How did you start writing? And why did you choose Science Fiction, fantastique and Fantasy?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid, probably from the age of six or seven. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write stories. I used to buy school exercise books and filled them with stories and illustrations. I don’t think I ever made a decision to be a science fiction/fantasy writer – most of my stories have that kind of feel, I suppose, but I’ve never wanted to limit myself to one genre. What I do love about sf/fantasy is that you can make new rules, and the audience are very open-minded. They are always ready to accept different kinds of strangeness, as long as they don’t feel you’re trying to cheat them with lazy writing or easy solutions. I like to have weird elements in my stories.
Who were the authors who made you want to read and write Fantasy?
Where do I start? When you read as a young child, most stories have an element of fantasy to them. I write young children’s books now, so that obviously stuck with me. My favourite sf/fantasy authors when I was young would include Tolkien, CS Lewis and Jules Verne, comics writers like Alan Moore, Pat Mills and Frank Miller and then later I found people like Iain M. Banks, Neal Stephenson and Terry Pratchett. I also loved Stephen King’s horrors, Louis L’Amour’s Westerns, and Craig Thomas’s Cold War thrillers, But I watched loads of films too, and they would have had a big influence on my writing too.
Tell us about ‘Ancient Appetites’ – How did this story take shape?
It was originally going to be a complete fantasy setting, much weirder in a way, but as the ideas started to take shape, I decided to ground it in an historical setting. There were two basic concepts: The first was the family’s ruthless way of life contrasted with the delicate manners and dialogue of the Victorian Age. The second was the supernatural element; their enhanced health and its connection with the engimals – the living machines that roamed the world like wild animals and had to be tamed to be used. I like historical fiction, and the Victorian period is a fascinating, dramatic time, particularly in Ireland. Nobody had set a fantasy story in that period in Ireland, so I thought it would be something new that would engage readers – and I figured the bizarre nature of the characters would help close the deal.
How would you describe ‘Ancient Appetites’, in a few words?
A fantasy, historical novel featuring a ruthless and massively wealthy family who consider assassination of one’s own relatives an acceptable means of achieving one’s ambitions. But there are those in the family who try to resist this violent way of life. ‘Ancient Appetites’ tells their story. And just to add to the mystery of this family’s origins, there are living machines whose creation is a mystery and whose connection with the family’s supernatural health is only beginning to be explored.
In the novel, the ‘mechanical monsters’ are very surprising. Where did that idea come from?
I think it’s very common for people to think of machines as disobedient animals. We shout at our computers, hit our televisions, wrestle with our vacuum cleaners and our lawn-mowers, argue with our cars. Having machines that made all this conflict more real seemed a natural thing to do, and gave the stories a nicely surreal flavour, and one that lends itself to the strange science that becomes more important as the trilogy progresses.
Tell us about Nate, how do you see him?
Nate is an adventurer, but an immature one. He hates his family – with a few exceptions – and tries to escape responsibility and duty whenever he can. He is physically brave, almost reckless, but has less emotional courage. He has little patience for academic pursuits or business, but is fascinated by zoology in general and engimals in particular.
How was the idea of the Wildenstern family born? Their rules are terrifying . . .
This, to me, is capitalism taken to the absolute limit. I’m not anti-capitalist, but I think everything we do needs to be conducted within some kind of ethical code. With the Wildensterns, I thought: How would you run a family whose overwhelming drive is greed? How would you encourage greed, ruthlessness, ambition and cunning in a family? That’s where the Rules of Ascension came from – where this powerful family will cover up murder if it’s committed according to their bizarre traditions. And I loved the contrast of these natural born killers who had to have good Victorian manners and a respectable image.
You released ‘The Vile Desire to Scream’ on your website. The
readers can download it for free. Why did you put it on the internet ?
And what do you think about ebooks?
The Vile Desire to Scream is set in between Ancient Appetites and The Wisdom of Dead Men, though you don’t have to have read either to read the story. I released it as a promotional tool for the trilogy, as a means of spreading the word, but also to help bridge the long wait between the second and third books. I’m very interested in where the book world is going, but I see ebooks as just one of many different types of media that are emerging. Just as with films and music, I don’t think there will be one way of consuming written stories anymore. I don’t think printed books are going anywhere just yet, but from now on, they will be just one of a range of ways you can enjoy a story. I think the lines between text, online media, films and virtual reality are all beginning to blur, and I find it fascinating how that will affect how we read, tell and write stories.
What Can You Tell French Readers About The Second Book: ‘The Wisdom Of Dead Men’?
This is a sequel, but quite a different kind of story. You don’t have to have read Ancient Appetites, but it would help. In the story, most of the main characters from the first book are either working to reform the family, or take it over, or both. There is a secret society carrying out miraculous operations on the richest people in society, a manipulative assassin within the family itself, and women dying of spontaneous human combustion in Dublin and the surrounding lands. We learn more about the engimals, and the family’s past, and their own unnatural abilities. I hope readers will find it fun, thought-provoking and a little bit chilling.
Tell us about your other projects. What are the Mad Grandad and The Forbidden Files series about?
These are books for younger readers, and they’re basically what I would have enjoyed reading when I was young, particularly stories like Roald Dahl’s books, or the Professor Branestawm books. The Mad Grandad tales are weird action adventures, illustrated on every page, where Lenny and Grandad make some strange discovery in every story. The Forbidden Files are a bit longer; comedy horrors with illustrations every second or third page.
In your website, you say that you often do talks for children. Is it important to talk with your readers?
I don’t know what it’s like in France, but in Ireland there is a great culture of children’s writers visiting schools and libraries. With so little marketing done for books, doing sessions for kids is a vital part of the promotion of an author. I work in both primary and secondary schools, doing one-off sessions or longer workshops and residencies. I think it is very important to get out and meet your readers, but that is more for the contact itself, rather than a requirement for the writing process.
Is there some ‘message’ in Ancient Appetites?
Not really. I’m not sure I’m qualified to be delivering moral or philosophical messages, but writing represents an ongoing thought process, and my writing is often prompted by the questions that pop into my head. I do think any good story should challenge the reader and make them ask questions about the world around them.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on Merciless Reason, the third book in the Wildenstern Saga, as well as a new contemporary crime novel and a novel for slightly younger readers set in a paranoid near-future surveillance state. I also have a number of projects in the works for young readers, including my third and fourth Armouron books – a sci-fi series I was commissioned to help conceive and write in conjunction with a toy range. I read a lot of that kind of thing when I was young, so it was interesting to get involved with that project.
You’re very welcome.