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  • Neal Asher

    Mon, 07 Dec 2009 07:26

    Neal Asher has been an engineer, barman, skip lorry driver, coalman, boat window manufacturer, contract grass cutter and builder. Now he writes science fiction books, and says he is "slowly getting over the feeling that someone is going to find me out, and can call myself a writer without wincing and ducking my head."

    Mark Thwaite: Orbus is the third Spatterjay novel. Tell us about the series, Neal, and where Orbus takes it...

    Neal Asher: The Skinner, which starts the series but can also stand on its own, was one of the two books I'd already written when Macmillan offered me a contract. It's one where I completely let myself go and I wrote it very quickly, subsequently expanding it from 80,000 words to 150,000. The whole novel thing grew from two extremely weird short stories I had published long ago called Spatterjay and Snairls. Here's a bit of the blurb:

    Three travellers arrive on the world of Spatterjay: Janer brings the eyes of a Hive mind; Erlin comes to find Ambel -- the ancient sea captain who can teach her to live; and Sable Keech is a man with a vendetta he will not give up, though he has been dead for seven hundred years...

    It's romp of a story on a world occupied by some seriously weird life-forms -- leeches whose bite imparts immortality, living sails -- and then a Prador, a vicious alien arrives with a little mayhem in mind.

    Next came The Voyage of the Sable Keech in which our visitors return, only to be confronted by the "first-child" of the Prador in the previous book, a cruise liner filled with animated corpses, and then a Prador space dreadnought whose captain is quite prepared to take Spatterjay apart in his hunt for that first-child.

    Orbus takes the story offworld, to the border with the Prador Kingdom -- the Graveyard -- the monstrous king of the Prador, a nightmare creature called the Golgoloth (which uses body parts from its own children to stay alive) and a confrontation that could easily result in interstellar war.

    Mark Thwaite: What inspired you to write this particular story?

    Neal Asher: I found the character Orbus, who appeared in Voyage, very interesting and wanted to take his story further. At the end of the previous book he was heading offword, which perfectly tied with an unresolved story thread about one of the alien characters, a Prador called Vrell.

    Mark Thwaite: In Orbus, "the cold war is heating up, fast." Our own world is still pretty war-riven, is SF a place for you to think about our world as much as a space to write about imagined ones?

    Neal Asher: Not really. It's a place where I can escape our world and where I can create something to help others escape from it. Certainly comparisons can be made, but they're not intentional, just a product of the fact that I live here and some of what happens here has to penetrate my skull.

    Mark Thwaite: What/where next in Spatterjay series Neal?

    Neal Asher: I don't have anything planned for Spatterjay. In fact I'm starting on something new, a new series based on The Owner stories that appeared in my collection The Engineer ReConditioned. But I will probably revisit that place in the future.

    Mark Thwaite: Tell us a little about your latest short story collection, The Gabble.

    Neal Asher: The stories were first published in magazines like Asimov's and sprang from a creature I created in The Line of Polity (second book in the Cormac series): the Gabbleduck. This creatue has grown in the telling. It's a massive alien creature with a duck-like bill, tiara of green eyes and pyramidal body. It speaks nonsense and is likely the descendent of aliens that once had a star-spanning civilization, which they sacrificed when they committed racial suicide.

    Mark Thwaite: Besides length, what differences do you find between novel writing and writing short stories? Do you prefer one form over the other?

    Neal Asher: I like them both. Writing a novel allows for a relaxed approach to developing the plot but can sometimes be a bit of a slog. Tighter writing is required for a short story, and it is very satisfying when you get it right. They are both the work I enjoy but, unfortunately, only one of them pays the bills.

    Mark Thwaite: What was the most difficult aspect of writing Orbus Neal? How did you overcome it?

    Neal Asher: Same thing as usual with all my books, I let myself go crazy for about 80 to 100 thousand words but then I have to produce a satisfying ending. I have to tinker with plot threads, cut some of them out entirely, rewrite sections and write entirely new sections. That's it really: delivering and ending. Beginnings are easy.

    Mark Thwaite: You've been an engineer, barman, skip lorry driver, coalman, boat window manufacturer, contract grass cutter and builder -- I'm suspecting writing ranks as better than all and any of those?

    Neal Asher: I don't have to clock-on, use Swarfega to get my hands clean, visit an osteopath, or tolerate idiots. This is the kind of thing some writers seem to forget when they whine about struggling with their art, either that or they never caught sight of it in the first place. Yeah, writing SF books as a profession is good, but don't forget I spent twenty odd years running at a brick wall with my head before I broke through.

    Mark Thwaite: What do you do when you are not writing?

    Neal Asher: Eat, read, drink wine, swim, spend far too much time mucking about in the Internet, socialize (a bit) and generally what most people do in their free time. Though I have to add that writing is a life and not just a job to pay for a life.

    Mark Thwaite: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    Neal Asher: The reader I write for is me, but I'm lucky that many other people like what I like. It turns out that the demographic seems to be mainly males between the ages of 20 and 40 who work in IT -- or at least that's the way it was last time I enjoyed a beer with some fans.

    Mark Thwaite: What are you working on now?

    Neal Asher: Right now I'm working on a book with the provisional title Gabbleducks but, since it's turning into something not entirely focused on those creatures, the title may change. Thus far I have the only living survivor of a hooder attack trying to recover his sanity. Polity medical technology would be able to sort him out in a trice, were it not for the fact that the AIs are reluctant to meddle with his mind since the hooder that attacked him was a near mythical creature called The Technician, and it did something to him that even they don't quite understand. I have an odd character called Chanter who pursues the Technician in his mudmarine, trying to understand the grotesque sculptures of bones the creature makes with its victim's remains, trying to understand its art... This is all complicated by the history of the Atheter's (gabbleduck's) racial suicide, a world-destroying machine built to ensure they are never resurrected, a black AI called Penny Royal and a mean war drone called Amistad (from The Shadow of the Scorpion). I'm about 20,000 words away from tying this up.

    Mark Thwaite: Who is your favourite writer Neal? Both SF and not... What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    Neal Asher: I don't have any single favourite writer, nor a single favourite book. This is always a difficult question because, if a try to answer it, later I'll remember, oh yeah, and there's so-and-so, and there's that book. For example, I was recently reminded of how much I enjoyed a couple of books by F Paul Wilson, The Keep and Healer.

    Odd stuff that springs to mind: Half-Past Human by T.J. Bass, anything by Terry Pratchett, Roger Zelazny and Larry Niven; Minette Walters, Graeme Green's Claudius, Jack Vance, Iain M Banks, Richard Morgan and Alastair Reynolds and Gary Gibson... dammit, I see that I'm going to have to note down a list of everything up in my loft and stick it up on my blog.

    Mark Thwaite: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?

    Neal Asher: One writer's reply to this is "don't" in the sure knowledge that those who want to write for a living will ignore him. My advice: write, write, write. There is no funny handshake you need to learn to be successful. Never think you've nothing left to learn, buy books on the process, read English books, read, read, read and just keep running at that brick wall with your head. I think that one of the main traits you'll find in those who have "made it" is pig-headed stubbornness!

    Mark Thwaite: Anything else you would like to say.

    Neal Asher: You're gonna get your first book published, the one it took you years of struggle to finish and finally get published? Just remember your publisher will now tell you they want another one, next year. Publication isn't success, constant publication is.

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