15 January 2012

Interview: Phillip W. Simpson, author of Rapture

I'm extremely excited to have my very first author interview with none other than the fabulous Mr. Phillip W. Simpson, author of one of my favourite books of 2011, Rapture. You can read my review of the book here.


When did you first realize that you could write books?

Possibly about 10 years ago when I took the time off to write my first novel. It was a steep learning curve and I don’t think I was terribly successful. I’ve got better since (I hope). It taught me one valuable lesson, however – writing is a discipline. Anyone can write books, you just have to be dedicated. That means spending a certain amount of time each day doing it.

Do you have a writing ‘’timetable’’ and how do you prepare yourself for a long writing session?

I teach during the day and my wife and I have just had a baby boy (Jack), so I don’t have much time during the week. To be honest, I’m too tired when I get home to summon up the creative energy you need to write a novel. During school terms, I write in the weekends. Usually both days from 8am until about 4pm. I can get on a bit of a roll then. In the holidays, I’ll write every weekday for about the same time. I have the weekends off.

If I write for a whole day, I’ll usually get about 4,000 words done. That’s 20k a week. You do the maths – you can have a whole novel written in about 4 weeks. Of course, it may be terrible, but that’s what the editing process is all about. For preparation, I get on the rowing machine in the morning and listen to my ipod. That’s when I do most of my thinking. I visualize the scenes in my head and the exercise clears my head and gets me charged up.

What are the best and worst things about being an author?

The best things are working from home. In fact, working anywhere you like as long as you have a laptop. Being able to share your story with others. I love that. I have so much stuff going on in my head (I regularly have ideas for other novels), that it would be a shame not to share it. Once I finish this trilogy, I’ve got another three other novel ideas I want to start on.

The worst things. Hmmm. Some would say being isolated but I don’t mind that so much. Probably the pressure, knowing that the success of your writing really depends on you and no one else. You have to treat it like any other job. You can’t just get up in the morning and say ‘I don’t feel very creative today. I’m not going to write.’ It doesn’t work like that.

Living up to expectations. There’s been a reasonable amount of hype surrounding Rapture and I don’t want to let people down by allowing the quality of my writing to slip. I want the next two books to be at least as good, if not better. Also, an author is only as good as his or her last novel. If my next novel bombs, my reputation will suffer.  There are never any guarantees in this business. I’ll be spending the next two years of my life finishing, editing and promoting the trilogy and if it doesn’t sell well, a part of me will think that was two years wasted. I hope not. The other part of me will probably just put it down to experience and get back on the horse. I feel nervous about the other books but I also know that Sam’s story is a good one. Surely even I can’t stuff that up.

Sell Rapture to me in 25 words or less.

Demons. Demons and more demons. The end of the world. A half-demon sword-wielding teenage boy has trained all his life for this moment (23 words. Ha!)

Are any of your characters based on anyone you know personally?

Adam, the leader of the Black Ridge survivors is based on one on my friends. His name is, well, Adam. He’s solid and dependable, too. I killed off quite a few of my other friends in the book too. Grace’s Aunty and Uncle (Greg and Linda Muller) are good friends in real life. I killed them off without giving them a scene. Lots of friends have asked to be included in the next book (their names in any case), but I keep warning them that they will probably die. Rapture may have ended on a hopeful (ish) note, but Tribulation is definitely going to be darker.

Is there a ‘message’ in Rapture that you would like readers to know about?

That’s a tricky one. I’m fascinated by end of the world scenarios, possibly because I read lots of books and watch tons of movies about them. I like the idea of being prepared for a disaster and thinking what I would do in that situation but I certainly hope it never eventuates. The end of the world could happen in lots of different ways. A zombie apocalypse, virus, disease, nuclear war, the Rapture, hit by a meteorite, natural disasters – you get the idea. It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. I suppose then that my message is ‘be prepared.’

My thinking on the subject can be summed up by this quote from Roald Amundsen. I like the way the man thought:
“I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”
from The South Pole, by Roald Amundsen

What has been the most rewarding experience since Rapture was published?

The feedback and reviews I’ve been getting. As a writer, it’s hard to be objective. You never know for sure how good your work is and how it will be received. My publisher and various agents were very excited about it but I tried to keep things in perspective. It’s all about the audience. If they like it – that’s all that matters.

How is Tribulation coming along?  Often the 2nd book in a trilogy is seen as the weakest – do you have any ideas on how you can beat that trend?

Crikey! Asking some pretty hard hitting questions here, aren’t you Kat? That’s exactly what I’ve been worried about. I’m 20k into Tribulation but it’s all over the place at the moment. Normally, I write sequentially – basically how I’ve plotted the book out and how I would like it to appear. I’m trying something different with Tribulation. I’ll write the entire scene (which might be 2-3 chapters worth) before I move onto the next one. I’ll chop them up later. I know flashbacks worked really well in Rapture, but I’m not sure how it’ll work in Tribulation given that we’ve already explored Sam’s backstory. Tribulation is set three and a half years after the Rapture so just over three years since the first book. Lots has happened and so I’ll still need to do the odd flashback to fill the audience in. It won’t be alternating like it was in Rapture.

In terms of the 2nd book in the trilogy being the weakest, I really don’t want this to be a filler. I still want epic scenes and the story to have a climatic ending. This book will be longer, just because there’s so much going on. Sure, I’m setting things up for the climax but we are talking about a seven year time frame here (the Tribulation lasts for seven years).

What are you reading right now?

Game of Thrones by George R.R Martin. I loved the TV series but I have to admit I’m struggling with it, basically because I’m not reading in large chunks at the moment. I kind of dip into it when I have a moment but I’m having a bit of trouble keeping up with who’s who (so many characters). I have the best intentions but because we have a seven month old, I end up falling asleep covered in baby food or something else unmentionable as soon as I open a book. I just bought Tanith Lee’s re-released Tales of the Flat Earth series which I’m looking forward to revisiting. The redesigned cover looks amazing. I’ve heard so much about the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins that I just had to buy it. I’m intrigued too, given that some people have compared Rapture to it. It doesn’t hurt that the movie is coming out shortly as well. Finally, I’ve got Peter F. Hamilton’s collection of short stories, Manhattan in Reverse waiting in the wings. I must admit to being a bit naughty and watching TV rather than reading lately. The Walking Dead (first season) is being repeated here and I keep watching that rather than reading.

How would your family and friends describe you?

Depends on what mood you get me in. My wife would describe me as uncommunicative, intense and irritable if I’m in the middle of writing. Apparently my ears are painted on too, which is a sin that most husbands are guilty of. Mostly though, I guess I’m pretty silly and tactile. I like to laugh and make others laugh too.

Do you have any special hidden talents?

I don’t have any. However, if you define ‘special talent’ as in some vague skill at something, then I play drums in the school band. I’ve been playing for years but I’m still pretty rubbish.  Long ago, I did Kung-fu for six years (I have a brown belt). I sing a pretty mean version of ‘Burning ring of fire’ by Johnny Cash when I’ve had a few drinks.

What would you do if you won a million dollars?

Give up my day job and write full-time.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what are the three things you’d want to have with you?

Sensible answer:
A knife, a tinder box and a medical kit (I watched Castaway)
Stupid answer:
A Lear jet, a case of 25 year old, single malt whiskey and a beach umbrella
The PC answer:
My wife, my son and our love

Quick questions:
Night owl or early bird? Early bird
Beach or mountains? Mountains
Sweet or savoury? Savoury
Toast or cereal? Toast
Dogs or cats? Dogs


Check out these websites for more information: 
www.rapturetrilogy.com 
www.pearjambooks.com


A massive Thank You to Phillip for taking the time to do this interview (even if you do get up early and eat toast with your dog on a mountain! I'm aiming for a late night with a cat on the beach personally!).  I'm really looking forward to Tribulation being released in 2012!  If you haven't read Rapture yet, pick up a copy today - I gave it 5 stars, what more motivation do you need?!



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