Interview with Phillip W. Simpson

Published 2013-08-29.
When did you first start writing?
Possibly about 12 years ago when I took the time off to write my first novel. It was a steep learning curve and I don’t think I was terribly successful. I’ve got better since (I hope). It taught me one valuable lesson, however – writing is a discipline. Anyone can write books, you just have to be dedicated. That means spending a certain amount of time each day doing it.
What's the story behind your latest book?
The Rapture Trilogy is a series of young adult dystopian, post-apocalyptic novels. They're a different take on an end of the world scenario using the Rapture as a stepping off point. They are all about a half-demon teenage boy caught up in the fight between heaven and hell.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I had an agent for a previous novel (still unpublished) before I wrote the Rapture Trilogy. I sent her the first few chapters of Rapture when it was in draft form but she didn’t exactly fall over herself with it. I always knew that it was written for the American market so I figured I needed an American agent. So my agent and I went our separate ways while I embarked upon the scary process of finding another one. I had plenty of interest from agents in New York. Whilst waiting, I got a three book deal with a small publisher. They've since gone bust and I got my rights back. I thought that being an indie would give me more control over my destiny - which it has!
Who are your favorite authors?
Like many, I got into fantasy because of Tolkien. I must have read the Hobbit when I was seven. Jack Vance is my all time favorite author. He is just such a wordsmith. His writing is magical and has a timeless charm. Effortless. He is very descriptive though and I really wanted to try and get away from that with my latest works (I have been guilty of it before) because it has a tendency to slow down the narrative. I wanted this to be very fast paced. I’d read a few of Lee Child’s books (Jack Reacher novels) just before starting Rapture and I really liked his pared down, thrifty approach to his prose. I think he has definitely influenced my writing style. In terms of favorite authors, I love Jack Vance, Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton, China Mieville and Tolkien of course. My favorite book of all time though is The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.
What is your writing process?
I teach during the day and my wife and I have a small boy (Jack), so I don’t have much time during the week. To be honest, I’m too tired when I get home to summon up the creative energy you need to write a novel. During school terms, I write in the weekends. Usually both days from 8am until about 4pm. I can get on a bit of a roll then. In the holidays, I’ll write every weekday for about the same time. I have the weekends off. If I write for a whole day, I’ll usually get about 4,000 words done. That’s 20k a week. You do the maths – you can have a whole novel written in about 4 weeks. Of course, it may be terrible, but that’s what the editing process is all about. For preparation, I get on the rowing machine in the morning and listen to my ipod. That’s when I do most of my thinking. I visualize the scenes in my head and the exercise clears my head and gets me charged up.
Describe your desk
Clutter. I periodically tidy up to keep my wife happy but it seems to breed.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I’ve been writing since I was a boy. I always loved reading and writing thanks to the influence of my parents. Could hardly move in my house for fear of falling over a stack of books. I suppose it was inevitable that I would take an interest in reading - and writing in particular. Dad handed me a copy of the Hobbit when I was about 8 and it introduced me to fantasy in a big way. New Zealand is very scenic and I've spent a lot of time trekking which has influenced me in terms of the depiction of landscapes. I also became obsessed with warfare. My undergrad degree was in Ancient History and archaeology and I was particularly interested in battles and weapons. I went on to do my Masters in archaeology and started my doctorate. I really wanted to do my thesis on stone age weapons and tools and I may still finish it one day. I'm pretty obsessed with getting my facts straight about weapons and fight scenes because of this interest.
What do your fans mean to you?
The feedback and reviews I’ve been getting from fans mean everything. As a writer, it’s hard to be objective. You never know for sure how good your work is and how it will be received. My publisher and various agents were very excited about it but I tried to keep things in perspective. It’s all about the audience. If they like it – that’s all that matters.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Reading, spending time with my wife and our young son. Teaching. Boxing. Reading some more.
What's the hardest part of writing a book?
Getting the pacing and tone consistent. Sometimes there are days (or weeks) before you’d come back to your work in progress and it feels like someone else has written it (because I’d obviously been in a different frame of mind). Finding the energy at the end of the day or the week to sit down and write.
Why did you choose to write your last series?
I wanted a post-apocalyptic setting that hadn’t been done to death (‘scuse the pun). Even though I love zombies and vampires, I wanted to write something that had more of a fresh appeal. I’d read the Left Behind series years ago and using the concept of the Rapture as a stepping off point started to percolate. The Left Behind series puts the characters in a contemporary setting. I wanted to tie in my love of fantasy with that and have a far more surreal backdrop. Plus, I love anything with angels and demons and end of the world scenarios.
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