Interview with Nick Falkner

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in England and we migrated to Australia before I was ten. I think of myself as Australian now but that lingering presence of an English heritage connects me to two countries, with a giant expanse of world in between. I think that helps me to write character journeys, because I understand the influence that even a distant memory can have on you and how it guides what you do. I also draw deeply on English mythology, which is a very rich source of material and inspiration.

When I was very young, we went to Stonehenge and, back then, you were able to touch the stones. I remember them being so large and so terribly, terribly cold. I've carried that memory for over forty years. Whenever I want to write about the impact of mythic forces on relatively small heroes, I think back to my encounter with Stonehenge.
When did you first start writing?
I've been writing stories since I was eight or nine. My first science-fiction piece was written in class when I was around that age and I shamelessly stole characters from a Scholastic book I'd been reading to (naïvely) muse on the futility of war. My teacher, who had asked us to write a piece where we imagined what would happen on the way home, gave me a look that I think everyone who writes SF&F has encountered at some time from the teaching community.

(The book was "Stranger from the Depths" by Gerry Turner, 1967. Sorry, Gerry. I did enjoy the book and it definitely set me on the path to where I am now. I don't think I've lifted anything from it for decades now. In researching this question, I discovered that there is an unabridged version available but it's very much out of print. A new book to hunt!)
What's the story behind your latest book?
My latest is set in 1930s London, just as the shadow of war is looming again. If you read writing from the late 20s and early 30s, you'll see the growing fear and resignation that, after the War to end all Wars, the countries were about to be torn apart again. So much happened in those decades and I wanted to write an action adventure featuring those who had gone through the Great War but I didn't want to write a standard bang-boom plot with my protagonists just taking on Nazis. Apart from anything else, WW2 happened and it happened for a lot of reasons that were well-established before my story starts in 1931. I wanted my characters' actions to matter.

To explain what I mean, a weakness of the Indiana Jones stories is that all of his actions take place on the periphery of significant events and, while the actions are locally valuable, he's not a useful figure on the world stage. Indy is like Batman: more focussed on who he can punch rather than what he could change. (Lest anyone be confused, I love the Indy films!)

I needed villains who were beyond the historical record and so I chose the work of H. P. Lovecraft to provide them. The Cthulhu mythos is about incredibly powerful and indifferent creatures who would destroy the world almost by accident and potentially without noticing or caring about it at all. Writing my story against the background of the path to war, while the real danger is total obliteration, allowed me a freedom to criticise the indifferent use of the little people in the machinery of war. I moved the scale of madness up and, counter-intuitively, it gave me more freedom to try and head off insanity in the narrative.

Yes, there are strong anti-war themes in this novel but I tried to avoid making it preachy. I just moved the scale up to make it obvious how small people can easily get consumed when giants stride across them.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I'm an artist. I liked the idea of writing the book I wanted to write and then crafting it to be exactly what I wanted to say. The publishing industry is one way to get books out but there are so many hurdles, delays and people who want to be paid. I just wanted my art to be seen, as I would with my print-making, and there's an immediacy to indie publishing that I really like.

If you like my books, it's bus fare to buy one. If you don't like that one, it's a bus fare lost. But the reader knows that I'm getting most of the money and that it's not going to someone who is mediating the art rather than creating the art. You drop $30 on a mainstream book and you don't like it, that's a week of bus fares and very little of it is going to the author. Now both of us are worse off.

There are many great ways to get access to the services of professional publishing without having to form a relationship with a publisher. I'm happy to use professional artists and editors to help me frame and present the work but being indie means being in control.

When you read one of my books, you're reading what I wanted you to read. We have a mental connection, delayed a little in time, where I put pictures in your head. You are reading my mind. No house style affects that. I didn't have to know someone who knew someone to get it read. I didn't have to copy a dominant style to get it picked up. There's no agent existing as a gatekeeper between me and you.

I wanted to be read. Going indie seemed to be the best way to make that happen.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
I'm afraid it's too soon to answer that question! I hope to come back to this and say something positive, in the not too distant future.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Sharing my thoughts and feelings with other people. I love world building and I think one of my strengths is putting good characters onto that rich background. When I'm on form, you're going to have an immersive experience in a world that I built.

Whenever I get that constructed reality right and my readers tell me that the transfer has happened? Total bliss.
What do your fans mean to you?
I've had followings before and I really like it when someone finds a resonant theme in a piece of writing because it spoke to them. I am always humbled when someone comes up and say "I loved that piece" or "Wow, that was a really good story". But I love that human connection and it's about what I wrote rather than me. Nick Falkner is a human with all of the flaws and strengths so entailed. Nick Falkner's writing is far easier to deal with, more inspirational and much better edited!

If you're a fan of my work then you're probably on the side of bold, adventurous and beautiful futures and more people like that mean the world to me.

Be bold! Seek happiness! Strive for beauty!
What are you working on next?
I'm reworking an alternative history novel I wrote a year ago, set in Russia during the rise and dominance of the Soviet Union. At a crucial moment in history, Stalin adopts progressiveness rather than rejecting it. Combined with genetic engineering, this gives rise to a new Soviet Union forged from avant garde art and mutants, with giant organic computers powering the Soviet political and war machine under the guidance of the British defector, Alan Turing, father of Computer Science. The research on that novel alone took about eighteen months. There's a lot of history in Russia!

It's 140,000 words long and, while it's not bad, I'm rewriting it at the moment to make it better. If the reader's going to read for that long, then they deserve great, rather than 'not bad'.

I'm thinking about releasing it as three volumes but I want to make sure that everything is linked properly before I do that. Too many trilogies go bad in book three because of over-promising in book one.
Who are your favorite authors?
The first 'real' book I owned was The Hobbit and I still have a soft spot for Tolkien. On the SF side, I'd have to mention Ursula Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, Ian Banks, Octavia Butler, Haruki Murakami, William Gibson, Michael Moorcock, Kurt Vonnegut, Chris Priest, Cordwainer Smith, Russell Hoban, and China Miéville. I like a lot of SF but I'm not a huge fan of the harder side, as a preference rather than a strict guideline.

The fantasy side is about as broad but headed up by Jorge Luis Borges and Bruno Schulz, both fantasists of the most cerebral and satisfying talent. Le Guin shows up again but Susan Cooper's "Dark is Rising" series was a delight when I first read it and still is. My shelves are filled with Pratchett, which is now a little sad, Jasper fforde, and Stephen King, among many others.

I used to read a lot of horror and so King, Herbert, Campbell, Barker, Lovecraft and Derleth all feature heavily.

I'm pretty wide-ranging in my tastes so Byatt sits next to Tama Janowitz and Irvine Welsh. As I don't sort my bookshelves you can find Dumas' "Man in the Iron Mask" sandwiched between "The Meaning of Liff" (Douglas Adams and John Lloyd) and "His Majesty's Merchant Navy" (Lieut-Cmdr Talbot-Booth, R.D, R.N.R.).
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Outside of writing, I have a great job where I get to work with students as both a teacher and a mentor, as I work at a University as a senior lecturer in Computer Science. I have an opportunity to make a difference every day and it's hard to justify lying in bed when you realise that!

I'm very lucky to be where I am and I live in a safe country. I have my bad days but I always try to remember how fortunate I am and how getting up, showering and going to work is, given what I get to do and the freedom that I enjoy, a privilege that I should value rather than something to avoid.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Well, I have a full-time job but I guess you're asking beyond that...

I spend a lot of time with my family and friends when I can. It's nice just to hang out with the people you love, talk, eat, drink and enjoy those moments.

I travel a lot for work and that gives me a chance to go to galleries and museums in my small amounts of off time. My inspiration mentors are Grayson Perry and David Bowie, both of whom have done amazing things by leaving themselves open to inspiration from anywhere and then going everywhere to find that inspiration! (Bowie, ah, there is another sadness.)

I don't read as much as I like but I do read a fair bit of non-fiction as well as fiction. When I'm preparing to write, that research phase can consume me for quite a long time but it causes a hunger for knowledge that never abates. I'm (re)learning Latin at the moment for a new book that's about two years away, because it will help with getting a better feel for the Roman source documents I'm using. If you want to understand authors, then think about the fact that I will spend roughly two years getting comfortable enough to use perhaps three paragraphs of Latin in a 100,000 word book. But it will make me happy and I am convinced that it will feel better to the reader.

I'm a print artist who works in lino but that's a little on hold at the moment. I hope to do more of that this year.

I adore coffee and I spent quite a bit of time enriching the baristas of my home town. I used to be a winemaker and I still enjoy the many aspects of wine.

During the Australian cricket season, you'll often find me muttering dark imprecations regarding the bowling and batting skills of the Australian Cricket teams and I have been known to make careless (informal) wagers on the outcomes of Australian Rules Football games where my team obviously couldn't lose.

The really honest answer is that when I'm not writing, I'm quite often thinking about writing. Which is, of course, why I write.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, "The Haad Gaan War", as I mentioned earlier, a total rip off of the characters and setting from "The Stranger from the Depths".

I think I received 8/10 for it due to spelling errors.
What is your writing process?
I usually think for a long time before I write or even plan the skeleton. The larger the scope, the more I will do in research to try and make the world real. I spent about eighteen months looking through the history and background of the Soviet Union before I worked on a book about it.

For my current book, I started thinking about the characters and setting because of a conversation I had with a friend in March of 2015. I sketched out the protagonists in June and saw something I liked. I decided to start the writing process in November and immersed myself in the Great War and the 1930s for the next three months. In late October, when I could see the world before me and understand roughly the path of the story, I wrote out the outline as a set of chapter summaries, aiming for 100,000 words. The final work will probably be released around April/May 2016.

Once I've got the outline, I push it to a rather over-engineered spreadsheet that allows me to plan what I'm going to write, in words per day. That ties back to the outline and lets me see, immediately, what I have done, whether I'm on track or if something is going wrong. I always build in extra days to make up for life. Sometimes you don't feel like writing.

Thus, I start with an idea and go into research. If the research clicks then I'll start thinking about set pieces to test out the story. Does it feel right? Is it interesting? If that hurdle is passed, it's outline time and I'll start writing within the week. Once the outline spreadsheet has been created, it's go time. I use Scrivener for the actual writing as the card summaries appeal to me. My usual plan is to build an outline from cards where I would anticipate putting about 500 words to each card, which is about 200 outline elements, although I have worked with as few as 60 outline elements for shorter novels.

After I've finished the first draft, I don't have a fixed process yet. Sometimes I edit it once or twice before it goes to my initial readers, sometimes it goes straight to them. There's then some months of backwards and forwards as I tweak and think some more.

The physical act of writing is not difficult for me. I am constantly grateful for this.
How do you approach cover design?
I'm a member of an artistic community and I'm able see the artworks of my friends almost daily, which means I have a lot of people I can work with. I have a sense of the themes but then it's up to the artist to find a striking way to show that. I like integral art pieces for covers as I think that it's too easy to sense the disconnected nature of a mashed-up cover, no matter how good the integration skills. Typeface selection is astoundingly easy to get wrong but, again, I like it as part of the art work.

Indie authors don't have to be good at everything and design is easy to mess up. Less is more, in many respects, and too many covers have put people off perfectly good writing.

If you don't care if you sell books or not, choose the cover that makes you happiest. If you want to sell, look at what publishers do, look at your demographic, test your cover widely and hire a pro (or semi-pro) if you can.
Published 2016-02-06.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Curse of Kereves Dere
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 108,850. Language: English. Published: March 31, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General, Fiction » Horror » Occult
Kerry and Bosco, survivors of the Great War, are struggling to move on as they make a life in London but the inhuman horrors they witnessed at the Battle of Krithia heralded a more terrible fate for the world. Their allies, Williams, Fauve, and the ferocious Doctor Cavendish, are powerful but their opponents are terrifying. Time is against them because, all too soon, the stars will be right...
Five Stories: Track One
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 25,280. Language: English. Published: March 12, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories, Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories
Five stories of fantasy and the future. The man who ages a century in a year. The teenage girl on a splintered Earth who defends her home against unwelcome company. The woodsman who has a dragon in the family. The investigative journalist who wants to get the real story of NYC's vampires. The man who discovers that the shortest step can be the longest, when teleporters fail.