Please welcome my latest guest, Simon Peel, who is here to talk about his latest book. Thanks for blogging here today, Simon. I’ll leave you to introduce yourself…
Hello, I’m Simon Peel. I’m a writer of both short stories and novels and I live in the English seaside town of Hastings, with my wife and daughter and an assortment of cats, fish and mice.
What made you decide to start writing?
I suddenly – after years of trying to think of one – came up with a plot that would work as a novel. Absence of ideas was what had held me back until then. It came while I was on holiday in Poland and as soon as I got back I began to get to work on it. I never finished that project as I began to ruthlessly edit and rewrite before I was very far in, and then it just ground to a halt. Then a couple of years later, a friend was doing Nanowrimo and I thought, “Hey, I could do that!” and it began to roll from there with a new story.
What genre(s) do you write and how did you get into it/them?
I’ve always tended towards science fiction, which is also the genre I read the most. It allows you to explore story possibilities that constraining yourself to the real world wouldn’t allow, and I have a fairly good education in several fields of science. Sometimes the science fiction aspect is seen from the perspective of our real world, as in my short story “The Maid Of Trelanton”. In that, the sci fi element is the existence of mermaids – which are often presented as belonging to the fantasy genre, but I approached them from the angle of real biological entities rather than magical creatures. I suppose speculative fiction is maybe a better term to use.
Is there any genre(s) that you haven’t written yet which you would like to? If so, which genre(s)?
I’d like to write a gritty crime thriller. But to be honest I don’t think I could do it as well as I’d like to. There are so many other great writers out there that have made it their niche, I’d lack the confidence to think I could match them. I did try to write some historical fiction once, but the amount of research required to make it convincing is quite terrifying.
LM certainly concurs with that, having been researching for a historical fiction story for several years now.
What do you think makes for a good hero and/or heroine?
The character must be likeable. Not perfect – but the reader must want them to succeed. I’ve read some books where I just don’t like the hero enough to care whether they reach their goals, and those books don’t grip me as a reader. That’s not to say the character can’t be hugely flawed and even malicious at times!
What do you think makes for a good villain?
Now that’s tricky to pin down… you can have an out an out evil guy with no redeeming features, or a villain can be a character you feel sympathy with and sorry for – such as Frankenstein’s monster. Either can work given the right story. I find the latter type to be the more interesting but sometimes harder to write.
LM totally agrees. One of my favourite series writers is able to make the villains the heroes of some stories with great success.
Which do you find easier to write: series or standalone stories?
I think stories planned as part of a series have a built-in advantage, because when writing a sequel you can use the previous story as a springboard for plot ideas. For example, there are two sequels in the works for “The Maid Of Trelanton” (one will be published later this year) and some of the plot points for those came from simple detail that wasn’t really meant to be significant in the first story; little throwaway comments became crucial story arcs and that helped the ideas to flourish.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
When the story itself gives you ideas that change its direction in a way you hadn’t planned – for example, you decide a character can fly model planes as a hobby, and suddenly it occurs to you that an incident involving a model plane is just what you need to make a twist later on – the sort of thing that you don’t think of when making a story outline beforehand.
Do you write your stories in order from start to finish or do you write out of order?
Mostly from start to finish, though sometimes I will construct a specific scene or chapter in my head way ahead of time, so in that respect it’s like I’ve “written” those bits first and I just copy them out onto the computer screen!
Do you plot out the stories before you start writing, or do you let the characters take over? Or is it a bit of both?
I write an outline first with a fairly rough plot summary, but I don’t plan the dialogue – that appears during the first draft. I make a character personality summary in the outline, and use that as a guide of how I want the characters to respond in any given situation. Sometimes they do take on a life of their own – such as Scug in “Fighting For Home” who turned into almost a comedic character, which I never planned to happen.
Which of your own characters is your favourite and why?
The first mermaid I wrote about, Kerra. She debuts in “The Maid of Trelanton” as a graceful, sensual woman who makes strong emotional connections and is willing to go without her own happiness because of that. In the forthcoming sequel, she turns up again and we see a much more aggressive side to her nature. And my plan for the third story is to reveal another slightly merciless aspect to her character. She has become very three dimensional in my mind.
Where do you get your ideas from?
It varies widely. Sometimes an idea will just pop into my brain fully formed as a whole story, but that’s rare. I normally have a “what if?” moment and think of a single concept and see how a story can be extrapolated from there. “Fighting for Home” was inspired by a TV show my wife was watching, about awful upper middle class families going off to live in remote places without having done any proper preparation, and their children always ended up miserable or ill and they always ended up abandoning the project. I took that idea and gave it a science fiction twist.
What kind of research do you do?
If I know a particular theme is going to come up in a story I will tend to read up on it before I make even the first story outline. The internet is my best friend in those cases! But always while I’m writing I will come up against something I will need to go back and check on, quite unexpectedly. I do tend to write about subjects where I already have a little knowledge, which always makes it easier. If you could see my first and second drafts, they’re always littered with notes in brackets like [INSERT STUFF ABOUT TAPEWORMS HERE] for me to go back to later.
How do you keep disciplined in your writing?
I’m terribly easily distracted, and I also have a young daughter, so the majority of my writing happens late in the evening when she’s in bed. The problem with writing on computer is simply how easy it is to say “let me just check my e-mail…” and before you know it you’ve wasted half an hour. I had an eleven day period once when I was without any internet access at home and I got twice as much writing done as I normally do!
What are the best and worst things about being a published author?
The best thing for me is simply the sense of pride in my writing that it gives me – before publication I always thought “what if I’m simply not good enough at this?” and now I have empirical evidence that I can string a sentence together properly, at least sometimes. Of course self doubt will always be there, which I’m sure is the case for almost all published writers. Unless you’re Stephen King of JK Rowling, perhaps. I think the worst thing is that your hopes that every story you write will somehow sell millions of copies are usually dashed. Unless, of course, you’re Stephen King etc.
If you were a shape-shifter, what animal would you be?
A cat. I love cats. And I love sleeping, and so do they.
If you could travel through time to the past, do you think you’d survive in your favourite time period?
Yes, mostly by using my cunning foreknowledge of events and science that had yet to be discovered! And my choice would be ancient Greece, I think.
If you could have any magical power at all, what would it be?
The ability to make people forget things. And to apply that to myself as well. You could never get on the wrong side of people if you could do that.
What do you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing?
I play several instruments, mainly guitar and keyboards. I sometimes write and record my own music, though it’s difficult to find the time to do that now my writing has become more serious and less of a hobby. I’m trying to improve my accordion playing, which is difficult as everyone in my house hates the sound.
Who are your favourite authors when reading for inspiration?
Julian May is one of my favourites. Nobody can handle an ensemble cast quite like she does. Recently I’ve come across Neal Asher, who is a master of convincing world-building. JRR Tolkien is one who makes me wish I could use the English language like he did – elegantly and with a good depth of vocabulary, yet without unnecessary flourishes.
What are your favourite books?
“The Saga Of The Exiles” series by Julian May, and the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon – which often gets labelled as belonging to the romance genre but which truly crosses the boundaries of romance, action adventure and even science fiction in a way. And anything by Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett.
LM notes a lot of her favourites there. And you see, this is how those aforementioned distractions work. I’m here meaning to work on my writing this evening, but I know the first thing I will do after sorting this blog post is go check out whether there is any more casting news for Outlander. Yep, the internet is very distracting.
What is your favourite character from fiction (not including your own characters)?
It’s a guy called Tony Wayland from “The Saga Of The Exiles”. He’s a very unlucky metallurgist who gets kicked around in other people’s power struggles and never seems to quite get control of his own destiny. I have a soft spot for characters like that – Arthur Dent is a prime example of the type too.
Do you enjoy films and/or TV shows? Which are your favourites?
I’m a huge Star Wars fan – fortunately, so is my wife! On TV I enjoy “The Big Bang Theory” and I also have the complete set of “The X-Files”, a series I never tire of. I’m also a big fan of “The Almighty Johnsons”, a New Zealand show that far too many people haven’t heard of, about Norse gods living in Auckland.
LM has heard of that show and recently recognised one of the cast in it. Now I am getting further distracted by wondering how best to try to catch up on it. 😉
Do you like to travel? What are your favourite places to visit?
I don’t travel outside the UK that much, but when I do I very much enjoyed Australia and Poland. In the UK I love to spend time in Scotland and Cornwall (hence Cornwall being the setting for some of my stories).
Is there anywhere you would like to visit which you have not had chance to yet?
I’d like to visit Japan, because it is so culturally different from the mostly Western countries I’ve been to. And I’d love to visit Egypt, or anywhere with huge ancient monuments really.
If you could meet anyone at all, from either the past or present, who would it be and why?
Any of the Apollo astronauts – maybe Gene Cernan, the last man on the Moon, who I share a birthday with. His mission was the only one to put men on the Moon during my lifetime.
Do you like history? If so, what is your favourite era and why?
I do like history as it’s fascinating to understand how people lived their lives without the knowledge and technology we have today. It teaches just how resourceful the human race really are to have gone through thousands of years with very basic understanding of the world around them. I’m sure in thousands of years they will look back on us and think the same. I think the medieval era is fascinating, and the time when Greece and Rome were the major powers.
Do you like to cook? What is your specialty dish?
I’m not a very advanced cook, although I do quite enjoy it. My speciality dish is cottage pie which my wife jokingly refers to as “dog food pie”! It does taste nicer than it looks, though…
What is your idea of a perfect romantic date?
A meal out at a nice restaurant and then staying over at somewhere luxurious.
What are you working on at the moment, and what are we likely to see from you in the coming months?
The sequel to “The Maid of Trelanton” will be coming out. It’s called “Deep Secrets” and is a slightly longer short story that takes place twenty three years or so after the first story. Whereas TMOT was about a man and a mermaid who fall in love, “Deep Secrets” is about an encounter between man and mermaid which goes just the opposite way, even to the point of violence. After that, I’m working on a third story in the series which is a little different – it’s set underwater in the realm of the merfolk rather than in our familiar dry land environment. It takes place some years before the first story, when Kerra is just a little girl.
Please tell us about your latest book.
It’s the science fiction novel “Fighting for Home”.
When a wealthy family decided to start a new, self-sufficient life on the remote and rugged planet of Heisland, they didn’t expect trouble. Now Keyvan, their hired protector, must keep them safe from more than just wild animals as the turmoil of civil war sweeps across the world.
His routine assignment has become a desperate fight for survival, on a planet where danger lies on every side…
Here is an excerpt from the story.
Keyvan and the Bucka family have arrived on Heisland and are journeying to the site where they will set up their homestead…
Keyvan was lulled into rest by the drab landscape flicking past the window. Morag and Hugo were playing a card game in the seat behind him and Terrell was listening to music on earphones. His eyes began to close, and he let his consciousness swim down into sleep.
When he awoke, it was dark. The ATV rolled on at the same speed. Keyvan clambered out of his seat and up to the front so he could see what was outside. Tarquin and Jocasta were both sleeping, mouths hanging open, and Jocasta was snoring a little. But the ATV had no problem with this, and following its automatic route program, it trundled across the landscape quite happily. The road here was barely even that, more of a dirt track. Looking at the navigation panel, Keyvan could see they still had another twelve hours of travel ahead of them before they arrived at their destination.
He turned round to head to the back of the vehicle to see what Terrell and the children were up to, when out of nowhere came a loud bang. The ATV stopped abruptly, throwing Keyvan to the floor and waking Tarquin and Jocasta. Terrell sprang forward like a leopard from the back seats, alert for trouble, and that was followed by a wail of “Mummeee!” from Morag.
Everyone was awake now, and after helping Keyvan to his feet, Terrell ran back to check on Hugo and Morag. Dazed, Tarquin prodded at the dashboard to try and work out why they had stopped.
“Did I just hear a bang? Did we hit something?” asked Jocasta. “I thought the ATV was supposed to detect things it might hit before it hit them?”
Keyvan nodded. “Yes, it should. But there was definitely an impact before we stopped. I don’t know what it might have been though, I had my back to the windscreen.” He saw Tarquin unbuckling his belt and reaching for the door handle.
“Don’t go out there, Mr Bucka. We don’t know what we hit or what else could be around outside. Let your security guys check it out.”
Terrell had brought Morag and Hugo up front—the girl was red-eyed from sleep and Hugo was clutching a book plaque. Jocasta sat her frightened daughter on her lap and gave her a cuddle. Hugo craned his neck to try and see what might be in the road in front of them. Keyvan cautiously opened the door and popped his head out to make a rapid scan. He could see something that looked like the corner of a tent, or maybe part of a kite, lying at the side of the road, but his view was blocked by the front of the ATV. Motioning for Terrell to follow, he stepped down and moved in a wide circle round to the front. The headlights of the ATV illuminated the object more clearly. It was an animal about a metre across, and what he had taken for taut fabric was actually part of a batlike wing. Terrell prodded it gingerly with his foot, but it didn’t move. Keyvan fished in his pocket for a torch and shone it at the side of the vehicle near where the creature had fallen. After a few seconds of examination, he spotted a smear of blood at the top corner of the windscreen surround, and pointed it out to Terrell.
“It must have been too high up for the anti-collision detectors to spot. They look for things near the ground,” said Terrell. “Do you know what it is?”
“No… it’s not anything I’ve seen before. And I don’t remember reading about any animal like this. But there’s got to be hundreds of different species here I can’t recall. I read up a bit, sure, but whatever this is, it’s not listed in the ‘wildlife you will see’ section. I wonder why it was stupid enough to fly into the ATV?”
Tarquin leaned out of the window. “What did we hit?”
“Some sort of animal,” Terrell called back. “A flying one.”
“What species is it, do you know?”
Terrell thought for a second, then answered, “A critter.”
“Can you be more specific?”
Another pause from Terrell, then the reply, “A dead critter.”
Keyvan was crouching down to get a closer look, about to access his pad to try and identify the critter, when he noticed something odd on the side of its body—something he was much more familiar with than the creature’s species. He scrambled to his feet.
“Get back in the truck!” he yelled. Terrell jumped straight in without question, but to his dismay, Tarquin had climbed down from the door on the other side to have a look for himself and just stood there staring.
“Mr Bucka, get back in now, please!” Keyvan. Tarquin shrugged and ambled back into the ATV. By the time he got inside, Keyvan was in the driver’s seat and ready to get moving. The engine became active with a low throb as soon as the door closed, and they pulled away into the darkness along the road.
Jocasta, still with Morag on her knee, rounded on Keyvan. “Just what was all that about? Why the shouting? I know you want to get there as quickly as we do, but—”
“There was a hole in its body. From a gamma laser bolt,” Keyvan said grimly.
“You mean… like from a gun?” Jocasta looked shocked.
“Yes. Somebody shot it, and I think that’s why it hit us. It was either already dead and falling from the sky, or it was still alive and flying erratically.” Keyvan checked the rear view every few seconds, but there was no sign of anyone else behind them. “And we don’t know who shot it or where they are. They could have been just metres away from us.”
The colour faded from Jocasta’s face as she absorbed the information. Tarquin lifted the little girl off her lap and took her and Hugo to the back of the ATV to put them to bed. Keyvan could hear him trying to be reassuring.
“Is there any way you might have been mistaken? Could it just have been an injury from hitting us or landing on the ground?” asked Jocasta.
“No. Laser bolt wounds have a characteristic appearance—the fur was singed, the hole cauterised the skin immediately, without bleeding round the edges. There would have been an exit wound on the opposite side but I didn’t want to hang around to check, you know?”
Terrell spoke up. “Get some sleep, Mrs Bucka. Keyvan and I will drive for the rest of the night. Whoever was there is far behind us now, I’m sure we’re safe.”
Jocasta nodded and went to the back to join the rest of her family.
Keyvan turned to Terrell when she’d gone. “You’re not sure we’re safe, are you?” Terrell didn’t say anything, merely raised an eyebrow on his otherwise expressionless countenance.
The ATV drove on into the night.
Where can we find you and your books on the web?
Simon is very kindly offering an e-book copy of “Fighting For Home”, which normally retails for £5.40/$8.64 to one lucky guest.
If you wish to enter the giveaway please leave a comment on this blog post with a valid email address.
Please also make sure to refer to the terms and conditions at the following page:
The contest will run from the date and time of this blog post until 12 noon (GMT) on Thursday 10th October 2013.
Good luck everyone!