‘Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.’
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In the beginning…tell me what made you decide to start writing?
From an early age my mother read to me at night, all the old children’s classics and so I had a love of the narrative and storytelling before I could ever put a pen to paper. As soon as I could read and write I started writing stories, especially ghost stories. I just love storytelling, I have even done improvised performance tales. I have also written poetry and performed my own work at St David’s Cathedral.
Are there any authors or artists who influence(d) you?
Bradbury, Dick, Wells, King, Aspin. The list goes on…. The biggest influence on my current book series is P.K.Dick and Ray Bradbury (especially the Martian Chronicles), though my story is within the Steampunk genre, that’s only the setting. The style is taken from the Victorian/Edwardian tradition of presenting the narrative in the form of epistles; letter, journal and diary entries.
Tell me about your book.
Sometimes, one man’s courage can change the course of history.
Scratching a living out of the red earth of the newly independent Martian Colonies, an idealistic young Dandelion Farmer, Edwin Ransom, takes a stand against the powerful and evil industrialist, Eleuthère Du Maurier, who is trying to drive him off his land.
As events spiral out of Edwin’s control he encounters Adam Franklin, a man suffering long-term memory loss and haunted by nightmares of his own death.
Edwin and Adam are drawn further into violent conflict with Du Maurier’s henchmen and are forced to flee to the safety of Edwin’s father-in-law’s protection.
Professor Flammarion, Edwin’s father-in-law, is a man with a vision. Believing that mankind on Mars is on the brink of self-extinction he has brought an airship and is preparing to set off in search of what he believes to be the only hope of saving the humans on Mars; the last of the First Martians. The Professor enlists Edwin and Adam to join his eclectic group of scientists and adventurers in his perilous quest.
Set against a background of the looming threat of war between the colonies and pursued by the dark forces unleashed by the evil Du Maurier, Edwin finds himself catapulted into a nightmare adventure on the frontiers of human civilisation and beyond.
The story has an ensemble cast and unfolds through the letters, diary and journal entries of the main characters, exploring their individual personalities, experiences and points of view.
The Dandelion Farmer is complete at 135,000 words and is the first part in what is intended as a three-part series. Of course, it has all the expected Steampunk ingredients; airships, robots, mad professors, corsets, top hats, magnificent moustaches, Martians, monsters and Machiavellian evil industrialists, but it pushes the boundaries of Steampunk into mainstream Science Fiction.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have one and a half novels in an epic dark fantasy series that I have been writing for a very long time.
I am a third of the way through the second book of the Dandelion Farmer.
What’s your opinion on the practice of ‘banning’ books?
Depends on the book and the subject material. If it’s deliberately offensive, purposefully racist, sexist, proliferating an intentional lie or aimed at rabble-rousing, then there may be a good reason to ban a new work from general access in schools etc. Though, on the whole I am opposed to the idea of censorship.
Tell me about a principal character in your book(s). What makes them memorable?
The principal character is Edwin Ransom, the eponymous Dandelion Farmer. He is a biofuel grower in a late 19th century post-Imperial colony on Mars. He is a quiet, scholarly man thrust into a violent struggle against powers beyond his control. The thing that makes him memorable is the reality of his humanity and his frailty. He is an average person thrust into the headlights of an onrushing juggernaut but unlike most “protagonists” in such stories he does not suddenly become an “action hero.” That role falls to the secondary protagonist, Adam Franklin.
Indie, or traditionally published – and why?
Self-published, because I tried the traditional process and got ignored. Steampunk is not a genre that most agents understand let alone publishing houses and mine is not the usual Steampunk, being more Steampunked Science Fiction. I gave it seven months of what I knew would be hitting my head against a brick wall, then I self-published. I preferred the freedom of producing your own work without the input of an editor who may have no idea or interest in what I’m writing. I don’t really want someone coming to my work telling me how this or that should be without understanding my thought process or aims. Or worse, that I should be forced to explain my work to someone else.
It’s said that to write well, you need to read a lot. What do you think?
True. I think you have to have a grasp of narrative storytelling that comes from reading. I believe we all should read more. The only problem is with those writers who read to copy a style or read simply to “research” a genre. I have seen a number of posts on FB pages by would-be Steampunk authors asking which Steampunk books they should read to give them access into the genre… my answer is; don’t, because you will end up copying someone else’s work, badly.
Tell me what you feel the worst, and the best, aspects of being an author are, and why.
For me? I haven’t done the glad-handing or sitting at a table trying to sell a book or two at a convention or convivial, so I have mainly focused on the social media. The worst part is not meeting my readers, although I openly encourage communication.
The best part is that a story I have written is out there, people I have never met, some in other counties, are reading my story. My characters are out there, alive in other people’s imaginations.
Are you a plotter, or a pantser? What do you think of the opposite approach?
I guess I am a plotter, as I do have a good idea of where my narrative is going, but I write on the wing. I find this allows the characters to grow and for the unexpected to occur. So really I am both.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Yes. Names, allusions to places, other books, real people. It’s all there if you know your Sci-Fi, just look carefully. For instance, pay close attention to the crew names of the airship Seren Bore.
Tell me about one favourite hobby or pastime that isn’t writing or reading.
I am heavily involved in the British Steampunk community. I build Steampunk contraptions which I have won awards for and have several exhibits in the Bristol Steampunk Museum. I love making things.
What are you writing at the moment?
Book two of The Dandelion Farmer.
What’s your opinion on the belief that indie books are badly edited and lower quality than traditionally published?
I don’t think “traditional” publishing is a guarantee of the quality of the story within, I have come across some truly godawful traditionally published books. I would rather read a good story with the odd spelling mistake than a hackneyed load of polished codswallop.
What is your favourite genre to write, and why?
Fantasy and Steampunked Science Fiction. I love both as they provide great scope for imagination, I think Sci-Fi has the power to challenge every cultural preconception of our society. I love its fundamental subversiveness.
If you could, would you live in the world you’ve created? Why / why not?
No way. The Mars of Edwin Ransom is a terrible place, constantly wracked by warfare, a dying planet. I’d not survive for a week.
If you could go back to the start of your writing career, what is the one piece of advice you’d give yourself?
If the words aren’t coming then write something else. Don’t use writer’s block as an excuse for not writing. Write every day if you can.
Do you listen to music when you write, and if so, what do you like?
I prefer to write in silence if I can. I’m too easily distracted otherwise.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
How the characters and the story grow beyond your original ideas. How characters you may have conceived of as incidental force their way onto centre stage. Sometimes it makes me feel more like an archaeologist excavating the tale layer by layer than someone simply creating it. Especially writing it in the form of letters and diary entries as the characters own concerns and interests can take you off into a totally uncharted territory.
Tell me three unique things about you.
1) I am a fully qualified grave robber (work that one out).
2) I have a passionate love for literature but could not read or write until I was 11.
3) A major regional British TV channel once had to publically apologise for my behaviour on live TV (I was only 18 after all).
Mat, thank you for participating in Galaxy of Authors!