The Man in the Mustardy Shirt
I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have a large number of talented friends dotted all over the world. Some are online pals, others are ‘real world’ friends – and some are people I met online and subsequently have hooked up with' in analogue'.
One such person is my old authonomy buddy, Simon Forward. We joined each other in the race for the authonomy ‘Editor’s Desk’ and both got there, gleefully and manically mucking about in the forums as we plugged our respective works, promoting them to creaking point but also having a great deal of fun in the process. We became something of a double act: Simon’s schoolboy humour and my suave, sophisticated charm worked together like a dream.
Not content with bobbing around at the top of the foetid pool of festering books that is authonomy, Simon then tossed a second book into the ring, a kids’ yarn focused around hero Kip Doodle. And, damn me, but he did it again and so became the only writer to get to the top at authonomy twice. Not, you understand, that it did him the blindest bit of good...
Simon has, in fact, written several highly successful published novels, although sadly on other people’s behalf – he’s one of the writers of the massively popular Dr. Who books, for instance. This resulted in The Niece From Hell (who is Dr Who bonkers) getting a signed Dr Who book to add to her signed Caroline Lawrence ‘Roman Mystery’. Caroline, a highly astute million-selling kids’ author who knows a niece with a minted uncle when she sees one, seeded TNFH’s massive and ever-growing collection of Caroline Lawrence books by whipping one out and signing it for me when we met at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. But getting a signed Dr Who book awed the child into a rare (and prolonged) silence. For this alone, I owe Simon a great debt.
It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I can now report that The Man In The Mustardy Shirt has only been and gone and gone ‘e’. He's taken the plunge and released his hilarious sci-fi comedy, Evil UnLtd, on Amazon’s Kindle, which means you can get your hands on the book for a mere $2.99 and, what’s more, you can have it in your eager paws in seconds flat.
What better way to celebrate than talking to him about the project? Here’s the View From Forward.
Evil UnLtd is clearly something of a pangalactic caper - was this an escape from writing Dr Who books for you?
Pangalactic is the telltale word there, I think. As in gargleblaster. The Hitch-Hikers influence is strong in this one, Obi-Wan, but it's fair to say that, rather than an escape from, this is an extension of my Doctor Who writing. Basically name a TV sci-fi series and it was an inspiration of one sort or another. Even the sci-fi series' I loathed played their part - if, for example, they were bland or boring, I thought how much more interesting even the same storylines would be if you replaced the wet goody-two-shoes hero types with a band of villains.
On a very basic level, saving the universe/world/space-whale then becomes a different ball game. Even if it's just saving the universe/world/space-whale for themselves. Then when it comes to the details, well, everything just spirals in all sorts of directions, which is just great from a creative point of view.
How would you describe the plot, briefly?
It's a very organic affair, kicking off with a sort of Reservoir Dogs bank-robbery goes wrong scenario, with a gradually unfolding mystery that culminates in what I hope is one of the bizarrest action-packed sf climaxes you'll have ever read - until I can come up with a better one for Evil 2.
Do you not think we already see enough commercialisation of Evil without contemplating a future of evil commerce?
We see way too much commercialisation of Evil, yes. Which is why the world needs a brand of Evil we can actually laugh at.
Who's your favourite character in the book and why?
That would have to be Dexter Snide. I have a soft spot for all of them - and no it's not just the marsh world of Delta Magna - but there's something wonderfully odious about Dexter. He's essentially like the Master, I suppose, a sort of Moriarty figure - which means I should give him a thinly veiled Time Lord opponent at some point I guess - but he's also the pure unadulterated evil in me. That is, I'd never do or say the things he does, you understand, but I do love writing him.
I also love the Hatchling, as he's the most enigmatic of the bunch - spending so much time in his egg as he does - and the rare point-of-view scenes I do for him are a treat.
What's your proudest 'funny moment'?
That would have to be the climax. At the time, I didn't quite know how the whole thing was going to wrap up, and it just came to me in a flash. One of those things that just grows organically out of the plot and as I was writing it, everything just clicked. Although that may have been the RSI.
Did you ever sit back and think, 'Crumbs, this is just too silly!'?
Not really. I mean, there were times I had my doubts whether it would appeal to anyone else, but the curious thing about SF comedy, I find, is that the characters and the universe you're creating have to take themselves seriously. So it's as immersive in its own way as crafting a straight-faced sci-fi epic - for which, by the way, I have the greatest respect, and I think you have to love your 'proper' sci-fi in any case in order to write a full novel of the slightly dafter variety. There were probably a few bits and pieces I chucked out as too silly or not working, but if something is daft and makes you laugh, you just construct a rationale for it within the context of your universe and voila! suddenly it's part of that universe and as a bonus you've (hopefully) written an entertaining discourse on the ins and outs of a society of leaf-like aliens who eat music. (I haven't, you understand, it's just an off the top of my head example.)
Why did you decide to go down the Kindle road? Did you evaluate various 'e-publishing' options, or just go straight for the 'Big K'?
I'm afraid to say, I didn't really investigate alternatives and plumped straight for the Special K. Possibly out of a desire to fit into that slimline red dress, who knows. But more probably because, while I was resistant to the e-publishing route for a long while, one particular friend and my mum-in-law kept urging me to publish something of mine on Kindle. They happened to specify Kindle and so when I finally buckled under the persuasion, I opted for that route. When I think about it now, there's part of me that associates the Amazon brand with a degree of trust that perhaps wouldn't be felt with other options, so I'm hoping that people will see the book on the Amazon site and that might help persuade them to give it a whirl.
What's your hope for the project? 100 copies sold? International fame? Just get it out of your system?
Here I have to separate hopes and realistic aims. Hopes are to attract the attentions of a publisher or Joss Whedon. (Evil is already - for plot reasons - kind of a TV series in book form and Joss, for my money, is the man to head the screen version.) But this is an experiment and there's a sales figure I'd consider a success, although I'm not sure what that is at this stage. I don't know enough about the general volumes of sales of Kindle e-books, although I gather recently they outstripped Amazon hardback sales for the first time.
If every one of my Facebook and Twitter and authonomy contacts bought a copy, that'd be a few hundred sales right there, and more if they spread the word and so on, but you know how it is, you invite twenty people to the party and only eight can make it.
How would you define success? If you reach that, would you take other projects online?
Real success would be, like I say, attracting the attention of a publisher. When (a sample of) Evil was on authonomy, it proved its appeal to a wide range of readers - not just sf-heads - but there was a forum in which people could be enticed to give a book a chance, even if it was outside their normal comfort zone, because you'd been helpful or entertaining or just plain daft in the online discussions.
Without that - and without the kind of budget a mainstream publisher can command - it's going to be a huge challenge to attract the readers and convince them to give Evil a chance. So I'll be tweeting, facebooking, blogging and quite possibly even putting together a book trailer and seeing how it goes. That said, if I do feel this one meets with a measure of success, I will be putting other projects online. At the very least, I'll be uploading Evil 2 and future Evil volumes, maybe make that an annual event. Because a) establishing a series might prompt more interest and b) I enjoy writing these characters and, damn it, some of my work needs to be out there, being read, by some of the people at the very least.
Why Evil as your first Kindle book? Wouldn't KipDoodle find a more ready 'e-reader friendly' audience?
I considered making Kip Doodle available - that one was even more popular on authonomy - but as much as adults do enjoy it, I didn't think it would reach many of its target audience - ie. kids - on Kindle. I may be wrong, but I didn't imagine a lot of kids reading e-books. Although a friend of mine pointed out there were something like 15,000 kids' books available on Kindle already. Whereas I figured there might be some crossover between, say, sci-fi geeks and the sort of technophiles who'd either have a Kindle or be into downloading the software to their PC/Mac/iPhone/whatever.
What has been YOUR favourite Kindle buy so far? Is there anything you wouldn't read on a Kindle?
It's early days for me as a consumer. I have my eye on a few titles, and if nothing else the novelty value has re-awakened my previously flagging enthusiasm for reading. But so far I've focused on some of the classics that I've overlooked - not least because they're free, or close to it. Most significant has been Jules Verne's Mysterious Island, which I enjoyed, not necessarily because it's his best, but because I've found it surprisingly ripe for comedy.
More inspiration like that can only lead to more Evil and is therefore very welcome.
I'm sad to say that Amazon does NOT support the Middle East on Kindle and won't allow downloads unless you have a valid address in the UK, US or elsewhere in the world you can give 'em. This sucks royally, BTW.
However, if you have a Kindle (or the Kindle PC reader, which is surprisingly usable, BTW) and you can download books, you can buy your very own copy of Evil UnLtd for $2.99 from Amazon UK by clicking here or Amazon.com by clicking here.
Ha. I want to see the silly bugger sign this one.