Interview with Philip Craig Robotham

What inspires you to write?
For me writing is enormous fun. I do it because I love the thrill of creating and allowing my imagination to run wild. I'm also an old-time radio fan. I enjoy everything from adventures like "Gunsmoke", "the Green Hornet", "the Saint", and "Yours Truly Johnny Dollar", through comedies such as "the Goon Show" and "Fibber McGee and Molly", through science fiction like "X Minus 1" and "ProjectXx", through to horror and suspense like "the Inner Sanctum".

It's typical of me that the genre of writing that gets me excited the most is one which died out more than forty years ago. All the same, it's what I love and seems to be having something of a resurgence lately via the internet. There have been some great examples of audio drama made available recently from podcasters online. These include the fabulous "Adventures of the Red Panda", the haunting and creepy "Wormwood", the extremely professional "Leviathan Chronicles", and far too many others to list. I'm not a particularly florid writer. I like plain speech and simple exposition. I'm also not overly fond of having to write lengthy descriptions of people and places. As a result radio writing seems to have been made for me.
How does writing an audio drama differ from other genres?
Writing for the ear is very different to any other kind of writing that I have ever done. For one thing everything is exposition. In real life no-one ever says "look out Claire, he's holding a gun!", but in an audio drama it's essential to spell out what is happening for the listener. It's also very hard to write an audio drama with a lone character in it. If you do then you'll find yourself forced to have the character talking to him or herself constantly. The old Sam Spade voice-over was probably invented for radio shows relying on a single main character:

"I walked the last 18 steps to the battered old front door. The lock had been jimmied and swung creaking on its hinges in the evening breeze."

There's great atmosphere in these monologues but, personally, I like my characters to have company and it lets me indulge my taste for banter:

"What are we doing here, boss?"

"Old man Cranston invited us to come visit him up at the house."

"Yeah? Battered looking old place isn't it? Give me a second and I'll try the door... Hey, the lock's broken! This door's been jimmied open."

"What gave it away, genius? The fact that it was swinging back and forth on its hinges or the crowbar lying in the dirt beside it?"

I also like conflict and a bit of "sass". It's harder to have that with a lone character. One thing you really develop when writing an audio script is your ability to do dialog and characterisation (especially dialog). That's simply because dialog is all you have to work with most of the time. You don't have to spend a lot of time labouring over descriptions of people and places when you write for radio - the listener will supply all the detail with their own imaginations - but you do have to manage dialog. In fact a judicious lack of physical description engages the listener's imagination more effectively and helps them to identify themselves more fully with the characters. The other thing that is surprisingly hard to do in audio is action. A fight scene needs to be over really quickly because otherwise the listener is being treated to a whole series of bangs and whaps that don't provide anything much for the listener's imagination to grab onto... and a blow by blow description (while in keeping with many of the conventions of the genre) starts to sound like a commentary at a prize fight. When it comes to descriptions of what the characters see, hear and experience, you want just enough to tell the audience what they need to know about the environment without it sounding so unrealistic that it jettisons them out of the story.

Another thing that's easy to forget is that the listener will not know who is speaking unless someone among the characters refers to that character by name. My very first (and thankfully long buried) attempt at script writing suffered from this problem but I still have to go through my completed scripts and make sure all the characters have been properly identified out loud before I send them off to my editor.

BTW - finding a skilled editor to whip my work into shape is an absolute must as a self-publisher. I can't begin to say how much embarrassment I have been saved by the sharp eye of my editor, Margaret Wilkins. That isn't to say that there isn't plenty more embarrassment to be had for which I am solely responsible.
How do you structure your work?
I write in episodic format. That is, I write as if I'm writing episodes in a radio serial. Most of the old radio stories of the past were limited to around twenty to forty minutes or so. I find that twenty minutes is too short for telling the kind of stories I want to tell (though the discipline of paring back a story until it can be told in twenty minutes is a good one). I write what I call "feature length" plays to be read over an hour and a half to two hours and while I am writing self-contained episodes they do each contribute to a larger story.

When it comes to the structure of my writing I find the good old three act story structure really helpful. I know lots of writers hate it, find it confining and formulaic, and in some cases even deny that it exists, but I find it helpful as a way of keeping momentum in my writing and stopping me from becoming dull. It also gives me a bridging structure for the wider story arc of each serial I write. Personally I'm not a high-concept kind of writer. Don't get me wrong, I wish I had the talent for that and envy those that do. Instead I write the kind of stories I enjoy; adventures, usually with a deal of mystery and supernatural suspense thrown in for good measure. I also write to entertain. While I like to have good-guys who are good and bad-guys who are bad, I'm not writing to instruct or make any deep moral statements about the world. I leave that kind of thing to better writers than I am. I'm simply having fun and hoping my readers do as well.
Do you have a specific process or schedule?
I have two small children and a day job so writing is something I do in my spare time. I try to write something every day but I don't always get the chance. I don't beat myself up over this. Life happens and if I get to spend some time writing four days out of seven, I call it a win and move on. I begin with a fairly detailed outline, breaking down the acts, plot points, and character points in the story. I don't bother breaking down the scenes at this stage but I do build a pretty clear outline of all the events in the story before I sit down to write the first draft. For me an outline is essential - it gives me confidence that most of the plot problems have been solved before the writing begins.

I write the first draft straight through. Not necessarily in one sitting but usually without going back over the text until it is all complete. I have found that if I start polishing before the first draft is complete I waste a huge amount of time writing and re-writing the same material over and over and eventually abandon the whole thing.

Once the first draft is written I go back to the beginning and start revising. I look for plot holes, stuff that doesn't make sense, redundancy, places where my pace is either too slow or too quick (still working on this one), and points at which I can punch up the character interaction. I also check to see that I've been able to maintain the voices of my characters authentically.

Finally, I revise for spelling, grammar, and punctuation problems.

Technically I guess that's just three drafts, but my second and third drafts are a form of death by a thousand cuts where I go over and over the text until I feel that I can stand to look at it without complete embarrassment. I'm not the kind of writer who will spend forever perfecting every turn of phrase. I like telling stories and am too impatient to connect with an audience for that kind of perfectionism. Besides I've ruined more than one story by overworking it. They say that no work of art is ever finished, merely abandoned, and I guess that's true of my writing (though whether it qualifies as art is something I'll leave to the reader).
What's the most unique thing about your writing?
A Probably the most unique thing about my writing is its packaging. The plays I write, while fun to read in their own right, are designed to be performed as part of a dinner party by a group of from 6 to 8 participants. The six episodes I've published so far include everything you need to host a fun dinner party and script reading; costume ideas, period recipes, instructions for a "build it yourself" sound effects kit, and, of course, an original script. I came up with the idea as I puzzled over how I might take part in the apparent revival that audio drama online has been enjoying in recent years. Unfortunately I don't have the technical expertise to create a podcast, nor access to the acting talent necessary to create an audio drama.

In light of this I spent some time thinking about what I really enjoyed about the radio dramas of yore and I was suddenly struck by something. For me, the fond memories are all tied up with the time spent listening with family. It was about the fun we had together living the experience in our imaginations. I would laugh myself hoarse listening to the Goon Show and other programs. They were great times of fun, family, food and community.

As I thought about this it occurred to me that, as much as I love professionally produced audio drama, there might be a way to recapture some of that sense of fun and community without necessarily having to invest heavily in technology and good actors. Earlier this year we held our first dinner party/script reading with an original script that I wrote to celebrate my forty third birthday. We had a blast. Food, friends, fun, and one thing more that I don't think you get by merely listening; a sense of being inside and part of the story.
Where do you get your ideas?
Most author's hate this question. Not because it isn't interesting - we love to hear other authors answer it - but because most of the time we don't know. For myself, ideas come from a process of free-association and brainstorming, often started by posing a question beginning with the words "what if...?" For example, what if a 1930s hard boiled detective was recruited to enforce a peace treaty between mortals and faery folk? Or alternatively, what if Sherlock Holmes was really engaged in a battle against supernatural forces? It's rare for me to settle on an idea straight away. For every twenty ideas I generate there might only be one that I think would make a worthwhile story.

Like most things in life. Coming up with story ideas takes practice and persistence. Others may have figured out a more articulate theory of creativity - though I have yet to meet any of them - I just muddle along... and when I do have a good idea I often feel like a passenger in my own mind going "Wow! Where did that idea come from?".
Published 2014-01-31.
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Books by This Author

PACMP001 - Troubled Times
Series: Trent Stone and Tess Carter Pulp Adventures, Compilation (Eps 1-4). Price: $35.99 USD. Words: 72,000. Language: English. Published: March 10, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Adventure » General
This compilation gathers together Episodes 1 - 4 of our Pulp Adventure Serial featuring Trent Stone and Tess Carter. Episode 1: The Alligator Menace Episode 2: The Cult of the Teeth Episode 3: The City of the Gold Spider Episode 4: The Reanimator's Revenge
FN004 On the Fence
Series: Tony Wells and Claire Templeton Fantasy Noir, Episode 4. Price: $25.99 USD. Words: 20,080. Language: American English. Published: March 10, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Hard-Boiled
When information provided about the black market puts Claire Templeton in touch with a fence who is quickly murdered (by means that can only be described as magical), she is drawn into a brand new faery plot to destroy the city, sever and isolate the mortal realm, and pave the way for a faery takeover. Can Claire solve the case and save the day before her home town becomes a giant crater?
FN003 An Ephemeral Deal
Series: Tony Wells and Claire Templeton Fantasy Noir, Episode 3. Price: $25.99 USD. Words: 17,100. Language: American English. Published: March 3, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Hard-Boiled
Things are slow at the office of Tony Wells, Private Eye, when Claire Templeton turns up with a business proposition. Someone is trying to kidnap her and Tony finds himself once more plunged into the intrigues of the fae courts. The squabbles of the faery realm easily impact the mortal realm and, with Claire’s life on the line, Tony must sort through all the double dealings on his own.
Scarlet
Series: Sherlock Holmes and Martha Hudson Gaslamp Mystery, Episode 4. Price: $25.99 USD. Words: 17,520. Language: American English. Published: February 22, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British
A chance encounter in a curio shop with a man searching for his lost fiancée draws Sherlock Holmes into his strangest case to date. Almost one hundred people have gone missing from the streets of Highgate and mysterious “scavengers” are terrorizing the streets at night. When Holmes himself becomes the chief suspect in the kidnappings he is forced to uncover the terrifying truth.
GM003 - The Speckled Hide
Series: Sherlock Holmes and Martha Hudson Gaslamp Mystery, Episode 3. Price: $25.99 USD. Words: 14,540. Language: American English. Published: February 15, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
Sherlock Holmes’ career is quite well established when Martha Hudson introduces him to Helen Stoner, a runaway who fears her guardian is attempting to murder her. An encounter with the inhumanly strong Dr Roylott convinces Holmes that the affair deserves his attention. Encountering shape-shifters, a monstrous demon,and a woman believed dead Sherlock and Martha attempt once more to save the day.
FN002 - The Island of Never
Series: Tony Wells and Claire Templeton Fantasy Noir, Episode 2. Price: $25.99 USD. Words: 18,280. Language: American English. Published: February 8, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
Tony Wells’ life is changed forever when his vindictive Lieutenant assigns him a politically sensitive kidnapping case.The kidnapping leads Tony and his friend Claire Templeton from the streets of Star City through a magical portal and into a pocket universe where they must defeat an evil fae noble for the freedom of the children or face being trapped forever. Can they survive once more?
GM002 - The Ritual
Series: Sherlock Holmes and Martha Hudson Gaslamp Mystery, Episode 2. Price: $25.99 USD. Words: 14,590. Language: American English. Published: January 31, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
Sherlock Holmes has just left university and is seeking to make a name for himself as an investigator of the unusual when Reginald Musgrave, an acquaintance from the university, arrives requesting Holmes and Martha look into the disappearance of two of his domestic staff. Can Holmes determine what is haunting the Musgrave Ancestral home and why?
PA004 The Reanimator's Revenge
Series: Trent Stone and Tess Carter Pulp Adventures, Episode 4. Price: $25.99 USD. Words: 25,720. Language: American English. Published: August 26, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Plays » Australian & Oceanian
When visiting the Star City Penitentiary Trent and Tess encounter a gypsy woman who warns that the city is facing imminent destruction. The pair are led to the City Cemetery where they are attacked by corpses. Now Trent and Tess must race against time to face down the villain before the city is completely destroyed.
FN001 Predator's Row
Series: Tony Wells and Claire Templeton Fantasy Noir, Episode 1. Price: $25.99 USD. Words: 18,820. Language: English. Published: August 26, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Plays » Australian & Oceanian
Investigating the kidnapping of a seven-year-old girl, detective Tony Wells is caught up in a nightmare world where Faery Courts battle it out, where trolls fight for scraps beneath modern bridges, and where a magical sword has an agenda all its own. Wells must now work to uncover a murderer in order to prevent a war among the immortals from spilling over into the mundane realm.
PA003 The City Of The Gold Spider
Series: Trent Stone and Tess Carter Pulp Adventures, Episode 3. Price: $25.99 USD. Words: 20,620. Language: American English. Published: August 26, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Plays » Australian & Oceanian
When a young South American man succeeds in foiling an attempt on the lives of Trent Stone and Tess Carter only to be killed moments later by a remotely controlled spider, their sense of duty brings them face to face with corrupt police, eerily intelligent howler monkeys, and Aztec mummies, in a fight against a combination of science and magic in this exciting South American adventure.
GM001 The Visitor From The Gloria Scott
Series: Sherlock Holmes and Martha Hudson Gaslamp Mystery, Episode 1. Price: $25.99 USD. Words: 16,450. Language: American English. Published: August 26, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Plays » Australian & Oceanian
Sherlock Holmes sets out on the path that will forever define his life while holidaying with a friend from university. When his companion’s dog is killed under mysterious circumstances, Holmes begins an investigation that, with the help of Martha Hudson, pits him against the forces of darkness in the form of spectral possession, evil enchantment, and a hidden sorcerer of immense power.
PA002 The Cult Of The Teeth
Series: Trent Stone and Tess Carter Pulp Adventures, Episode 2. Price: $25.99 USD. Words: 14,550. Language: American English. Published: August 26, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Plays » Australian & Oceanian
Glory-hound and expert hunter, Maynard Havelock III, is the victim of a ritual murder. Finding themselves at the top of the suspect list, Trent and Tess are forced to investigate the disappearance of a number of young women in a bid to clear their names. Their investigation takes them in search of an ancient cult, a missing obelisk, and behind it all, a familiar wheel-chaired villain.
PA001 The Alligator Menace
Series: Trent Stone and Tess Carter Pulp Adventures, Episode 1. Price: $25.99 USD. Words: 20,520. Language: American English. Published: August 26, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Plays » Australian & Oceanian
Trent Stone and Tess Carter are in Star City to participate in the League of Adventure Seekers annual dinner. However, when the dinner is broken up by a horde of remotely controlled albino sewer alligators, Trent and Tess are launched into a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an insane genius bent on controlling the city’s underworld.