Monday, 17 August 2009

INTERVIEW: Alan Campbell

After studing Computer Science at Edinburgh University, Alan went on to work for a number of well known game companys from DMA Design to Visual Sciences and finally onto Rockstar where he developed numerous games for the mass consumer (including Grand Theft Auto), leaving after finishing ViCe City in order to persue a career in photography and writing. Now with his third book in the Deepgate Codex released (much to the clamour of his fans) we thought it was about time that we caught up with him to see how he'd sell his work, how he copes with a fake beard and finally on to his idea of bliss...

Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Alan Campbell: To say writing is an affliction sounds vaguely pretentious to me, and a bit arrogant. When someone says that, what they're really saying is "I am prepared to suffer to get my art out there" which implies that they have rather a high opinion of their work. Sure, writing can be difficult and stressful, and it's hard work, but at the end of the day you're sitting down in a comfy room, typing away at a keyboard. It's hardly coal mining.

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

Ever since I was a kid. At school I wrote this story called "Mission Impossible" (thinking it was a cool title and my English teacher would never know I'd nicked it) about a secret agent trying to infiltrate an enemy base. It was crap, but I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment after I'd finished it. Then I wrote a story for my English O Level preliminary about some friends who went camping and tried to kill a stag, but Miss Porteous, who marked it, gave it 9% because she said it was about real events and therefore wasn't fiction. I remember getting really riled because I'd made the story up. And maybe I've been trying to make up for it since then. She probably did me a huge favour.

I'm sure everyone who enjoys reading, will want to write eventually. It's all about getting your head down and doing it.

FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?

Well, I can write a short story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but I can't write decent poetry. My brain isn't wired that way.

FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?

I would hang around the SFF shelves, pretending to be a customer. When someone came up I'd say, "Have you read this? It's brilliant." And they'd say, "Why are you wearing a false beard?" And then they'd complain to the shop assistants and I'd have to make a quick exit. That's what normally happens, anyway.

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

Have you read this? It's brilliant. What? No, this is a real beard, honest.

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

Cormac McCarthy and M John Harrison.

FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?

I have an idea in my head, but the story normally veers away to places I didn't expect. I keep a mental profile of each character, but I dislike dumping lists of character information on the reader. I don't particularly want to know which school they went to and for how long, and that they have two aunts and three cousins in Swindon and so on. I prefer getting to know characters gradually, by the way they behave.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

To relax I like to get out into the wilds, away from television, computers and especially mobile phones. I'm lucky because I live in Scotland – I can head north, pitch my tent beside a loch, and sit back with a beer. Bliss.

Recently I've been reading a lot of vampire fiction – Anne Rice, Poppy Z Brite, and Tanith Lee.

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

Britain's Got Talent.

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

I don't have a pet, but my partner's parents have a collie named Tess, who is an absolute joy. She's very gentle and extremely clever. And she knows everyone's name. You can tell her to go and play with such-and-such, and she'll grab a toy and go bouncing over to that person. Currently my friend's eighteen month old daughter is trying to teach the dog how to speak, so we'll see how that goes.

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

In this book I think Carnival was the most fun to write. I just like writing about bad-ass demigods.

FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?

Rachel is the protagonist in this story. She's the sensible, resourceful one, so we're not very similar.

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

I like snowboarding and motorbikes, but I haven't yet figured out a way to get them into a fantasy novel. Actually, I always say snowboarding and motorbikes, but the truth is I haven't had time to muck about on either for ages. The board is rusting under my bed and the bike is rusting in the garage. I like to play poker too.

FT: Where do you get your idea's from?

I'm going to quote Neil Gaiman here, because he nailed the truth of it. "I make them up in my head."

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

Sometimes. I generally get round it by doing this:

Stare at the screen.

Stare at the screen some more.

Do something else.

Come back and stare at the screen again.

Think, oh my god, what am I going to do? If I don't get this done I'll miss my deadline and then how am I going to pay the mortgage?

Start writing.

FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

I do work late into the night sometimes, and of course my partner would get annoyed if I woke her up at 5am. When that happens I crash in the spare room.

FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

Silence for me. But I listen to music in the car, when I'm thinking.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?

I didn't have any conceptions at all. I went into the industry like a startled rabbit.

FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

Writing is setting down words for other people to read. Not as poetic as Shakespeare, I admit, but it's true (banal, but true). I suppose writing a book is just trying to mess with the reader's mind in a deliberate way. So it's like making drugs for the publishers to peddle.

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

It's the first of a planned trilogy, set in a Deepgate-related world. There will be monsters, magic, war, violence, sex, love, betrayal, adventure, and so on. Some fishing in there too, for all you angling fans out there.

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

BBC News. (Michael Jackson has just died!)
Google. (I googled "Falcata Times")
The Falcata Times website.

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

I read a lot of books on the subject: "The Elements of Style," by Strunk and White; "Stein on Writing," by Sol Stein; "On Writing,"by Stephen King, among others. And I joined a writers' group, which was a huge help.

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

Criticism from other writers can be extremely helpful at the writing stage. But once a book is finished, I don't read reviews. I can be woefully lacking in self confidence about my work. If someone doesn't like something I've written, there's a danger I'll try to change direction in the next book. And if I do that, you can bet I'll get umpteen complaints from the people who liked the original work. We're all different. The worst thing to do would be to try to please everyone. If you put a thousand different shades of paint on display and asked people to critique each of them, you'd have a millions of different, and equally valid, critiques. But if you then combined all the, er, paint, you'd have something that looks a bit like mud. I suppose. Does that make any sense? Sorry, I thought that answer was going to be a lot more profound than it actually was.

FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

Best: You can work anywhere at any time.

Worst: Someone, somewhere hates you.

1 comment:

Pizza said...

I'll have to check out this one at the book shop tomorrow.