I have recently had the honor and pleasure of interviewing Neal Asher, one of the UK’s top Science Fiction authors. His works are gritty and violent and (the vast majority) of his works set in the distant future are often labeled as post-cyberpunk due to the themes in his stories. His work is highly imaginative and can be found in stores and on bookshelves all around the world.
1) Will the Yellow Tower series ever be published? The synopses sound great and the readers report is positive. Does the Neal Asher brand suffer from type-classing, or does the UK market have an overabundance of fantasy novels at the moment which is holding these back?
Neal: I don’t know if it will ever be published. My problem is that now I could get the thing published easily. If Macmillan did not want to take it on there are other big publishers that would definitely take a long hard look at it, and there are smaller publishers who would take it without a second thought just to have something with my name on it to sell. I have to be careful. I am not satisfied with it at all. It is about the first thing I wrote, the fantasy that took me up the first stretch of the learning curve. It is also something I wrote 2 million published words ago and I have learned a great deal since then. If I published it as it stands readers would grab it expecting the kind of stuff I’m writing now, but find something simply not very good. The only way it will ever be published is if I have the time and inclination to sit down and rewrite it completely. I don’t at the moment. I prefer writing my next science fiction book.
2) What is the book you are most proud of? Is there a book you could wish you had written different?
Neal: I am proud of them all for different reasons and in different ways. I love The Skinner because it was one I took the most pleasure in writing and it is the one most well received, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of the raw start that was Gridlinked, and how I developed the story in the ensuing books. I’m proud of Cowl and how I dealt with time travel. I’m proud of The Departure because of the risk I took there. It is difficult to say … I think it is probably Brass Man. I had the pleasure in writing it that I had with The Skinner but it was hard enjoyable work to do what I wanted to do, and set the course of the rest of the series. But ask me this question in a few weeks and I will probably have changed my mind.
3) The publishing industry is at a crossroads with digital and paper-based publications; Do you think the accessibility of self-publishing will dilute talent by allowing anyone to publish, or do you think it will foster a movement of growth and inspiration?
Neal: Yes, with the ease of self-publishing a lot of crap will be out there, but a lot of talent that gets ignored by the publishing industry has a chance to get noticed. What will happen, as time goes on, is that new filtering mechanisms will come into play. A publisher pays money out to put a hard copy on the shelf of a book shop and this is a guarantor of some degree of quality. That is not available in the electronic world. People will rely on reviews, rankings on places like Amazon, trusted websites, and their own discernment if they are able to read a few pages.
4) Your novels are full of highly complicated plots, creatures, characters and technology – How do you organize all your ideas and how do you maintain continuity? Are there visual elements in your planning stages, like brainstorms or maps etc?
Neal: Heh, if there was an easy explanation for that then everyone would to it. My brain is a chaos of ideas and images when I write a book and somehow it gets organised throughout the writing process. Anyway, it’s the nature of the human brain to organise stuff and look for patterns and that’s what I do – usually after I’ve first written a bunch of stuff. I do of course check for continuity errors by reading preceding books again and/or running searches through them. I do occasionally sketch out diagrams like the ship the Sable Keech or the space station Argus in The Departure.
5) I often find myself getting bogged down in the context of the story, getting lost behind so many good ideas that are irrelevant to what I’m writing. How do you avoid getting lost in your inspiration?
Neal: I’m writing as a reader so if something is meandering along for too long it is time for people to speak or, alternatively, try to kill each other. Story is all, so if I have a good idea but it is or becomes irrelevant to the story I cut it out. It can always be used elsewhere. However, I do sometimes waffle on a bit too much about something that fascinates me and that’s where a good editor comes in to tell me to cut it out, to get to the point.
6) How much of yourself do you put into your characters and worlds?
Neal: It comes from me and is therefore everything of myself. If I am writing a psychopath then I will of course ask myself how I would behave if I were that person. How would I behave if I was made of metal, loaded with weapons and shaped like a scorpion? It is all from within. If I am describing an alien world or environment then I am writing about the stuff that interests me. You will, for example, see a lot about parasites and mycology in my books, which have been long time interests of mine.
7) How many times does one of your manuscripts get edited (on average) before the publisher is satisfied enough to put it into print?
Neal: Beside my own editing, and there is a lot of that, it can go through two or three stages with the publisher. The editor goes over it, may pass it on to another editor to go over, and then the copy editor goes over it for detail and house style. I then also have a look at the final version and can make more changes if I wish. I don’t. by then I’m bored out of my skull by it.
8) I believe, based on your comment on your own blog, that I am owed an explanation of Gabbleducks? I don’t know how you came up with the idea, or were able to execute it so well, but it was simultaneously one of the strangest, quirkiest and most terrifying things I had read. Congratulations. Just what on earth (or, rather – what off earth) inspired these creatures?
Neal: I believe I’ve been asked this question before and thought about it before. My parents called me a gabbleduck when I was young because I would not shut up talking nonsense. I then recollect early on in junior school, in an art class, making a papier mache model. It looked a bit like a duck, but a sinister misshapen one. Somehow, out of that lot, arose the creatures you see on the planet Masada.
9) New Zealand is, geographically, similar in size to the UK but we only have just over 4 million population. It is almost a cultural sin to not ask a foreigner about NZ so I find myself obligated to ask: Have you ever been to New Zealand? What are your opinions of NZ (real or imagined)?
Neal: My deceased wife had relatives over there and we went for a visit once. Lovely countryside that reminded me of Scotland, but a stretched out version with seemingly more open space. It was a great looking place, but it’s an awful long way to go to see what appeared to be little different from parts of the UK. Then again, I was there a month so there is no way I could see all it has to offer. I was also there when the weather wasn’t great. Particular recollections for me? The high points? I enjoyed the hot springs of Hanmer, and I loved a lengthy meal of New Zealand mussels, bread and white wine!
Are you familiar with any NZ films or books?
Neal: Not particularly, but then how often is any distinction made? Is Lord of the Rings a New Zealand film?
10) What do you foresee for yourself for 2016? What predictions do you make for the world for 2016?
Neal: My life is up in the air at the moment and what shape it will land in over the next year I have no idea. I’m moving from my current location in the UK to a place called Hastings because I want to try out living in a town, which I’ve never done before. Yet, I have a place on the island of Crete and may, because of a romantic interest, end up just staying there. Meanwhile I will endeavour to write more Polity books. Who knows? Perhaps I should ask someone who writes about the future… Oops.
As for the world of 2016. One summer I took my last look at BBC news before I left England for Crete and didn’t read a news story or look at one on the TV for 7 months. When I got back to England and turned on the TV it was as if I had never gone away. For 2016 I predict: same shit, different year.
11) The Wikipedia entry on you has very little information, despite your biographical details being on your site. One thing that isn’t mentioned is your family. Do you have any children?
Neal: I married late in life and neither Caroline or I wanted children.
12) If your life story was being told as a big-budget film, who would portray you best? I see Michael Cane doing a bang-up job.
Neal: Hell I don’t know. I often get asked who should play characters in my books if they ever get turned into films. I cannot answer because I don’t really know who is who in the acting world.
13) Have you seen The Force Awakens? Ignoring the fan response and the critics, what was your opinion of the story in the film?
Neal: Not seen it yet. I may slope off down the cinema sometime soon or get it on DVD. Other concerns occupy my time too intensively at the moment.
You can learn more about Neal Asher and his works by visiting his blog The Skinner or visiting his website here. You can find his novels at any decent book stores worldwide or order directly from PanMacmillan. You can read the second part of my interview with Neal Asher on my blog about depression here.
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