So Sam, J& K 4Ever – what is it about?
H: It’s about love in a post-apocalypse. So many books about our future on this planet are about violence and destruction; I wanted to think about two young lovers who have to exist in this future and their determination to love each other despite all the odds against it. Jeyna and Kruge are orphans raised in an oppressive city orphanage under the control of the Warden.
The City of Bluette is run on extreme fundamentalist lines. Boys are educated, girls are not. Around 2017/8 just know that a group not unlike ISIS irradiate the world’s oil supply and all of civilization collapses. You’d be surprised just how fast it goes too. The books takes place sixty years later and the Ministers who run their city have banned everything. Electricity, even combs, everything is an abomination and all are banished to the scraps to be burned.
Jeyna, not yet sixteen is dedicated to Kruge of the same age. But girls are sold to the highest bidders at 16 and Kruge is sent away to the Scraps the day before Jeyna is to be sold. Naturally they are devastated and this is their story of fleeing into the wastelands, totally ignorant of the dangers and wholly ill equipped to survive. It’s like a Road Movie. How they survive in this hostile wilderness is just one element of the book.
What genre are your books? Your previous book ‘Another Place to Die: Endtime Chronicles’ is also pretty bleak. That was set in Vancouver and the Baja I remember.
I guess they are Dystopian. ‘Another Place to Die: Endtime’ is set in the present day. It was stimulated by what if we had something similar to Ebola break out in North America – but faster acting and totally lethal. A pandemic where none of the antibiotics work. How quickly would civilization break down? We already live in a world where antibiotics are failing and superbugs are winning. Here I wanted to give the young protagonists a chance to survive. Kira with her dog Red and Liz and her family escape to the Baja thinking it will be safe, but Liz soon finds out that isn’t so. And a young couple that head out to the Islands and discover that no one is going to let them land. I like setting my characters a challenge and see if they can overcome the odds.
What draws you to this genre?
H: A perfect sense of Doom. I think when I was young I was scarred for life by reading Albert Camus ‘The Plague’; it is still one of my favorite books. Perfectly contained, a microcosm of a walled city where every day you could die and can’t escape.
How much research do you do?
Lots. You can’t just make it up. And I enjoy the reading before I write. Whether a pandemic or any other situation, you need to know just how fast things could disintegrate. What are the government protocols and the likelihood of them being obeyed. With J&K 4Ever, I was researching various doomsday scenarios but wanted to avoid writing that typical guns and bunker psychotic story of brutal survival. I chose to think about the period after all that. Think about how long a car takes to rust to death, civilization will crumble in the same way and everytime it tries to recover – something will get in the way. I just hope people get to the read the book before Trump speeds up the end of the world.
When did you decide to become a writer?
Been writing pretty much since a teenager. I wrote scripts first as I went to film school and those were mostly turned into radio dramas. I enjoyed that period of my life, even if it was the exact opposite of what I intended. Turns out radio need to be very visual. Sadly radio drama has virtually disappeared and there’s a great firewall around the BBC Drama department to prevent anyone else getting in.
Why do you write?
Why do you breathe? It’s not easy question to answer. But sometimes I get very down and think I’ll never have another idea ever and then I can just be driving somewhere or walking by the beach and suddenly there it is. Bang and I’ll know what I will be doing for the next year of my life.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
H: When I am writing, every day. Although I run a web magazine Hackwriters.com, so of course I have to work on that every month too.
Do you have a special time to write? How is your day structured?
I write by hand, take breaks, read it through, try to plan at least one or two chapters ahead so I don’t get too lost and only reluctantly admit it if I hit a brick wall and have to unravel and start again from a key point. I know some writers, like Patrick Ness who write the last line first but there is no way I could do that. With J& K I had an end for a few months, then suddenly knew I needed a different end and that made all the difference to how I perceived the book.
With Another Place To Die, I wrote it twice. There’s a deleted first edition that was more about the adults surviving. Then I decided it would work better without them and totally rewrote the whole book and added new sections that had been a strand I discarded in the first version. I’m not sure I’d do that again, but my Masters was in adaptation from book to screen and so it’s taking a different viewpoint on a book and seeing alternate ways of telling the story emphasizing the visual. I imagine almost every writer wishes they could go back and change something in a book once published. Sometimes it’s hard to walk away from a story and the people you have created. I still think about Kira and Red and wonder what they would be doing on Salt Spring Island now a few years on.
Where do the your ideas come from?
H: Headlines. Situations, Observations – the never-ending capacity for some people to be wholly unreasonable, or resentful; or inhumane. An act of kindness, a feeling about the way things are trending, a feeling of unease… ideas come from any direction.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
H: I like to try things new. In the beginning as I writer I’d be very concerned with plotting, but as I have matured it became more important to develop characters and let them lead the way. My characters are very important to me and it’s hard to let go. I always get very involved in them and the writing process. It’s very real to me. A book I wrote two years ago, Marikka, is based on a real life tragedy about a stepfather who burned down his home and killed his family when facing a repossession by the taxman. Marikka is the daughter who fled the fire thinking she’d be blamed. Her real father has been looking for her for years unbeknownst to Marikka and he enlists the help of a young girl who can read objects, a psychic.
Anya, the psychic was based on a real person I met in Spain. She became a very important part of the story – wholly unplanned for, but it brought the whole book together and if you took her out of the story it would be diminished. It’s recognizing that sometimes a character can evolve beyond what you intended. Readers always ask me to write something more about her.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
H: Getting anyone to read your drafts and comment honestly. It’s a responsibility and hard to get people to commit to reading 100,000 words and making notes. I await notes for my next book, already finished and since it is 130,000 words long, a real labor of love. Sometimes you get surprising comments that are really useful or ones like I got for The Repossession, which was, kill the pig, get rid of the boy, and put down the dog. Happily I ignored all.
There’s nearly always a dog in your stories.
H: Never intentional, but lots of kids have dogs in their lives and they are very important parts of the family, often the only thing they really trust. So Kira in ‘Another Place to Die; Endtime’ is essentially saved by her dog, Red. Their bond is strong and no matter how hard it is to keep a dog alive in that situation, she and the dog are one in her mind and that has to be remembered. In The Repossession trilogy Genie bonds with the farmer’s dog and that’s entirely about needing someone to trust that won’t pass comment. It was the devil’s job to keep that dog there in the story and address its needs. I’d be in the middle of a tense scene and suddenly looking around for the dog, what the hell did I do with the dog…
In J&K 4Ever it was totally accidental that Yip is prominent. But although the dog falls in love with Jeyna, he is trained to betray her and can’t help himself. SO yes, dogs are important to my stories.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
H: There was a slight interruption when I had a heart attack and then my mother died. I had to wait to come back to the story and find my groove. When I write I like to keep going to the end. With J&K I needed to look more closely at what I was saying and where it was going. The break allowed me to question what I was doing and I had to make some changes following feedback that gave Jeyna and Kruge better focus. It’s important to be able to accept a reader may have a different viewpoint to you and might well be right. I chose not to look at a wider America, just concentrate on the immediate horizon of what the kids discover. No one knows what really happened, it’s mostly hearsay. In sixty years the ones left have few skills, are mostly illiterate, disease ridden, scared to move away from what they know. Imagine England after the Romans left. It took just one generation for them to forget 400 years of history.
My next book was similarly interrupted by circumstances, but happily I was on holiday back by my favorite beach in Biarritz and suddenly I was able to start writing again and wrote 50,000 words quite quickly with all the enthusiasm of when I first started it.
What is the easiest thing about writing?
H: I’m not sure there is anything easy about it.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
H: Longer now than it used to be, either I’m slowing up with age or more critical. A bit of both.
Do you ever get Writer’s Block?
H: Not when writing no. Sometimes I wonder where it’s heading but I always heed Raymond Chandler’s advice and if stuck have someone burst through a door with a gun in their hand. That’ll do it.
Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?
H: Go for a walk by the beach in Biarritz. Works everytime for me.
Which country do you like the most to visit?
H: I love the Atlantic beaches in France, the color of the earth in South Africa, the lakes and mountains in British Columbia, the fantastic waves lashing Florida in a storm. (I was in Miami during a hurricane once).
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors.
H: Paulo Bacigalupi is my favorite writer and closely followed by Patrick Rothfuss who wrote 'Name of the Wind' and I’ll toss in Leigh Bardugo who wrote the Grisha series. All of them are hugely imaginative, fluid writers who create amazing characters.
For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
What book/s are you reading at present?
Just finished ‘Heyday’ – a history book about events that took place between 1852 and 1862 – Gold rushes and invasions of Japan and China. The creation of our modern world really.
Tell us about the cover and how it came about.
H: J&K was designed by Dominic Robson, who designs all the Hammer & Tong books. He decided to go for an abstract concept rather than literal look and it’s certainly different. It evolved over a couple of months. I’d originally asked for a rusted cover but he talked me out of it.
Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
How are you publishing this book and why?
H: Hammer & Tong publish all the Sam Hawksmoor books now and it gives me more control. It’s faster than the traditional route and although it is hard to get noticed in this crowded world, they find a niche their own way in the world. All available on Amazon of course and Barnes and Noble to order.
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
Do it better than me.
What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book?
Not enough clearly. Since I never use social media if I can help it. I am a dinosaur.
What do you do to get book reviews?
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
Some reviews are malicious or unthoughtful but overall I have been happy with most. You have no control so best to roll with it.
Why do you think that other well-written books just don’t sell?
H: That’s always a mystery to me. I have reviewed some fabulous books that should be best sellers but for some reason their publisher didn’t get behind them.
What do you think of “trailers” for books?
H: I’d like one but it’s beyond my budget at the moment.
In what formats is your book available?
H: Print and kindle
What is your favorite motivational phrase?
H: As one door closes another one slams in your face
What is your favorite positive saying?
H: I am not known for any positive sayings.
What is your favorite book and why?
H: Catch 22 – funny, surreal, probably the best WW2 novel ever that really captures the absurdity and horror of war.
What is your favorite film and why?
H: Buster Keaton’s The General. It’s audacious, hilarious and shows silent film at its peak. Much was lost when sound was added. Keaton hired a whole army as extras and it cost a fortune to make. I saw it with a full live orchestra and it blew me away.
Where can you see yourself in 5 years time?
Always looking for the next story
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Get a paying profession. Start a pension.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Everytime I think I would like to go back in time I remember everyone smokes and spits and probably haven’t had a bath in at least a year. But I’d love to have a drink and listen to Mark Twain talk.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Keep the day job
Where do you see publishing going in the future?
Robots will write everything. It might even be good.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Go to samhawksmoor.com
© Sara Troy 2020
runs Self-Discover Media and you can tune into her shows here
You can read J&K 4Ever in print or on kindle now