I’ve been eagerly anticipating The Explorer ever since I caught sight of the cover artwork. There’s something equally beautiful and terrifying about that image… Anyway, I did some digging and found out some more about the novel and Smythe’s writing. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy (expect a review in a couple of weeks or so, closer to the eBook release at least), but wanted to ask James some more questions about his novels, and being a writer. As it turns out, we have a very similar taste in movies, too…
Let’s ease into things: Who is James Smythe?
I’m a writer, lecturer and video game designer. I’ve written books called The Testimony, The Explorer, Hereditation, The Machine, and some others that don’t have titles yet.
Your next novel, The Explorer, will be published by Voyager in December (as an eBook) and January (hardcover). How would you describe the novel to a prospective reader?
So: it’s the story of Cormac Easton, a journalist who is chosen to be a part of the first manned mission into deep space. It’s set in a semi-plausible near future, where we – humanity – haven’t been to space in decades, and we decide that we’re going to try again – to go as far as we can go, to push the limits of our endurance. Only, Cormac’s crew all die, one by one; and he’s left alone, drifting and lost, and without a clue how to get home...
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
Mostly it was classic SF. The stuff I loved when I was younger, which I thought was halfway between high-concept seriousness and pulp. I started with a man in isolation, and it worked itself out from there.
Your previous novel, The Testimony was a critical success. How would you introduce it to a new reader?
The Testimony is an apocalyptic novel about what happens when everybody in the world hears a sound at the same time; a sound that then becomes a voice, telling them to not be afraid. It’s about war, god, disease and panic, and it’s hopefully funny, tragic and exciting in equal measure.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
As a kid. Youngest me can remember having SF kids books – a spacefaring dustbin called Tubby Tin, if memory serves – and then all the cartoons I loved as a child were SFF in some way or other. From there, books led to Stephen King, who led to other genre. I’d blame him for me finding all the classic SF writers I read, mainly because he recommended them in the introductions to his novels.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I love it. It’s the single best job in the world.
And, aside from that: I’m super strict with myself. I force myself to write when I’m meant to be writing, read when I’m meant to be reading. I have to have music on; preferably a coffee somewhere close. Starting the day in a coffee shop usually leads to productivity for me.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
So, always. Which is a stock answer, but I’ve always written. I didn’t know it was a thing I could do as a career until university, really, but the first time I was published gave me such a taste: in the school end-of-year-magazine, a short story called “Rafilkesh”, about a hunter. I spent hours on it, and to see it published felt like a real achievement.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I love genre, but I love everything. I’m not a staunch believer in party lines, as it were: I’d like to think that a good story is a good story full stop. My favourite novels this year include hard SF, black comedy, gritty literary fiction, slightly abstract metafiction, YA urban fantasy... I’m really not one for worrying that stuff. So, who knows were my work fits in? I definitely don’t.
What projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?
I’m working on a sequel to The Explorer right now, and a book about a very weird kidnapping/ransom. Before both of those, though, there’s a novel out mid-2013 called The Machine, about memories and technology...
What are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction)?
Right now I’m reading Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, for a rereading project I’m doing for The Guardian newspaper. After that: some horror. Wake In Fright by Kenneth Cook and Death Sentences by Kawamata Chiaki. That’s research...
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
That I am nearly 6’8” tall. That always seems to surprise most people!
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Professionally? Publication of The Explorer and The Machine. Personally? Some hopefully amazing novels (two new Stephen Kings, Joe Hill, Neil Gaiman, Lauren Beukes, so many others I can barely count them) and some hopefully fun films – The Hobbit, Iron Man 3 (Shane Black is a hero of mine), Star Trek Into Darkness, Man Of Steel, The Wolverine.