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"I'm not the most disciplined of writers..."

This interview, conducted by fellow Prospective Press author Shervin Kiani, originally appeared on his tumblr blog here. His great, Arabian Nights influenced adventure novel, Sati and Doghu is available from Prospective Press here.

Hi Geoff, and congrats on Archie’s Mirror. We have both published young adult (or “all-ages,” as I’d like to term it, so as to include a non-exclusive readership) fantasy novels. My book is set entirely in a fantasy world, while yours has a divide between our world and a “mystical land.” Was that a deliberate decision, or did it flow naturally out of the story you were transcribing from your imagination onto the page?

One of my starting point for Archie’s Mirror was to write a story that was as much about story-telling as it was about the tale itself, and it was important to have a ‘real-world’ beginning from which the fantasy elements could grow. There are deliberate ‘bread-crumbs’ from the real world that find their way into the land beyond the mirror. Early on, Archie looks under his bed and sees various examples of childhood detritus: some broken toy knights, an old stuffed monkey, a forgotten golf ball. Each of these elements then appear, to a greater or lesser extent, in the story once it moves to the Land Beyond.

Similarly, as he’s drifting off to sleep at the beginning, he visualises a version of the Land Beyond in the cracked paintwork and shadows of his ceiling; he’s almost subconsciously creating the adventure before he even arrives in the fantasy world – or perhaps the fantasy world is already seeping into his mind. I think the thing about imagination, and particularly childhood imagination, is there’s a blurring between what’s real and what’s imagined. This seemed to me to be an exciting theme to explore in the book.

Sati and Doghu is partially inspired by The Arabian Nights, but has various other influences, mainly British ones, as I’m a huge anglophile and consider many of the best fantasy stories to have come there. Authors like George Macdonald and Lord Dunsany come to mind—to name but two of the best. Were you inspired or influenced by these writers as well, or would you say your literary interests lie more outside the canon of English fantasy fiction?

I’m a big fan of comic books so I would say that my influences are more Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis and Neil Gaiman than traditional fantasy authors. Although in some respects the story could be seen as a relatively traditional fantasy (a couple of early reviews likened it – favourably, thankfully – to the Chronicles of Narnia) I wanted to introduce enough ‘off-kilter’ touches to subvert some of the more traditional fantasy elements and keep it interesting. So, the giant isn’t a brainless thug or even much of a fighter, but rather a somewhat cultured creature who enjoyed an illustrious career as an actor and now spends much of his time on the Land Beyond equivalent of a golf course, and the Moon Wolves bear more than a passing resemblance to certain pop-culture beatniks.

Humour plays as big a role in the book as action and adventure. I grew up on a comedy diet of Monty Python, and later the films of Terry Gilliam (particularly Time Bandits and Jabberwocky). Both were influences on the humour in the story. I like to think that Cornelius, the Cloud Cuckoo, who helps Archie and his companions reach the Palace of Ice and Tears by building them a cloud, wouldn’t have been out of place as a character in either of these films.

I began writing, around age eight, with a pencil, then pen, then various coloured pens, then a typewriter—and finally, a computer. I type most of my stories now, although I still handwrite notes. Do you use word processors for your writing, or like Clive Barker, are you enamored by the physicality of writing long-hand?

I do much of my writing on the move – on trains, in coffee shops, during my lunch hour at work – so I never go anywhere without a pen and notebook. Long-hand is definitely my preferred method of getting the initial ideas down on paper a chapter at a time before typing it up. I like that moment of surprise you get when you’re transcribing what you’ve written in long-hand and think ‘where the hell did that idea come from’?

Originally, I had written Sati and Doghu as a novella, and was subsequently encouraged to turn it into a book. Then, near completion, I was persuaded to turn it into a series, of which I’ve recently finished the sequel. Did Archie’s Mirror go through similar permutations, or did you always intend it to be part of a trilogy? Do the following books continue the story from the first book, or are they set in the same world but separate storylines?

To be honest, I was never entirely sure what Archie’s Mirror was going to be. When I first sat down to write it, I had the first chapter and that was it. There were elements involving Archie’s missing father, which I knew I’d have to resolve at some point, and set pieces/characters that would develop from the items Archie find under his bed, but I didn’t really know what they would end up being. It was only when I sat down mapped out each chapter that I thought that, yes, maybe there’s enough here for an entire book.

As I started to explore the Land Beyond myself I realised that there were other stories I could tell and the idea of a trilogy began to take shape. Once I’d written the final line in Archie’s Mirror, which references the terrible dragon ‘Gravalax’, I was committed to at least writing a second book. I’ve just finished the sequel – it’s called ‘Dragonspeak’ – and I’m now in the process of planning how Archie’s story will conclude in the final part: ‘Darkness Risen’. I think there’s something about those of us who grew up with the original Star Wars films that means that trilogies are hardwired into the minds of fantasy and sci-fi writers.

My creative output and ambitions were encouraged very early on by some remarkable teachers I was fortunate enough to have. There were, of course, key authors and books that fueled that passion, too. Do you recall who and/or what sparked your own interest in writing? Were you similarly inspired at a young age?

I remember in an English class, when I was around 12 or 13, I wrote a story about a guy camping alone out in the moorlands. There’s a storm and his imagination starts to race away with the memories of an old ghost story of a headless horseman that was said to haunt the moors. As the storm grows in intensity, so does the guy’s terror until he meets a somewhat sticky demise. My teacher had read it to her husband, who shuddered at the end and turned to her to say that it was the most terrifying thing he’d ever heard. Once I’d had that kind of reaction I knew that I had to do something that involved making up stories.

As a father of a very lively six-year-old, I don’t have as much free time to write as I use to, but I’ve gotten into the habit of writing mostly late at night when everything is still and everyone else is asleep. I know you have a son as well, so finally I’ll ask you my preferred question for parents who are also writers: when and where do you find the time and energy?

You’re right…work and life both have a habit of getting in the way (and, unfortunately, neither of us are quite at the point where someone will pay us to stay home and just write!). Although I’m not the most disciplined of writers – there’s no way I could stick to a regime of writing at least 2,000 words per session – I am quite good at taking advantage of half an hour here, a couple of hours there. I travel quite a lot with work and those train journeys can prove invaluable.

Geoff, thank you, and best of luck!

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