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Sunday, 4 September 2011

Author Interview with Adrian Dawson.

Born in Yorkshire, England in 1971, Adrian Dawson’s professional career has spanned design, illustration and animation and he is now Creative Director at a UK Creative Advertising Agency. Adrian’s first novel, Codex, was accepted in 1999 by the first agency he sent it to – at the time, the same agency as J.K. Rowling - but they were unable to place it. After many years of trying to place Codex, it was ultimately taken on by Last Passage and became the Number One Best Selling Thriller Novel on the UK iBookstore of 2010.

Hello, Adrian; your latest book is Sequence; perhaps you’d give us some insight into it in a few sentences?

Sequence is a book set in two distinct timeframes. One story progresses day by day whilst another jumps forward a few years at a time, ultimately landing in 2043. How and why those two stories converge is extremely shocking. If it’s true, it could change the face of the planet forever.

How did you come to write this particular book?

I was a little annoyed that ‘Time Travel’ had such a bad rep., even when covered by well respected authors such as Michael Crichton. I got to thinking that I wanted to write a time travel novel in which the science was accurate, the consequences were real and the whole thing held an air of possibility. More importantly, I wanted to write a novel in which, despite time travel, not one single event in the past could be changed. Then ask the question… so why bother? The answer may surprise quite a few people.

Do you have a favourite character from the book? If so, who and why this particular one?

One of the ‘lesser’ characters in the novel is Tina. She is autistic, mute and phenomenally intelligent. She can’t communicate with others not because she is on a lower plane but because she is on a higher one. For the bulk of the novel she is who she is and perhaps seems a little like a background character. Through a devastating event toward the end of the novel she becomes the key to everything that is happening and I feel for her. I did when I wrote her and I do now.

Where can people buy your books?

Waterstone’s, WHSmith, Amazon, iBookstore. All the usual places, really. “Available from all good Bookstores. And some bad ones!  ;0)”

What qualities does a writer need to be successful?

Luck. When Codex was first rejected by publishers in 1999 it was because it was deemed to be too ‘millenial’. Then, from mid 2000 (Angels & Demons) onwards everyone was saying that it was a bit ‘Dan Brown’ and none of the big publishers would touch it. In 2010 I had a lot of official reviews saying that it was ‘like Dan Brown but better’. If, in 1999, someone had seen its potential it could have had an almost Dan Brown like level of success. Maybe.

What’s your working method?

Index cards. I start with the ending first, and then ensure that everything tapers towards that point.  I have one index card for every chapter with all the major events listed out. I need to do this to ensure that every piece of the puzzle arrives on time and fits where it should. Then I walk the dogs, write the chapter in my head, come home and commit it to paper.

What’s the single biggest mistake made by beginner writers?

I’ve never copied anyone else, but the years of people thinking that Codex was copying Dan Brown when it was written years earlier has taught me that bandwagons don’t take you anywhere nice. I see a lot of people who want to write copying plots, styles or characters from the big sellers. Don’t. Write what you want to write, how you want to write it. We need more rule-breakers coming through.

To what extent are grammar and spelling important in writing?

In the novel itself, hugely. In the way characters speak or narrate not at all. People use bad grammar in real life and realism comes from reflecting that. I’m very careful with my speeling though.

How much do you revise your MS before sending it off?

I have a period where I read a chapter at a time, walk the dogs again and mull it over, then I have a period where I open the MS at random and tweak. This lasts a few weeks usually.

As a writer of Thriller fiction, to what extent do you think genre is useful in the publishing world?

I’m not a ‘literary’ writer, and yet one well known reviewer said of Codex: “The prose is a joy to behold in the early chapters as the author exercises his literary muscle and produces some of the best crafted sentences I have read this year.” To me, genre is irrelevant. Genre is what a book is about, not what a writer is about. Genre is the flimsiest of tags designed to help place things on shelves.

Many authors see marketing as a bind. What's your opinion on this, and how do you deal with it?

I’m a Creative Director at an Advertising Agency so I find it very hard to turn over my publicity to others. On the plus side, it means that I have the skills to program and control my own web presence. For the most part, however, I find it a bind.  That is with the exception of Book signings.   I love meeting readers, and talking about the plot of the novel, or the science behind the story.

What sort of displacement activities keep you from writing?

Anything. Everything. My writing covers a wide range of subjects because I’m into so many things. I then find it hard to get down to actual writing because I’m into so many things.

What support, if any, do you receive from family and friends, writing group, or dedicated professionals?

My three stand-outs are my girlfriend who checks everything I write and then annoys me by finding things I’d missed because I was in mid-flow. Then there are two local guys, one in his seventies who is a novelist himself and one who runs the Nottingham Writer’s Studio and is working on his first novel. The three of them offer all the help, advice, encouragement and corrections I could ever need.

Is presentation of the MS as important as agents and publishers suggest?

Not at all, as long as it’s legible. I’m sure that a lot of exciting and unconventional writers have been lost in the slush pile over the years because their submissions followed rules that they were told to follow and their unconventional nature was lost along the way.

How long does it take you to write a novel?

I have three on the go at the moment – [Sequoia] which is the follow-up to Sequence, plus Memory and Remote. I only write one at a time whilst I research and plot the others but it means that by the time I settle down to write, say, Memory it will be a couple of months at most.

Who or what inspires your writing?

Every strange event I’ve ever read about, every strange fact I ever learned and, more importantly, every strange person I’ve ever met.

If there’s a single aspect of writing you find frustrating, what is it?

Finding the final piece of some very complex jigsaw.

Is there a particular feature of writing that you really enjoy?

Finding the final piece of some very complex jigsaw.

Do you believe creative writing is a natural gift or an acquired skill?

The gift is wanting to write and the wanting to write means that you do write which, ultimately, makes you better at it.

What are you writing now?

I’ve not looked back through all the other interviews, but I guess that the #1 answer to this question is ‘…these answers’. (SA – in fact, that has never been the answer) Apart from that, I’m working on [Sequoia] which is immensely rewarding because I’m trying to combine the most accurate forecast of what 2043AD might be like with the most accurate portrayal I can muster of 1645AD. In case you were wondering, they’re both dirty, horrible, wretched places to be.

Do you have a website or blog where readers can visit? - there’s a little bit of something on there for everyone from my daily ramblings, to research, to current promotions (there’s a fantastic competition running in conjunction with Sequence to locate and find some treasure!) and of course sample chapters of both Codex and Sequence.

Given unlimited resources, where would you do your writing?

Anywhere with a stunning view and an MP3 player.

Where do you actually write?

I write in detail in my head, almost 24/7, but the actual stenography happens in many different places. When I first write a chapter I like to be at my desk as I have a Mac Pro with two 30” screens and I have the research occupying all available screen real estate. When I tweak chapters that can happen almost anywhere: at my desk, Macbook Pro on my sofa, iPad on the train. Often I have conversations between characters in my head whilst I’m out and about and by the time I get home, ten minutes will have that conversation added to the novel.

Adrian is hosting a Twitter Book Club tonight between 8 and 9 o'clock (BST). If you want to get involved, please use the hashtag #Sequence; the link is
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