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Occasionally I’ll be offered a book to review which I know nothing about, which is what happened with A Robot in the Garden. Within it, I found the story of Ben, but most importantly, Tang. There is a lot to love about this book, but I have to admit that I fell in love with Tang, the said Robot which turns up in Ben’s garden. He has the voice and ways of a cheeky child, and yet there is an adorable depth to him too. Deborah kindly agreed to answer some interview questions, but you have to excuse us, as we let Ben and Tang get involved too…. Let’s start at the beginning – how would you describe your book to a new reader? DI: ooh this is always a tricky one! But my best elevator pitch I think is: broken man finds broken robot in back garden, and on voyage of discovery both are fixed. Warning: may contain radioactive sausage dogs. What aspect came to you first, was it Tang, or was it Ben’s story? DI: it was very much Tang and his name that came first. My husband made an off the cuff remark about the smell of newborn nappies and I said ‘Acrid Tang, that sounds like a robot from east Asia’…why it did, I will never know! That was late one evening, and by morning I knew what Tang looked like, that his best friend was called Ben and that they would go on a round-the-world trip. What started out as practical elements to the story, eg giving Ben money so there’d be no question as to how he could afford the trip, for example, and having Amy leave him so he’d have no ties to keep him from making the journey, turned out to be really important elements to both plot and character, and also some of the most interesting bits to explore whilst writing. Tang is just adorable.. where did you get your ideas and inspiration for his character – films, books, people? DI: thank you! All of the above really. I grew up with R2-D2 being my favourite Star Wars character so I think I probably carried through to the book, but I get inspiration from absolutely everywhere. I was balling socks yesterday and thought of a funny section I could do about it. I reckon as long as I keep my eyes and ears open the ideas will find their own way, although that sounds a bit more mysterious than I actually am! I’d never base a character on a particular person, it’s just too intrusive and unfair. Odd conversations, foibles and traits though perhaps. And my son. My son is definitely like Tang sometimes! This is your debut, are you working on anything else at the moment? DI: I am, yes. Several things including another comedy, this time with time travel taking the place of robots – i.e. time travel is just something that happens, rather than being a big deal in itself. And where ARITG looked at friendships and relationships this one will look at work and careers, office frustrations that sort of thing. With time travel. Surely Tang has more stories to tell.. are there any plans for more from him? DI: Oh, I’m sure if… Tang: I HAS PET…I TELLS YOU ABOUT PET DI: shhh, Tang, please. To answer your question – yes I’m sure there’s more we can hear from the pair of them! What do you like to read yourself, and what’s on your bedside table right now? DI: I like comedy books, unsurprisingly, my faves being Nick Hornby and Alexander McCall Smith. They’re both so brilliant in they way they observe people and make ordinary things extraordinary. I also love Jane Austen, actually for the same reasons. But on my bedside cabinet at the moment is Ned Beauman’s The Teleportation Accident, which I’m reading for research but enjoying all the same. Also I’m revisiting Terry Pratchett so I have Guards! Guards! there too. On my Kindle is Sara Pinborough’s The Death House which I’m loving and reminds me of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which I also loved. I was wondering if I could have a word with Ben and Tang please…. DI: sure, go ahead! Be nice, chaps…. Ben, you managed to have quite a trip with Tang, which was your favourite part? BC: I did, didn’t I. Never expected to be halfway round the world, certainly. My favourite bit…I think probably driving in the Dodge. I’ve never been a car man as such but it was quite cool to drive a muscle car. And I guess it’s when I first started to how special Ta… Tang: CAR! DI: Tang, please don’t interrupt Ben…and leave your gaffer tape alone. Is travelling something you wish you’d done earlier in life? BC: I never thought so, but since going on the trip I now wish I had done more of it. Travelling and holidays and stuff was always just something that happened to me that somebody else wanted to do, but I get the point now, I get why people enjoy it. I thought Tokyo especially was great. Tang, how about you, what were your favourite parts of your trip with Ben? Tang: FISH FISH FISHES FISHINGS. FISH! And car. BC: you did like the boat, didn’t you? I was proud of finding that. We had a really good time on the boat. Tang: yes. What’s your favourite way to travel? Tang: I like fly. But big plane. Big seat. Not small rattle plane. Scared. But big plane, big seat. Game screen. Wheee! Ooh also bul-let. Bul-let train. BC: I’d go with that. Do you have any plans set for further trips or holidays? BC: well Bryony’s got our folks’ holiday house in Tuscany and I’d like to go there again sometime. But we might have to wait until Bonnie’s a bit older. I’d like to take Tang to some places round the UK, too, he’s not seen a great deal of it. Maybe Legoland. Tang: Leg…what? BC: don’t worry, Tang, you’ll know what I mean when you see it. How are your cooking skills developing, have you been shown how to make a proper sandwich? Tang: Ben, what is means ‘proper sandwich’? BC: erm…let’s leave sandwiches aside for a moment. How do you think you’re getting on with cooking? Tang: is easier with box. I has taller. Can reach. I makes…what does I makes last day? BC: you helped me make a cake for Bryony yesterday didn’t you, because it was her birthday. Tang: yes. I stirs. Stirring. No…mixings. Did not oven though. BC: no I had to put it in the oven, because it wouldn’t have done you a lot of good. You don’t get on very well with heat, do you? Tang: no. Ben.. do you have anything to add about Tang’s cooking…? BC: he’s actually doing ok. I mean, it’s like teaching a child to cook and his concentration’s all over the place but, you know, I’m used to it. He really enjoys it which is the main thing. Tang, are you enjoying your bedroom.. is your Witch cupboard big enough? Tang: yes I loves bed room! I has room of things are mine. Mine! I think cupboard maybe bit bigger. Does not quite fit. Ben I can has big cupboard? BC: if you like. And finally Tang, how does it feel to have your own twitter account, and to have fans?! Tang: I love fans! Ben what is twitters? BC: Tang, we’ve been through this…you know perfectly well what twitter is, you’re just being deliberately obtuse. Tang: what is ‘obtuse’? I think we’ll leave them there! Thank you everyone. You can follow Deborah on Twitter @TheRobotLady andyou also find Ben and Tang@BenandTang
I first interviewed Adam 6 years ago, when I read Banquet of the Damned. It was therefore a pleasure to catch up with him again, and find out about his writing, and his impressive list of published books... Back in 2008, we talked about your newly published book, Banquet for the Damned. Now, in 2014, you’re about to have your sixth horror book published, No One Gets Out Alive. That must have been quite a journey! Has each book taken you through a natural progression of writing, or are they all very different? A seventeen year journey from Banquet’ to No One Gets Out Alive. Though they are all supernatural horror stories and some themes and ideas are present in each novel, I’d say the books are all different – from the way they are written to the main ideas of each story. I tend to think about the ideas for years before I start writing them into a story, and then the actual story as it unfolds determines the way the book is written. So if you could back and rewrite Banquet, do you think it would be much different, or does it remain the book you wanted it to be? It remains the book of that time so I wouldn’t change it. Would I write a book in that style again? I don’t know. It’s quite a baroque, Gothic, lyrical and detailed work, but then the material, the ideas, back story and town in which it was based, ultimately fashioned the way the book was written. For example, the more direct, cinematic, thriller style of THE RITUAL wouldn’t have been appropriate for that story or setting (this is where reviewers most often annoy me). Banquet was also very much a homage to Edwardian horror fiction. Homage but not pastiche, I hope. Has each book come to you in order, or do you have ideas which you’ve put to one side, and have returned to at a later date? A mixture of the two – BANQUET through to LAST DAYS came to me in an order. But the ideas and images from HOUSE OF SMALL SHADOWS I’ve had forever, but no vehicle to carry them, until a couple of years ago. I wasn’t sufficiently equipped to write that novel until after I’d had a go at its predecessors. It can be tricky when I am writing a book that becomes problematic, because it’s natural to suspect that I should have written a different book altogether – one of the other ideas. But I have learned that all books are problematic and I refuse to give up on anything I start – that way lies despair and hard drives full of unfinished ideas (I know writers like that). Even if a book takes years to finish satisfactorily – at least to me – like APARTMENT 16, I will see it through. Because ideas are the easiest part of writing. I never kid myself that another idea would have been easier to write. The act of transforming ideas and notions and feelings into a story is always going to be demanding. I do have more structure now as I commit to writing two novels over two years, so I refuse to get distracted by other ideas that suddenly burn to get out until the two contracted works are completed. In brief, can you give us a quick summary of each book? BANQUEST FOR THE DAMNED – an occult horror novel about witchcraft and demonology. APARTMENT 16 – my outsider novel and haunted house story about mental and physical disintegration THE RITUAL – a novel of psychic terror set in the wilderness. Also Lovecraftian. LAST DAYS – an epic story about sociopaths and cults, spanning 400 years and four countries. HOUSE OF SMALL SHADOWS – rural British folk horror NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE – my first true ghost story, with folk and psychopath elements. It’s also a story about the consequences of today’s grotesque economic inequality. Are there any favourites? One that means something special, or was a particular favourite to write? So far, I like them all equally. I believe I’ve maintained quality control and written books all sufficiently distinct from each other. I’ve also written the books I wanted to write. And there are things I am proud of within each book and things I now pick at too, but they still rank equally to me in hindsight. Most horror readers I speak to say they’re looking for something extra, beyond the gory side of horror. How do you get the balance right, between gore and chills? The actual writing of the story, the circumstances and situations dictate the atmosphere and level of bloodshed, the subtlety or blunt trauma. It’s not something I can plan. I have to trust my imagination that it can grow a story from the initial images and ideas. I won’t add or subtract either approach if it’s contrary to what the story requires. How much research do you do for your books? A great deal. Probably as much as I read for my masters for each book. The research for the work in progress is considerable – I’ve had to research as I write, subject by subject. Do you think it affects you, being surrounded by these dark ideas so much? What do you do to ‘switch off’? It may make my morbidity and poor opinion of humanity worse, also my fears for the future. The research for NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE did give me pause to what I was exposing myself to over a lengthy period of time – the worst kind of people and the continually harrowing situations they create for their victims. Apparently my whole mood and my preoccupations changed. I turn off the horror tap when I’m with my daughter – she is the most perfect counter balance. When you’re not writing, what do you like to read? Are you a fan of horror, or do you read something completely different? Yes, I read a lot of quality horror. Over half of what I read each year falls into that category. I also read a lot of literary fiction, and nonfiction increasingly too. I know No One Gets Out Alive is only just about to be published, but can you give us any clue as what comes next, what are you working on right now? The work in progress is the most difficult book I have ever attempted … and it will not be something most regular readers would expect from me. If nothing else, I never want to be accused of going through motions and lacking ambition. I want all of my books to be intense reading, and to surprise and affect readers. That’s the aspiration. Thank you to Adam for his time, and his answers. You can visit his official website here.
Seth Patrick is the author of The Reviver, the first in a trilogy which was published last year, and The Returned, which is published in a few days. He has kindly answered some questions... Let’s start with your published book The Reviver, can you tell us a little about it, and where the inspiration came from? Reviver is set in a world where a small number of people have the ability to bring the recently dead back to life, just for a few minutes. Long enough to allow for the police questioning of a murder victim, for example. It follows one of these Forensic Revivers, Jonah Miller, as he discovers some unpleasant truths about the career he’s found himself in. Inspiration came from Edgar Allan Poe. Two Poe stories collided in my head – The Murders in the Rue Morgue, which is widely regarded as the first ever modern detective story, and The Facts in the Case of Monsieur Valdemar, which is a tale about a terminally ill man being hypnotised at the point of death: the man dies, but keeps talking. I had an image of the detective in the first tale interviewing the dead man in the second, and that led to what became the first chapter of Reviver. There’s a supernatural aspect to the story – was there a reason you decided to include this, rather than making it a crime thriller with the revival twist? I had the first chapter right at the start, almost exactly as published, and I loved it. There was no way I was going to lose that, and the supernatural element is fundamental to it. My options were to go for a crime-of-the-week series, maybe with the supernatural element as a long-term plot arc, or to go all out and embrace the supernatural side. In the end, I decided that the revivals alone simply weren’t enough – having the hugely dramatic, creepy revivals backed up with basic crime stories would feel lopsided. So: I went for it! Will we see the same characters back in the second book, I’ve become quite attached to Jonah! The old team is back, yes. It’s been wonderful to spend more time with them, even if I’ve been, well, unkind to some of them. Ahem. How do you think the world would respond if Revival was real, do you think we’d accept it, or become a little panicked? One thing I tried to do in Reviver was make it feel as real as possible, and draw a contrast between something that is measurable, repeatable, demonstrable (revival) and something that is utterly without hard evidence backing it (spiritualism). I think much of science has started out being regarded with a supernatural level of fear, but once the methods and parameters of the phenomena are known the fear tends to vanish. Even if we have no deep understanding of what underlies a phenomenon, we feel like we have a handle on it. So if revival was real? I think curiosity would mean we’d tolerate it, then familiarity would allow us to accept it. As an aside, I did actually get a serious letter from a reader who wanted to know if the book was based on an actual branch of forensic science, and if so where could they apply for a job? I had to tell them it was entirely made up. When I read that letter, I wondered what it would be like to actually have thought it was based on truth. My conclusion was: terrifying. Moving onto The Returned, which is published this month, can you tell us more about that? It’s the novelisation of the French TV series shown on Channel 4 last year, set in an Alpine town where people find that dead relatives have reappeared, apparently unharmed and entirely human, with no memory of their death. I had to write it without knowing anything about the second series, currently being filmed, but when they read the first draft they had to let me in on some of their secrets so it would be consistent with the show. Getting the job was all a bit sudden. My editor called out of the blue and offered it to me, with a very tight schedule. Considering it took me seven years to write Reviver, I wondered if saying YES would be a bit crazy, but it was great to have that level of faith shown in me. I loved the show, so I was very keen to do it. It did knock the release of the sequel to Reviver back, though. There appears to be quite a bit of confusion over the various TV series and the books – can you help set the record straight for me? I’ll try! Les Revenants was a 2004 French movie, on which the 2012 TV series is based. Les Revenants translates directly as The Returned. Meanwhile, The Returned is also a 2013 novel by US author Jason Mott, which has a similar premise but is otherwise unconnected. Resurrection is a US TV series based on Jason Mott’s novel. They’re also filming a US version of the French show, to be called The Returned. Meanwhile, a show called Babylon Fields is being made by NBC, which is based on a 2007 pilot that didn’t get picked up for a series, again using a very similar premise. And of course, we now have The Returned, a novel by Seth Patrick, based on the French TV show.# Simple. What are your influences when it comes to writing, books, films etc? What are you reading now? I’m very much an SF/Horror fan. Mundane stories lose me very quickly. Even the best stuff, it feels like a really really high quality version of Eastenders to me. As a kid my influences were Stephen King, Clive Barker, Alan Moore. When I’m hard at work I sometimes have no time to read, and I’ll find myself buying books ready for a binge, so I have a massive reading pile right now that I’m just about to get stuck into. I have a love of short stories, so the one I’m most looking forward to is Ramsey Campbell’s collection Alone with the Horrors. Do you think you’ll stay with the same genres, or is there anything else which interests you? I suspect everything I write will have some SF or horror elements. I can’t resist. The old Raymond Chandler quote comes to mind: “When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” For me, it’d be an alien, a robot or a demon. Or all three! With a gun! Can you tell us about your writing day, are you disciplined about it? I’ve been pretty good this year. The deadlines for The Returned were tight, so I had to be, but I found myself exhausted when I finished and did nothing useful for about a month. Then I had to get on with redrafting Reviver book two, and that’s been tough, but I’ve been getting at least four hours a day done. It’s the old Dorothy Parker quote, ‘Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.’ I’m not great at keeping to a regular schedule, where I get up, do the hours, and have the rest of the day clear. Instead I tend to get sucked in and think about a book ALL THE TIME and drive my wife crazy. So, yeah, I could do with being more disciplined and be able to give myself a break from it. What’s the one book you wish you’d written? I’m not sure I’d ever want to imagine someone else’s work as my own. I’m very proud of Reviver, and I hope to have a long career. Although the money from Fifty Shades would be handy… I'd like to thank Seth for his time, and his replies. You can find his blog here, and of course his books in all good book stores!
I was recently sent a copy of Extinction Game by Gary Gibson to read and review (you can see my review here). I don't read a lot of science fiction, but I read this one over the course of two days, and really liked it. So much, in fact, I asked Gary if he would answer a few questions for me. To start with, can you tell us a little about your latest book, Extinction Game? Extinction Game is my ninth novel since I started writing professionally back in 2004. Essentially the story is about what happens to the Last Man on Earth - a hoary sf cliche if ever there was one - when a bunch of other Last Men, Women, and Even a Dog from a bunch of other post-apocalyptic parallels come and rescue him to be part of a kind of exploration team exploring the multiverse for the benefit of a shadowy organisation. Where did the inspiration come from, and which idea came first, the alternate worlds, or the various endings? I originally had an idea for a short story called Touring the Apocalypse about a tourist guide whose job is to herd tourists from one alternate to another so they can witness the world ending in different ways, but then I thought why not make it into a novel? Actually, a few of my books have started out that way. It just seems a waste of a good idea to restrict it to just a few thousand words. That story still survives in the form of a scene in Extinction Game where Jerry Beche essentially has to do exactly that. I understand there’s a sequel to come – do you plan on this being a series of books? Will we find the same characters within, or new ones? I just completed the second book in the series, although the title hasn’t yet been finalised. The working title is The Deeps, but in my experience titles often fluctuate, so it might well change. The focus in the second book is on an entirely new character who arrives on the island where the Pathfinders - as the survivors from different apocalypses call themselves - are based. Unlike them, she’s not a survivor, but what she really is, as opposed to what she appears to be, is the driving force for much of the plot. Hopefully there will be a third book. Can you tell us briefly about your previous books, and how this one differs from what you’ve written before? Most of my previous novels were what you’d call space opera, for want of a better term. Two, Against Gravity and Final Days, were more in the vein of futuristic thrillers, I guess. But it felt like time for a change, and science fiction is a very broad field with a lot of room for trying different things, and if you don’t move and flex your creative muscles in different ways you run the risk of drying up creatively. Have you always wanted to write SF, and if so why? Honestly, I don’t know why, but as long as I remember it’s been there. SF helped me make sense of the world when I was young, it really did. It presented me with ideas and concepts and possible ways of living that I simply couldn’t have encountered any other way. It opened my eyes up at every turn, and made me realise the real world is a much more interesting place than you’d realise if you hadn’t been granted that kind of external point of view that sf grants you. I look at the world through sf-tinted lenses, and I think I’m the better for it. Would you ever consider changing direction, into a different genre? Everyone’s got a million ideas for all kinds of stories. I’ve got a great idea for a noir-ish 40s detective story set in Hollywood, for instance. But it means dropping one audience and going in search for another, and there are sound reasons why most authors - unless they’re successful and big enough their readers will follow them anywhere, regardless of genre and style - tend to stick with one particular genre. Maybe one day, if I sold a _lot_ of books, I could write that noir story, but not before. What’s your average writing day like, are you disciplined about it? I’m disciplined in my lack of discipline. Realistically, you don’t need more than a couple of hours a day to write or come up with ideas. So I waffle a lot in the mornings, or go on long cycling expeditions, and spend a couple of hours in the afternoon writing or working on outlines. When it gets close to a deadline, however, that changes, and I spend substantial parts of the day locked away and working. What are your SF inspirations.. books, tv, films etc? I pretty much sucked up Marvel comics from an early age, then progressed to a lot of sf getting published through the Seventies and Eighties, including New Wave authors like JG Ballard and Harlan Ellison, so they were definitely some kind of an influence. Slightly off-kilter, odd TV shows like The Prisoner, perhaps for that reason, appealed to me more than perhaps more straightforward dramas. I read a lot of cyberpunk in the Eighties, although I’d say a lot of the good Eighties hard sf, such as that written by Greg Bear and Gregory Benford, was also a strong influence. Is there a book you wish you’d written? The Southern Reach books by Jeff Vandermeer (I’m halfway through the second in the series right now), which for my tastes nicely synthesises the best parts of Lost - which I loved, more or less, right up until the last season and that awful, awful ending - and Roadside Picnic, a late Seventies sf novel by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, which was later made into a film called Stalker and became the basis for a video game of the same name. Do you get much time to read, what’s on your bedside table right now? Right now I’m reading the second book in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, and after that I might move on to Frank by Jon Ronson. I just finished How Music Works, and also The Bicycle Diaries, both by David Byrne. Ever since I got a Kindle my reading has increased exponentially, and I get through between thirty and fifty books a year. I think all authors can and should make time to read, and with a Kindle or similar device you can squeeze your reading into all kind of odd moments through the day. My thanks to Gary for his time, and also to Pan Macmillan, who are giving away two copies of Extinction Game - pop along to the Competitions section for more info.