Thursday, 30 April 2009

INTERVIEW: Tony Ballantyne

When Tony originally burst onto the Sci-Fi front with his first novel, Recursion, a lot of readers in the genre sat up and paid attention to him. Whether its humanised AI's or futuristic Geisha's he's always added something different to his work to get the reader to pay attention.

Here we chat to Tony about the future of life, his own indomitable worlds and how to rock out to Status Quo on an Accordian...

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 you opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Tony Ballantyne: Yes, it's an affliction, but a mostly enjoyable one. Saying that, my wife says I get moody if I don't get to write.

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

TB: When I first became a reader.

FT: Its 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 your POV?

TB: Yes, its true, but that doesn't mean you don't have to learn how to do the other things. For example, writing a novel is very different to writing a short story. Nonetheless, my advice to any would be writer is always to start with short stories. If nothing else, you get feedback quickly, and if you've got it wrong, you can always move onto the next one.

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?

TB: I wouldn't try to persuade anyone. But if I had to I would probably say "If you only read one book about robots conquering a world inhabited solely by robots this year, then make sure it's this one."

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

TB: The robots of Artemis are committed to the progression of their nation. Only the robots of Turing City stand in their way...

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

TB: J.L.Carr and Terry Pratchett.

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?

TB: Both! I plot quite intricately, but I think real writing happens when the characters start to do their own

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

TB: Read a book! I recently finished THE REST IS NOISE by Alex Ross, a history of the 20th Century heard through its music. I also enjoy listening to music, and I've been reacquainting myself with the pieces mentioned in the book.

FT: What's your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

TB: Playing Status Quo songs on the accordion

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

TB: My children have two cats, and they made a cameo appearance in Divergence. One of the cats can talk, and has long conversations with me when I am at the computer.

FT: Which character within the book is the most fun to write and why?

TB: Kavan, because he gets to do bad things.

FT: How similar to your principle protagonist(s) are you?

TB: Not very. I rarely get to do bad things, and when I do I usually get into trouble.

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

TB: I walk and cycle, I play the piano and the accordion. They don't so much influence my work as give me time to recharge and to reflect upon it.

FT: Where do you get your ideas from?

TB: Everything and everywhere. Plus, my children's talking cat has a great imagination.

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

TB: No. I just keep several stories on the go at once. And on the days when its just not working I go and do something else.

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

TB: Whenever I get the chance. I now carry a laptop with me and I write what I can when I'm stuck waiting in places. I learnt shorthand so I could write things down without anyone knowing. This is useful for copying conversations on crowded buses and making notes in meetings without my boss knowing what I'm doing. (Don't tell her I said that)

FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to madly 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?

TB: I like to have music playing while I write. Twisted Metal is heavily influenced by folk ballads, (you can read more about that on my blog) and I listened Bellowhead's Burlesque while plotting. I played a lot of Shostakovich when writing the scenes set in the north, particularly the 4th Symphony.

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

TB: None really, because I didn't know anything about it. If I were to have my time over again, however, I would join a writers group.

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

TB: Writing is the solace of unrequited love.

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

TB: You get to learn a little more about the history of the robots, a lot of the action takes place on Yukawa, the second continent briefly mentioned in Twisted Metal, and it still hasn't got a title.

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

TB: Probably my email browser, BBC News, Scrabble on Facebook, Wikipedia and my blog.

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instruction to learn the craft of writing a novel?

TB: I read an awful lot about what to do. I still do. Sol Stein's books were particularly useful.

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

TB: I read somewhere that the best way to get over the rejection of your last story is to be writing the next. That's very good advice! Positive criticism is a good thing, you need to take it on board if you are going to develop in any field. Negative criticism? I never take anything personally.

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

TB: The best thing is you're being paid for your hobby. The worst thing is that when you are writing you're not participating in real life. That happens outside the door of the study...

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