Interview with Stuart Aken

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I'm a happily married husband and the father of a delightful daughter (currently working far away in sunny Australia). But what motivates me to rise from slumber each morning, now I'm retired from employment, is the urge to set down new stories and work on those currently in progress. At present, I'm writing a new science fiction novel set on Mars.
Writing is both a compulsion and a pleasure for me. Has been since I wrote my first story as a teenager. It is therapeutic, fulfilling, exciting and allows the writer to live many lives vicariously through those of his creations.
I'm fortunate in that I enjoy every stage of the writing process. Not so keen on the promotional activity necessary to get the books sold, but I do love the idea of readers enjoying my books.
What is your writing process?
I'm what's known as a 'pantster', which means I write by the seat of my pants. Effectively, this means I have an idea, surround it with themes and then develop characters. I do detailed histories and descriptions of my characters, get to know them, and then I develop a very loose framework for the story in my head. I don't plot. I don't write down the story structure or framework. I simply sit down at the keyboard and place my characters into the landscape and settings I've devised in my mind and place barriers and challenges before them. This means that my stories are character driven and often take turns I never envisaged. Sometimes that involves me in extensive rewrites, as event occur in the story that I then need to allude to in earlier chapters.
It's a method of working that keeps my mind and spirit fresh as the story develops, allowing me to enjoy the tension, journey and conclusion in the same way I hope my readers will find it.
Many writers find this sort of approach terrifying, but it works for me and may stem from my habit as a child and teenager of making up stories on the spot for my friends and, later, for my younger brother at his bedtime.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Not the first. I used to make up stories as a child. We lived in a disused railways wagon perched on top of the cliff overlooking the North Sea when I was between the ages of 5 and 7. I used to make up stories for my brother and sister and our friends and we would then enact them on the beach or in the local fields.
Later, at secondary school, I entered a story for an annual essay competition. It was a partly fictional account of my loss of a piece of photographic equipment in an ancient monument on the North Yorks Moors. I had to return, alone, at dusk to retrieve it whilst the rest of the school party waited by the coach that would return us home. That story won me the Redfearn Cup at age 14 and I suppose was my first writing success!
Who are your favorite authors?
In my many years of reading (over 63), I imagine I've read not far short of 10,000 books. Some are lost in those fabled mists of time, some I wish I hadn't bothered with, but some have been formative. The authors who wrote those books include William Horwood, William Golding, John Fowles, Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood, Jojo Moyes, John Steinbeck, Ray Bradbury, Iris Murdoch, Mo Hayder, Tom Sharpe, Nicci French, John Wyndham, Howard Spring and David Storey. There are undoubtedly others who have influenced and excited me, but space restricts my list. Already, I've remembered Isaac Asimov and Aldous Huxley, and there must be hundreds more. But this will give you an idea of the breadth of my reading, I hope.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
A writer must live in order to have something about which to write. I've done many different jobs during my life; lots of variety and therefore plenty of experience.
My spare time these days is employed in the garden, part of which has a challenging slope that was once a quarry. That takes time and effort to maintain. I do some photography; I was a professional photographer for a number of years. I like to play about with paints and paper, pen and brush, but I wouldn't dignify the efforts with the name 'art'. I watch some of the stuff on telly; a form of mindless relaxation at the end of the day, usually. I read, of course. Though that 'of course' is not always understood by some writers.
But much of my spare time these days is spent walking in the Forest of Dean, which is outside my door, with my lovely wife. We try to walk at least every day, sometimes for three or four hours. Occasionally, we're lucky enough to encounter wild boar, various types of deer and the large buzzards that fly through the spaces between the many varieties of trees. We'll listen to the songbirds, watch the butterflies and enjoy the antics of the squirrels. An ideal way to refresh the spirits and generate new ideas for stories.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
That's easy. I use Smashwords, of course.
I'm often recommended books through friends, colleagues and followers on Goodreads.
There are so many books published nowadays that finding something suitable is often quite a task, but the listings here on this site make the whole thing a lot easier of course.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Five favourite books? Is it possible to answer this question? The answer probably changes almost daily, depending on my mood and whatever I'm currently reading and writing. But I can name some books that have been very important influences.
The Stonor Eagles, by William Horwood - struck a very strong chord with me, as I empathised with the artist protagonist.
The Spire, by William Golding - tells a historical drama with such intense emotional content that it lived with me for years.
1984, by George Orwell and Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley are both superb science fiction novels with real meaning.
The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene, superb storytelling.
There are thousands more, of course, but those will give an idea of what I most like.
How do you approach cover design?
My 1st published cover was for an anthology I edited for my writing group, and I used a combination of a free stock photo and features of Photoshop to create that cover. Next, I produced the cover for my romantic thriller, Breaking Faith. That consisted of a montage of 3 of my own photographs, using Photoshop, and the added text. I have some small experience of design, having been a professional photographer and having worked for a time at an art college as a graphics technician. Most of the remaining books on Smashwords have gone through the same process.
But the cover for M.E. and me was produced by a professional via fiverr, using a design I submitted as guidance.
And the books I've most recently had published have been designed and published via a small independent publisher, who, of course, uses his own professional cover artists and designers.
What do you read for pleasure?
Everything and anything, providing it's well written. For me, character is a leading element and I really must care about at least one of the protagonists if I'm to continue reading.
Poorly presented writing that clearly lacks proper editing is anathema to me: words and language are the tools of the trade for an author. I would no more want to encourage sloppy writing than I would careless plumbing or electrical work. If a writer can't be bothered to get the language and the basic grammar right, why should I spend time reading?
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
I dislike marketing and promotion. I'm primarily a creative soul and find the mindset needed for successful sales work to be a strong disincentive to creativity. I understand the need for such activity, and I really want to reach as many readers as possible, but engaging in sales activity for me is a damaging process that interferes seriously with my writing output, so I do as little of it as possible.
My website/blog is the most useful tool for marketing that I have and I produce what i hope are useful and interesting posts there for readers, writers and others in the hope that those visitors might explore the rest of the website and come across my books to read.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I use both an iPad and a Kindle. The Kindle is one of the new small lightweight readers. It can be read under the bright sun of a Mediterranean poolside.
The iPad has the advantage that it can also act as a networking device and play music, but is difficult to read under the brightness of a holiday sun.
Published 2016-09-06.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

M.E. and me. Chronic Fatigue: My Recovery After 10 Years
Price: $3.00 USD. Words: 21,950. Language: British English. Published: June 14, 2015. Categories: Nonfiction » Health, wellbeing, & medicine » Diseases / Chronic fatigue syndrome, Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
ME/CFS is a much-misunderstood but devastating condition. Recovered author, Stuart Aken, provides insight, help, advice and hope for those affected.
Heir To Death's Folly
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 10,520. Language: English. Published: May 12, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Horror » Crime
Julie is controlled by Kasim, a fiancé desperate for her to inherit Aunt Agatha’s great wealth. Hustled into paying the old woman a visit, she learns that the folly, a tower looming over the grounds of the old manor house, holds a treasure chest. She and Kasim, tricked into searching for these riches, enter the folly and soon discover there’s more to Aunt Agatha than they could ever have guessed.
But, Baby, It's Cold Outside
Price: Free! Words: 3,070. Language: English. Published: December 4, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Short stories, Fiction » Humor & comedy » General
(4.00 from 4 reviews)
A seasonal short story to bring some cheer into the cold, grey winter.
Ten Love Tales
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 19,280. Language: English. Published: April 9, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Anthologies » Short stories - single author, Fiction » Romance » General
(3.00 from 1 review)
Romance for lovers of gentle stories. You'll find no gratuitous sex here, just simple stories about love. I hope you enjoy them and they make you laugh, cry, sigh; but mostly, I hope they make you smile.
Ten Tales for Tomorrow
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 28,900. Language: English. Published: January 1, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Anthologies » Short stories - single author
(4.00 from 1 review)
This collection of speculative fiction, largely science fiction, is a broad selection covering many different themes. The ten stories vary in length, style and content but all are intended for an adult readership. Some have won prizes in international contests and some have been published. But most are new and published for the first time here. Enjoy.
Breaking Faith
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 135,930. Language: English. Published: October 24, 2010. Categories: Fiction » Romance » General, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » General
(5.00 from 1 review)
Brought up in isolation and ignorance by a religious fanatic, Faith is forced to take work with local glamour photographer, Leigh. His cruel, misogynist assistant hates her on sight and threatens her with violence. When Faith falls in love with Leigh, will she defeat the dangers she faces or will corruption overcome her innocence and destroy her? Contains adult language and erotic scenes.