1) Tell us about your current or last science fiction novel. What is it about and how did you come up with the concept? The novel I’m currently writing is called ‘Arcane Lights’. It’s the first novel in a planned trilogy called ‘A Shadow Among the Stars’. I say trilogy, but in truth it’s going to expand far beyond that. I have a solid plan for this trilogy, and then some vaguer ideas about the expansion that need some fleshing out. The idea is to create a self-contained trilogy that will belong, and compliment, a larger series within the same universe. So, while this is quite an intimate, neo-noir take on the sci-fi genre, it will eventually open up in to something wider and more expansive. ‘Arcane Lights’ itself is set on Earth, at a distant point in the future. The planet has been invaded and ravaged by an alien race called the Varden. The war with the Varden happened 150 years before the start of the novel, and Humanity were only able to drive the alien forces away with the creation of their human / cybernetic hybrid warriors called Psions. The war left nearly the whole planet irradiated and the remnants of Humanity living in the two-tiered country of New America, ruled by the ARC Government. This country is heavily defined by a gulf in social classes, with the richest of the population living on Upper New America, while the lower classes struggle to survive in the cramped darkness of Lower New America. Seeing the crippled state of Humanity, the Varden return and plan to use the social injustice to make Humanity turn on itself. Coaxed by the subterfuge of the Varden, the gangs of Lower New America begin a conspiracy to bring down the ARC government, and only the Psions have the ability to stop this from happening. The concept for this series started as early as my teens, born from my love of the tech-noir films from the 1980s and 1990s, such as Blade Runner, Brazil, Dark City, et al, and more prominently the dystopian novels that are so fundamental within literary history, such as Nineteen Eighty-Four, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, A Canticle for Leibowitz, and so many more. I had nurtured the ideas for this series for nearly two decades, and last year decided that I had a fully formed plan of what I wanted it to be. Using the influence of these quite intimate novels, I created my own world, very different to what they envisaged, but held up with the same backbone. Eventually, this story will build momentum, evolving from that intimate tale of a planet on the brink, to a vast, encompassing sci-fi odyssey that will question the very nature of Humanity’s avarice. 2) How did you get started writing science fiction? Speculative fiction has always been at the forefront of my passions. As you can see from above, everything I love, be it books, films, or games, are based around this single, fundamental idea. And of all the media, books have always been my favourite. When in school I had a natural propensity for the extravagant nature of writing, managing to dredge some truly expressive stories even though I didn’t have the skill required to properly elucidate on them. I had always wanted to write a novel, especially when I was younger, based around science fiction and fantasy, but never truly believed I had the skill to do it. And, in all honesty, at that time I didn’t. I was an impatient person, who liked to be able to do things straight away, and my first attempts at writing were truly awful. To this day, I still look back on some of those earlier excerpts (I keep them for those periods of self-reflection that I think every writer has at one point or another, where they think they are not progressing at all) just to see how far I’ve come. And so, for a few years, I gave up. It was only in university, when deep in to the plague of a hangover, that I found myself planning my first novel. The more I planned, the more it escalated. I had created a detailed synopsis for a series of novels so deep that I knew it would take me decades to even finish them. Then I taught myself to write. This was the hardest, most gruelling and demoralising thing I have ever done. The basics confounded me at first. Simple things like weaving metaphors naturally in to prose. Constructing speech that was not stilted. Even creating characters that were not an insulting cliché. But I kept at it. I would say it took me eight years of practicing before I wrote a chapter that I was actually happy with. And once you get that good chapter under your belt, you feel empowered to continue. When riding on that writing high, there is little that can stem the flow of ideas. The first book I wrote is a complex fantasy epic that is currently for my eyes only. Its big, and its daunting, and at the moment its not ready for the rest of the world. Then I decided, fuelled by that personal success, to write a story that has been lingering in my mind since I was young. So, I digressed from fantasy, and took on a stance of hard science fiction. This was, at first, harder than I imagined. Such a shift required extensive research. To create a world based on scientific fact, as well as scientific potential, especially when you aren’t necessarily of a scientific mind, took a lot studying and research. I was fuelled by the inspiration of novels I love, and that literary adrenaline kept me going, sometimes until early hours of the morning. When all that was done, the words came easy. As it stands, I am just adding the finishing touches to my novel, and then it will be ready for querying. Even typing those words is both daunting and invigorating. 3) What specific sub-genres within science fiction do you write in and why? When it comes to sub-genres, it can be quite hard placing my novel in to one specific trope. I would say that ‘Arcane Lights’ is a mix of neo-noir and dystopian science fiction, or more specifically a dystopian tech-noir. It’s dark, it’s grungy, and it’s not a happy tale. At risk of repeating myself, the main reason I swayed towards this sub-genre is because it is what I love in modern and contemporary media. I grew up adoring the stories that fall within this grim remit and have been enamoured with it ever since. There’s something morbidly enticing about the darker side of humanity that coaxes further delving. And that’s what I have tried to do in my novel – to delve in to that darker side of humanity and tell a story that I hope people will love as much as I do. 4) What tropes do you think are important for that sub-genre? In the tech-noir subgenre, I think it is crucial to build that link between man and machine. That relationship has to be crucial to the overall narrative because it drives the motivation of the characters. Especially building that idea of body modification and the stigma of man being more than what it is, expanding beyond the physical limitations that are bestowed upon us at birth. It forces the characters to question what it is to be human. Are they really human if most of what they were has been taken away from them? Is mere consciousness enough to contain the soul? This trope, this delve in to that relationship, especially from a limited view, can express such a subjective and emotive experience that drives not only the story, but also the readers’ interest in the characters. That covers the ‘tech’ side of the novel, but there is also the ‘noir’; the darkness. With these sorts of novels there is a proclivity to lean towards the grim countenance of society, to set the world under a dystopian rule. Recently, there has been a lot of criticism towards this dystopian tendency, trying to sway things more towards a utopian, positive narrative throughout the stories, giving readers a more upbeat experience. Personally, I think there is room in current literature for both these types of novels, but if you are trying to create a grim tale, which is very much what my story is, then that dystopian aspect is crucial. When we look at the world with modern eyes, we see the downward spiral it is in, which only ignites the idea of a less than happy future. Add to that an external factor, in the case of ‘Arcane Lights’, an alien invasion, that will only add to the dire situation our planet and, ostensibly, its inhabitants, will be in in a couple of hundred years’ time. I’m not one of these writers who is going to make the statement that they are going to re-ignite the science fiction genre and take it in new directions. We are fortunate enough to live in a time where we have seen generations of writers who have lovingly developed their craft and laid before us a path of ideas that have become mainstay in the literary world. There are so many stories, developing and reinforcing so many tropes. It would be arrogant to say that I could do something that nobody else has thought of before. Instead, what I can say is that I can lean on those tropes that so many incredible writers have created and use them to support my own personal story. I can use the foundations of that literary blueprint to create a new world that I have become both enamoured and saddened with. It’s a grim tale, and one that exists only because so many incredible minds have fuelled me with ideas that I can use to help in my own craft. Report this message sent from Thomas S. BarnardDelete this message sent from Thomas S. Barnard
5) Do you prefer to write in first or third person and past or present tense? My preferred method is to write in third person limited. I like to put myself in to the shoes of that one character, delve in to their psyche, and see others from their, albeit subjective, perspective. I think it adds an element of mystique to those around the main character; as to what their motives are, their outward character versus their deeds, their actions and reactions, and seeing all that from a biased point of view. I also write in past tense. I have no real reason for this, other than it is what I taught myself to do, and it’s how I feel comfortable writing. That’s not to say that, at some point in the future, this won’t change. I like to challenge myself and teach myself new techniques. As I have grown older, I have learnt that there is little victory in immediate gratification. The best things are those that you work at and learn to evolve. It’s for this reason that I will one day, sometime in the not so near future, write a story that is a complete paradox to my usual style. But for now, for the immediate novels that I have planned, I will maintain this style because I think it works best for the overarching story. 6) What is your favorite part about being a writer? It has to be the cathartic nature of it. I suffer from quite bad social anxiety, and when things are at their worst I retreat to my writing. It’s an outlet and a reprieve. It allows me to engross myself in to a world that’s so very distant and different from my own. It’s also a hobby. I curse wasted time, and without the hobby of writing, I think I would have so much wasted time in my life. It’s as if it is a purpose to drive you forward. As long as you have your stories to write, there is no opportunity to look back and say that you have wasted time that you regret. 7) What is the hardest part about being a writer? For me, it has to be time. I have so many ideas running through my mind, but I don’t have the time to craft all the stories I would like to tell. I’m not yet published, and writing is definitely something that I am not able to do full time. I work a full time job, so trying to create time to write can be a struggle. I do it though, usually at the expense of a social life (which is a great excuse for someone with anxiety). Often, on weekends, I am up until 4am writing. I don’t begrudge this because writing is not a chore. It’s a hobby. And for me it is a release. Never do I feel so free as when I’m losing myself in the stream of my story. Obviously, I wish I had more time to write, but even if I did write full time, I don’t think there would be enough hours in the day to sate my literary hunger. 8) What stories or authors influence your writing? Wow. There are so many. Philip K Dick, while not someone who is wholly inspirational, he created stories of such wonder that it’s hard not to admire his great imagination and creativity. I’ve also always loved the bleak visions of George Orwell, and his stories are ones that I have admired since I was first shown Animal Farm in school. Then there’s Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos, which is a must read for any hard sci-fi fan, where he crafts a world full of questionable characters, with questionable motives, thriving in a vivid and complex environment. Another main influence is Edgar Allan Poe. There is not a writer who can compare when it comes to the visceral macabre and the way he dissects and lays bare the human psyche. So yeah, all in all some morbid influences there! I do also take delight in the decidedly strange. Last year I read most of Neil Gaiman’s novels, and spent most of Anansi Boys genuinely laughing out loud – helped largely by Lenny Henry’s narration on Audible. When it comes to the tone of my writing, I think those are my main influencers, but there are so much more, both old and new, that it’s hard to mention them all. 9) Recommend a great science fiction book or movie that we might have missed you didn’t create? House of Stairs. This is a science fiction book that I think has wrongfully drifted under the radar for nearly thirty years now. This is one of the books that got me in to science fiction to begin with. I remember the day I found this, in my school library (my school library was very odd. I genuinely have no idea where they got half of their books), just gathering dust. It’s not a long book, and within a couple of days I had finished it, I was that hooked. Objectively, this is a great novel, especially for younger readers who are just finding their footing in this very obscure and vast genre. It has a unique concept about a group of children who find themselves trapped in a room full of stairs, very similar to Escher’s lithograph print, and gives a very surprising unfolding of a social dynamics experiment from the point of view of a diverse group of children. When it comes to films, there are two that I have recently discovered that I instantly fell in love with. The first one, Strange days, has slipped under my radar for years. As a massive fan of neo-noir, especially in a science-fiction context, I really don’t know how I haven’t seen this before. The film doesn’t shy away from its strong themes and takes the genre in a very different direction. Then there is Midnight Special. It’s like a grown-up version of E.T, but better, and carried by some truly mind-blowing performance from Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton. It has a narrative full of mystery and real warmth. Saying all that, there is one movie that I have always held dear. I think it’s incredibly underrated and has a gothic aesthetic and visual style that is unlike anything else. Dark City is one of my favourite movies and has heavily influenced the tone in my novels as well as the standard to which I judge any gritty science fiction movie, even today. 10) Anything else about you or your novel that you would like us to know? Mainly that this novel is just the beginning. There is a whole world, no, a whole universe, that is waiting to be discovered. I can’t really call the story concise when it is going to be over four hundred pages, but it is intimate. The aim is to expand, with each novel introducing more of that universe. Just be prepared, this is not a happy story. 11) What’s the best way to find you online? The best way is probably Twitter. I’m quite active on that. I’ve also got a website, http://thomassbarnard.com , but I don’t update that as much as I’d like to at the moment because most of my time is spent writing.