This interview is from way back in 2003. It was with Sandy Auden but for what magazine or website I have no idea.
What’s your secret for successfully writing multiple plot threads without confusing the reader?
I just take the view that my reader’s ability to comprehend is about the same as my own, and so long as I don’t get confused writing those multiple plot threads, my reader won’t get confused reading them. It is a bit of a balancing act and I’ve learnt you can’t please everyone. If you check out the reviews of GRIDLINKED on Amazon (UK) and you’ll see that some just did not get the ending. The ending to THE LINE OF POLITY for some was too much telegraphed and obvious, yet for others was annoyingly left of field – like with GRIDLINKED, the reader’s reaction depended on how much they took in earlier on. I just hope that for most readers the porridge was just right!
Why do your stories always include so many concurrent threads?
Boredom. Writing a straight forward ABC story can become grindingly boring, and doing so you very quickly know the ending, which I don’t like to know until I’m at least three quarters of the way through. I just let my stories run, take a look at them from different character’s POVs and, whenever I feel the urge, I throw in twists and turns from which other threads might develop. My problem is honing down the plot-threads I lace through a book and knuckling down to the grind of completing what I’ve started – tying off all those threads neatly. I had some problems with this in my latest book, where it was becoming too confusing and I necessarily had to strip out two entire plot threads and completely remove some characters.
We’re getting to know Cormac a little better in BRASS MAN (or at least we think we are) but he’s still enigmatic. Why write him that way?
To be frank, that’s just how he comes out. This is probably because he’s too busy dodging explosions or working out the motivations of enigmatic aliens, for there to be much about him. But then he’s a cypher for all those male lead/action heros throughout all fiction. You don’t learn much about them because the story in which they are engaged is the real focus. The only time you do learn something about them is where it effects that story, which is true of all a story’s characters i.e. Maybe a computer fell of Arian Pelter when he was a child and this accounts for his hatred of AIs?
Did you work out Mr Crane’s mysterious background for BRASS MAN or did it evolve earlier than that?
Mr Crane’s background was written for BRASS MAN which, even when I was writing Cowl (fourth book) was only a title, and an idea about how Mr Crane would return and what his toys were really for. As I say in the acknowledgements, the book found its inception in all those who, having read GRIDLINKED, said, “I really liked Mr Crane, why did you have to kill him off?”
Why do you think Mr Crane has proved to be so popular?
I think that’s down to his sartorial concerns and his toys. It’s the appeal of that juxtaposition of the powerful and deadly with the humorous and humanising. Think of the Terminator needing to get hold of wrap-around sun glasses, the leather gear and the large motorbike, or in a Pratchett book the four horsemen of the apocalypse getting drunk and playing cards, or Death’s love of curries.
What are you working on now?
I’m finishing some editorial work on THE VOYAGE OF THE SABLE KEECH, which completes my second three book contract for Macmillan. Here’s the blurb:
The reification Sable Keech, a walking dead man, is the only one to have been resurrected by nanochanger. Did he succeed because he was infected by the Spatterjay virus, or because he came late to resurrection in a tank of seawater? Tracing the man’s journey in a ship also named after him, Taylor Bloc wants to know. He also wants so much else – adulation, power, control – and will go to any lengths to get it. And he has brought the means.
An ancient hive mind, almost incomprehensible to the human race, has sent an agent to the world. Does it want to obtain the poison sprine – effective against those made virtually indestructible by the Spatterjay virus? Janer must find it and stop it.
Erlin, still faced with the ennui of immortality, has her solitude rudely interrupted by a very angry whelkus titanicus, and begins the strangest of journey’s. Captain Ambel’s own journey, from Olian’s – where the currency of death his kept in a vault – is equally as strange. But he must reap the harvest of Erlin’s mistake, and survive.
Deep in the ocean the virus has wrought a terrible change that will affect them all. Something dormant for ten years is breaking free, and once again the aftershocks of an ancient war will focus on this watery world. And Sniper, for ten years the Warden of Spatterjay, finally takes delivery of his new drone shell. It’s much better than his old one: powerful engines, more lethal weapons, thicker armour.
He’s going to need it.
This book is a sequel to The Skinner. Prior to this editorial work, however, I was over a 100,000 words into a new Cormac book provisionally titled POLITY AGENT. In this I answer some questions: who and what is Horace Blegg, why was Dragon really sent to the Polity, what is Dragon and the Maker’s relation to Jain technology, and why, when throughout the Polity’s expansion no Jain nodes were discovered, did one end up in the hands of Skellor when it did? This would be the first book of a third three book contract (Peter Lavery at Macmillan has already asked me if I have any ideas).Other possible books are ORBUS — following the adventures of a character from Sable — HILLDIGGERS — a standalone (the hilldiggers are spaceships named after what their weapons can do) – no shortage of ideas, really, and if Macmillan keep supplying the contracts I’ll keep supplying the books.