of that sounded promising: Carrie by Stephen King. It was good, but it was Salem’s Lot which cemented my love affair with Mr King’s books that continues to this day.

And there was Tolkien. My parents had a hardbook copy of The Lord of the Rings, complete with wonderful illustrations upon which Peter Jackson based many of the sets for his films. I now have my own copy and return to it every few years.

In my twenties, a friend lent me a book by someone called Terry Pratchett: The Colour of Magic. Instant addiction. Every now and then I give in to the urge to reread every Discworld book and fall in love with that world all over again.

And there are others, many others, way too many to mention them all. Here’s a few: Imajica by Clive Barker, anything by Bill Bryson and Iain Banks (and Iain M. Banks), Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell, Shadowland by Peter Straub, Christie’s Poirot novels and short stories. And there’s John Irving, Kurt Vonnegut, Laurie Lee, Robert Heinlein, Gerald Durrell, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Frederick Forsyth, Philip K. Dick…

Reading has played such a big part in my life, it was almost inevitable that I would turn to writing fiction. My favourite books provide a means of escape from the trials and tribulations of real life. Writing serves a similar purpose, a sort of pressure-relief valve that also helps unclutter the jumble of my mind. And those authors and their books have had a profound effect on me, prompting awe, fear, sorrow, amazement, or simply entertaining me. I wanted to provoke the same emotions in others, though I’d settle for merely entertaining them. Sometimes mere entertainment is enough.