Geek! Magazine interview
Hello Pete. H. G. Wells, Douglas Adams, Doctor Who – are British authors of your Generation sort of “doomed” to write funny time travel fiction?
PW: No, I don’t think so – I wrote a funny time travel story because I had an idea about people going back in time for their holidays and I thought it was an interesting plot that I’d never seen done before. I guess Britain does have a reputation for its sense of humour and science fiction authors, and being a product of that culture certainly influenced my interests and the tone I wanted to achieve in my writing. But the book I wrote after Time Rep (Note to Self) was much more serious and had nothing to do with time travel, so hopefully I’ve already shown I can break free of that mould to some degree.
What do you think has made time travel stories so appealing to people for such a long time?
PW: I think the appeal of time travel stories comes from the fact that they open up the possibility of a narrative structure that’s completely different to something you would get from another type of story. Time travel offers the reader the chance to visit an incredible variety of locations, it has the ability to offer a unique commentary on the world today by projecting ideas and issues forward to exaggerated conclusions, and most of all, it’s cool!
As well as time travel, you added an Alien-Invasion-conspiracy – didn’t you fear this could be too much?
PW: When I started writing Time Rep, I never intended its world to be packed with so many different science fiction tropes, but the more the story progressed, the more I found myself touching on all the nerdy things I love: time travel, computer games, aliens, giant space battles – the lot. I think if I had set about deliberately thinking about how to marry an alien invasion with a completely separate narrative strand about time tourism, it might not have worked as a story, but in the end the plot just evolved naturally in my mind to what you see on the page today. I guess what I’m saying is that the addition of the alien conspiracy wasn’t forced, so for me it tied together with the time travel plot quite nicely in the end.
Is it more difficult to write a time-travel-novel and transship all errors, logical problems and master all rules – or to write a funny science fiction novel?
PW: I think it’s harder to write a funny story than to just be logical and accurate with your continuity. As an author, avoiding errors in your plot requires you to have decent attention to detail, but being funny is more of an art. It was important for me that Time Rep didn’t take itself too seriously, because when the book starts to bend the rules about time travel later on in the story, the reader might not have been so willing to suspend their disbelief.
Do you really think people would prefer to travel to the great catastrophes, battles and into raw eras like medieval – to all the dark spots in history? And if so, why do you think so?
PW: I think it would depend why people were going back in time. If they wanted a nice relaxing holiday, it might not be the best idea to go back and see the Great Fire of London or the extinction of dinosaurs like Geoff does in the book! But if people were going back to study history, they probably wouldn’t visit the time periods when everyone was sitting around eating cakes and having a nice time. If a historian could go back to any period they liked, I think they would visit pivotal moments in history, and those moments usually involve lots of people hitting each other.
The main character Geoff is a lazy videogame-geek – sorry to ask, but: how much Peter Ward is in him? 🙂
PW: Ha ha! There’s certainly a lot of me in Geoffrey Stamp – particularly the version of me twelve years ago when I first started writing the book. Back then, I was lazy and unemployed too, and whilst a lot of that has changed in my life, I’m still a geek at heart, and I love videogames. I think I maintain a better standard of personal hygiene than Geoff though!
You put the first draft of the novel online, where lots of people downloaded it. After that success, you got your print-deal. Do you think it’s harder to get published than 20 or 40 years ago? We have more publishers, we have E-books, but out there is such a flood of professional and semi-professional stuff and also more than ever competition with other media, isn’t it?
PW: I think the publishing landscape has definitely changed, and on the whole I would say it has been for the better. As you say, the only reason Time Rep got discovered was because I put it on the internet and lots of people liked it – I did approach about 40 literary agents beforehand but none of them were interested, so if this had been 20 or 40 years ago, that would have been the end of it. At the same time though, I do agree that although it is great how the internet empowers people to show their work to the world – be it a musician, an author or whatever – it also means there’s a lot more junk to wade through! We live in a world where we are constantly surrounded by media and encouraged to consume as much of it as possible. At times it can all be a little overwhelming.
You worked over six years on Time Rep and now five years on your second book, right? Is it a economic or marketing problem with such longer time-spans between your novels, especially with a look on authors who fire out 2 or more books a year?
PW: I would have liked to have written my books faster, but I did so around a full time job which made it more difficult. However, it did mean I was paid all that time by my employer and was therefore able to put food on the table! In the future though, I am hoping to speed up – you have to remember that my first two books were written without any kind of book deal, so at times it was hard to find the motivation. But now that I’m published, I’m finding it a lot easier to write quickly and hope to have another one finished early next year.* I do however look at some authors and question how a story can be written so fast without compromising the quality, so I don’t feel compelled to accelerate my writing too much.
Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, original SF blockbusters like Oblivion … the SF is actually on the same multimedia-success-path as Fantasy was, when the first Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies came out. Do you like the mass media-attention and audience, or do you have the feeling that it narrows the individualism and innovation of the SF circus, because it’s only the big hunt for the next franchise and the next work “in the tradition or style of” ?
PW: I think there are positives and negatives when a science fiction franchise achieves mass-market attention. On the plus side, it gives exposure to the original work that might not have reached the same sized audience otherwise. On the downside, companies need to spend a lot of money to amplify the franchise across every consumer platform, so they are less inclined to take any risks to ensure they maximize the return on their investment. This means they often homogenize the story towards a more “tried and tested” formula, watering down the unique aspects of the work to broaden its appeal. All too often, this approach ruins the very thing that made the franchise special in the first place, and I think that’s a shame.
If you could travel in time – where would your very first journey go to?
PW: I would go back in time to November so I could go on my honeymoon again to Hawaii!
Thank you for your Time!
* This interview was conducted in December, so the book I am refering to here is the one I finished in January.