Interview with Andrew Ives, author of Oblique

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.

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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.

To find out more about Andrew, please follow the links below.



Interview with Timothy Hurley, author of Shortstack

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My second interview is with the very funny US based writer, Timothy Hurley, author of Shortstack, a collection of humorous short stories.

Take it away, Tim.

Can you tell us about yourself in 100 words? No more and no less.

I grew up on and near navy bases around the country, influenced by my parents’ Midwest roots. I found writing stories and essays to be my choice early on. The short fiction of Twain, Poe, Hemingway and science fiction writers became my guides. My medical career slowed my writing, while I moved about for training and work: San Francisco, Boston, Mayo Clinic. Upon retirement I trained at Gotham Writers Workshop and began writing for publication. The more humorous of these I collected into my first book, Shortstack. My works-in-progress, a second collection and a novella are due out in 2014.

Tell us about your books.

My first book is a collection of humor short stories written in 2012 and 2013. They range from absurdist satire to touching personal essays. Other stories have been published in anthologies: science fiction (“Dead Planet Scrolls”), gothic horror (“Poe’s Black Cats”), and literary magazines (“Waiting on Alma”). My collection, Shortstack, and several of my short stories are available on Amazon.

And what about the authors who inspire you?

Topping the list of master story tellers for me is Mark Twain for his wit and plotting. I very early latched onto O. Henry stories for the same reason. Hemingway’s sparse-word styling had a big impact on me since high school. More recent authors I admire are Dorothy Parker for biting wit,and Joseph Mitchell for characterization, a deceased New York writer who deserves increased recognition.

What are you working on at the moment?

My second collection of short stories, due out in late 2014, will be some of my more serious-minded works and exhibit my range of genre from literary to horror to science fiction. I will also include some creative nonfiction personal essays. One of my short stories decided to turn itself into a novella, Johnny Don’t March, which I hope to have finished by early 2015. I am also working on two memoirs. The first, Thirty Hours with My Father, is the story of my listening to thirty hours of self-recorded autobiography, gifted to me before his death. The other is my remembrance of medical school years.

What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?

I have been writing seriously since 2012, which isn’t a very long career, particularly at my age (70). The highlight has been publication of my first story in an online magazine and then my collection of humor stories in eBook and print-book. When that happened I felt like writing was really my second career, and I was on my way to being more than a hobby writer.

Do you have any words of advice for the budding writers out there?

The brevity of my writing career doesn’t stop me from giving advice. Routine advice is to keep writing, write everyday and read good authors as much as you write. I would add the importance of formal training in creative writing; learn the craft through classes, online study, reading books on writing. Books on screenwriting have helped my fiction writing. The other surprise for me was how slow the writing process is. A rough draft is usually about 20% of the effort and can take a few weeks. But the real writing is the 80% of the work in revision. That’s when the story really reveals itself. By the time one of my stories is ready for publication, it can be weeks or months, and I will have read and revised it twenty or more times.

Describe a typical writing day for you.

I commonly awaken between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. with story stuff rolling in my head. Those early mornings are best for rough draft writing, and I typically will put in two or three hours. When my brain says it’s had enough, I’ll take a walk with my iPod and run errands. Music speaks to my creative self, but not while I’m actually writing, when I like quiet. Paradoxically I can become absorbed in the writing in a coffee house; I have accomplished some good writing there when I start feeling house-bound in my small New York apartment. I also go to the gorgeous main reading room at the New York Public Library. Afternoons are not productive times for rough drafts for me, although I can do good revision work then. The final polishing for grammar and word choice, I seem to be able to do at anytime.

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 know this is the conventional wisdom, and I do participate daily on Google Plus, Facebook, and Twitter. I think this is a good way to reach fellow writers, and I’ve made a number of friends online. I’m less convinced this is a good way to reach the general reading public.

The world is ending and you are about to be blasted off into space – Bruce Willis style – to try and save mankind. You are allowed to take two people with you. Who do you choose?

Bruce Willis and I are too old to save much of anything. Jason Bourne is probably too busy. Yoda would be good at giving advice but not flying the ship. I’ll bet Beevis and Butthead could save the world.

If you could find out the answer to one of life’s mysteries, which one would you choose?

I’d like to know how this Time-Space Continuum thing works. Also Carl Sagan never explained String Theory so I could understand it.

Share a personal fact that no one would ever guess about you.

No one, until now, knew I grow tomato vines twelve feet long, that I can flip my tongue all the way over, or that I make a killer cappuccino.

You are on death row and it’s your final supper. What do you choose?

Definitely I want something that takes the chef a long time to prepare—like those thousand year old Chinese eggs they bury in the ground. And then I’d add something that takes a very long time for me to eat and has many courses. Between courses I’d snack on New York pizza and Indian curry.

What would you do in life if you knew you couldn’t fail?

You mean like climb Mount Everest, or cure cancer, or publish my book? I already know I can’t fail, no matter what I do. My success, however, varies widely.

Describe the most terrifying situation you have ever been in?

Once I was in a restaurant that ran out of spaghetti carbonara. But that terror didn’t last. I substituted tortellini. Walking up the aisle at my wedding was pretty frightening. Oh, wait. The bride walks up the aisle. Hmmm, it could have been the time I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge at its fiftieth anniversary. But that wasn’t scary until later when I learned that the loud clanking noise we heard in the middle was when the bridge nearly collapsed.

Share one quote, or saying, that keeps you going in life.

I love quotes so I’ll share several of my favorites. Mark Twain: “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” “When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”  Elbert Hubbard (no relation to L. Ron): “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” Timothy Hurley: “Never run for an elevator. It looks needy.”

What would be the perfect day for you?

Two eggs over medium with dry rye toast and Red Rose tea, and the New York Times with headlines saying no one shot anyone anywhere in the world, and the haves were overcome with the urge to share with the have-nots.

And the cliché question, four guests at your dinner party (dead or alive), who do you choose?

I assume that you don’t mean I’m dead or alive and that the deceased are alive at least during the dinner party. I wouldn’t invite Papa Hemingway, who insists on being the center of attention. I’d love to have Poe if he avoided being morose. I can’t think of a single politician to invite. It goes without saying that Mark Twain would come and I’d place him at the head of the table. I’d consider Ghandi or Mother Teresa, but I’d be afraid they would just bore us with advice to be nice. And, of course, I’d bring my best friend, my wife, so we could talk about the guests while we walk home.