I always knew I wanted to be a writer, even in grade school. I thought I wanted to write comic books. After making some comics in high school I found that I liked having complete control over the process and not being dependant on an artist. I focused on prose, wrote several books which didn't sell before I got to the point where I was ready on a professional level.
I graduated with a degree in English - which is generally useless. I immediately went into publishing as an editor and copyeditor, and then went into the production side. That sort of thing has served me very well.
Tell us about The Demon Cycle...
It is a fantasy series set in a world where demons come up out of the ground every night. The civilisation had been technologically advanced, but then there was a war with demons which humanity thought they had won. Thousands of years later, once the humans had forgotten the magic they needed to defeat them, the demons emerged. They had hid and multiplied, and as normal weapons weren't any use against them, they pulled the humans back into a pre-industrial level society.
We hear you're interested in role-playing games. Has this helped or inhibited your writing?
My game of choice was always Dungeons and Dragons. I think I learned a lot about writing from doing that. When you're gaming you're interacting with a live audience, you can see when people are bored or what they're interested in. But there was a period in my life, when I was playing the most, that I was writing the least. I think the creative itch was being scratched by the gaming, meaning I didn't have the need to write. It wasn't until I stopped gaming that I started to write again. If you want to write you need to focus your creative energies.
Stephen King talks about his writing tool box (grammar, vocabulary), what's in your tool box?
I think I have a unique way of writing. I write out lists of everything that happens in a book in enormous detail before I start writing the prose. The next book I'm working on has 150 pages of just bulleted lists of every single thing that happens. When I go to write the prose I layer it into the story. This roadmap keeps me focused as the series is going so that I don't end up writing myself off of the map.
That's incredibly methodical...
I worked for several years as an editor and copy-editor and that experience is sometimes a benefit - because I speak the same language as my editors, and sometimes bad because every editor has their own opinions and pet peeves. When you don't agree you can bash heads a little bit.
How easy do you find writing female characters?
I don't find it easier or harder than writing male characters. I just write characters. I am fortunate enough to have many strong and intelligent women in my life. There aren't enough important female characters in literature, and fantasy especially, I'm aware and try to include that. You can go too far focusing on how to write female characters 'properly'. You'd forget that human beings are flawed creatures. Whether a character is male or female, they will do wonderful, intelligent things, and they'll also make bad decisions. If you try too hard to present a perfect, strong female or male character, you stop making them real. I make sure everyone has their bit of greatness, but flaws too.
You've written novellas and novels...
They required entirely different skill-sets. With novellas, I thought the first one would be very easy, but then it ended up being a lot more work than I had anticipated. While I can start and finish a novella in a relatively short period of time, maybe a month if I really focus on it, but it takes me about two years to write a book. When you have these really big projects you have to chip away at, its nice to have something I can start and finish relatively quickly and feel a sense of accomplishment I usually only get every few years.
As a sci-fi and fantasy writer, what do you think about the move towards digital publishing?
All my books are available as ebooks. I don't think there is any reason that print books and ebook could not be able to coexist peacefully. I'm a book collector and a book-lover, I have a huge library of books that I love. Every time I read a book I keep it, and I feel very strongly about that. But I'm also on tour and going to a different city every day. I'm trying to travel 'carry-on only' and can't take a bunch of books with me, so I have my ipad and a bunch of books loaded on it. If people love to read, they'll read in the format they're happiest with. I know plenty of people who have ereaders who still go out and buy books of the stories that are special to them.
It's because of book shops that you're here in Nottingham...
I do think that book-stores provide more to the community than just books. It's a place for people to gather, an event space for authors, a great space to meet people who share your interests, to get recommendations about what to read. It's much more difficult to get that kind of advice and browsing experience online than in a good book-store. Certainty in the US, book-stores are closing at a fast rate. Borders closed and I watched my sales drop 40%. But more than that, I see what it’s done to the communities that used to have this place for people to gather. It's changed the vibe of a lot of neighbourhoods.
The internet offers convenience which is difficult to resist ...
It's easy to forget, when you know you want a book and you can order it cheaper from the internet, that the store is not always going to be there. You'll only be thinking of your convenience and that saving of a dollar or two. But then the store closes, and you realise what a wonderful thing it was to have. I think people need to make an effort to be supportive of their local stores, and if you're reading digital books- that's fine. But that doesn't mean you can't buy them from different places, or buy books as gifts for your children, friends and family. I know how terribly I've missed the local book-stores which are now gone. I think its felt even more strongly in communities that only had one book-store. I don't think that books and ebooks need to be at war with each other.