Neil Williamson, author of the excellent Moon King, kindly invited me to follow him in another of those writer blog chains. In this one we’re supposed to name three things we don’t write about and three things we do. Neil’s own answers are here. And here, belatedly, are mine:
Things I don’t write about:
Galactic empires: I know most science fictional ‘futures’ are futures which, even at time of writing, we know won’t really happen. But this particular impossible future strikes me as having been somewhat done to death.
Ordinary life: I’d like to think what I write is relevant to everyday life, but I can’t ever see myself writing a book which is simply about ordinary people doing ordinary stuff, in much the same way that, if I was a visual artist, I can’t imagine I’d want (once I’d mastered the skills) to simply reproduce what I saw in front of me.
Action heroes: I was surprised when a recent New York Times reviewer criticised John Redlantern in Dark Eden for being a stereotypical 50s action hero, because I’ve never liked those kind of ultra-competent, super-brave characters at all. If John Redlantern does fall into that mould then it’s a case of parallel evolution. I wanted to write a male protagonist who made stuff happen, unlike the somewhat passive, introverted and (in those respects at least) somewhat Chris Beckett-like protagonists of both previous novels. Trying to figure out something different about his mental make-up, that would drive John Redlantern to act and bring about change, I had him impose on himself at the beginning of the book the puritanical rule that every time he made a decision he would always think about the long-term benefits of the alternatives, rather than what he actually felt like doing at the time. But what drives him deep down, as Tina Spiketree observes, is actually a kind of fear.
Things I do write about:
Mothers: I didn’t set out deliberately to do this, but the main male protagonists of The Holy Machine, Marcher and Dark Eden all have what I can only call mother issues, as does the tortured poet in ‘Monsters’, which I sometimes think is my favourite of all my short stories. And then of course my next book is called Mother of Eden… Well, just think of the therapy bills I’m saving.
Transgression: My characters are always crossing boundaries, both literal and metaphorical. In the Holy Machine, George and Lucy escape from Illyria into the Outlands. In Dark Eden, John deliberately breaks something that almost everyone holds dear, and then heads off over Snowy Dark in defiance of his own community. In Mother of Eden, Starlight Brooking crosses Worldpool, and breaks a centuries-old rule which she’d promised always to keep. As to Marcher, well, the word itself means a frontier-dweller, and the main character is a schizoid figure who obsessively guards a kind of metaphysical frontier while simultaneously longing to cross it himself. Again: massive therapy bill savings here, I suspect.
Charisma: Not quite such an obvious theme of mine, but the Holy Machine is a robot saint, preaching to huge adoring crowds, John Redlantern is able to get others to follow him through his steely certainty that he’s right, and Starlight Brooking, also finding herself venerated as a kind of saint, becomes a powerful and radical leader.
Neil passed on this baton to three other writers including myself. (The other two were Keith Brooke and James Everington). However a quick calculation tells me that if I were to pass this on to three authors, and they were each to pass it on to three and so on, in six months time we’d need more than two trillion authors, which would of course entail a vast emergency cloning programme between now and then, to be followed by catastrophic ecological collapse. In order to avoid such an outcome, I’m just going to pass this on to just one person.
That said, I’ve often suspected Ian Whates of secretly being a set of identical triplets, simply on the basis of how much he manages to get done. Not only is he a far more prolific writer than me, but he also publishes other people’s books in his capacity as proprietor, editor, sales director and administrator of Newcon Press, which publishes Neil’s Moon King mentioned above, as well as my own Peacock Cloak, and the forthcoming new edition of Marcher, amongst many other things. He’s also an active member of the British science fiction community, maintains a vast network of contacts and friends that seems to include practically everyone, and still managed to find time to be a Clarke Award judge this year, which entailed reading more than 100 books. Suspicious, I think you’ll agree.