Author Interview: Q. Please tell us about your current release.
My very next release will be the third book in my Evil UnLtd series.
Evil UnLtd is essentially my answer to series like Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars and other universes where all the boldly going tends to be done by good people. Principled hero types and the like. Once upon a time it occurred to me how much fun it would be to have a band of unscrupled, self-serving villains exploring the universe. So we have a criminal enterprise, as it were, headed up by master-villain, Dexter Snide, and if they ever do save a world they try to save it for themselves. Some readers have very generously compared it to Douglas Adams - mainly I think because he's the only one famed for SF comedy! - although it has its own voice that, I think, arises from having an ensemble cast of colourful villains as its heroes.
Volume 3 is titled Evil Utd and will feature a unique blend of wicked humour, science fiction, superheroes and sporting action. Variety is the spice of life and we like to keep the recipes interesting and exciting in our Evil universe.
Q. Can you tell us about the journey that led you to writing?
Our story began a long, long time ago in a galaxy not far from here. Much of the text has scrolled so far up the screen it's barely legible any more, but I do have very clear memories of when I was about ten or eleven years old, being asked by aunts and uncles and the like that perennial question put to all children: What do you want to be when you grow up? And I answered without hesitation: a writer. I guess my head was so filled with stories and possibilities from growing up on sci-fi TV shows like Doctor Who and Star Trek and so on. And I would've been about eleven when Star Wars first burst onto the cinematic universe. I'm not all about the sci-fi, but I think it's the sort of realm where my imagination most often prefers to wander.
Eventually, after submitting dozens of novel proposals to Virgin Books and BBC Books I was lucky enough to be commissioned to write my first Doctor Who novel. And other licensed fiction commissions followed - including more Doctor Who and three novelisations for the BBC's Merlin series. So, while I wrote (and wrote and wrote) plenty in the years since the age of eleven I think it was only with that first Doctor Who book that I felt that I had arrived. But of course, the beauty of being a writer at heart is that the journey never ends.
Q. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about your current release?
Well, at the moment the manuscript has yet to go through final edits, so there could be plenty that needs changing! Fingers crossed, not too much though. I tend to be very self-critical and the manuscript doesn't get handed to an editor until I'm pretty well satisfied with it overall. It's developed fairly naturally which I always feel is good, especially for comedy - you don't want the humour to be forced, let alone the plot. And, as with the previous books in the series, the writing has fed me full of ideas for the next book, which is an encouraging sign that things are going in the right direction.
Q. What is the hardest part of writing for you?
The writing itself I rarely find hard. Although it's true to say my brain does occasionally get tired and then it becomes a challenge just to string some worthwhile sentences together. So the hardest part is remembering to switch off and step out of it for a while. Even full-on action movies require some downtime, quiet spells between the gunfights and car chases. Relaxation is a discipline. But harder than that, I find, is all the peripheral activity attached to writing as a career - the promotion and, with regard to independent publication, the production of a book. These are less a part of the craft, more aspects of the business of writing. And I can't claim to have any natural aptitude for it. In that regard, it's a bit like riding a bike. Because I never had a bicycle as a child, I was never a natural born cyclist. These days I can make myself do it, but it will probably involve a great deal of wobble and a feeling of not getting anywhere.
Q. Do you have a musical playlist you listen to while writing? If so, what kind of music?
I very often like a soundtrack to my writing. Not always, but they do say writing is a lonely pursuit and music can be a bit of company as well as an inspiration sometimes. It's great for capturing moods and spurring you on. And like moods the music I listen to will vary, depending on what I'm working on. For the current book, it's generally been something with energy and gusto and a bit of 'thump' - anything by (Canadian rock dinosaurs) Rush, for example, one of my favourite bands. While for Evil 2: From Evil With Love, there was a James Bond theme running through that book, so inevitably I resorted to a compilation of James Bond title songs. The theme to On Her Majesty's Secret Service was great for the action scenes, for instance.
Q. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Stylistically, I'd say it was my insistence on getting right inside the heads of my characters, so their perspective colours the prose. But a lot of writers do that. In terms of method, I guess it would have to be my clinging to old-fashioned instruments and materials like pen and paper. Don't get me wrong, I've embraced advanced technology like computers and word processors, but when it comes to plotting and notes, you can't beat a proper scribble. So I have a stash of journals, crammed with bits and pieces of this story and that, some of which eventually gets written up and edited on the computer. But in the meantime, my wife shakes her head in wonder at the sheer amount of storage space required for the journals when any sensible person would probably make their notes electronically and preserve everything on a nice roomy hard drive.
Q. Do you plan any subsequent books?
Absolutely. For one thing, I like to work on a variety of projects, so I have other books - children's and YA fantasy adventures, for example, in the pipeline. Also, Evil UnLtd was always conceived as an ongoing series and as I say it's just so happened that each time I sit down to write one book, ideas start buzzing around, clamouring for attention and because there's no room for all of them in a single book, they have to wait their turn and they provide fuel for the next one. Creativity is a kind of perpetual motion like that.
Q. Please tell us your latest news.
Well, it was as I was writing this latest Evil book that fans of Doctor Who - myself included - were saddened to hear of the deaths of three actresses from the series' history - Elisabeth Sladen, Caroline John and Mary Tamm - all of whom were claimed by cancer over the course of a year. And the fact is, I'd lost my own mum seven years ago this May, also to cancer. All of this weighed heavily on me and I wanted to do something. So, until May 24th this year, all royalties from the first two Evil UnLtd books (Vol 1: The Root Of All Evil and Vol 2: From Evil With Love) will be going to Cancer Research UK.
Obviously, I didn't want this to be just a short-term gesture either, so I've made the further decision that after that date I will still be donating 50% of royalties from all the Evil books (including Vol 3 and beyond!) to Cancer Research. I'm hoping it can make some small difference and on a very personal level it means something very real to me, especially as my mum never lived to see these Evil UnLtd books. I'm not sure she would have liked them, mind you, but that's another matter. In any case, she would have welcomed the thought of my books doing some good.
Q. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
The heroes have had more than their fair share of the spotlight. It's time for the villains to take centre stage.
It's Alan Rickman, not Bruce Willis, who steals the movie, Die Hard. Most actors will tell you, they love playing great villains. There has to be a reason for that...
In short, in the words of John Lennon (almost): All we are saying, is give Evil a chance.
Evil UnLtd series: The Root of All Evil (1), From Evil with Love (2), Evil UTD