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 began on 17th September and runs to 31st October. And you can sign up to join in the fun here.
I’m posting interviews with the authors here during the event. This one is with James Vigor:
1. Did some specific event trigger the creation of The Reality Exchange or, alternatively, was this a project you’d been considering for some time?
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to write a book. I had a few tries as a kid, writing some truly awful and derivative stuff! As a teen I tried my hand at fan fiction a couple of times, but only ever in dribs and drabs. The Reality Exchange started coming together in my mind in the last year or two of school, but I knew that writing a full novel would be a huge undertaking.
I started to view this period as a trial, both for me and for the idea that was brewing in my mind. I figured if I was still as passionate about this story when I started university, it was probably one worth pursuing. The idea didn’t fade at all. In that time it only took shape and became more solid in my mind. When I was done with school, I moved away, started my new life, and began to write. Such a long time ago that was.
2. 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?
There are a few themes at work in The Reality Exchange. The most prominent, I think, is the theme of looking at the bigger picture. In fact it’s so central that it even gets called out explicitly on multiple occasions.
I don’t want to spoil the book at all by pointing to any specifics, but I will say that there are several cases of things appearing to be one way at first glance, but look rather different when you take a step back and look at the context. Context is vitally important in every aspect of our lives and all too often is it ignored. We may think we know the facts, but until we’re able to contextualise them the truth will elude us.
What makes a person good or bad? How much do you need to know about them to make that judgement? Is there even such a thing as good or bad? If there is, does it matter? I think readers may come to some interesting conclusions about the characters in this story and who the real villain is, if there even is one.
The last thing I want to suggest paying attention to is the duality of conflict in The Reality Exchange. There are two conflicts going on: the one we see much more directly for most of the book, and the grander conflict of war that looms in the background. They aren’t completely separate. While they operate on vastly different scales, they have a lot in common with each other. I don’t want to draw any conclusions for the people who might be interested in thinking about it for themselves, but I think there are a lot of interesting ways these things can be interpreted.
The themes in this story matter to me because they get me thinking. I like to philosophise and these are the kinds of subjects and questions that set my mind in motion, pontificating about human nature. I have no desire to preach. I want to encourage people to think rationally and act passionately. That’s what this story does for me. I can only hope it has the same effect on some of its readers.
3. Is The Reality Exchange your first created book or do you have others both published and/or awaiting publication?
Yes, this is my first and only book. For now, that is! I have no shortage of story ideas. I need only to put them on the page.
4. When did you start writing and what prompted you to choose words as your creative medium?
I don’t think I’d be exaggerating to say I started writing when I started writing. I’ve always loved words and language, and all through school I looked forward to every creative writing exercise. All that said, I’m not sure it would be accurate to say I chose words as my medium. I’m still learning to understand who I am as a person, but I have come to realise that I am a storyteller at heart. As I reflect on so many of the hobbies that resonated with me through the years, the thing that ties them together is the freedom to tell stories. Whether it be games I’ve made on the computer, worlds I’ve built for Dungeons & Dragons, amateur drama shows I’ve performed in or pictures I’ve drawn, I’ve always pursued narrative expression, though subconsciously for much of my life. So I didn’t really choose words; I’m trying everything!
That said, I do have a particular love for the written word. Writing a book frees you up to focus solely on the story. I feel it allows you to craft with so much more precision and lets you draw the reader’s attention exactly where and how you want. Other media achieve their goals in their own way and they can do it very well, but writing a book is pure storytelling and I love that.
5. To what extent does genre guide your treatment of story/subject?
I rarely think about the genre while I write. I find it can be useful to inform decisions made early on, like whether I want to ground an aspect of the world-building in reality, or whether that simply doesn’t matter. In the case of sci-fi I do like to make my worlds feel plausible, so I aim to weave some real science in where I can. On the other hand if it were a fantasy book, science is much less of a requirement. I think as long as things are consistent within the world, most people won’t have an issue.
Once I’ve established the feel of the world in my own notes and I have some general rules about how things should work, I don’t really think about the genre anymore. If I have an idea for a cool scene, then think to myself, ‘This doesn’t feel very sci-fi,’ I don’t particularly mind. As long as it serves the story and feels good, genre be damned! A genre can be a strong foundation, but it mustn’t become a cage.
6. How do you feel about ‘experimental’ literature? Have you ever employed an approach that might be seen as experimental?
I confess I haven’t experimented much with my writing style. As my debut novel, The Reality Exchange was an exercise in finding my voice. I think it would be quite sad to fall into a rhythm and only ever work in a particular way. I hope to always experiment with my approach, and while I don’t expect I’ll do anything truly ground-breaking, maybe one day I’ll surprise myself. I find it hard to see experimentation as anything other than a good thing. I believe it’s the only way we can be revolutionary.
7. Do you plot, or are you a ‘pantster’ writing without a definite plan, and why do you use this method of construction?
I really came to appreciate the benefits of a solid plan while writing this book. I didn’t plan so much about the characters and the world; for those I went much more on a feeling. It almost feels redundant to write notes on my characters when I already feel like I know them so well. I feel like I understand them better than I can describe in a biography. When I need to know how a character should behave, I don’t consult a document. I just kind of ask them.
But the story structure is a totally different beast. I’m not able to intuit my way through a complex narrative with lots of moving parts the way I can with my characters. I spend a lot of time planning and replanning the plot, from an initial rough overview, to a granular dissection of everything that must happen in every individual chapter.
One of the things I hear people praise about The Reality Exchange the most is the way every chapter ends on a little cliff-hanger. This feels to me like a natural consequence of writing every chapter like its own short story. Each one should have its own arc, and should end by reminding the reader of the unresolved threats still looming over our heroes. I don’t think I’d be able to achieve this to the same effect if I didn’t have a very clear plan for what every chapter should aim to achieve.
8. What, if any, input did you have in the design of the book cover, and is such collaboration important to you?
I worked very closely with the ever-talented Ramon Marett on the cover art and I’m so glad for it. I went into it with only a handful of criteria in mind. As I recall the key things I wanted were: no exterior views of a spacecraft, a focus on Winter’s implant, and no full view of Winter’s face. Aside from these I had no notions of the style, the colour scheme, or anything else. It was Ramon who helped me figure out what I wanted and, of course, to produce the amazing artwork we settled on.
For me, that collaboration was crucial. I think I would have felt quite uneasy letting anyone else make those decisions without my input. Not to mention all the other reasons why someone else’s cover might have felt wrong for me, these points I raised were not just desirable. In my mind, they were absolute requirements. Anyone else might have thought ‘It’s a sci-fi story set on a spaceship, so let’s slap a spaceship on the cover!’ To me that completely misses the role the ship plays in the story and, in fact, the point of the story as a whole. I don’t want anyone to think this is some epic, galaxy-spanning, planet-hopping adventure.
The cover sets the stage for the entire story. It carries a huge weight on its shoulders and in my mind, it should only be designed by someone who has a deep understanding of the story, the tone and the themes. I think the cover art for The Reality Exchange perfectly lays the foundation for a dark, emotive, character-driven story, which is exactly what I wanted. While I’d be very curious to see what someone else’s take would have been without my input, I’d find it very difficult to trust that they would execute it quite as faithfully to the story it’s intended to serve.
9. English is a temperamental language; how important is it for an author to understand its rules?
This is a complex question and I think I could be swayed one way or another if I sat down to talk about it, but I will try to articulate my current thoughts on this as clearly as I can. For myself, I find it quite irksome when I see mistakes or misunderstandings of the rules of English. In everyday life, I don’t let it bother me. But in a book where the written word is all there is to see, I think it’s very important that it adheres to the rules of language.
And no, it’s not an editor’s job to transform a sketchy draft into a polished work of literature. It is the author’s role to communicate their vision to the reader. If editors have to tidy up a whole book, the clarity of the author’s image will surely be lost.
With such a complex language as English, of course it’s excusable if an author is ignorant of a few rules. I think a firm grasp of the essentials is important, but more so than that is their ability to learn new rules and how to apply them. It’s all part of the process of getting better at one’s craft.
I’m sure there are discussions to be had about whether some rules are too stupid or pointless to remain, but if the writer is ignorant of the rules in the first place, their writing can often just end up feeling rough or careless. Of course there are cases where rules can be broken deliberately and artfully, but to do so requires an understanding of the rules being broken to begin with.
10. 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?
I became involved with FBP when they were publishing the Elite: Dangerous novels so I’ve been aware of them for a long time now. It felt only right to approach them when I was interested in telling my own stories. If I couldn’t get a publisher deal, with them or anyone else, self-publishing would probably have been my fallback option, but there are some real benefits to having the backing of a publisher. They can give you so much, from providing experienced professional insight to broadening the market you can reach. Being with FBP helps me to feel like my book stands out that little bit more. I’m not just one more drop in a vast ocean. It’s also worth mentioning that being published often feels like an accolade. It always seems to lend extra weight and credibility when people know that there’s a company that thinks your work is good enough to be worth investing in!
I have known several authors who had published with FBP before and who had no complaints. It seemed a no-brainer to start by approaching a publisher that I was in such a good position to understand and work with, and who were already in business with some of my friends.
My review of The Reality Exchange
Reviews of The Reality Exchange on Goodreads
Reviews of The Reality Exchange on Amazon
Melodie’s Musings – A view from Melodie Trudeaux
Penny Ponders – A view from Penny Grubb