I’ve been nominated by Graeme Shimmin to answer questions about my writing as part of the Blog Tour. Before I get started I’d like to make my own nominations. I had a tough time picking just two other writers, but I’ve decided to go for Zoe Lambert and James Ridgway.
James is a writer and artist. He gets fired up about sustainability, designs his own board games and has a thing about gas masks.
What are you working on?
I’m editing my new novel Canton Station. The setting is an old industrial habitat situated in Titan orbit, out near Saturn, 150 years in the future. The story features two main characters: Preston, an ex-law-enforcement guy who’s trying to leave his past behind; and Jiao, an invisible ghost who can’t remember anything about her former life. There are gods and AIs, perhaps the occasional gunfight. I’d describe the story as post-cyberpunk with a heavy dose of Chinese mythology.
How does your work differ from others in your genre?
I usually tell people that I write science fiction, but then I have to qualify this by explaining that my stories don’t include lasers, robots, spaceships or aliens, which generally leaves them rather confused. There are often ghosts. I’m mad about Chinese culture, so that features quite a bit.
If you’re looking for labels then I guess I’d describe my work as somewhere between post-cyberpunk and ‘mundane’ science fiction, but it’s also been described as ‘social’ science fiction. I also write occasional pieces of literary fiction and fantasy, though my lit-fic usually has something weird going on and my fantasy is probably more along the lines of magic realism.
Don’t worry, it doesn’t make any sense to me either!
Why do you write what you do?
I grew up reading books like Neuromancer and watching films like Blade Runner. I’m an 80s geek. Back then I had a ZX Spectrum; nowadays I work in the technology industry. I’m fascinated with the impact that technology has on our lives. For me, science fiction is a great method for exploring the what-ifs and maybes that tomorrow might bring.
I get fired up when it comes to issues around personal liberty, freedom of information and equality. These topics probably don’t feature heavily in my writing, but they’re always there in the background. I get bored watching films (and reading books) that fail the Bechdel Test. I don’t have any time whatsoever for people or media outlets with a narrow view on the world.
How does your writing process work?
Real life first. I firmly believe that for a writer to enjoy their craft and produce something that’s worth reading they need to have a full and interesting life. Writing is a long way down my list of personal priorities.
Daydreaming. Lots of it. This is an essential part of the process for me, letting my mind wander around a new world that I’m starting to build, the characters that populate that world, their back-stories and motivations. I carry a notebook around with me at all times so I can jot down my ideas. I get twitchy when I don’t have the right kind of gel pen.
Research. Probably too much! I go in for as much hands-on experience as is practically possible. I sometimes wonder if the writing is just an excuse to invest in one mad hobby after another.
The actual writing bit. I usually write first thing in the morning before I start work, sometimes again in the evening if I’m nearing completion on a piece. I don’t subscribe to the ‘write every day’ rule. Most days, throughout the year, I don’t write anything at all, but when I’m in the middle of a new piece I think about it every waking moment, I write every day, sometimes several times during the day, and it often wakes me up early in the morning. I couldn’t keep that up all the time!
A short story usually happens spontaneously. I’ll watch a film, read a book or an article, have a dream, talk to someone or see something that inspires me. I’ll jot down a few notes in my notebook and then I might get the urge to turn my scribbles into a crafted piece. A couple of days, or perhaps a week, and the first draft is done. After some cooling off, peer review and further edits, it might get sent out to a potential market.
A novel generally starts out in the same way as a short story with a spontaneous moment of inspiration, but then it’s a slower build with a lot more planning. I start out with a few chapters, stopping every now and then to carry out some research, make notes on my world-building or characters. About a third of the way in I stop to plan out the remaining chapters, the major arcs, noting down one or two lines per chapter. Then I crack on, becoming increasingly obsessed, until I hit the end and then it’s back to real life whilst I carry out my edits. Peer review, chapter by chapter, is again extremely important.
So, that’s it . . .
A peek into the strangeness that drives me to writing!
Writing probably isn’t a particularly healthy hobby but it is quite interesting and a lot of good fun. My advice to other writers would be to get out there, go for a walk, get some fresh air, book that ticket to the far-away place that you keep going on about. Learn a martial art (preferably Chinese), perhaps a second language (Mandarin / Standard Chinese is a smart move). Cook some food. I will eat almost anything, but I prefer to cook . . . well, Italian actually.