12 July 2011

Author Guest Blog: Paul Collins

Children’s author Paul Collins answers questions about what it is like to be a writer and discusses his new dystopian SF thriller, Mole Hunt, in this special guest blog.

Mole Hunt is book one of a trilogy called The Maximus Black Files. You can borrow Mole Hunt from Libraries ACT and see a book trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3S-eKDYqpEs.

Do you wait for a flash of inspiration before starting a book?

Sometimes. Ideas for contemporary stories are all around us – anecdotal stories are great in that the plot is already there. Writing science fiction is somewhat more challenging. I initially thought that I’d like to write about a character that is an anti-hero. I’m fed up with nice guys winning all the time. The possibilities are limitless in outer space, so I figured SF would give me broader horizons in which my character would develop.

Mole Hunt has been described as “like a cross between The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Total Recall and Dexter”. Is there an influence to your writing, especially Mole Hunt?

Certainly. I used to read Marvel Comics when I was a kid. I loved The Hulk, Captain America, Daredevil and others. Much of my writing is often described as “filmic” and action-packed. I think readers will see this in The Maximus Black Files. Too, I love Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books. I think of Max as Artemis’s evil twin. I also enjoy reading Philip Reeves’s Mortal Engines and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. I loved Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books and Robert E Howard’s Conan the Barbarian series. I haven’t read the Dragon Tattoo book, but I do love Dexter and I’ve seen Total Recall. Mind you, I’d like to think that what I’ve written is wholly original. Jumble up all the above reading material and you might see a resemblance in Maximus. Another reviewer in Viewpoint thought it is a combination of Star Wars, Spooks with a little McGyver thrown in. Sounds like a good book, huh?! lol

How did you get started writing science fiction? Do you need to be a tech-head to write it?

I used to publish a science fiction magazine called Void. At that time it was Australia’s only SF magazine. I met some wonderful Australian authors like Wynne Whiteford, Frank Bryning, Jack Wodhams and Sean McMullen. They all mentored me. I still brainstorm ideas with Sean. These days I write more fantasy than SF, so Mole Hunt is a return to something I used to write. I’m not actually technically savvy, believe it or not. My “trick” is to write science fiction as though I know what I’m talking about! The science behind the fiction has to sound reasonable and logical. It has to be watertight in the logic department. You’ll see in Mole Hunt that I don’t use gratuitous science – everything is there for a reason, and hopefully, it all sounds plausible. The other secret to writing good SF is to have friends who are tech-heads, and can tell you if you’re off-beam or not.

You mentioned before that writing contemporary fiction is easier that say science fiction. Is that because you need to use your imagination more in writing SF than you do in other genres?

I think so, yes. The nuts and bolts of creating characters in any book can be derived from true life. For example, I use my martial arts experience in most of my action-based books, but the plot itself in SF can’t really be conceived from personal experience.

Do you suffer from writer’s block - if so, how do you get around it?

I don’t really have that problem. If I did, I’d simply start another story. You usually find a solution somewhere down the track to any problem. And if you can’t, you can always brainstorm with someone. Two minds are always better than one. Sometimes I might be discussing a problem with a friend, and just by talking about it the solution with present itself. Meredith and I are always asking one another for plot solutions. We’re possibly luckier than most authors in that we have instant brainstorm partners.

What are you working on at the moment?

Dyson’s Drop, which is Book #2 in The Maximus Black Files. I already have the first draft. So now it’s time to fix all those niggling problems that I’m discovering. 
You have an exclusive here: a French publisher is in discussion with my foreign agent re French rights. Only sticking point at this moment is when I can deliver book #2. So I’d best get cracking on it.

Last but not least, how do you write? Rough drafts first, sentence-by-sentence and not moving on till everything is perfect? How did you approach writing Mole Hunt?

I vary my approach. Sometimes I start off not knowing where my characters are going to wind up – this was the case with The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler. Other times, I need a draft. Because the Maximus trilogy is so long and complex, I really needed to know where that was headed. So I actually have a first draft for book #3, too.

Thanks Paul! Looking forward to reading The Maximus Black Files.

Paul Collins and illustrator Jo Thompson at a signing for their book The Glass House