The Next Big Thing Bloghop

This blog is part of the “next big thing bloghop”. It’s a self interview format, which anyone can use. Within the self interview, we amateur authors are supposed to also tip some up and coming authors’ blogs for other people to visit.

The point of course is so one writer can raise awareness of another writer and so on. (I’ll blog separately about building community soon. This is a key component of getting writing.)

 The interview

  • What is the title of your book?

It’s full title is planetfall: All Fall Down. I’m quite particular about “planetfall” being all in lowercase, although for convenience I write it with a capital P when I advertise the book. Why am I particular? It’s both a visual aesthetic thing and a quotation thing. If you look at “Planetfall”, the word looks unbalanced. There’s that capital P and it looks really heavy over on the left, with the thin t, f and ls afterwards. If you write “planetfall” you reduce the weight of the left hand, and also get a nice symmetry with the down stroke of the p and up stroke of the ls at the end. The other reason is because “planetfall” was a word I pulled from the middle of a sentence and realised was a useful double entendre for the story series.

  • Where did the idea for the book come from?

The idea for the book came from a writing exercise I set myself in 2007. I wanted to write a first person perspective piece that was full of restrained emotion and was no longer than one side of A4. That original piece was about a Mexican man who had been a soldier at the Alamo, or some other Mexico-American conflict in the 19th century. In the original exercise he was talking to his young son about what it meant to be a man and what it meant to be a soldier.  He was also teaching his son to shave, but to leave his moustache as it was the “mark of a man”.

From there, I wondered what it would be like to be the son, and to look back on that moment. The poignancy of the following exercise intrigued me. Somehow that grew into an expansive idea about a soldier in the middle of an enormous war, and his humanity gradually breaking down.

  • What genre does your book fall under?

It’s scifi, and more specifically space opera.

  • Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I sent the book to several agencies, and had some very good feedback on it. A few wrote back and said they liked it, that it had a “big scifi feel” that was “missing from the current market”. Unfortunately this worked against it. Agents are conditioned by publishers and sellers to be risk averse. Sellers go to publishers asking for books similar to what sold well last season. Publishers go to agents looking for the next big thing that was like the last big thing. And so a market becomes risk averse.

Because planetfall is my first novel, and I essentially taught myself to write novels using it, I’m not as confident with the writing quality as maybe I should be (I certainly think my 2nd novel, Backpackers, has better writing, and planetfall book 2’s writing is better yet). I was always happy to self publish this novel, though I won’t be as happy if I end up self publishing Backpackers.

  • What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movies rendition?

The main character, Kate, is about 36 years old, with red hair. Maybe Jewel Staite, who played Kaylee in Firefly & Serenity, would be a good choice. Daoud needs to be someone with north African or Middle Eastern looks, who’s thin. I can’t think of anyone useful right now. I know I would want Chiwetel Ejiofor for the character Djembe, though.

  • How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Years. I think I finished my first draft in early 2011, which was 3.5 years after I started. I thought that was it, and it didn’t need any changes! I’d edited it as I went along, so I’d re-written, chopped out sections, included new bits and so on. But I soon learned why more experience authors talked about being on their second, third, fifth, tenth draft.

The breakthrough in having subsequent drafts was sending the manuscript to a well known scifi agent, John Jarrold. He was kind enough to write me a long email about what I’d submitted to him, even though the material wasn’t up to publication scratch, and I will forever think kindly of him for it. His feedback made me go back to the first draft and start making some improvements to meet what he said. And that made me think more and more and more…

  • Give a one-sentence synopsis of your novel

“Military Intelligence is called in to investigate the death of a scientist, but can they uncover a plot to make first contact and start a war before it’s too late?”

  • What other works would compare to your story?

I’m so out of touch with scifi that I have no idea. I spend most of my reading time on literary fiction or New Scientist. However, I would hope that people would recognise its influences, which I happily make apparent: Dan Simmons, Iain M. Banks, George Lucas, Ray Bradbury and Frank Herbert.

  • Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I had always wanted to write, and in my teens I wrote some horror short stories. I even won a school award. But I gave up. In my mid-30s I came across two thought exercises when going through some life coaching: (1) “Imagine you’re on your death bed. Who’s there, what do you want to tell them you did in life, how should they feel about your passing?” and (2) “Imagine you have to write your own obituary. What is it going to say?” As you can see, they’re very similar, and what they both have in common is making you think about your life from the end, looking back.

After thinking about those questions, I realised that one of the things I wanted to say was, “Yes, I wrote that novel I’d always wanted to write.” And that of course leads to the question, “When did I write it? When I was dying? Not possible. When I was old and infirm? Not likely. When I was bringing up kids? No time. Well, when? Ah, the best time is now.”

  • What else might pique the reader’s interest?

planetfall: All Fall Down is the start of a trilogy. The story in book 1 – that of a scientist dying, and General Kate Leland slowly discovering a plot to start a war – is a mash of cyberpunk, space opera, thriller, murder mystery and psychedelia. It features the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. The main character is female, and there is a strong female minor character who plays a much larger role later on (and I have 6 books drafted out for her which I’ll never get round to writing!) I like writing about lead female characters. I think it comes from always playing the female character in computer games. Maybe it’s a repressed form of transvestisism. Female readers are getting back to me and saying they love Kate and Sophie, the supporting character.

Book 1, All Fall Down, is really more of a prequel, as the story I originally wanted to tell starts in book 2. But I couldn’t tell the story of book 2 without setting out the background story. All Fall Down goes quite odd in parts where it’s strongly influenced by William Gibson.

  • Who is your “Next Big Thing”?

Now it’s my time to tag writers that I feel could be “The Next Big Thing”.

There are three authors I want to push, though two have no significant online presence as far as I know. (And they’ll probably never see this, either, but please remember their names.) The third has a massive presence which is also very useful for writers.

Tara Basi – he writes dark science fiction, urban fantasy and satirical radio plays. He’s been a big influence on my writing in the last year, and I was fortunate enough to edit his book “Blocks” in early 2012.

Peng Shepherd – like Tara, I met Peng on a writing course at London’s City University. For me, she’s this generation’s Haruki Murakami. She has a ‘plain’ way of writing, that’s full of atmosphere and magical realism. She’s gone to study a Master of Fine Arts in New York, and is currently editing her first novel. She’ll be on best seller lists by 2025, I guarantee it. Read one of her stories: Free Cake.

Lucy V Hay – Lucy runs the writer and scriptwriter support site, Bang2Write. It’s chockful of useful articles, and her Twitter feed (@ Bang2write) is essential for up and coming authors and scriptwriters. She also has a book out, currently in German only as far as I can tell, called Bauchentscheidung. It’s Young Adult Fiction.

I hope you enjoyed this “Next Big Thing” blog. If you’re a writer and it’s helped you, then please copy the format and put your own answers in. Drop a link in my blog reply area so that I can have a read!

As usual, good luck with your own writing projects.

astro x