Interview with the Fierce (and funny) Alasdair Shaw

I am beyond thrilled to introduce this next author, Alasdair Shaw. A truly gifted writer with a supreme talent for action sequences that is nothing short of inspiring, I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from some of Alasdair’s expertise on occasion. He’s lent his knowledge in support of a few key scenes in some of my books, and indeed, he rescued my main character, Tam in The Bonding, from the indignity and horror of boxer shorts. I have a genuine soft spot for his unique brand of humor. I almost miss it… until I don’t.

He grew up in Lancashire, within easy reach of the Yorkshire Dales, Pennines, Lake District and Snowdonia. After stints living in Cambridge, North Wales, and the Cotswolds, he has lived in Somerset since 2002.

He has been rock climbing, mountaineering, caving, kayaking and skiing as long as he can remember. Growing up he spent most of his spare time in the hills. Recently he has been doing more sea kayaking and swimming.

Alasdair studied at the University of Cambridge, leaving in 2000 with an MA in Natural Sciences and an MSci in Experimental and Theoretical Physics. He went on to earn a PGCE, specialising in Science and Physics, from the University of Bangor. A secondary teacher for over fifteen years, he has plenty of experience communicating scientific ideas.

And he certainly puts that experience in his work. It positively glows with all that rich connectivity to nature. I highly recommend checking out his work, but more on that later.

Immy: Welcome Alasdair! I’m going to pick your brain. So get ready! Okay, let’s go! What tense do you write in? Is there a reason behind your choice?

Alasdair: I write in past tense. I just find it less tiring to read than present tense, and so don’t want to inflict that on my readers.

In my scientific writing I am so used to using third person passive that I have a real struggle making the voice active in my science fiction work! It gets beaten out in the editing, but I do keep slipping back.

Immy: Interesting. Okay, I’m getting ready to take notes. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Alasdair: Edit, edit, proof-read, edit. Repeat. Then let others see it and listen to their feedback.

Unless you give it a good polish before seeking other opinions, they are likely to focus their responses on things like typos and grammar. If you remove the bulk of these problems, they are more likely to examine the plot and writing style.

Use sites like Scribophile to get critiques of your work, and critique others. I have learned pretty much the same amount from each activity.

Immy: I’m awful at making sure my work is clean before crits, and you’re right. When my work is sloppy, people don’t see past the surface issues, and then the feedback is less useful. Okay, and one that is a personal struggle for me…Do you ever get Writer’s Block, and do you have any tips for getting through it?

Alasdair: I always have several projects on the go, so it is very rare that I can’t get on with one of them. If I truly can’t face working on any of them, I figure there’s a good reason and do something else like go for a run or have an evening off. By the next time I sit at the computer, I have usually come up with a way round the problem.

Immy: I usually find that a long walk or a yoga session fixes me up too. Though, the trouble arises when I simply must finish something and don’t have the luxury of time to take a break. Okay, regarding marketing… What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?

Alasdair: Generally, any review tends to be helpful. Even if it simply shows potential readers that your reviews have been gained honestly.

Getting reviews is a really key thing for success. The day after the first review went online for Liberty, the daily pre-orders of the ebook version went up twenty-fold. Many marketing opportunities are only available to books with a certain number and/or average score of reviews.

The biggest thing I wish Amazon would do is allow sections of reviews to be marked as spoilers. This could be by the review author, though also by request from other readers.

Immy: Do you prefer writing short stories or full-length novels?

Alasdair: They both have their place in my affections.

Short stories bring much more immediate satisfaction as they can be completed quickly. My first published piece of fiction, Independence, is a short story so that also has a place in my heart. Recently I edited an anthology of scifi shorts called The Newcomer. Choosing the twelve to include was both joyous and painful as I read so many great tales but couldn’t include them all.

However, actually getting to the end of a novel is so great. Having so much more space to explore themes and characters means you can produce something epic.
Having done one of each so far in my Two Democracies: Revolution series, I’ve split the difference on the latest piece and written a novelette. The Perception of Prejudice bridges between two novels (Liberty and Equality) and allows me to play with a new point-of-view character.

Immy: And I’m so glad you do. I thought I’d never like another of your characters as much as Olivia, but you’re making me question myself. Thank you so much, Alasdair!

Again, if you haven’t already checked out Alasdair’s work, I highly recommend that you do. As someone who starts to sweat when someone says “hard sci-fi” and positively shake if they say “military” sci-fi, I have to say, his characters are so rich, and the world so layered, I was instantly captivated.

For more on Alasdair, You can sign up to Alasdair Shaw’s mailing list at http://www.alasdairshaw.co.uk/newsletter and see what else he gets up to on his website at http://www.alasdairshaw.co.uk.

The Two Democracies universe intersects with our own at https://twitter.com/IndieAI and https://www.facebook.com/twodemocracies.
The Two Democracies: Revolution science fiction series starts with Independence, and continues with Liberty. The third story, The Perception of Prejudice, has just been published. Equality, the next novel, will hopefully be released in summer 2017, followed by Fraternity the year after.

Interview with Fantastic Heather Hayden

This month, I am thrilled to introduce you to Heather Hayden!

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Though a part-time editor by day, Heather Hayden’s not-so-secret identity is that of a writer—at night she pours heart and soul into science fiction and fantasy novels. In March 2015 she published her first novella, Augment, a YA science fiction story filled with excitement, danger, and the strength of friendship. She immediately began work on its sequel, Upgrade, which continues the adventures of Viki, a girl who loves to run, and her friend Halle, an AI. Her latest release is a short story “Beneath His Skin,” which is part of an anthology her writer’s group put together called From the Stories of Old: A Collection of Fairy Tale Retellings. You can learn more about Heather and her stories through her blog and her Twitter, both of which consist of equal amounts of writerly things and random stuff she’s interested in.

Immy: Alright, I’m psyched for this interview. So let’s get straight to it! Always a burning question on my mind, since it touches on one of my big writer’s insecurities. How much research do you do?

Heather: Sometimes, not enough. Other times, too much. It really depends on what I’m working on. I write science fiction and fantasy; the latter tends to require less research and more imagination, while the former tends to require more research and controlled imagination (I try to keep the science somewhat realistic in my science fiction stories. Sometimes a little stretching of physics is needed, though!)

Immy: Stretching of physics. I love that! Research is one of the hardest parts for me. What is the hardest thing about writing for you?

Heather: I’d say editing, but technically that’s an entirely different kettle of fish. So I’m going to say the sitting down and writing part. I tend to work on bursts of inspiration for the most part, so days or even weeks might pass before a story has anything added to it. Granted, those bursts are usually pretty big—at least several thousand words, if not more—but I know that’s not going to hold up in the long run, so I’m working at writing a bit every day, inspiration or no.

Immy: I write a lot like that, too. Ten thousand words might pour out in a weekend, but then not much for a couple weeks. It’s frustrating when I’m on a deadline, but man, those spurts feel so good! Tell us about your style. Do you write in a specific tense or point-of-view? If so, is there a reason for it?

Heather: Most of my stories are written in third person, though, surprisingly, my first published novella, Augment, was mainly written in first person. I generally go with whatever best fits the story—usually by the time I’m a few chapters into a novel, I know what point-of-view is needed. As for tense, I’d say that probably 98% of my stories are written in past tense. I’m not as big a fan of present tense, but I do use it when the story calls for it. And I certainly can’t explain why I choose what I do in technical terms! All I can say is I have a gut feeling, and go with it.

Immy: So you’re very organic in your POV. Does that carry through for the whole novel? Do you prefer working to an outline or plot, or do you just see where an idea takes you?

Heather: One pantser, reporting for duty! I’ve tried plotting before, and I do sometimes follow a loose outline, but for the most part I just sit down and follow where the story goes. It’s more exciting that way, and when I’m excited about what I’m writing, my muse is much more inspired.

Immy: Ha! Pantsing can be so dangerous though! And when you aren’t writing? What is your favorite movie and why?

Heather: You might as well ask me what’s my favorite book! I love science fiction, especially anything pertaining to robots or AI (except the movie A.I., which is heart-breaking), so some days I might answer I, Robot or Real Steel or even Transformers if I’m feeling nostalgic. (Yes, I know how bad the live-action Transformers movies are. However, they did introduce me to my favorite fandom, so I’ll always have a soft spot for them. Only the first three, though. Four didn’t happen.)

In the realm of animation, Studio Ghibli pretty much walks away with the gold, silver, and bronze metals. I love Castle in the Sky, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Howl’s Moving Castle, and even Spirited Away has grown on me since I first saw it. Not to mention all of their other amazing movies. Again, hard to pick one specifically as a favorite, but I’m a sucker for anything with beautiful animation and a good story.

Immy: My answers change by the day too. It’s too hard to choose just one! Great choices though. Thank you so much Heather! It’s been so fun chatting with you!