Today’s author spotlight shines on peace loving Stewart Bint. Rumour has it he writes barefoot in his office, to the dulcet tones of the Mama’s and the Papa’s…without further ado, here’s….Stewart!
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m just an ageing hippy who goes barefoot almost all the time and likes to entertain people through stories. My books are not great art and they’re not great literature, but my readers tell me they’re entertaining, so that’s good enough for me.
I was born in the dim and distant past (under extreme torture I have been known to confess to 1956), in Derby in the UK. I worked both for the BBC and commercial radio as a newsreader, current affairs presenter and ‘phone-in host.
Currently I’m a novelist, Public Relations writer for the world’s largest CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) developer, and for the last three years I’ve had my own column in a fortnightly local magazine.
I’m married with two grown-up children and an extremely charismatic budgie called Alfie. As a dedicated barefooter I only ever wear shoes when it is absolutely necessary, i.e. six inches of snow, or a situation where it would be socially unacceptable not to.
- How did you get started on your writing journey?
I was bitten by the writing bug when I was seven, in 1963, through watching the original series of what has been my favourite television series ever since: Doctor Who.
Even at that young age I was enraptured by the storylines which can take place at any time in the past and future, and absolutely anywhere in the universe and beyond. I started creating my own worlds and my own characters, writing my stories in little blue notebooks until my parents bought me a portable typewriter for my 9th birthday.
And those make-believe worlds became invaluable after my Dad died when I was 11. I retreated more and more into those places where I was in control of my characters’ fate, knowing that whatever happened to them during the story I would make sure they were okay in the end. My worlds were certainly better than the real one at that time.
In my twenties it was my ambition to become a published novelist by the time I was 30. I was 26 years too late for that…achieving it when I was 56 in 2012. I’d kept writing fiction as a hobby, but it was only on holiday, bobbing up and down with a friend in the Caribbean Sea when he said I ought to try and get published.
So I dusted down an old manuscript, gave it a thorough working over and submitted it. Now, with three novels, two novellas, a collection of short stories, a compilation of my early magazine columns, and short stories in three anthologies, I’m mighty glad I took his advice.
- Are there any poets or writers who influence you? How so?
A number of fiction writers have influenced me, mainly giving me the inspiration to write to entertain in the way they do. My favourite mainstream author is, and always has been, Stephen King for his ability to take perfectly normal, everyday situations and people, and throw in a sprinkling of the macabre, sci-fi, paranormal and downright horror, and make it all so perfectly believable.
And would I be totally uncool if I also said J.K. Rowling? I love the way she developed the Harry Potter series from a fairly light and fluffy initial story into a plethora of unease and impending doom. As a child it was the then ubiquitous Enid Blyton, and I then progressed to Ian Fleming and his James Bond series (hey, did you know he also wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?) and two thriller writers who have dropped out of fashion nowadays, Dennis Wheatley and Alistair MacLean.
- Let’s talk about your novel! What is it about?
By the twenty-seventh century, mankind has finally mastered time travel—but is driving recklessly towards wiping itself out. The guerilla environmentalist group WorldSave, with its chief operative Ashday’s Child, uses the timeshaft to correct mistakes of the past in an effort to extend the life of the planet.
But the enigmatic Ashday’s Child has his own destiny to accomplish, and will do whatever it takes within a complicated web of paradoxes to do so. While his destiny—and very existence—is challenged from the beginning to the end of time, he must collect the key players through the ages to create the very timeshaft itself.
“Do our actions as time travellers change what would otherwise have happened, or is everything already laid down in a predetermined plan?” he asks.
Set in Australia, London and Scotland, along with an unknown geographical location called Thiecon, Timeshaft follows the fortunes of two sets of time travellers, combining Ashday’s Child’s activities and hidden agenda, with an accident befalling the very first time journey by the fledgling Time Research And Exploration Project.
Not wanting to give away too much of the plot, or its surprises and paradoxes, the story revolves around Ashday’s Child having to rescue the world’s first time travellers, and reveal the secrets of time travel to them, enabling them to go back in time to pass those secrets on to the organisation researching it.
We see them nearly burnt at the stake as witches, then whisked off to the far future where the sun and Earth are dying, before the story turns full circle and all loose ends are tied up.
I had to mix both historical and scientific research with pure fiction. For example, my description of the astro-temporal physics of the timeshaft and how it connects with ley lines, comes entirely from my own imagination, but I did need to undertake extensive research into solar wind. My somewhat tongue-in-cheek portrayal of teleports, aircars and holographic entertainment in the opening chapter in 2345 came from reading too many pulp sci-fi novels in my childhood, and watching TV series like Lost In Space, Star Trek and The Jetsons.
There are a number of references to historical events and characters, including William Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre, how Margaret Hughes became the first woman to be allowed by law to perform on stage, the way King Charles 1’s subjects perceived him shortly after his ascension to the English throne, a little of the history of a manor house on the edge of London, and how Thomas Coryate introduced forks into England in 1611.
- How is the title significant?
It sums up the very essence of the book. As the means by which the characters move through time, the timeshaft itself is what enables everything to happen.
- Where did inspiration for this come from?
The original idea for the story came from a walk in a London park in 1991 with my wife, father-in-law and baby son in his pram (we all get a cameo role in the book with a dramatization of that actual event). My father-in-law mentioned that there had once been a manor house in the park which was demolished many years previously…and that a plaque in the churchyard commemorated a well-known British comedian who committed suicide in the 1960’s. Those two comments were the foundation stone for Timeshaft, which is my most successful novel to date.
I used the storyline from my first short novella (Malfunction) as the opening chapter for Timeshaft, and as the book developed I saw how I could also include another, even shorter novella, Ashday’s Child, and that became a chapter mid-way through the book. I renamed Timeshaft’s leading character as Ashday’s Child, and if it’s ever made into a film, the actor Donald Sutherland would be absolutely perfect to play him.
Tell us a little bit about the characters? What are they like and how did you come up with them?
The main character is Ashday’s Child, who remains somewhat enigmatic until he finally reveals what’s been driving him all these years. Here’s where we first meet him: Bradman stared at the tramp’s old, lined face, noting with distaste the small weasel eyes set too close together, the lank grey hair desperately in need of a wash, and the narrow tapering chin desperately in need of a shave.
We are there at his birth on 25 December 1627; we witness his parents’ funeral; catch a brief glimpse of him on his 20th birthday as a stunning new world opens up for him; see him haul himself acrobatically out of a gaping hole full of spiders when he is 73 right at the very end of time itself; wonder at his heartless and cruel nature nonchalantly accepting collateral damage when his actions kill a number of innocent people; and look on in awe at his incredible plan to resurrect the dying sun and Earth to give mankind another chance. Then, finally, we see his personal world shatter at some devastating news that rocks him to his very core. Oh, and there’s also a scene where he admonishes his own mother for drinking brandy while she is pregnant….with him!
I wanted each of the main characters to fully earn their place in the story and not simply be a passenger or plot device, and I thought I’d achieved that. But my publisher’s editor felt the original manuscript undervalued Caitlin Lang, so I worked hard at the editing stage to develop her character.
Not a lot of people know this (!), but in the original manuscript, the very last line revealed another of the young female characters, Nadia Reeder, to be Ashday’s Child’s daughter. My editor didn’t like that, one little bit. So out it came…along with a few clues to that relationship that I’d scattered throughout the story.
When I was planning the novel and outlining the plot, deciding the roles they were going to take, I created back stories for each of the six main players, drawing up their characteristics.
- Who do you think would like your story and what kind of readership are you aiming for?
Although it’s sci-fi based, I like to think it’s also a thriller as it rocks along to the past and future with twists and paradoxes galore. It’s been enjoyed by a diverse range of readers, some of whom said they had never considered sci-fi before.
- What is the message you are trying to get across in your book?
As I only write to entertain, I never set out to ingrain a message into my readers, but the underlying theme in Timeshaft is the devastating path mankind is now taking in terms of damaging the planet, and the consequences that brings. So I suppose the message is “Safeguard the environment.”
- What is your writing process like?
I have a good idea of where the story’s going, and I usually know the ending right from the start. But sometimes the journey between the two takes me down uncharted roads, as the characters want to do their own thing. But I’m always happy to let them. In fact, a fairly minor character in Timeshaft suddenly said something which changed the entire premise that the hero had been working to throughout his entire life, and that actually changed my planned ending, too.
As my fingers fly across the keyboard they invariably mis-spell words, and my neat and ordered mind (bordering on OCD) becomes at odds with itself – do I go back and correct the spelling immediately, or do I wait until I’ve finished that scene? Decisions, decisions.
I love the overall creative process of seeing my ideas come to life, as the scene physically unfolds in my mind’s eye, rather like a film.
- How do you go about editing your story?
Editing!! Writers either love it or hate it. Maybe I’ll get a splinter in my posterior for sitting on the fence on that point. But that’s only because it depends on what stage of my book we’re talking about. I always expect to do a considerable amount of editing after the first draft to knock it into some semblance of order before sending it on to my publisher’s editor, so it doesn’t get torn apart too badly.
I regard editing as a two part process: roughing, then finishing.
So, a couple of weeks after finishing the first draft I print it off and have a read-through. And nearly die of embarrassment. Did I really write such rubbish? Ah, but hold hard – it’s always like this, isn’t it? A few days of picking through it, developing a few scenes here, cutting a few scenes there, showing a particular character trait earlier in the book so the reader’s not surprised by something later on, and, yeah…that’s okay. Pleased with that. That’s the editing I like.
Off it goes to the professional editor.
And back it comes, almost every page marked with red. Developmental edits, they call them. “Oh, and change the order of a couple of chapters.”
OK…now to print off two copies. One showing all the editor’s comments with the tracked changes, and one without the comments so I can read the story clearly. Yes, what they’ve asked for makes perfect sense, and it will work extremely well. Order of chapters changed: check. New scenes added: check. More banter added between the main characters: check. Final read through, and back it goes.
So in summary – my process involves big edits to the first draft, to get the story roughly into shape. Then developmental edits as suggested by the professional, which finishes everything off nicely. I hope!
My publisher’s editor was quite clear on certain aspects that needed improving, and I was working on that part from June last year through to November. New scenes had to be included to further develop certain characters and explain the reasoning behind situations, other characters needed a reduced role in the story, and it was revealed right at the end of my original manuscript that two characters were father and daughter. That was a big no-no for my editor, who asked for that to be changed.
While all these changes to my “baby” were disappointing at the time, I can see now how absolutely right the editor was. She made Timeshaft a much better book than my original manuscript.
- Where did you find your cover artist and what was the process like?
I looked through the work of the cover artists on my publisher’s database, and worked with the one whose experience I thought fitted perfectly with the genres I write.
- How did you go about getting published?
I polished the manuscript until I could see my face in it, and submitted it. I had already self-published, but was absolutely thrilled when I was accepted by a “mainstream” publisher.
- What was your self-publishing experience like?
It was invaluable in getting me started on my publishing journey. I began with Smashwords, then moved onto KDP, going down the ebook route, as I felt that was the way forward for publishing. In recent years the rise of ereaders has had a significant impact on the book purchasing market.
Then one of my short stories was published in a paperback anthology, and to see my work in actual printed book was somewhat magical. I was smitten, and started my search for a traditional publisher to bring my books out in paperback. Since being picked up by a traditional publisher, I haven’t self-published anything else.
What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
There are definitely both. The pros – far greater royalties, and being in complete control of your book, including words, cover and marketing. The cons – you miss out on the professional touch of an experienced publisher. My publisher provides the editor, proofreader and cover designer…and it doesn’t cost me a penny!
- What were the surprises? Good or bad? If so, what were they?
Nothing bad, other than if you count the hard work and long hours required, both for self-publishing and after being accepted by a traditional publisher, as bad!
Good surprises? Definitely discovering the wonderful camaraderie in the writing industry, including meeting fantasy novelist DM Cain on Twitter and then finding we live literally 500 yards from each other!
- How do you go about promoting your book as a self-published author?
Promoting and marketing our books takes an inordinate amount of time, and is the part of being an author that I dislike the most. I’d much rather be writing the next story, but it has to be done. My marketing included promotions on KDP, competitions on Facebook and Twitter, author talks to local groups, and getting my ebooks accepted by local libraries/ However, since moving out of the world of self-publishing and can truly call myself a “published author,” a lot of promotion is now handled by the publisher, but I still offer a free book in return for an honest review, give author talks, and have been successful in getting my paperbacks stocked at local libraries.
- Is there something about the whole process you wish someone had told you before? Good or bad?
Be prepared for long hours, burning both the midnight oil and candles at each end. And be prepared to never be off-duty. I’ve spent an hour every day working on edits while on a fortnight’s holiday (that daily hour was around a pool with a very large gin in hand, so it wasn’t too bad), and I wrote my acclaimed short story The Twitter Bully over three two hourly sessions in the ship’s library while on a cruise.
- Do you have any advice for writers who want to self-publish?
Don’t think about it, do it. But, before you press the computer key that sends your manuscript on its way to formatting for ereaders and paperbacks you must do one thing: make sure it’s as error-free as it can possibly be. Proofread, proofread and proofread again. There’s nothing more offputting to a reader than being confronted by literals.
- What plans do you have for the future of your writing?
I was signed by a new publisher from June 1st, after my original one announced it was ceasing trading. They’ve reissued Timeshaft and In Shadows Waiting, and later this year will be bringing out the novel I am currently working on. I’m also hoping they will also publish a collection of my short stories and a brand new novel in 2017.
- What are you social accounts if people want to connect with you?
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/StewartBintAuthor/
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