Your free, extended version of the new author interview from the latest SFX , in which he gives his writing tips
Scientist David Ramirez 's first novel is The Forever Watch , a murder story set on a giant ship in which humanity is travelling to a distant star. It's out on Thursday 1 May from Hodder & Stoughton and Ramirez talks about it in SFX 247 which is on newsstands this week. Here, for your pleasure and elucidation, is an extended version of that Q&A including his top tips for new authors...
SFX : There are Old Testament religious references in the book (the ship called Noah, the planet called Canaan) so how much is the Bible an influence on your writing?
Ramirez: My elementary school was run by Jesuits! We had Christian Life Education as a graded subject with textbooks, homework, quizzes and everything. So for several years of my life, I was tested on the knowledge and understanding of Catholicism.
But I don't intentionally look to the Bible for influences - even single names and ideas carry such inertia that they can weigh down a story quite a lot. And readers are smart; I don't think they like being hit with simple analogues and reference after reference. It is easy to overdo it, and if there is a Biblical influence in my writing, it's more about what's left out than what's left in.
In the context of The Forever Watch , those references aren't in there to suggest that it's a sci-fi version of the Flood or the Exodus. They suggest the state of mind of the first generation of the ship's crew who chose those names for the ship and their destination. They also emphasize how much memory and history have been lost over the generations. By the time Dempsey's tale begins, those names have been stripped of much of their meaning; they're artefacts from a distant past.
SFX : You're a scientist with a background in molecular biology. How much have you drawn on that science background in The Forever Watch ?
Ramirez: I haven't done serious science in years, so much of my formal training is out of date! But the way I think about things is still affected by that training. My science background was used in how SF ideas were written about in the story. It affects how I want mechanics to work, though the substance of many of those ideas is out there and has no relation to real science.
I don't want to oversell the science part of the science fiction in my story - it's very much SF! A spoiler-free example is the way psychic powers work in the story. ESP phenomena have not been validated under experimental conditions. So, the idea of psychic powers has nothing to do with my science background. The effect of my background is in how I think about demystifying that mechanic. How would it behave as another form of energy? What tools would be required to manipulate it? Where does it come from? Thus: software and hardware tools, implants to act as physical interfaces, transmitters/emitters, the power grid, and reactors...
SFX : The story is of murders on a giant ship - are you also a fan of crime fiction as much as science fiction? And if so what crime books are your inspirations?
Ramirez: My childhood reading material consisted of all the books, comics and magazines from the collections of my parents and much older brothers and sister. Most of the books were divided between science fiction and fantasy, horror, and crime fiction. I remember reading through a number of old issues of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine . As time went on, my reading tastes focused more on horror, science fiction and fantasy, and the occasional John Irving or Murakami novel. My crime fiction consumption dropped off. Despite this, I still find the stories absorbing, and the influence is there through film. I watch a lot of police procedural shows. Someday, my reading queue will come around and then I will be reading through that backlog, one title after another. As it is, I still have a pile of horror, SF and YA books on my bedside table I haven't read yet, and even more titles on Kindle.
SFX : What are you working on next?
Ramirez: I am working on a book with a completely different setting, though there is some similarity in theme. It's about a young girl with a special talent for manipulating social media who discovers that the story going around the internet regarding a mysterious stationary object in the sky is not a hoax.
SFX : What tips would you give to new authors just starting out trying to write their first book?
Ramirez: Many authors with a lot more talent and experience have tried to answer this question, but here is my go at it.
Writing a story is divided between the ideas and the craft.
The search for ideas that inspire does not happen as a conscious effort for me. Original ideas are practically impossible to come up with. I try to be mindful of the world around us and let ideas that resonate affect me. It's not about creating the ideas (there are so many of them!) but finding the emotion that makes an idea stick.
Many ideas come and are discarded, and inspiration is about listening for when the idea chooses you.
You only get better at the craft by reading what you aspire to and experimenting to find your own voice. A little discussion with fellow writers is helpful too, but that help is best applied during the editing; only you can write your stories.
You can't be waiting for inspiration to strike before writing. You have to put yourself in a productive frame of mind regardless of whether you're moved to write or not. Then start typing.
Quality only comes with time put in, and talent only shortens the distance - not the effort. Unless you are remarkably lucky with a lightning-strike idea, decent talent and perhaps experience in other forms of writing, your first book is not going to be worth submitting to publishers or self-publishing as an e-book. You can try, and should try, to get a first work published, but not be surprised at missteps and failure. Even the books that will never be read are worth writing, because of what they have to teach the writer.
SFX : Thanks David!
You can read the rest of this interview in SFX issue 247 which is out on Wednesday 2 April. Check back here regularly for more author interviews and book reviews, and remember if you are currently writing fiction we have a competition you might like to enter .