Concept SciFi Interview

Here’s an interview from 2008:

1. Everyone seems to ask authors to describe at length how they got ‘into’ writing. Instead, can you sum it up in a single sentence?

I have numerous interests and, when I was in my early twenties, I decided I could be a jack of all trades but master of none or I must choose one interest to concentrate on, so I chose writing.

2. How do you approach the art of writing a novel? Are you a ‘planner’ or an improviser’?

Definitely an improviser. I know some people plan out their novels even so far as writing chapter by chapter breakdowns of the things beforehand. I can’t do this. I tried it once in pursuit of a bursary and then, when the novel concerned was taken by Macmillan (The Line of Polity), I dumped ninety per cent of it all and started again, because I was bored by knowing where it was going. You know, to a certain extent I don’t like having to write up proposals and give titles (even if provisional) for my next three-book contract, but I guess the publisher has to have something to show the accountants.

3. Some of the scenes in your novels are quite aggressive and many people have likened this to the kind of prose you’d find in a cyberpunk or post-cyberpunk novel. What are your thoughts on this?

Well, I don’t much like all these daft labels people keep coming up with. Is it post-cyberpunk, new British space opera, new weird, mundane, post-Poe new concept pre-singularity fiction? Bollocks. It’s science fiction which is essentially a sub-genre of fantasy. Everything else sounds just too damned self-important and too much like seeking critical approval of the ‘Ugh, sci-fi, that trekky squids in space nonsense!’ crowd. Screw this bowing and scraping to those whose imaginations cannot manage to extend beyond the mundane, and who found (real) science too difficult at school so went into the arts.

4. What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a couple of things at the moment. The first is a story based on something called Rockfish, produced by Blur Studios (you can find it on You Tube), which still needs some serious hacking about and may, or may not, be turned into a movie script. The other thing is a novel for Macmillan that steps out of my usual Polity universe. The working title is The Owner of Worlds. Here’s one of those proposals I was talking about:

In my collection The Engineer ReConditioned, I introduced an immortal who is refered to by those resident on worlds usually with regressed civilizations, as the Owner, for he owns those worlds. The stories concerned were called Proctors, The Owner and Tiger Tiger, and I’ve also recently had a 20,000 word story called Owner Space accepted by Gardner Dozois for his Book Club anthology Galactic Empires. In the aforementioned stories that character is ten thousand years old, controls a spaceship the size of a moon and owns numerous worlds from which he keeps surrounding civilizations by dint of the fact that he controls a very advanced technology, is in fact melded with that technology. I would like to tell the story of how he got to that position.

5. Star Wars, Star Trek or neither?

I much enjoyed Star Wars when it first appeared because here at last were the images I saw in my mind when reading SFF, but of course that’s a very long time ago now. When the new Star Wars films appeared I enjoyed the first (especially the character Darth Maul, though that Ja Ja Binks needed strangling) then thought the second bloody silly, despite the special effects, and never bothered with the third. I think it is basically SFF for teenagers. Star Trek (original series) I enjoyed at the time, and later I did enjoy the Next Generation and might well still enjoy it. Certainly the films still grab me, in fact, I intend to watch Star Trek Nemesis some day soon and expect it’s still good.

6. You’ve written a number of short stories as well as some hugely successful novels. Which form do you prefer and why?

When I made that choice to ‘be a writer’ I started off with the inevitable fantasy trilogy. Numerous rejections later, including a short period with an agent trying to sell my stuff, I had a crack at something contemporary but, numerous rejections later…  Going via the route of various writer’s magazines I discovered the British small presses and, still with no intention of giving up, I tried my hand at short stories. In the end my first stuff was published in short story magazines (the first in Back Brain Recluse in 1986), but I continued with the novels too. I enjoy both for different reasons. Writing short stories is an excellent discipline for tightening up my writing and trying out new ideas. In a novel I can expand ideas, do some meticulous world-building and and explore intricacies of plot and character.

7. What can we expect to see from you in the future?

After Rockfish and the Owner novel I’ve will write the last book of my last three-book contract with Macmillan. The working title is ‘Gabbleducks’. Throughout all my books and short stories the gabbleducks (or the Atheter race) are often part of the scenery, but evidently a part that many find interesting. I’d like to tell a story, from the point of view of one character who has a fascination for these creatures, detailing everything known about them. It’s a story that’ll incorporate some of the events in The Line of Polity, but they’ll be background this time. After that I expect I’ll throw some more proposals at Macmillan, maybe I’ll rework the fantasy I wrote (a trilogy plus the first book of a second trilogy), maybe the contemporary novel. Certainly I’ll be producing some more short stories and there’s also the possibility of some script writing coming my way.

8. Can you tell us something of interest about yourself not related to science fiction?

Many years ago I reached green belt in Shotokan karate, which probably means no-one can build houses on me (maybe that’s a joke only understood by the British). I’m learning Greek (Cretan Greek to be specific) and expect, just like English, I’ll never stop learning it. I sang karaoke for the first time in my life last winter, and intend never to get so drunk again.

9. I you could have one piece of tech from any novel you’ve written, what would you like it to be and why?

That would be the downloading or uploading of the human mind to AI crystal either in a Golem chassis, war drone, static AI or to a new body. Either that, or I’d like to be infected with the Spatterjay virus (stretching things to call that tech), or just subject to the life-extending medical technology of the Polity. Quite simply I would like not to die, which, really, is not unreasonable. But I rather suspect the booze and cigarettes will take me off before someone works out how to plug a human mind into a computer, or how to regrow lungs and livers.

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