Interviewed by Anthony Stark
Describe your life path that led you into writing professionally.
I’ve always dreamed of being a writer, ever since I can remember. My first experience of writing was when I used to make home-made Super 8 movies with my brother Nick when I was about 12. I discovered an old manual typewriter in the loft and used to bash out these short film scripts. I found one of these scripts the other day actually, they were pretty meticulous given there was no sound or dialogue. I couldn’t afford an editing splicer, so all the shots had to be filmed in sequence. But writing these scripts gave me as much pleasure as actually filming them. I left school with no qualifications and tried to continue writing, but nothing of worth came out of it - I guess I didn’t have enough life experience to have anything to write about. I drifted into care work which I did for fifteen years, ending up doing night-shifts in a care-in-the-community hell hole in Whitechapel. The experience was so horrible and surreal I felt like I was starring in my own one-man play. So I decided to write it up as a play, a black comedy called Black Aspirins. It got picked up and was produced for the London stage in 2004. It got pretty good reviews and gave me the confidence to continue writing.
What is your favorite genre to a) write, b) to read? Could you tell us a bit about your reasons.
The genres I most enjoy writing in is horror and sci-fi. I love the idea that anything is possible in both of these genres. I was thinking about this the other day actually - I love reading all sorts of stuff, classics, contemporary fiction, plays, but when it comes down to writing it’s always horror and sci-fi (and occasionally fantasy and adventure.) It’s probably because I get a kick out of trying to create characters and situations that I can pretty much guarantee have never been dreamed up before. It’s a wonderful feeling sitting at my desk on a rainy Monday morning in London and really allowing my imagination to soar.
What were your chief inspirations in creating Destroy all Robots?
Destroy All Robots is a love letter to all the great 50’s sci-fi movies they used to show on the BBC2 late night double-bills. I got the idea for the book a few years ago when I was living in Southeast Asia. There's a toyshop in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo that I used to walk past every day. It always caught my eye as the shop logo was a giant 1950's toy robot.. One day something clicked in my mind and I realized I wanted to write a story that married my love of all things robotic with this exotic country.
What do you feel is the greatest benefit of science fiction to society?
You’re hitting me with the hard ones now! I guess great sci-fi allows us to dream. Our horizons expand revealing any number of possible futures. From this elevated position we can glimpse the potential for humanity, the greatness we are capable of. With the drudgery of everyday life it’s easy to lose sight of that.
How do you feel the internet changes science fiction as a genre?
The internet brought us together as a species and to great extent made us more susceptible to social engineering. The very name World Wide Web implies entrapment and control. So I think dystopian fiction such as 1984 became easier to envisage. Don’t get me started on Facebook!
What differs about your creative process between scriptwriting and your science fiction work, if anything, and what are the relative draws to each.
Screenwriting is all about structure, it’s like carpentry, making a solid table without any wobbly legs. You start with a title and logline, then expand it to a one page outline detailing what happens in Acts 1, 2 and 3. Then you expand it to a detailed synopsis, maybe twenty pages, all the time you’re checking that the story beats are happening in the right places. It’s only when you’ve nailed the structure that you write the screenplay. With novel writing it’s a more organic process. There are rules but you’re allowed to be more flexible. Although I must confess, screenwriting is so hardwired into my psyche that I write all my novels as screenplays first, then adapt them into novels!
With which character in Destroy All Robots do you most identify, and why?
I guess I most identify with Toby. He’s a well-meaning guy, but so obsessively driven that he veers into dangerous waters. I can identify with that.
What drew you to the Okal Rel Universe and its related websites?
I’m a fan of the Clarion blog, there’s a wealth of interesting information there. I love reading about the nuts-and-bolts of how writers go about creating fiction. I often dip into that when I should be writing!