I am honoured to be involved. There is a great interview over on the Space Dock website or read it below.
Can you remember the day you thought I am going to write a book?
There was a day when I finished reading a book – I won’t mention the title – and thought to myself … I can do better than that. It wasn’t that it was a bad book, per se; it was that the premise was completely wasted and the bad guys lost through sheer dumb luck, when they should have won. I started coming up with my first plot shortly afterwards.
Once you’d finished it did your first book get published and what’s it called?
I’m afraid not, nor did the next ten or so manuscripts. The Gunpowder Plot – basically, a story about a coup in Britain and its aftermath – had all the usual problems of a first manuscript from a writer who had only just started to learn the ropes. I don’t blame publishers for taking one look and then discarding it completely. I occasionally think about revising it – more likely, rewriting from scratch – but I never really sat down and plotted it out.
But I learned a lot from writing it.
So from a very early stage as a writer – you were a plotter?
Not really, sadly – it took me quite a few manuscripts to learn the value of plotting out the major details (at least) in advance. There were some books I wrote – none of them will see the light of day – where the plot went all over the place because I didn’t write out the points in advance. Obviously, there are some kinds of books where you can get away with that and some that you can’t – if the butler did it, you need to hide clues within the text for alert readers to notice. Or it just looks as though you’re pulling stuff out of your rectum. <grin>
I generally try to balance the two extremes – plot in advance, but alter the plot as I go along if I get a better idea.
Had you been a reader up till then and what sort of books did you read?
Yes. Honestly, I don’t think you can be a writer without being a reader. Seeing how other writers do it – what you like, what you hate – is helpful in itself, but having a background in reading history and suchlike also helps. It also helps to understand some of the older books – Sherlock Holmes, for example, is much more rewarding if you know the background. The same could easily be said for the early Heinlein novels.
Really, I started young; science-fiction and fantasy, thrillers and detective novels. I was reading Tom Clancy at nine. Some books didn’t grab me until later – I didn’t like Starship Trooper until I was in my twenties and I never liked Stranger in a Strange Land – but others have stayed with me my entire life.
Are you an inspirational writer and let the characters drive the story or do you plot it out in detail?
Both. What I do – now – is write out a short outline, then let the story flow. Sometimes – quite often, really – I add pieces or change elements as the story developed. I often find that the flow of words goes in different directions, once you actually get into the story. For example, in Infinite Regress, there’s a scene where Emily blasts a teacher. In the plot, one teacher gets it; in the story, it’s a different one. By the time I reached that point, it made more sense to go in that direction.
If you are a plotter, do you have the whole story on paper or do you prepare the night before for the next day?
I generally write out brief notes for the next three chapters – sometimes just a line or two, sometimes a paragraph. Really, it’s just something to get back into the grove each morning.
So you try to have chapters about 3K each?
More or less – I try to keep it fairly constant.
How many books have you published so far?
Umm … pass.
Well, I have 83 novels: 29 of which were published through traditional publishers and the remainder were self-published. A growing number are also available in audio and paperback formats. I’ve also got a small collection of manuscripts that don’t quite reach the point where I feel I can charge for them. Some of them are on my site <grin>. The remainder will never see the light of day.
So you are a hybrid author, do you prefer having a publisher or do you prefer self-publishing?
There are advantages and disadvantages to both, really. A decent publisher is worth his or her worth in gold, even today; they take a lot of the non-writing work off the author’s shoulder. On the other hand, the larger publishing houses like contracts that rarely work in the author’s favour.
Self-publishing – you get all the money, but you also get all of the work (or at least you have to hire artists, editors, etc.)
Do you check Amazon every hour to see how sales are doing?
I used to, but not now – it’s a good way to torment yourself. <grin>. Generally, the bigger picture – how much you sell in the month – is more important than daily sales.
Does being in the top 25 on Amazon.com author rank make you feel proud?
Although I do have to keep reminding myself not to take it too seriously. It’s all relative, based on sales. Someone new who scores a major hit might shoot past me, but in the long run I may sell more books. Or vice versa. Like I said above, long term is more important than a brief period at the top.
What do your parents think of your success?
I think they’re very proud.
Do you know how many eBooks you have sold across all of them?
Lots. I couldn’t really be more specific.
Which has been the most successful?
In terms of sheer numbers, Ark Royal and its immediate sequels were amongst the most popular. Schooled In Magic, Bookworm and The Invasion of 1950 are runners-up.
Space Dock is currently preparing the Ark Royal series to be published in 2 hardbacks: one a case hardback which will be available on Amazon and the other a very exclusive signed, limited, dust-jacketed hardback only available through our website and so our award winning editor is currently reading/editing the first book, Ark Royal. She is very impressed with the story so far. How did Ark Royal come about? First thought is the British aircraft carrier except you took her into space and created a series around her.
Long story <grin>.
The short version is that I was reading about the late-WW2 British carriers and how they stacked up against American designs of the same period. The British carriers deployed fewer aircraft than their American counterparts, which limited their striking power, but at the same time their armoured decks made them tougher – they shrugged off strikes that would have disabled or sunk the American ships. And that gave me the idea that would eventually become Ark Royal.
I sketched out the universe, then the technological base – Ark was outdated by the standards of the pre-war universe (like a battleship from WW2), but she stacks up much better against an alien foe that designed its weapons to deal with modern ships. (Without Ark, the Human-Tadpole War would be about as one-sided as the Earth-Minbari War.) And then I sketched out the crew …
I wasn’t sure if there would be a sequel, so I tried to conclude most of the early character-based plot threads in the first book. Thankfully, that left room for others in the next two books.
Do you have any military background?
None. I get asked that a lot, though. I think that’s a good sign.
Which is your favourite book you have written?
I think the Schooled In Magic series is probably my favourite, although Ark Royal comes a close second. Schooled In Magic is designed to be a long-runner, which allows me to build up the overarching plot piece by piece while (at the same time) keeping most of the books as stand-alone volumes.
Someone said to me you write 9000 words per day – is this true?
More or less.
On the first day of a new book, I normally write the prologue(s) and then the first chapter, then set things up with the beta-readers, post samples to blogs, etc. Then I try to write three or so chapters per day until I complete the first draft.
Point is, writing is a job. It’s how I earn money. I can no more get away from my writing than a person with a more normal job can get away from theirs. I can swap my days around a little, thankfully, but I can’t abandon it entirely.
How many Beta’s do you have?
I have a list of about twenty – I normally have between six and ten readers for any given book.
Can you name any?
Could you talk me through your typical day?
It tends to vary.
The alarm goes off at 7am. I stumble downstairs and drink coffee while checking email for anything that needs immediate attention, then try to write out the first chapter before my two-year-old son wakes and demands breakfast. When he wakes, I get coffee for my wife and then feed us before going back to work. Then I keep working until I finish the remaining chapters.
What time do you start – 8AM?
Ideally, I want to be working by 9am. But it doesn’t work so well in real life.
Do you lock yourself away from your family and only come out when 9K done or do you make frequent trips to the kettle?
I generally get a new cup of tea between chapters.
So talk me through 3 chapters, say Ark Royal. You did prologue and chapter one yesterday – what did your notes say for 2-4 – are they extensive?
They just tend to be a basic set of notes. ‘starfighters arrive, briefing, etc.’
So you have an idea for a book. Do you list out 1-30 and then fill in with key story arcs of key scenes, then as you have said – fill in the blanks?
No. I write out a summary of the plot, then write out the chapters notes as I go along.
Do you listen to music when you are writing? If so, what do you listen to?
No. I’ve always found it a distraction. Others disagree.
Do you take weekends off?
Sunday is my kid’s swimming class, so I normally take it off. I sometimes take another day off within the week – if there’s something we need to do in particular – but that day varies.
Who is your favourite science fiction writer?
That’s an impossible question to answer, to be honest. I’m a great fan of Peter F. Hamilton, David Weber, Iain M. Banks, John Ringo, Mike Williamson and so on. Exactly who is my personal number one tends to vary, depending on whom I’m reading at the moment.
Who is your favourite fantasy writer?
Brandon Sanderson. There are a few others I admire, but he’s definitely on top.
To have written the amount of books you have written, you must have a very active imagination. Where do all your ideas come from?
Well, that’s not quite accurate. I read a lot of history and that sometimes ends up flowing into my mind and inspiring stories. Many of my works came out of historical situations or concepts that I updated. Others – The Empire’s Corps series in particular – drew on modern-day situations. Sometimes, ideas were born by asking what if …?
The seed of one particular idea – the Twilight of the Gods series – came from long-term speculation about the future of Nazi Germany. Realistically (insofar as such a word can be used when alternate history is involved), the Reich could have taken most of Europe – at least as far as the Urals – but what then? Did the Reich have a hope in hell of keeping that territory? How would it evolve if it had to cope with peacetime? I thought it would start a slow decline that would eventually end in civil war, which was the subject of the trilogy.
Others came from my own life. Some of my readers will probably be surprised to hear that I loathe boarding schools – I had to endure one myself when I was twelve to sixteen. Many of the darker moments of The Zero Blessing drew on my experience of being an outcast in a place that might as well have been a prison. The heroine isn’t me and her world isn’t mine, but she faced many of the same problems as I.
When do you find time to read and do you prefer ebook, hardcopy or audio?
Less than I want to, these days – I work and I have a family. I get quite a bit of reading done in the train or on the airplane.
I prefer eBooks for fiction, hardbacks for non-fiction.
What do you have planned in the next few months?
Quite a bit <grin>.
I’m planning to write Book 14 in The Empire’s Corps, followed by a one-shot set in the Angel in the Whirlwind universe. It’s a little different from the other books in the series, but I hope it will add some much-needed depth to the universe. After that, I have a one-shot in the Ark Royal universe, the start of the Bookworm successor series and probably either Book 13 of Schooled In Magic or Book 2 of The Zero Enigma.
I’m also messing around with plots for more stories on a larger scale, but they tend to run into problems when they expand. I don’t like endless series where each book just advances the overall plot a few steps, at least without being reasonably stand alone. On the other hand, the more the story concept expands, the more I realise that Game of Thrones and suchlike is the only realistic way to do it.
What did you do when you left school, did you go to University and if so, what did you study.
I studied librarianship in Manchester. It was a waste of time. I liked the job well enough, but everything I did when I was in employment was something I could have mastered without spending three years at university.
But then, living alone was better than being trapped in boarding school.
Before you became a full time writer what was your job?
I was an academic librarian. It was interesting – and the seeds of a few books were sowed there – but I wouldn’t recommend it as a long-term career.
Do you ever get writers block?
I did at first, when I was starting. I then learned how to cope <grin>.
How long have you been a full time writer?
Since 2012, I think. That’s when it really took off.
Do you see yourself writing until you are old and grey?
I’m not sure, to be honest.
I’ve noticed that many writers tend to get their best work done between 30-50, then suffer a slow decline. (Obviously, good editors and constant feedback can slow this process.) I sometimes think I’ll retire at 50, then I think of all the story ideas I haven’t done anything with yet because they’re whole new universes. On one hand, I would like to keep going; on the other, part of me thinks that I’ll decline too and it would be better to retire before that happens.