James Smythe is author of the fabulous The Testimony, the review of which you can read here. He kindly agreed to answer some of my questions…
In the tradition of Twitter, describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
I’m a writer of books. I’ve had two released, and have got some more coming soon. Also, video games and teaching!
How excited were you to see copies of The Testimony on bookshop shelves?
Ludicrously. I bought the first copy I saw, in my local Waterstones. And then I went to the exceptional Manchester Arndale centre Waterstones, where they had a stand and a table with the book on, and I swear I thought I was going to hyperventilate.
Personally I think the hardback cover is rather sexy, do you like it and did you have any input into the design?
I love it. It’s a great cover, designed by an awesome designer called Dominic Forbes. There was some iteration, but the design is pretty much all his. I just said when I didn’t like a proposed colour, and we ended up with silver/magenta treat that it is now.
Where did the idea for The Testimony come from?
It was a very different novel when I started writing it: I was interested in the idea of how different religions can exist together, and how faith can be seen by some as something tangible, and it grew from there. And originally it ended with a race to some sort of new Holy Land, but it wasn’t doing what I wanted. I wanted a world with a void of something, rather than an abundance of it. So I went back to it and reworked it, and here we are today.
Why did you choose to tell the story through the eyes of 26 different characters?
I thought about talking-head documentaries, to begin with. The idea of people being interviewed on camera really intrigued me, especially knowing that they were therefore alive to tell the tale. Stick them in an apocalypse, let them tell their stories. And the number went up and down: characters got cut, new characters got added. It settled where it settled.
Which of the characters do you most identify with?
Ooh. Tough question. Except for her age and gender, Meredith Lieberstein, I’d say. Somewhere between her and Mark Kirkman. Not even sure why, but those are the ones I’d say I most associated with – and certainly the ones I found easiest to write.
Is it important that your writing raises questions or are you happy just to entertain?
I’m definitely more interested in story, as a reader and writer; but I love questions. I don’t think anything in life is clear-cut, and I don’t think it necessarily should be in fiction.
Why do you think end of the world stories are so popular right now?
I think we’re at a point where we’re totally tuned in to everything. The world in general is smaller than it’s ever been, in terms of communication; and yet we have access to so much more. I think it’s human nature to destroy things that get a bit scary and all-encompassing; that seems as good a reason as any.
What are you working on now?
I’ve got a novel out in January, called THE EXPLORER. It’s a more SF thing, about a lonely astronaut called Cormac, and there’s lots of death and twists in a very small spaceship.
Then, in April (probably) there’s another novel, which is (maybe) titled THE MACHINE. It’s about a treatment for PTSD that involves the deletion and subsequent creation of memories, and a woman whose husband undergoes that treatment. It’s probably darker than my other writing, I’d say.
And I’m currently working on a sequel, of sorts, to THE EXPLORER…
So I see you also design narrative for games. Is that as fun as it sounds?
It’s great. It’s storytelling, dialogue-writing, designing levels, designing characters, making sure that the story works as well in the game as can be… I love it.
What’s on your to-be-read pile?
The pile is so large it dwarfs me, and I’m 6 foot 7. Top of the pile: Michael Chabon’s TELEGRAPH AVENUE, Laurent Binet’s HHhH, Iain Banks’ STONEMOUTH. They’re coming when I finish Naomi Wood’s exceptional THE GODLESS BOYS.
Also, I’m starting a project, where I’ll re-read every single Stephen King book in chronological order and write about them. I’ve read one, so far, and that’s going to be huge undertaking. (The blog to track my progress, incidentally, can be found at thesparrowsareflying.tumblr.com…)
In event of an apocalypse, what 5 things would you grab as you fled your home?
Assuming loved ones and pets are already out: Macbook Air (because there would be a story in it); Britta water filter (practical); Kindle (because it might get boring); Nintendo 3DS (because I might eventually run out of books); that packet of astronaut food I was given once (because it’ll never go off, and I might have a real hankering for dried strawberry ice-cream at some point).
Favourite type of cake?
Apple. My editor Laura actually gave me a culture to make a really good apple cake with the other day. I’m dead excited about the finished product.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Honestly? Not much. The past couple of years I’ve written every single day of my life, to make it work with the job. I sit and eat biscuits and play games and walk the dog. Oh, and I’ve recently gotten really into coffee.
Would you like to share something interesting you’ve found online recently?
This is the story of Tarrare. It’s amazing and horrifying and weirdly funny, and I’m going to write something about him…
Where can your readers/stalkers find you online?
A big thanks to James for taking the time to chat. Now go read his book!
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