My guest this week is Europe’s answer to Michael Crichton, Andrew Ives. Originally from London and now based in France, Andrew is the author of a series of science fiction thrillers, Psinapse, Sirene, Parallax and Oblique.
Welcome, Andrew. Can you tell us about yourself in exactly one hundred words? No more and no less.
I’m from London, grew up near Cambridge and have lived abroad for ten years with spells in France, Holland and Italy. I have a mild interest in old cars and motorbikes as you might be able to tell from my books. I’m *cough* 40ish and due to a misspent youth in IT, don’t get out as much as I ought to. This tranquil haven in the Dordogne affords me plenty of time to write in between power cuts, with four pygmy goats, lots of birds and a noisy almasty to keep me company in case I ever become too prolific.
Why did you decide to become a writer?
While I was still at school, I had an idea for a story that was rather too long for a piece of homework. A few years later, I came by my first ‘proper’ word processor, WordWorth for the Amiga, and set about writing said story during those long summer holidays between school and university in 1989. That book was Psinapse which I Kindle-ised a few years ago, and is still my best-selling title.
Who are the authors who inspire you?
My tastes are rather wide and varied, but the one author that has most influenced my work is probably Jules Verne. I had always considered the broader sci-fi genre to be full of giant spaceships and crazy bug-eyed monsters from far-off worlds, but Verne’s more plausible, Earth-based, steampunk sub-genre with its predictions for technology and life in the near future – a future one might actually live to see – fascinated me more. Verne’s stories, so often very macho and lacking in female characters, always crescendo with bombastic, uplifting messages of Victorian scientific progress. Michael Crichton’s more 1970s taste for ‘science gone wrong’ plotlines rather appeals to me, so with the addition of a European setting, a female lead and some moral undercurrents, you have my chosen style and genre in a nutshell.
Tell us about your books.
I recently finished my fourth book, Oblique. People always ask me: “is it one of a series?” to which the answer is an awkward “yes and no”. All four of my books feature the same lead character, they follow a chronological order, but they can be read separately and not necessarily in that order.
Oblique is mostly set in London and the surrounding area, partly in Dublin, Milan and cyberspace, spanning the timeframe 2020-22. The world in which Karen lives is not wildly dissimilar to the present one – technology has advanced a little, London’s population has grown, unemployment, houses prices, homelessness, crime and civil unrest are the expected knock-on effects. An ‘Aztec Apocalypse’ is predicted for 22/2/22 on an ancient calendar which drives the more superstitious parts of the populace into a panic while genuine, man-made ‘life challenges’ go mostly unnoticed. My writing style is always some way from being deadly serious. If such a thing as a sci-fi satire exists, this would almost be one. As ‘high-brow’ modern films such as Inception are bristling with assault rifles, I made a point of writing a (hopefully) cerebral thriller featuring no guns and no murders. Imagine that.
What words of advice would you give to any budding writers out there?
Read. Read lots. New books, old books, newpapers, anything, but lots of it and with plenty of variety. Write what you know. You will see tips and advice from self-proclaimed ‘experts’ declaring that you can bang out a book in a week if you set your mind to it. You can’t. Well, you can but it’ll be mindless tripe. You need the groundwork. There is no elevator to success, you must take the stairs.
Describe a typical writing day for you.
Normally, the day begins full of good intentions. “I’ll just check my email, news and Facebook then get cracking.” By about noon, I’m drinking a cup of tea, have not written anything and am ‘just thinking through a few scenes that I will definitely write up this afternoon’ while Bargain Hunt passes before my vacant eyes. Around 2pm, I’ve got the laptop out, gone through all the Java, Adobe and Avast updates, found the charger, loaded up Word, typed “The night was sultry” just as my next door neighbour starts mowing or rotivating, the phone rings repeatedly and someone visits. By about 5pm, I’ve usually written a line or two that I’m not particularly happy with, then at around 11pm, I actually get 600 words down, quite different to what I intended that lunch time.
I usually write a whole chapter, or at least a few segments, edit it until it seems decent, read it again on the Kindle, find and fix about a dozen things wrong with it, then sent it off to my reader friends. At the end of the book, I go over the whole thing a few more times on the Kindle, add a few explanatory hyperlinks, maybe notes, pictures or music links, but I normally just rearrange scene order. I might include an extra line or two, but I don’t generally rewrite much.
Social media seems to be playing a big part in the success of books these days. What are your thoughts on this and how active are you on various sites?
I fear this is all too true. I have a sparse Facebook page, I don’t have a blog, I don’t have a Twitter account. I personally dislike seeing spammy posts on Facebook every day about “I’ve got a new book out. It’s like totally earth-shattering and only $2.99 today, tomorrow and every day, so get it while it’s hot.” in a dozen groups or “I haz wroted 20,000 words b4 breakfast, amn’t I amzazing? Lol” so I will never do that either. ‘Connecting’ with your audience with the occasional question such as: “What did you like best about character X?” is ok, but fearing your audience might stray after a while means you start asking “what’s your favourite shade of green?” and things take a turn for the spammy again. I imagine Twitter is even more mindless, so I keep away. I wonder how Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy or Oscar Wilde would’ve fared in today’s Twittersphere? I suspect they would’ve gone unnoticed behind ‘noisy’ authors who retweet a lot of Lolcatz pictures and commentate on breaking news from Heat magazine fifty times a day on their phones. How witty can anyone repeatedly be in 140 characters or less?
Every writer must dream of seeing the big screen version of their novel. Who would you like to see playing your lead characters?
I would prefer unknowns to play all the roles in all my stories in a new wave of Euro neo-realism, but anyway… In Oblique, Karen is aged 26-28 so, as I said elsewhere “perhaps Naomi Watts or Evan Rachel Wood ideal for the Hollywood version at different ages.” I pictured her unduly narcissistic boyfriend, Nathan, as a sort of smarmier version of Robbie Williams who could therefore be played by any slimy, young London estate agent.
Declan could be played well by Jonathan Rhys Meyers maybe, while Trofimena and Chelsea could be the first two ‘valley girls’ that audition. There’s a dull auctioneer on Bargain Hunt who would be ideal as Brian. Homeless art teacher, Deirdre, would be played by someone a bit like Jan Leeming and her restaurauteur friend, Nikos, would be perfectly personified by the bloke who runs my local Wimpy. An eclectic bunch.
If you could find out the answer to one of life’s mysteries, which one would you choose?
Although I would be very interested to find out whether we are alone in the universe, how ancient peoples made the Nazca lines, how they welded rocks to make ancient temples, whether Bigfoot exists, ghosts and all that other X-Files phooey you see on the History Channel, the one thing that really puzzles me is why do computers become worse as they become better? After thirty or so years, home computers should be a breeze to use by everyone, and no more difficult than a toaster or record player. I’ve heard Frederick Forsyth still uses an old typewriter and he probably gets a lot more done than I do.
Share a personal fact that no one would ever guess about you.
I was accepted into my first school about six months later than the other kids because I was deemed too backward for being unable to say “yellow” in the interview. If I really concentrate, I can say it now, on a good day. Maybe even twice. It amuses my mum to remind of this foible whenever I get too flash.
What would you do in life if you knew you couldn’t fail?
I don’t know what you call it, but you know when you jump out of a plane on a surfboard and surf for miles across the sky like the Silver Surfer before you open your parachute? That.
Share one quote, or saying, that keeps you going in life.
An enigmatic one for you that I’ve remembered since an Encarta CD came with my first PC – “Wie goed doet goed ontmoet.” I like to believe it holds true.
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