Musings on Writing – Part 1

This is the first part of a lengthy set of interview questions I completed to be featured on a fellow writer’s blog in January 2019. The original interview is so long I’ve split it into three parts.

As usual with these reproduced interviews, I’ve changed the wording of the questions for copyright reasons, but without changing the questions’ meaning. The answers I haven’t touched except that, where relevant, I’ve added the occasional update in square brackets after my original answer.

Fountain pen writing cursive characters

Why did you decide to become a writer?

Since learning to read as a four- or five-year-old, I’ve read voraciously. Writing seemed the natural progression. I still marvel at worlds other authors have created, but now I create my own, too.

What are you aiming to release next?

I’m aiming to release a new novel later this year. It will be a standalone fantasy, though a chunky one of around 180,000 words. A collection of dark novellas might come before it—depends which I finish first.

[The collection of dark novellas, Moths, was published later that year, in August, but—due to the time-drain of producing my own audiobooks—I’m only 70,000-words into the fantasy novel. I love the note of cheery, but wildly misplaced, optimism in my January 2019 answer.]

Moths: A trio of dark novellas

Do you think it’s important that aspiring authors should read widely?

I think it’s vital. No doubt there are exceptions but, generally speaking, I don’t see how anyone can hope to become an accomplished writer without reading a lot of books. It would be like hoping to become a cabinet maker without trying to understand how cabinets are put together.

What was the first book you remember reading?

Other than Dick and Jane, or whatever they were called, in nursery school (‘Run, Dick, run!’), it was probably one of the Enid Blyton books about the wishing chair or the enchanted wood. Her books opened my child’s eyes to the endless possibilities to be discovered on a page.

The Enchanted Wood

What are you reading at the moment?

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. I’m also picking away at Infinite Jest, but I’m finding it a challenge, to put it mildly, so don’t anticipate finishing it any time soon.

[I thoroughly enjoyed Aurora. I’m still picking away at Infinite Jest.]


Tell us about a series you’ve written and how you came up with the title.

I have two complete series—The Elevator and Earth Haven trilogies. The idea for Earth Haven came from a short story I wrote at the turn of the millennium about a young man who survives a plague that wipes out almost the entire population of the world. The title of the series came from how some of the characters refer to our planet—to them, it represents a haven to which to escape their own dying planet many light years away.

Earth Haven series

Is there a character you identify with in your books?

I don’t identify with any of the characters in my books, with one possible exception. The only novel I’ve written that doesn’t come under the broad umbrella of speculative fiction is called That Elusive Something. It’s about a professional in his early thirties who yearns for something more. Funnily enough, when I wrote it I was a lawyer in my early thirties yearning for something more.

That Elusive Something

Is your work based on real life events?

Since most of the stuff I write is horror or science fiction or fantasy, I’d have led a damned peculiar existence if my books came from true-life experiences.

Do you only base your stories in places you’ve visited?

I’ve based parts of books in Sydney and Los Angeles, and Wick in Scotland, places I’ve never visited. That’s when Google Earth is your friend.

Earth viewed from space









There’ll be a couple more parts along shortly. Till then…

In Praise of Paper

A light-hearted post today—in these days of gloom and uncertainty, I’m increasingly drawn to writing blog posts tending towards frothiness. Cappuccino rather than espresso.

Let me begin by saying that this isn’t about bashing e-readers. Indeed, I have an e-reader. It’s a Kindle Paperwhite and I love it to bits. It holds umpteen books, it’s lightweight and easy to hold when I’m horizontal, and, best of all, it is backlit so I can read in the early hours without disturbing the other half.

So what is this post about? Well, a little while ago I was buying something on Amazon for £16. Postage and packing would cost £4-odd, but I could get free p & p if I bought something else to bring the total past £20. It was a bit of a no-brainer to look for something around the £4 mark and, in effect, get the second item free.

If you, too, are an avid reader, you’ll know to which department I headed in search of a £4 item. I found something straight away—a small Penguin paperback of essays by George Orwell.

Here’s a pic of the book next to my Kindle. And, yes, that’s one of my books on the e-reader screen. Why miss an opportunity for a little self-plugging, eh? Goodness knows, I’m rubbish at doing that most of the time.

The caption sums up my feelings towards e-books and their more traditional counterparts. Some people say they will never use an e-reader; others that they will only use an e-reader and never return to paper books. Me, I enjoy both. Much as I love my Kindle, it will never completely replace traditional books for me.

I tend to alternate between reading a book on my Kindle and reading a paperback, but of late I’ve been reading more of the former. No particular reason other than the books I’ve been wanting to read next happen to be on my Kindle.

So when the Orwell book arrived from Amazon, it had been a few weeks since I’d last handled a paperback. And a great deal longer since I’d held a brand new one.

I imagine most book lovers will recognise how I react to holding a new book for the first time:

– gaze at it for long moments, slowly absorbing the cover design

– run my fingers over the cover; if, as is the case with the Orwell book, the cover is embossed, my fingers will linger as I relish the ridges and furrows, silky to the touch

– turn the book over and absorb the back cover and description

– (this, and the next, are the ones that people who have little time for books don’t get) raise the book to my nose and inhale deeply

–  riffle the pages, stop at random and thrust my nose between the pages to inhale once more

There is nothing quite like the pleasure to be derived from holding a brand new book. (Indeed, from holding old, well-read books, too, though the sensations involved there are more to do with an appreciation of age and mustiness, and being in the presence of something much-treasured.)

While the aesthetic pleasure in e-books lies almost entirely in the reading device itself—which, of course, looks the same no matter what you’re reading on it—paper books differ in their dimensions, type and size of font, cover design, and more. An e-reader strips back a book to make it all about its contents; I’m unlikely to ever derive pleasure purely from the look of an e-book. By contrast, I can greatly enjoy simply looking at and holding a paper book, never mind reading its contents.

Take the Orwell book. It’s small in height and width and thickness, like a well-padded pamphlet, and weighs very little, a pleasant surprise when you’re accustomed to holding weightier tomes. I’ve already mentioned the silky feel of the embossed cover—it really is something I delight in touching. I love the classic Penguin design of the cover: simplistic and iconic. And it has that new-book scent that always reminds me of the smell given off by roads and pavements when it rains for the first time in a while. The smells aren’t the same, as such, but similar for their distinctiveness.

I’d like to say that the scent of a book is of crisp paper and ink, but they’re more likely to have been laser-printed these days. Still, there’s something special about thrusting your hooter between the pages of a new book and inhaling. I’m not going over the top and claiming this to be akin to a religious experience, but it nevertheless stirs something spiritual in me.

“Guru Sam, tell us the secret of life.”
“Certainly, my acolytes. Go forth and buy a new book. Open it and breathe in through your nose. Slowly. Deeply. Therein lies true enlightenment.”

Yeah, I agree; that’s enough wittering for one post. Whatever your preferred medium, happy smell— er, reading!