Welcome to the one hundred and seventy-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with Tony Thorne MBE, an “elderly young writer of speculative fiction”. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Tony. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Tony: I am an Englishman, born 85 years ago in London and technically educated there. However, I now live in Austria; but in the winter, in the warmer Canary Island of Tenerife. I originally qualified as a Chartered Design Engineer and subsequently created a well-known British company specialising in Applied Physics products. For developments in the field of low temperature (cryo)surgery instruments, and very high temperature (carbon fibre) processing furnaces, the Queen awarded me an MBE (Member of the British Empire).
Earlier in life I also wrote and sold some science-fiction and humorous stories, was an active SF Fan, and a spare time lecturer for the British Interplanetary Society. Since then I’ve written and published poetry, plus papers and articles for several technical publications, and held a few patents. After many subsequent business adventures, including the development of AI computer software for business applications, and animated computer graphics set to music. The last time I retired was in 2003 when I started writing again, and I now have a completed novel on file and over 100 short stories published in various collections.
Morgen: Wow, that’s some going. 🙂 You mentioned SF and short stories, what genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Tony: I write mostly quirky speculative stories, tall tales in the categories SF, Fantasy and Macabre. However, I have also written a couple of detective stories, some satire, a performance poetry collection, and a “How to…” book.
Morgen: Something for everyone pretty much. 🙂 Apart from the 100 shorts, what have you had published to-date?
Tony: Nineteen books so far, but over half of them myself now. The revolution has arrived..!
Morgen: Wow. I hope I’m as sprightly when I’m an octogenarian. Have you ever seen a member of the public (whom you don’t know!) reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Tony: Back in 1954 I went into a bookshop and saw there someone reading THE BRITISH SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE, which contained my first published story, TIMELY ENCOUNTER. I can still recall the thrill of that moment. Then there was this unusual incident back in 2007 when I was at the EUROCON in Copenhagen (see photos).
Morgen: I’d have been so tempted to say “I’m in there!”. I did tell the cashier when I bought a magazine that I had a story in it but he was very non-plussed… burst my bubble, I can tell you… but then the enthusiasm from family made up for it. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Tony: Most of it nowadays, with my website and posters, although I do also have four independent publishers pushing things for me.
Morgen: Apart from your publishing success, have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help?
Tony: Yes, they are very useful for promotional work. e.g. I came third in the American Mid-Atlantic Horror Professionals contest in 2005 with my macabre tale, SHAPESHIFT. I came first in the New York ‘Best Read on the Beach’ Contest in 2009, with the first volume of my TENERIFE TALL TALES trilogy.
Morgen: Yay! Do you write under a pseudonym? Do you think it makes a difference?
Tony: No, I use my own name, shortening the Anthony to Tony. I guess if your name happened to be something like Cuthbert Catastrophe you’d need one.
Morgen: Oh I don’t know, that would make people remember you – maybe you could use it for your humour writing. 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Tony: Harry Harrison, that legendary American writer, who wrote the introduction to my first TENERIFE TALES volume, insisted I should find one, essential he said … but I’m still looking, when I get the time.
Morgen: It sounds like you’re doing pretty well already. Are your books available as eBooks?
Tony: Yes they are, all of them now.
Morgen: What is your experience of that process?
Tony: Fascinating, I’m sure it will be the main way to go in future.
Morgen: I do hope so because that’s where I’m headed. 🙂 Do you read eBooks?:
Tony: Yes I do, and I am the proud owner of a Kindle.
Morgen: 🙂 My mum’s just turned 80 and she doesn’t have a mobile or computer but then she has time for her gardening etc. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Tony: The first full-length book I had accepted, was my satirical semi-autobiography, How to be a Top Executive, back in the 70’s, which was exhilarating. Then in 2005 an American Indie Publisher took the first volume of my TENERIFE TALES, SF and Fantasy items. Recently, the publishers, BooksToGoNow, accepted two of my longer stories and that was nice..!
Morgen: Have you had any rejections?
Tony: Often..! It often happens with short stories, nowadays. It’s saturation time… more writers than readers.
Morgen: Doing these interviews has made me realise how many but I’m sure we just have to keep going… as long as we love it. How do you deal with the rejections you receive?
Tony: I read the item again to try and see why, then shrug, make any improvements and try again elsewhere.
Morgen: ‘Shrug’, I like that. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Tony: Editing some of my earlier items, and thinking about a sequel to my novel.
Morgen: Oh great, sequels are SO popular. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Tony: Most days I write something, from perhaps as few as 300 to around 3000 words max.
Morgen: 300 words a day is over 100,000 words a year; a healthy novel or two novellas… two NaNoWriMo novels in fact. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Tony: Yes, I have experienced it… but I just wait till it goes away. It always does.
Morgen: It does for me too. 🙂 A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Tony: No problem. I read all the scientific news, and then speculate..! I start a sentence and the rest comes. I add in things I recall from my long experience of life and there you are..!
Morgen: Sentence starts are one of the exercises we do in our Monday night workshops and whilst they’re one of the easiest for me, one of the other writers (hi, Denny) loathes them… she literally groans when I say “right, we’re going to do Denny’s favourite now.” 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Tony: Interesting question, I rarely plot up front. Ideas really do evolve and run away with me. I often get my characters into a real mess, before seeing how to rescue them…or otherwise if it’s a macabre tale.
Morgen: Ooh I’m all in favour of macabre. 🙂 Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Tony: No method, and I don’t worry about their names very much. The things I get them to say are the most important thing to me.
Morgen: Good plan. Dialogue is so important; the fine line between too realistic (er, um, ah) and nothing but complete sentences. Do you write non-fiction? If so, how do you decide what to write about?
Tony: A particular experience will often get me going with a short item. Like a recent adventurous train trip I had from Vienna to Zürich… or back in the army, (yes, the army) when as a duty boat coxswain, I got shipwrecked once… and taken for a ghost!
Morgen: Oh wow… my brother lives in Zürich, wonderful city. 🙂 Do you write poetry? If so, do you write to form or free verse?
Morgen: What would you say is the difference between a piece of prose and a prose poem?
Tony: A prose poem must flow and chime… without any rhyme..!
Morgen: Why do you think poetry is so popular and yet so poorly paid?
Tony: Nowadays perhaps everyone thinks they can do it… so they don’t need to buy it.
Morgen: You mentioned earlier that you write short stories, apart from the word count, what do you see as the differences between them and novels and why do you think they’re so difficult to get published?
Tony: That’s another fascinating, but difficult, question. Good short stories are not easy to write, and there’s more money for the publisher in a big fat novel. As to collections, they are harder to promote, you can’t have a coherent synopsis for a start.
Morgen: True. I like reading novels when I have time (especially if it’s an author I’m interviewing and I happen to already have their book) but short stories / novellas are where my heart lies. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Tony: I write an end of the week diary which I eMail to my relatives in different countries. There’s always something happening to comment upon, and it might make a very long book one day.
Morgen: Blogs have been turned into book… as long as you think someone will be interested, why not? Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Tony: It depends on what it is. An editor, when I use one.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Tony: Now I do, and I have definitely improved my writing over the years… but I still make mistakes when an idea runs away with me.
Morgen: I love it when they do. 🙂 How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Tony: There’s always something to research, and the Internet makes it easy nowadays. Yes, I often have feedback, mostly good I’m glad to say; and not only from friends and relatives.
Morgen: Yay. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Tony: No idea really… nothing special. I just get on with it… when I can.
Morgen: I know that feeling. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Tony: I use a lightweight, Neo keyboard, Word-processor and then download the work later to my desktop computer.
Morgen: Then most of us are lightweights. 🙂 Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Tony: I become oblivious to my surroundings, but the telephone occasionally is a pest.
Morgen: That’s perhaps why some writers write early / late, when people think they’re asleep (I’m in the ‘early’ camp). What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Tony: Mostly third person, but often first. I would never use second, I just do not like it.
Morgen: A lot of people don’t. I love it but then I’m strange. 🙂 Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Tony: Yes, definitely in my longer items, but only where I believe they will work to enhance the story.
Morgen: Absolutely right. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Tony: Yes I do. Especially some tales I wrote when a lot younger for example. I like to look after them.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Tony: An acceptance… obviously is the best. Some of the promotional side is a chore of course, and I do resent the time it takes, especially eMails and tatty forum chat. Far more time taken than the actual writing nowadays.
Morgen: Sadly so for most of us I think. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Tony: To be sincerely told by editors, and some critics, that I’m good at it. I’ve had some wonderful accolades.
Morgen: You have. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Tony: Never give up… whatever.
Morgen: That’s my philosophy. What do you like to read?
Tony: Science Fiction every time. Harry Harrison, Stephen Baxter, Larry Niven, and most of the earlier writers. I have a large collection of their work.
Morgen: I dated a chap for 4+ years in my (our) 20s and he was an avid Pournelle, Niven, HH reader – if I pointed to a book he could tell me the characters’ names, setting, plot; that’s more than I can do with some of my own writing. 🙂 Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Tony: Yes, one of my own, from my HOW TO book… “In this life there are only a few ways of doing something right, but millions of ways of making mistakes. This is why things go wrong most of the time.”
Morgen: But hopefully we learn from them. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Tony: I read a lot, watch television news, or a good film… and I like going to the theatre when I can. I still tell jokes at parties or give them a comedy, performance poetry, routine.
Morgen: You do come across as a funny chap (in the nicest possible sense!). 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Tony: Linkedin is excellent of course, apart from the unnecessary tatty chat waffle.
Morgen: Isn’t it great. I skim through the waffle emails that come in and am selective about what I reply to (some I really can’t resist) or else I’d spend too long getting involved but it’s great to see how passionate they all are. You said at the beginning of this interview that you live in Austria in the summer and Tenerife in the winter, do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Tony: Both places are too distant from where I could far more efficiently promote my output. So I use the Internet..!!!
Morgen: Isn’t it great that we can do that – I love being a writer in this era. You mentioned LinkedIn, are you on any other forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Tony: Lots of them, and some are very useful, but others take up far too much time.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Tony: On my website… www.tonythorne.com… but if you just enter ‘Tony Thorne MBE’ in any Search engine, quite a lot of stuff will appear. If you miss off the MBE you’ll get loads about all the other Thornes too..!
Morgen: The same with me and MorgAn Baileys.
Tony: I’m currently offering a free second eBook to anyone who orders their first one from Amazon, and just lets me know via the Contact Me form on my website. They can choose any title that is the same price as their first one..!
Morgen: That’s very generous of you, thank you Tony. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Tony: Not at all sure. Good, if you are good and never give up, or commit a highly-publicised dastardly crime … otherwise not a lot will happen, because more and more people are doing it..
Morgen: They are which is why we have to network. Apart from it being fun there’s so much competition that we just have to keep our heads above the parapet. 🙂 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Tony: I hope not..!
Morgen: 🙂 Is there a question you’d like to ask me?
Tony: What motivates you Morgen to undertake all this, clearly time consuming, admirable interviewing work, for which I for one am most appreciative and grateful?
Morgen: Oh you’re so welcome. 🙂 I really enjoy it. I started this blog (late March 2011) because I’d heard it was one of the best ways to say “hello, I’m here!” and wanted to put things on it regularly. Whilst I have plenty of content from all the information I give my writing group (which ends up on the ‘Useful info.’ and ‘Links’ pages) I wanted to do more. I was invited to do a Q&A with Who Hub and then with Teresa Morrow (links to those are on my Morgen with an E / My collaborations pages) and enjoyed them so much that I thought “I can do this on my blog” and started them mid-June this year… the rest as they say is history. I thought I may get half a dozen people saying “yes” but now have over 170 posted with another 40+ scheduled and over 100 completed questionnaires awaited so I can’t see me running out any time soon… I hope not anyway. 🙂
Apart from ‘meeting’ some wonderful people (many of whom I’ve stayed in touch with via email, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter) – and I’m so grateful to each and everyone for taking the time to do this – it’s also made me realise how many people write, and I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface; a little scary when my eBooks are going to be ‘competing’ with theirs. Of course as my blog builds so does my readership so it also serves as a marketing tool and there’s little doubt that this will have an effect on my sales but if I only end up selling one, it’ll still all have been worth it because it’s not about the money for me (although if I become Amanda Hocking MkII I won’t complain!) it’s all because I love doing it and that’s all any writer can ask. 🙂 Well, thank you Tony, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you.
I then invited Tony to include an extract of his writing and he left me with “a couple of parting poems”…
When your child
asks difficult questions
shows curiosity and interest
in life and all its problems
Isn’t satisfied with your answers
especially the evasive kind
Looks at you
as though you’re mentally deficient
or inadequately educated
don’t feel frustrated
or display intolerant emotions
and never resort to violence
Just be patient and understanding
You might have
produced a genius
or at the very least
an average child
with a normal healthy intelligence
On the other hand
maybe it’s become apparent
that your parents didn’t
Morgen: I love that. 🙂
Let`s cheer for Youth
when it disagrees
with every way
of life it sees
This must be good
for our success
How else would we
But it should know
what we forgot
That if we change
the world or not
youth too must age
and come to see
that youth again
will not agree
And it in turn
we will find these antics
Tony Thorne, a professional Design Engineer, created a research and development company in Kent, specialising in 30000C graphite furnaces for carbon fibre processing liquefied helium gas pipelines, nuclear protection equipment and low temperature surgery instrumentation. For this he was awarded an MBE by the Queen. Later, he became CEO of an American Company specialising in microbiological analysis instrumentation and computer related products. Based first in Switzerland, and later in Guernsey, he built up a group of related marketing and manufacturing companies and agencies, all over Europe.
Now retired, he writes SF and Macabre fiction and has published twelve collections of stories, including the award winning TENERIFE TALL TALES Trilogy, ROBOTS INCLUDED, MACABRE TALES, and TALL SF TALES FOR TEENAGERS, all now available as ebooks or paperbacks via the Internet and various publishers, including AMAZON, and WH Smith. His first novel POINTS OF VIEW is awaiting a traditional publisher.
Update July 2012: My first novel, POINTS OF VIEW, is about a blind young Londoner who is fitted out with new nanotronic eyes, that have superhuman abilities, enough to get him appointed as an assistant to a secret agent. It will be published on the 1st August by ETERNAL PRESS, and later this year, I have three novelettes coming out from BOOKS TO GO NOW, in one volume entitled THREE KINDS OF CULTURE SHOCK.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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