Recently I had the chance to read Project U.L.F. by Stuart Clark. I enjoyed the book (as you can see in my review) and was pleased when Stuart agreed to a short interview with me. Read on to learn about this first-time author and his take on the genre and the writing process.
Q1: Can you give me some generic background on yourself – when did you start writing professionally, and what have you written besides Project U.L.F.? I did a quick Amazon search and its hard to know if you’re the same Stuart Clark who has written about witchcraft in Europe, or written on the nature of modern cosmology, or all of the above.
Project U.L.F. is my debut novel but I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. When I was in school I used to write stories all the time and then at college I wrote for the college newspaper – just film reviews and sports articles. When I left college I spent a couple of years working as a technical author, so I’ve been writing in one shape or form for most of my life. It’s only now that I’ve been given the opportunity to get published and write professionally.
Q2: We speak often on SFSignal about the nature of science fiction. Do you have a definition that you like to use?
I think of science fiction as simply the extrapolation of what we know to be science fact today. Because of this I think science fiction can be a very personal thing. We can all imagine where a modern technology might take us in the future, but your vision of where that technology takes us could be very different to mine or anybody else’s. Look at the mass of science fiction stories in circulation. Clearly a lot of people have a lot of different ideas of what the future will look like. The great thing about science fiction is that its basis is rooted in science and science itself is a constantly evolving melting pot of ideas. That in itself gives science fiction authors great latitude in where they can take their own ideas about the future.
Q3: How did you get started writing Project U.L.F.? What made you decide to do it, and how did the idea progress into a story?
Actually, when I left college I really didn’t have a job to go to so I spent a few months looking for work and whilst doing that I signed up for a scriptwriting for film and television course. During the last class of that course the instructor told us that we all had to come up with an idea for a movie script that we were going to pitch to the rest of the class (with the rest of the class being “studio executives” who were going to make said script into a movie). I pitched what was essentially the basic outline for Project U.L.F. and it was met with such enthusiasm that I decided to go away and write it – and for some reason it ended up being a novel and not a script.
Q4: Sometimes during the editing process, a book can go through major transformations. Did that happen with Project U.L.F.? Any pieces end up ‘on the cutting room floor’ that are worth mentioning?
Project U.L.F. didn’t really change that much from the original plot line although I regularly reviewed it and gave the manuscript to some trusted friends for comment and criticism. I was also attending a writers group (assembled from that scriptwriters course) so I was constantly getting feedback on the novel as I was writing it.
Once the manuscript was finished I put it away and didn’t look at it for six months before going back to it with fresh eyes. I then went completely through the manuscript twice and did a lot of editing myself before my publisher even saw it. Interestingly enough it was my wife who suggested I drop two rather large chunks from the manuscript (and my editor agreed) – which were basically personal rants about the political state of the (future) world. She just said that they detracted from the story and she resented having to read through them when all she was really interested in was what was going to happen to the characters next. She was absolutely right. One of the basic first rules of writing is not to put in anything that detracts from the story.
Q5: Editors often play a major role on books – was that the case with Project U.L.F.?
Not really, and for that I am grateful. I have a good relationship with all the folks at Silver Leaf Books and my editor, Alison Novak, and I had a very good back-and-forth dialogue about areas of the novel that needed adjustment which was really nice. Some things I took out, others I argued for and we agreed to keep and sometimes we’d both concede and a little re-write would do the trick.
Q6: At the risk of putting the cart before the horse, assuming Project U.L.F. meets with enough success, do you see yourself creating more stories in this universe or are there other, more intriguing ideas you’d like to explore first?
Actually, when I first submitted Project U.L.F. to my publisher, I also submitted outlines for two follow up novels centered around the same characters. So at the time of writing this, the second book in the series is being written. That said, I am constantly having ideas for stories I would like to write, so there are one or two other things that I am considering for the future.
Q7: What authors do you admire most, and why?
I read a lot of genres of fiction so my answer to this question is really a bit all over the place. Firstly, Terry Brooks, certainly early on in his writing career. I thought the original Shannara trilogy was outstanding. With Brooks, I love the way he drops his characters into seemingly hopeless situations and manages to scrape them out of it. Secondly, Craig Thomas, who writes a lot of cold war novels. He’s probably most famous for “Firefox.” I find his descriptions so beautifully written and vivid – it really is almost as if you could be there. Finally, I’ve just been introduced to John Connolly who writes supernatural thrillers. I just really like his writing style. I find him to be such an easy read and he interjects it with a biting humor that has me laughing out loud.
Q8: What are you favorite science fiction books and science fiction movies?
Strangely enough, I don’t read a lot of science fiction. I grew up reading a lot of fantasy (Terry Brooks, Weis & Hickman, Tad Williams). My science fiction tendencies really came from the movies. A major influence was the Star Wars movies. I was five years old when the first one was released. So I have to cite those as being favorites. Other favorites include Alien, Rollerball (the original!) Star Trek – the Motion Picture, The Thing, Close Encounters and Stargate.
Q9: What inspired you to become an author?
I don’t know if I was inspired, I just had a desire to write and I thought I could tell a good story. As I said before, I have always written. I think you either have an urge to write or you don’t. I don’t think it’s something you just decide to do one day.
Q10: The public (or at least publishers) seem to be infatuated with fantasy novels right now, at least more-so than science fiction. What are your thoughts on this, and does it make it easier or harder for yourself?
I think fantasy is just more in the mainstream popular culture right now and I think movies have a lot to do with that. When you think about it a movie gives such a great return for such a little investment of time. You’re in, you’re entertained for two hours and then you’re out again. I think Peter Jackson made the Lord of the Rings Trilogy accessible to so many more people through his movies than booksellers ever could have, and the fact that those movies were so good could have encouraged a lot of people to give the fantasy novel a try. Another case in point are the Harry Potter movies. Admittedly these all started out as books, but the movies created a whole new legion of fans who then went back to try the books. You can see there’s a whole snowballing cycle here. The fantasy novel does well. The book gets made into a movie. A wider audience gets reached who then go back and try the book. The next example I would cite would be Eragon which looks to be a massive hit at the box office. Science fiction, on the other hand, is such a niche audience that it’s difficult to imagine a science fiction movie having as much broad appeal and generating as much interest. Star Wars is perhaps the exception to that rule. At the end of the day publishers are businesses and they will go wherever the market demand is.
I don’t think the popularity of the fantasy genre right now makes it harder for me as a sci-fi author. Certainly a lot of the sci-fi publishers are also fantasy publishers too, so if they are leaning more towards fantasy that might make it slightly harder to get noticed as a sci-fi author. I think there’s more to it than that though. The sci-fi audience is really a tough crowd to please and I think publishers know that and are less likely to take a risk on a sci-fi manuscript compared to anything else. That said, generally I think it’s just hard to get published!