Editor of The Journal (once 'of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry'), publisher of Original Plus books, he is also proud to be Poetry Editor of Jacobyte Books (Australia) and Associate Editor of The River King Poetry Supplement (Illinois, USA). He was born in Blackpool in 1946.
A Time To Shine @ Sime~Gen would like to welcome Sam Smith and thank him for interviewing with us.
Hi! I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with us today about yourself and your writing.
What genres do you write?
Science fiction, mainstream, thrillers, whodidwots; and poetry. Plus a WW2 history.
Where do you get your ideas?
Anywhere, anytime. I got the idea for 'pieces' while climbing Cader Idris. 'Sick Ape' came out of reading Russell Hoban's 'Turtle Diaries'. 'To Be Like John Clare' and 'Problems & Polemics' grew out of my work as a psychiatric nurse. 'Sister Blister' also came from there, but also from my fascination with the life of John Clare; along with the idea that I like of 2 sets of people working against one another without knowledge of one another - as in 'Porlock Counterpoint', which grew out of my work with self-harmers. While 'Care Vortex' is a fictional documentary of my time working with children in 'care'.
I also like collaborating with other artists - be they printers, painters, photographers or musicians; and, often work can grow organically from such beginnings. Knock-on knock-on effects.
How do you come up with your characters?
They probably start as stereotypes. Then the plot may demand certain actions from them. I then have to fit those actions to their character, to their physiognimy, which, in turn, affects the way they act.... So, with every rewrite, with every subtle change/enhancement, they come alive to me and, I hope, to my readers.
Are they based on real people or pure imagination?
In the 'Paths of Error' trilogy all started off as real people, or parts of real people. Or the plot was based around real events, and the characters grew out of the events. The odd thing is that people who have known me for a long time, guessing at the identity of those characters, have not yet got one right; but not one of them doubts the veracity of those characters.
What books do you have planned for the near future?
I am working on an historical novel, 'The Secret Report of Friar Otto', and have just completed the first draft. It is based on the life and execution of a local pirate, William de Marisco, in the time of Henry II. I won't be confident with it until I have completed a little more research. (As an example of where books/ideas come from, this grew out of my research into 'apostrophe combe', which began as a collaboration with the photographers Gemma Dart and Neil Carter.)
The book after that - still in the note-making stage - is the 5th part of an SF series and is to be called 'The unMaking of Heaven' and is presenting me with huge challenges - in that it deals with the deconstruction of identity, indeed with the deconstruction of what makes us recognisably human. How to get the reader to engage with that?
Beyond that I have ideas glimmering at the rear of my skull for a couple more themes for poetry collections.
When is your next book due out?
January/February 2004, the one I mentioned earlier, 'Problems & Polemics'. Boho are releasing it as a paperback.
And at some time this year Jacobyte are bringing out, as one book, the 4 novels - Balant; Happiness; You Human; and Not Now: Death Dreams and Reasons for Living - in paperback and as an ebook, to be called, guess what?, 'Towards the unMaking of Heaven.'
Oh yes, and Online Originals are bringing out 'Sister Blister' as a hardback as well as an ebook.
Can we have a sneak summary?
Do you have any book signings/appearances in the future?
I'm doing a local gig - Ilfracombe - on 20th February; then the next one is Wigan, April 15th-20th; then Liverpool possibly on May 6th.
What do you feel makes your books unique or stand out from others in your genre?
My life experience pervades each.
Do you have a special subgenre and if so what is it?
I don't actually like being pigeonholed into a genre. For instance 'The End of Science Fiction' is a whodunit set at the end of the world. At least I thought it was. One reader said that it was more a philosophical treatise.
The problem with not wanting to be contained by any one genre is that publishers don't know how to market the books. So much easier for them if it fits a category. But, and probably shooting myself in the foot insofar as the more unimaginative publishers are concerned, I do like a story to build itself, to be true to itself; and I am loathe to betray it by making it fit a genre. Plus the fact that the book then reads as if false.
Do you have a favorite place that you like to write?
I have my own garret room.
In what order do you write? (Beginning to End; combining parts; in random order; development cycle)
Definitely a development cycle. At least 4 longhand rewrites before ever I approach a keyboard. Then more editing once I see the printed page.
(Ebook Authors) Do you feel that the ebook industry affords authors a bit more freedom of expression in their books?
Yes. Ebook publishing, because of its low outlay, allows publishers to take chances on those books that don't fit any category.
What do you like about what is/isn’t being done to promote authors?
This is a difficult one. As a small press publisher myself I am keenly aware how effective/ineffective any attempts at promotion can be. Without a huge budget, and depending on the authors' own promotion of their work (which is still probably more effective than any small press or e-publisher can do), sales are only ever going to be, at best, in the hundreds. To get beyond the thousands requires advertising budgets beyond the funds of most ebook and small press publishers.
It's the reading public who have to catch up with epublishing. And they are, but it is slow. Amazon is really helpful here - in that people are getting used to ordering books online and are starting to browse online publishers and to order POD books. Ebooks, though, are waiting still on the technological breakthrough that will make access to them universal.
Do you think that marketing departments have their “fingers on the pulse of readers?”
No. They are always a step behind. Market research tells them what the public have been reading, not what they will be reading. So they look for another Harry Potter, not for the truly original that the public don't know they want until they see it. 'Twas ever thus, though.
How do you feel about the review rating system and its affects on public opinion?
Frequent mention rather than critical acclaim has more effect on the buying public. Word-of-mouth recommendation goes a lot further than some ivory tower critic's praise or condemnation.
In what kind of venues can we find your books?
On the publishers' websites, as well as Amazon, and they can be ordered through most bookshops. Certainly here in the UK and, I'm told, in the US too.
What do you feel is the best aspect of the Publishing Industry?
George Bush and Tony Blair haven't banned it yet. Sorry, couldn't help a dig.
The best aspect, counting in all the online and small press publishers, is its diversity; and, especially with regard online publishers, the sense of an international community all concerned with promoting what they believe is the best of their literature.
What do you feel could stand to be “tweaked” so to speak?
A more critical attitude to web publishing. Some writers seem to want to belong more to a club of writers-who've-been-rejected-and-so-let's-publish-and-praise-each-other's-work rather than seriously attempt to improve the quality of their writing.
With the rise of the E-book publishers and small press, do you think they will be the wave of the future?
I think they will have an impact; but the commonality of culture requires a mass media, of which bestsellers are a part. So there will continue to be the big players with their big budgets promoting what they hope will be bestsellers; and there is a point where a bestseller becomes a bestseller because it is a bestseller. There are no statistics yet that I have seen that regularly tell us what is this week's bestselling eBook.
Publishers, though, will be keeping an eye on eBooks, as they did on the small presses.
How do you think the E-book industry has affected the Publishing industry?
Most publishing contracts now contain a clause claiming electronic rights. Because of electronic storage and POD, print runs are shorter. Also no book need ever go out of print again. Already I've bought books which were out of print until adapted to POD.
Is there anything else you would like to add that we haven’t covered?
I think that's pretty well it.
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