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  • Alison MacLeod

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for The Wave Theory of Angels?

    Alison MacLeod: I’d be nowhere without serendipity. Reading the Independent one day, years ago now, I came across a small notice that said, ‘Today is the feast day of Christina the Astonishing’ and gave a potted version of her story. I fell in love with the name and the story in which, according to legend, this young medieval woman sat up defiantly at her own funeral mass and flew to the rafters of the church – an image I found moving, odd and marvellous all at once.

    In my double plot in The Wave Theory, two young women – a medieval and a modern-day Christina – fall into a coma, casting their two families into crisis. It’s a very different story from the legend of Christina the Astonishing, it had to be, but the spark of that legend, the image of an impossible flight, remained with me as I wrote.

    Around the same time, I also stumbled upon the details of an uproar in the thirteenth century that I found intriguing. It was a major debate, believe it or not, about the number of archangels in the universe. That debate almost brought down the University of Paris, a place almost as powerful as the Church in 13th-century France, and I was fascinated. Why? How? Nine angels. Ten angels. It sounds laughable at first, like that apocryphal question about the number of angels on the head of a pin. In reality, it was a hot debate about the nature of the universe and the power of the human imagination. The banned Tenth Angel was held to be something like a muse for us mortals, someone with whom we connect through the imagination; someone with whom we ‘co-create’ the world, which implied, in turn, that Creation, or the universe, is always evolving.

    In my novel, one of my main characters, Giles of Beauvais, Christina’s father-to-be, is a young man at the University at the time of this uproar. The medieval Church wasn’t keen on mortal participation in God’s universe. It wasn’t keen on communion between mortals and attractive angels. It also wasn’t keen on the source for the tenth-angel: an Islamic philosopher called Avicenna. So, along with the controversy itself, an anti-Islamic fervour swept through the University. As I read the history of the ban, eight centuries ago though it was, it seemed strangely familiar, given our 21st-century struggle with religious divides and fundamentalism.

    Giles sticks by the notion of the tenth angel and is cast out of the university as a heretic. Years later, his opposition to the Church’s position puts both him and his family at risk – big-time – as he accepts a commission to work as a lead sculptor on a new cathedral.

    While I was exploring angels and the medieval theories of the universe, I happened to see a documentary on M-Theory, an offshoot of String Theory which suggests that the universe is not a universe but rather a ‘multiverse’, or a universe of universes and multiple dimensions. Again, I was fascinated by the suggestion that the universe might itself be somehow creative, something that is continually evolving. These ideas from modern physics inspired the novel’s modern-day storyline of Dr. Giles Carver, also father to Christina and a maverick physicist who argues against the orthodox views in the scientific community, only to land himself in trouble just as his daughter falls ill.

    As a writer and a reader, I guess I find the essential mystery of things exciting. I was also moved, as I wrote, by my two families, trying to hold onto each other, in the face of some very big pressures.

    MT: How long did it take you to write it?

    AM: Too long! Five or six years, I suppose. I doubt I will ever be able to afford so much research again! I’m also a part-time university lecturer, so my writing has to fit around the demands of teaching. It has been a tricky balancing act at times but, of course, that’s the reality. Many writers, even long established writers, need to work to support their writing. Anyway, I tell myself it’s probably not good to spend day after day sitting in a room by oneself!  Also, real jobs give you insight into small worlds you can use as a writer. Not that writing isn’t a real job! (Sean O’Casey said, ‘When I stepped from hard manual work to writing, I just stepped from one kind of hard work to another.’)

    My university job, for instance, helped me to write the part of the story about Giles Carver getting ousted from his university job. But the most unsurprising jobs can offer the best material. I’ve just read The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill in which the minotaur of Greek Myth, half man, half bull, works as a line-cook in a cheap restaurant called Grub’s Rib. The language, the machines and utensils, the routines and tensions of that kitchen come alive in one of the best fictional settings I’ve come across in a while. Put the minotaur in so real a place, and you have to believe in that minotaur. So, as a writer, I found myself unexpectedly full of artistic envy as I read for what I’m guessing must have been Steven Sherrill’s experience as a line-cook.

    MT: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    AM: I make all my notes of ideas and research in long-hand. In my mind, it keeps me close to the material as I’m discovering it. But when I start to write, I need the computer. I need the story not to be in my hand, not to be so closely connected to me. I can judge it more objectively this way as I write. It also gives, or seems to give, the story an independence. It’s less tied to me. It’s more alive maybe. Psychologically, I suppose, that sense of my story having a life of its own is important for me as I write.

    Plus I would go cross-eyed if I had to read too much of my own handwriting!

    As for editing, every writer has those moments when a scene just flies the first time it hits the page, but those moments are rare for almost everyone. It’s naïve to think otherwise. I do edit and lots, even if the material of the scene of the chapter is basically right. It’s the detail though that needs to be good; the right word rather than the approximately right word. It can be part of the pleasure of the process, too, like polishing a bit of silver until it gleams.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    AM: I swim a lot. Not only does it stretch me out after hours in a chair, but I think the rhythm’s good for relaxing the mind into a place where new ideas come.

    I’m afraid I also dance between chapters to the latest tunes on commercial radio in my kitchen.

    I have no justification for this.

    Um, what else, teaching aside? I read a lot of fiction, or as much as I can. As a writer, I always want to know what other people are writing. I also need to know because it ups my game. I hyperventilate a little when I go into bookshops because I suddenly see everything I haven’t read and want to. I leave with too many titles, my sense of proportion fast receding. Then friends give me books. Then family. And I start to think I need a self-help group.

    I get together with other writer friends to trade new work. We usually leave each other slightly maimed but still walking.

    I enjoy seeing films at a lovely old picture house in Brighton, where I live, but, if forced to choose between them, I’d probably go for theatre over film. I still feel like a kid at the theatre, as if it’s magic every time the curtain goes up and this live story with real bodies unfolds in front of me.

    I love drinking coffee in Brighton and people-watching or eavesdropping. There’s not much time for this, sadly, but when I do manage it, it’s a treat.

    I try to get a hit of EastEnders through the week.

    I usually manage to avoid washing my car. But I do enjoy the standard displacement activities when the next paragraph seems just too hard: for me, that means doing the washing-up with a sudden verve, or paying bills with a renewed sense of purpose, or deciding that my mobile phone problems simply cannot wait; that I must get myself into that unending automated phone queue straight away.

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

    AM: Someone once said, ‘I divide all readers into two classes; those who read to remember and those who read to forget.’ My ideal reader is definitely the former.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    AM: I’ve just finished editing my story collection, Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction, which is out next summer with Penguin. I love short stories. I love that big, charged quality that the best ones have because every word is essential, so every word hums. I’m also working on my next novel about which I’m keeping superstitiously quiet about for now. Martin Amis once said, ‘Writers very seldom talk about their gods... because it’s mysterious even to them.’ I try not to talk, because one can almost feel the energy leaking from a story as soon as one starts to describe, rather than write, it. Norman Mailer agrees with me, apparently. Somewhere he says, ‘It spoils something at the root of the creative act. It discharges the tension.’

    MT: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    AM: Now this is a massive question, so I’ll head myself off at the pass by being brief and sticking to the contemporary.

    Books that hit me like a gale when I read them for the first time: D.M. Thomas’ The White Hotel, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight's Children, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude. I suppose they’re all big, rich and important books. They all also play fast and loose with the generic boundaries between realism and non-realism, something that has attracted me for as long as I’ve been reading. There are other old favourites, too: Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion, Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business, John Fowles’ The Magus, Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy, Amy Bloom’s story collection, Come to Me, and Tomas Eloy Martinez’ Santa Evita; as a writer-friend said to me of the latter, there isn’t a single misplaced sentence or word. (I’m really looking forward to his new novel, The Tango Dancer.)

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

    AM: Writing makes writing – nothing else can do it. When you’re sitting in front of the blank screen, when you feel crippled with inability, everything will change if you can just make yourself start. One sentence kindles another. It might be rubbish for a paragraph, a page, or several, but if you care about something in that story, if there’s heat in it in other words, the story itself will give you something you to work with. Trust the story, if not yourself.

    MT: Anything else you would like to say?

    AM: I like the way in which Armenian storytellers conclude their tales: ‘My story is over now. I can lie no more.’

  • Tobias Hill

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for Nocturne in Chrome & Sunset Yellow?

    Tobias Hill: London in all its glory. Which for me means London at night. Some of the world's great cities only really come into their own after dark. London is like that.

    Actually, that's too neat. What I was really trying to write about was more than London. I wanted Nocturne to be a series of poems about the city. Post 9/11, post 7/7. I love the countryside, but it's the great cities that make the world go round - for better and worse. Writing about the city, you end up writing about the best and the worst of the modern world. What else should poetry be about?

    London has enough mass and variation that it can stand to be an example of what a city is. That's something I've been trying to get at for a long time. The hardest thing is the variation. It's very easy to get lost. If you try and catch it all you end up with nothing. The idea in Nocturne was to avoid that problem through focus. There's a quote by Monet at the beginning of the book, a line from a letter he wrote to a friend about the difficulties of painting water: "To paint the sea really well, you need to look at it every hour of every day in the same place so that you can understand its ways in that particular spot." The city is difficult to write about for the same reasons the sea is difficult to paint - nothing ever stops - it's all motion and change. So I took the painter's advice. Nocturne has two particular spots; the place where I grew up and still live, and the geographical heart of the city.

    Then there's the other quote at the beginning of the book, which is from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Cities give us collision". It's harder to explain what that did for the poems. It got me thinking on what cities are really composed of. The buildings are incidental. The people are what matters. Emerson is talking about the way people are thrown together into relationships they would never have chosen or imagined. He doesn't say whether that's good or bad. That gave me ideas.

    MT: Do you wait for the "muse to land" or do you work and work at your poems?

    TH: Okay, here's a true story. It's a bit long so if I'm boring you look away now.

    In 1997 I was on a train journey across Russia. One night the birch forests gave way to a station like every other, with a statue of Lenin still facing towards a post-Communist Moscow, but as the train passed I saw a woman on the platform. She seemed to be waiting, although she ignored the night train. In one hand she held the leads of three large dogs; in the other she had a bag, and on the bag was this line of English:

    To the writer, imagination is more important than knowledge - Kipling.

    I watched the woman until she was out of sight, alone except for Lenin and her dogs. I kept thinking of her. Why was she there alone so late? Was Kipling back in fashion in a remote corner of Russia? Was the quotation even real? The story of the woman and the quotation kept me awake that night.

    Imagination is more important than knowledge. The comparison interests me. Sometimes I find I agree with it. Writing with knowledge but no imagination is a sure way to produce a telephone directory, but not good writing. Since we're talking about poetry the comparison takes on a stronger resonance, because it echoes a stereotype. In case you didn't know, this is the way verse works: the good poet locks the door, turns off the light, and waits. Wandering aimlessly through daffodils is permissable on weekends. Eventually, inspiration will descend from heaven in large blue lightning bolts and, striking the good poet through the top of the head, will light up his or her brain for just enough time to write. On average it takes four lightning bolts to make a decent poem, and if someone knocks at the door at the wrong moment the whole thing is ruined: a hundred feet up in the air, a hairline crack appears in the bolt and it dissipates in a cloud of sulphur.

    This is all true, and can even become mundane; once you've seen one blue bolt you've seen them all. There was even a report a while back which claimed that flashes of inspiration are produced by the decay of brain cells (which explains a lot about many poets). None of this leaves much room for knowledge. When inspiration is so spectacular, it's tempting to think that poets might be better off knowing nothing. That innocence is a lightning conductor.

    Writing is not only about imagination. It takes work, and work is about getting to know what you're about. In 1931 John Livingstone Lowes wrote a beautiful study of this. He called it The Road to Xanadu, and it investigates two poems which epitomise the intensity of imagination - Coleridge's Kubla Khan and The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.

    The Road to Xanadu is written in a language reminiscent of Arthur Conan Doyle; and the book itself is the original literary thriller. It charts Lowes's search for the source of Coleridge's imagination. He doesn't find blue lightning bolts. Lowes the literary detective goes after imagination, but what he comes back with is knowledge. In the poet's notebooks he finds researches into alligators and albatrosses; biscuit-worms, bubbles of ice, bassoons and breezes; footless birds of paradise and gooseberries; wefts and water snakes and the Wandering Jew. Lowes finds that imagination isn't the only culprit behind the poems. Knowledge underpins everything the Ancient Mariner sees and tells.

    I'm still not sure who wrote the quotation I saw on the Russian platform, but I believe it was wrong. Imagination isn't more important than knowledge to the writer; not even to the poet. Knowledge in good writing isn't something you can always see, but then you can't see foundations. Imagination rises out of knowledge, and poets are not and never have been innocent creators.

    I don't know what happened to the woman. I have her written down, though, with Lenin and the dogs. In my notebook she is waiting for the right story to come along, but I wonder what she was waiting for herself. Hopefully not bolts from the blue.

    MT: How long did it take you to write Nocturne? Is that the usual kind of timescale for you?

    TH: Not much more than a year, which for me is very fast. It came all at once, after five years of writing only novels.

    MT: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    TH: I get some poems very quickly, and for those I try to do what DH Lawrence advised with poetry – I rewrite as little as possible (DH didn't rewrite his poems at all). Others are more like Austen's little pieces of ivory, two inches wide, and endlessly reworked. They crystallise differently; different grammatical structures, syntaxes, patterns of puctuation.

    I write on whatever's handy. The first drafts often come when I walk. The rhythms of walking go into the poems. When I was writing Nocturne I was walking ten miles or so a day. When that happens I'm mostly writing in my head, though I'll have a notebook on me somewhere.

    MT: Poetry or prose? Which is your favourite and why!?

    TH: Hard question! I love them both. Five years ago I would have said poetry like a shot. But five years ago I hadn't written a novel I liked. The poem and the novel are worlds apart and I love them both. And then there's short stories, which I am very fond of too...

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    TH: I walk and run. I cook. I read more and more. As a younger poet I avoided reading too much. So many right and just arguments are put forth for reading as much as possible but there are two sides to the coin. For a young poet reading can be overwhelming. At that point it could be argued that poetry should be a response to primary sources - to life - rather than to secondary sources - to art or other writers. At any rate, I still have plenty of marvellous things to read.

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

    TH: I write for others. If there was ever an ideal it blurred into a generality some time ago.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    TH: I've just finished a book for children – Michael Foreman is illustrating it. But my main project right now is a novel. I suspect it will be the last for some years.

    MT: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    TH: That's like asking when I ate my favourite egg!

    Right now I'm reading Sybille Bedford's autobiography Quicksands, Jane Gardam's Old Filth, Lowell and Heaney, and an old graphic novel called V for Vendetta.

    MT: Anything else you would like to say?

    TH: Hello mum.

    I like the site very much. Keep in touch & all the best.

    MT: Thanks so much Tobias.

  • Christopher Hope

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for My Mother's Lovers?

    Christopher Hope: Two things. There is a wonderful poem by George Barker to his mother where he sees her "as huge as Asia, seismic with laughter/ Gin and chicken helpless in her Irish hand." And it got me thinking. It’s one of those pictures you don’t forget. I wanted to write both about a mother and a continent – Africa – and I wanted them both to be pretty much the same thing. Impossibly large, powerful, impressive and capable of inspiring love and awe, but not perhaps particularly able to reciprocate our puny affections. That was, I think, the one main idea behind My Mother’s Lovers. The other was to paint a picture of present day Africa, from the Congo to the Cape and to look hard at all sorts of questions that fascinate me. Like: why is it that so many African countries have so often been betrayed and sold short by their leaders? And is there any real future for those settlers who regard them selves as ‘ White Africans’? Do they belong? I know they say they do but does Africa take the same view? These questions of belonging, of tribe and sect and belief, which were once supposed to have been answered once and for all by some new world order, are back with a vengeance.

    MT: How long did it take you to write it?

    CH: I think I started the novel about four or five years ago, and then put it aside because other ideas came up, and because I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted it to take. It took longer than I could have imagined, but then the place I’m writing about and its history make such a giant subject. Anyway these things have a rhythm of their own. I’m pleased I spent the time I did, It was a way of exploring my own past and my part of the world and, also, a way of looking at the terrible, dark comedy that always seems to go hand in hand with power.

    MT: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    CH: I write and write and write, and then look it over. I write on a computer, but the stuff is a mess. It needs draft after draft. I’m one of those writers who needs to see what he’s said before he knows what he wants to say.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    CH: I travel, mostly. I go to places that remind me of the country I grew up in – South Africa, not the topography , or anything like that. But the politics, or the repression. All tyrannies seem to me to look a bit like each other. Get to know one you have a entry card to the others. I have spent time in Eastern Europe under the Soviet system, in Moscow, in Belgrade and in East Germany. I have also travelled a lot in places like Vietnam and Laos and Burma. And of course I go to Africa. To Zimbabwe, when I can get in, and to South Africa .

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

    CH: I think every writer has an ideal reader. For me it is one who would be likely to laugh at the same things as I do, and to enjoy, if that is the right word, the ironies of political systems and the great fools people in power invariably must make of themselves.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    CH: Oh, that is much the same as always: I’m thinking about an idea for another novel.

    MT: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    CH: My favourite writer, I think, is Marcel Proust. But it is always hard to keep to just one. I very much love Candide by Voltaire, A Modest Proposal by Swift, and everything by JD Salinger. Amongst the moderns, I like Richard Ford and Eudora Welty.

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

    CH: Very hard to say anything really useful. Though I always remember the advice to Alice on how to tell a story: Begin at the beginning, go on till you reach the end and then stop. It is much harder to follow such good advice than it might seem. Finishing is the hardest thing of all. But unless you can do it, you are not really writing, you’re just going through the motions. For myself, I write because it calms me down; sometimes I think it keeps me on an even keel. It becomes a kind of necessary path to staying well.

    MT: Thanks so much Christopher!

  • Chris Farnell

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Chris Farnell was born in Leicester in 1984. He’s been making up stories as far back as he can remember and started writing Mark II when he should have been revising for his A Levels. He continued writing Mark II while he studied English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich – where he still lives, writes and works.

    Mark Thwaite: What made you want to write a story about cloning? Are you concerned/worried about what science is doing at the moment or fairly phlegmatic about gene technology?

    Chris Farnell:My main reason for writing Mark II was that it seemed like a cool idea- a very simple, easy to grasp concept that could be used as a springboard into issues surrounding identity, friendship and grief. I think it’s self-evident that cloning as it’s used in Mark II would be extremely morally dodgy, but the fault lies with how the technology is used, not the technology itself. I like to imagine cave- men having similar debates over their new “sharpened-tool” technology. Sure, it’s great for cutting meat, but what if an unscrupulous person was to get their hands on it?

    MT: Did you do much research for your novel?

    CF: I barely did any. Anyone with the slightest grounding in Biology can see that the science in Mark II is pure hokum. My intention was to create characters as fully rounded and realistic as I could. If the reader cares about the characters enough they tend to be more forgiving when your best explanation is “It’s all done with science.”

    MT: Do you set out to explore an issue or to create characters or to move your readers?

    CF: When I start writing a story it’s usually with a single concept in mind, something that can be summed up very neatly in a single sentence- usually one that starts “What if…”. A large part of the writing after that, and one of the really fun parts of writing, is seeing where that idea takes you.

    MT: You are with the Birmingham-based Tindal Street Press. What has your experience with this small, regional publisher been like?

    CF: It’s been great. Most of your time writing a book is spent in a room, on your own, passionately devoting yourself to something that for all you know nobody is ever going to read. It comes as a breath of fresh air to get to work with people who are as excited about your book as you are.

    MT: Mark II is your debut novel. Have you been pleased with its reception?

    CF: My favourite reaction so far has been a friend of mine who was reading it in the bath and couldn’t stop crying when she reached the end. I think that’s all any writer truly wants- to make girls cry in the bath.

    MT: Is being a bona fide writer living up to your expectations?

    CF:In a lot of ways not much has changed. I’m still working, writing whenever I can and generally just trundling along in my own little world. But it does help a lot to know that when I’ve finished this book there’re going to be people waiting to read it. If nothing else getting published has just given me a huge confidence boost.

    MT: Mark II is a work of science fiction. It is a fiction with an impossible science element, but it’s neither Frankenstein nor a galaxy-wide gun-fest! Why did you decide to tell your story in this way? Does writing a genre book narrow your options or expand your possibilities?

    CF: I write science fiction because I love science fiction. It’s the biggest toy box a writer can have. However, when I’m writing I find genre’s an issue you can pretty much ignore. I think you only really need to worry about genre conventions and the like if you’re writing a pastiche. I’m not writing science fiction -- I’m writing a story with some science fiction things in it.

    Having said that, there are themes and plot devices in Mark II that are common throughout science fiction. I think when we were talking earlier I said that I didn’t want Mark II to turn into a Frankenstein story- in that it wasn’t intended as a technological horror story- but unintentionally it actually has a few similarities to Mary Shelley’s novel. Both stories feature a character that is created by science, who becomes an observer of human nature from the outside. The clone in Mark II has a lot in common with Frankenstein’s monster, and Doctor Spock, and that robot in Short Circuit. I think this sort of character is one of the things that science fiction does better than any other genre, trying to show what humans look like from an outsider’s point of view. In a way, I think Mark II is a more optimistic version of Frankenstein- the monster is capable of doing a great deal of good, but becomes alienated and embittered because people are frightened and repulsed by him. The clone is in a very similar situation, but manages to form a bond with the people around him. In both books the issue isn’t really the act of creating a monster or a clone- it’s a question of how you deal with the consequences of that act.

    MT: Sci-fi isn't always taken very seriously as good art. Do you think it can be? Which writers have influenced you?

    CF: I’m not sure what “taken very seriously” means. I think people have an idea that science fiction is people with made-up names shouting technobabble at each other, which just isn’t very interesting. I know quite a few people who say they don’t really like sci-fi, but they won’t miss an episode of Doctor Who, or were first in line to see Serenity when it came out. A good story is a good story is a good story. If you care about what happens to the characters, if the concept catches your imagination, then you’ll want to hear the story.

    Personally, I think everything I’ve ever written secretly wanted to be Back to the Future. All the ingredients of a good piece of sci-fi are right there- you have your one plot device, a time-travelling De Lorean, but the question that powers the film is “Would you get on with your parents if you met them in High School?” It’s not something that would ever happen, but at the same time it’s a question everyone is instantly curious about. Nobody would argue that Back to the Future is anyone’s intellectual treat (Well, actually, I might after a couple of drinks, but I’d be wrong) but it’s a good template for what makes science fiction work. I think you can see the same qualities in a lot of the sci-fi writers who emerged in the fifties and sixties, such as John Wyndham, Richard Matheson and Kurt Vonnegut (and I’ll add H.G. Wells to that list, because although he’s outside the period, it’d be criminal to leave him out). But even among these few writers there’s a massive amount of difference between the stories that they tell. Wyndham’s Chocky is a very simple story about a father-son relationship. Kurt Vonnegut uses a story about time travel and aliens to tell the very true story of the fire-bombing of Dresden.

    I don’t know whether anyone’s going to take science fiction “seriously” (although it helps to remember that when Charles Dickens was writing, novels were considered every bit as trashy as soap operas, and Shakespeare’s theatre was considered not much better than the pub or the whorehouse) but I think the scenarios that sci-fi throws up are always going to intrigue people, and that’s a good place to start from if you want to tell a good story.

    MT: How do you write? Longhand or straight onto a computer?

    CF: I make it up as I go along. Which sounds so much more romantic than it actually is- there’s an awful lot of procrastinating, rereading what I just wrote and deciding it’s all bilge, and drinking endless cups of tea. I used to write pretty much exclusively on my Psion 3A palm-top, I don’t think they make those anymore, which is a shame, it’s a lovely little bit of machinery and the only palm-top I’ve found that you can actually write on for a long period of time. These days it depends on my mood and whatever’s to hand at the time.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    CF: I’m keeping my next story close to my chest at the moment. It has a sci-fi flavour to it, but it’s going to be very different to Mark II.

    Mark Thwaite: Thanks so much for your time Chris -- all the very best.

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