Author Interview with Stuart Aken
Why did you become a writer…was it a dream of yours since you were younger or did the desire to write happen later in your life?
I read widely and voraciously as a child, since we had no TV in the house until I was 14 years old. At that age, I won a prize for a short story at school, and my English teacher made it clear she was impressed by my imagination and expressive prose. But my stepfather was a photographer, my mother a painter, so I had a ‘visual’ upbringing and went into photography as an initial career.
My love of stories, however, won out and I began to write short fiction. After a success with a radio play, Hitchhiker, broadcast on national radio (BBC Radio 4), I was approached by a literary agent who steered me toward TV playwriting. Although a lot of those efforts received praise and ‘showed promise’, I think my themes were too radical for TV producers of the times and none was accepted.
I took to novel writing and self-published my first book, Breaking Faith, a romantic thriller, in 2008, through an initiative sponsored by the Arts Council of Great Britain.
What was the inspiration for your latest work of fiction?
Science fiction has always attracted me, largely because of its obvious potential to project ideas of the possible future. Research, coupled with imagination, is vital for science fiction. Humanity is currently quite focused on Mars as a potential first colony planet and the idea of moving away from Earth, perhaps as a refuge from potential disaster on our home planet, is increasingly popular. So a novel set on Mars seemed timely.
I’ve been a member of Greenpeace almost since its inception in UK, so my interest in our continuing abuse of our home planet also played a significant part in the construction of the story.
The current book is the third, and last, in a series, and deals with a more upbeat facet of the tale, though the underlying threat of AI is also a strong feature.
Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
I always start a piece of fiction with the characters. I’ve no interest in books that treat players as cardboard cutouts. As a visual man, I always seek a suitable picture on which to base my characters, and I have a file with well over 1,000 images of different people all gathered from the internet over the years. Once I can ‘see’ my character, I develop a background, history, political and religious view for them. I give them a family, ambitions and flaws to make them into rounded human beings.
To answer the basic question, I steal aspects from everyone and anyone I know and combine these to form new characters. And, of course, every character has some of me incorporated, since the writing of fiction involves the writer in vicariously living events through the characters created.
What was the most interesting research you had to do for any of your books?
Space, the Cosmos, and space travel are vast subjects and the range of research is equally huge. I used NASA, Wired, Sky and Telescope, and a number of books written by high profile scientists for my information. The trouble is that science is a constantly evolving subject, Mars has new facts appearing almost daily, and our knowledge of the universe expands almost as fast as the universe itself!
Fortunately, I’m interested in all these things, so research was never a task. In fact, there were times when looking at material actually started to get in the way of writing. In the end, I had to accept that the time had come to start the story and hope that no new facts appeared to damage the integrity of my tale whilst I was creating it!
How do you go from an idea for a book to the birth of the story? Is the process the same for every book you write? How long does it take you to write a book?
I start with characters. They’re the driving force and it’s they who guide the route the story takes. But I never plot. I have a vague framework in my mind and I know where I want to end up, but I don’t plan or control the direction of the story.
For me, the creative process means I discover the route as I follow my characters. I’m as surprised by certain twists and turns as I hope my readers will be.
As for timing; the last two books took around nine months each from conception to publication and this current one looks like following the same timetable.
My adult epic fantasy trilogy was begun many years before I wrote it. The map was drawn some twenty odd years before I started the first book of the trilogy.
A book has its own built-in drives and it’s the idea that determines when the story should be started.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers on how to write a book? Do you have any advice for them regarding promoting that book once published?
I give the same advice every time I’m asked. It’s a plea for sincerity and the discipline needed to be a writer. So, I advise everyone who thinks they want to write a book to beg, steal, borrow or preferably buy a copy of Dorothea Brande’s excellent book Becoming a Writer. Before a word of the wannabe’s book is written, I advise they read Brande’s book, follow her advice and do the exercises. This simple process will help them identify whether the writing life is really for them, and may save them a lot of otherwise wasted time and effort. I still revisit some of the exercises from time to time to keep my discipline in line.
As far as promotion is concerned, I’m a useless tutor. I had some very unpleasant experiences in the world of selling when I was in employment and it’s rather soured my attitude to the whole concept of selling. So I have to rely on word of mouth to spread the word. My occasional forays into marketing are difficult for me; uncomfortable in the extreme.
What’s your writing schedule like? When do you find time to write?
In the past, when I was fully employed, I rose early in the morning and wrote for an hour or two before the working day started. I would do more in the evening, but the creative part was definitely better suited to the morning.
I retired from employment five years ago and now write to a less demanding timetable. But it’s still the case that my best output is in the mornings. I do, however, after 47 years of working as a wage slave, consider I’m allowed some time off for good behavior, so I spend time relaxing with my wife and walking in the wonderful forest that surrounds my home village.
How did you find your publisher? What was your journey to publication like?
A writing friend recommended me to my publisher as a contributor to an anthology of science fiction contest winners’ work he was compiling. He asked me to produce a short story as a professional writer. He was so impressed with the tale I submitted (Rebirth, in the anthology Fusion, by Fantastic Books Publishing) that he asked to see any future work.
So far, Fantastic Books Publishing have published my huge (over 600k words) fantasy trilogy, A Seared Sky, republished my self-published novella, The Methuselah Strain, and the first two books in the Generation Mars series.
Before this happened, I’d self published the romantic thriller, Breaking Faith, an anthology of speculative fiction, Ten Tales for Tomorrow, a collection of gentle romance stories, Ten Love Tales, and an erotic tales set, Sensuous Touches. There are other books I’ve either written or contributed to and all details and links to purchasing sites are on my website.
Do you have any writing idiosyncrasies?
Moi? Idiosyncrasies? I don’t know what you mean!
I doubt there’s an author alive without such baggage. As to mine? I suppose the most obvious is my working method as a pantster. I really can’t plot. I tried it once. Wrote 72,000 words of a thriller by hand on lined paper and then tore the whole thing up as a load of rubbish. Oddly, that story still lurks in the dark recesses of my brain. One of these days, I might create some better characters and rewrite it. Who knows?
How have your friends and family received your career as an author? Are they supportive?
Ah, is the prophet ever honored in his own time and land?
Some of my friends have actually bought my books. Some may have even read them. As for family, I come from a relatively small group, and a lot of my people have now passed away; one of the inevitable consequences of growing old! Support has been, shall we say, patchy?
But, my wife is a wonderful support. Valerie reads, and comments on, everything I write. In fact, she’s my beta reader. With a fantastic memory, an excellent working knowledge of the English language and its grammar, idioms and spelling, she finds those odd typos, inconsistencies and occasional errors I fail to discover while editing. And her excellent memory once prevented me making an almost catastrophic mess. Going through book 2 of the fantasy trilogy, she pointed out that I couldn’t have a particular character commit a particular action. When I asked her why, she kindly reminded me that I’d killed off that character in the first book! Although I’d devised a comprehensive spreadsheet to keep track of the 100 plus characters through the series, I’d neglected to flag that one with the telltale sign that he was dead!
Valerie is also supportive of my fairly poor marketing efforts, and does her best to get people to buy and read my books. I’m relatively hopeless at that, so her help is much appreciated.
Many thanks for this opportunity to introduce my writing to potential new readers. It’s a generous and much appreciated act.
About Generation Mars
Generation Mars, a science fiction trilogy set on Mars in the near future, is already published in volume 1 Blood Red Dust and volume 2 War Over Dust. Volume 3 is currently in first draft form and being subjected to the first edit.
War Over Dust can be purchased at Amazon and Fantastic Books Store.
About the Author
Born against the odds to a widowed mother in a neighbour’s bed, raised in an old railway wagon still on its wheels and perched on a crumbling cliff, Stuart Aken is currently engaged in the initial edit of the third volume of a science fiction trilogy. A writer who refuses to be handcuffed to any one genre, he’s written in the fields of romance, thrillers, fantasy, humour, erotic lit, horror, and, of course, sci-fi. He also runs an active website/blog at
A special thank you to Stuart Aken for being interviewed today. You can read Stuart's monthly column at Pandora's Box Gazette on the 3rd Friday.