Saturday, 11 February 2017

Diana talks to ... Richard Abbott

Hi Richard, good to chat with you! Hopefully this interview is an interview with a difference and I have come up with some unusual questions!

First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!

I thought the question should be something about the roles of men and women in my books. I like writing about both men and women, and the diverse interactions between them. I also write about situations which naturally lend themselves to active participation by both sexes – helped no little by working in an environment where this is completely normal. So it was with great pleasure that I read a recent review of Timing which talked about the “bevy… of intelligent and formidable women” found in its pages. Whether writing about past or future, I like to include as much diversity as I can.

If your latest book ' Timing ' was made into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role? Hmm, I’m not very good on the names of actors. Aamir Khan (who played the male lead in Lagaan) looks right for Mitnash, while Rene Auberjonois is just right temperamentally, though rather too old now. Alexander Siddig would be good too, I think. Out of women to play Slate, which is necessarily a voice part, I think Jennifer Spence or Alaina Huffman would do a good job. Both have played technically-skilled parts in science fiction before.

What made you choose this genre? Well, I like experimenting with different genres. I started with historical fiction – and one day hope to dive back into the remote past – but recently I have been exploring science fiction. My most nearly complete WIP, Half Sick of Shadows, is something of a historical fantasy. I don’t feel constrained to stick with one genre.

How do you get ideas for plots and characters? I am a great believer that many human traits are the same whether you look back or forward in time. So, I find inspiration in the human interactions and occupations I see around me. The scribe Makty-Rasut and his fellow tomb workers in Scenes from a Life were drawn heavily from situations I saw when I was an IT contractor. My current science fiction series is based around financial fraud and hacking, something I have to be aware of in my day job. But (to reassure those who know me) hardly anyone is copied directly from a real person… there are always changes and blends going on. I hope that readers will recognise the kind of characters they meet in my books, but not specific individuals. Plot-wise I start with broad ideas (say a particular kind of financial crime) and work towards details.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind? (Wry laugh) Well, I can guarantee publication because I do it myself! What I can’t guarantee is popularity… But seriously I like dabbling with multiple genres. I do want to go back to historical fiction sometime, partly to tie up the loose ends in my Late Bronze Age series, and then to go back even further to the Neolithic or such like. But I have rough plans for a couple more science fiction books, and I have really enjoyed the sidestep into fantasy – look out for Half Sick of Shadows, later this year sometime. That’ll keep me busy for a while for sure.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously? I have always liked reading, and way back in university days started a long fantasy novel. That manuscript is long since lost – perhaps for the better – and many years passed before I started writing again. The way in for me was via historical study, and the jump to fiction was small. So, I guess it was progress in fits and starts.

Marmite? Love it or hate it? Kind of indifferent (sorry) – I wouldn’t select it if there was a choice, but I wouldn’t turn it down either.

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...?? I write a lot on the Northern Line, tucked in a corner as I travel between East Finchley and Embankment. That doesn’t really lend itself to favourite bits and pieces. If at home I almost always write without music on – but if I’m editing or working over some already-written piece, then I will probably put on some cool prog rock like Yes or Caravan. Recently I’ve been indulging in Manfred Mann. I almost always write first on my phone, into GMail, then transfer into a text editor and produce the Kindle version in the evening. That way I can always check how it looks on an actual reader. But often it’s a matter of grabbing whatever time I can in the midst of a busy life, so I can’t be too precious about rituals and such like.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters? Family definitely.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job? I really like what I do (quality assurance in IT) and would be reluctant to give it up. I reckon there’s a lot of value in keeping on working with other colleagues and doubt my ability to manage well if I was just on my own – probably this way madness lies! Given the option I’d probably shift the balance a little between day job and writing, but I wouldn’t want to give up the day job altogether.

Coffee or tea? Red or white? Tea, almost every time. For alcohol, probably white though I’d prefer a nice ale to any sort of wine.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way? For historical fiction, I have a clear plan not just for plot but for structure as well, since formal layout was important back then and I like to try to imitate the process of creation as well as the setting. For the rest, I have a sense of where I want to go, and some specific key scenes along the way, but I am not nearly so orderly about planning here. I don’t make a draft in the conventional sense of that word – just lots and lots of reappraisal as the thing develops.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose? I’m a rebel here and an enthusiast of epublishing – so I’d want my readers to pick their own font at will rather than feel they had to put up with my choice. Just for fun, I tried seeing what my books look like with the fairly recent dyslexic font available in many Kindles – I couldn’t read it all the time but it was a useful exercise seeing what it was like.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be? The founding statement of principles of the first colony on the asteroid Ceres, at the point it transitioned from being just a commercial mining settlement into a real human community.

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!? A minor character from Far from the Spaceports has developed something of an interesting life of her own – and will continue to do so in #3 (provisionally called The Authentication Key). I just went with the flow, presuming that my subconscious knew all about this.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips? For historical fiction, yes, lots, and yes I have (some of the Greek islands, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel). For science fiction, I’d certainly be up for a trip to the asteroid belt – or even Mars – if anybody offered it. Sadly, the opportunity has not yet presented itself. For the emerging fantasy books, I guess the research is more into internal space rather than external.

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot? Well, when I write historical fiction I focus on people who were in normal terms rather unimportant. So, the problem doesn’t really arise. Besides, I am looking at periods of time where the amount of written evidence is small, and we know the names of so few individuals that I don’t feel constrained. Nobody has yet quibbled about my portrayal of Joshua in In a Milk and Honeyed Land, but then I didn’t kill him off or anything nasty. Unless you’ve acquired a time machine it’s not an issue when writing about the future! But even there, I prefer writing about ordinary people rather than Galactic Overlords or the like.

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this? Same answer really – in the historical periods I like, “known facts” are few and far between. I have a desire to write something set in ancient Doggerland (now under the waves of the North Sea) and I don’t reckon many facts will disturb me there. With futuristic stuff, I try to be careful to make the technology plausible, which I suppose is meeting the same goals as checking historical facts.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred? In the places and times I write about, they are always blurred! There are ongoing vigorous debates about whether whole decades and centuries need to be moved around, even for something as recent as Late Bronze. I don’t live in a fictional world where everyone is confident of the actual date and hour of this or that event. That’s part of the pleasure…

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters? Never hated them – I wouldn’t bother to write about them if I hated them. But there are definitely people that I would get seriously fed up with if I had to work with them. But love some of them, oh yes.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure? Mostly good science fiction or good fantasy. I have got a bit chary of some historical fiction as there is a trend for high body counts and the like. But when I find a book I like then it doesn’t really matter what genre it is. As a rule, I prefer novella or novel length books to short stories.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book? Russian Caravan tea.** Or maybe a really nice Jasmine green tea. Or just possibly a local ale if something stronger takes your fancy.

Last but not least... favourite author? I think this has to be Ursula LeGuin. There are a few others close to her but on balance I’m sure she is at the top of the pile.
Thank you Richard! Very interesting!!
Richard Abbott writes fiction set in two very different places. First, there is historical fiction set in the Middle East at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200BC. The second area is science fiction, set in a near-future solar system exploring issues of high-tech crime and human-machine relationships.

His first science fiction book, Far from the Spaceports, introduces Mitnash Thakur and his virtual partner Slate as they investigate financial crime in the asteroid belt. A follow-up novel, Timing, introduces a new investigation starting about a year later.

His first book, In a Milk and Honeyed Land, explores events in the Egyptian province of Canaan. It follows the life, loves, and struggles of a priest in the small hill town of Kephrath.

A follow-up novel entitled Scenes from a Life begins in Egypt. It follows the journey of a scribe as he travels to discover his origins. down the Nile from Luxor and finally out into Canaan.

A third book, The Flame Before Us, is set in the middle of calamity. New settlers are arriving from the north, sacking cities and disrupting the established ways of life as they come. This story follows several different groups each trying to adjust to the new situation.

Author readings from both In a Milk and Honeyed Land and Scenes from a Life are available online as YouTube videos.

The short story The Man in the Cistern is set in the same location as In a Milk and Honeyed Land, but around ten years later.

The short story The Lady of the Lions is set in the same location but around one hundred and fifty years earlier.

Triumphal Accounts in Hebrew and Egyptian is the ebook version of his PhD thesis which, for those who want the technical details, supplies academic underpinning for some of the ideas and plot themes followed up in fiction.

Richard lives in London, England and works professionally in IT quality assurance.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District.

**Russian Caravan is a blend of oolong, keemun, and lapsang souchong teas, all produced from Camellia sinensis the Chinese tea plant

© Diana Milne January 2017 © Richard Abbott December 2016