We are thrilled to welcome Al Robertson, to the blog for a special Q&A blog post. Al Robertson’s thrilling new SF adventure WAKING HELL is out now in bookshops. We caught up with Al to ask him some of burning questions about life, reading, writing and mythological creatures.
Who is your favourite author?
I’d say there are several, depending on what mood I’m in, which book I happen to pull off the shelves and what I’m reading at any given moment. At the moment, the list would include Leigh Brackett for her wondrous planetary romances, Joseph Hone for his bleak, undeceived spy thrillers, the New Wave trio of Michael Moorcock, J.G. Ballard and M. John Harrison, and Aliette De Bodard – I’m hugely looking forward to seeing where her Dominion of the Fallen series goes next.
What book do you most often recommend to friends?
Again, that changes. Just now, I’d say either Ellen Ullman’s The Bug, Catriona Ward’s Rawblood or Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Between the Woods and the Water.
The Bug is astonishing SF, at once utterly mundane (it’s about a mid-80s programmer who’s broken by a bug in some code he’s writing) and completely rigorous in its use of technology to create a new, entirely modern language for emotion. I’ve spent a lot of time in Devon over the years, so – quite apart from its terrifying brilliance – the deep sense of place that suffuses Rawblood stopped me in my tracks. And Between the Woods and the Water is such a sad, profound book, a piercing elegy for a vanished pre-war Europe. A particularly important read, given how determined so many of us seem to be to eradicate all traces of the European from our national life right now.
Oh, and as a very last one The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon – an 11th century lady of the Japanese court describes its daily goings on, her personality glowing out of every single page. When I finished it I felt like I’d a lost a new friend I’d only just made.
What is your favourite SF or fantasy world?
From an SF point of view, the one we all live in right now! There’s so much extraordinary new technology hitting us all the time, it’s endlessly fascinating watching how we’re finding ways to use it and how it’s changing us. And from a more fictional point of view, either Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse or H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhuverse (if that’s what you call it). Exploring both at roughly the same time was a profoundly formative experience.
What is your favourite SF or fantasy creature or character?
Another formative one – Judge Dredd. Reading 2000AD back in the 80s was such a wonderful experience, there was so much astonishing stuff in there. And it left me with a default sense that SF (and fantasy too) should always be crazily propulsive, utterly subversive and ever-so-slightly nuts. Oh, and if I can balance him out with a more recent obsession – Gef the Talking Mongoose.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I always write books on my laptop, but I always plan them on paper. And when I’m planning them, I always use a fountain pen. I’ve got two – an old Shaeffer one that was a graduation present from my Dad, and a Lamy Safari pen. I use the Lamy pen more because they don’t make nibs for the Shaeffer one any more and I don’t want to wear it out! They both write so smoothly, it’s such a pleasure to get words down on paper with them. And because I only use them for book-related writing, pulling either one out gets me into absolutely the right frame of mind.
If you weren’t a writer what job would you liked to have gone into?
I went to a Jean-Michel Jarre gig the other day and was very struck by how much fun he was having, and how cool it must be to be up there, pumping out ferocious electronic music while surrounded by an incredible lightshow and projected images and film. So – and this is of course a total fantasy – if I wasn’t a writer I’d love to be that kind of musician.
Seeing how every single reader creates their own version of your books.
What one item could you not live without?
Tell us something that will surprise your readers.
I used to be a vocalist in a metal band, and for one gig wrote a half hour long heavy ritual to summon Herne the Hunter to a pub in (of course) Herne Hill. He appeared.
What makes you happy?
Being at home with my family, ideally in front of a roaring log fire after a long walk on the South Downs. Being in the pub with interesting people, talking until whenever. Exploring new places. Watching a new book go out into the world. And playing board games!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
It wasn’t given to me, it was given to Luke Skywalker – the moment in The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda says to him ‘Do. Or do not. There is no try.’ I was watching it when I was trying to be an author, having already tried to be a poet and tried to be a screenwriter. I realised that Yoda was right – I needed to stop trying and start doing. All the short stories and novels that I’ve written since began at that moment. And a lot else as well.
If you could have a drink with one of the characters from your book which character would it be and what would you drink?
Rather than just one of them, I’d love to have all of the lead characters from both books round for supper – I think they’d get on really well with each other. If nothing else, they’d bond over all the tough situations I’ve put them in, cliffhangers I’ve imposed on them, etc. I’d cook them all a huge curry to thank them for putting up with it all. And if I did have to choose one, it’d probably be the Caretaker from Waking Hell. It’s easy to think he’s just an aging hippy, but he has some fascinating hidden depths…
What book are you currently reading?
I’ve got three books on the go. First of all, there’s Joseph Hone’s The Private Sector – a bleak, evocative spy novel set mostly in Cairo. Secondly, I’m deep in Ken Hollings’ Bright Labyrinth, from the ever-wonderful Strange Attractor Press, which digs into modern tech in really fascinating ways. And finally, I’m dipping in and out of Alan Jenkins and John Kinsella’s Marine – it’s fascinating watching the two poets play off each other.