An interview with DAN NEWMAN

Today’s interview is with Dan Newman, the author of The Clearing (published today by Exhibit A, the crime/thriller imprint of Angry Robot Books). To mark the release of his book, he was kind enough to answer a few questions…

NewmanD-TheClearingLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Dan Newman?

Stefan, thank you for the opportunity to stop by… with a new novel in the market I really do appreciate the chance to be part of your blog.

As for who I am, that’s probably best defined through my experiences growing up in-transit around the globe. My father worked in international development, so we moved a lot, and lived in some wonderful places. I was born in England, and currently live in Canada, but in between there’s been a tidy little list of places in Africa and the Caribbean. I was at a friend’s party a few days ago and a childhood pal of his spoke about how they had known each other and remained friends since they were four or five years old. That seems incredible to me, and something I can’t say of anyone, given how I grew up. Still, life’s a constant trade-off, and I what I missed in long-held childhood friends, I made up for in places around the world where I can stop in for a free meal and a night on the couch.

I thought we’d start with your fiction: Your latest novel, The Clearing, was published by Exhibit A in October 2013. How would you introduce the novel to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

The Clearing is really a book about our past, and how, if left unaddressed, it can inform every part of our future lives. It’s about being a parent, about being an adult, and about recognising youth as a root system that feeds the lives we grow into.

The Clearing was written such that it could stand alone as a complete story, but there are a number of things I’ve set in there for a sequel – which I’m just completing now. It follows Nate Mason at three key periods in his life, and traces the path he’s compelled to take back to his childhood to deal with a formative tragedy that happened there. It dabbles a little in the occult, a little in psychological thriller territory, and a little in crime.

What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general? Also, what made you set it in the 1970s, as opposed to a contemporary setting?

This particular novel leans heavily on personal experience, and certainly the setting and mood were dictated by real life events. The plot is largely fiction, but the backbone of the story comes from an experience I had as a kid growing up on the island of St. Lucia in the 70s – hence the time setting. As an eleven or twelve year old boy, I spent a week-end at this very creepy old plantation estate house set deep in the St. Lucian rainforest. The local lore held it that the estate, like all the great plantations, was protected by a small and devilish creature called a Bolom – something we all had heard about as kids. It was kind of a Caribbean boogeyman. But that weekend, something came into the old house in the middle of the night, and ran through the place with these short, sharp footfalls. I was just plain terrified, and it stuck with me. Was it real? Was it a Bolom? The kid that was there absolutely believes it was. Years later that experience came through in The Clearing. It’s at the heart of what the story’s about.

How were you introduced to genre fiction?

SmithW-WhenTheLionFeedsIf I go back to what really got me reading, it’s all down to Wilbur Smith. Among the places where I grew up was Southern Africa – the Kingdom of Lesotho specifically. Wilbur Smith’s early work was all set in that area, and dealt with action and adventure on the African velt – which was right outside my door. His books are a fabulous introduction to genre fiction, and I still love to go back and rip through some of his novels. If you’ve not read his early stuff, I can guarantee it’ll be time well spent.

How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

This may sound strange, but the whole idea of being a writer is a concept I have great difficulty with. I see it as a lofty title, and one that people have to work damn hard to acquire. I’ve been writing seriously for sixteen years, and I’ve yet to call myself a writer. I think with the publication of The Clearing and a second book in the offing I’m a little closer, but I still feel like I have some earning to do. When I think of writers, I see a very exclusive group of people who I greatly admire. I’d love to be among them, but I still have a lot of work ahead of me.

As for the practicalities of writing, I find regularity quite important. That’s not to say I eat a lot of bran – but rather I try to write every single day and move the story forward. I’m also really bad at falling asleep, so when I go to bed it’s an hour of plot revisions in my head. And, almost without fail, I manage to untangle the knots I tie myself into plot-wise while staring at a darkened ceiling.

When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

Growing up we travelled a lot. My father was in international development, so we moved from country to country and I changed schools – and friends – frequently. Writing was a constant from place to place, and something I always felt came easily. That’s not to say I did it well, but I enjoyed it. And probably because of that I kept at it.

My first crack at a full novel was about sixteen years ago. I wrote a novel called The Cull – a very Wilbur Smith-ian effort set in Africa where I had lived for about ten years or so. I really loved writing it, and the satisfaction of having a full blown manuscript in my hand was just plain magical. I still love the story, the characters in it and the setting. It is a deeply flawed manuscript, filled with all kinds of issues and problems, but there’s purity to your first full-tilt effort that’s hard to explain. I plan to re-write it one day, but I’ll keep the original version close forever.

What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?

This is a really interesting question and one that’s a little problematic for me. Strictly speaking my publisher is a crime imprint, and I think I do fit into it, but right at the very edge of the genre. When I read some of the other authors published by Exhibit A, (and there are some fantastic titles in the line up), I realize that I am definitely over to one side of the genre bucket. I suspect that’s by design by the publisher, so as to broaden the appeal. One thing I will say about genre fiction, is that I think a lot of the authors I read get a bum-rap because of the word “genre”. There’s some really technically and creatively excellent writing in a lot of the novels that populate genre fiction, and because of that handle I think they get glossed over in terms of the quality of the writing itself. Genre fiction produces some first rate literature… along with outstanding story tellers.

What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?

Right now I’m finishing up the sequel to The Clearing. It’s the first time I’ve tackled a sequel, and it’s going very well in terms of progress. I’m discovering that the investment I’ve already made in really knowing the characters is incredibly helpful as I push them onto something new; I innately know how they would react to a given situation, rather than having to sit and ponder their actions. I was also surprised at how apparent the storyline was; it was all kind of there staring me in the face when I started – although I will admit to having left a few important hooks in the first book to help me along.

What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?

I just finished Steven King’s 11/22/63. I’m a big fan of Mr. King (but really, who isn’t?). I’m about to get into Richard Parker’s Scare Me, which has been sitting on my bedside table for quite a while now. I’m also half way through Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, but with the recent book launch and my efforts to finish off the sequel, I’ve not read nearly as much as I’d like to lately.

NewmanD-Reading

What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

Well, as a youngster I played semi-professional football in Swaziland, Southern Africa – which is kind of interesting in itself… but more than that was the fact that the team had its own witch doctor. It was fascinating, and before every game there were numerous incantations, practices and potions that had to be honoured before we could suit up for the match. When we won, he was there standing tall, nodding and pounding his chest. When we lost, well, he apparently had somewhere else to be at the final whistle…

What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?

With The Clearing having just come out, I’m on a steep and wonder-filled learning curve. There’s so much more to learn than you realize while standing on the outside looking in, and listening to those who have been there before me is a large part of my game plan for the next twelve months – that and putting together the next book for the publisher. As a rookie I have to say that my first publishing experience has been super – thanks in no small part to the outstanding people at Exhibit A.

I’ve also been advised to enjoy the experience of having my first book published – which at first seems patently self-evident. But once you hop on the ride and get stuck into the practicalities of book launches, marketing plans and the minutia of publishing as a business, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you hit a major personal milestone. So that simple sounding advice is actually pretty sage; I plan to heed it, and see what those roses actually smell like.

Thanks for letting me stop by.

An Interview with FREYA ROBERTSON

RobertsonF-1-Heartwood

Freya Robertson is the author of Heartstone, the first in the Elemental Wars series. It is her debut novel, and has already started to create some good buzz. After reading this interview, be sure to check out the excerpt from the novel, which I shared yesterday.

Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Freya Robertson?

Hi! I’m Freya, and I’m a Kiwi! That’s what New Zealanders call themselves — because this is the homeland of the flightless kiwi bird, and also we grow a lot of kiwi fruit here. I’m 44, married with one son, and a bit of a geek. Okay, a lot of a geek. 🙂

I thought we’d start with your fiction: Your debut novel, Heartwood, will be published by Angry Robot in October. How would you introduce the novel to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

Yes, it’s the first in The Elemental Wars series, and the second, Sunstone, comes out in March/April. In one way, it’s very traditional epic fantasy and will hopefully appeal to readers who love that genre, with its quasi-medieval European setting, its high stakes (the end of the world is nigh!), its cast of characters and its length — it’s the biggest book Angry Robot has produced so far, and will be useful for holding up the table once you’ve finished reading it!

But for those who feel the genre has been done to death, I also hope Heartwood provides a modern twist. There are no elves or dwarfs, no magic rings or swords. The hero, Chonrad, is an ordinary knight without magical powers, but whose strength of character, honesty and integrity lift him above the crowd. It’s about the elements (in this case, earth and water), and about the people’s connection to the land, and what happens when that connection is lost. It’s about how history fades to myth, and how the true meaning of their religion has become lost over time. Also, gender is irrelevant to the Heartwood knights and the leader of the army is a woman, and it was fun to write about battles involving both sexes and from female characters’ point of view.

RobertsonF-1-Heartwood

What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?

I was inspired by the Templar holy knights, by the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood, and by writers such as Charles de Lint, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Terry Brooks. By epic movies like The Lord of the Rings, Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. By screenwriters like Joss Whedon and Aaron Sorkin, who write shows featuring grand events and yet still manage to include strong and loveable characters.

How were you introduced to genre fiction?

The first fantasy novel I ever read as a teen was Terry Brooks’ Magic Kingdom for Sale, and it still sits on my shelf today. I went on to read his Shannara series, then Katharine Kerr’s Deverry series, and from there to a wide variety of F&SF books. I also read romance, thrillers, crime and bits and pieces of most other genres. I love genre fiction, love its passion and its scope, love its big authors like Stephen King and John Grisham and Nora Roberts, as well as the fact that it has room for all us up-and-coming authors.

RobertsonF-IntroToSFF

How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

I love writing. There’s nothing more magical than creating a world and letting it blossom onto the page. Being an author…that’s a whole other matter! I’m a shy introvert and launching myself into the big wide world with the beauty and the madness of the internet is scary. It’s very difficult for most writers to offer their creations — which involve a large portion of their heart and soul — to other people for criticism, and whereas in the old days your book came out and then you might be lucky if you got one review in a newspaper, nowadays everyone can pass judgment on your work via book blogs and Goodreads and Amazon, etc., and it’s incredibly daunting. But the internet is also a great place to meet like-minded souls, especially through projects like NaNoWriMo, which I think is great at helping authors to actually finish novels. I’ve done it for three years, and I highly recommend it.

When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

I still have my first short story, written when I was fifteen. I wrote it for the teenage magazine Jackie (which, incidentally, was named after the children’s author Jacqueline Wilson who worked for the publishing company) although I never submitted it. I wrote it on a typewriter and it’s full of spelling and grammatical errors, but it’s not terrible! Maybe one day it will find a home.

What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?

I sense that the epic fantasy genre is making a comeback. I think we all grew tired of elves and dwarves and magic in the nineties, but authors are now finding ways to explore the genre without including every element of what we see as “traditional”, and it’s exciting to see old authors selling well and new authors exploding into the genre. The success of Game of Thrones and the recent Hobbit movies hasn’t done it any harm either! I hope my work adds something to the genre and inspires others to write new and exciting epic fantasy stories.

FantasyOnScreen

What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?

I’ve finished the second in the Elemental Wars series, called Sunstone, and that’s currently with my editor, due for release in March/April 2014 (providing he likes it!). I have ideas for the third, so I’m jotting those down in the hope that they are required. I also have several ideas for further sci-fi and fantasy series, but they’re all in the planning stages at the moment. I do write fortnightly fanfic for the Guild Wars 2 site, Chronicles of Tyria, though, so you can always check me out over there!

BakerJ-LongbournWhat are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?

I’m reading a literary novel called Longbourn by Jo Baker. It’s said to be “Jane Austen meets Downton Abbey”, and it’s Pride and Prejudice told from the servants’ perspective. A lovely story.

What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

Um… I have a degree in archaeology and history. I can juggle. And I can do the Rubik’s Cube in under a minute!

What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?

Obviously the release of Heartwood and then Sunstone. But apart from the books… Watching The Hobbit and Ender’s Game when they come out. A holiday to Wellington in January. And my son turning sixteen next year!

***

Be sure to visit Freya’s website for more updates, and follow her on Twitter. Heartwood is published by Angry Robot Books October 29th 2013 in the US, and November 7th 2013 in the UK. Sunstone follows in early 2014.

RobertsonF-2-Sunstone

An Interview with DAVID TOWSEY

TowseyD-AuthorPicCropDavid Towsey’s debut novel, Your Brother’s Blood caught my attention a few months ago, and ever since I have been eagerly awaiting my chance to read it. Thankfully, I recently got my mitts on a copy, so I hope to start it sometime next week. In the meantime, his publisher has set up this interview, in which I quiz David on his writing, how he got into genre fiction, and more. If you wanted to check out the novel for yourself, be sure to read this excerpt.

Let’s start with an introduction: Who is David Towsey?

I’m twenty-eight. I’m finishing a PhD in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University – where I’ll start lecturing full-time in September. I guess you could say I’m a geek or nerd – if such labels are helpful. I play computer games, specifically MMOs, which I’ve been a regular player of since I was fourteen and first got hold of Ultima Online. I also enjoy playing Magic: the Gathering at a fairly competitive level. But between all that gaming and writing I try and keep active by playing squash and swimming at least twice a week.

Your latest novel, Your Brother’s Blood, was recently published by Jo Fletcher Books. How would you introduce the novel to a potential reader? Is it intended as part of a series?

When people ask me about the book I tend to see if they’ve read or seen The Road. If they have, I say it’s a lot like that. Except Your Brother’s Blood follows a father and daughter. And the the father is a “zombie”. If they haven’t, it becomes more difficult. It’s a novel that sits somewhere between a road-movie and a zombie-western. For me, it focuses on family relationships that come under strain – sometimes through normal situations and sometimes because of more extreme circumstances. Your Brother’s Blood is the first part of a trilogy that follows a central family, the McDermotts. Continue reading

“Apocalypse Now Now” by Charlie Human (Century)

Human-ApocalypseNowNow-UKA bonkers, fascinating, twisted debut urban fantasy

I love the smell of parallel dimensions in the morning.

Baxter Zevcenko’s life is pretty sweet. As the 16-year-old kingpin of the Spider, his smut-peddling schoolyard syndicate, he’s making a name for himself as an up-and-coming entrepreneur. Profits are on the rise, the other gangs are staying out of his business, and he’s going out with Esme, the girl of his dreams.

But when Esme gets kidnapped, and all the clues point towards strange forces at work, things start to get seriously weird. The only man drunk enough to help is a bearded, booze-soaked, supernatural bounty hunter that goes by the name of Jackson ‘Jackie’ Ronin.

Plunged into the increasingly bizarre landscape of Cape Town’s supernatural underworld, Baxter and Ronin team up to save Esme. On a journey that takes them through the realms of impossibility, they must face every conceivable nightmare to get her back, including the odd brush with the Apocalypse.

This is an extremely strong debut novel, from an author who exhibits a great deal of talent and potential. Apocalypse Now Now is bonkers, twisted, very funny, and utterly engaging. I read this a little while ago, but Human’s characters and writing have stayed with me. The author channels the best of Urban Fantasy, makes it his own, and blends it with a Hunter S. Thompson-esque flair for language. This was a lot of fun.

[Full disclosure: I now work for Charlie Human’s agent. So I probably shouldn’t be reviewing this, but I loved it and wanted to at least write something.]

Baxter is an interesting and fun guide to the Cape Town supernatural underground. He is not your typical teenager. He’s possibly crazy, Machiavellian, a little paranoid, and definitely sociopathic. He picks on his brother, who is slightly mentally handicapped. He’s unpleasant to a lot of people. He runs a porn-ring. He goes to a fancy-ish school in Cape Town:

Like all prominent high schools in the leafy Southern Suburbs we have lush school grounds, sophisticated computer labs that were out of date as soon as they were installed, a debating team, a competitive rugby team, and gangs, drugs, bulimia, depression and bullying.

It’s an ecosystem; a microcosm of the political, economic and military forces that shape the world. Some high-school kids worry about being popular or about getting good marks. I worry about maintaining a fragile gang treaty that holds Westridge together. Horses for courses, as my dad says.

The first two-thirds of the novel make up what has to be the strongest start to a debut series I’ve read in a very long time. We get a superb, guided tour of Cape Town’s underground, and also plenty of interesting asides about South African folklore and mysticism. The story builds to a rather strange ‘Big Boss Fight’, which I didn’t find quite as compelling as the world-building and character-development in the first two-thirds of the book. True, there’s a lot of world-building and attention to establishing the characters, but I was never bored. In fact, I would have happily read even more of his creations. I haven’t come across a more-immediately-gripping UF series than this.

I felt I really got to know Baxter, the members of the Spider (especially Kyle, Baxter’s closest friend), Ronin and everyone else. They interact realistically, they bitch and gripe at each other. Baxter makes the adults he interacts with extremely uncomfortable. Maybe the only character who wasn’t expertly incorporated into the story was Esme, which is strange, given that her kidnapping forms much of Baxter’s motivation in the story… A minor weakness, though, in an otherwise superb novel.

Human’s writing is immediate, addictive, funny, and expertly crafted. The humour is natural, understated, often rather dark, and I often chuckled and laughed-out-loud on the train and Tube. Baxter’s internal monologues (and dialogues, as it turns out… just read it) are cynical, fresh, and often very funny. It’s like he sees the world with one eyebrow permanently raised.

Encouraging a sweet and fragile teacher – distraught at the thought that we don’t care about her class, and driven to hysteria by consistent and vicious undermining of her authority – to throw herself from the second storey is wrong. But it’s also fun.

Human-ApocalypseNowNow-SAThis is a pretty short (somewhat disjointed) review, I know. But this is a novel that has to be read to be properly appreciated. I could provide near-endless quotations and descriptions of his original and brilliant creations. But that would rob the novel of its impact, when you pick it up yourself (which you must!). I’d love to sit down and chat with people who have read this, going through various plot points, jokes, etc., in more detail. I took a greater-than-normal amount of notes, mainly favourite quotations and jokes. Let’s hope plenty of other people read it, so I have others to chat to about it.

Needless to say, Charlie Human has proven that Urban Fantasy is still a very vibrant and diverse genre, with considerable scope for originality and invention. He’s also messed around with a lot of the genre’s tropes, twisting things into new shapes, while remaining true to some classic themes and aesthetics. I really can’t wait for the second novel in the series. (It’s on its way.) Cape Town is a refreshing location for the story, and adds so much to how the author has created his supernatural community and mythology. It’s really great.

I recommend this very highly to anyone with even a slight interest in Urban Fantasy. Also, to just anyone who’s looking for something original, very well-written, funny, dark, and genre-blending. Charlie is definitely an author to watch, and I think we’re still only scratching the surface of what he can, and will do.

Apocalypse Now Now is out, uh, now in the UK.

Friday Read: YOUR BROTHER’S BLOOD by David Towsey (Jo Fletcher Books)

TowseyD-1-YourBrothersBloodI have a real soft-spot for zombie apocalypse and dystopian future fiction. While on one of my frequent Let’s Trawl The Internet for upcoming books information, I stumbled across David Towsey’s debut, Your Brother’s Blood, which seems to offer something a little different to your typical zombie-horror novel. Here’s the synopsis:

The earth is a wasteland, with no technology, science, or medicine – but the dead don’t always die. Those who rise again are the Walkin’…

Thomas is thirty-two. He comes from the small town of Barkley. He has a wife there, Sarah, and a child, Mary; good solid names from the Good Book. And he is on his way home from the war, where he has been serving as a conscripted soldier. 

Thomas is also dead — he is one of the Walkin’. 

And Barkley does not suffer the wicked to live.

Perhaps this will be a nice contemporary of Daryl Gregory’s Raising Stony Mayhall? Regardless, here is an excerpt from the novel, one of my Most Anticipated of 2013… Continue reading