Interview with Ikem Nylander

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
The very first piece of fiction that I could claim to be almost entirely my own work?
No. No way. When I was little I was more interested in maths and science than English. They were easy and interesting.
It never occurred to me to write stories at home for fun as I was too busy reading. I also didn't take much notice of any thing I wrote for English class at school until a story I wrote for an exam got published in the school annual along with a good few others. As I was 10 at the time, my father was really proud, and I believe he may still have a copy of the annual somewhere. I remember that story; it was about a boy finding a cat. I remember thinking it wasn’t that great but it'd do for an exam.
It did. I came top in English that year. Probably the last time that happened.
What is your writing process?
The first part, and the hardest part, is having an interesting, stimulating idea.
If I don't have that, there is no process.
That idea, situation, line of dialogue or whatever it is, has to then trigger the story around it. I call this 'seeding'. I've got the kernel of a story, and I bury it in my subconscious and wait for my mind or circumstances to make it sprout. Then I can sit down and flesh my characters out. I admit that some of them, some of the time, tell me what to do. They drive the story so I usually find there's no point doing a story outline of what you want to happen before having 3D characters on board.
In all honesty, the ungrateful fools will still change your painstaking story plan anyway.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I've got a good memory from the age of 5 onwards, and I recall various Dick and Jane-type books that were all about practicing reading than reading for fun.

I read comics like Tintin and Asterix in a big way and I still believe they make the transition from picture books to all-text books very easy for children.

The first predominantly text storybook I ever read was "Dominic" by William Steig. It took about an afternoon (which felt like years then), and it put me through all the emotions I could feasibly feel at that age. I laughed a hell of a lot, and I cried quite a bit at the end too.
I remember it was a Saturday afternoon and I really wanted to go and watch TV, but I couldn't stop turning pages. The book barely let me have toilet breaks. It was all-encompassing. I was at the mercy of it.
After that, I'd regularly search through my mother's small library looking for world's to get lost in again.
That's basically what I want my stories to do; to hold readers against their will somehow.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
I have far more than 5 favourites. Try 50. 500 if we count comics/graphic novels.

The "Jeeves" collection by P.G.Wodehouse taught me many many things including that something as excruciatingly boring as a village fete or a train journey could be ridiculously interesting if written well.
Desmond Bailey's "The Vivero Letter" was not only great crime drama but mystery too, and was the first time I really saw movies, not just pictures, in my head whilst reading.
Terry Pratchet's "The Colour of Magic" introduced me to stories that could make you laugh as much as your best friend did.
Raymond E. Feist's "Magician" gave me fantasy as epic historic lore.
And "Only Forward" by Michael Marshall Smith, as many people have discovered, shows that Science Fiction is a world that allows one to tell stories of every genre imaginable.
What do you read for pleasure?
Science Fiction and Fantasy novels.

Mainly Marvel, and one or two DC comics, but really, the great stuff is coming from Image these days and everyone knows it. Case in point, "Saga" by Fiona Stapleton and Brian K Vaughan; it's so good I'm pretty sure it'll be taught in schools one day. English and Art class. Unbelievable.
Describe your desk
Looks a lot like a sofa.

Sitting at a desk (for endless hours) typing, reading, and re-typing words cannot be in any way good for the human skeleton.
So why do it?
When did you first start writing?
Age 15/16. Computers class at school. Sat in pairs in front of what were relics of machines even then. We'd been shown various Microsoft Office tools and the last one was Word. Our task was to write something, anything, so that we could save it/close it/reopen it.
My mate and I decided to take turns writing a story. I wrote the first paragraph, he read it and wrote the next one while I looked away. And so on. We were so taken with our story we came back in that afternoon to work on it some more. And we kept working on it. I did stuff during the school holidays on it. To me it was fun, exciting and wonderfully weird all at once. Incredible amounts of anticipation for somebody reading what you'd written, and simultaneously looking forward to see what they'd done. Then the characters started talking, but saying things I'd never imagined. They'd interrupt without warning, hesitate to do with things that weren't 'them', and take conversations to places that weren't on any of the maps I had.
Up till then I'd wanted to be a vet.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels. After writing short stories and a novel in that vein, it occurred to me that I'd never read a book about real life.

Which is ridiculous. Most books are about exactly that. However, I felt like most books acted as though the story they were telling was all of a person's life and so at the end, that character either lived happily ever after or might as well have done so. Which is the same as might as well have been dead.

I wanted to do a story which was one chapter of a character's life. In real life you don't necessarily know something is significant until months later when you say "Do you remember how this all started!? Wow. Who would've thought, eh?"
So I wanted to do a story with lots of little things that are little at the time but later could be looked back on with that same amazement.

Also, the easiest thing to write about was what I knew, and at the time that was working and living in London and manoeuvering through that social scene.

The whole theme of waiting to 'put childish things aside', and to change into a 'normal' adult was one that old friends would ask each other. The reason they did that was because whenever they got together, everyone seemed to be the same as they had been when they were younger. It never occurred to any of us that the reason we were like that was because we were together again. The situation was eliciting our behaviour.

So that's where the whole exploration of someone who thinks they are self-reflective not being able to see those incremental changes that have occurred came from. Then they look back on a small event and go "Oh, that's what was happening then."
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I keep saying this but getting the characters to shut up is a major joy.

That sounds like I have a mental health issue but what I mean is that ideas and things keep playing over and over in my mind until I write them down. I think it's a defence mechanism so I don't forget anything that's really good. Though that still happens.

Another HUGE joy for me is when the story comes alive and writes itself; a small scene explodes on the page to something really meaty and character-driven. At those moments it feels like I'm reduced to being an elaborate fountain pen, but it still feels really good.
What are you working on next?
A screenplay.

It was the most urgent idea in my head and it bullied its way to the front of the queue.

Gotta admit that it's terribly exciting and I'm learning a lot from doing it.

I suppose it's a story about after the end of the world. But this is post-apocalypse Nighlander-style so it's inevitably driven by the people involved rather than their situation.
Published 2016-08-24.
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Books by This Author

Other Plans
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 131,900. Language: English. Published: August 18, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary, Fiction » Fantasy » Urban
A mixed-race Londoner on the verge of his thirties balances work, friends, and dreams whilst patiently waiting to become the mature, responsible adult that he's pretty sure he should be by now. At least that's the image that's been presented to him all these years. So why isn't it happening?