This short interview was conducted a few years ago, at the time of the publication of Helix.
We’re at the bar at a convention buying you a drink – what’s it to be?
Timothy Taylor’s Landlord bitter every time! And if they don’t have Landlord, then a pint of stout or porter.
Why should we buy your book (Helix) over all the other books out there?
Tell you what – buy my book along with anything by Robert Charles Wilson and Richard Paul Russo. But, specifically why you should by mine… It’s faced paced, very readable, and tells an entertaining story featuring characters I hope you’ll care about.
Which of the characters in Helix do you most like and why?
I like Joe Hendry, his stoicism, his unflappability. He’s gone through a lot, before the book opens, and endures much hardship during it, and he’s strong enough to win though. I also love Sissy for the same reasons. Watcher Pharan is also a cool guy, for a locust Buddhist.
What would you like people to get from your novels?
I hope the get from them as much enjoyment and wonder as I had in writing them. I’d like readers to be swept along in the reading and then, later, perhaps to admire the craft.
Was there a specific message you were trying to convey in Helix?
I wanted to tell a compelling story, first and foremost, but always a message comes through even if I didn’t intend it. I think it’s obvious in Helix – look after planet Earth, because we might not be fortunate enough to find a Helix! Also: beware religion, and any ideology that could turn fundamental.
How did you get your start?
I started selling short stories to Interzone way back on 1997, and I was picked up by an agent, Antony Harwood, and then an editor working for Pan, who did my first few books.
How much preparation goes into each story as far as research?
Absolutely none. As far as I’m concerned, research kills my fiction. When I’ve finished the important work, which is writing about human beings, then I’ll check a few facts.
Do you ever draw inspiration from current events?
Only current events as in the state of my emotions at the time of writing.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Not really. When I was in my twenties, I wrote in biro while lying on my bed. Now I use a PC, though my desk is an old 1950s radiogram. I have been known to keep odd writing hours. Shortly after my daughter’s birth, I got up at 5.30 for a month and wrote every day for three hours.
Do you have any writing superstitions?
No. I have rules. Sit down and write, even if I don’t particularly feel like doing so. I’m a great believer in the power of the subconscious. Start writing, and the words will flow eventually.
What or who inspires you to write?
Something inside me won’t allow me not to write. I get irritable if I’m not working on something. Books I love inspire me. Some of Silverberg’s novels, Coney’s, Orwell, Greene, the life of the novelist Rupert Croft-Cooke.
Who would you most aspire to write like and why?
Style-wise, and for depth and economy, Graham Greene, and Orwell the same. In terms of stick-at-itness, Rupert Croft-Cooke, my literary hero, an unsung writer of over a hundred-and-twenty novels, thrillers, non-fiction books, poetry, plays…
What made you choose SF over any other form?
I read Wells and Silverberg at an early age. I was addicted.
Five minutes with an author of your choice – who would it be and what would you ask?
Can I cheat? Can I go back in time to 1935 and ask Rupert Croft-Cooke if he’d like to have a pint with me?
If you weren’t a writer what would you be doing?
Working for the YHA as a duty manager.
When was the last time you didn’t finish a book and why?
Last week, in disgust, because the author who should have known better, and should have cared, instead hacked it out without the slightest integrity, and it showed.
What books have had an effect on you—for better or worse?
The 27 book autobiographical sequence The Sensual World by Croft-Cooke, for showing me that you only succeed at writing if you stick at it.
Do you think there’s anything truly original left to say in the genre?
I think there is – I’m not sure that I’ll say it, but someone will. And there’s always something original to be said about the human condition, as everyone’s viewpoint is valid and original anyway.
What are your most favourite or unusual non-writing jobs you’ve had?
My favourite job was working as a duty manager at the Haworth Youth Hostel. I enjoy cooking, and meeting people, and that job combined both.
What do you do when you’re not working?
Look after my daughter; read – though these days as I review books I consider this work, alas; cook.
What are some of your hobbies?
I collect books, specifically Chesterton and Croft-Cooke. I love cooking curries.
What are some of your favourite song lyrics?
“Fifty million little monkeys can’t be wrong…” from the 1930s song The Peanut Vendor.
What are you listening to now?
A CD by the brilliant New Zealander Bic Runga, and an Al Bowly CD, who was a dance band crooner from the thirties.
Do you have any pets?
A black cat called Pippin and a tabby called Rosie, and a dog, Uther, a red and white setter.
Do you prefer happy or depressing endings, and why?
I’m an upbeat character, so I constitutionally prefer happy endings – but not saccharine, cop-out endings. And downbeat ending are great if they work in the context of the preceding story.