It's an itch that has to be scratched. Basically I think that I can't not write – though I managed to suppress the urge for a very long time in the middle part of my life.
I was a voracious reader when I was a kid, and I decided that I wanted to write my own stories when I was maybe 10 or 11 years old. I was so determined in this that I finally managed to persuade my parents to buy me a second-hand typewriter for my 12th birthday, on which I proceeded to write my first (utterly unpublishable) science fiction novel.
I was determined to persevere, and taught myself to touch-type by the time I was 14. But it wasn't until my early 20s that I started to have stories accepted for publication. I had some modest success for a while, but then in my 30s the difficulties of holding down a full-time job and raising a family seemed to get in the way. It's only now that I'm about to retire that I've been able to return to my first love.
2. How many books have you written?
Four in total.
Two of them, Halfway House and Shadows, are gothic fantasies aimed at an early teenage audience. These were written a long time ago, in 1975, and were published by Cassell Australia. They are now available as e-books.
Islands is an anthology of my science fiction short stories, all but one of which were published in professional magazines and anthologies in the 1970s and 80s. Again, it's now available as an e-book.
A Torrent of Story is a collection of short stories in a variety of genres, and has just come out as an e-book.
3. What inspired you to write your (latest) book?
As you can tell from my previous answer, most of my work was written and published a long time ago. I hadn't written any fiction for over 26 years, but as I neared retiring age (I'm now 60), my thoughts began to turn more and more towards trying to write fiction again. But I was filled with a lot of self-doubt. Could I still come up with story ideas? Could I still develop characters? Did I still know how to write, in fact?
Well, I answered these questions with a bit of a bang. I saw a reference on Google+ to a writing challenge being run by Becky Raymond. The challenge was to write a story every day during the month of November 2011, each story to be based on a visual stimulus – a photograph or artwork.
I decided to at least try it out and see if I could come up with anything. Well, as it turned out, I was the only participant to write something for every day during the challenge. Although the challenge was mainly intended to elicit 'flash fiction' – short and pithy stories, perhaps three or four paragraphs in length – I found myself writing much longer pieces each day, really quite fully-formed stories. As the month went on I became more and more determined to write something every day. I ended up with 30 original pieces of fiction totaling 33,000 words. This was the first fiction I had written in over 26 years!
Once the challenge was over I decided that it would be worth collecting these stories into an anthology, which I have called A Torrent of Story. Along with each story I include a detailed description of how I came up with each day's story idea, how the story was structured, and how I think it could be improved. The idea is that the book may be a useful resource for a creative writing class, or just act as an inspiration for individuals who are learning to write fiction.
4. What is your favorite genre to read?
I read fairly widely but probably not very deeply. I'm very fond of the English classics like the works of Austen, Dickens and Trollope, but I am often to be found reading science fiction and mystery novels.
5. Is your writing style at all influenced by those of your favorite authors?
It's hard for me to tell. I certainly don't consciously try to emulate any particular author, but I'm sure that my style is shaped by everything that I have ever read. But if I had to pick one writer who I have been particularly influenced by, it would be Ursula K. Le Guin. This comes not only from reading her wonderful novels, but also her essays on the craft of writing, and because I was fortunate enough to attend a week-long writer's workshop she held some years ago.
6. Which is your favorite book that you’ve written?
I'm currently very fond of my latest book A Torrent of Story, because it represents a real renaissance of my writing career after a long, long, hiatus. But I will be even fonder of my next book, if I ever manage to write it!
7. What is your opinion of the art of writing?
I don't think anyone who hasn't tried writing realizes what hard work it is. It's certainly hard to write well, to create viable characters who are authentic and believable, and very hard to construct a credible, well-structured plot. A lot of my early attempts at writing stories seemed to trail off at the end or to go nowhere. I found that it's not enough just to imagine a particular situation or even particular characters; the story has to have a strong narrative necessity and come to a satisfying conclusion.
8. What advice would you give someone who is just beginning their own novel?
It would probably be presumptuous for me to do so, since I have only had two short novels for teenagers published.
For what it is worth I would say that you need to have a strong sense of the structure of the book you are about to write, have a definite feeling about where it is going. But – this is the important part – don't be afraid to have your novel change itself under your hands. There's a huge difference between the map (your plan) and the territory (the actual words you find yourself writing).
As you write, you'll encounter plot issues and situations that you hadn't considered, and you'll have to find a way to write around them, or go along with them. And don't be surprised to have your characters come to life in your head and tell you that they won't do what you are trying to make them do, or that they would rather do something else. If that happens, listen to them!
9. Do you have any funny and / or interesting stories about how you’ve come up with plots or characters?
One of the stories in A Torrent of Story is based on a terrible pun I thought up. From that pun came the whole story. It's about a little girl who stays up one winter's night so she can see if someone very special comes to visit her house. But it's not who the reader expects it to be. Not Santa Claus, but... ah, but that would give away the punchline of the story!
10. Coke or Pepsi?
Yuck to both! Give me a coffee anytime.