Ah… the dreaded question that I was, um, dreading. I haven’t written for a year. I have plans, but (to quote) they either come to nought, or half a page of scribbled lines. I think I have Writers’ Doubt, but I’m not sure about that. I started a science fiction novel with a couple of unique twists, and I’m going to try to get back into that. Friends and readers have been asking about (or demanding) a third book about Robert and Chloe, and I’d love to oblige, but I feel that I threw everything I could into first two books. Actually, I thought I threw everything I had into Stim, but then I managed to write Kaleidoscope, so maybe a third book is possible somehow too. Seriously, though, I know I want to write more about social difficulties and/or social issues. I want to be the kind of writer who can make people cry, or laugh, or feel angry, by reading my words, and I think I am. But to do that, I have to feel those emotions myself when I’m writing, so it feels authentic to the reader. I have one theme in mind for an upcoming book, but it’s controversial, and will be difficult to research, and potentially risky.
How does a typical book get written in your world – what do you start with?
I start by thinking up an interesting character or two, someone intriguing. When I wrote my two contemporary novels, I wanted to write about misunderstood people and social difficulties. Robert and Chloe, who both have Aspergers (and Chloe also is bipolar), are as real as I could make them. Then comes the setting — in their case, Christchurch, with the major earthquakes as main events in the books. After that, I put together plot ideas (and plot surprises), though I may deviate from those a bit when actually writing the book.
How would you compare the protagonists of your books with yourself? Who’s Robert (protagonist from “Stim” by Kevin Berry) more like?
It’s natural to use aspects of people you know or have observed in your characters (usually without telling them), but I have to say that Robert is very much like me in quite a few ways, and that made it easy to write Stim in his voice, first-person. His obsessiveness, his perserverative nature, his almost complete lack of guile, his emotional honesty and his tendency to screw things up with other people are all things I can identify with rather well. Writing Kaleidoscope, on the other hand, was a considerably more difficult, as it’s written from the point of view of Chloe, a young bipolar Aspie woman, and I’m not a woman, and I can’t remember being young. I tried for months, unsatisfied with her ‘voice’, until I finally found an authentic voice for her.
How would you typically choose the names of your characters?
I read somewhere that names are actually really important, because people (whether consciously or subconsciously) seem to have a preconceived idea about what kind of person someone is from their name. That’s not to say that all Roberts and Chloes are like my Robert and Chloe. It’s more that my Robert is not like a ‘Zach’ or a ‘Trev’ or a ‘Phil’. So what I do is look at lists of names until I come across one that seems to fit my character.
What’s that one Classic work that you wish had been written by you?
Anything by Jane Austen, like Emma or Pride and Prejudice. She was an awesome writer — brilliant, extremely witty and with a tremendous ability to make characters real. I wish she’d been able to write more.
How would you deal with reviews?
Unfortunately, I take reviews really personally. A rave review for Stim or Kaleidoscope (and there have been plenty of those) sends my mood soaring. A bad one (and there have been a couple) crushes me emotionally, even when it is obvious that the reader hasn’t “got” the characters or the story at all, and then I can’t write, and I even come down with headaches. I tell myself that I’d rather not have written “average” books (mostly 3 and 4 stars), and I haven’t… people either love them or hate them, so I should expect either 5 or 2 stars, but I don’t deal with the latter particularly well. Perhaps I just shouldn’t read reviews.
What’s your favourite writing location?
I wish I could say somewhere exotic, but it’s not. I sit or lie on the floor at home a lot, rather than at a desk, writing on my computer. It takes a while to get “into the zone”, but unfortunately writing on a computer, and writing at home, has problems. Too many distractions. It’s all to easy to procrastinate at home. Facebook, for instance, must be a writer’s worst enemy, as it sucks so much time and emotional energy. I’ve tried writing in libraries without success. Writing in cafes works well for me, but it is difficult to do that much of the time because I usually have one or both of my children to look after. However, I think the constant buzz of conversation and movement of a cafe helps a lot in generating creative energy. Also, there’s coffee there. You can’t be a proper writer without a coffee dependency.
What awesome books and projects are you working in at the moment?