FAQ

july-21

If you’d like to ask me a clever, insightful, searching question that isn’t about willies or why the sky is blue (It’s because God hates you), skip on over to my Contact Me page, drop me a line, and I’ll add it to the page.

 

Where do your ideas come from, what are you influences and sources of inspiration?

The easiest ones first, eh? It’s a truism to say that ideas come from paying attention to the world around you, and in my case, it’s also slightly incomplete. It’s not enough just to see something and the recreate it. The trick is to find two concepts, events, or ideas, and crash them together until they create a third, discrete, concept that can be explored narratively. My story The Glow of His Eyes, The Depth of His Gaze, for example, grew from reading two separate articles: one about the distribution of light-receiving cones in the eyes of chickens, and the other about a new type of plastic that was stronger than steel. Only once they were arrayed together did a narrative begin to form.

My artistic inspirations and influences are too many to list, but I have always been fascinated by polymaths such as David Bowie, David Hockney, Spike Milligan, William Blake and Alice Cooper– artists who can work successfully across multiple art forms, and create unique works that help define them as an artist. It’s something I aspire to.

 

Where can I get your latest book? Hand delivery doesn’t work.

My favourite bookstore in the entire world is Stefen’s Books, in Shafto Lane Perth. However, many fine bookstores throughout the Perth region, including Diabolik, Paper Bird, and Crow Books also carry various of my novels. If you live in any of the, oh, at least 8 other cities there are in the world, or somewhere that bookstores have yet to reach, you can get all internetty in the usual spots, although Book Depository is my poison of choice.

 

Do you plot out a detailed description of your stories or go with the flow?

A bit of both. I generally have a very clear image of how the story starts, and how I want it to end, and I usually have a few fixed points in my mind along the way. But what happens in-between– the parts between A and B, if you like– are rather malleable and open to the whims of narrative. I’m not an obsessive plotter– I find that if I plot too heavily, I get bored before I start the actual writing– but neither do I leave everything formless and subject to the arrival of inspiration– that way, nothing gets done.

 

Do you use multiple character guides to ensure continuity while writing or do this in 1st edit phase?

Neither. I have a clear idea of my characters, and I let the narrative evolve them during the first draft. With each subsequent edit, I focus on making sure that anything that has arisen is folded into the narrative and smoothed out, so that the characters appear to evolve naturally. As with the above question, if I plan out anything too rigidly, I tend to lose interest. Half the joy of writing is discovery.

 

How much of what you write is a response to, a pushing back against, the world?

A lot of my short stories, particularly in the early part of my career, were conscious attempts to rationalise and negotiate with various demons that rose up at me from the world. As I’ve become a more mature artist, and as my personal circumstances have become more settled, I’ve worked more to creatively exploit niches in my thinking and perception of history and the psychological/artistic nature of my day-to-day experiences than to simply lash out at the thing that affect me. Which doesn’t mean I’m not capable of chucking a literary strop when I want to, just that these days I’m more a boxer than a brawler.

 

If you could kill off any literary character in any story who would it be?

Ha! Half the characters in my novels either start off dead or get killed early on. Doesn’t seem to stop them, though 🙂

The character of my own I find least likeable is Captain Bomthe, from The Corpse-Rat King, the first Marius dos Hellespont novel. He’s a smug, snide, superior sort of cove, who thinks nothing of dropping our hero deep, deep in the poop– but he’s meant to be, so that’s okay……

 

Do you have a catalogue of characters or do you create them within the story? 

Every story is a unique, discrete beast. There is no other way than to create characters hand-in-hand with the story.

 

Do you write your stories from start to finish or do you set out a framework and fill in gaps?

It depends on how strong a grasp I have on the storyline when I sit down to write. Many short stories get written chronologically, although all of my novels have involved jumping from scene to scene up and down the narrative as I come up with a detail or a scene that fits. My current work (at the very beginning of 2017) is a 32-stanza picture book, and I’m all over the shop with it– I know what’s happening, but I’m adding in rhymes and lines as they come to me.

 

When do you know a story is finished and ready to send out?

If you listen to my darling wife, rarely: she regularly accuses me of over-editing the life out of my stories. In reality, nothing goes out until I’ve had at least 4 passes over the material– it’s not an objective, empirical number, and some stories take many more drafts, but it’s usually at least a minimum of 4 before I’m convinced I’ve eliminated all the obviously stupid errors, repetitions, and contradictions and everything makes some sort of sense.

 

Do you give writers talks? If so, where and how can I organise one?

I do, indeed. Check out my Appearances page for details of my fees and feel free to contact me.

 

I also want to be an author. When can I expect the rock star lifestyle?

My best estimate is 2047.

 

What advice would you give to young writers to keep motivated?

Don’t expect a rock star lifestyle until at least 2047. Also, pay attention to hard-nosed professional advice: academic courses, workshops, writing groups, and social circles have their place, and can be beneficial to your development. But editors and publishers are the people to whom you are trying to sell your work: what they say, ultimately, goes. When they talk, listen. When they advise, absorb. When they reject, return fire with new work.

Never stop learning. Never stop submitting. And never stop exposing yourself to new experiences. Be the loon who throws yourself off a cliff into a waterfall, who swims with sea dragons, and dances with aliens. Writers go to the dark corners in the mind of the Universe, and report back to those who were too afraid to make the journey. Always say yes, to every adventure.

 

Where does your passion for SF and Lego come from, and are they connected? 

I am, indeed, a semi-rabid AFOL (Adult Fan of Lego)! My collection currently sits above 50,000 pieces, and I exhibit annually at Bricktober, Perth’s public Lego exhibition. My love of the brick resurfaced when my kids were old enough to make the transition from Duplo to ‘real’ Lego– I went to the shops to pick them up a set, and that was the start of the addiction. It’s a way of creating something as a visual artist that activates a different part of my brain from my authorial senses – I concentrate on MOCs (My Own Creation) rather than simply building sets – and I get fired up by the problem-solving and visual challenges it presents along the way. Plus, you know, I get to build spaceships……

I can remember to the day when my love affair with SF began. For my 8th birthday I received a book called ‘Science Fiction Stories for Boys’ (It was the 70s…). I had recently discovered the Goon Show, and then this book, filled with reprints from authors such as Asimov, Harrison, Bradbury, and Aldiss, finished off the job of cracking my skull open and filling it with the weirdness necessary to separate me from my bigoted, non-aspirational, minimally-educated, working class, English upbringing. SF made me a better person. Much, much, better.

 

What sort of books do you love to read?

Funnily enough, for someone who has made his name with SF, Fantasy and horror, I don’t actually read much in those genres these days. I grew up as a huge fan, but find a lot of it rather samey in my grumpy middle age. That said, I’ve always got a massive soft spot for authors who can do something new, or twisted, such as Joe Abercrombie, Anna Tambour, Adam Browne or Lavie Tidhar.

I read a lot of true crime, biographies, and what I think of as ‘secret histories’: histories of subjects you wouldn’t necessarily think required collation, such as London’s funerary practices, or the language of pirates. I’m an enormous fan of Catharine Arnold, for example. I am an unabashed fan of history, particularly European history, and go through long periods of soaking up as much as I can on the subject. I am also a life-long fan of comic books and graphic novels- I loved the Suicide Squad and Guardians of the Galaxy before they were cool, damn it!- and read a ridiculous amount at every opportunity.

And I have an adoration for authors who do not sit comfortably within any genre, but leap from literary lily pad to lily pad as the mood and the story suits them. Authors like China Mieville, Jonathan Lethem, Chuck Palahniuk and Howard Waldrop occupy the ground I would love to inhabit, and fill me with wonder.

 

What the hell were you thinking?

It was either this or porn.