An Interview with Sci-Fi Author Gareth L. Powell

Having recently read and enjoyed Gareth L. Powell’s The Recollection, (See review in previous post). I was thrilled when Gareth agreed to an interview. So without further ado, I give you, in his own words, Mister Gareth L. Powell

Hi Gareth, thanks for agreeing to the interview and congratulations on The Recollection. It’s an excellent read. On reading it, I felt like I could definitely see where some of your inspiration for the story came from. Could you tell me what first piqued your interest in Science Fiction?

“I was always fascinated by space and spaceships. I wanted to be an astronaut. I thought we’d all be living on the Moon by 1980. I remember watching the Apollo-Soyuz link-up on TV at home, and Star Trek on my grandparents’ old black and white TV set. Then we had Star Wars and the original Battlestar Galactica. I was also fortunate to have a local library with a well-stocked sci-fi section, and parents keen to encourage me to read whatever took my fancy. I discovered Heinlein, Clarke and Niven at an early age, then quickly progressed to Cyberpunk and the New Space Opera.”

In both Silversands and The Recollection I’ve been impressed with just how much you’ve managed to cram into both novels considering both are quite short reads. Are your first drafts as streamlined as the novels appear to be or does a lot end up on the “cutting room floor” so to speak?

“I edit as I go along. Each time I sit down to write, I start at the beginning and read through to where I finished at the end of the last section, making changes as I go. This means that by the time the first draft is completed, it’s actually been edited many times. That said, I did cut 20,000 words from Silversands.”

Following on from that, can you talk us through your self-editing process?

“A piece of writing – whether it’s a sentence, a paragraph or a whole page – has to have some sort of rhythm and flow to it. This is doubly true for lines of dialogue. I go back through and try to find that rhythm. I cut out unnecessary words and exposition; ditch adverbs; and replace everyday words with phrases that are more direct and striking.”

At the heart of The Recollection is a complex plot involving time travel. Was it difficult to keep all the threads of the story organized?

“It was hellishly complicated to work out how to get all the characters to arrive at the same point in history at the same time. I had to draw four dimensional charts to make sure all the distances and travel times added up. As one of the characters says in the book: ‘Ain’t relativity a bitch?'”

How did you go about planning the novel. What tools, if any, did you use?

“The only tools I used were a notebook and pen. I spent a year or so jotting down ideas, then when I felt a plot start to emerge, I began working out who the characters were, and eventually came up with a rough outline. Then I started writing, and the rest fell into place as I went. The story bubbled up out of me like a suppressed memory – it’s the book I’ve always wanted to write, and I poured all those early influences into it. ”

In both your novels you’ve produced strong female protagonists. Was that a conscious decision and if so, why?

“In both books, the sex of the characters emerged organically. I wanted a good mix of male and female, so if character X was going to be a boy, character Y had to be a girl, and vice versa. In early outlines of The Recollection, the character that eventually became Kat Abdulov started out as male: an classic space pilot in the tradition of Han Solo, Mal Reynolds, John Truck, Beowulf Shaeffer, Lorq van Ray… I guess I made her female in order to comment on that archetype; and also because I already had the character of Ed in mind, and I didn’t want both my protagonists to be male.”

Do you feel there’s anything you need to take into consideration when writing from a female point of view?

“Despite what I said in my previous answer, I don’t dwell on a character’s sex while I’m writing them. I think of them as individuals, and write from that point of view. They are who they are; the rest is just plumbing. Without wishing to sound like Barney Stinson, I’ve always been surrounded by women; I’ve worked in offices where I’ve been the only man. I have two sisters and two daughters. I’m used to the company of women and find it as easy to place myself in the mind of a female character as a male one. If it’s true that a writer creates characters as reflections of their inner self, then Kat is as much an aspect of my personality as Ed. I’m very fond of her, and so I find it extremely gratifying when female readers respond positively to her. It makes me feel I’m doing something right.”

I’ve loved the cover art for both Silversands and The Recollection. Did you have any say in the production of the artwork?

“In both cases, I sent the artist some text from the book, to help them choose and visualize an image for the cover. I was shown rough sketches before the final artwork was produced, but the deciding vote always belonged to the publisher.”

Can you tell us about any future projects you’re working on?

“At the end of last year, I signed a contract with Solaris Books, the publishers of The Recollection, for a novel called ‘Ack-Ack Macaque’, which I’m currently in the process of writing. It’s the story of a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey whose starting to doubt everything, including his own existence, and it’s due to be published in January 2013. In the meantime, my first two books, Silversands and The Last Reef, are going to be released in digital format by Anarchy Books in April this year.”

What Sci-Fi shows, movies and books do you enjoy and what is it about them that you like?

“I enjoyed the recent Battlestar Galactica remake and the brief glimpse we got of Firefly, and Doctor Who holds a special place in my heart; but I’m wary of new sci-fi shows. I’ve been burned too often. Heroes, The Event, Outcasts – they all started out promisingly, but soon fell apart.”

“I have some movies I go back to time and again, such as the Back To The Future trilogy, The Chronicles of Riddick, and Independence Day. These are comfort movies. Escapism has its place. Some days you just want to see a fleet of spaceships blow the living hell out of famous American landmarks. When I’m in a more serious mood, I’ll go for something classic such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, or the original Day The Earth Stood Still.”

Quickfire round:

Tea or Coffee?

“Either, so long as it’s decaff. I quit caffiene in 1997 or 1998, and I’ve no plans to go back.”

Outline or not?

“Partial outline – more a rough sketch than an Ordanance Survey map.”

Star Wars or Star Trek?

“Star Wars (the original trilogy, not the later additions).”

Mac or PC?

“PC so far, but if I catch another virus, I may jump the fence and get a Mac.”

Alien or Predator?

“Alien. Even better: Aliens.”

OK, thanks Gareth. Once again, congratulations on The Recollection. I wish you lots of success with it. If people want to find out more about you and your work, where can they go?

“My website is at www.garethlpowell.com. Or you can find me on Twitter and Facebook.”

Stuart Clark is the author of the Project U.L.F. series of sci-fi adventure novels

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