Author Ian McAllister is a careful and calculating writer, which is why it takes so long to complete a project. He is currently engaged in a campaign to bring back real science-fiction, the science-based non-fantasy genre of such writers as Hal Clement. Please welcome my friend and up and coming author to No Wasted Ink.
Hi Wendy, I am Ian Hugh McAllister, the ‘Hugh’ is only included in my author name to distinguish from the other Ian McAllister (the wolf books etc). I am a 58-year old early retired English ATC controller, originally from the Liverpool area. I’m also a lifetime airliner nut, and a keen traveller. I have lived in Dorset, close to England’s Jurassic Coast for nearly 35 years with my wife Simone. We have a grown up son.
When and why did you begin writing?
I have always written for pleasure, but it got real when I was encouraged to write a biography of my grandmother in 2011. Hilda James was Britain’s first female swimming superstar in 1920. The resulting book, Lost Olympics, was successful in that it saw Hilda posthumously inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2016. As she was the first celebrity to be taken on by the Cunard Line, I also started receiving invitations to join the cruise ship entertainment speaker circuit, and talk about her life and times.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I think that came with the publication of my first sci-fi novel To Visit Earth. The biography was an in-depth research project, and the book was pretty much an assembly job. Creating my own fiction is what I had always wanted to do.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
To Visit Earth centres around the closest Earth-approach by a comet in recorded history, some time in the not so distant future. The eventual result finds lunar geologist Lucy Grappelli injured and trapped in a crashed exploration vehicle, over 1000km from the established moon base and beyond all possible help. It’s a survival story with what I have been told is a worthy twist.
What inspired you to write this book?
I am a fan of the harder side of science fiction, having been brought up on it by my parents. I do read widely in all variations of sci-fi and fantasy, but hard sci-fi is very much my thing. 50 years on from reading my first science fiction, I have finally put my money where my mouth is and tried to prove I can publish something original.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I think I am developing one. I am an admin with a busy writers/authors group on Facebook (10 Minute Novelists), and I firmly believe we are told to follow far too many rules in our writing. This is leading to a loss of individuality in styles. A good example is the sweeping “show don’t tell”. Now with sci-fi of course, a certain amount of world-building, exposition, and even info-dumping is acceptable. I personally like a 50/50 approach to “show don’t tell.”
How did you come up with the title of this book?
This is another area that causes a lot of discussion in the writing group, and I have a stock answer. The expression “To Visit Earth” jumped out at me as I wrote the book. It is a short statement that is repeated in the text, but becomes a revelation, and pivotal to the story.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Now, I don’t want to drop a spoiler so I will have to be careful. I could say never discount the possibility of help from unexpected sources.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in
your own life?
This is a great question, and comes under another writing guide, “write what you know.” Suffice to say that I have had 35 years of experience of all points on the management spectrum. Several ex-colleagues and friends from ATC have named certain poor unfortunates, still desperately trying to manage sections of the business, as role-models for my management team in the book. If I was American I’d be taking the 5th, I believe you call it. However, I do retain that wonderful get-out clause, “No character in this work is intended to resemble any person, either living or dead… yada yada,” while making that evil Blofeld chuckle!
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you
My first strong influences were the great pulp writers of the 1950s, I grew up with an entire bookcase of Galaxy and Astounding as my tool for visiting the universe. These had been amassed by the parents as they partied their way through Liverpool University in the early 1950s. Eventually, I settled on the Heinlein juvenile series (Have Spacesuit Will Travel retains a place in my all-time top 10 books). Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, James Blish, ah, many of the greats.
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
Definitely. I firmly believe that Hal Clement has shaped my aspirations. I have read and re-read all his books. The novel Mission Of Gravity and its associated works (later published as the collection “Heavy Planet“) is for me a seminal piece of hard sci-fi. Clement went as far as to publish a paper postulating the possibility of a planet such as his Mesklin. Would that I could produce something a quarter as good.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
A young 10 Minute Novelists member and friend, Jonas Meyes-Steger designed the cover, using a few written notes I sent him. Jonas is disabled, and currently finishing a self-financed university course. While many of us aspired to write and be published, Jonas dreamed of becoming a commissioning editor. I don’t think it’s a matter of record yet, but remember that name. That’s all I’m allowed to say.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Join a writing community. Read. Yes, in fact, read, read, read, and then read some more. Read in the genre you want to write, but extend your sphere of knowledge into all sorts of other places.
Then, when you are ready to write, learn the rules; Grammar, syntax, how to string a coherent sentence together. Recognise different styles, there are a lot.
Then, while knowing all that stuff, write. Remember, there are no hard and fast rules really. If there were, reading would be deadly dull. So break the rules if you want to, but break them well, and with reason.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I’m working on a sequel. I originally set out to write a heavyweight, stand-alone novel, but that’s what happens when you start to enjoy it. Don’t hold your breath, To Visit Earth took 20 years from original idea to published book! No, seriously, I have accountability partners nipping at my heels. I need to stick my neck out and say – 2021/Remnant Planet!
Ian Hugh McAllister
Broadstone, Dorset, England
To Visit Earth