As the night’s draw in and the temperature falls, the best thing to do is look to spring. So, we settled down for a chat with our author Thomas Heasman-Hunt, to talk about writing, life, and his fabulous Cynefin Road debut, Legacy, which is set for release on the Spring Equinox 2017…
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Keep doing it. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise the connection between the times when I was writing regularly and my general mood. In fact, I still forget sometimes even now… Plus writing is like anything else: you can read all the reference books and blog posts and #writetips you want, but unless you actually sit down and put one word in front of the other, you’ll never achieve anything.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I remember identifying very strongly with characters in books when I was young. I was an only child and quite introverted, so maybe I was trying to find something to latch onto, but I definitely felt the tragedies and triumphs of my favourite characters on a very visceral level. I’m a great proponent of the theory that the human mind is structured around narrative, and I think the fictional realities we experience when we read a story can sometimes be just as valid as what we see and hear in the real world. Certainly from a brain’s perspective anyway!
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
That depends a little bit on how you count them! I don’t have too many unfinished works because I tend to simply write a story from start to finish, and I write like I read, so if it doesn’t grab me in a short time, I’ll abandon it. But the sequel to Legacy is already completed, and the third book is half done. Beyond that, I have another novel set in the same universe but with different characters, an ongoing fantasy series, a dozen or so novellas in various genres and more short stories than I want to count! A few of these I’ve collected together and self-published, but most of the rest are on my blog. I also have my attempt at a first novel – a sort of picaresque magical-realism quasi-philosophical epic, which is complete, but also completely unpublishable! I wrote it just to prove I could really, and it was useful…but won’t ever see the light of day…
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
One of the joys of writing speculative fiction is the world building, which allows you to create a story with all sorts of layers and connections. It’s nice to show that work off sometimes, but you also have to keep some of it back and tease the details out where they’re relevant. Also, if you’re anything like me, you often don’t actually write any of the background anywhere and basically make it all up as you go along. So there are ‘secrets’, yes, but I think of them more as continuity nods that improve the verisimilitude of the worlds I’m portraying.
Does your family support your career as a writer?
They certainly do. Everything I write is for my wife – we have similar taste in books, so I try to write stories I know she’ll enjoy. My proofreading process is reading what I’ve written aloud to her to check the rhythm and flow of the story, so she’s party to everything I produce. Besides her, I think my mother is more excited about this book being published than I am!
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
My first novel – took me over a year from start to finish, writing in fits and starts as my enthusiasm for the work waxed and waned. That was a slog. I realised after finishing it that I needed a more productive method, so I switched to writing short fiction. Once I did that, it was like I’d opened a door in my head: I was churning out stuff daily, and for around two years I was averaging 50,000 words of prose a month. Legacy wasn’t actually written in one continuous stretch, but adding up the time taken for the separate parts, it took me just over a month to write it. The final book is mostly unchanged from that original version.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Planning. I mean that literally. If I write down any part of a story before I actually get to it in the normal course of the narrative – even just a brief outline – it kills it for me. If I commit anything to text, something in my head no longer feels any desire to write it properly. This was one of the reasons my first novel took so long: I decided I ought to sketch out some idea of where I was going, and from then on, the process dragged interminably. I have to write intuitively, as if I’m reading the story myself, that way I know the surprises and twists work…
What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
I’m a writer not a publisher – I don’t know enough about the industry to say too much about its practices either way! But, speaking from a writer’s perspective, there’s definitely a problem in this age of instant sharing and viral content with creators not being paid for their work. There’s such a glut of stuff out there, and when anyone can publish a few hundred words in the form of a blog post or thread of tweets, it’s very easy for content to be used without permission (or sometimes even attribution) by unscrupulous media for clicks. Pay your writers!
Tell us about Legacy…
It began, strangely enough, with a conversation on Twitter with a fellow writer, Emily Benet (@EmilyBenet). She was working on a short story about a woman who finds out a dark secret about her father after he dies and we riffed back and forth a little, with me joking that I might do something silly like put a sci-fi spin on it. A while later, I was putting together some of my short stories into a collection for Kindle and felt I needed something that I hadn’t put on my blog to round it out. I decided I wanted to do some good, old-fashioned space opera, and so I reworked the ideas we’d discussed into a short story that later became the first three chapters of Legacy, which was also the title I gave it then. In honour of the person who’d helped spark the idea (and with Ms Benet’s permission) I named the main character Emily.
Some months later, again stuck for something to write, I returned to Emily Ajax’s world and started writing another short story about her and her adventures. I didn’t pick up exactly where I’d left off, instead treating it like an episode of a TV series, even deliberately dividing the story into three acts. Happily, I found that Legacy (the original short story) naturally split the same way. I wrote six such ‘episodes’ altogether, each in three parts. That original structure remains in the book, which has 18 chapters, and can be divided into six distinct narrative arcs. I later added the prologue to round out the story and create more resonance for the ending, since it wasn’t even conceived of throughout most of the writing process! Once it was collected together, I called it ‘The Ajax Legacy’, but since losing the different titles for the episodes, it’s come full circle and is now just Legacy again.
Legacy is an adventure. A lot of what I write skews quite dark and cynical – and the book certainly has its share of moments that live up to that – but I wanted it to be fun and exciting, maybe even a bit pulpy. It takes a lot of careworn sci-fi tropes and hopefully reworks them enough to create something new and interesting. It has one or two larger-than-life villains and some genuine gung-ho heroics (‘swashbuckling’ is the term I keep coming back to), as well as introducing a vast and believable galactic setting that has a lot more to it than you’ll read in this book. But what I found to be most important and most enjoyable as I wrote it was the characters and their connections. Beyond all the spaceships and lasers and ancient relics of lost interstellar civilisations, Legacy is basically about friendship, and about the complex relationship between a woman and her incredibly famous father. There’s a smattering of romance and some butting heads in places, but the story is centred around three women who couldn’t be more different from one another, but who forge a bond through adversity and change the fate of an entire galaxy.
So it’s a bit daft and pays homage to a lot that’s familiar in the genre, but I’m rather pleased with it, and I hope you’ll enjoy travelling to the Four Quadrants as much as I did, and continue to do.