This is the first entry in a series of author interviews. The purpose is twofold: a) Firstly to enable you to glimpse inside the world of published writers. Secondly to ask questions related to the author’s work.
The series starts off with Stephen J Sweeney, author of ‘The Battle for the Solar System’ trilogy, Firmware and other excellent sci-fi books. You will find positive reviews of Stepehen J Sweeney’s books on 8Bit Mammoth, so it is with much pride that we start the series with a sci-fi rock star!
Q1. Are you writing full-time? If not, how do you manage to fit writing into your life?
I’m not a full-time writer, no. My day job involves me working in IT. Thankfully, as I’m a contractor, I do get the odd month or two here and there where I’m between work and can therefore focus more on my writing. Otherwise, I make room to write everyday. I usually like to spend an hour in the evening after work writing when I’ve got a project on the go.
Q2. What inspires and influences you to write?
I’m influenced by many different aspects of popular culture. The BATTLE FOR THE SOLAR SYSTEM trilogy was largely inspired by the Wing Commander series of PC games, and the Babylon 5 TV series. I wanted to combine the two, having the starfighter pilots fight back against a great evil in an epic space opera. H1NZ was inspired by the popular scientific theory that life arrived on Earth by a meteorite delivering DNA to the planet. I figured that it could happen again, but with disastrous consequences to the life already here. DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS also played a role, with the plant mutants being susceptible to salt. FIRMWARE came from the absurd idea that people could “crash” in the same way that a computer did, and would need to go to a doctor to be reset. I then modified the idea to suggest that people had chips in their heads and some people would choose to hack them, to grant them extended abilities. It was dangerous, however, as seen in the opening scene of the book.
Q3. Where do you usually write and do you have any advice for writer’s block?
I usually write in my living room, with either the radio or the TV on in the background. If the TV is on, I need the volume low and I need the program to be something that I’m not all that interested in; I can’t write in total silence. If I start getting writers block, I tend to skip the part of the story that I’m working on and come back to it later. Normally I get a better idea of how to solve the problem as I flesh out the other parts of the story. Or I just wait for the solution to come to me at some random moment, like when I’m trying to fall asleep!
Q4. Do you have any favourite software you use to write with? i.e. FocusWriter
I don’t use any specialist software when it comes to writing – I tend to stick to using Open Office, and making notes in separate text files, that I later refer to. I’m probably quite old school that way; it’s sort of like having a typewriter and a cork board, I suppose.
Q5. Do you feel marketing your books, hinders, even disrupts your writing?
Marketing certainly takes up a lot of time that could otherwise be spent writing, but unfortunately it is vital to get word of your book out. I must admit that I’m not too good at it – my biggest effort was for the BFTSS trilogy, for which I created a website stuffed with information about the characters, the setting, and the events. I built it so that people interested in the books could find out more, and to allow others to stumble across the trilogy. I also decided to make the first edition of HONOUR OF THE KNIGHTS free, to give people a taste of the story. I call that ‘passive marketing’.
Q6. What advice do you have for non-published authors who have written their ‘first draft’?
If you’ve managed to get that first draft written, congratulations! It’s not an easy thing to accomplish! I have had many false starts on books that now sit unfinished and unloved on my hard drive. Now that you’ve got your first draft completed, you should have a better idea of how the story hangs together and where it wants to go. Much of writing is rewriting, and, after taking a break of a few weeks to distance yourself from your material, you should rewrite the story, working through the first draft and using what works and eliminating that which doesn’t. Remember this – books that are published have typically been through several rewrites and might only resemble the first draft in spirit. Another thing to keep in mind is that agents and publishers don’t want to see your first draft. They want to see a book that is near-ready for publication. Yes, there is still a lot of work to do, but you’ve already taken that first big step. Keep going!
Q7.How long does it take you to write a book and at what stage do you feel a book is ready for publication?
Most the books I write take about a year to complete, if I’m working on them every day. I generally only feel that the book is ready for publication when it has been through several edits and I can no longer find anything that needs to be changed. After that, it will go to an editor and I’ll begin working through all the feedback and suggestions that comes from there. Once that is done, and I’ve given it a final spell check and proofread, I feel it is ready to be published.
Q8. Do you feel it is tougher now for authors to be discovered and gain a fan base?
Obscurity has always been an author’s greatest enemy – if no one knows that your book exists, they aren’t going to go out there and read it. These days, I think that authors have far more opportunities to get discovered, thanks to social media and bloggers. It still remains as important as ever for a writer to let the world know they exist, so networking is vital. Twitter and Facebook certainly help a great deal this way. Fans can connect to authors through those websites and learn more about them.
Q9. You’ve addressed future technological advances adapting and controlling the human body in a negative manner in your sci-fi books. Is this also a real world concern or do you embrace ‘human hacking’ and technological upgrades to humans, even if the ‘upgrades’ don’t serve a medical purpose?
I believe that there is a very real possibility that things such as nanotechnology (BFTSS trilogy) or enhancement chips (FIRMWARE) would be subverted in some way and used to control people. When I first heard about the possibilities of nanotechnology being used to make people smarter by increasing brain functions and implanting skills, I immediately considered that people could easily be brainwashed using the same methods. There would certainly be a lot of benefits to hacking the human body, but we should proceed with caution.
Q10. Would it be amiss to say that at times your stories have drawn upon recent or past struggles in the world with regard to individual rights?
In a way. One of the themes of FIRMWARE was privacy and security, something that people are becoming increasingly aware of and concerned about these days. We have little idea of what information we’re really sharing and what it is being used for (even the whole NSA incident is probably just the very tip of the iceberg). Some people (particular those in the open source and free computing circles) don’t trust software delivered by vendors and will often hack their phones and computers to replace that which they don’t trust. The BFTSS trilogy on the other hand clearly draws upon the struggle against extreme right-wing agendas and what the net result can be. The Pandorans can be seen as a branch of the Senate’s totalitarian regime, a branch that soon lost sight of the original goals and chose to extend their ideals to everyone around them.
Q11. Your characters are all pretty tech savvy. Do you use a lot of technology in your everyday life out of necessity or because you want to?
I’ve been an IT professional for close to 14 years, and so spend a lot of time playing about with computers and stuff. I also like to tinker with gadgets and wonder what more I can get out of them that they weren’t originally built to do (something that inspired the story of FIRMWARE). I read technology blogs and websites daily, just to see if there are any neat tricks I can perform with a bit of old hardware lying around (such as an old Android phone).
Q12. Who are your favourite authors and do you have a favourite book?
Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, J K Rowling, and Iain M Banks are most definitely my favourite authors, as I’ve read so much of their work and always enjoy their books immensely. Other writers I’ve read a lot of are Robert VS Reddick, Stephen Deas, and Sarah Pinborough. I don’t have a favourite book as such, but a book I did read this year was THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, which definitely rates as one of my favourite of all time. I found it hard to put down and simply devoured it!
Q13. Do you use an ebook reader or prefer traditional hardback and paperback books?
I read in both formats. I prefer paperbacks, but if I see a bargain on the Kindle (such as those one day only £0.99 offers), I’ll snap up the ebook. Ebooks definitely have the advantage of weighing nothing themselves, meaning you can carry your entire library around with you, but the feel of an actual book isn’t something an ebook reader can replace. I imagine those growing up today might feel different, however, and see physical books as collectors items.
Q14.Where can people buy your books and find out more about you and your stories?
All my books are available from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Sony’s Reader Store, and a host of other places. You can find out more about my books by visiting my website: www.stephenjsweeney.com. I also sell DRM-free ePubs of all my novels there.