Updated: Mar 28, 2019
What is your name?
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, so publishing a novel has been a “bucket-list” item since day one. But it only became a realistic option later in life. Firstly because I’m a scientist by training – I’ve worked in chemistry, quantum mechanics, IT, meteorology and more – and my writing skills only got honed and knocked into shape when I switched to being a translator (I’m a born-and-bred Brummie but I’ve lived abroad for most of my adult life). Secondly, my other time-consuming, semi-pro hobby became a no-no a few years back. Too much blues and rock music over the years damaged my hearing; I had the choice of quitting playing or going deaf.
What genre books do you write?
I’ve tried several, ranging from high fantasy to black comedy. But what I’ve found I enjoy most are creating genre crossovers – they’re often fun to read, but hard to find. Probably because publishers and agents don’t like things they can’t easily pigeon-hole; shooting myself in the foot there… YLO is seen primarily as speculative SF because of its dystopian setting, I guess, but the plot is more a police thriller or murder mystery, and the relatively high emphasis on the characters and emotions and the style and non-linear structure have made others see it as almost literary. Take your pick.
What is the name of your book?
YLO With at least RED and GRN to follow. A little cryptic, until you’ve read a page or two and been shown the colour-based ranking system (which I suspect is why some people have said it reminds them of the Handmaid’s Tale). But it makes an eye-catching logo and invites people to look and see what it’s about.
Were there alternate endings you considered?
Definitely. In fact, I remodelled the finale to a certain extent on the advice of one editor. [spoiler alert] A couple of the American and Dutch beta-readers in particular (as opposed to the Brits) distinctly favoured an upbeat Hollywood ending rather than a dark and depressing one. But even if I’d wanted that, I was rather constrained by the plots of the intended sequels. YLO is in fact not the novel I began writing: I got carried away by the prequel to GRN and finished it first! I did however take on board their remarks about having Jen fighting the situation. She’s now less passive and I’ve tempered her suicidal tendencies.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Have the confidence to go for it. But develop a thick skin first.
Does your family support your career as a writer?
Very much. As well as providing constructive criticism. It took a little while: at first it was a dubious “it’s a lot better than I expected” or a jocular “so that’s what you’re doing secretively behind the computer late at night”. But boxes of paperbacks and a visible presence on Amazon soon got them fully on board.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
To be honest, it’s something I found surprisingly natural. Okay, when it gets down to the level of anatomical differences I would have no idea what it’s like, of course, but I don’t particularly subscribe to the standardized emotional tropes and stereotypes; people are people. It certainly surprised my friends and family that YLO was based around strong female characters, though. And I had one potential agent early on ask me why I use a male pseudonym!
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Either: I get too involved with the characters. If they’re in high-adrenalin situations, I won’t be able to get to sleep afterwards. If they’re knackered and down in the dumps, my real-world work suffers. Getting covers and printing done, attempting to promote a book, endless faffing about with the bots and apparatchiks at Amazon, on the other hand: I do find the associated extras quite frustrating and draining.
What items do you surround yourself with when you write?
Nothing special. It doesn’t matter (apart from the coffee mug and sometimes a whisky glass) – my mind’s elsewhere.
What is your favourite genre of books to read?
Depends on the mood. Anything, as long as it’s well written. But whatever the genre, it’s got to be about people in the final analysis. I read quite a lot of F/SF, because I love the ideas… and then get frustrated by it being all so visual – the magic, the fighting, the tech – with feeble characterization.
What is your favourite childhood book?
As a kid, the big eye-openers, showing that you could create an entire world and place multiple stories in it, were undoubtedly The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. They were pushed quite hard at school because Tolkien was a former pupil and the headmaster had also been taught by him at Oxford. (Did you know that the topography of LOTR maps onto southern Birmingham? I lived barely a mile away from Hobbiton.) John Wyndham (The Chrysalids, The Day of the Triffids) was another who caught my imagination.
Do you have a favourite author or one who inspires you to write?
Favourites? Plenty, of course. But of the current crop, the authors who stand out for me for producing both absurdist, fantastic ideas and excellent writing are Neil Gaiman and China Miéville. The ones who inspired me to write are however the unlamented and forgotten who somehow get their rubbish published. Knowing I could do better and having the family all but challenge me to do so: “Shut up, or go and write something, then.”
What words of wisdom would you give to someone who wants to be an author?
Be prepared for the long haul: writing the initial story is fun and easy, but the rounds of editing, revision, proofing and responding to constructive criticism can go on for much longer than you’d ever have thought possible. And don’t set your expectations too high. That’s something else I learned from my non-career in blues and rock: even if you have talent plus a really top-quality product, the lucky breaks and the good looks can be just as important.
In a world where everyone’s biometric profiles are on record, a young policewoman turns up the impossible: an unidentifiable corpse. Jen's hands are full: small kid in tow, obnoxious partner and stepson, incessant office politics, her Yellow ranking to maintain, and a demanding search-and-rescue job. So the last thing ylo-Jen needs is a mystery murder victim. Worse, the case is linked to a flourishing drugs ring. And both the Priesthood and her own hierarchy are holding things back. No wonder she's got issues...
This beautifully crafted novel in a dry and laconic style is a crossover between literary, sci-fi and thriller. The characters are realistic, flawed people struggling to cope with families, drugs, sexuality, religious beliefs, death and the Afterlife, and above all the rat-race... in a thoroughly unpleasant but all too believable far-future society (that yields some uncomfortable reflections on our own). Imagery and characters perhaps reminiscent of the Handmaid's Tale, Black Mirror and The Bridge: the dystopian, the discomforting and the dysfunctional.
You can buy YLO at Amazon com here.
You can buy YLO at Amazon co uk here.