Author Interview with Stephen Sweeney

Another of my interviews with an Indie Author that inspires me. I am a big believer it’s important to diversify your reading. We all have our favourite genre, but reading something out of your norm allows you to appreciate books in a new way, and can be a refreshing change.

One such read of mine was a space opera titled Honour of the Knights. Two chapters in I was slowly being pulled out of my comfort zone and into a brave new world. Well, Stephen's ears must have been burning since he tweeted me to congratulate me on my book when I was reading his (with my jaw on the floor). A space opera is not something I would usually read, but this one has most definitely opened me up to them.

I’m thrilled to share with you my interview with Stephen Sweeney author of the Battle for the Solar System series;

Apple Pages or Microsoft Word?
I actually use Open Office, a free office suite that is able to import and export Word documents, as well as create PDFs and all kinds of other nifty bits and pieces. It's fully featured, so suits my needs perfectly.

What was the last film you saw that was unexpectedly brilliant? 
Unexpectedly... hmmmm, well, I'll forego saying Avatar and Inception (which were both excellent), and go with Paul, the new Simon Pegg and Nick Frost film. I guess I'd forgotten just how funny the two could be on screen together. It was very funny and I highly recommend it. It will definitely be making it into my DVD / Bluray collection.

How are you finding being an Indie Author? Would you choose the traditionally published route in future?
Right now, I'm very much enjoying being an indie author. It's wonderful to know that all the energy and effort that goes into creating a full length novel won't go to waste. There is also the benefit of retaining creative control over the work, which, for a series such as Battle for the Solar System, is very important to me right now. As a story I've wanted to write for years, I'm not sure I'd have it any other way. Since the story means a great deal to me, I'd not want to change the ending, remove a character, or event, or write it differently. Having said that, I would still very much love to be a traditionally published author, as that route offers opportunities that aren't easily accessible to indie authors - increased availability in foreign markets, translation rights, and better marketing. One can also draw upon the expertise of some very talented folk working in the industry. Once I'm done with BFTSS, I intend to resume the pursuit of commercial publishing with some new stories. It's nice to know that I can still get the work out there independently, though. The eBook revolution has been quite a boon for independent writers. I think it's a shame that a book someone has spent months, maybe even years, writing is shut away in a drawer, hidden away from the world. There are probably lots of wonderful stories out there that no-one ever got to read.

What's your creative poison when writing?
I don't tend to have one. When writing, I try to ensure that I set aside a period of time during the day in which to do it. Say, between 8pm and 9pm; maybe longer, if I'm truly gripped by the desire to continue on with that I've got. I usually have some background noise, such as the TV or the radio on, but once I'm in the zone I largely ignore them. Sometimes I'll pop on some random tunes to listen to, but that can lead to a bit of procrastination, as I start skipping across tracks that I'm not in the mood for. Immersion in my own world is what really works for me - there's nothing better than working on something you truly love.

Do you ever have moments of panic when you dislike your work, or are you your own biggest fan?
I definitely have the moments of panic. When I'm writing or proofing a story, I am thinking about it 24/7. There are times when I have gotten up in the middle of the night to write notes about what to add, rewrite or remove. I even make notes on my phone when I'm out. I think it's important to be critical of your own work, so you can see how and where you need to improve. It's great to look back on what you wrote before, compared to what you're doing now and seeing a clear improvement.

Can you describe your writing style for us (as a haiku if you’re feeling adventurous)?
A haiku? Oh my! I didn't even know what one of those was until I looked it up! I think I may have to stick with the dull approach of describing my process in non-rhyming fashion! I tend to rough-out the story at first, aiming to hit all the major plot points and seeing what wants to creep out in between. I make a ton of notes along the way, both as separate per-chapter notes, as well as littering the manuscript itself with "TODO"s. I then rewrite, exploring the sequences and relationships that has evolved from the rough draft and give them more body. As an example, in "The Third Side" Simon Dodds meets Natalia Grace as he is attempting to flee the city of New Malaga. The two stop for the night to rest and end up getting to know each other. This was completely unplanned, and was fun to find out more about Natalia's history. I also spontaneously created a dream sequence in which Dodds reminisces about the post-Operation Menelaus victory celebration back at Spirit. So, in short, I mix free writing with tight plotting, to allow the story to occur naturally, but also ensure it maintains a steady course.

What was your inspiration for the Battle for the Solar System series?
I was always a fan of space opera, growing up on a diet of Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica (the 70s version), Star Trek, and other sci-fi shows. One of my favourite of all time was Babylon 5. I loved the atmosphere of the creeping doom that it created through the Shadows. I wanted to create a similar kind of story, one where the reader would reach the end of the book and eagerly look forward to the next. I intentionally decided on a trilogy, so as to avoid dragging the story out for too long and introducing unnecessary plot points and excessive padding. Three books serves this story perfectly, acting as the beginning, middle and end to the saga. You know where you are with a trilogy.

Is there a story behind the final design of your book covers?
Not being much of an artist, I figured that an astral scene involving a planet would be my best best. I decided that the planet featured should be one of importance to the plot. For the cover of Honour of the Knights, I settled on Arlos, where the White Knights have their first face to face confrontation with one of the Pandoran soldiers (actually, this happens on the space station around the planet). That sequence showed just how dangerous the soldiers are and also presented the reader with a few twists. It's one of my favourite parts of the book. For book 2, The Third Side, I chose Mythos, the planet where the bulk of the novel takes place. To emphasise that this was a planet in danger, I dotted a few large explosions around it, to draw the reader's attention and give them a good indication of what might be happening. I produce all the covers myself, everything from the starfields and nebulas in the background, to the planet and placement of the titles. It takes several weeks' work, off and on, before they're finished and that usually involves me scrapping the design and starting over a few times.

Book one, Honour of the Knights, has a leisurely beginning which gradually accelerates to a masterful ending full of pace and urgency. Was this plotted intentionally, or did the storyline simply carry you there?
A bit of both, really. The overall story arc of the Battle for the Solar System is fully planned. The major plot points are there, but I intentionally leave out the in-between details, to allow for some free writing. It permits me to explore the world and characters a little more, and learn a lot more about them. When I came to writing Knights, I thought it was important to establish parts of the world and characters, instead of plunging straight into events and introducing a multitude of characters that might leave the reader baffled. Having said that, I was conscious of the need to create intrigue and insert something of significance into the initial chapters: Patrick Dean's mysterious death, Simon Dodds' reason for suspension, the hijacking and disappearance of CSN Dragon, the ATAF project (which Dodds questioned the need for), Chaz Koonan's issues with Elliott Parks... In the end, I'm glad the story started this way and ended on such an action packed note. It showed a gradual shift in the world in which the character lived, creating a grand element of danger and leaving them with promises of much more to come. By comparison, The Third Side's opening chapters are a roller coaster, leaving little room to breath from chapter 2 onwards. That's not to say it's all action; there is plenty of character, but it is definitely a lot more frantic than Knights. I imagine there may even be a few readers left gaping at the plot twist towards the end. And as for the ending itself... well, I can say with certainty that people will be highly anticipating the final part of the trilogy.

Can you give us an idea of how you crafted your main characters?
I decided that I wanted my characters to come from a number of walks of life, both for variety and to make them feel more real. To make them feel even more human, I purpose gave them each a flaw (some more pronounced than others). Simon Dodds, for example, joined the navy in search of fame and adventure. At the beginning of Knights, however, we've seen that his cock-sure attitude has led him to being suspended from service on a manslaughter charge when his attempt at saving the day backfired. Estelle de Winter is a highly ambitious woman, who enlisted with goals of becoming one of the CSN's greatest officers. She did so to both financially aid her family (they barely scrape by a living) and also prove her own worth to herself and others. After ten years, it hasn't worked out that way, which often leads to her becoming very frustrated, frustrations she sometimes takes out on those around her. Kelly Taylor's character is inspired by those people in the world who want for nothing, but decide that it is their duty to give something back. Sounds cheesey, but I was always impressed by Prince William and Harry's decisions to join the army, and go on frontline duty to the Middle East. I guess Kelly, being the heiress to a vast galactic commodities trading enterprise and with few wants in her life, is somewhat like them. She does have two sisters, however, who are her complete opposite. Chaz Koonan is one of the most popular characters with readers, mostly because he's a large question mark. While Dodds, Estelle, Enrique and Kelly have known each other for years, Chaz is the new boy, one who doesn't say a lot and seems to know a lot more than he is willing to let on. He shows his true colours during the Arlos sequence, but is still largely reluctant to explain how he knows so much. There is a good reason for this, as will be revealed in The Third Side.

Honour of the Knights went through an evolution of being stocked at a number of Waterstones stores to being discontinued by yourself. As an Indie getting your book into a big brand chain store is a lot of work. Can you tell us a bit more about your decision withdraw the printed edition?
Waterstone's were excellent for agreeing to stock the book in their stores. I first approached the Brighton branch, who agreed to buy in a few copies and display them facing out (on the promise that I sign every copy the brought in). After the first few stockings sold through, I approached other branches with varying degrees of success. I ended up being stocked by around 16 branches of Waterstone's in the country, and I made an effort to visit those branches and sign as many copies of possible. Sales were very slow, though. At £9.95, the book was twice that of others in the genre, and it can be hard to convince readers to take chances on unknown authors. Over two years (2009 - 2010), the novel ended up selling around 120 copies. Not bad for a self-published novel I'm told, but not as many as I would've liked. In October 2010, I began selling the novel on Amazon Kindle. In five months, it has sold over 3,000 copies and has been downloaded tens of thousands of times across other stores. Knights has been in the UK iBookstore's top 10 free sci-fi and fantasy books for several months now. Seeing as the paperback sales had almost dried up and since there were still errors in the text to correct, I chose to withdraw the paperback from sale. I didn't see many more people buying them, and the eBooks were proving a great deal more popular.

Would you be so kind as to give us a little summary of what is going to happen further on in the story arc?
The second book will focus on a 48-hour period in which the Pandoran army commence their military advance beyond the Mitikas Empire, invading a number of independent nations. The White Knights will find themselves stranded on one of the planets currently under siege, separated from one another and with no idea of when rescue will arrive, if at all. But whilst there, the team will learn some terrible things - what really happened to Mitikas, who the Pandorans really are, what the true purpose of the ATAFs is, and what part they will play. I don't want to give too much away, suffice to say that things are going to go very, very wrong for the Helios Confederation and her allies. Book 3 will be dark and with a feeling of hopelessness for all involved. Those who loved Knights will love The Third Side even more, and I hope to deliver on the promise of creating a very memorable space opera trilogy

Thank you for letting me bend your ear Stephen, and good luck!


Honour of the Knights is available to buy from Kindle (UK/US), and, is currently available free from iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Diesel stores. You can read my review on Goodreads and you can visit Stephen's Blog to learn more about the book and his writing, or visit the website.

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous25.3.11

    It was an excellent book to read. I look forward too the next one.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous25.3.11

    to*

    ReplyDelete

Ta!