Tony Gilbert, author of Super Fred, interviewed me recently for his blog. This was a particularly fun interview, as Tony’s questions were rather playful.
1 – Why did you first start writing? Was there a book that you read or a film that you saw which pushed you towards it? Have you stuck with the genre you began in?
Wow, that’s a lot of questions. Let me see if I can untangle them.
Why did I start writing… I’d have to go way back to my early childhood, as my mom taught me how to read at the unusually early age of two. Her reasoning was that she would finally have some free time, without a toddler running behind her begging to be read a story. Her cunning plan worked, and pretty soon I was engrossed by books, and was already making up my own stories.
To answer the rest of the question, please let me first explain what the book is about. It’s a sci-fi novel called Pearseus, that describes a dystopian society formed on a remote planet by the survivors of a destroyed starship. It picks up 300 years after the accident, when humans have split up in three competing factions, all embroiled in endless intrigue and constant warfare. The planet also has a native population, as well as ethereal entities, all caught up in their own wars, and it all ties nicely together to form “an excellent read from a new writer, that leaves you expecting more,” as a review I’ve memorized put it.
The concept itself came to me after reading Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, followed by Jim Lacey’s The First Clash and Herodotus’ Cyrus the Great and Rise of Persia, which describe the fatal battle on Marathon between Greece and Persia in the 5th century BC. Marathon is a 20’ drive from my home, and I’d often visited the tomb where the ancient Athenians buried their dead, so I thought at the time, “wouldn’t it be great if someone did what Martin did for medieval England, only with the story of Greece vs. Persia? And in space? How cool would that be?” Then it occurred to me: so, what’s stopping me from writing it?
The rest, as they say, is history. The funny thing is that my fascination with the period has landed me in hot water, as a reviewer complained that Pearseus is too dark a book. In fact, all the atrocities in it are actually described by Herodotus. So, if you find my book too dark, it’s a long-dead guy’s fault.
Genre-wise, besides Pearseus, I’ve written a number of short stories in the same genre, but I have also written half-a-dozen children’s books. In fact, I’m currently having the first one, Runaway Smile, illustrated. It’s the story of a boy who wakes up in the morning to find that his smile has ran away, so he spends the whole day talking to people and trying to find it. If everything goes to plan, it will be published within 2014.
2 – Every author gets writers block at some point. How do you cope with this?
I have never, ever experienced writer’s block.
Well, not really, although I sometimes struggle to start on paper a plotline that looks so enticing to my head. My usual problem, however, is finding enough time to write up everything that flows through my mind.
3 – As an author you are well versed in stretching the truth. What is the most blatant lie you have ever told?
I once claimed I never get writer’s block.
Seriously though, I may use white lies to spare people’s feelings, but that’s it. To lie, you need a much better memory that I have – mine is like a sieve. You know that tired joke – “I have a great memory. I only forget three things; names, numbers and I forget the third”? Well, that’s me.
My only consolation is that it seems to run in the family. As a kid I was very blond. My dad once returned from work and saw me on my bike, cycling around in the middle of our street. He casually strolled into the house, kissed my mom’s cheek and said, “who’s the foreign kid outside?”
4 – If you could switch genders for a day, what would you do?
Well, I hear from my women friends that there are more than three colours in the world, but I have to see that to believe it. So, I would finally master all those colours.
If it was a Sunday and hardware shops were closed, however, I’d probably spend the day practicing compliments with other women. I’m always impressed by women telling each other things like, “OMG, you look so great, one can hardly notice your saggy skin and bloodshot eyes!” and getting away with it. Men have no idea how to offer compliments, let alone manage complex back-handed ones, so it’s a skill I respect immensely.
5 – What are the most important attributes to give to a lead character, in your opinion?
Faults is a character’s single most important attribute, in my mind. I consider my villains to be as much lead characters as my heroes, and often find them more fun to write. In fact, I try not to have any villains in my stories, just normal people who end up doing terrible things because of their character traits or miscalculations.
I’m not terribly fond of stories where a wonderful hero stoically suffers through fate’s arrows. I prefer to let my heroes screw up, and show how these mistakes impact their lives in the future. In Pearseus, it is usually the most decent of characters that inadvertently shoot things to hell. Besides, I’m a big believer in Karma, so this way of looking at things makes a lot of sense to me.
6 – What, outside of writing, do you consider your biggest success?
Well, I have run my own web business since 1995, but I consider my relationship with my wife to be a far greater success. We’ve been together for over 20 years now, since her high school days, and she’s still my one true love and best friend. We sometimes fight of course, like any couple, but I’m looking forward to growing old together. Well, not really looking forward to it, but you know what I mean…
7 – And the same question but in regards to your writing?
To my astonishment, the second book of the Pearseus series became a best-seller within two months of its launch, and is still in the top 100. I still can’t believe that over 4,000 people have read my book! Yea!
8 –Left handed people originated on Mars! Fact of fiction? What are your thoughts?
Oh, absolutely. I have to add that they probably landed here together with all the redheads, as Tom Robbins convincingly explained in his Still Life with Woodpecker. I read it as an awkward teenager and it led to one of my first heartaches, as I approached shortly afterwards a lovely girl with fiery red hair and alabaster white skin – a girl I always fancied, but never had a chance to express my feelings to.
“So, you’re an alien?” I blurted out.
For some reason, that was our only verbal exchange, as she ran off and never spoke to me again.
9 – Do you have any regrets?
Too many to count, and definitely too many to include here. My greatest one, though, might be having to turn forty to realise how much I love writing.
10 – Who or what really makes you laugh out loud?
I love comedy, and wish I was funny and witty enough to write it. My favourite movie is Top Secret, one of ZAZ’s (Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker) first movies, starring Val Kilmer. I must have watched over 60 times, along with the Airplane series, and it cracks me up every single time.
Also a big fan of Father Ted; I’m a big fan of wit, probably due to my student days in Scotland. I have such a soft spot for dry British humour…
11 –I have heard that you were once abducted by aliens and that now you write about your experiences? Was it by the same race who abducted me at the beginning of my sixteenth year?
Where did you hear that?
Seriously, it’s so funny you should mention this. I recently came across this school essay I had written as a kid, probably around eight. I had a particularly vivid imagination, and had been reading Von Däniken’s Chariots of the gods at the time. So, it’s probably no surprise that my essay described an alien abduction. I remember to this day the look my teacher gave handing over the assignment, although she never commented on it – which, I have to say, was disappointing at the time. I had even included a nice drawing of the aliens – if yours looked like Michelin man, then it was the same.
So, how did you know? Please wait until I wrap my head in tin foil before you answer…
12 – What is your favourite story that you have written, about?
It has to be the alien abduction I mentioned above, if only for freaking out my poor teacher…
13 – How can people get in contact with you?
They’re welcome to drop by, although it’d be best if they gave us a ring first, to make sure we’re in.
14 – Do you like to be interviewed?
Everyone loves to talk about themselves, right? So yes, I love it, and am very grateful to you for the wonderfully zany questions and the opportunity to be interviewed. I can never believe people actually want to read my random thoughts on things, then someone makes a comment below and I’m like, “wow, so people are interested in my interview!” (by the way, that was a hint, people).