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 Jack Mann:
- Did some specific event trigger the creation of Gravity’s Arrow or, alternatively, was this a project you’d been considering for some time?
I’d wanted to write a novel since I was six. An epic fantasy, or sci fi, to rival those I hardly understood at the time, like Lord of the Rings (which I hadn’t even read, but had caught glimpses of the 1978 film of) or Star Wars (which I doubt I understood at the time). I then grew up enough to recognise rivalling anything like that was something of a tall order, but I’d give it a crack anyway, and thus followed numerous failed attempts at writing something. Usually, I was foiled by a lack of worldly awareness – I recall writing a chase scene, but when the protagonist fled pursuers into a nightclub, I had no idea what those places were like at the time (I was fourteen and reasonably well-behaved). This problem, and a general lack of enthusiasm for working on a story that I already knew the end of, killed all my extra-curricular writing projects. Those set by school did better, if only because I limited my ambitions and because they had to be finished by a deadline (though they still had a tendency to be far longer than requested, and typically degenerated into hyperviolent/science fiction/fantasy madness, no doubt to the detriment of my grades in English).
Then on my gap year I decided to write a science fiction novel without planning what lay ahead, and made it up as I wrote. Loved doing this, but wrote myself into plot holes and impossible to write-my-way out of corners. The lack of structure also meant I didn’t know where I was going. It was as though each foot was placed dramatically in front of the previous one, but I kept walking into swamps.
So throughout uni I meditated on a universe with rules that I could stick to, and would allow me to write the story I wanted to write. A spiritual successor to what I’d done in my gap year, but one I could finish. In the end I came up with a ruleset that allowed for space travel, and an absence of robots, and even facilitated the inclusion of dragons, amongst other monsters (details available in the Special Edition of Gravity’s Arrow, but also on my website). I wrote rough extracts, and a description of the end, in a strange-looking, A5 plain paper book I’d picked up somewhere, while commuting to work. Then an opportunity to blitz my way through a first draft arose: a two-month gap between finishing my last junior junior doctor job, and taking up ‘higher training’ (still technically a junior doctor, though).
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?
A big theme was religion: the family of the protagonist follow the same religion (more or less) as that of the evil religious empire that’s trying to take over the galaxy. A bit like a good Muslim on the run from ISIS, or nice Christians fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. There’s even an atheist in the story, a polytheistic society, a religion based on ‘elements’ and another religion that I sincerely hope never, ever exists (it’s absolutely horrible – takes me to bad places just thinking about it).
I was raised catholic but ran into issues with the religion of my birth as I grew older. Kept wondering what Jesus himself would make of the churches of today if he actually did come back. After I learned how cruel the god of the bible could be, and of various contradictions in Christianity, I concluded I wasn’t Christian, but still saw there being benefit in believing in something.
I also felt compelled to write about religion because we live in a complex world which is clearly a long way off reaching its potential. The better societies today are tolerant of most beliefs, but this has not eradicated prejudice or violence on the grounds of religion. However, I think the absence of a higher basis of morality has its dangers too – Stalin’s Russia was staunchly atheist, and Hitler’s opposition to various religious groups made it difficult for the ethics and morals of the Nazis to be questioned effectively without inviting persecution.
The subject of beliefs is, therefore, very important, and I love discussing it (when I can find someone with the time and enthusiasm for it) and so it features quite a bit in the book. Against the backdrop of lots of religions playing roles in the development of the story, the protagonist, and many characters in the book, struggle to determine the right course of action, and to overcome the barriers to go through with it.
The other theme I associate with Gravity’s Arrow is the riddle that sprawls across the book – namely, how is this book, that features dragons, but no robots or AI, a science fiction book set in space? However, after so many readers seemed to just assume I had written a space opera/fantasy, and ignored science entirely, I decided to just explain the theories underpinning it all the appendix of the Special Edition (and on the website). The system I’d created was internally consistent, but with the help of a colleague and his brother who had a PhD in theoretical physics (thanks Magnus and Christian Lynch!) we created a plausible theory (at least as plausible as any science fiction theory to explain faster than light therapy that I’d ever heard of) that reduced the risk of the reader questioning the validity of the universe the story was set in (a risk factor for taking the reader out of the book).
3. Is Gravity’s Arrow your first created book or do you have others both published and/or awaiting publication?
It is the first book I’ve written. I’m working on a trilogy that follows on from it – as in a further three books about the protagonist when he’s a fair bit older. I’d planned these out to a high degree of detail, but have a hunch I could change them dramatically and wind up with a better finished product. Question is, do I do a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants go at it, and see what happens? Or plan it out again? Given how planning didn’t immediately lead to a successful write up, I’m inclined to go with seat-of-the-pants again. It worked last time, as far as getting me to the end of the book was concerned.
4. When did you start writing and what prompted you to choose words as your creative medium?
I was always a fan of creative exploits since I was young. I liked painting, drawing, composing, creating new games to play with friends and cousins, and making films. I even tried to make a video game once. I wonder what I might have done with my life if I’d realised how one was supposed to pursue a career in filmmaking etc, but I reliably scored well in sciences, and just good in arts, so I went with sciences, became a doctor, and figured I could write a story in my spare time, without demanding the commitment of vast resources from myself or others in order to realise my ideas via other media.
5. To what extent does genre guide your treatment of story/subject?
I feel I want to write about very big subjects, and I don’t feel writing in the contemporary setting would give me the freedom to write the kind of stories that I’d like to. I also worry I’ll annoy someone if I write about current religions, so I made the religions up for this book.
I like fantasy, but feel more confident I can have my readers suspend disbelief with a plausible science fiction setting, than a fantasy one that depends on ‘magic’.
6. How do you feel about ‘experimental’ literature? Have you ever employed an approach that might be seen as experimental?
Not sure how you’d define experimental, but if a story that feels very fantasy, but is actually sci-fi, counts, then maybe?
7. Do you plot, or are you a ‘pantster’ writing without a definite plan, and why do you use this method of construction?
I do both. With the first book I knew the very end, and some moments, and the setting, but then I wrote by the seat of my pants for five weeks to get the first draft done, and then edited for… nine years. I thought perhaps plotting the sequels more carefully might speed up the editing later, but as I’ve run aground with my writing lately, and also had ideas about how to improve it, I’m tempted to write by the seat of my pants again, and then edit it down to a manageable level afterwards.
8. What, if any, input did you have in the design of the book cover, and is such collaboration important to you?
I had lots. I asked to be put in touch with an artist so I could design it, and have rights to the image. I worked with Ramon Marrett, who was amazing at both collaborating on, and realising, my ideas. The front cover is AWESOME!
9. English is a temperamental language; how important is it for an author to understand its rules?
Bad English risks breaking the spell/removing reader from the experience, so it is important. My natural English ability isn’t the best, but fortunately spell checkers and the internet and friends and family exist, so I seem to be getting by!
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 was looking for a home for the book. Submitted to all the agents I could find in the Writers Year book – and crashed and burned. Started going to conventions to see if networking would help, and ended up meeting the Fantastic Books team, who I really got on with (MAE and Anne-Marie remaining somewhat mysterious to me even now). I liked their process. Their editing advice really great, and didn’t demand I ruin my book for them to accept it. Also, I’ve spoken to people who have been successful with self-publishing – it’s a LOT of work. I really ought to be putting more work into promoting my current book as it is, but I’m beginning to suspect I’d be best off writing sequels and promoting the lot, as writers with more books under their belts will have a better draw than those with just one. And I’ll feel more complete. And I think my sequels will be more accessible to the public – or at least they were going to be when I first planned them. If I seat-of-my-pants them from here on, no idea what they’ll end up like…