Bard Rock Cafe Episode 21: It's Not My Time
Previous Authors in Isolation: Interview with Aaron Cross
I’m back again with a new author interview! I have a few of these lined up, so I’ll be posting these as often as I can. The next interview is with awesome sci-fi author, Edmond Barrett.
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
Hello, my name is Edmond Barrett. I was born in the town of Warrington in the North West of England but now live in Dublin Ireland and work for the Civil Service. I mostly write military science fiction and published my first book – the Nameless War – in 2011. My writing has also touched on time travel and urban fantasy.
Away from work or the keyboard I am a keen tabletop wargamer. In my youth I fielded a 40K Blood Angels army, these days I flit somewhat faithlessly from one system to another as the mood takes me.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
For me characters are a consequence of plot, at least to begin with. I have a starting point and the character is shaped to fit. As the project develops, the character will start to push back against plot in the form of actions that feel appropriate to that character’s abilities and priorities.
Tell the world about your current project!
I am currently working on the second book of my Contact War series. This is covering a conflict between humanity and an alien race where the two have effectively blundered into war as the result of bad decisions being made for good reasons. The Contact War series is a prequel to my first series the Nameless War and has some overlap in characters.
Who would you say is the main character of your latest novel? And tell me a little bit about them!
There isn’t a single main character as it covers the conflict from multiple points of view – both alien and human – with some never destined (or plotted?) to meet. That said probably the closest to a single main character is Senior Mpetist (no, I don’t know how to pronounce that either), captain of the alien ship that first landed on Earth. She is an increasingly tragic character, whose decisions have done much to bring about the conflict and is painfully aware of this.
Have you been to any conventions? If so, tell me a little about them!
I regularly attend and speak at Octocon –The National Irish Science Fiction Convention. I have also attended Eurocons and Worldcons at Kiev, Helsinki, London and Dublin. I think the London Worldcon is the one I look back on the fondest.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was knee high to a grasshopper. More seriously I can remember childhood efforts at writing and my first SF piece being submitted as part of my GCSE in English (secondary school qualification).
What advice would you give new writers?
Know when to hold them and when to fold them.
The Nameless War was my first published book but not the first I wrote. The first was a fantasy novel that was, to be brutally honest, not very good. I spent years on it before I finally admitted to myself that it was never going to be in my own estimation more than third rate. In contrast, the Nameless War started out as a short story called the Mississippi Incident, which then expanded as the muse called to me. The fantasy novel wasn’t entirely a waste, I learned a lot writing it but would take the lesson that not all ideas are worth following.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding?
History books. I have always had a keen interest in history; it’s a big bag of inspiration that just cries out to be used.
What inspires you to write?
I simply enjoy the act of creation, painting, drawing and model making, over the years I have dipped into all of these.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Character names. That sounds stupid but I go blank. I’ve been known to accidently change a character’s name.
What is your routine when writing, if any? If you don’t follow a routine, why not?
Find a regular time slot in which to write is critical and it doesn’t have to be much time. A good chunk of the Nameless War got written on the train home each day simply because it was a half hour period where I didn’t have any opportunity to do anything else.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write in any of your books, and why?
Worldbuilding. It is the purest part of the creative process. I actually ended up writing a pair of technical manuals on the development of human starships based on the worldbuilding I’d done, mostly for my own entertainment.
Did you learn anything from writing your latest book? If so, what was it?
That I’m becoming more and more interested in the politics of a conflict, rather than necessarily the shouting and the shooting.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?
I go in with a rough idea of where I’ll start and where I’ll end with a few waypoints along the way. I call it my alphabet method, I know where the letter A is and perhaps the letter E, so I have to find a B,C and D that allows me to get logically from A to E.
If you had to give up either snacks and drinks during writing sessions, or music, which would you find more difficult to say goodbye to?
Snacks but to be honest after ten years of doing the lions share of my writing on the train, I can manage without any of them.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
I try to put myself in to the character, some of whom I find a lot easier than others. As I write I start to get a feel for what the characters hopes, fears, ambitions, talents and limitations are. That begins to form a feedback loop and shapes how the character should react to stimulus if they are to stay in character.
What are your future project(s)?
The Contact War is going to keep me busy for the next few years. I have a post-apocalyptic idea in my head but that probably should stay there until it feels less like current affairs.
What is your favorite book ever written?
Now you’re asking. I’m going to give two which I read as a child, which I think bled through into my own writing. The first is Covenant With Death by John Harris which follows a group of men who volunteer to join the British Army at the outbreak of World War One. The story starts with their enlistment and ends with the deaths of most on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The second, Thunder at Dawn by Alan Evans, from which I think I got my tendency to put characters on worn out ships and send them into unwinnable fights.
Who are your favorite authors?
In no particular order:
Juliet E McKenna
What makes a good villain? What makes a good hero?
Rationality at least within their own decision making process. They don’t do things simply because, they do things to achieve an objective. That could I think be linked to the old adage a character should be the hero of their own story.
Whether it makes a good hero or villain I don’t know but one trait I like in both is a character who doesn’t ride a plan down in flames. I like characters who if plan A goes runny, will immediately shift to a plan B even if that’s a plan with big downsides rather than carry on hoping A will work.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Wargaming and model making would be the big two.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
Military museum curator.
Coffee or Tea? Or (exult deep breath) what other drink do you prefer, if you like neither?
I am English and live in Ireland – tea all the way!
You can travel to anywhere in the universe. Where would you go, and why?
I ask only a starship and a star to navigate by.
Do you have any writing blogs you recommend?
The Passive Voice I have found useful and interesting in the past.
Do you have any writer friends you’d like to give a shoutout to?
Pick any three fiction characters. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
Call me unoriginal but we’re going to drive across America. The crew:
Lord Havelock Vetinari from the Terry Pratchett’s Discworld because this trip needs a planner.
Astronaut Mark Watney from the Martian by Andy Weir for when something breaks.
Druss the Legend by David Gemmel for any trouble a long the road.
What are two of your favorite covers of all time? (Not your own.)
The original hardback cover of THUD by Terry Pratchett.
Original paperback of Dauntless by Jack Campbell (although I don’t think the author thought much of it since he mocked it in a later book)
It’s a very difficult time right now for the world. When quarantine and the pandemic eventually comes to an end, what is the first thing you would like to do?
Actually meet people. Zoom calls are now getting very old and I say that as an introvert!
Finally, what is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?