Friday, 27 April 2012

Interview with Guy Haley

I don't know about you guys, but I'm quite excited about today's guest, Guy Haley, whose debut novel Reality 36 was one of my favorite books from 2011. You can find my review of Reality 36 here, and my review of the second Richard and Klein Investigation novel, Omega Point, here.  Mr Haley kindly agreed to answer some of my questions on how it all started and what is happening in the near future.

You might want to check out Guy Haley's blog or even follow him on Twitter (@guyhaley).

To kick things off why don't you tell us some more about yourself and why you choose SF as your genre?

I've always loved SF, fantasy and (to a lesser extent) horror. My mum is quite an SF fan, and I read a lot of her books when I was a kid; she also bought me The Hobbit when I was seven as a gift. I found it and started reading it before she gave it to me, and felt massively guilty (in a shouty, crying, seven year-old type way) about spoiling the surprise. She didn’t mind, and I really enjoyed it. I read The Lord of the Rings when I was nine. My dad worked from home, and I'd sit on the floor of his office and he'd tell me the plots of old SF radio and TV shows while he worked. When I got older, I started to tell him stories instead. If there was ever anything on the television that was SF, I’d watch it – Space 1999, Quatermass, King Kong, Godzilla, The Avengers… Once video came in, stuff that was on late at night, my dad would tape for me. I saw Alien when I was about 12 because of that (and luckily for me, for once he set the recorder correctly… I remember taking 300 Spartans in to school for a classical history lesson and it petering out in a blaze of snowflakes twenty minutes before the end. Anyway…) And then I got into Warhammer via my dad’s passion for toy soldiers. I’ve always, always loved this stuff. I was never as obsessed with Doctor Who as everyone else seems to be, and unlike some folks I had absolutely nothing to do with fandom until I started working in the genre, but it’s been a big part of my life since I was very young.

I think why I like it so much, the speculative aspects and imagery aside, is that you can tell stories in the fantastical genres that you can't anywhere else. In genre fiction you can get to the crux of the big questions quickly. The 18th century precursors of genre fiction in fact existed precisely to sidestep all the clutter of contemporary life, and although sometimes it was for reasons of authorial self-preservation (you are less likely to be censured or locked up if you’re writing about  the king of the moon, and not the actual king), I do believe people like Swift chose to tell stories in this way because of the clarity they can bring.

Of course, literary fiction addresses the human condition too, but it usually does so far more circumspectly. Genre fiction goes right to the heart of the matter. SF is especially good at this, because once you shear away the real world from an issue, in essence only the issue remains.

And then you can stick a robot's face on it, and blow him up. Which is fun.

I'll not just write SF, mind. I've written fantasy for games companies (expect novels next year), and my next BIG PITCH is a fantasy epic. I even have a couple of contemporary, non-genre, non-adventure novels in mind, but you'll have to wait a decade for those.

You have for a number of yours been writing reviews, how does it feel to be on the receiving end for once?

I started writing when I was about 18. It took me 20 years to get a book published, and for a large part of that time I was an SF journalist. I was deputy editor on SFX magazine, I edited White Dwarf, and a magazine called Death Ray. I've written literally hundreds of reviews over the years, and that was just a very small part of what I did. Being on the receiving end is as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be, but it hasn't changed my opinions or writing style in reviews. I have changed my tone over the years, but that came earlier than my first novel acceptance. When I got serious about writing, I realised how much heartache went into penning a book, and therefore became a little less likely to go for a cheap gag in my own reviews.

I really like your style of writing and how you mix action, humour with the unexpected and quirky. Where is it all coming from, what is your source of inspiration, any specific writers whose work helped nudge you onto this path? 

Who knows? My mother said the weirdest thing about reading Reality 36 was that it had all come out of my head, and I'll have to agree with here there. It'll have come from everywhere, I expect. I'm a firm believer in humour and the quirky, as they're very much a part of everyday life. I know very few people who don't enjoy joking and bantering with their colleagues, and real life is actually intensely odd.

In part I can definitely say Reality 36 was inspired by Neal Asher's books. I love that the libertarian freedom humans enjoy depicted in his work is entirely on the sufferance of the AIs. I’ve seen some critics get quite snooty about Asher, but there’s a level of subtlety underneath all the crashing action that gets overlooked. His work is very wry, in its way. I was wondering how a world like his might come to pass  Reality 36 owes something to that thought.

The Realms, simulated realities, in your Richards and Klein Investigation novels adds an element of fantasy to the setting. This pretty much gave you free rein, you could have magic, completely ignore the laws of physics. Must have been fun? 

Yeah, but my fun wasn't really the point there. I could tell an entire fantasy story set in a Realm, I suppose, but with them I was trying to say that we can't develop increasingly sophisticated thinking 'bots' for game worlds just for us to murder them! And the Realms and all the other forms of cyberspace hinted at in the story will not feature very much in future stories. The third Richards & Klein book I have in mind will be set almost entirely in the Real, for example.

How did you end up with Angry Robot Books and Solaris Books? 

I've been plugged into publishing via my journalism job for a long time. I've worked with many people who are now editors when they were just junior staff or active fans. I hate to say it, but it helps to know people, at least to get your work looked at; it won't help if it's no good, however. AR and Solaris just happened to be the first people that responded to my incessant pestering with book deals (I do have another publisher too, but again, next year for that. I’ll have three books out from them!).

Have you ever acted out a melee to make sure you get it right, and if you have did you film it? 

No! Never. Despite not taking myself at all seriously in some regards, I take myself very seriously in others (I am a man of contradictions), and would feel like the world’s biggest knob leaping around with a pair of nunchuks for, ahem, “research”. I did fence for three years until my knee stopped working (hopefully I’ll be back into that later this year), and I have done some Kung Fu, but I'm a bit old for the messing about in the woods style lightsabre fighting you see on YouTube!

You are fairly active in social media, you blog and tweet about your writing and things related to writing. What's the best thing about Twitter and Blogs, from the perspective of a novelist? Did anything change with the publishing of your first book?

To be honest, I started my site up to publicise my work, ditto Twitter, both on the advice of one of my publishers. I really admire those people who can make social media a core part of who they are and what they do, but I'm not one of them. I do a lot of other stuff outside of my writing, most of it outdoors type activities. I don’t have a very urban mentality, and like to be left alone for long periods. There are long lapses between my tweets and blog postings, and although I can make folks laugh at parties, coming up with pithy, politically acceptable, 140-character bon mots while I'm eating my cornflakes is beyond me. I also think, why on Earth would anyone be interested in what I’m cooking for lunch? I wobble in and out of love with Twitter.

I like my blog better because it's a way to get work that would otherwise be trapped on paper back out there. The drawback here is that it is time-consuming to maintain. I have met a few writers who grumble that keeping up their online presences sucks great chunks of the day away from actually writing, and I have some sympathy for that standpoint. Sometimes it can feel like a chore, sometimes it is the best thing in the world. I should be more consistent with my blog. On saying that, I do love speaking to people (I veer from misanthrope to party person – I did say I was riven with contradiction), and if anyone comments on my blog or Tweets me, I will respond. I like the contact best of all, I think, especially with people I would not otherwise meet.

Will we meet Richards and Klein again?

I really hope so. I have ideas for six R&K books in total, and a number of short stories, but I'll only get to write them if the reading public likes Richards and Otto too, and they can only show their appreciation by buying the books. There probably won't be another R&K book for at least a year after Omega Point as until my publishers have looked at fairly long-tem sales figures, they won't know if it makes sense for them to publish more. I hope they do, I've got some cool stories to tell! You will, I am sure, see more shorts on my blog whatever happens, in fact, I'm partway through one nominally titled "His Master's Voice". There are two shorts up on my blog already: Richards & Klein: Ghost, and Richards & Klein: The Nemesis Worm. Check them out!

Can you tell us a little about your next book, Champion of Mars?

I’ve always been fascinated by Mars – I’ve spent a lot of time the last few week staring at it at night. I love stories set there because, if anything, they are stories that could actually happen. Mars is so close, and almost right for human life. I have no doubt one day people will be living there. I’m also a big fan of the planetary romance and science fantasy sub-genres. I love the techno-fantastical stories that Mars has played host to over the years. Champion of Mars is my homage to all these stories, it’s my attempt to kind of bring them all together. I wasn’t sure if it would work, blending pulp and hard SF, but I had a preview of a favourable review by Stephen Baxter of Champion recently, and that made me very happy. He called it a "sugar-rush of a novel" among other things, which I think is good. And he saw what I was trying to do, and said that I’d managed to pull it off. Fingers crossed you readers think so too.

The story itself is divided into three strands: a near future strand that takes place a few years before Reality 36 (it is set in the same universe folks!), a far, far future strand, and a series of stories that link the two together; this use of short episodes was very much inspired by the structure of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. It is to Bradbury, actually, that I think the book owes its greatest debt. But above all, it is a love story, I think. But as always, it’s not really for the writer to decide what a book is “about”, that’s up to the reader. Suffice it to say, there are space battles, exotic technologies, strange societies, robots, monsters and a terrible extra-dimensional threat. If that’s not enough for you, then I give up!

What does the near future hold in store for you?

The sequel to Reality 36, Omega Point is out now. Champion of Mars is out 26th April (US) and 10th May (UK). I'm waiting to hear back on a bunch of proposals. I had one accepted last week, actually, but cannot say anything about it yet. This is tricky time for me. Unlike many new writers, I don't have a full-time job, writing and some freelance journalism is all I do (hammered in between childcare), so the next few months will reveal whether or not I can make a career out of writing books. Ideally, I need to sell three or four books this year. Wish me luck, I have a feeling I may need it.

Thank you Guy, and good luck!

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