Apr 03 2012
Greetings Cool Peeps,
Please join me in welcoming author Gareth Stokes as my guest this week.
Hi, Molly. Thanks for inviting me. I’m a retired truck driver, teach guitar part-time, hug people and kiss them on the cheek and so far have managed to do so frequently without getting arrested. I write fiction across different genres and read across different genres because I do like variety in all things, live in the southeast of the UK, have a passion for washing dishes, music, idiosyncratic people, sniping about politics, love marmite and grilled cheese on toast, the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, and sneaking into quiet churches to mess about on the big ol’ pipe organ.
A rare occasion when I’m not squirreled away writing. A night out with my girlfriend. I think she’s laughing because I’ve got my arm around her. Most people do laugh when I give them a hug. Don’t know why that is! Maybe I need to change my cologne.
Your novel, 5 Minutes, sounds intriguing. What’s it about? What inspired you to write it?
The core of – and in fact the inspiration for – this story is how children are too often victims of fickle politics. The story includes the execution of the Russian Royal Family in the early 20th Century, the struggle of single mothers in today’s society, even the young men sent to fight in wars, not even out of their teens. In this sci/fi adventure, the spirit of Tsarina Alexandra Romanov cannot rest after witnessing the execution of her children, and travels through time to a universe 5,000 years in the future. She becomes the autocratic leader of the colonised planet, Excel – and creates a duplicate Russian society. Her mission is uncomplicated and merciless: to use the resources of this planet, and those of the Universe itself, to destroy Earth as a savage act of revenge for the death of her children. It falls to the Tsarina’s eldest child, a strong opponent of Excel’s political infrastructure, to head off to Earth in an attempt to save it from destruction. Along the way, the would-be saviour must overcome a number of obstacles, some too bizarre to adequately describe here, and rely upon (amongst other quirky characters) a thinking/bitchin’ spaceship, an android with unreliable programming, and two young children each of whom possess special gifts. Will the Earth be saved?… is a question which teases throughout the novel – and the answer is not necessarily what you may expect.
I find it interesting that your story mixes tragedy with whimsical humor. How do you balance that?
Because this story involves that certain amount of dark tragedy, I felt it necessary to counterbalance this with some flighty humour, which is diagrammed through the characters, certain unethical events, and great chunks of convoluted dialogue. After all, no matter the genre, fiction is so often an imitator of real life – a muddle of tragic humour. We all endure those days or events which are heartbreaking, but also (often in an arbitrary fashion) those days when everything seems somewhat nonsensical and silly. I enjoy fiction that is a microcosm of reality – and reality is almost always a little bit of ugly and a little bit of daft! It’s rather like taking a bitter pill followed by a spoonful of sugar.
You’ve told me that your novel isn’t genre-specific and that it crosses several genres. Please, elaborate.
I knew I wanted to write a science fiction – but not a purist one. Although I was inspired by Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, et al, I had so many motivations from a host of different genre writers that I felt the need to take this story across platforms. So it has history, politics, comedy, adventure, satire, and a little of my own humble philosophical musings. I believe it works – although I would say that, wouldn’t I? … The important thing was to blend these aspects in and around a straightforward adventure story with an underpinning of observational narrative. For which reason there is a character in the story, Adelphi Galvuurt, who is the narrator for much of the book. He gets to comment on the political environment of both the 21st Century and my futuristic dimension of Time. In summary, I gave him an artistic license that I don’t feel I personally am entitled to. (It’s a bit sneaky but it’s jolly good fun craftily whispering through the mouth of your character!)
I love psychological thrillers. I hear that you have one called Universal Language. What’s it about? Where did you get the idea for it?
Once upon a time, in a land far away and a decade almost forgotten… I had a cabaret act, and toured the club circuit in the northeast of England. This provided the germ of the novel’s idea in that the protagonist, Gary Price, has managed to take his ‘act’ one step further than I ever did… he’s on the brink of a big breakthrough. However, family issues have dogged his life and now threaten his ascendance to fame. Troubled by the guilt of past failures, haunted by the reminder of a childhood tragedy, hunted by a perverse killer, now the consequences of that terrible tragedy are forced back into his life by an old school ‘friend’. It’s a story of ambition, failed marriage, struggling relationships with your children… and revenge from a twisted antagonist who is more crazy than Gary ever gets on all the booze in his kitchen cupboard.
How much of you do you put into your books? Does one have more of you than the other?
I would say that 5 Minutes has a fair proportion of my political disillusionment and cynical attitude woven into the narrative. And Universal Language has the backdrop of my early-life musical ambitions and stage performing. But that’s about as far as it goes. For one thing, no one would want to read this unknown author’s thinly disguised autobiography… hell, most of us don’t want to read the autobiographies of so many non-entity Z-list celebrities but we have them shoved in our bookstores – so I aim to keep my fiction as far away as is humanly possible from my real life. For another thing, as tempting as it may be to some writers to use real people and events from their lives, it’s wise to remember a book can sometimes be a mere hop and a skip away from a libel action if you’re not very careful how you portray someone you’ve met. So, not to defy the old adage: write what you know… I really prefer to simply make stuff up! The less it has to do with me the more enjoyable the creative process.
What future writing projects do you have in the works or in your head? Anything you can share?
I’d like to write a cookbook – but I can’t cook. Or one of those self-help ‘How To Improve The Inner You’ books – but I think my inner-me is beyond redemption. Then again, a whim I also have is to write a D.I.Y. manual – but the last time I changed a light bulb I (honestly) broke the light fitting. So I think I’ll go with writing some supernatural-themed short stories for my next project. I need a little break from writing the Big Novel format, Molly.
Do you have any secret quirky writing habits that you’d like to expose to the world RIGHT NOW? ☺
On one side of my desk I have a thermos of tea, and on the other a glass of beer. I make story notes in my phone memory, but frequently forget where I put the damn thing. So I stare at a blank screen until I am able to draft some carefully laid plot lines, which I then proceed to totally ignore by taking the story in a completely different direction. If I get a block, I will just type…anything, anything…even a shopping list – until some sanity comes out of the mess. I like lots of computers around me, even though I can only use one at a time. (I used to prefer writing in my car at scenic locations, but I’m getting old now and need my comfort!) And I frequently listen to TV in the background because if it’s too quiet I can hear my own breathing and that really bugs me.
The world of publishing is changing so rapidly. It’s hard to keep up. Any thoughts about the ever-evolving landscape? Predictions?
I wouldn’t dare make any predictions – big corporations control this environ now where once upon a time book lovers did. It’s all about the accountants, isn’t it? But I am thrilled with this current e-volution, especially through Amazon Kindle. Needless to say it’s opened doors for so many writers who would otherwise end up on an editor’s slush pile simply because that editor hasn’t time to wade through the mass of unsolicited manuscripts. Online and affordable POD publishing has now leveled the playing field so we all get a chance. What comes next?… well, it rather looks like a war between Amazon and the rest of the world, which is a shame. But I would conclude that the market is now more diverse, buoyant and exciting for writers and readers alike.
Where are you from, Gareth? Where have you lived and where do you reside now?
Born in the Midlands of the UK, hauled up north by my parents when I was 15 to a rather rough housing estate ‘cause Dad took a teaching post up there, and I moved down to the London area 15 years later for better employment opportunities. So I’m a hybrid of middle, up, and down the country – and I have the strange dialect to prove it!
I am the eldest of four boys so growing up was a little chaotic, however my dad was a strict disciplinarian so we didn’t get away with too much nonsense – though God knows I tried. I remember of all the times my father told me off, there was one incident when I got caught snogging my girlfriend (I was 12) by the girl’s dad. Well, the outraged father chased me home, my mother threw a fit, and my dad, strangely, just said ‘behave yourself’…. And then winked at me. Ha ha – he had to pretend to be angry when I reckon he was thinking ‘that’s my boy!’… I loved playing soccer, cycle racing, making model aircraft (undoubtedly because Dad was in the Royal Air Force during WW2 and I was childishly fascinated with some of the “adventures” I overheard)… And I recall adding 50 candles to my mother’s birthday cake and watching with horror as they all melted into the icing. Of all the many presents I got over the years, the best two: a guitar and a typewriter. These two gifts shaped my lifelong interests in music and writing. Happy days. ☺
What kind of books do you enjoy reading? Favorite films? Music?
I’ll read anything, Molly. I’ve been through phases – sci-fi, murder-mystery, thrillers, horror…but these days it’s whatever takes my fancy from the product description. (Never mind the cover – it’s the book’s bio that attracts me.) With music I’ve also been through phases – from jazz to rock and all between – but I’m fairly settled now on rhythm ‘n blues and swing. As for films – I like to be surprised. The Book Of Eli was one I watched recently and was thoroughly swept away – brilliant! I do also like thrillers and thought-provoking books and movies, but (and I’m really sorry about this readers) I’m not a big fan of Harry Potter, Twilight, or Avatar. I admire them all greatly for the skill involved to appeal to such a broad audience – but they just don’t do it for me. Should I hang my head in shame?
I’m always interested in the different jobs writers have had. What are some of the favorite and least-favorite jobs you have had?
I’ve been a milkman (Lord, that hurt my feet!), a shop assistant, car valet, photographer’s assistant, logistics & freight officer, car-rental assistant, door-to-door salesman, oh and a host of other jobs all of which paid the bills but none of which gave me any job satisfaction. However, I did enjoy driving jobs, and of course touring the cabaret circuit.
I’ve been forever called picky, but I maintain that we’re all picky creatures. What are you picky about?
I’ll have to snip this answer because (a) I’ve taken up a lot of your web page already and (b) there’s just TOO many to detail. So, summary: Tea… is not hot enough straight out of the kettle – it must be microwaved for 30 seconds / drivers… should never pick their noses at traffic lights or stop signs – unless they’ve got tinted windows and I can’t see them! / Underpants… I can not buy myself – too embarrassed for reasons I don’t understand (which is strange because I can shop for a girlfriend’s ‘Lady Products’ at the pharmacist without any embarrassment but I can’t purchase my own underwear! / self-obsessed people with sky-high vanities… just get off my radar! / fashion police… I’m a scruffy little tyke and proud of my usual attire of pyjamas and bathrobe / And… people who appear on reality TV shows – then act like big celebrities… Yuk, get over yourselves!!!
Any parting words for the masses? Any shameless plugs? Where can people find you online?
Life is like…noooo, I wasn’t going to say a box of chocolates – it’s like a weekend in cabaret. Saturday night, lousy gig, the audience hated my act, I got jeered off stage. Went home thoroughly depressed with myself. Sunday night, exactly the same act as the night before, but it’s a great gig, applause, cheers, encores, and a nice pay-cheque. Everything seems to be a balance of the rough with the smooth. I got a smashing 4-star review for a short story I published, followed by a crushing one-star the day after. I have a day where everything just works out neatly, followed by a day of utter stupid. If you can accept that peak-and-trough life pattern, that all things are a curious mixture of “Excellent!” and “Oh crap!”……..I think you can pretty much deal with anything. Well, try to!
My books are on:
I’m on Twitter
And finally – Goodreads
Thanks ever so much for having me here, Molly. I’ve had a crackin’ good time. Hope your US readers could cope with my Brit spelling! And to any and all of your readers who may be authors, I wish you all sincere best wishes for your writing projects. Good luck all… it may be a jungle out there – but it’s fun to scrape your way through it ☺