Welcome to the five hundred and eighty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with science-fiction author John Trevillian. 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, John. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
John: My mother was given a Smith-Corona typewriter and she let me play on it from the time I was four. By six I’d typed my first (four-page) novel based on the adventures of a crazy professor (more than a little stolen from the Professor Branestawm books by Norman Hunter). I’d even left spaces for illustrations that I coloured in afterwards. No wonder I ended up with a career in magazine publishing.
Morgen: And since then a ‘real’ novelist. 🙂 What genre do you generally write?
John: The A-Men trilogy is dystopian science fiction, but written in a very character-focused way. I have mainly written contemporary fiction before this, but the story of Jack and his fellows just couldn’t be told anywhere other than the future.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
John: The three novels of The A-Men (The A-Men, The A-Men Return and Forever A-Men) are my first published novels. Now that the final one is out (as at March 2012), I have the task of writing a few short stories set in that universe, then looking forward to moving onto something new.
Morgen: I can understand that. However much you enjoy something it’s great to have a change (Ian Rankin moved on from Rebus after 15 books). I’m going the other way; I’ve written stand-alones and have just completed the first 51,000 words of the first in a series of crime books. 🙂 You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
John: The original novel was taken up by a literary agent, though while rewrites were taking place, the original champion of the work left and their replacement didn’t take to the novel as much. As one of the rewrites was the creation of an entire prequel book, I decided to create a fan-base and try to market myself. Being nominated for a few awards helped convince me that though these were not mainstream sci-fi novels, they did have an audience, hence the move to self-publish.
Morgen: A good plan, by the sound of it. You can have someone in your corner who doesn’t believe in what you’re writing. Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
John: Yes, all the books are available in the full range of formats – print, ebook (Kindle), audiobook and dramatised podcast.
Morgen: I’ve just been approached by a novelist for a quote to record his audiobook. I’d thought of recording mine (and another contributor, whose short story I recorded, said I should do audiobooks). Apart from tricky accents, it would be fun. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
John: The novels are written from five first-person viewpoints, and I have a great love for each of these main characters. Choosing one would be like asking a mother to chose her favourite child.
Morgen: I’ve had a few authors say that.
John: In the third book I introduce a blind psychic detective, who was amazing fun to write. Forced into it, I’d pick him. As for actors: I recently did this very thing on Facebook. Here’s what I decided:
The A-Men movie cast (imaginary casting for the unwritten screenplay of The A-Men novel):
The Nowhereman (leading man): Tom Hardy
Sister Midnight (leading lady): Zoë Saldana
Pure (supporting role): Ellen Page (before her radical BurgerQueen makeover)
Pure (supporting role): Scarlett Johansson (after BurgerQueen makeover)
D’Alessandro (supporting role): Edward Norton
23rdxenturyboy (supporting role): Josh Hutcherson
John: As I work in a creative agency, I have close ties with some brilliant graphic designers and photographers. Early on I knew I wanted the faces of the main characters on the three covers, and as the first ideas from the publisher were of gangs of youths, I decided to get very involved with the final cover design images. The next stage was linking the elements and colours to the different titles – fire for book one, then ice, and the forest for the final novel – and all the covers were completed for the first launch – as we needed that consistency. Covers are very important. In the case of these three books, everyone picks up the third book first, which if you see it is not surprising!
Morgen: It’s a tough choice but I think the third is my favourite too – it’s clearer, more simple? What are you working on at the moment / next?
John: During the writing of the novels, there were various storylines that got cut for length and pacing, and also I want to write some short stories set in the same universe to send to the scifi publications. I have five tales pencilled out, covering different characters before, between and after the novels’ timeline. After that, who knows…
Morgen: 🙂 Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
John: I have a full-time job and an on-going interior design project called Talliston (http://www.talliston.com), the only time I have to write is Sundays — and during my commute (which I actually use for editing rather than new writing).
Morgen: Easier to physically cross out than write, perhaps. I find the same when walking my dog. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
John: I am a big on plotting – and also writing the end (or at least knowing it, including the last line) from the beginning.
Morgen: You’re in a minority but could be because you have so little time to write that it’s best that way. Most writers I’ve spoken to are ‘pansters’, or at least if they do plot they usually find the story itself then going off at a tangent. You have some great-sounding characters, do you have a method for creating them, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
John: I am a great collage writer. By this I mean taking scraps of people I know, fictional characters or just parts of me and painting out the character. Names are extremely important to me, and I spend longer on those than anything else. I have also been known to change character names several times until I find one that truly fits the persona. My favourite was Arken Ellis Winterman, which I feel, even if you know nothing about him or his role in the story, when you hear that name it speaks volumes.
Morgen: It’s a grand name; very solid. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
John: I do a lot of editing, but try to hold off on that until I get portion of the chapter or short story done. I spend time on the structure first, then write within that. This keeps me on track story-wise, but still allows me to explore each room within the whole house of the tale I’m telling.
Morgen: I’d always recommend leaving the editing for a while because then the writing feels fresher when you come back to it and you’re more detached from it. Do you have to do much research?
John: People assume for science fiction there’s little research as everything is ‘all made up’, but I spend a lot of time getting the right ‘look and feel’ for the future world. I think the accepted term is ‘world building’, but for me is more about crafting the normal and the weird into the same storyline and making readers both accept and reject that world in equal parts. I imagine this would happen to anyone from the medieval world brought into this one: some things they would recognise, some they would deem so insane as to be unbelievable.
Morgen: As you say, even different worlds have to be feasible. What point of view do you find most to your liking?
John: The A-Men are first person, just because I wanted that intimacy and feel that you are being told a story directly from these people’s mouths. Also: the main character of Jack is a very unreliable narrator and this can only truly be shown in a first-person environment.
Morgen: I love unreliable narrators and have a t-shirt with that on the front (http://www.theliterarygiftcompany.com/unreliable-narrator-unisex-t-shirt-2133-p.asp). 🙂 Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
John: Yes. My first ‘novel’ was a 250,000 high fantasy novel that I began when I was fifteen and finally finished when I was thirty-two. Some parts are great, but mostly, it’s self-indulgent twaddle.
Morgen: Oh dear. Maybe the ‘some parts’ could turn into short stories? Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
John: Yes, lots. They don’t bother me per se. I did not ever want to be an author as a career, so publication was always a bit of an afterthought. The best way to sum this up was in a quote I found that says: “To be a writer is everything, to be known as a writer is nothing.” Wish I could find out who said that, but it does capture how I feel about writing.
Morgen: I Googled that quote and it only came up with your name. 🙂 Although I’ve been an avid reader all my life and writing on / off for eight years, I’ve only realised in the past couple of years that I want to be a writer (as a career) and whilst it would be great to ‘make it’, I’d rather do so on the quality of my writing. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
John: I spend a lot of time on marketing – blogs, Facebook, Twitter, sci fi press, direct contact with other authors and publications. Being self-published this is essential, but even my traditionally-published author friends are finding that social networking and marketing undertaken by them personally is on the increase across the industry.
Morgen: It is. I’ve only had one interviewee say that her publisher does her marketing and yet she’s active on Twitter and Facebook. It’s usually the answer to the ‘least’ part of my next question. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
John: I once said that I write the way other people watch the television; it calms me and I wish I could do a lot more of it. I am a big journal writer and so my daily writing is a combination of my work life, my blog life, my journal life and then my novel writing life. Least favourite is the constant need for marketing, emailing people and ‘pushing’ my work, but have found that meeting readers at conventions and such is actually pretty enjoyable.
Morgen: It is. I love that, and would love to be able to (afford to) go to everything that’s on. Unfortunately I have to pick and choose but it’s vital that we writers get out in the real world, especially meeting other writers; they know what we have to go through. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
John: 1. Know the ending before you begin. 2. Spend more time focussing on your characters than anything else. 3. Write what you know and, more importantly, what you love.
Morgen: You no.1 is interesting. I’ve had writers tell me (and seen interviews with authors who say) that they prefer not to know the ending because if it’s a surprise to them then it will (hopefully) be to the readers. Of course this doesn’t work for everyone, and I’m sure often leads to rewrites, so you could well be right. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
John: Hmmm, they would all have to be great conversationalists, so off the top of my head: Peter Straub, Kate Bush and Hannibal Lecter. Now, there’s a dinner party… I’d probably put on an Alice In Wonderland Mad Hatter’s tea party that ran for days.
Morgen: Can I be the fly on the wall? 🙂 Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
John: Yes, it’s from Chuck Palahniuk: “All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring.”
Morgen: Wow. Great phrase. If we are boring, of course, we run the risk of the readers putting our books down / clicking on to the home menu and choosing something else. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
John: I run a writing group called the Talliston Writers’ Circle. Details are on MeetUp at: http://www.meetup.com/Talliston-Writers-Circle
Morgen: Ah, MeetUp. I belong to a few local groups and they’re great! I’m thinking of starting a MeetUp writing group in Northampton. I run / am in four writing groups in this town but am pretty sure there are loads of other authors here who don’t go to writing groups but write. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
John: I think the electronic world will open the floodgates for an entire substrata of publishing, much the same as the indie film world. What the self-publishing fraternity need right now is a respected body who filters the 99% of awful books that this will produce. Like the 1990s when everyone thought that they could desktop publish their own magazines and be just as good as Condé Nast, digital is bringing a wave of unregulated media that has most people reeling under the crushing weight of all that choice.
Morgen: I’ve seen on several occasions (mostly on LinkedIn) authors who say they can edit their own work and put it up. Needless to say they were shot down in flames – part of the reason I set up my blog’s https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/feedback page. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Thank you, John.
I then invited John to include a synopsis of one of his books…
Jack is a man with no memory awakening in a dark and dangerous metropolis on the eve of its destruction. The only clue to his former life: a handwritten note in the pages of a book of faerie tales entitled Forevermore. Marked for death in a peace-keeping force sent to quell the riots, he finds sanctuary and survival with other renegades on the streets of Dead City. Battling to survive they form the infamous A-Men, misfits who have a unifying dream: to be special. Yet that is until their paths cross with Dr Nathaniel Glass and his mysterious experiment locked deep beneath the Phoenix Tower.
Mixing dark future, noir and dystopian genres, join The Nowhereman, Sister Midnight, Pure, D’Alessandro and the 23rdxenturyboy in this harsh and poetic twenty-second century noir fable. Yet beneath the hardboiled action is a philosophical journey of one man’s rebirth in a harsh and unforgiving world.
John Trevillian is an award-winning British author of neopunk science fiction. Fascinated by the crossover points of technology, religion and myth, Trevillian’s work is informed as much by the roles of magazine editor, technology writer and IT journalist as his training in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids and Native American Shamanism (Lakota Sioux). He also travels extensively and is founder of the Talliston interior design and art project, both attempts to realise a life full of enchantment, magic and those mysterious forces of story which move the human soul.
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