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.

The projected length of The Maximus Black trilogy is 200,000 words. People ask me how long it’s taken to write. A tough question. I started Mole Hunt about four or five years ago. Having written the first book, I sent out an outline to various publishers but had no luck selling it. This is a dicey time for an author writing a trilogy. If the first book doesn’t sell, there’s no point in spending years writing two more in the series. This is where personal experience and faith come into it. Rarely does a book of mine sell within the first half dozen submissions. This is in keeping with many of the world’s best-selling books – the Harry Potter books would never have been published had it been up to the first ten publishers the first book was submitted to. Persistence is the key. And, I have to admit, I’m lucky in that Louis De Vries, publisher at Hybrid Publishers, likes my books. He published my first adult SF novel, Cyberskin, back in the 90s. So basically, after I was reasonably happy with Mole Hunt, I started writing rough drafts of books #2 and #3 in the trilogy. All up, I’d say it’s taken about two years of reasonably solid work to reach this point.

Maximus is an anti-hero. I have to say I’m fed up with nice guys winning all the time. One thing I noticed when I was growing up on a diet of superheroes in the Marvel comics was that the good guys always win. And that took away some of the fun for me, because no matter what, you knew the bad guy was going to get beaten, and escape to fight another day. That takes away some of the enjoyment for me. Surely other people out there like to read something different. And it’s this niche group that I’ve targeted with Mole Hunt.

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

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3 responses to “Author Interview – Paul Collins”

  1. This is definitely going on my to read list. You have to like the odd anti-hero… 😉

  2. Well, I’ve read it and Maximus is a truly nasty piece of work! I’m barracking for Anneke Longshadow. 🙂

  3. Sandy, having done an interview on your blog, how would you like to do one on mine, with one of my students? Ryan has been reading and enjoying “Samurai Kids” and would like to interview you. Could you email me at my Gmail address, which I think you have, or via my blog if you don’t – http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com – and I’ll give you the full details.

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