Andrew Livingstone interview with David Alan Binder
Post date: Apr 20, 2016 1:07:45 PM
Andrew Livingstone interview with David Alan Binder
Dear Readers and Dear Writers, this is my first ever interview from an author based in Scotland! I have left the spelling of the words intact since favorite and favourite mean the same.
Bio: Andy Livingstone was born on New Year's Day in 1968 and grew up with an enthusiastic passion for sport (particularly football-meaning soccer for us Americans) and reading. An asthmatic childhood meant that he spent more time participating in the latter than the former and an early childhood encounter with The Hobbit awakened a love of epic and heroic fantasy that has never let him go. He is a press officer and former journalist and lives in Lanarkshire, Scotland, with his wife, Valerie, and two teenage sons, Adam and Nathan, as well as having four adult stepchildren Martyn, Jonathon, Melissa and Nicolas and four wee grand-bundles-of-energy: Joshua, Riah, Jayden and Ashton.
Hero Born is available in ebook (£1.99/$2.99) and paperback (from £8.29/$14.61) and Hero Grown, to be released in June 2016, can be pre-ordered now as an ebook (£1.99/$2.99). The books can be found at:
1. How do you pronounce your name?
Just how it sounds - just say "living", then say "stone", and then stick them together.
2. Where are you currently living?
I'm in a town called Wishaw, in the county of Lanarkshire and around 15 miles from Glasgow, Scotland. I was born in Glasgow but brought up in the town of Motherwell, which is adjacent to Wishaw.
3. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was young, I preferred reading to writing. When I did write as a youngster, it was more as a result of having an idea (I always had an over-active imagination) and having to put it down on paper, rather from a desire to write for the sake of writing. It was as a teenager that I first dreamt of making a living as a full-time author, but 20 years as a journalist was the closest I got. I am now a full-time PR officer but still dream of being a full-time author!
4. How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I have only written two novels (my other books were short children's books and they were published nearly 30 years ago), so the timings for the novels are more of a progression of comparison rather than an average. Basically, the first book, Hero Born took me 18 months to write the first draft - I was doing it in my own time and was finding out for myself how to write a book. For the sequel, Hero Grown (which Harper Voyager will publish as an eBook in June this year), I had quite a tight deadline last year that saw me write the first draft in 18 weeks.
5. What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
Hero Grown was the first book I had written to a set timescale and I still have a full-time job and the responsibilities that come with a family, so I had to be very regimented about it. My two novels are just over the 150,000-word mark, so I set myself a target of 10,000 words-a-week, aiming for 2000 words each day from Monday to Friday, which left the weekend to catch up on what I hadn't managed through the week. I set a rule that I had to start each Monday with the previous week's 10,000 words in the bag, because once I start falling behind I start to feel the pressure of it all building up, whereas if I can keep on top of it, the opposite happens: I start to get excited as I see it growing and on schedule. In this case, I had aimed at this rate for it to be written in 15 weeks, but had to count out three weeks from the schedule: two weeks for promotional opportunities for the first book that Voyager had organised and one week for a holiday, which is why it took 18 weeks in all to write it. If I was writing full time I would hope to do it in half that time.
6. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I don't know if you would call it a quirk, but I always have music playing. I have a playlist of about 30-odd songs that I rotate through, although if I get on a roll I can often realise a few songs have played without me hearing them. I also can't start writing without a cup of coffee to hand!
7. Did you self-publish or have a publisher?
a. If publisher, who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?
I previously self-published an epic poem (the Siege of Markethaven: A Tale of Old) linked to my current trilogy, but have a three-book contract for the novels with HarperVoyager's UK office, which is based in London.
8. How do you feel about eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
I grew up reading print books and still have every book I have ever owned in bookshelves in my house and my parents', not to mention bag upon bag of books in my loft. I can't bear to part with them, because they represented worlds I had disappeared into and characters I had loved following. I was adamant that eBooks could never give me the same enjoyment... until a few years back I grew tired of carrying the weight of seven or eight books away with me in my hand luggage on my summer holiday. I bought an early-generation Kindle just for that practical purpose, and have hardly read a print book since! With authors I love or whose every other book I have in print, mind you, I tend to buy both the eBook to read and the print book to have! Over the ages, storytelling has come in many forms, from oral to print to digital, so whatever method gets over the story to as many people in the best way that each person absorbs it is to be welcomed. The more methods there are of telling a story, the more people will hear/read it. As far as different methods of publishing are concerned, there are pros and cons to each. Alternative methods open up opportunities to good new authors who may never get noticed in the traditional publishers' slush piles, but also open up opportunities to bad authors whose proliferance can make it difficult for good new authors to be noticed by potential readers. Alternative publishing can also give an author more control over the process and the way their book is marketed and presented, but conventional publishing can give an author a wealth of skilled and experienced knowledge to help them.
9. What process did you go through to get your book published?
After I had completed the first draft of Hero Born, I sent the synopsis and first three chapters alternately to publishers and agents for around ten years. Every time I received a rejection, I changed one thing before I sent it off again, adding something or altering a character, for instance, which both renewed my enthusiasm for it and which, I hoped, would see an improved version sent off each time - even if the change had been tiny, it had still been a change for the better. Hero Born was the first book in a trilogy, The Seeds of Destiny, and I was eager to begin writing the second book, but made a vow to myself that I wouldn't start it until the first book had been accepted by someone as once I am writing a book I am absorbed in that and I didn't want to lose the enthusiasm for pushing the first book to publishers and agents. Then, in October 2012, I noticed that Harper Voyager had opened up with virtually no notice to accept un-agented submissions of completed fantasy or sci-fi manuscripts for just a two-week window. It was the first time a major publisher had conducted such an exercise worldwide, coordinated as it was across Voyager's London, New York and Sydney offices. I sent in my book and was astonished a year later to be contacted by then assistant editor and now deputy editorial director Natasha Bardon to say that they wanted to publish my trilogy.
10. Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
From my imagination! Sometimes I hear a line in a song, see a picture or notice something that someone says and it sparks off a train of thought that ends up with a storyline, an angle or a character, while other times these just come as scenarios that I think about when I daydream. I have both a love of ancient history and a horrendous memory, so I base my countries and peoples on my favourite civilisations of the past. This is just, as I say, a base, though, as I alter the civilisations into my own version of them (aided by my horrendous memory), shift them all to roughly European/North African geography and place them all in the same time period, which is great fun. For example, the first book contains my versions of Celts and Norsemen, the second is based largely in a civilsation that is an amalgamation of the Roman and Greek Empires and the third book will feature a race based on my version of a mix of South American civilisations, picked up and placed closer to the rest of the action. There may also be Andy-ised Persians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Japanese, Mongols and Picts to come in differing quantities, but some of these may have to be patient and wait until the following three books! As far as story lines and individual characters are concerned, they are all just from ideas and scenes that pop into my head. It happens all the time (I'm an incurable daydreamer) and some of them make it onto the page. Also, storylines often write themselves, taking me in a different direction from the one I had planned or expected. As for information as to how things work or how cities or armies operate, I just make it up according to what to me would seem to work or be logical - that's the beauty of fiction as opposed to historical fiction!
11. When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I was 18 or 19 and wrote a book of six children's stories about a character called Sidney Squirrel and the adventures he had with his friends, based around the different times of the year. I sent it to a publisher to ask their advice on whether or not I was wasting my time and was stunned when they wanted to publish them as separate books.
12. What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I love sport and play five-a-sides football(we Americans call this soccer) twice each week, as well as being a fan of my local club, Motherwell FC. My older son is completing his first year as a young professional with Motherwell (having been at the club for 10 years in all) and my younger son also plays football and has just started competing at kickboxing, so I spend a lot of time watching the two of them. At home, my wife and I love watching crime series and my older boy and I are addicted to Game of Thrones and Black Sails, plus we enjoy the big games from The English Premiership, Champions League and Europa League. As a family, we also love going to the cinema, but we don't get the chance too often. And I can't go to bed at night unless I have read at least some of a good book!
13. What does your family think of your writing?
My wife, Valerie, is proud of it, even though it's not really her genre of choice, while to my great shame and embarrassment my boys don't read books and, in any case, it isn't cool for a late teenager to praise their dad! However, I do have older step-children and my oldest step-son, his wife and my step-daughter have read Hero Born and, thankfully, loved it, as have my parents and brother.
14. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
That I could manage it! I wrote Hero Born initially to see if I could actually srite a full-length novel and if I could work out myself how to do it.
15. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
The two full-length novels and the four short children's books (meaning short books for children, not books for short children!). Of course I have no favourite - that's like asking which is my favourite child!!!!
16. Do you have any suggestions to help others become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Read a lot before you even think of writing, and get an intuitive feel for what sounds right and what works. Sometimes people write what they think is good, rather than what flows, and it just comes across as awkward, stilted or artificial. And write what you love and what you would want to read - there's no point trying to guess what other people want ot read, because it's impossible to get that right. At its most basic, if you write and people who don't know you like to read it, you're a good writer.
17. Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Occasionally - and even from one man from Germany who, it turns out, is the son of an exchange student who stayed with our family when I was a young child, which was brilliant!
18. Who is your main audience for your books?
I have no idea! I know that sounds a bit mad, but to put it into context, I had an idea when I wrote it that the majority of fantasy readers were male and aged from about 14 to 35-ish, but since Hero Born has been published I have found that is has had as many female as male readers and all ages and from all backgrounds. One 63-year-old man in Scotland said he enjoyed it because it reminded him in some ways of David Gemmell's books (which I love myself) and a lady in America said it reminded her of Raymond E Feist's books (and I have every one of his). Just to be mentioned in passing in the same sentence as two authors such as those is a compliment beyond my dreams, but it goes to show that you can't predict the demographic of your readers - you just write your story, put it out there and hope people like it. Any people!
19. What do you think makes a good story?
Characters that the reader cares about, a plot that interests them and pace that keeps them going. If a book has those, you want to turn the page and that's what it's all about.
20. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Until I was 14, I wanted to join the Army. Next, I wanted to train as a horologist, and then wanted to join the Fire Brigade (but wasn't tall enough!). I ended up studying a degree to be a property valuation surveyor, but left that after three years when I realised it wasn't for me. I ended up being a journalist for 20 years and have been a PR officer with a local council for the last seven years. As I said before, I dreamt of being a full-time author but reality meant that I have to have a day job until that happens.
21. Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one field or genre, how do you balance them?
Epic fantasy was always my favorite genre to read, so it was natural that when I tried writing a book, it would be along those lines. I have an idea for a character and a story in a post-apocalyptic setting, in a more gritty style, but I also always envisaged my existing books as a trilogy of trilogies and know what I want to do with the second three books in that, so it will probably make sense to continue with this after these first three.
22. What do you think most characterizes your writing?
Action, empathy for the main character, loyalty, determination over adversity and the in-built overwhelming desire of the spirit to survive. And a sprinkling of humour, because that's life.
23. What inspires you?
My ideas. Once I get them, I can't not write them in some way.
24. Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work
Tolkein, of course, opened my eyes to fantasy, and Raymond E Feist, David Eddings, Fritz Leiber Ursula Le Guin and David Gemmell continued that love and helped me want to do it for myself. More recently, George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie, David Lawrence and Peter V Brett have inspired me in different ways, opening my my mind to new types of stories. All of them are great storytellers and character creators, which is what I love.
25. What are some day jobs that you have held? Did any of them impact your writing?
Of the day jobs that I mentioned above, the journalism impacted my fiction writing: because newspaper reporting is very basic and formulaic (although skilled to make it work within that), it had a detrimental effect on my fiction writing... but also the frustration of being bound by that style made me all the more eager to write how I wanted to and in the form that I felt more natural doing.
26. What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
These days, a great deal of fantasy seems to be dominated by "grimdark" and Young Adult books, whereas mine, I think, is more traditional in its style, which I like, because I think that while new ideas are always needed, we shouldn't forget what has been popular before otherwise we have lost something that can bring pleasure in its own way. Having said that, my books are set more in realism than you find in high fantasy - there are no elves, dragons or sorcerers - as I wanted it to seem as if, maybe, it could have happened but we just didn't know about it. Some people have said it reads like historical fiction in a world similar to ours, which I like.
27. What are some ways in which you promote your work?
I have a website (www.andylivingstone.com) as well as a Facebook author page, an Amazon author page and am on Twitter as @markethaven, but I can be fairly haphazard and remiss at keeping these up to date. The writing I like to do is fiction, so this sort of stuff feels more like a chore - if I could be a best-selling author and able to hire an assistant to take care of these things for me, it would be bliss! I also have used my contacts to achieve good coverage in the local newspapers in Lanarkshire, and have been lucky to get a little bit of coverage in the national Press, as well as having been invited to do a few talks to groups and at libraries. The good people of HarperVoyager have also been good with publicity on their website (www.harpervoyagerbooks.co.uk) and occasionally run promotions or social media publicity events including the other authors signed like me to the UK office from the world-wide search.
28. What do you like to read in your free time?
Fantasy, fantasy, fantasy and the occasional contemporary thriller. In recent years it has been mainly Martin, Abercrombie, Lawrence and Brett, and I have had Brandon Sanderson also recommended to me so I must try him soon.
29. What projects are you working on at the present?
The structural editing for my second book, Hero Grown, has just beem finished and we will soon be doing the copy editing, which is the final stage. I have the plot planned out for book three, Hero Risen, and will start writing it once the Hero Grown copy edits are out of the way.
30. If you had one thing you could do over (concerning writing, publishing, etc.), what would it be and why?
Nothing. I tried for many years to have my novel published and am now signed to one of the biggest publishers in the world. What would I want to change? You could say that I could wish that I had done it all earlier, but I had to mature as a writer to get to this stage, and who's to say that the pieces would have fallen into place the way they have done at another time?
31. What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Would you please sign this contract with HBO for a Game of Thrones-style series?
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