Bio: I’m a British writer living in the UK that only recently completed his first novel, ‘Shadow on the Sun’ and have the follow up, ‘DEEP EARTH’ well under way with a third planned and necessary to complete the whole saga.
Since moving to London 40 years ago becoming a ‘novel writer’ (I’ve written various non fiction works) has long been my ultimate goal but the necessary fact of earning a living and supporting two ex wives and various daughters has always come in between!
What all have you written? Include everything:
I assume you mean books here? Otherwise as a professional writer for most of my life the list would be endless!
On the books front was a ref book published in 1975 on North Sea Oil
Before that was another ref book on Industrial Pollution
Since then has been ‘Shadow on the Sun’ and that will soon be joined by ‘Deep Earth’, book ll of the planned trilogy
Where can we buy or see them?:
I doubt whether the first books I mentioned are still in print. They’d be a bit out of date if they are!
‘Shadow on the Sun’ is available from the usual suspects, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones (UK book store and available via their on-line system), KOBO, and hard copy versions through Lightning Source Ltd, a UK based on demand printer that’s an offshoot of Ingrams and who distribute to over a zillion retail outlets all over the known galaxy.
Tell us a little bit about your main character:
The pivotal character is UK scientist, Dr Jonathan Anderson, a world authority on the mathematics of particle physics. He’s also a lay preacher and therefore deeply religious. This causes him to have belated qualms about what he has done and which has led to the development of a new type of anti missile ‘beam weapon’. Latterly he discovers his ‘invention’ may do far more than he originally foresaw. This doesn’t sit well with his religious ethics. But no one listens. But in the end he’s proved right.
What are you working on at the minute?:
Writing Book 2 in the saga, DEEP EARTH. I am 50,000 words into it out of an envisaged 100,000 words (same length as Shadow on the Sun) and its going well. Hope to have the first draft completed by the end of March. If so it will hasve taken me ten months.
What is it about?:
‘Shadow on the Sun’ deliberately left unanswered some questions it posed. Part of its storyline is an American secret project called DEEP EARTH. The question posed and left unanswered by ‘Shadow on the Sun’ is: ‘was it successful?’. Read DEEP EARTH to hopefully find out. Some of the characters are fleshed out more plus laying the groundwork for Book 3, BRIGHSTAR.
The initial problem here was to make the DEEP EARTH readable for people who had not read ‘Shadow on the Sun’ plus not making it boring for people who had! I’m quite pleased at how I tackled that problem and how it’s turned out.Also ‘Shadow on the Sun’, although labelled SF is really cross genre with some accent on the ‘mystical’. I wanted to keep that aspect going. I think I’m succeeding. Don’t know about the readers, but I certainly want to know how it will all turn out!! Watch this space.
What genre are your books?:
Loosely SF in the same way Michael Crichton’s books are SF. They are not Star Trek although that’s a series I much admired. But I couldn’t write that type of material. I’m more into believable SF. Something the reader thinks ‘could’ happen. I think with ‘Shadow on the Sun’, I must have been quite successful with one reviewer complaining that the novel was ‘all fiction’. Some other reviewer had to remind him that novels generally were – which is why they are novels!!! It made me smile.
What draws you to this genre?:
It’s something I have a lot of knowledge about. I spent years writing about ‘technical’ things before drifting off into writing about ‘Business’. The trick for both of these is often describing very sophisticated things in an interesting way to unsophisticated people who have no knowledge of them. It’s also useful if you want to ‘hide’ an untruth in a plot by hiding it amidst a welter of true facts. This helps convince the reader that overall, the author knows what he’s talking about, that they are in ‘safe hands’.
Do you have to do research for your books?:
An enormous amount of it. It’s that thing again of convincing the reader that you know what you are talking about. For example, much of the plot surrounding ‘Shadow on the Sun’ revolves around that 600 sq miles of a nuclear dustbin that is Hanford Reach in Washington State.
This is not a place you want to be if you don’t want to glow green in the dark!
For those who don’t know it, this is the area where the originally named US Atomic Energy Commission used to make Uranium 235 and Plutonium for the US stockpile of 60,000 nuclear warheads. They did it from around 1943 to 1987 when the last reactor used to make this stuff was closed. Sadly, in all this time, the AEC were none too careful about environmental concerns. The toxic legacy they left for future generations is enormous.
When did you decide to become a writer?:
I’ve always been a ‘writer’ as I’ve already said. I moved to London from my home town of York, two hundred miles to the North, with that aim in mind. But I got sidetracked! Working on magazines, national newspapers, PR companies, marketing and finally in financial. Bills had to be paid and this was the way I chose to do it.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?:
Yes. I view ‘writing’ like an industrial process! I set out to write a minimum of 500 words per day. This might not seem a lot. But when you factor in all the interuptions and research, it is not bad. If one day you miss out on those 500 words one day its a target you can double up on the following day.
One well known writer who I asked this question of replied he did 8000words! Well, he might have written 8000 words but I doubt they would be any good! My modest 500 means 10,000 words a month or enough for a well thought out novel in a year. As I’ve said, the daily routine also includes ‘marketing’ and research. Most recently on the research front, for example, I’ve been studying the Arizona town of Phoenix and one of its largest, industrial manufacturers. It’s tuned out quite well I think!!! But enough said!!!
Do you work on an outline or plot before you start writing?:
The straight answer is ‘no’. Although for DEEP EARTH, I knew where it started from and where it ended – as would any reader of ‘Shadow on the Sun’. So the issue was more in the ‘how’ I got from the beginning to the end.
I find too that once I start writing things occur to me that never occurred before. I was explaining to someone the other day about how its going with DEEP EARTH. Here I sat down and just wrote most of the first 50,000 words off the top of my head. Because my writing style is very episodic and layered, I had to go back and add bits in. Also I wanted to add
‘more sizzle to the sausage’ for the opening chapters. I think I’ve done that and its turning out well.
This was all very different from how I did ‘Shadow on the Sun’. That was very much ‘a learning cycle’. As I’m sure you already know, writing a book is very different to anything else you might write. In the past most of my stuff might have been three to five hundred words for newspapers, if that. Short, laconic, to the point. For a magazine you might occasionally write 3000 words. Compare that to just one chapter of ‘Shadow on the Sun’ which might be up to 5000 words. And then there’s another 25 or so chapters to follow!!! This takes mental stamina when you consider all the thing you have to combine to make it work.
So to answer your question, I wish I could ‘plan’ it out at the start. But my approach is far more organic. Often it feels as if I’m just a ‘pair of hands’ and someone else is doing the actual ‘creative’ work!
What is the hardest thing about writing?:
Ideas are the most rare and precious commodity in the world. A writer needs a lot of ideas to see him through. And these have got to be fully fleshed out in order for them to be convincing. Readers will soon know you’re a fraud if you haven’t worked it out! And then of course you have to be careful about revealing too much otherwise the reader gets ahead of you. That would never do. And my books are not meant to be easy to read unlike say ’50 Shades of Grey’. I want to make the reader ‘think’. So there’s a lot to it.
What is the easiest thing about writing?:
I don’t think there is any ‘easy bit. It’s all hard work! But well worth it if you’ve managed to ‘grip the reader’. One review I got said he couldn’t put the book down and it was two o’clock in the morning when he did!
How long on average does it take you to write a book?:
Shadow on the Sun too took years!!! It was done inbetween doing things I got paid for. This meant the plot meandered all over the place and it took an ‘editor’ to point out that I had written three books in one when I handed the 160,000 beast over to her.
But I hope I’ve learned since then. DEEP EARTH will have taken me ten months. But that’s more or less a full time job. unlike ‘Shadow on the Sun’ which was mostly part time. Sometimes I might not have touched it for a couple of years!
Do you edit your book right after you finish or let it sit for awhile?:
The term ‘editing’ is a difficult one to use. With ‘Shadow on the Sun’ I over-edited it as I went along. And looking back, I really did not know how to write a book. I learned so much from the editor I employed. She was very good, but very hard. I hated her!! But I was a pro and knew it needed to be done.
DEEP EARTH, as I’ve already explained, is quite different. Although I’m editing as I go along its only for plot. The main issue, and which I didn’t think would work initially, was to get the story down on paper. In my case I got half the story down before I went back and started tinkering. But it’s a ‘rough edit. I know there is more to be done both by me and by an external editor.
After writing for as long as I have, one thing you eventually realise, always get someone else to do the edit. But of course this is how newspapers and a lot of magazine work so its nothing new I’m saying here.
Who edited your book and how did you select him/her?:
She’s called Gale Winskill. Finding the ‘right’ editor is quite tough. It’s got to be someone who is sympathetic to what it is you want to say and how you want to say it. Even then it can be a tussle between ‘you’ and ‘them’ until you get it right.That, I think, is the way it should be.
I was lucky. I went to a seminar close to my home and one of the speakers was an ‘editor’. Part of what she was saying was about the difficulty in trying to write something in the ‘present’ tense; that you could do it but not for very long. I knew what she was talking about and I knew she would know what I was talking about. So I asked her to do the edit for me. `She accepted! The result was ‘Shadow on the Sun’.
I learned a lot from her!
How are you publishing this book and why?:
I have my own publishing company called ‘Northern Lights Publishing’. This was originally because I thought – and still believe – that so many of ‘self published books’ are poorly thought out, poorly written, and poorly proof checked if at all. Sooner or later this is going to affect the public’s perception ‘indie’ books. Maybe it already has.
With my book it did go through all the ‘hoops’ one would expect from a conventional publisher. On top of this I expected most of my sales to come through the United States. And here you have the IRS!! To reclaim the thirty percent withholding tax they automatically impose its easier if you go through your own company!
So you will see on the book cover that it is ‘published’ through Northern Lights as I’ve already said. ‘Shadow on the Sun’ is printed POD with hard copies distributed via Ingrams subsidiary, Lightning Source Ltd including to Amazon.
The final reason for publishing myself is that I couldn’t see what a traditional publisher could do for me that I couldn’t do for myself though I have to admit the ‘marketing’ side is pretty full time let alone doing any writing!
How do you market your books?:
That’s a good question. I view the book as a ‘product’ just like anything else. There’s a ‘process to go through. The most important is to get initial feedback from a limited number of customers. That is from people who don’t know you and you don’t know them. ‘Friends’ will always tell you what they think you want to hear to spare your feelings.
But you need to know whether what you’ve written is any good. If it isn’t then no amount of marketing is going to help. All it will do is tell a larger audience that you can’t write!!
Getting those initial ‘reviews’ is hard work. At the end of the day you are reliant on Amazon and Good Reads plus one or two blogs that you might get into. It takes time. The beauty of printing POD and Kindle is that you may get ‘feedback’ that you can incorporate relatively easily into your book at little or no cost. That’s what I did.
Once you’ve got the all important ‘positive reviews’ you then have to go for it big time: trying to get into as much of the media as you can. Local radio, internet blogs, magazines, local newspapers and maybe some national newspapers too if your very lucky. Mostly it’s a hand quarrying job until you establish your readership base.
There are some who say Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Personally I’ve found these a waste of time. They absorb so much time and you get so little in return.
What do you do to get book reviews?:
It’s the tried and tested route. It’s down to a press release giving the basis details of your book (page number, ISBN, word count, prices for different formats etc etc) along with a five or ten word plot summary so that the potential reviewer can see what’s on offer in a few seconds. Also included is a longer synopsis oif the first, short synopsis whetted their appetite. Different reviewers want different things. One has to try and cover the whole waterfront. But mostly its all down to persistence, persistence and persistence
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?:
Think of something else to do! Unless you already have ‘resources’, writing is a good way to starve!
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/author/rjuliancox
I would like to thank R for his time in completing the interview. Stay tuned for my review of Shadow on the Sun coming in the future.