Saturday, May 7, 2011
AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Greig Beck
Scott: Thank you so much taking the time to chat with us here at The Fringe magazine. I’ve recently finished reading your latest novel This Green Hell and thoroughly enjoyed it. How has it been received in the market to date?
Greig: Feedback has been terrific. To date, I’ve had positive reviews from many of the literary critics, even making the Daily telegraph’s Book of the Week by Chris Hook. In addition, my agent is excited about it, and preparing for discussions in the USA & Canada, so fingers crossed there was well.
Scott: The details of the weaponry and scientific terminology seem pretty in depth, how much research do you put into these elements of your books?
Greig: I do quite a lot of research – usually I will have in my mind a piece of technology, and then go looking for a fit on the Internet. Sometimes I might find a close approximation and can use it outright, or I may need to tweak it slightly – as an example the ice-gun used in This Green Hell was based on the Metal Storm concept (Australian designed gun that fires 1000s of rounds per second). But be warned – research is dangerous – I can quite often start following all sorts of rabbits down holes. Distraction is easy! But at the end of the day, I have found such interesting things – during one such research detour I learnt about carbon eating microorganisms, the basis for my story.
Scott: A lot of new writers often ask about the amount of pages or words that a published author produce each day. How much time would you spend writing on a typical day, (if a typical day exists for a writer that is)?
Greig: I do have a typical day – I walk the dog, and then go jogging predawn. Then spend my morning on the creative work (afternoon on editing and research). Ideally, I try and produce a minimum of 1000 - 2000 words per day, but if I’m into a good scene, then 8000 words in a day is not uncommon. Bare in mind, it’s all flow of consciousness writing, and needs several edits before it would make sense to anyone else.
Scott: So have you travelled to Paraguay yourself? The vivid imagery of the jungle made me think you had firsthand experience in this setting.
Greig: I’ve never been there, but have been to Australian rainforests. I use a combination of my imagination, broad experience, and also research. Where I’m taking my readers to a specific place, I do research the locale very heavily; right down to what sort of trees they can expect to see, the soil, the climate, the wildlife, even the local dialect or accent help when ‘painting’ a scene. You’d be surprised about how many readers will email me and tell me if I’ve ever got a fact wrong. However, and delightfully, they also tell me when I’ve got it right! A great email I once received, was short and simply said: ‘you took me there.’ Made me feel, as a fiction writer, I’d done my job.
Scott: How do you approach your writing? Do you tend to develop a story in your mind and then proceed to conduct some research or is more of an organic method where you write the story first and research any technical aspects later?
Greig: I usually start with a step-through. All my life, in business or elsewhere, I’ve been a list-maker. I’ll start a story with an idea in mind, and then set out some steps (bullet points), which are major scenes or plot points. Then, if I think it might work, I’ll take it down another level. Then, I’ll list my characters and what I want my readers to know about them. Overall, this acts as a sort of blueprint for me to follow.
For research, if I add in a story element that needs concrete detail, I might just write the word, RESEARCH in brackets, and then come back to it that afternoon, or during a later edit phase. As I said, it’s just a plan, and one I quite often veer off from. During writing, as the story evolves, you need to be able to change course from time to time!
Scott: As a writer it is interesting to hear what other writers read in their spare time. It is often surprising to hear the genres and variety of books other authors read. Can you tell us what are you reading at the moment and what your five favorite books are?
Greig: At the moment, I’m still reading (again) the Wells of Hell by Graham Masterton – he’s my favourite author. Like me, he usually starts with a myth or legend, and then builds the story up from there. Listing my Fav-5 is difficult, and might need some qualification (and a few more Favs) but here goes:
John Carter of Mars series, by Edger Rice Burroughs. I read the entire series when I was about 14… then again at 18, and again at 25. The series was written by Burroughs almost exactly 100 years ago and follows the adventures of ex soldier, John Carter who is transported to Mars. He meets and falls in love with the beautiful Princess Dejah Thoris, and must battle monstrous creatures while saving the red planet. Like the writer’s Tarzan character before, John Carter came from a time when heroes were heroic.
Charnel House by Graham Masterton. My favourite horror author. This story, and Masterton’s earlier works (such as, The Manitou), has some of the most amazing and original terror scenes. This book has the killer first line of dialogue – ‘It’s my house. It’s breathing.’ Many of his stories, like mine today, have as their basis an underlying myth or legend.
Who goes there by John Campbell. A rare short story from the 50s. It was later turned into a movie in the mid 50s, once more in the 80s (called The Thing), and is about to be done once again! Campbell’s description of the psychological breakdown of the men when trapped in the Antarctic while encountering a hostile alien creature is still very powerful. Very claustrophobic, and very frightening.
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Later made into a great movie starring Cliff Robertson (Charley). A simple man undergoes an experimental treatment, and ends up a genius. The book is written like a diary – the main character’s entries progressively go from a crayon-like scrawl, to a very sophisticated prose. The way Keyes has the character grow both emotionally and intellectually is brilliant. (This concept has been used many times – hello Limitless).
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. I remember being in Basel, Switzerland on business, and being in a bookstore on a Saturday morning as they were putting it out on the shelves – I took it straight out of their hands! The story was so fantastic – the research, the characters, and the concepts – wow. I slept about 4 hours, and finished it just in time for work on the Monday morning!
The 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey. I know, I know, this seems incongruous after the other books I’ve listed. But being in a high-pressure technology business for many years, meant there were days when I needed a motivational boost. Of the hundreds (of thousands?) of business books out there, Covey has some simple and sensible concepts that are easy to follow. The ideas still make sense for me today.
Scott: As an Australian author, you seem to set your novels far and wide. Can we expect one set in Australia soon? I’d love to see one based in the Aussie outback or Far North Queensland.
Greig: Perhaps – the Aboriginal Dreamtime is fascinating and populated by some pretty scary myths and legends. In fact, in my next novel (Black Mountains), I make reference to Australia quite a bit (and the hidden valley of the Wollemi Pine).
To date, my readers have asked me to set a story in Australia, go back beneath the Antarctic ice, and also create a back-story of Alex Hunter’s Chechnya mission where he was first wounded. I’ll get around to those eventually. But for now, I have a lot of work still to do on other fascinating subjects
Scott: If you were stranded on a desert island, what five authors would you like to have as companions and why?
Greig: Definitely not one of those authors who read weighty tomes by writers with unpronounceable Eastern European names, or professes to flirt with a little Lithuanian poetry after supper! Instead, it would be authors who have an endless ability to turn out fantastic fictional ideas – King, Masterton, and I’d like to resurrect Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jules Verne. And then finally, I’d add in Tara Moss, so we had some beauty in amongst the beasts.
Scott: Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to your next book.