Today I’m very happy to welcome Chris Ward, a native of Cornwall, England, who currently lives and works in Nagano, Japan. He is the author of 33 published short stories and the novels The Tube Riders and The Man Who Built the World. Chris has very kindly offered to answer a few questions for me and even given a preview of his novel, to whet the appetite of all who read it. So, let’s find out what the fuss is about!
Tell me about the book. What inspired you to write it? What has the response been like?
I always had a rule in my writing never to write the same book twice. While it looks like this is going to leave me poor and unknown forever, when I came to write Tube Riders I decided I wanted to write a big, epic sci-fi adventure because, while I had often written short stories in that genre, my novels had always been more mainstream. I didn’t have much inspiration, so I looked through my short stories and came across one about a group of kids who hang from the side of trains for fun and get in trouble with a rival gang. A couple of hours of brainstorming later I had expanded it into a sprawling dystopian novel.
The response … well, the handful of people who have read it have loved it. I’ve had rave reviews, and I’ve even had fan mail. However, so much stuff is being self-published that it’s been utterly buried under a slag heap of junk. I’ve sold perhaps 40 copies. I’m hoping it’ll be a slow burner and that by the time the second and third parts come out (tentatively summers of 2013 and 2014) it will be starting to catch on. I guess time will tell.
How did you go about creating the dystopian landscape and atmosphere for The Tube Riders? Is it cautionary – it could happen if we take a couple of wrong steps along the way – or purely fictional?
Parts of it are very fictional, such as the scientific advances made by Mega Britain’s scientists. I’ve very aware that it is impossible to cross a dog with a human due to the difference in number of chromosomes, but this is where it goes into Star Wars/X-Men territory and suspension of belief. However, the world itself, with the perimeter walls, the restrictions on travel, the secret police, is very much based on real situations. I live in Japan and am very influenced by the situation in North Korea. We in the West can barely imagine living in a society where you fear for your life every moment of every day or are born into slavery because your grandparents dared to criticise the government, but there are hundreds of thousands of people currently in that situation. Mega Britain is a kind of reflection of that and I tried to make it as realistic as possible. That’s also why everything is in a state of disrepair – the Huntsmen don’t work properly, practically everyone is corrupt … I wanted readers to see beyond all the jumping on and off of moving trains to the dark underbelly of the world beneath, to understand what life is like in a failing society.
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How long had you been writing before you began to take it seriously?
I was about eight years old the first time I remember writing anything. Through my early teens I dreamed of being a young sensation, but I was eighteen before I finished a novel. It wasn’t very good and has never been edited. Nor has my second or third. I started collecting rejections on my fourth novel, written when I was 22. By that time it was my dream to be a famous writer, however I’ve always been someone who liked trying new things so I kept my options open. That’s how I ended up living and working overseas.
Why did you decide to self publish? How has your experience been?
It was pretty much a last resort. I’d been collecting agent/publisher rejection letters for fifteen years and always saw self-publishing as a vanity way out. I was at the point where my writing was good enough to sell to professional magazines and it was this that gave me the confidence in my work to try self-publishing, and the belief that had I been born thirty years earlier I would probably have broken through. I still feel strange about it, because for me it was always about walking into a bookshop and seeing my books on a shelf. That might never happen now.
As for my experience, it’s been slow. I don’t sell much. One thing I’ve learned is that quality has very little to do with what sells and what doesn’t. Luck, coupled with a marketing brain seems to be far more important. I’ve read poorly written rubbish that’s selling hundreds of copies a week. A lot of the bigger selling authors I come across are retired or don’t work, meaning they have the hours to put into all the boring stuff. As someone who works full and part time I have time for the writing but not much else. Plus, I enjoy the writing whereas spending an hour trawling through Twitter kills me. I’d much rather write five pages of another book than bust my gut trying to get one person somewhere to click on my book link.
What advice would you give to any aspiring authors out there?
Write and publish, but don’t get all whiny when it doesn’t work out. Quit complaining about not selling and getting bad reviews. The only way to make sales is to work hard to get your book noticed, and the only way to get good reviews is to get better. Even then, you’ll occasionally get canned. One of the best books I’ve ever read, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger, has something like 500 one-star reviews. That book brought me to tears and the story broke my heart. I thought it was a masterpiece, but clearly at least 500 people strongly disagreed. Now, with self-publishing, you get people publishing five or six years before they can even write properly, then jumping up and down and having a fit if they get anything less than a four-star review. It’s very childish. Along the same lines, it’s really poor form to be jealous of someone else’s success. Some of the arguing I see on author’s forums borders on playground behaviour. These are supposed to be grown adults attempting to be professionals and they’re writing bad reviews of each others’ work, arguing, stalking, and basically acting like little kids fighting over who gets to go first on the slide. Just don’t do it. Switch off the internet, grow up, and use your time to write more, write better.
Excerpt from The Tube Riders:
As the others said their goodbyes and left, Marta stood for a moment, looking out across the park towards the huge elevated highway overpass that rose above the city to the south. Half finished, it arched up out of the terraces and housing blocks to the east, rising steadily to a height of five hundred feet. There, at the point where it should have begun its gradual decent to the west, it just ended, sawn off, amputated.
Years ago, she remembered her father standing here with her, telling her about the future. Things had been better then. She’d still been going to school, still believed the world was good, still had dreams about getting a good job like a lawyer or an architect and hadn’t started to do the deplorable things that made her wake up shivering, just to get food or the items she needed to survive.
He had taken her hand and given it a little squeeze. She still remembered the warmth of his skin, the strength and assurance in those fingers. With his other arm he had pointed up at the overpass, in those days busy with scaffolding, cranes and ant-like construction workers, and told her how one day they would take their car, and drive right up over it and out of the city. The government was going to open up London Greater Urban Area again, he said. Let the city people out, and the people from the Greater Forest Areas back in. The smoggy, grey skies of London GUA would clear, the sirens would stop wailing all night, and people would be able to take the chains and the deadlocks off their doors. She remembered how happy she’d felt with her father’s arms around her, holding her close, protecting her.
But something had happened. She didn’t know everything – no one did – but things had changed. The government hadn’t done any of those things. The construction stopped, the skies remained grey, and life got even worse. Riots waited around every street corner. People disappeared without warning amid tearful rumours that the Huntsmen were set to return.
Marta sighed, biting her lip. Her parents and her brother were gone. Marta was just twenty-one, but St. Cannerwells Park was the closest she would ever get to seeing the countryside, and the euphoria of tube riding was the closest she would ever get to happiness.
She gripped the fence with both hands and gritted her teeth, trying not to cry. She was tough. She had adjusted to Mega Britain’s harshness, was accustomed to looking after herself, but just sometimes, life became too much to bear.
Thanks Chris! If people are interested in reading more, you can find The Tube Riders (and Chris’ other works) at Amazon. Chris himself can be found on Twitter as @ChrisWardWriter, on Facebook, and (naturally) his own blog.