Welcome to the six hundred and seventy-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with science fiction / fantasy writer Peter F Hamilton. 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, Peter. Thank you for joining me today. Please tell us how you came to be a writer.
Peter: Almost by accident. It was one of those thoughts in the back of my head that I’d like to give it a try one day. So when I was 27 I did just that. It took another three years to get published, though.
Morgen: You clearly enjoyed writing enough though to persevere. There’s a Wikipedia page about you (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_F._Hamilton), which says you’re best known for writing ‘space opera’, could you please explain that genre.
Peter: Space Opera tends to be about huge conflicts in the far future, which an accurate enough description. I don’t like the idea of trying to classify everything in the genre, though.
Morgen: Me neither; I write a bit of (almost) everything. Have you considered other genres, perhaps under a pseudonym?
Peter: I’ve just finished writing three children’s fantasy books, and they’ll be published under my name.
Morgen: It is hard enough getting established in one name so I don’t blame you. You have had 18 novels, a novella and over 20 short stories published to-date, do you have any favourites or your books / stories or characters? If any of them were made into a film, which actors would you choose?
Peter: The favourite is always the current one. If any of the Commonwealth universe books were filmed, I think Grace Parks would make a great Paula Myo.
Morgen: I’d not heard of Grace so Googled her (thank you Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Park_(actress)) but then I’ve not seen the programmes she’s been in, which doesn’t help. You’ve written series and standalones, do you write any of the series books to be read as standalones?
Peter: My trilogies are effectively one story that has to be split into three volumes from practical reasons. I don’t think it’s a good idea to read the second without reading the first – that’s also why none of them have ‘what happened before’ sections at the start.
Morgen: I know it’s not the same but I never used to read prologues until I was involved in a prologue / epilogue debate so read the prologue of the next book I started and it did make the book feel more complete. Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Peter: I think most of them are available in ebook format. And my UK publisher (Tor / Macmillan) has them as DRM free, which was a great step forward. I do have a Kindle, but my reading is split 50 50 with paper and ebooks right now.
Morgen: Very few of the authors I’ve interviewed have said they only read eBooks and the split for most is about the same as yours. There’s an announcement on your website that your book ‘Great North Road’ (which one of your website guests has said “blends sci-fi with crime, horror, doomed romance, and a bit of political / action thriller”) is available as an audiobook on Audible. Were you involved in that at all?
Peter: Several of my books are on Audible. Apart from helping with pronunciation (where I can) my involvement is minimal.
Morgen: You have various fan sites dedicated to you / your writing (some listed on your http://www.peterfhamilton.co.uk/index.php?page=Links page), are you involved in them at all?
Peter: They’re run by fans, which is very kind of them to spend so much time looking after them. I help to a small degree.
Morgen: They clearly enjoy doing that. Authors can be quite easily anonymous. Have you ever been recognised when you’re not at a literary event?
Peter: Thankfully not.
Morgen: <laughs> Have you ever been tempted to self-publish anything you’ve written that’s not yet been traditionally published?
Peter: That day might well come. There are some ideas for books that aren’t quite SF that I’d like to get out there. The trouble is finding the time to write them.
Morgen: That’s the trouble with being an author these days; there are so many aspects to life that means we never have enough time for the actual writing. You were at the London Expo Comic Con in October 2012, how important are live events to you as an author?
Peter: I enjoy meeting readers at conventions. I do use Facebook but a face to face (or interview like this) is more is more personal.
Morgen: I’m delighted to accepted my invitation, and of course I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. The next three questions are actually from one of your readers, Kevin Machin, (a writing friend who asked me to invite you actually). Thank you, Kevin…
Kevin: In your Confederation and Commonwealth sagas, for example, how do you keep track of the huge casts of characters? Do you ever get them mixed up between the different universes?
Peter: Not between universes – not yet anyway. I have extensive notes and chapter outlines which prevents me from mixing them up, and if I do the copy editor usually saves me.
Kevin: When creating a multi-volume story, do you plan the entire thing out first, or is it more of a write-by-the-seat-of-the-pants thing?
Peter: I have to have it planned out. I spend months developing the worlds and characters before actually starting the book.
Kevin: What would be your number one piece of advice for a wannabe SF writer?
Peter: Develop your idea as much as you can, you have to know what you’re going to say. And don’t try to write what you think other people want, this is your book.
Morgen: Absolutely. Thank you, Peter. Artwork for your genre is famously stunning, how do the artists that you work with translate your writing to graphic art?
Peter: I have no artistic ability of my own whatsoever. So I usually provide them with a section which I think will make a good visual, then answer questions about small details. After that I stand back and admire what they produce.
Morgen: ‘Admire’ for sure. You have different cover artists for different countries (UK, France, US etc), is there a reason for this?
Peter: Different publishers. It’s that simple.
Morgen: Do you choose the titles of your books? How important do you think they are?
Peter: The titles are all my own. They’re important, but not critical.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Peter: I’m doing the editing on the children’s books, and finishing the notes for The Abyss Beyond Dreams, which is book one (of two) of the Fallers – set in the Commonwealth universe.
Morgen: I’m sure Kevin will be looking forward to that one when he reads this interview. You mentioned one of your characters, Paula Myo, earlier – do you have a method for creating your characters?
Peter: Not a conscious one, they develop in tandem with the plot.
Morgen: You’ve said that you’re currently editing your children’s books – do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Peter: I revise on a daily basis. But I always need editing.
Morgen: I think every author does, although I would imagine it must get easier having so many books under your proverbial belt. Do you have to do much research?
Peter: If there’s a technology or idea which features heavily in a book, I’ll research as much as I can. The trick is in knowing about the subject without letting those details flood the book, the reader doesn’t need to know the tiniest components of everything.
Morgen: They don’t and I’ve heard some say that they’ve read books where it feels as if the author has “shown off” with all the superfluous detail they’ve included. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Peter: I prefer third, and all my books have been written in that so far. Some shorts have been in first person. I’ve never tried second, because none of the stories have required it, yet.
Morgen: As a fan of second person, I’m delighted to hear “yet”. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Peter: A lot of the old short stories are now are safely buried. I don’t think there’s anything there that will ever be resurrected.
Morgen: What a shame. Although “safely buried” does sound as if it’s the right thing. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Peter: Not recently, thankfully. I do have the obligatory drawer-full of rejection slips from when I was beginning. When you get one, you learn what you can from it and move on.
Morgen: It’s the best way to approach them. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Peter: I have had the same agent for twenty years. I wouldn’t be without one, but I know some authors are perfectly happy to go it alone.
Morgen: We are, although I’d never say never. 🙂 As well as your website (http://www.peterfhamilton.co.uk), you have a Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/PeterFHamilton) and you’re on Twitter (https://twitter.com/PeterFHamilton1). Do you have to do much of the marketing for your published works or indeed for yourselves as a ‘brand’?
Peter: The twitter account was set up by someone to feed from my facebook page, (which is apparently bad form) I don’t tweet myself. I try and post something every couple of weeks or so, but I don’t blog. Promotional tours are an accepted part of being an author. It sounds glamorous travelling round from city to city, but trust me, it’s not.
Morgen: I rarely travel but in the past couple of weeks I’ve been to Scotland (crime writing workshop) and London twice (doing a talk on blogging then as a guest on one of Brendan Foley’s seminars (journalism, it was fantastic)) and, although I had a great time, that’s enough for me for a while. You have a new (US) trailer for Great North Road (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrOv7qXog6I). How important do you think trailers are?
Peter: That’s the first one a publisher has done for me, and it’s very cool. How effective? I’ve no idea. Time will tell.
Morgen: It is a great trailer. Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Peter: The classics, Clarke, Asimov, Niven, May. Everything that came out in the 70’s and early 80’s. I was inspired rather than influenced, I’d say.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Peter: Sitting down for years at a time writing one project can be a bit of a slog by the end. But I work from home and get to see more of the kids than a lot of dads, so it’s hardly something to moan about.
Morgen: I’ve been home-based (no day job) for just over a year and it’s fantastic. I have to rent out two of my bedrooms to pay the bills but it’s definitely a fair exchange. If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Peter: The day I first met my wife.
Morgen: Ahh… Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Peter: Niven’s: “Think of it as evolution in action.” It’s one of those I wish I’d said myself.
Morgen: I love it. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Peter: Surfing is my mid-life crisis. And my daughter is already better than me.
Morgen: <laughs> Children are usually miles ahead in terms of technology. I get away with it because I don’t have any, although my dog thinks he’s a child so I’ve learned not to let him anywhere near my gadgets. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Peter: We’re all waiting to see where ebooks go. Personally I hope we don’t wind up with author playlists bundled with the content. I don’t think mine would impress anybody.
Morgen: Oh dear. I’m sure there are plenty of readers who would disagree. I have high hopes, certainly for the independent author, but as you said earlier, time will tell. Thank you very much, Peter, for joining me today, and thank you, Kevin for asking.
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