Please welcome Andrew Lane and Nigel Foster to The Qwillery as part of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Netherspace was published on May 2nd by Titan Books.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Andy: Initially as a fan of the BBCTV science fiction series Doctor Who. I must have written twenty-odd fan stories for fanzines, gradually working out how to do plot, characterisation and style. I then started going to SF and fantasy conventions, meeting pro writers and editors. Eventually I managed to blag a contract with Virgin Books to write officially licenced Doctor Who novels, and the rest is history. Basically, I started writing as fun. Then grew to understand that it's part of who I am. And now I write to live in every sense of the phrase.
Nigel: Always did, but professionally as an advertising copywriter. And then into journalism. I was lucky/intelligent enough to live in Toronto for several years. It was much easier to get into other areas like radio, tv and film. . . exciting years.
TQ: Are you a plotters, pantsers or a hybrids? How do you write together?
Andy: We have a plot. . .
Nigel: . . .and a very fine plot it is. We admire it regularly. . .
Andy: . . . then put it back in its case. No, we do know where we're going. But how we get
there may be subject to change.
Nigel: So we're hybrids. You don't want to ignore the brilliant idea that suddenly jumps up,
screaming 'look at me'. On the other hand you have to retain control. We tried writing alternative chapters but it didn't work. Clunky, two obviously different styles. So what happens is that we
meet up to talk – face to face, none of that electronic rubbish – and decide the next tranche. . .
Andy: . . . or chapters as other people call them. . .
Nigel: . . . we're that organised? Anyway, one of us goes away and writes a first draft. Which may or may not be what we discussed. And sends it over for rewriting.
Andy: And that's sent back again. Mostly we try to keep the rewrites to a minimum because we'll
do a couple of major edits before it goes to the publisher. What we aimed for, and what we got, is a common writing style. So much later either of us can check back and not be sure who actually wrote/rewrote a particular section. It's a melding thing.
Nigel: I told you. Gestalt.
Andy: Bless you. I’ve previous written books with friends by each of us taking alternate chapters, but Nigel and I tried that approach and it doesn’t work for us. Anyway, in Netherspace we have two main characters, Kara who was developed ¬ – he'd say discovered –¬ by Nigel. Marc was my invention. Either of us may write them, but if it's to do with motivation or personality, say, we'll check with the owner first.
Nigel: Similarly, if either of wants to change or add something major we'll first give a heads up, talk about it. If the other doesn't agree it's time for a rethink. But if either of us really, really wants to include something the other doesn't like, there's a shoulder shrug because ultimately our editor will sort it out. You have to put ego to one side. The book itself is al important.
Andy: I think it’s fair to say that Netherspace is not the book that either of us would have written by ourselves. It’s a blend of both of us, with an admixture of deadline desperation.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Andy: Finishing it!
Nigel: That and the sense that what you're writing could be so much better, if only you knew how.
Andy: That’s very true. I often get paralysed – especially early on in the manuscript – by the fact that of all the possible sentences, paragraphs, sections I could write, I have to choose one. It’s allied to the constant fear I have that wherever I happen to be I could have been having more fun somewhere else. Apart from when I’m having coffee and macaroni cheese with Nigel in our favourite café and discussing writing. That’s the best fun I can have.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Nigel: Wanting to write that golden paragraph, the book that blazes in the sky. Oh, politics: I wrote very angry when the UK voted Brexit. Still am, but hopefully it doesn't show! Writers I admire and try to learn from, which is not the same as stealing.
Andy: Like Nigel, chasing after perfection. All the great classic sci-fi writers. Also, specifically, if I could write a book as effortlessly as Roger Zelazny seemed to do, or with a plot as complicated and yet as luminous as Tim Powers manages, or with single sentences that glow in the way Jonathan Carroll does, I could die happy.
TQ: Describe Netherspace in 140 characters or less.
Nigel: Beware aliens who come bearing gifts?
Andy: It’s impossible to communicate with aliens, or even understand what they do, so how do you negotiate when they take hostages?
TQ: Tell us something about Netherspace that is not found in the book description.
Nigel: It's about how a superior civilisation and its technology always destroys a less advanced one. Always.
Andy: Underneath the plot, it’s about the definition of creativity and the definition of intelligence, or at least awareness.
TQ: What inspired you to write Netherspace? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?
Andy: We discovered there were standard science fiction tropes that annoyed us. Why are space craft streamlined – and why always ships, with captains and admirals, decks and hulls, navigators and so on? And why is it that when humans meet aliens they always manage to communicate with each other? With the aliens speaking a kind of stilted Shakespearian English.
Nigel: One moment at war, the next exchanging photos of their respective kids. So Netherspace
asks the question: what if there is no communication? What if we don't know what they want ¬ but they make life much easier for us? As for Science Fiction's appeal: hey, it's like a giant playground where the only limit is your imagination. But it's also very serious. So many social and scientific developments have originated in sci-fi.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Netherspace?
Nigel: Andy has a physics degree from Warwick, one of the UK's best universities. I was lousy at maths in school. So you'd think he'd do all the sciencey stuff. . .
Andy: . . . whereas Nigel spends a huge amount of time on the Net and even buys New Scientist. So I get all these e-mails saying what if? And can you please explain Quantum Field Theory?
Nigel: Which you finally did. I think.
Andy: Explaining quantum theory to a non-scientist and non-mathematician is like trying to explain the colour blue to someone who is visually challenged.
Nigel: There was a conscious decision by both of us not to deliberately research other writers who've covered a similar, aliens and humans theme. Except we've already read most of them.
Andy: Like Jack Vance, Philip Jose Farmer. You want to be original but at the same time you know it might well have been said or suggested before. The more SF books that are written, the fewer original ideas there are waiting to be discovered.
Nigel: But in reality, it was Andy worked out how the Netherspace drives were operated and what they look like. Good job done.
TQ: Please tell us about Netherspace's cover.
Andy: Interesting one, this. We had fairly strong ideas of what we wanted.
Nigel: And at least expected to work with the artist.
Andy: I was pitching for a fully painted triptych cover running across all three books in the trilogy, like they had on the old UK Foundation series. Then Titan showed us their design, which was nothing like we'd thought. But was absolutely perfect.
Nigel: We loved it. It depicts the dimension/zero point energy that is Netherspace. Plus a degree of probability theory. Maybe.
TQ: In Netherspace who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Andy: Easiest was probably Greenway, the man who sets the plot in motion.
Nigel: Most difficult was Tatia, celeb-girl turned hero. We had to make her believable, it wasn't working but Miranda Jewess, our editor, suggested the answer.
Andy: Kara and Marc are difficult to write in the sense that we discover more of their backstories as the series progresses. And they also develop, change. It's not easy to manage that because in real life we all do change but aren't always aware of it.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Netherspace?
Nigel: We did include social issues but only those that are universal in location and time. So, the arrival of aliens and their technology is an obvious reference to colonialism. Not say it's good or bad, only that it happens. And our depiction of how this affects human society is really a comment on how people love hierarchies that make them feel safe, saved and loved.
Andy: I suppose common reactions to immigration or an outside force upsetting a cosy little life. Sexual mores have also changed, but only in the direction they're already travelling. Or, if you want to look at Tudor/Jacobean England, are reverting to what they once were.
TQ: Which question about Netherspace do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Andy: Will there be a spin-off series? We hope so!
Nigel: Amen to that. Oh, and is it true HBO are interested? We couldn't possibly comment.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Netherspace.
Nigel: 'The Universe blinked.'
Andy: Oh, that’s one of mine. I’ll go with that one.
TQ: What's next?
Andy: Next for us is Books 2 and 3. For me, it’s also a four-book YA series about teenagers getting involved in reasonably realistic espionage activities, and also also a potential SF TV series that I’ll probably be lead writer and script editor on. So – it’s all go.
Nigel: Finishing the series, hopefully developing a spin-off. We've been asked about TV. Something may develop but we aren't holding our breath. For me, a crime/speculative series that was put on hold for the past few months. Looks like it could go.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Nigel: Thanks for having us.
Andy: Yes, thanks. It was fun.
Fade to background
Andy: You said there'd be cake.
Nigel: There was. You ate it.
Andy: That wasn't cake. That was a few deluded crumbs.
Nigel: So how about a beer?
Andy: Oh, I could be persuaded.
Nigel: Yes? No?
Andy: You really need to ask? Is there a decent pub around here?
Titan Books, May 2, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
Aliens came to Earth forty years ago. Their anatomy proved unfathomable and all attempts at communication failed. But through trade, humanity gained technology that allowed them to colonise the stars. The price: live humans for every alien faster-than-light drive.
Kara’s sister was one of hundreds exchanged for this technology, and Kara has little love for aliens. So when she is drafted by GalDiv – the organisation that oversees alien trades – it is under duress. A group of colonists have been kidnapped by aliens and taken to an uncharted planet, and an unusual team is to be sent to negotiate. As an ex-army sniper, Kara’s role is clear. But artist Marc has no combat experience, although the team’s pre-cog Tse is adamant that he has a part to play. All three know that success is unlikely. For how will they negotiate with aliens when communication between the species is impossible?
Andrew Lane is the author of twenty-nine books and multiple short stories, television scripts and audio dramas. He is perhaps best known for his Young Sherlock series, which have sold to 42 countries. He has also written three well-reviewed adult crime novels under a pseudonym, the first of which has been optioned as a US TV series. He is currently writing another series featuring Doyle’s Professor Challenger. He lives in Dorset.
Nigel Foster began as an advertising copywriter, first in the UK and then North America. He moved on to television and radio factual programming before co-founding a successful movie magazine. Back in the UK highlights include developing and launching OK! Magazine; an international non-fiction best-seller about the Royal Marines Commandos; and six of the most popular Bluffer's Guides, world-wide.