Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Author Interview: DAVID SMITH

Interview with DAVID SMITH

David Smith lives & writes books and short stories from his idyllic coastal home in beautiful West Wales. His books are always easily accessible and he believes nothing beats a cracking good story full of surprises rather than literary references. He’s written nine books so far and over 70 of his stories have been published in various anthologies, magazines, and on literary websites.
His latest book 'Whistleblower' is a Scifi / Horror detective story. The world is blighted with killer kids, but they’re just a symptom of something much more sinister. It’s a white knuckle ride for our two heroes to save Earth from a very nasty end.
David has three collections of Ghost / Horror stories, “Guests of Horror,’ ‘The Last Train Home,’ and ‘Peek-A-Boo.’ All are packed with spine-tingling stories to thrill, chill, and sometimes make you laugh.
'Seeds of Freedom' is a fast paced detective / political thriller set in a sleepy Welsh seaside town with dark secrets. Its sequel, 'The Seed Cloud,' is set amid the chaotic new world of Wales at the mercy of a terrorist organization.
'One Bad Penny' is a thriller about events leading up to, and the aftermath of, an industrial disaster and its impact on the town and its inhabitants.
David's other two books 'One Bad Gig' and 'Another Bad Gig' are hilarious comedy dramas following the ups and downs of an incident prone hapless gigging musician.
Read more about David and his books at his official website.
Contact David directly at info@davidsmithbooks.co.uk.

You have a new novel coming out, a science fiction/horror thriller in the style that you say is comparable to Raymond Chandler.
Whistleblower is a detective thriller but with a science fiction/horror theme. It’s written in twelve equal episodes, each one ending with a cliffhanger. It’s been tightly written, keeping the descriptive and embellishments low so the plot is very fast with plenty of reveals and twists, a real gripping, action packed page-turner. It’s set in the very near future, virtually now but an Earth where something has gone very wrong with some kids across the world. They sneak out at night and kill randomly and in a very violent way. The hero is a detective whose job it is to catch them. He meets a beautiful woman who claims to know why they kill and that they’re a mere symptom of something much more sinister happening. Once the two are together it’s a helter-skelter race to uncover the truth and save mankind from a very nasty fate. The book is being published by James Ward Kirk and will be available through his distribution channels, Lulu and Amazon.

How much material has Raymond Chandler written in his time and how has reading his body of work spoken to you?
Raymond Chandler was a detective fiction and Hollywood screenwriter who became prominent in the genre in the 1930’s. His books are classics and include; The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely and The Long Goodbye. His hero is a tough private eye who is streetwise and always one step ahead of the cops. The stories are always rich in plot twists, fast paced and gritty. I love the writing because his books are action/plot driven, not fattened up with pointless facts, literary references or over-descriptive embellishment.

Were there authors you read when younger who made you want to write fiction professionally?
Not really, although as far back as I can remember I was an avid reader especially of the adventure writers, e.g. the Edgar Wallace ‘Sanders’ stories about Africa. I remember I’d read humor books from cover to cover then read them again. There were two in particular, The Magic Christian by Terry Southern, and Hyman Kaplan by Leo Rosten that were influential. Humor isn’t easy to get right. What’s hilarious to me might be crass to someone else. The two comedy drama books I’ve written (One Bad Gig and Another Bad Gig - novels about a hapless entry level musician) were both fun and cathartic to write. I was a semi-pro musician for many years and it was great fun weaving actual events that happened to me or people I knew into the stories.
The reason I became an author was this. My brother is a retired Environmental Officer. One evening when we were having a quiet drink I asked him what he missed about his job. ‘I’ll tell you what I don’t miss,’ he said, then went on to tell me a fascinating story. He was responsible for inspecting safety systems at certain factories. One was a rubber manufacturing plant at a seaside town. The plant was virtually dilapidated and badly run, and the local authority he worked for so weak he could do nothing to force the owners to make the place safe. Retirement meant he was no longer responsible for a factory he believed would one day blow up with such ferocity it’d destroy the town. I was so taken with his story that I decided to write a fictional version, hence my first book One Bad Penny. I’ve kept on writing ever since.

Did The Magic Christian and Hyman Kaplan help influence your writing in any way?
They are funny but didn’t really make me want to write comedy drama. This was entirely down to my experiences gigging. You meet some wonderfully bizarre characters and the weirdest things happen, all great material for books. For example, there’s a chapter in One Bad Gig where the hero’s four piece covers band performs its inaugural gig inside a high security wing of a hospital for the criminally insane. The audience consists entirely of nine of the most dangerous men in the country, and nine security guards/male nurses to protect the band. Weird things happen (obviously). This is written not far off exactly as it happened to me when a band I’d just formed did its first ever gig at Broadmoor high security hospital in the UK.

Are there any contemporary science fiction authors you are reading these days?
I spend most of my free time writing these days. If I pick up a Scifi it tends to be something I know and re-read to study the writer’s technique.

How closely did One Bad Penny reflect the real life story your brother told you of that day?
Technically very closely (except for the disaster of course - this hasn’t happened yet!). There is a catastrophic event called a BLEVE (boiling liquid expansion violent explosion) at the heart of the story. I researched the rubber making process, chemicals and plant involved so that what happens in the book could actually happen in real life if the right circumstances arose.
Having said that I received a message from a retired engineer who used to design and build similar processing plants. He pointed out two errors, one being the size of the safety disc I used in the process line and the other being the use of rivets in the outer casing of the reaction chamber. Other than that he complimented me for a cracking good read.
Regarding the story, the interplay between the business and the local authority enforcement body, and its reluctance to take action that might cost jobs was about in line with my brother’s experiences.

How much research did you do into the rubber making process so the events in One Bad Penny seemed realistic?
I researched the ingredients used and manufacturing process sufficiently. As my brother is a process chemist, he ‘health checked’ my work before it was published. The one thing I could have researched more was the construction equipment used in the processing plant. About the email from the retired engineer who pointed out minor technical errors: one day I must get round to correcting those! I’ll add it to my job list.

Are your comedy-dramas One Bad Gig and Another Bad Gig still available for purchase or download?
Either on Amazon or through my website, www.davidsmithbooks.co.uk

When did you become a fan of science fiction and what movies of TV programs were you a big fan of?
When I was a kid I used to read DC comics, Superman, Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman etc. I couldn’t get enough of them. Star Wars (the original) was groundbreaking when first released, as were Close Encounters, Alien and 2001, but my all-time favorite Sci-Fi movie is Blade Runner. It oozes class in every frame. When it comes to TV I prefer concepts and stories over special effects, and the closer to present day normality the better. For example Les Revenants in my opinion is exceptional in the concept, the dead just turning up on your doorstep as if nothing’s changed.

What struck you about Blade Runner, between the sets, the effects and the storyline?
It’s just class from start to finish, the story, the photography, the acting, the effects, even the musical score. It’s amazing to think it nearly didn’t get finished. It was produced on a shoestring budget, and the hotel used had to be clad at night then the cladding removed in the morning every day of the shoot so the hotel could trade.

I haven’t seen Les Revenants yet; how many seasons did it air on TV this far?
It’s originally a French series and I believe two seasons have been made. I think there’s an American version called The Returned that has run one season. There was also a French movie made some time back. It’s a remarkable concept, the dead coming home behaving as if everything was normal and carrying on with their lives.

Is Whistleblower your first novel being published by James Ward Kirk? How long have you been corresponding with him?
I first contacted James relatively recently and asked if he might like to look at my work. He’s been extremely positive and encouraging, and a breath of fresh air. Whistleblower will be the first of my books to be published by James but this will be followed almost immediately by two of my ghost/horror short story collections, The Last Train Home, and Guests of Horror. All should be available in June/July if things go to plan. Whistleblower Retribution, the sequel to Whistleblower, is completed and hopefully will be available soon after. James is also interested in looking at some of the other books I’ve written in different genres, specifically Seeds of Freedom, a political crime thriller about the rise of an IRA style terrorist group in Wales, and its sequel, The Seed Cloud.

During what time were your fictional pieces published in Guests Of Horror and The Last Train Home written?
Guests of Horror was my first collection, and that was completed in September 2015. My wife loves Christmas ghost stories. I wrote my first ever ghost story (The Dare) for her as an extra Christmas present in December 2014. The stories kept coming so I kept writing. I submitted The Dare and some of the later stories to anthology publishers, magazines and e-zines and had almost all I submitted were accepted (over 70 to date) which was very encouraging.
Stories for The Last Train Home were written from September 2015 and the collection completed in November that year. I had another two projects running at the time so I ‘parked’ The Last Train Home until the others were well in hand. The two other projects were: Peek-A-Boo, a collection of short ghost/horror stories specifically for young adults – this has just been published by Horrified Press and Whistleblower – this will be released in early June as will TLTH.
I parked The Last Train Home so I could complete Peek-A-Boo and Whistleblower. Peek-A-Boo is now published and Whistleblower should be available early June.

Of all your short fiction collections, which of your stories left the most lasting impression? What aspects of those pieces most stood out?
The Medium is a story about a mother and daughter that go to see a Medium’s show. The Medium focuses on the daughter and to her horror tells her she has a twin sister she didn’t know about and she’s watching her every time she looks in a mirror. The mother confesses that there was a twin and she was murdered when they were both very young. The ending is mine but the rest actually happened in a Medium’s show was at once. I went to see the show for a laugh and came away convinced there’s a spirit world existing in parallel to ours.
Nematodes is a story about a man-made disaster where genetically modified nematodes designed to control garden slugs chomp their way into adult’s brains leaving kids to fend for themselves. What’s resonant with me with this story is the GM debate. We’re constantly told by the establishment that GM products are safe, but who’d trust a politician with the planet’s future? I genuinely believe it’ll be something as dumb as happens in my story that’ll see off mankind.

Did anything specific about the GM debates inspire Nematodes? Do you know anything about GM products that politicians don't discuss publicly?
The inspiration for this story was a radio article by a naturalist in a gardening program. In this he informed the listeners that nematodes were the most ubiquitous and successful creatures on the planet. They’re everywhere. Some specifically live on the human body and in eye lashes. I’d hardly heard of them. Also, in the article the guy was extolling their use to control garden slugs. Next up was a guy from big agriculture banging on about how safe GM crops were, and that all the anti- campaign activity was backward thinking. I thought, ‘hey, what if?’
My deep mistrust of politicians and food goes back to the CJD (Mad Cow’s Disease) outbreak in the UK. We had a politician over here feeding his kid burgers on TV to show how safe the meat was (What a jerk!). At that time part of my job was visiting meat processing plants to assess their safety & hygiene. I’ll say no more but I’m amazed there was never a CJD epidemic in the UK. However, the incubation period for CJD can be 30 years so it may still happen.

How long before the completion of Whistleblower were Seeds Of Freedom and The Seed Cloud written? What inspired writing a two part narrative about an IRA like organization?
Seeds of Freedom was completed in September 2013, and The Seed Cloud completed in September 2014. The Welsh are very proud of their nation, and friendly, peaceful, tolerant people. I live in West Wales. It’s remote and beautiful but nothing world shattering happens here. But the ingredients for the creation of a nationalist separatist movement are as present here as they are in places like Northern Ireland, Basque Spain or Kurdish Turkey.
The inspiration for the books came from an idea I had walking across the magnificent bridge that spans the Barmouth estuary. At that time Prince William was crewing Sea King helicopters for the Sea Air Rescue service. They regularly carry out training exercises in the estuary. A sniper could easily bring down a Sea King from the mountains beside the bridge. If the Prince was assassinated by a Welsh separatist group the country would quickly polarize and all hell would break loose.
Seeds of Freedom is written in two parts, the first dealing with a bizarre incident on the beach that leads to several murders. The second part is the investigation into those murders. The central character (a strong minded female detective) uncovers a plot to assassinate the Prince and discovers those running the secret organization behind the plot hold powerful positions deep within the British establishment, knowledge that puts her in great danger.
The Seed Cloud is set two years after the conclusion of Seeds of Freedom. Wales is in the grip of the terrorist organization, (LAW - Liberation Army of Wales) but this has been usurped by criminals. In an effort to contain it the army has occupied the country. The police are virtually powerless between these two opposing sides. Then another secret force emerges, capturing and killing the corrupt on both sides. Our hero has to walk a tightrope between all three in her quest for justice for those brutally murdered in the struggle for power.

How much research on separatist movements and terrorism went into the writing and production of Seeds Of Freedom and The Seed Cloud?
Quite a lot, e.g. the structures of a number of British establishment organizations, Ministries, Metropolitan Police, Special Branch, Welsh Police forces, WECTU (Welsh anti-terror special forces), the command structures of typical terrorist organizations, weaponry, police forensic techniques, explosives use, Sea Air Rescue methodology, simulated disaster planning, and so on.

Did your research about those organizations come from books or the internet or both? What were the most informative sources you found?
Both. The internet was probably the quickest and easiest to tap into. There was no specific single font of all knowledge, except perhaps my brother, as he could add color through his real life experience anecdotes. He was the source of the original true elements of the story.

How many anecdotes did your brother offer you while you did your research?
My brother is also a writer but of not fiction. He’s had published factual books about Victorian engineering, railway development and the pioneers involved. So, when I suggested writing the book about the BLEVE he was all for it. After the first few paragraphs it became obvious we both wanted to write entirely different books telling the same story. His would be a ‘nobody’s fault’ technical story about how compounded minor errors build to a disaster. I wanted to write a ripping yarn with a hero, and the bad guys getting their comeuppance at the end. He dropped out and I wrote One Bad Penny.

While reading your description of Whistleblower I was reminded of old sci fi serials from the 1930s as well as A Clockwork Orange. Were those partly inspirational or were there other influences?
Neither, although I’m a great admirer of Burgess’ book (A Clockwork Orange) – extremely tight writing and brilliant economy of words/imagery. I was on holiday once, bored, and picked up a book by Simon Kernick called ‘Relentless.’ It was so fast paced I couldn’t put it down. Another book, ‘The Broken Shore’ by Peter Temple has been influential due to its extremely vivid imagery, strong, complex plotting, multi-layering and economy of words. Both writers use different styles in other works but an amalgam of the styles used in these two specific titles is what I’ve tried to emulate in all my thrillers.
Regarding the storylines, they’re all mine and I hope unique and original. I like to create situations so nasty that it’s virtually impossible to extricate the good guys from them. Then I have to work extra-hard to save their hides.

Do Simon Kernick and Peter Temple have extensive bodies of work to their names? How do their writing styles differ?
Simon Kernick has over twenty detective novels and Peter Temple nine or ten, I think. Simon Kernick is much faster paced and less descriptive. Peter Temple is slower burning but extremely good at imagery. He can produce vivid pictures in your mind from very economical writing.

What made you decide to divide Whistleblower into twelve parts? Was it because of its length or the amount of ideas you had in mind for it?
The first part of Whistleblower was originally written as a short story, and was accepted into an anthology. I was asked for more of a similar type. I took another look at the story and realized it had been left with so much still to happen. So, I set about writing another episode, same style, and same length, in line with the requirements of the anthology. However, the episodes just kept on coming and it grew to become a full blown novel. I decided to keep the same format so it could be serialized. Between Whistleblower and Whistleblower Retribution there are 24 episodes each of 6,000 words. I think the characters and story potential are strong enough for at least two further books to follow, possibly more.

Who are the main characters of Whistleblower and what sort of situations you place them in during the course of the story?
The main characters are: Jake Redwood – the hero, a detective in the SOS (Security of Species force), a tough, streetwise cop hunting down the killer kids. Jane Kreiff – The beautiful alien stranger that becomes his co-investigator. Krillik – An alien mercenary working for Grow, an evil organization that seeds then brutally harvests planets. Noone – Representative of The Powers, the ultimate governing force in the universe, sent to Earth to monitor Grow’s genocide of mankind.
The story’s fast paced from the get go with so many bizarre things happening, but a few examples are: our heroes being attacked by the Zygs (aliens that look like eight year old kids that kill by tearing the face off their victims), encounters with Dreeks (Neanderthal-like alien thugs that do Krillik’s dirty work), encounters with Torps (aliens that can plant visions in people’s minds to control them), being hunted by a bloodthirsty redneck in a forest, and being attacked by a Traffic cop with a limpet mine.

How much of a process was fleshing out the characters of Whistleblower?
There wasn’t as much character development in this compared to other books I’ve written. This was because I was writing within a 6,000 words per episode framework, so character background and growth had to be tight. For example, I never had Jake Redwood sitting back in his rocker on his porch sipping whiskey and ruminating about his childhood and lost loves. There wasn’t the space. Character development and scene description had to be kept to a minimum so the complex plot and helter-skelter action could be maximized.

Even without the character development, will readers have a workable sense of each character in Whistleblower?
There is sufficient character development in Whistleblower, I believe. It’s just that I’ve been economical with it in favor of pace and action due to the restrictions. I wanted to keep the book within a 12 x 6,000 word episodic structure so it could be serialized. The reader should know Jake, Jane, Noone and Krillik very well by the end.
The tight word discipline stems from writing short stories, something I’ve only turned to relatively recently. When I first started submitting short stories I was gobsmacked when editors hacked my efforts down to the bare bones. But the stories were much better for it with tighter, more economical and more impactive writing.
My advice to any wannabee novelist is to firstly get your word craft lean and fit by writing a handful of flash fiction stories before embarking on the long journey of a novel. The end result should be a much less flabby read.
That said, if writing heavily descriptive stories floats your boat then all power to your elbow. It’s a matter of personal preference, I suppose. I have a short attention span, so, if I can’t get through the flab of a book in the first chapter I probably won’t finish it.

Was your transition from writing short stories to longer novels as you developed your writing?
I started writing long novels first. My short story writing came much later. I’d already written five books before I got into short stories. However, the tight discipline that comes with short story writing was invaluable when it came to writing Whistleblower and Whistleblower Retribution.

Does writing your novels in a fast pace make them easier to grab the readers’ attention?
I think so. I find a number of brilliant writers hard to access because of the slow pace. I must confess I’ve never managed to complete a full Charles Dickens novel, and never got past page three of Ulysses, whereas a John Grisham has me hooked before the end of the first page right the way through to the last line.
You also need to grab the reader in the first paragraph if you can. For example, this is the first paragraph from Seeds Of Freedom: “I’m sixty-four years old, retired and in good health, and live a quiet life alone in a small house near a sleepy seaside town on the Welsh coast called Abermôr. I have no real vices, a small circle of close friends and, to my knowledge, no enemies. This is the first person I’ve ever killed.”
I hope this is the kind of opener that would pull in a reader straight away. If what follows is at a helter-skelter pace then hopefully you’ll keep the reader engaged to the very last page and beyond.

Does the fast pace of your novels usually include an equally fast pace in your cliffhangers?
I like my stories to grip the reader from the start right up to the last sentence of each episode and final action scene. This is certainly the case for One Bad Penny, Seeds Of Freedom and The Seed Cloud. For Whistleblower the pace eases ever so slightly for a page or two after the final action scene but hopefully the reader will understand why this was necessary when they read the story. The sequel, Whistleblower Retribution, is also crazy-paced and chilling right up to the last sentence.

How soon after the start of Whistleblower Retribution does the pace begin to pick up? Given the fast pace of both novels, how did you intend to conclude the second chapter in the Whistleblower saga?
Immediately - from the first paragraph then non-stop right till the final sentence. (reader- hang on to your hat!). The second book ends on a real teaser and a nice twist, paving the way for a third book.

How soon are Whistleblower and Whistleblower: Retribution going to be published? Will they be published in print or made available in download form?
Whistleblower should be available within the next week or two and should be available in hard copy and as a download through James Ward Kirk distribution channels, Amazon and Lulu. Whistleblower Retribution is written and at the final proofing stage. The publication date hasn’t been set yet but it should be pretty soon.

Do you have any ideas in mind for new novel or a new series? How soon do you plan on writing new material?
I’ve just completed writing the pilot screenplay for Whistleblower. It was terrific fun and I believe works extremely well. You can pack a lot more in a script that would never work in a book, surprisingly, especially the gory sequences. There’s easily enough material in the two books for 24 episodes so I want to see how far I can get with this before I start another book. Having said that, I have an idea for a Scifi / Horror comedy drama that I’d love to write if I can find the time.

-Dave Wolff

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