Interview mash-up with A J Dalton!
In a departure from my usual updates, I’m posting something a little different – an interview with a fellow Gollancz author, A J Dalton. I first met Adam at a Gollancz party not long after we had been both been signed. Both of us come from a self-publishing background, having won the attention of our publisher through the blood, sweat and tears of marketing our own work. Discovering similar tastes in everything from films, books and favourite party nibbles, it was inevitable we would become good friends. (And hell, we even have the “j” in common.)
Adam is the author of two fantastic trilogies – The Flesh and Bone Trilogy and The Chronicles of a Cosmic Warlord. We decided to do a bit of an interview mash-up: Adam sent me ten questions to answer and I reciprocated with ten questions of my own. Check out Adam’s website to see his interview of me – and here is my interview of him. You keeping up? Good! Here goes:
1. Like myself, you originally chose to go the self-publishing route. Was that a difficult decision? Are you still glad that you took that step?
It wasn’t a difficult decision – since I’d been rejected by every agent and publisher in the world at that point. It seemed a ‘closed shop’ (at the time). I was confident in my book Necromancer’s Gambit – it was fresh and original (and sales have subsequently proved my judgement wasn’t too far off). I decided to put my money where my mouth was and buy my way into Waterstones. Six months after I published Gambit (2008), Twilight hit the cinemas and ‘dark fantasy’ was born as the new sub-genre. The only dark fantasy book on the shelves at the time? Mine. I got so lucky!!! But you make your own luck by taking such risks.
2. I believe that you originally pitched Chronicles of a Cosmic Warlord as a five-book series. Was it difficult to restructure into three books? What were the challenges?
Yes, it was difficult. And I still think the publishers made a mistake – although I understand commercially speaking why they wouldn’t want to commit to a new author over a five-book deal. What were the challenges? Well, I had to write the synopses of the various books quite a few times before they were happy. I couldn’t see the wood for the trees for a while – and got a mate to help me in the end. Once the synopses were agreed, it was then a matter of writing book 2 and book 3. Writing the books is relatively easy in truth. Selling them is the hard bit.
3. The Chronicles of a Cosmic Warlord series is filled with so many brilliantly-realised characters. From the crazy naked hermit (with an abundance of flatulence) to the hauntingly moving Freda, they are all so individual and memorable. How do you go about planning and creating your characters?
Er... well... I don’t plan. Is that bad? I think of a moral dilemma that is at the core of a character and that becomes the dynamic for all they say and do for the rest of the book. Get the dilemma right and they write themselves. Works for me, anyway.
4. You describe yourself as a ‘metaphysical’ writer. Could you explain more about that and how it informs your writing?
Hmm. Well, you can’t get a job as a philosopher these days, so people have to write fantasy and scifi instead. The term metaphysical references metaphysical poets like John Donne and Andrew Marvel . They describe close human scenes but give them large scale significance. It’s like writing through a microscope, if that makes sense. There are other authors like that – Philip Pullman, for example. It all sounds a bit poncy, but you’ve basically gotta have a good human drama that has epic significance... which lends itself to all sorts of pratt-falls, obviously. That’s jokes to you and me.
5. You’re a regular on the book-signing circuit. Do you have any amusing anecdotes to share from the crazy world of the book-buying public?
I’ve had one stalker... who never bought any of my books because he didn’t think he’d like them – he was very religious, you see. He used to stand at my desk and dissuade others from buying my books. He was a huge fella, so it was a bit scary, really. He then decided he wanted me to write the true life story of his grandfather. Then Leona Lewis was attacked at some Waterstones signing in London and stores started taking security at events more seriously – so the big fella was ‘moved along’ and I never heard from him again... although I’m always checking over my shoulder. It’s amusing in retrospect... or maybe not amusing. Sorry.
6. Which writers have influenced you the most and why?
Definitely Tom Stoppard, with ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead’. There’s a line: ‘Imagine you wake up in a box and you’re dead.’ That inspired Necromancer’s Gambit, as did The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock. My fight scenes are from David Gemmell. And the rest is pure Christopher Marlowe mixed with Machiavelli (I studied renaissance theatre, you see).
7. What is the best – and worst – thing about being an author?
Best thing – the writing.
Worst thing – never having enough time for the writing. (Tell me about it: Mike) The writing doesn’t pay enough to cover your bills, you see, so you have to go out and get a day-job. Finding time to write is tricky, and the stress of that (especially when you have a deadline) really reduces the pleasure of the writing.
8. What projects are you currently working on – if you’re allowed to tell us!
A standalone ‘science fantasy’ called Lifer. Just 90,000 words, so a snip for the likes of you and me! It’s going well, and I’m enjoying it – cos there’s no deadline or anything (I haven’t looked into getting a publishing contract for it yet). In fact, it’s probably the best thing I’ve written to date (getting better with practice maybe). It’ll be the book I’m remembered for when I’m long gone, I suspect.
9. If you could go back to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?
Don’t sit down for two years and write one novel, and then spend years trying to get it published. Life is too short. Write a number of chapter ones for different books and send them out with synopses to loads of different publishers – it’s far quicker doing that. Plus, make sure the chapter ones can stand alone as short stories so you can submit them for short story competitions. And publish yourself on Kindle. You’d be an idiot not to. And don’t let Gollancz cross-account on the book advances and royalties on your first book deal!
10. Have to ask, did you ever play gamebooks as a kid and which was your favourite?
Absolutely. Fighting Fantasy. Jackson and Livingstone. Hands down best is Deathtrap Dungeon. Oh, no it isn't. Oh, yes it is. Deathtrap Dungeon is the best one. And it did influence my writing too.
Deathtrap Dungeon was my favourite gamebook back in the day too. Great minds think alike.
To find out more about A J Dalton, you can visit his website at: http://metaphysicalfantasy.wordpress.com/ On Twitter he is @AJDalton1, and you can also follow him on facebook at A J Dalton.
More updates soon!