#MABLE: Author Interview with Stuart Aken

You’re all cordially invited to join in the fun of the Massive Autumn Book Launch Event (#MABLE) organised by my publisher, Fantastic Books Publishing. The books in the event are hugely discounted, so it’s a great opportunity to try some new and exciting fiction. It begins tomorrow, 17th September, and runs to 31st October. And you can sign up to join in the fun here.

During the event I’ll be posting interviews with the authors here. As an introduction to these, I thought it only right to answer the same questions I’ve asked the other authors: So, here’s what Stuart Aken had to say to Stuart Aken!

Stuart Aken, born to a homeless widowed artist, in a neighbour’s bed, describes himself as a word wrangler. He’s romantic, open-minded, agnostic, and radical. Raised by a creative, loving mother and a stepfather who educated him in things natural and worldly, he had what he describes as a materially-deprived but otherwise idyllic childhood until aged 16, when his mother was killed in a car crash. An author who refuses to be shackled by genre, he’s written romance, thrillers, sci-fi, humour, fantasy, horror, and an autobiographical, self-help memoir, aimed at sufferers from ME/CFS. His fiction is the only place he bends the truth and, after love, remains his raison d’être.

  1. Did some specific event trigger the creation of ‘An Excess Of…’ or, alternatively, was this a project you’d been considering for some time?

The idea for the novel had been growing in the dark recesses of my mind for some considerable time. I need time to allow an idea to mature before I set off running with it. Characters always come first, as I need to tell the story through the eyes and voices of those involved rather than as some distant god overlooking the scene.
But with this book, dealing with a combination of the Covid pandemic and the threat of the climate emergency, the confluence of Coronavirus with several extreme weather events worldwide brought matters to a head. I felt now was the time. There’s an urgency needed to deal with our continued disregard for the natural world that’s driving us and many other species toward extinction. The sacred dollar, totally unrealistic attitudes toward change, the irresponsible actions of the fossil fuel industries and most national governments, combined to force me into creating this story now. It seemed the right time.

  • Most works of fiction have themes either at their heart or subtly roving beneath the surface for the more analytical reader; what were your themes here, and why do they matter to you?

We weave our way through life either unaware of events, trends, threats, and disasters surrounding us, or potentially drowning in the overwhelming nature of such apparently uncontrollable happenings. For many, ignorance, either deliberate or consequent on a lack of concern for what really matters, is an escape from the real world. For others, sensitivity forms a net of torture from which the final escape is suicide. But, as a writer of science fiction, I feel a type of responsibility to alert as many people as possible to the potential consequences of inaction relating to the oncoming runaway express of climate catastrophe. The brakes are failing, the tracks will soon run out, there are no buffers capable of halting this catastrophe. All I can do with my words is create a story people may read and come to accept the idea that something must be done to halt the disaster.
Covid, of course, is a consequence of humanity’s inability to accept we’re part of the natural world and have abused our position at the head of the food chain. During our evolution, we’ve domesticated several species of wild animals to act as our constant larder. Adding to that established supply of food by letting superstition, fashion, or sometimes sheer hunger in desperate circumstances, to include wildlife is an open encouragement for bacterial and viral agents to enter our bodies. And we all now know the dangers of such action. In my book I merely suggest the possible consequences of allowing that dangerous move to develop unrestricted because truly international vaccine programmes have not been adopted. The almost infinite mutations available to a virus allowed to develop in an unvaccinated population is likely to result in variations that spread and kill more readily than those we’ve already encountered.
Religious extremism has caused many deaths of the innocent, as each faction, or sect, declares its supremacy in relation to the myths and legends used to justify violence against those who refuse to conform to the distorted views of those determined to take power in order to gather personal wealth and domination in the name of their chosen deity. Such terrorism has already been used in times of crisis in many lands, so it’s hardly a stretch of imagination to depict it causing harm under the coming circumstances.

  • Is ‘An Excess Of…’ your first created book or do you have others both published and/or awaiting publication?

I wrote five novels before my first work was published. Those unpublished works I see as my apprenticeship in a field where experience is a vital factor in the successful conversion of ideas into works hopefully capable of engaging others.
My first published novel was a romantic thriller, published with the help of the Arts Council through a small publishing concern. Breaking Faith is set in the Yorkshire Dales during the heatwave of 1976 and involves the interaction of an innocent young woman, raised in isolation by a religious fanatic, with the local most eligible bachelor, or stud, a talented photographer who likes his women uncovered.
I had a go at adult epic fantasy with my trilogy, A Seared Sky, which runs to 620,000 words set in an imagined world.
I dipped my toe into the bloody world of horror with a novelette, Heir to Death’s Folly.
M.E. and Me’ details my ten years with ME/CFS and my recovery and is my only bookish foray into the world of nonfiction.
Science fiction includes my novella set on a hedonistic Earth in the not-too-distant future, The Methuselah Strain, and a trilogy, Generation Mars, set on Mars and Earth starting a few years hence and moving some 500 years into the future.
I’ve also self-published a couple of anthologies, Ten Love Tales, and Ten Tales for Tomorrow, and appeared in several others.

  • When did you start writing and what prompted you to choose words as your creative medium?

My creative life started as a teenager publishing illustrated articles in the UK photographic press. I was a professional photographer at the time. Later in life I came across a competition run by the Radio Times for a radio play. I wrote a piece based on my experiences as a young man in the RAF hitchhiking between various service bases and home. Willy Russell of ‘Educating Rita’ fame also entered. He won. My play came third and was broadcast. As a result, I was approached by a London agent who specialised in TV scripts and encouraged me into that world. Several of my efforts reached the ‘round table’ stage (the point at which producers decide whether to accept a piece) but none moved beyond. I was advised my subject matter was a little too radical for the channels at the time. So, I moved into short story writing, winning a few contests, and thence to longer works.
I’ve always loved telling tales, and used to make up a new story each night for my younger brother when I was in my early teens. It never occurred to me at the time I might take up the practice as a career!

  • To what extent does genre guide your treatment of story/subject?

Genre is an invention of the major publishers. They want to control the output of successful authors by driving them into specific storytelling areas. I’ve generally allowed my characters to tell the story, keeping in mind only a destination and letting them decide the route, so I usually only nominate an appropriate ‘genre’ after I’ve finished writing the story.

  • How do you feel about ‘experimental’ literature? Have you ever employed an approach that might be seen as experimental?

Without experiment, all creative enterprise is destined to grow stale. Most of the time, I write in a straightforward narrative style, but often use more than one point of view to give the story depth and breadth. In the Generation Mars trilogy, I went further. As a story type generally read by people with an interest in possible futures it seemed appropriate to try a different approach, so the first book, Blood Red Dust, is told through various forms of digital reports from many different sources, with occasional descriptions to replace the illustrations that would generally accompany such communications. The rest of that series returns to a normal narrative style however, though voiced by several characters.

  • Do you plot, or are you a ‘pantster’ writing without a definite plan, and why do you use this method of construction?

Certain stories demand a proper plot. Crime is an example. Any book where a puzzle is an essential element of the story generally requires a plot. I once wrote a thriller dealing with the drugs world. It was an early work, and I wrote it with a pen on lined foolscap paper (I’m old enough to have started writing long before the PC came along!). I reached around 76,000 words and then re-read what I’d already written based on the detailed plot I’d put down in words. It was rubbish. I tore up the whole MS and dropped it in the bin (in those days recycling was awaiting birth).
For those unfamiliar with the term, a pantster is someone who ‘writes by the seat of their pants’. This means the author generally creates a group of characters, gets to know them, determines the themes of the piece and a probable destination, and then sets them off to make their way toward that finish. Of course, this results in rebellion from some characters, some of whom start as nobodies and emerge through the story as star players. It involves a lot of rewriting once the story is on paper. But it provides the writer with the excitement felt by the reader if the job’s done well. And it challenges the author to deal with unexpected events, which requires imagination. I always write as a pantster.

  • What, if any, input did you have in the design of the book cover, and is such collaboration important to you?

I was a professional photographer and worked for some time in the graphics department of an art school, so have some knowledge of fonts and picture use, and I designed the covers of my first three self-published books (Breaking Faith, Ten Love Tales, and Ten Tales for Tomorrow).
My publisher, Dan Grubb, is a very generous guy. He allows his authors some input to cover design, should they have ideas. But the final decision is his, which is fair enough since he pays for it! I’ve had some input to all my titles published by Fantastic Books Publishing. And my most recent effort, ‘An Excess Of…’ was created by a professional artist on the basis of my very rough hand drawn suggestion. Cover design’s a skilled area of creativity and I believe it’s probably best left to those who know what they’re doing.

  • English is a temperamental language; how important is it for an author to understand its rules?

Would you employ a plumber or electrician unfamiliar with the rules of his trade? Such a person might do serious damage to your property or even kill you. Does it follow that writers must rigidly stick to the rules of language? George Orwell famously devised six rules for writers. You’ll find them here. But it’s worth remembering his final rule above all others: ‘Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.’
I believe it’s important for writers to know how to spell, use punctuation, and understand grammar and syntax. But, like Orwell, I feel it’s sensible to break such rules if it leads to a better way to express an idea and makes the meaning of a passage easier to understand. And it’s undoubtedly true that you’re more likely to get away with breaking rules if you first fully understand them. I’ll quote the brilliant Stephen Fry on this subject: ‘The English language is an arsenal of weapons. If you are going to brandish them without checking to see whether or not they are loaded, you must expect to have them explode in your face from time to time.’ And I leave it there. 

  1. Finally, bearing in mind the wide choice of self-publishing platforms now available, what made you choose Fantastic Books Publishing as your route to the reading public?

Having self-published and had the privilege of being published by the generous and talented outfit that is Fantastic Books Publishing, I can say both routes have their merits. But the bulk of my output has been through this small independent publishing company that treats its authors as partners, gives a very generous royalty, and takes on all those onerous tasks in producing a book that most writers find frankly tedious or, in some cases, incomprehensible. Horses for courses. I self-published ‘The Methuselah Strain’ only to have Dan discover it and offer to republish with a small addition. I’m glad I accepted that offer. I self-published ‘M.E. and Me’ because I wanted to offer 50% of income to the charity that helped me through the illness, and I didn’t expect Dan to increase his usual 10% charity contribution for this work: he does plenty for charities as it is.

Reviews of An Excess Of… on Goodreads
Reviews of An Excess Of… on Amazon
Penny Ponders – A view from Penny Grubb
Melodie Muses – A View from Melodie Trudeaux

So, that’s my version of the interviews I’ve held with the other authors involved in the MABLE promotion. Those will appear on dates determined by the programme. They include the following authors and their books:
Kate Russell – The Bookkeeper’s Guide to Practical Sorcery
Melodies Trudeaux- Horse of the Same Colour
Mark Henderson – Con. And Perilaus II
Walt Pilcher – Killing O’Carolan. And The Accidental Spurrt
Simon & Ramon Marett – The Star Protocol
Kae Longnaker – As Long as We Remember
Drew Wagar – Shadeward; Emanation, Exoneration, Enervation, Expiation
James Vigor – The Reality Exchange
Mark Millicent – Fizzy Days and Plastic Monkeys
Jack Mann – Gravity’s Arrow
Linda Nicklin – Storm Girl
Stuart Aken – An Excess Of…
Meghan Purvis – The Wages of Dying
And a charity anthology of horror stories – Dread Cold.

If you’d like to be notified of their release dates, you can either sign up to MABLE here, or subscribe to this website (it’s free, of course) by entering your email address in the box provided at top right on any page. You’ll receive an email notification when I post on the site. Your details will be used only for that purpose. Of course, you could do both things!

4 thoughts on “#MABLE: Author Interview with Stuart Aken

    1. Thank you, Noelle. I thought it only fair to subject myself to the same set of questions I used to torture the other authors. Their replies are remarkably revealing!


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