Tell us about your books, Pat!
To date I’ve published seven books. Three, Bad Blood, Time Out and Raw Spirit are primarily murder mysteries, but each contains a science-fiction sub-plot. They are individual stories, not a series, but do have a common setting. Nmemesis also shares this setting but is more specifically science-fiction. Returning, Antithesis and Mindset are pure science-fiction. These last four have all been finalists for the Sir Julius Vogel Award - Best Novel.
I should note that the science-fiction is not of the Star Wars ilk. For example, Antithesis is set on Earth, in Namibia, in the 1960’s and involves a scientist trying to rediscover the work of a missing German whose work she’d been studying. Returning considers the problems of an alien exiled on Earth, trying to understand his circumstances and to find a way back to his own kind. Conversely, Mindset follows the efforts of a small group of humans exiled from Earth to survive in space and Nmemesis explores a potential consequence of the evolution of memes (as described by Dawkins).
In your Goodreads profile, you mention wanting to leave the reader with “something to ponder”. Do you start out with an idea or a character? Do you have a theme you are trying to explore from the beginning, or does the theme show up along the way?
I’ll split this into two questions. Firstly, by “something to ponder” I mean I like the story to reach a proper conclusion (I hate the technique of leaving everything up in the air), but I also like to leave the reader enough room to speculate as to what might follow. To be a bit facile - I get the hero to rescue the maiden, but you can decide for yourself whether they live happily ever after. More importantly, I hope that the issues underpinning the story - the way in which ghosts appear in the case of Raw Spirit - is interesting enough to leave the reader speculating on the potential veracity - and possible consequences - of the idea.
Secondly (This could get a bit embarrassing, as my method of writing is somewhat unorthodox) how do I start? Always with an idea that I want to explore, not for a story but one that intrigues me on a personal level. This may become the subject - in the case of Raw Spirit it was trying to find a rational (as opposed to supernatural) explanation for the appearance of ghosts. Bad Blood and Time Out are similar in this respect.
Other times the idea may be quite different. In the case of Returning I was motivated by my failure in Antithesis in being able to write the story from the perspective of the ants, who play a central part in the plot. I wanted to have another try - as simple as that. I should explain - the idea here was to write from a non-human perspective, although in Returning it is an alien, not an ant!
This idea is just that. Then I start to write. I have no idea of the plot, the characters or the conclusion. Nothing. I make no notes, and what’s more, I don’t read what I’ve written until the book is finished. I just keep going and let things take care of themselves.
I would not recommend this technique as I know it goes against all advice, but I know myself. I am something of a perfectionist (or have chronically low self-esteem) but I know that if I start going back over my work I will never be happy and will get bogged down in endless rehashing.
One might assume that this problem will still be waiting for me when the job is done, but I’m saved by my other great asset - I’m bone lazy. The book is finished, the story told and, apart from fixing any mistakes, I’m just not that interested in it any more.
In Raw Spirit, you have a physicist facing the supernatural. What challenges did you have to deal with in bringing this situation to life?
In all my books I work to the mantra that “everything that can be true, must be true”, and as I’m usually writing about something of which I’m largely (or completely) ignorant, I need to do a lot of research. Fortunately two tools are an absolute Godsend, Wikipedia and Google Earth.
Wikipedia, by its very nature, must be treated with a little caution, but if you look to see what sources are quoted you’ll know if you’re on fairly safe ground (we’re writing fiction, after all). This will cover pretty much everything you need - history, politics, science and so on. Google Earth lets you visit places you’ve never been, and in amazing detail.
Having these available enables me to just research what I need on the fly, which with my writing technique is imperative.
Sorry, I’ve strayed a bit from the question. In Raw Spirit the main challenge was to come up with a scientific explanation for the ghost that was at least plausible. A lot of the detail in the story led directly from this. For example, a history of building in ironstone greatly limited the places the story could take place (oops! a bit of a spoiler).
Sometimes this gets me into a bit of a bind. In Time Out I was faced with the classic “grandfather paradox” and everything ground to a halt for several months until I found a solution (more accurately a circumvention - it is a paradox, after all!).
Who are some of your literary influences?
Well, there are many authors I enjoy and they are very diverse, but I don’t know of any that influence my own writing. As an example, I love Mervyn Peake’s work but his writing is the very antithesis of mine. Likewise Agatha Christie, very different from Peake, and also not someone I try and emulate.
I guess I try not to over-think matters of style and just let the writing take its own course.
What is your best advice for writers?
Focus on telling a story, not on being and author.
Okay, that sounds a bit glib, but my personal ambition as a writer is to try and be completely invisible to the reader. I want my readers to be totally lost in the story and not be distracted by the writing.
Where can we find your books?
My personal website is www.whitakerbooks.com and sources for both print and electronic copies of my titles can be found there.
A huge thank you to Pat Whitaker for joining us on the Freelance and Fiction blog! If you enjoyed this post, please share the love. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook so you never miss a post.