Hey Space Cadets, how’s everyone doing today? I’m doing fantastic, writing and preparing for the holidays. Yeah, that pesky little twerp in a diaper is floating around spreading love and crap, so us menfolk need to gird our loins, harden our hearts and prepare for the end times! Okay, jokes aside I can’t cheat this year. My go to gift, chocolate, is a no go with my wife’s new dietary restrictions so I have to actually think about a gift for her. And do it on a budget, since Amazon forgot to back my truck full of money up to my front door. All jokes aside, life is good and I can’t wait to finish this novel and write the next dozen. Until then, let’s talk to my special guest.
Let’s get right to the point of my latest blog posting! Yes, I’ve gotten bit by the interview bug! I have two interview series; the Warrior Weekend, and the ‘SciFy Shenanigans” interviews. I’ll send out the interview form to any author that fits those niche categories. If you know anyone you want me to interview, contact me through my blog and I’ll give it a shot! I love giving everyone a chance to get personal with the names behind the books they love, so here goes nothing!
I wanted to help you get to know these wordsmiths, so I created a template for the authors to talk about their latest book and their creative process. They’ll be able to pitch the other stuff too, of course, but many authors have deep backlists. It’s hard to get into the weeds with those prolific literary giants, so I took a weed whacker to the mess. Unfortunately, there are rare occasions when the authors are so prolific that they dual publish books every month! Two books a month, it’s like some sort of sorcery! But I took a chance with Christopher, and here are the final results! The questions are in no particular order, so grab your seat while your minion makes your popcorn and enjoy the ride!
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Children of All Ages……
First, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
There’s not much to tell, really. I grew up in Edinburgh, endured four years of a hellish boarding school, trained to be a librarian in Manchester, started writing seriously in 2004 and finally broke into indie publishing in 2012 with The Empire’s Corps. Oh, and I’m married to a wonderful woman and father to two little boys – the youngest of which was born only two weeks ago.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I’ve never been in the military <grin>
Seriously, I get a lot of emails asking when and where I served – apparently, I convinced a number of real vets. (And didn’t convince others, as a couple of people wrote long emails of helpful advice.) I actually heard a few people confidently assert that I was a naval captain during the Falklands War (I was literally a baby at the time, as I was born in 1982.) I think that – and my relative youth – surprises people the most, although – as I’m 35 now – that’s probably less important these days. It isn’t as though I started writing before I was ten!
I’ll go out on a limb and assume that if you write books, then you also enjoy reading them. What other genres do you enjoy, and how have they affected your writing?
Well … I like science-fiction and fantasy, mainly. I’ve enjoyed the original Sherlock Holmes stories, but I’ve never been that fond of detective fiction or older books in general. I had a teacher who tried to broaden my mind by introducing me to older works of English literature, but most of them struck me as boring. A handful got re-read when I was older and looked better, I thought. Pride and Prejudice is cleverer when viewed through older eyes.
I’ve learned a great deal about what to do – and what not to do – by reading other books in the field. Sometimes it’s how to make a character sympathetic – or, quite by accident, create a largely unsympathetic character. (I’m still not sure if the lead character from The Magicians was meant to be so strikingly unsympathetic.) Sometimes it’s about pacing, or signaling things in advance, or even balancing different subplots. And … well, one of my pet hates is never-ending series like The Wheel of Time or Game of Thrones – yes, I know the former has come to an end, but it took years and a new author to finish it. The books just kept being stretched out until each book was really just another giant chapter. I’ve always tried to make my books as close to stand-alone as possible – or at least individual stories that make up part of a greater whole – because I hate extended series so much.
Sometimes there are odder points. I’ve noted that books that appeal to all ages are often books that are not specifically focused on a target group, even if they’re written with that target group in mind. Heinlein’s juvenile books – or The Worst Witch and Harry Potter – have appeal well outside their target demographics, at least in part because they don’t talk down to children (and annoy adults). A book intensely focused on one audience often turns others off. I read a book that should have appealed to me – a girl’s sister turns out to be a witch – and was turned off by the fact the main characters were stereotypical teenage girls. Their concerns may seem serious to them, but they’re childish to me. Great concept, I thought; poor execution.
Who are your biggest writing influences?
Who are your favorite authors and books?
See previous answer <grin>?
Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn and Void Trilogy are amongst my favorite books, the ones I’ll turn to time and time again. And then there’s Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, which I think has a fair claim to being one of the finest hard fantasy trilogies in modern times. This is matched by Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novell, which may be a little softer than Mistborn but tells a very detailed story – a true work of art. Truthfully, I think Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel was the last Hugo Award winner that actually deserved it.
How did that love of reading lead you deep into the trenches of the writer’s life?
Weirdly enough, because I didn’t like a particular book <grin>.
The premise was great, I admit, but the execution left something to be desired. The author should, I thought, have let the bad guys win – they really should have won. They held all the cards. And the story might have been better if the good guys had been fighting after the bad guys achieved their first victory. So I told myself I could do better.
My first book was really based around that theme – a bad guy wins, what happens next? And … well, I finished it and went straight onto another book. By the time the original was rejected – and frankly it deserved to be rejected – I had the writing bug. I just kept going and going until I finally broke though.
I’ve heard of writers who don’t want to risk polluting their vision by reading other books, but I think that’s a mistake. First, you learn a great deal from reading other books (like I said about) and second, perhaps more importantly, you also learn what has already been done. I once crafted a plot that had been written and published already and … well, there wasn’t enough difference between their plot and mine for it to be passable.
What is your preferred writing style? Do you have a favorite point of view; first person, third person, etc.? Feel free to answer as both a reader and as an author!
As a writer, I think it depends on the kind of story I’m writing. I write pretty much all of my military SF fiction in third person, as the story demanded it. The only real exception – First To Fight – needed a first-person viewpoint. I wrote Schooled in Magic (fantasy) as third person, but kept the focus intensely on Emily – there are no other POVs in the story, save for the prologues and epilogues. The Zero Blessing and its sequels are all first person, at least in part to separate them from Schooled in Magic.
As a writer, I can roll with either. I’m just not fond of present-tense writing. It can and it does convoy a sense of immediacy, but it can also be hard to follow.
When did you get serious about your writing as a career, instead of writing as a hobby?
In 2005, I think. I’d realized I could write by then. I’d also realized that my job wasn’t really going to go anywhere – I couldn’t get the experience or education I needed to progress further, something that galled because frankly I didn’t need much of what I had learned at university in my job – and I was determined that writing would be my way out. Which it has been, but it took longer than I’d hoped.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
Well, two weeks ago I got up in the morning and wrote, five days a week. Now … things may have to change now there’s a new baby in the house.
Do you aim for a set number of words/pages per day?
Generally, I aim for 9000 words per day.
What do you listen to while you write? Or do you prefer the sound of silence?
Silence. “Silence Must Fall.”
I’ve never really been able to write while listening to music, but I know others do.
Okay, time for another random question. What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve looked up in the name of research – or what do you think landed you on the government watch list for?
Oh, I don’t know. I’ve looked up a lot of vague details over the years, everything from the proper term for something to snippets of military detail, fleet lists and the like. I suppose the stupidest thing I’ve looked up …
No, I’m not going to tell you. It was stupid <grin>.
What is your current novel? Can you tell us a little bit about the premise?
Well, on one hand, I have a novella planned – Alassa’s Tale. It’s really a short story set in the Schooled in Magic universe, following a different character – Princess Alassa. I wanted to fill in a gap between Book 14 and Book 15, although I have no idea – yet – when 15 is going to be written. Ideally, I wanted to have it out in time for Christmas, but that’s proved impossible.
On the other hand, I have Invincible, the first in the fourth Ark Royal trilogy. Invincible follows the captain and crew of HMS Invincible as they become aware of an alien threat looming on the edge of explored space … a totally random danger that seems to have occurred twice in the last fifteen years or so of book time.
Both of these are apparently a series, where can we expect them to go? (if applicable)
Alassa’s Tale – more properly, Book 14 – marks the spot where Emily leaves school and starts a new life and career outside it. Expect more independence from Emily, as well as newer and greater threats – the school limited her in many ways, but it also protected her.
Invincible will go straight into a space war against one of the most horrifying threats humanity has ever encountered, at least outside the silvers screen (and plenty of books). And not everyone will be coming out alive …
The original inspiration, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, came from studying the armored aircraft carriers Britain deployed during the Second World War. They weren’t as powerful as their American or Japanese counterparts – they didn’t carry as many aircraft – but they could and did soak up damage that would have killed the other carriers. The remainder of the universe took shape after that, something that would allow the UK to break out the ancient carrier while also justifying the lack of any other armoured carriers.
Schooled in Magic owes a great deal to Harry Potter – of course – but also to Lest Darkness Fall. I wanted a character who actually thought about the world around her – one of my minor annoyances with Harry is that he doesn’t ask anything like as many questions as he should – and one who tries to introduce new ideas into a very different society. And then things expanded out from there.
The characters from Ark Royal are sent into a gladiatorial death match. Who wins?
Well, in terms of Ark Royal, I suppose the characters are the ships. And, of the published books, I think the battleship HMS Vanguard has enough firepower to smash Warspite and put a major dent in Ark Royal. Obviously, Vanguard doesn’t deploy starfighters, but she has enough long-range weapons not to have to care.
What was your favorite part of writing Ark Royal?
Watching the universe flow together into one world <grin>.
(And people telling me they loved it.)
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing your main characters from Ark Royal?
Hard to say, really.
I always imagined Captain Smith as Sean Connery, when he was in The Hunt for Red October, and his XO as John Barrowman. Captain Naiser from Warspite should be played by Christopher Eccleston; Captain Onarina from Vanguard by Sonequa Martin-Green, perhaps. (I haven’t seen her on Star Trek: Discovery.)
When you develop your characters, do you already have an idea of who they are, or do you let them develop as you go? The age-old plotter versus pantser, character edition.
A bit of both, really. When I write a character, I have a rough idea in my head, but it tends to grow and develop as the book is written. Sometimes I’ve had concepts that never seemed right, once I got to the book itself.
How did writing Alassa’s Tale differ from your previous novels?
Like I said above, just about every page in Schooled in Magic is written from Emily’s POV – this novella is written from Alassa’s. The real challenge is convoying her very medieval attitudes – she has no qualms about having servants, for example – without making her extremely unsympathetic.
And it’s a lot shorter too.
If Ark Royal had a theme song, what would it be?
I have no idea. Something classically British, I expect.
Ark Royal and your other novels are full of many amazingly talented characters and I imagine it was really fun to create some of them, but which ones are your favorites and why?
Theodore Smith, I think. Really, he owes a lot to Captain Haddock – a character I genuinely loved when I was younger. A flawed man, true, but one trying to overcome his demons. I’m not fond of perfect characters and I try not to write them.
In The Zero Enigma universe, Caitlyn is very definitely my favorite. She is a cripple, by the standards of her society, but she still manages to carve out a niche for herself. She’s very far from perfect – she allows success to go to her head, a couple of times – but she’s still a good person.
And to bring us home, what advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?
Short answer, work hard.
I keep being asked if there’s a shortcut, but there isn’t … unless you cheat, basically. The average new writer has to turn out around a million words before they work the bugs out of their writing and start writing readable universes. Yes, there are some people who manage to do it quicker, but they’re fairly rare. Get people who will tell you the truth – your mother is NOT an impartial judge – and learn to listen to them. And grow a thick skin. You’ll need it.
Finally, where can readers and future stalkers find you?
I hope you enjoy this little conversation! If you want to find out more about Christopher G. Nuttall, follow the rabbit trail to his den of insanity! (Hint, that’s his blog, where all the cool kids hang out!) If they don’t like it, beat ‘em with a carrot and keep on truckin’!
Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!
–> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are screen shots taken by JR Handley and used under the Fair Use Doctrine.
–> Some of these interview questions were inspired by my good friend TeacherofYA, and are used with her permission. If you have kids who love to read, she’s the girl who’ll make the literary introductions! You should check her out, after a lifetime of reading, your kids will thank you.