Interview With the Samphire

27.05.15 (Day 491/48)

14.42

I’m in the minimalist kitchen, preparing tonight’s microwave marvel. I don’t know what it’s going to be yet but I’m buggering about with the various herbs we have dotted around the place. We don’t actually have any samphire but it rhymes with vampire, so it makes for a good blog post title. Other herbs are here, if you know where to look. Method one is to join up the writing.

I’m currently tutoring the landlady’s granddaughter in writing. She’s writing a song and I’m acting as writer in a residence and helping her with rhyme, rhythm  and metaphors. Once we’ve done the lyrics, I have a good friend who will write a melody, then we’ll have a song and aspiration.

My own writing is keeping me busy, with my latest two short stories – The Child Who Wished for Nothing and Ghost Bird – accepted for publication, A Message going into print, my second novel proceeding well and a possible small break for The Paradoxicon via the medium of a promotional interview I gave to my publisher for inclusion in their next magazine. It went well. It went like this in fact:

What is the title and genre of your book? Can you give us a brief summary?

The Paradoxicon is horror / sci-fi. I like to think that it marries the two, as it does science and religion. It’s an exploration of life as we know it but it proposes so much more. It will make you feel small and insignificant but if you grasp certain things, you may realise that you yourself are so much more. The Paradoxicon is more than just a book, as one test reader put it:

“I have just finished reading The Paradoxicon. Steve writes in a way that just keeps you wanting to read one more page, no matter if you’re exhausted after a 12 hour shift or not. Taking you down roads of the unexplained and the fantastic, but keeping you grounded by making Victor a real person easy to relate to – I too would muse these events over a cup of tea and peanut butter on toast in the morning! The book inspires thoughts and feelings on many different levels from having to keep the light on when first being introduced to ‘they’, to feeling a very real human empathy for a character battling his own demons and the collapse of his life. A pleasure to read and thoroughly recommended.”

A summary? It’s hard to summarise a life but here’s how it begins:

You are free to choose but you are not free from the consequence of your choice.

This is the story of a life which hasn’t happened yet. A life that could have been, given the chance. It will happen. In time.

We are about to meet a man who you may or may not like. You may relate to him or you may judge him. The choice is yours. If you’re watching something on TV which you don’t like, there is an off switch. You are holding a book which you may choose to put down at any point.

Does anyone deserve a second chance at life? Who plays judge? You hold a life in your hands at the moment and you may switch it off at any point.

Is it possible to make amends and right one’s wrongs, so that one may clear the slate with life? To live again? Can I put everything behind me and move on?

Is the remorse I feel sufficient punishment for what I have done? Are the constant memories my punishment, to live with me until the day I die?

Travel with Victor Frank in a search for knowledge and the ultimate answer to the ultimate question: that of life. Why are we here?

This is a journey through time, space, dreams and so much more. A trip through the past, present and future. A journey into the unknown.

All of the answers which we seek are here, if we look for them. But we need to know what we are looking for. In order to understand the answers, we need to fully grasp the ultimate question.

This book covers what it means to be human; what life is all about and what it might mean to us and to others.

There are horrors, encounters with strange beings, mysteries, questions and adventure. All are contained within The Paradoxicon; a book about itself and so much else. Hold the hand of the author and be guided through what is literally the story of a life.

After reading The Paradoxicon, you will see your own reflection and shadow differently. You may even fear life itself.

Who is your target audience? Why should they read your book?

I’m my own harshest critic but even I would say that anyone above a certain age ought to read the book, simply because it is so much more than just a book. Those who have read The Paradoxicon range in age from fourteen to eighty two. It’s certainly not a children’s book but it does pose ideas which are apparent to us from the cradle to the grave. It’s made people think and question. Some of my original beta readers still come to me almost a year after I started writing the book and tell me that it is still playing on their minds. They ask me questions which I’m unable to answer of them, for the questions they ask are those which are proposed in the book and which only the reader can fully grasp, if they themselves know what in fact it is which they are questioning.

How did you come up with the title?

Quite simply, Paradoxicon was a word which occurred to me. The Paradox is so many things, in life, the universe and everything: that which we can’t grasp, or aren’t yet able to understand; which may or may not be true but which can’t be confirmed or denied. To believe certain things requires faith. Icon is an image. The Paradoxicon is a book but also an icon, which can’t be explained and which continues to raise questions about itself; just like life. It’s recursion; it’s a paradox, like much of the material contained within it.

Who designed your cover? Why did you go with that image?

I designed the cover myself. I needed something universal, ambiguous and generic but at the same time a graphic which gave the impression that there was something to be found in everything.

Who is your favourite character in the book? Why?

Doctor Miles Brunner. “Character” is an appropriate label, as he is more than one. He’s a bit of an enigma. Doctor Brunner himself is a paradox. I can’t give too much away but you’ll see what I mean if you read the book.

Who is your least favourite character and why?

Well, “They” would have to be my least favourite, simply because of what they are or may be. They encompass all human fear, yet therein lies the root of all questions and therefore, answers. So are “They” bad? They are my least favourite because of the paradox they represent and force us to face. “They” become undeniable in their paradoxical proposition of me creating them and in them, I have created something which even I am afraid to contemplate.

If you could change one thing about your novel, what would it be and why?

On the one hand, nothing. Because the book was written in a relatively short period of time, following a very difficult period in my life. On the other hand, I would perhaps extend it, as I learn more about the life which led me to write the book and which the book and life itself continues to teach me. But my test readers also told me that they themselves were able to draw so much personally from the book, which wasn’t actually contained therein. There’s a degree of ambiguity and suggestion which allows each individual reader to connect, relate and make the story their own.

Do you have a webpage or blog?

http://www.stevelaker.net

My personal blog and my writing can be accessed through the site.

Are you planning any books in the near future?

I’m writing two books at the moment. One is a follow-up to The Paradoxicon: not a sequel but a book which sees “They” from different perspectives. It will be complimentary to the first book and will stand alone in its own right, with no need for cross-reference. The second is a slight departure into a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world where we explore whether anarchy can rule and where certain social classes become disposable people.

What advice would you give other writers who want to get published?

One word: write. It’s a cliche, I know. But just write. Keep a notepad and pen with you and write things down. It doesn’t matter if they don’t make sense at the time or even when you read them back but they form your insight into yours and other people’s minds. My book was by expansion of three short stories I wrote and even those were born of just random thoughts, about mundane everyday things, which I decided to make terrifying.

Keep a blog. You never know where your hand written notes may end up, so keep something indelible online.

Self-publish: the royalties may be miniscule but Kindle is the best route. Show confidence in yourself and get noticed. Publishing isn’t like it used to be. Self-publishing is no longer considered an exercise in vanity but is instead a statement of one’s confidence in one’s work, the long term hope being recognition from a mainstream print publisher.

Talk to your peers. We are some of the most critical individuals you will encounter and we will offer the harshest words you may not wish to hear but you will gain the best support and advice from those in the same position as you. Actively seek critiques, for it is very easy to become self-deluded.

Finally, can you give us a quick snippet or quote from the book that will whet the reader’s appetite?

“If you are reading this, then you are reading this: you are able to read. And if you can make sense of these words, then you understand and I have made first contact. I think, therefore I am. Or am I? What am I?

I may have to leave any time soon. In the event of my leaving, I hope that what I’ve gathered can be kept together; to be retained as a collection: I think it’s all connected but I don’t have time to join the dots. I may not have time to label or catalogue everything, so if someone with more time than me finds all of this, I hope they can continue what I may have to leave. I hope they can find what I sought.

But exercise caution, for some of what I believe to have discovered may require a broad imagination. If you are of a cynical nature and not open to suggestion, then I would politely request that you pass on what you have found to someone who may be better equipped to continue my work. If you wish to be my student and learn, then please read on. One thing you will certainly need is time, which I can give you.

Briefly yours,

Miles Brunner.”

I was thirsty after that and contemplated some coke but went for water instead, then weed.

Then a real high arrived in the form of an unexpected phone call from my love of once upon a time: Steve’s Dan, as she once was, surprised me in the early hours and we spoke for a long time, laughed, joked and generally got on like we always did. Despite everything that has gone before, we remain soul mates, by her own admission. I continue to serve a life sentence of regret after losing her through my own stupidity, driven by alcohol and she is the only one who can ever release me from my personal prison but I’ll always be on bail, unable to forget. How can you forget when you did something awful to the one you belonged with and who you will never forget. She says she misses me: something I say of her every day. We’ll be meeting soon though as Dan has put the icing on my upcoming birthday cake by inviting me over to her place – our old place – on the evening of my birthday. So a perfect day is planned, with a matinee viewing of Les Miserable on the West End stage with two of my best mates – Meg and Nettie – followed by a night with my soul mate.

All of that, plus the fact that my housing benefit is now sorted out and I’m no longer in arrears on my rent, together with realising quite a lot of success with my writing, means that things are okay.

Now I need to see a man about some herbs.

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