Tom Conyers author interview with Smashwords
November 8, 2013
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP, AND HOW DID THIS INFLUENCE YOUR WRITING?
I grew up in the Adelaide Hills, Australia, on a farm of a hundred acres. There was a creek running through the property. In summer, it might be no more than a succession of pools. In winter, it could burst its banks, becoming a raging river. We had sheep whose wool we’d sell. We owned several horses. We also had dogs, cats, and three tamed Magpies that would fly down from their trees in the morning. Although much of the land was cleared, one whole hill was still covered in native forest. There were ruins and relics leftover from the settler days: a stone house, an old pump, the remains of a rock bridge, and traces of roads. The Aboriginal name for the place was Murrumboola, which means ‘waterhole of snakes’. Indeed, there were a great many snakes. During summer, every time you went for a walk, you could almost be guaranteed to see one.
Strangely, I was not frightened of them. But every three months, I’d dream I was going for a walk and I’d see a snake and quickly step onto a rock. I’d then see another snake under the rock, and so jump to a different rock. Before I knew it, there were snakes everywhere, like the Egyptian tomb in Raiders of the Lost Ark. So although outwardly I didn’t show much fear, all those snake encounters must have had a cumulative build-up in my mind, manifesting my fear in the form of these quarterly nightmares. I do love snakes, though, but they need to be left alone. For me, growing up on a farm meant at an early age I had to get good at creating my own entertainment, my own games, my own world. Writing novels is really just the logical development of those formative years.
I still dream about that farm and would one day dearly love to live in the country again.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST START WRITING?
I’ve always written. I still have stories I wrote when I was a kid. But I didn’t think of myself as a writer till much later, in my twenties. Oddly, in school, I jotted down a lot of notes and poems and stories with the idea that I could one day hand them to an author to develop. I’ve always created lots of art as well, and most people at the time viewed my art as my calling, which is perhaps why it took me a while to accept that the writing side to me had equal validity. Even once I accepted I was a writer, for a long time I thought I’d only write one play, one novel, etc. But even as I wrote my first play and novel (‘Morse Code for Cats’), I was working on others. For a long time now I haven’t asked myself whether I’m a writer or not. I just find myself writing all the time, which I guess is as clear an answer as any.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND ‘MORSE CODE FOR CATS?’?
‘Morse Code for Cats’ came out of a writing assignment I received at university way back in ’98. The topic we were given was ‘My friend and I.’ It seemed the most boring heading in the world, but I soon found myself engaged in a short story about an aspiring cricketer, Sam, and his fundamentalist Christian friend, Joe, and the attraction between them. I got a rare A+ for the essay and found that I wanted to write more about these two characters. The short story therefore became the novel ‘Morse Code for Cats’. I put my all into writing ‘Morse Code for Cats’, trying to make it the most honest, raw and entertaining book I could.
It had a small life as a printed book in 2008. I hope it now has a bigger life as an ebook in 2013. I still get people contacting me from time to time on facebook saying that they managed to track down one of the handful of printed copies. They tell me what it meant to them, how it affected them, which is really gratifying. It’s great to receive emails like that because they are from people writing for no other reason than to say they liked your book – liked it enough to take the effort to tell you.
I don’t think I could ever write another story like ‘Morse Code for Cats’ because it was constructed with the kind of fearless hope you lose as you grow older and more cautious.
‘FOREVER HUMAN’ INCORPORATES JUST ABOUT EVERY GENRE! HOW DID IT COME ABOUT?
I like reading pretty much all genres. I feel any genre can throw up interesting books. One doesn’t have the monopoly over another. So I guess being into so many different genres, it was inevitable I’d end up writing something that incorporated many of them in the one story.
I also wanted to set myself the challenge of writing something difficult (difficult to construct, but easy to read, hopefully!). So in ‘Forever Human’ I play with different voices, different styles, different historical and invented periods, and of course with various genres. The book isn’t a melange but has an overarching, tightly structured plot involving a trio of characters and their various incarnations over a three thousand year period.
Essentially, it’s about the way humans don’t learnt from their forbears’ mistakes, or consider their progeny’s prospects beyond the next couple of generations. It questions the need for millennial thinking, which is quite the opposite to what we get in politics, where much of it is geared towards scraping through the next elections.
I also just wanted to create a really strange, even surreal, homage to many of the writers who have inspired me. Anyone who knows Mikhail Bulgarkov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’ will see the strong influence that book had on the writing of ‘Forever Human’.
A more contemporary influence was David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas.’ I’d written several drafts of ‘Forever Human’ before I found out about ‘Cloud Atlas.’ People who’d read my book said I should check it out. I was relieved to find our books were totally different creations! But I was greatly inspired by Mitchell’s writing – his inventiveness, language, ability to inhabit so many voices, and intricate, multi-layered plotting.
I finished ‘Forever Human’ in 2005 and felt it was a failure. I considered cannibalising it for short stories but could never quite bring myself to do that. In 2013 I gave it to an editor, Judie Litchfield, with whom I’d worked before on ‘Morse Code for Cats’, and she felt that the various parts were too long. If each section was shortened (in some instances dramatically) then the overarching story would come through clearly.
I think she was right, and she did a great job of cutting it back to its essentials.
I then handed it to another editor, Bryony Sutherland, to look over it. She felt it was very well constructed, building especially in the last half to a climatic and poignant end. Her editorial changes and suggestions helped eradicate any last remaining distractions, and she believes it is a very accessible book.
Personally, I still think it’s a challenging work, but I hope for anyone who really gets their teeth in it, that they find it rewarding. I feel like it might be the ‘cleverest’ thing I’ve written but hopefully that doesn’t equate to the most pretentious thing I’ve written!
Interview taken from my Smashwords profile:https://www.smashwords.com/interview/tomconyers