Friday, May 23, 2008

The Stars of Speculative Fiction #13: Simon Haynes


So Simon, things are on the up and up for yourself, with Hal Spacejock 4 on its way soon (following the stylish magnets) and all manner of mention of you on the blogosphere. Your other baby ASIM (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine) seems to be enjoying success too.

1. So what's with this Hal Spacejock series then, how did it start and how are plans for number four going?

Hal's as up as he's ever been, but Clunk's a bit down. Nothing specific, it's just that his batteries are running low and his facial motors are the first to feel the effects. Picture a tin-foil beagle.

The first Hal novel began with a flash of inspiration. I was supposed to be doing some programming, but the idea of an overconfident space guy and his dodgy robot seemed much more interesting. I dashed off 25,000 words, then discovered two things: One, a newborn baby is the best possible antidote to a fiction writing career, and two, actual published novels were a tad longer than my own effort. Discouraged, I gave it all up for the next five years.

By then I was busy studying for a grad dip in computer science. The lectures started around 6 or 7pm, and I used to get there from work at around 5. It was so close to my workplace it wasn't worth going all the way home in between, so I had a couple of hours to kill twice a week. I started dragging a laptop along with me, and before you know it I'd rediscovered Hal Spacejock and Clunk. I used to sit up the back of the lectures, writing new scenes on the laptop.

There are so many times when I could have zipped up the writing folder and stashed it away forever. To be honest, I don't like to think about it.

Number four will be hitting shops across Australia and New Zealand on the 1st of June. We're having a book launch at Dymocks Carousel on the 27th (details on the website)

There's a huge announcement coming from my publisher at the end of May, but I'm not even allowed to hint at it. We've been having clandestine meetings in coffee shops, and sweeping the places for bugs and reporters after every cup.

Ooh, sounds very exciting, I'm looking forward to hearing about that!

2. Is it true you are going to write fifteen Hal Spacejock novels and if so why that number?

I used to joke with the staff at Dymocks Carousel about this. I pointed to the whole shelf of Pratchett books in their crowded displays and said the only way I'd get a row like that to myself was if I wrote fifteen books. Two copies of each = 30, which would fill a shelf nicely.

Over time it changed from a joke to a goal. I don't know whether I have 15 Hal books in me, because I'm determined not to repeat myself and I don't want the series to get stale. On the other hand, I have half a dozen workable plots lying around and I keep coming up with more of the things. It's a huge galaxy, after all.

*nods* Would be interesting to read them all though...

3. How did ASIM come about and what's your current involvement with it?

There was a discussion on the Eidolon mailing list about the lack of markets for old fashion pulp fiction. Where was the SF from the golden age? We all wanted to write (and read) stories which weren't all deep and meaningful, just entertaining and fun. I piped up with the Andromeda Spaceways name and after that we got serious about it.

The launch at Convergence was a blast. I think we even won the Ditmar for that presentation.

I've gradually been handing my ASIM duties over to others, simply because maintaining the website has become a bigger and bigger job. I did a complete rewrite earlier this year, and once we started putting original interviews and book reviews on the site, it became more of a publishing venture in its own right than a set of static pages.

It's well worth checking out.

It is indeed, I am a subscriber and think it's a good way to check out new writers!

4. What tips would you have for writers reading this interview, generally, and writers wanting to get into an ASIM magazine specifically?

Write to entertain, not to impress.

Heh! But what if you can do both?

5. Who got you started with your writing? Who are your biggest influences?

My high school English teacher at Como SHS. It was Year 11, and I'd only been in Australia about two months so everything was new and strange. (I grew up in Spain and the UK.) Anyway, she set the class a story writing assignment, and I knocked out a horror effort about a guy using this steampunk-ish contraption in his basement to kill off half the neighbourhood from a distance. The last line revealed he was only trying to build a machine to turn water into booze.

It was all very Twilight Zone (even though I didn't know what TZ was at that point – growing up without a TV does that to you) but my teacher liked it so much she asked me to read it to the class. My desire for publication (and an audience!) was probably born in that instant. It was another ten years before I wrote the first sentence of Hal Spacejock though.

I always mention Asimov, Clarke and William F. Temple because they were the first SF authors I encountered. And Tolkien, even though I don't write fantasy.

6. This brings me to my next question about your multiculturalism *wry grin*. Do you consider yourself an Aussie, an Englishman, a Spaniard even and what do you think living in these three countries has brought to your writing?

I've lived in England for eight years, Spain for eight years, and Australia for 25 years. I have dual nationality (Brit/Aussie), but it's very hard to shake off those early eight years of my life in England. All my family – barring my brother and my parents – lived in the UK, so that was 'home' all the time we lived in Spain. After we moved to Australia, Spain seemed like an extended holiday and England still felt like home. Twenty-five years is a long time, though, and I'm well settled here.

Experiencing those three different cultures gives me something to draw on when I write. (Britain in the late sixties/early seventies was a very different place to modern Australia, so bear with me while I regard it as another culture.) Spain to me was dirt tracks, motorbikes, air rifles and a local school whose entire teaching facilities consisted of wooden desks and the chairs we sat on. Teachers were happy to belt the kids when they misbehaved, too. If you haven't sat in a classroom where teachers have that total and absolute power over you, I can tell you it's nerve-wracking.

Belts and a bit of wood, sounds like Northern England...

7. What do you do when you're not writing then?

Programming! I get more than a hundred emails every day about my software – pleas for help, suggestions for new features, lost registration codes, you name it. It's a full time job for three people, but I do my best.

Eek, sounds like... fun...

8. As an honourary Australian, what's your opinion on the health of the Australian spec fic industry just now?

Booming. When we started ASIM there were three or four mags putting out one issue a year, if that. One of our the first things we decided to do differently was publish frequently, and on time. Six issues a year allows us to publish fifty or more stories instead of the 7 or 8 per year other contemporary mags were offering. We also threw our subs open to all, not just Australian writers, and were amongst the very first to accept submissions by email.

Not that quality suffers – we have a three stage slush process which means most submissions are read by a minimum of two and a max of five or six people ... plus the editors, if they get through to the last round.

As for full-length novels, Fantasy seems to be doing very well in Australia but local Science Fiction is a radioactive wasteland. We seem to import an awful lot of UK science fiction writers though ... hence my all-consuming desire to see the Hal Spacejock books published there. Turn about and all that.

*nods* Fantasy seems to be doing very well everywhere at the mo...

9. You've participated in NaNoWriMo three times now. How has that worked and what are your views on the whole concept, especially as it has come under a lot of criticism over recent years?

I love the whole concept. For the past three years I've handed in one book just before the end of October, after months of incredibly intensive work, only to leap into Nano on the first of November.

At its most basic, NanoWrimo gives me fifty thousand words of raw material to work with. I cherry-picked scenes and ideas from my 2005 and 2006 efforts to create the latest Hal Spacejock novel, and I've no doubt I'll do the same for the next.

I have a yWriter project with over a million words of Hal Spacejock scenes in it. Some are older versions of those in the four books to date, but there are also three incomplete Hal novels and a load of dead ends. It's my own personal Spacejock mine, and as long as I keep doing Nano every year I'll have material to last me for many novels to come.

As for the criticism ... a lot of it seems to focus on the fact that very few NanoWrimo efforts amount to a publishable novel. As you can see from my previous comments, that's missing the mark by a huge margin. I usually write 150,000 words or more to produce one 80-90,000 word novel, and even though the additional words might never be read by anyone else, they're a vital component in the construction of the finished book.

You can either write lots and keep the best bits, or you can attempt to write only the best bits and nothing else. I prefer the former.

Agreed, I've tried (and failed) twice now but have some pretty juicy material for future books!

10. Totally off the beaten track here but it's bizarre enough that I have to ask: what's this thing about you not watching a TV series until it's completely finished and then getting the DVDs?

Well, first off I'm not programming my life around a TV schedule, because that's completely backwards. I work from home so there's no need for me to be up to date on all these TV shows, because I don't hear spoilers and I don't have to discuss “last night's episode” with any workmates around the water cooler.

Also, shows get cancelled at the drop of a hat, and it's incredibly irritating to get to know a bunch of characters only to have them left hanging because some suit decided the series wasn't selling enough air freshener, toilet paper and razor blades.

So, I picked up the whole boxed set of Buffy 2-3 years after the season finished. Ditto Angel. Ditto Stargate SG-1. You get the whole series arc in one box, you can watch the things whenever you want and you know they're not going to pull the rug from under your feet.

Also, I quit watching TV around 1994, so there are tons of older shows I can catch up on. By the time I've seen the best of them, current shows like Lost and Heroes and (insert show of the month) will be done, dusted and selling in mega-boxed-sets. Let them sit on the shelf for a year or two, then pick them up at a reasonable price.

The other thing is, the average 1-hour show lasts 40-42 minutes on DVD. I save 18 minutes per episode over watching the same show crammed with ads, or nearly seven hours over a season. That's an awful lot of writing time to spend watching sales pitches for air freshener, toilet paper and razor blades.

This is very true, I tend to watch them without the ads too (not saying how) but don't know if I could wait - I mean BSG...

Thank you so much for agreeing to this Simon, I wish you huge success with Hal Spacejock 4 and I hope all goes well with the launch next Tuesday. I look forward to the other 11 books in the series too!

Thanks! There's a major piece of Hal Spacejock news which all SF Humour fans worldwide will find much more interesting than the Australian Book launch, but I can't reveal what it is because this interview appears before the 1st of June embargo date. So, I've set up a page on my site which they can bookmark:

Hal Spacejock Free Gift

Just hit refresh on the 1st of June, and the news will be revealed ;-)

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