The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of 0.4 – It’s a Brave New World
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire in the UK. I was raised in small rural villages around Huntingdon, and then when I was eleven or twelve my parents split up and I suddenly found myself living in the middle of a vast council estate. The experience left me feeling like an outsider – something I guess I actively cultivated in my teens by reading Camus and Salinger and listening to punk rock.
I went to school at Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon; and to university in Northampton.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
Writer, writer and writer. I’ve never wanted to be anything else. I think that as soon as I started to appreciate books, I wanted to write them.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That lovely simplistic belief in absolutes: that for every issue there is only black and white -right and wrong- in the world, and no intermediate shades of grey.
As I get older I see more and more grey.
4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Gulliver’s Travels, by Swift, is a book I frequently revisit, and I guess I have taken an important lesson away from it: that by viewing the world from other angles – or by distorting it and exaggerating it – you can reveal its flaws and inconsistencies in a far more enduring fashion than you can through the use of carefully studied realism.
The works of H. P. Lovecraft, that strange gentleman of Providence, showed me that less is very often more, that hinting can be far more effective than shouting, and that the universe was not only not built for us, but that it may actually mean us ill will.
And Harlan Ellison’s dazzling short stories constantly remind me that there is a moral dimension to writing fiction, that it is our duty as writers to explore the very limits of human emotions and actions and use them to inform our non-writing lives.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I have tried painting, drawing, music and acting and I am terrible at them all. And I can’t dance. Words I can do.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
It’s the story of a single day in a small village called Millgrove – which just so happens to be the day that everything changes for humanity.
That story is told from the viewpoint of a fifteen-year-old boy called Kyle Straker, who records his terrifying experiences onto audiotapes.
The book is a transcription of those audiotapes by a person far in the future, who adds his own comments to explain some of Kyle’s cultural references.
(BBGuru: Publisher description -
The Millgrove talent show has the same performances as any other small town: a cheesy ventriloquist, off-key karaoke singers, and bad dance routines. But after Kyle Straker is hypnotized as part of his friends mysterious new act, Millgrove will never be the same again.
When Kyle and the other volunteers awaken, the entire audience, the entire town, and possibly the entire world, is frozen still. Telephones, radios, televisions, and computers no longer work: only a strange language flashes across the screens.
When everybody suddenly wakes up, it becomes clear that they have changed and that Kyle is now an outsider, one of the 0.4.
Is Kyle still under hypnosis, or is this chilling new world real? Will he awaken from a dream to roars of laughter, or is there something much more sinister happening?
One of the last of his kind, Kyle records his story on a series of cassette tapes, describing the shift, and what it means for the future of mankind.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I just want to do what I think all art is supposed to: to make people look at the world in a slightly different way.
I’d also like it if they used the word ‘cool’ when describing it to a friend.
Donald E. Westlake, the great American crime writer, who died in 2008.
And simply because out of the fifty or so novels of his I have read, I have yet to come across one that I didn’t like.
He could jump from laugh-out-loud comic caper novels, to coldly amoral thrillers, to science fiction stories, all without ever letting me down.
When he died I felt like I had lost a friend in the world.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To keep telling good stories that provide my readers with exercise for that important muscle – the human imagination.
I have three bits of advice that I like to pass on:
1) Write, don’t think. Then edit.
2) Follow your instincts, even when they seem to be leading you astray.
3) Junk in: junk out. You have to read great writers to produce great writing.
Mike, thank you for playing.