I am so thrilled to welcome Stuart Aken this week who has very kindly agreed to talk about his highly acclaimed and varied work. I’m going to jump straight in because as you will see, Stuart’s got a lot to tell and I didn’t want to cut any of it!
Q1. What kind of books do you write?
It’s tempting to answer this facetiously with ‘Great!’ but I’ll be a little more considered.
My dislike of the cubby-holing and restrictions of genre has persuaded me to ignore it as a guide to my writing. My books tell stories first and foremost. I’m interested in the human condition, justice/injustice, the abuse of Big Business, and the environment, but I’m also fascinated by our capacity as a species to produce wonderful objects, design complex and intriguing theories to explain our world, to love, to hate, to kill and to create. So, I write stories that include romance, sometimes with erotic content to emphasise the difference between love and lust. I write stories that project into the future to see where we, the human race, may be in years to come. I write stories to explore ideas and the way myth and legend can become driving forces for people’s beliefs.
Because readers generally like to be given some direction when looking for books, I’ll apply the recognised labels to what I’ve written so far. But none of my books fall entirely within the confines of these pigeonholes we call genres.
Breaking Faith is a love story with dark undertones. Essentially it’s a romance, set in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that is the Yorkshire Dales in England.
The Methuselah Strain is set on Earth some hundreds of years hence and follows the exploits of a woman who’s an IT genius on a search for a man who can help her create a child by natural means in a world of hedonistic leisure.
M.E. and Me is a medical memoir of my ten years with ME/CFS and celebrates my recovery from that condition, whilst giving readers information and guidance on how to cope with it.
A Seared Sky: Book 1, Joinings; Book 2, Partings; Book 3, Convergence, is an adult epic fantasy trilogy set in an imagined world. It follows the quest of a party of pilgrims led on a dangerous mission by their religious leader. Told through the viewpoints of three separate couples, it interweaves their tales as they travel in the hope of finding justice and freedom. This is largely an adventure story in the fantasy mode, but avoiding the dragons and sword and sorcery routes.
Blood Red Dust: Generation Mars, Book 1 is set on Mars in the year 2074 and follows a group of chosen scientists as they settle on the red planet in an attempt to continue the human race after the Earth has been devastated by climate chaos. They are pursued by a religious extremist group intent on destroying all human life.
Stuart, I’ve read Blood Red Dust and loved it! Looking forward to the next one and I’m hanging on your WIP progress updates each week on Twitter. But moving on…
Q2. What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?
I was brought up in a household without books. My mother and father both read, but they obtained their books from the local library, since they lacked the means to buy them. As a result, I’d read the entire contents of the children’s section by the age of 11. It contained all the children’s English classics as well as some American books for children. I approached the fearsome librarian and asked if I might borrow books from the adult section (available once age 14 was reached). She gave me permission, provided I passed each book in front of her for approval. I’m unsure whether she permitted my first book, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, because she was unaware of its content or because she felt it really was suitable. A book that dealt with the horrors of trench warfare, the expletives of soldiers and their adventures with prostitutes, may not have been the best introduction to adult literature but it educated me in the ways of the world. That we had no TV in the house until I was 14 years old meant I spent a lot of time reading.
As a young adult, I read great quantities of science fiction; Ray Bradbury’s wonderful lyrical style, John Wyndham’s fascinating stories, and the works of Aldiss, Asimov, and so many other great authors. Later, I tackled many of the classics. And I read a lot of contemporary novels: Graham Greene, John Fowles, William Golding and Iris Murdoch were among my early favourites.
Q3. What are you working on at the moment?
Last year, my publisher launched Blood Red Dust, a science fiction novel set on Mars. At present, I’m interrupting the writing of book 2 in the Generation Mars series to complete this interview. But I’ll be back to the writing tomorrow. The book continues the story of those early pioneers, but is set five hundred years into the future. That, in itself, should say something to you about the nature of the book, I hope. I prefer not to discuss the WIP whilst I’m in the process of creation, so I’m afraid that’s as much as I can tell you at present. Even the title is currently not for public consumption!
Q4. What can we look forward to in the future from you?
Once I’ve completed the book referred to above, I’m keen on writing more short stories, and having a serious attempt at some poetry. Short stories, apart from being a pleasure to write, really concentrate the mind and tighten the storytelling faculties. And poetry is a great way to develop concise style and explore metaphor and simile, as well as being an ideal medium for protest against the ills of the world. A marvellous way to indulge the imagination and widen the creative mind. I’ll continue to write my blog posts. And I’ll begin the research and development of book 3 in the Generation Mars series.
Q5. Who are your favourite authors?
I estimate I’ve read some ten thousand books. That’s a lot of words. A great many authors. Most have contributed something to my writing in one way or another, even if it’s a warning about how not to do it! But I suspect I’ve been influenced most heavily by Ray Bradbury, Iris Murdoch, Stephen King, Dorothea Brande and Graham Greene. I’ve enjoyed Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien, Tom Sharpe, John Le Carré, Richard Adams, Nicci French, D.H. Lawrence and Howard Spring, among many others.
Q6. What do you do when you’re not reading?
If I’m tired, I watch the idiots’ lantern: it relaxes and is undemanding at the end of the day. But I love walking, and my wife Valerie, and I are fortunate enough to live within the boundaries of an area of Gloucestershire called the Forest of Dean. The woods are extensive and we have to walk only a hundred yards from our front door to enter the steep public footpath that leads into the trees that grow either side of the valley in which we live. I was once a professional photographer and I still indulge for my own pleasure. The garden is a work in progress and we love to get out there and try to tame it in the good weather.
Q7. What is your writing process?
Ah. I’m a pantster. That is, I write without plotting. I know many writers find this approach inexplicable and even a little terrifying. But I’ve tried the plotting route: I wrote 78,000 words of a thriller by hand on lined paper in the days before electronic typewriters became easily available (yes, I’m that old!) I wrote that book to a plot. When I went back to start the editing and read what I’d written, I was so dissatisfied by the result that I chucked the whole thing in the bin. That story still lives in my head. Maybe, one day, I’ll revisit it.
So, writing as a pantster: I develop my cast of characters first. I’m a visual man so I collect pictures from the internet and use these as the physical basis for my characters. I use a table to describe each of them, give them a history, family, background, ambitions, personality traits and any other aspects I feel are needed to get to know them well. At the back of my mind I know what I want to say in the story, and I develop a very lose framework, which I don’t write down. It resides in my head so it can be altered as it develops. But I generally know how the story should end. I set my characters free into the location(s) I’ve chosen or designed and place barriers in the way of their ambitions and then allow them to get on with it. Often, they take unexpected turns and go off in directions I never intended. This means I have to rewrite when I start the first edit. I never read what I’ve written the previous day, but always end a day with a short or an unfinished sentence that acts as a prompt for the next writing session. And I always finish the story before I read any of it back.
When I was younger, I could sit down with no idea in my head and write a short story from start to finish in a day. On one occasion I completed a 10,000 word story this way. These days I’m a little more relaxed, but I generally write around 2,000 words a day when I’m in the creating phase. Editing takes a good deal of time, especially if further research is needed. But I enjoy the whole process: there’s something really satisfying about constructing a sentence from exactly the right words, don’t you think?
Let me thank you Caron, for this opportunity to let readers, and other writers, know a little more about me. I’ve enjoyed our chat and it’s a privilege I appreciate. I hope I haven’t been too wordy. Loving the language, I do sometimes tend to overindulge!
Thank you, Stuart, it’s been a fascinating insight! I am also a pantser, and whenever I’ve tried to use a plotting ‘system’, I lose heart very quickly.
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Universal Amazon links to books:
Breaking Faith: http://mybook.to/breakingfaith
The Methuselah Strain: http://getBook.at/Methuselah
M.E. and Me: http://myBook.to/MEandme
Blood Red Dust: http://getBook.at/BloodRed
All my books published by Fantastic Books Publishing: https://www.fantasticbooksstore.com/authors/stuart-aken