Tony Ballantyne is the author of Twisted Metal, Blood and Iron and the Recursion series. He has also written many short stories. Tony grew up in County Durham in the North East of England. He studied Maths at Manchester University before moving to London where he taught Maths and IT. His first SF sale was “The Sixth VNM” which appeared in Interzone 138. Since then he has had short stories appear in magazines and anthologies worldwide. He has also written romantic fiction and satirical pieces for various magazines such as Private Eye. Recursion, his first novel, was published by Tor UK in 2004. He has been nominated for the BSFA and Philip K Dick awards. He now lives in Oldham with his wife and two children. His hobbies are playing the piano, accordion and cornet. He also enjoys walking and cycling.
His new book, Dream London, came out on October 8th, and he was kind enough to chat with me about the new book, and more!
Kristin Centorcelli: Will you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Tony Ballantyne: I’m from the North East of England, I studied Maths at University, I teach computer programming, and yes, I always wanted to be a writer: I’ve written stories since I learnt to write. I’ve been selling short stories and novels for about 15 years now.
KC: Your new novel is called Dream London, and frankly, looks amazing! Will you tell us a little about it and its hero, Captain Jim Wedderburn?
TB: Dream London is a twisting nightmare where the city changes a little every night and the people change a little every day. London has been sold to something in another place, and its citizens are looking to Captain Wedderburn to do something about it.
Captain Jim Wedderburn strode into the pages of Dream London all by himself, looking cool and charming. I disliked him from the very beginning, but people like him have a habit of imposing themselves where they’re not welcome. I decided that if Captain Wedderburn was going to stay, he was going to become a better person. His name comes from an old folk song I heard Bellowhead perform.
KC: In Dream London, London is a constantly shifting landscape. Did anything in particular inspire this vision of London?
TB: Ten years of living there, and then another ten years or so of going back and watching the place change. Actually, I was also inspired by the town in which I currently live. There are around thirty mills still standing in Oldham, there used to be many more. You occasionally come across their remnants in the most unusual places, for example in the middle of what appears to be untouched countryside. The idea that a vast town can spring into being (as Oldham did in the 19th century) and then slowly diminish intrigued me.
KC: What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
TB: Both! Actually, my writing process is constantly evolving. I’ve always written down notes and ideas, I now use the Evernote App on my phone to record notes and pictures. I’m a great believer in getting ideas and dialogue down “fresh”. They’re never as good if you try to recreate them later. I’m actually writing nearly fully realised scenes now on Evernote, line by line, as the mood hits me.
Most of my writing is done using Emacs org-mode. That’s where I knit the pieces together to make a whole.
Of course, all the above gets ignored when the story, as it frequently does, lurches off in a new direction. That’s when I realise that I’ve been writing for four hours and my dinner has gone cold.
KC: What do you enjoy most about writing sf/fantasy?
TB: The fact that I can do whatever I like. I think that SFF is the cutting edge of literature. Mainstream literature for the past thirty or forty years has clearly been getting its inspiration from SFF, not that it will always admit it!
KC: What are some of your biggest literary influences?
TB: Diana Wynne Jones, J.L. Carr, David Nobbs, George Orwell, Philip K Dick, Pat Mills, Kurt Vonnegut…
KC: When you’re not working on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
TB: Walking, cycling or playing the piano and accordion.
KC: What’s next for you?
TB: Finishing Cosmopolitan Predators! for Aethernet Magazine, a couple of short stories set in the Recursion universe and then, I think, getting back to Penrose. Those robots are getting angry…