Writers Jamie Sawyer and Neal Asher discuss their latest books.
Jamie Sawyer, author of the recently released sci-fi action debut ‘The Lazarus War: Artefact’ gets some writing tips and finds out what’s next from Science Fiction veteran Neal Asher, whose latest book ‘War Factory’ releases this May.
Jamie Sawyer: Would you describe your writing as space opera, cyberpunk, or something else? Do you think that genre descriptions really matter?
Neal Asher: I have come to describe it as space opera because that seems to be the description that most people like, but there are elements of cyberpunk, biopunk and any of the other labels that seem to be thrown about or resurrected in the SF world. In my books I would hardly call, for example, the Knight riding round on a crablike mount space opera (‘Brass Man’), nor would I describe as space opera many of the scenes in ‘The Skinner’. They are set down on the sea of that world in wooden sailing ships (with living sails).
Before I started to get published and more involved in the SFF world I had never really heard of genre labels beyond Science Fiction and fantasy. I picked up books on the basis of their covers and blurbs, or the name of the writer. No, I’m not really sure that they matter for more than being useful in marketing or as something convenient for reviewers. Well, not to me at least.
JS: Many writers fall into one of two camps: either plotters or pantsers. Would you say that you adopt either of those methods, or are somewhere between?
NA: I presume by plotters you mean those writers who plan everything out? And by pantsers those who just sit down and write by the seat of their pants? (mm, strange image there). I’ll have a vague idea for a book, then I just sit down and write. Ideas occur as I go along and sometimes the original idea goes out of the window. I just keep beating the whole thing into shape as I write it. Usually, about halfway in, I have a good idea of where I’m going and have to focus much more on making the plot work. I will quite often discard plot threads at this point and do a bit more planning. As with the current book. I’m past the halfway mark and now untangling two plot threads to place one before the other for a more logical progression.
JS: Do you structure your writing time? Do you have a set working day, or do you just write as and when?
NA: Until a couple of years ago (when life kicked me in the nuts) I did structure my writing time. When doing a new book I would aim to write 2,000 words a day, 5 days a week until I finished the first draft. With the ‘Transformation’ books I did that for the whole trilogy. I would then edit, edit and edit some more, only stopping when I realised I was making changes because I was getting bored with the whole thing. I’m currently trying to get back to working like that.
JS: You’ve written lots of novels now (at least 17, which my by count is loads). Does the process get any easier, and has it changed much over your writing career?
NA: It’s above 20 now if you include those lined up for publication. If you include those sitting in my files unpublished you can add another 5.
It did get easier (until 2 years ago). I was not so scared of making alterations, sacrificing my babies, ripping things apart and reordering them. I also write an awful lot faster now. I wrote the ‘Transformation trilogy’ to first draft before I had to deliver the first book. As for how this has changed over my career? My first books were also written at a hell of a pace. When Macmillan first looked at ‘Gridlinked’ it was 65,000 words long and they told me simply they were interested but it was too short. Highly enthusiastic because at last I had my shot, I expanded it to 135,000 words in just a couple of weeks. After the first few books it became more of a chore. One thing you don’t hear much is how when you achieve your dream you no longer have a dream and that can leave a hole in you. Also, you move from enthusiastic amateur to professional – different mindset. Later still I got the enthusiasm back and picked up my pace again. Trying to recapture that now.
JS: Your writing is really cinematic – I can really feel the tension and movement in your action scenes. Do you ‘see’ the action in your head, or feel it in some other way?
NA: I see the scenes cinematically and paint in detail to expand the pictures in my skull. When it comes to action yes, I see that in my head. I see the debris flying, hear things shattering and see the partially dismembered bodies spinning through vacuum. When I’m writing human combat scenes I quite often pause and find myself partially acting them out. A little bit of keyboard Shotokan karate. I recollect once smacking my elbow into the radiator next to me during one writing session.
JS: I really loved ‘Transformation: Dark Intelligence’. What can you tell us about the next book in the series, ‘War Factory’, which comes out in May 2016? (Great title, by the way!)
NA: The titles of these books have been worked out between me and Bella Pagan, my editor. When I first wrote them they were called Penny Royal I, II, III. My first ideas for titles were okay for current fans, they would understand what the books were about, but Bella pointed out that maybe it would be a good idea to make them less obscure for new readers. I agreed.
Here’s the blurb of ‘War Factory’:
Thorvald Spear is losing his mind as he drowns in dark memories that aren’t his own. Penny Royal, rogue artificial intelligence, has linked Spear with the stored personalities of those it’s murdered. And whether the AI seeks redemption or has some more sinister motive, Spear needs to destroy it. He feels the anger of the dead and shares their pain.
As Spear tracks the AI across a hostile starscape, he has company. Sverl, an alien prador, has been warped by Penny Royal and hungers to confront it. But will the AI’s pursuers destroy each other or hunt it together? Sverl’s prador enemies aren’t far behind either. They plan to use his transition to prove human meddling, triggering a devastating new war.
Clues suggest Penny Royal’s heading for the defective war factory that made it. So allies and enemies converge, heading for the biggest firestorm that sector of space has ever seen. But will Spear secure vengeance for his unquiet dead?
This is a middle book but I think readers will be satisfied with the progression. More hints now of Penny Royal’s motives. More ambivalence, and new and very dangerous enemies coming out into the light.
Neal Asher’s ‘War Factory’ releases on 5th May 2016 and Jamie Sawyer’s debut ‘The Lazarus War: Artefact’ is available now.