Author Interview – Paul Collins
Today’s guest is Paul Collins, award winning children’s and science fiction/fantasy author, who recently released Mole Hunt, the first book in the Maximus Black trilogy. He’s here to talk about about writing a trilogy, inspiration and the promo trail.
Now I have to confess I haven’t read Mole Hunt yet. It’s not that I don’t have a copy – in fact I am due to review it – but when a cover is as good as this one and you have an eleven-year-old son – you have to wait in line for your turn. So watch this space for a review next week.
So far it looks as though the book has found that audience. Reviewers have been overwhelmingly optimistic. Bookseller + Publisher said it was ‘Bitingly clever and imaginative, it’s like a cross between The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Total Recall and Dexter’. Others have likened it to Spooks, Star Wars and McGyver. Buzz Words said it was so fast-paced that it would give Matthew Reilly a nosebleed. I like that quote! Regardless, I have to admit that I was slightly worried that Maximus has few, if any, likeable traits, but again, I don’t see why readers should always expect the same-old, same-old. And judging from the critics, perhaps they don’t. Time will tell with sales, but so far it’s on track to becoming a good seller.
I often get asked in interviews who I enjoy reading. I don’t get much of a chance to read for pleasure these days, but when I do I enjoy Eoin Colfer’s Artemus Fowl books. Max has been referred to as Artemis’s evil twin. Other favourite books of mine are Philip Reeves’s Mortal Engine and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. Going back over many years I used to love Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books and Robert E Howard’s work, like the Conan the Barbarian series.
Another question I get asked is ‘why science fiction?’. In the 70s I published a science fiction magazine called ‘Void’. I was working for the Breakfast Creek Hotel in Brisbane and a fellow waiter, who knew I was into publishing, suggested a science fiction magazine because there wasn’t one being published in Australia at the time. He could have suggested a crime, romance, mystery magazine, and I might’ve gone down a completely different road. It’s funny how meeting certain people in a pivotal moment in your life can have such far-reaching consequences. Back in those days I also met some wonderful Australian science fiction and fantasy authors such as Wynne Whiteford, Frank Bryning, Jack Wodhams, Keith Taylor, A Bertram Chandler and Sean McMullen. They all mentored me. I still brainstorm ideas with Sean.
I believe working from home could become tedious and boring for some authors. Luckily for me, my partner, Meredith Costain, is also a writer. We also have quite a menagerie here, comprising a kelpie, heeler, chickens, cat and fish. There’s never a dull moment. Hopefully that’s reflected in my writing, which is more action- and plot oriented than character-driven. I’ve never actually worked in an air-conditioned office, which possibly accounts for my getting rather drained when I visit them. I’ve met people who spend hours a day travelling to and from work. That must be such a drag and a waste of time and money. I think the thing I like most about working from home is that I can work my own hours. All one needs is to be truly self-driven. It would be very easy to ease back and not do anything if you weren’t motivated. Right now I’m working on Book #2 in The Maximus Black Files. I already have the first draft. So it’s time to fix all those niggling problems that I’m discovering. At least I have a title: Dyson’s Drop.
Luckily for me I’ve never endured writers’ block. If I did, I’d simply start another book. You usually find a solution to any problem somewhere down the track. And if you can’t, you can always brainstorm with someone. Two minds are always better than one. Sometimes I might be discussing a problem with a friend, and just by talking about it the solution will present itself.
Of course, once a book is published the author then needs to embark on the promotion trail. This can be nearly as extensive and exhausting as the actual writing. I know some authors who write one book a year and then spend six months plus promoting it. There are various ways of approaching the publicity side of things: social media, which includes Facebook, Twitter and guest-blogging; interviews via magazines, newspapers, radio, TV, online bookseller sites, etc, and of course getting reviews. Children’s authors can also go into schools, libraries and festivals to give workshops and talks. I’ve recently given the keynote speech at a librarian seminar and have since been asked to give it again in Victoria. These venues are gold for authors.
Conversely, I know some who simply can’t speak in public through lack of confidence. That is truly debilitating to an author’s career. A little known fact is that I undertook a two-year stint at Toastmasters to overcome my own fears. It was easier than I thought, and I’d heartily recommend it to introverted writers, because promoting one’s books is now very much a part of being an author. Whereas publishers used to heavily promote their authors, these days they expect them to use their own initiative. I remember having a publicist when I first published with Penguin – I’d get picked up and taken to various radio stations and magazine offices to get interviewed. Skip a decade and although I still had an allotted publicist when I published a new book, it was on paper only. Not only did I not meet them, I didn’t even know who they were.
Last but not least, many authors now promote their new books via trailers, usually placed on YouTube, Vimeo or others. Henry Gibbens did one for Mole Hunt. It’s at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3S-eKDYqpEs