The best part of my job as Public Relations Officer is to get to know our authors and to read their books! Reading Monday Luck inspired me to request an interview with author Neil Robinson in order to find out more about the man behind the words.
So without further delay here is my interview with author Neil Robinson about his latest book Monday Luck!
Larisa: What inspired you to start a career in writing?
Neil: “Career” is too grand a word. A much better writer than me once said, “I write to understand, not to be understood.” To some extent that’s true of me, though I’m not convinced it’s the best way to write. Writing is something I do sometimes. It would be nice if one day I was paid lots of money for it.
Larisa: How long have you been writing?
Neil: As a child I lived in a world of my own; at least, that’s what adults kept telling me. I had lots of fantasies, which grew more complex as I grew older. I used memory to keep track of things, but once complained to my mum that I was having difficulty remembering where I was in a particular storyline. She suggested I write my thoughts down. I was thirteen or fourteen. Because I’d daydreamed too much at school, my writing skills weren’t great; but for some reason I persevered. And I’m still persevering now that I’m old.
Larisa: What do you feel are the benefits to being published with an Indie Press?
Neil: Like Indie music, I think the Indie press is often, in artistic terms, ahead of the conventional big-business side of the industry, which these days gives the impression it’s only interested in publishing the work of celebrities, top chefs, or established authors with huge earnings potential. If you’re part of the Indie movement you’re riding the crest of an imaginative wave – the mass of water beneath you is the traditional industry, which might swallow you up and carry you along with it, or drag you under and drown you. Still, there’s nothing more exhilarating than riding the crest of a wave.
Larisa: How did you come to work with Immanion Press?
Neil: Immanion Press were nice enough to publish my first novel, Oliphan Oracus, a while ago now. As I recall, another writer, a friend of mine, heard that Storm had launched Immanion, and he suggested my work might suit its brief. So I submitted Oliphan Oracus, and Storm phoned me a short time later. The rest, as they say, is history.
Larisa: How did Monday Luck evolve? And what inspired you to make the main character a children’s entertainer?
Neil: I’d long been interested in the idea of a modern fable – something that wasn’t a direct allegory, but which tried to describe a modern mythological landscape. I was influenced by authors like Michael Moorcock, James Joyce, JG Ballard, Angela Carter and Iain Banks (with and without the “M”). And I was fascinated by the Fortean Times and its record of strange phenomena. For many years I was a journalist, so I also wanted to use some of my reporting experiences, suitably adapted of course. All this was knocking around in my head with stuff I’d learned about Robin Hood and the Arthurian Cycle. Some of the first drafts of Monday Luck were quite different from the end product.
At the time I started writing the novel I was caring full-time for my two sons. I saw the shows of a lot of children’s entertainers. I have to say, those acts were not like Lenny’s; they were very good, and I admired them greatly. Lenny’s occasional incompetence is no reflection on real children’s entertainers. He’s the wandering clown: a bit sad, a bit funny. And his specialty, juggling, is a good – if slightly clichéd – metaphor for the way he manages the relationships in his life. I was juggling too, trying to deal with the various sub-plots and concepts of Monday Luck.
Larisa: Was the use of slang intended to integrate readers into the culture of the book?
Neil: Yes. I wanted to give the impression that the characters moved and spoke within a world of their own, which was similar to our everyday world, but a little out of synch with it – sometimes a lot out of synch. You’ll find many London expressions and some Cockney rhyming slang. I hope it isn’t too confusing for non-natives. There is also mention of a rhyming slang created by Lenny, Simon and co. and based on the names of celebrities. I suspect all families and circles of close friends communicate in the context of a private mythology, which of course is reflected in their language.
Larisa: The characters in the book seem to be inspired by the 1980s. Are you yourself a fan of this era?
Neil: I’m not exactly a fan of the 80s; I just lived through them. In Monday Luck I’ve tried to produce a portrait of my generation, so the 80s, which was a time of great social upheaval in the Britain of my youth, feature prominently. So many business kingdoms like Marian’s rose and fell. It was a time of internal conflicts and big hair, and of metaphorical dragons that scourged the land and have still to meet a knight capable of slaying them. You can’t beat that stuff. Of course, the 60s, 70s and early noughties also play a big part in the book. The 70s, which had punk rock and so much fascinating TV, are particularly important.
Larisa: How much research on Gene Roddenberry went into the development of Greg’s character?
Neil: I’m aware of the salient events in Gene Roddenberry’s life, but I wasn’t conscious of using them to construct Greg’s character. He is, of course, hugely influenced by Star Trek, among other science fiction and fantasy shows. In many ways he is the character I identify with the most, though I didn’t grow up in the US or experience the kind of unhappiness he experiences in his childhood. Like Roddenberry, he’s an active, driving personality, in contrast to some other Monday Luck lead characters who are quite passive.
Larisa: Are you, yourself a fan of Star Trek and Mr Roddenberry?
Neil: I am a massive fan of Star Trek and Mr R, though I don’t attend conventions. I think I’ve seen just about every episode of Star Trek: the original and the Next Generation as well as all the films and all the spin-offs. I’ve forgotten a great deal over the years, so maybe it’s time to start re-watching them. Some episodes are among the greatest works of science fiction. One double episode, The Menagerie, springs to mind. It includes footage from the original pilot, The Cage, and has a complex, thought-provoking and moving plot. I found the use of illusion, which takes a crucial role in this and many other Trek stories, very inspiring. Interestingly, Majel Leigh Hudec, later Mrs Roddenberry, plays Number One in the pilot. In the series proper she changes character and is “demoted” to the position of Nurse Chapel, possibly on the insistence of network chiefs. But her former role was more in keeping with Roddenberry’s vision of the future, where women would share equal status with men. In numerous ways Roddenberry was a radical thinker, and Trek’s portrayals of race, religion and politics reflect that. Naturally, because I love Star Trek, I’m not averse to poking fun at it now and again. I adore the way Kirk and his crew bowl up like cosmic cavaliers on some remote planet where cultural injustices have existed for centuries, and, within the space of about half an hour, our good captain and his mates have sorted everything out, leaving the locals looking pathetically grateful but rather shell-shocked.
I was about nine when Trek first aired in the UK, and in those days we had no VCRs. The show clashed with my Cub Scout weekly meetings, and I had to make a choice. It was no contest – the Cub Scouts got the boot.
Larisa: People often say an author is inspired by their surrounds; did you find this true?
Neil: I’m not sure “inspired” is the right word. My surroundings wouldn’t leave me alone. They surrounded me – there was nothing I could do about it – and took me prisoner. The only way I could escape was to put them into a story, mythologize them in fact, and let them have their day in court. I live in Essex, a mundane place that is also extraordinary. That’s one of the main themes of Monday Luck: the strangeness of familiarity. Essex is full of paradoxical landscapes and contrary people. I feel I’ve done what my surroundings asked of me, but they still won’t let me go.
Larisa: Do you personally have any experiences with the paranormal?
Neil: I don’t. I’m sceptical when it comes to the existence of the supernatural. Still, existence is a slippery concept. I think it was the philosopher Kant who said that existence is not an attribute. If you ask me if I believe in a Father Christmas who once a year plunges down chimneys, consumes tonnes of mice pies and litres of sweet sherry and leaves presents for every child in the world, then I would express considerable doubt. But the idea of Father Christmas exists in our collective consciousness and is very powerful.
Larisa: What do you think fascinates people about the paranormal world?
Neil: Many things fascinate people about the paranormal. It invites so many possibilities, some frightening, but others quite appealing. You sometimes hear people say about life: Is this all there is? Well the paranormal says there is something more. It may simply be the possibility of a life beyond this one. Which, actually, is pretty exciting. In evolutionary terms, humans need to exploit their environment, so we’re hard-wired to have a sense of curiosity and wonder, and to seek new experiences. Few things stimulate wonder more than the paranormal. I’m intrigued by what it tells us about ourselves. It’s often a coded way of expressing desires, fears and hopes. Vampires, for instance, tell us about “otherness” and sexuality, among other things.
Larisa: Did show like Destination Truth or similar inspire the book?
Neil: I have to admit that I’ve never seen Destination Truth. I believe this show is on the Syfy channel, which I don’t have access to. However, I was devoted for a long time to the X-Files, which is often very impressive. Like some apparently unrelated series, such as the Sopranos, it is a marvellous “portrait of America” show. The work of Joss Whedon, particularly Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, is also terrific. In Buffy he subverts the Vampire myth with great skill; and the dialogue is always scintillating fun. An episode called The Body, in which Buffy’s mother dies, stands alongside the best of Star Trek.
Larisa: What can we look forward to from you in the future?
Neil: I’m working on a story set thousands of years in the future. From that short description, it doesn’t sound as if there are any links with Monday Luck; but there are – distant links, but present nonetheless. Much of the action takes place in a fishing town which bears a slight resemblance to places like Hull or Grimsby in the early part of the 20th century.
I want to create a surrealistic world where most people are lost most of the time. A Grand Guignol artist uses a swarm of nano-thingies, possessed of a colony intelligence, to create a planetoid. It’s meant to be the ultimate artistic statement rather than a world for human settlers, but many centuries after its creation people set up home there and often find themselves subjected to the bizarre whims of inscrutable, invisible, sub-microscopic artificial beings.
Larisa: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your writing?
Neil: I think that just about covers it…for now.
Thank you to Neil Robinson for taking the time to speak with me. The book Monday Luck is available now!!