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Author Interview: Ian Hugh McAllister

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.

author ian hugh mcallisterHi 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
find inspiring?

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!

to visit earth book coverIan Hugh McAllister
Broadstone, Dorset, England

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To Visit Earth

Cover Artist: Jonas Mayes-Steger
Publisher: Cloaked Press

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No Wasted Ink Writers Links

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As we all countdown to the New Year, I am pleased to offer up my usual Monday list of writing craft articles for you.  Most of them are general writing tips, but each is a well-written article and I hope they will please you.  Enjoy your bubbly should you be celebrating this evening and I’ll see you next year.

When the Girl Rescues the Prince: Norwegian Fairy Tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”

When Should A Story End?

How Do You Bring an Inexperienced Hero to a Fight?

Making Readers Feel (and Care)

30 Things I’ve Learned About the Writing Life

Believing in the Muse

The Value of Connecting your Journal Writing with Current Events

How to Describe Neurodivergent Characters

How to raise the stakes in a novel

THE WRITER’S VOICE

No Wasted Ink Writers Links

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Happy Monday!  It is time for another batch of writing links here at No Wasted Ink.  This week I have a couple of science fiction and fantasy writing articles along with the general tips.  I hope you find them interesting.

How to Grapple With Discouragement in a Writing Career

The Accidental Catalyst: Andre Norton’s The X Factor

5 Ways to Successfully Start a Book With a Dream

How To Build A Rocking Character Profile

What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Writing

Should Your Sapient Aliens Be Bipedal?

History for Fantasy Writers: Millers

How To Plot, Outline, & Finish Your Story

Writing for Audiobook

The Editor Behind the Curtain: Inside the Publishing Process

Author Interview: Alma Alexander

Author Alma Alexander writes stories which are roadmaps to places people never knew existed but always believed had to be there.  Please welcome her to No Wasted Ink.

Author Alma AlexanderMy name is Alma Alexander, and I am a writer. I taught myself to read before age 4 (because my mother wouldn’t re-read a favourite book to me, so I just picked it up and started reading for myself…) and I haven’t stopped reading since. My house is built of books (sometimes quite literally – I have an entire room all of whose walls and every available vertical surface of which is covered in bookshelves with (sometimes triple stacked) books. When not reading, I am writing; when not writing, I do gold embroidery (that’s the opulent stuff, with silk and gold and pearls) and I run around taking photographs of beautiful skies and other things. When not doing that, I sleep and I dream – and when I wake, I often make stories out of the dreams that visited me in the night.

When and why did you begin writing?

I didn’t “begin writing”. I always wrote. Since I knew how. I wrote my first poem aged 5 – first novel aged 9 – first GOOD novel aged 11 – and I currently have more than 3 million words in print. It’s always been a core part of me – I didn’t choose it, it chose me, and I’ve been its handmaiden all my life.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

See above. You could say, when I won my first writing award aged 12. You could say, when I published my first word. You could say, when I was nominated for a major national writing award or two. You could say, when I published my first dozen novels. All if it is true, and none of it is. I have never “considered myself a writer”. I AM one. That is different.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

There are currently several projects on the go, but I am generally uncomfortable talking about the projects I am currently in the process of writing – simply because I am an organic writer in the worst way and I don’t necessarily KNOW what is going to happen next in any given story. The next published works that are coming out are a reissue of “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”, which I call my Novel of ‘Choice’ and what it means to make one (and there are ALWAYS consequences…) originally published to very high reader approval and involvement but now re-edited, re-covered, and re-issued for a new readership – and a brand new book, a short story collection under the name “Untranslatable” which is going to be a very special book indeed (the conceit being that there are words in multiple foreign languages which mean thing that it takes sentences, even paragraphs, to describe in English – there is simply no equivalent single-word concept. And sometimes the best way to understand these words… is through stories. That should be out in time for Christmas 2018.

Do you have a specific writing style?

No. Although I’ve been accused (jokingly but still…) of having swallowed a dictionary when I was a baby. I DO like language, and I write lush; in my household my husband (also a wordsmith) it has been posited that he writes like Hemingway and I write like Steinbeck. I tend to write very strong female protagonists, sometimes multiples ones in the same book (as in “Secrets of Jin-shei”. But my writing “style” as such changes with every book – and I never write the same book twice.

Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?

I don’t write novels with “messages” as such – but if there is one, then it might be encapsulated in the prayer my Simonis makes in “Empress”: Give me the life I am meant to live. Take that as a guiding principle, and you’ll inevitably end up gravitating to the things that you want, the things that are meant for you. This doesn’t mean that you will always be happy, or even that you are guaranteed a “happily ever after” ending (I don’t really believe in those…) It does mean that you will live a life that matters. I can hardly do better than that.

Are experiences in your books based on someone you know or events in your own life?

Some. “Midnight at Spanish Gardens” includes things that I do have direct experience of, yes – the ‘Spanish Gardens’ of the title used to be a real place, one I frequented when I was at University, the description of it in the book is pretty much exactly what the real place looked like, and some of the events described as taking place there really did occur. But that’s the least “fantastical” of my fantasies – and in many of the others, the events of which I write are tied into a fantasy milieu where real-life experiences as I or my contemporaries would know them would seem direly out of place.. I’m sure I do some distilling in my own mind and some stuff can inevitably be traced back to things I may not have even consciously been aware of when writing the story – but I don’t regurgitate reality. If I occasionally reimagine it, that would be plenty.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

Oh, lawks-a-mercy, this question is never answerable. Tolkien. Le Guin. Guy Gavriel Kay. Roger Zelazny. Sharon Penman. Rebecca du Maurier. Howard Spring. Ivo Andric. Mary Doria Russell. Matt Ruff. Mary Stewart. Spider Robinson. Octavia Butler. They have all taught me things – about how to build worlds, how to understand people, how to think when wearing a different mind, how to speak, how to act, what is ethical and what is moral and how far would I go to remain those things. That is not an exhaustive or a final list. You might say my answer to that question is Yes, writers have influenced my life hugely and they continue to do so. And they all bring different things I find inspiring.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

My grandfather started me off in the love of language – a poet, he started me reading poetry when I was almost too young to comprehend it. But it left a lasting mark, and maybe it’s the reason I write so poetically even today. No, I don’t have a ‘mentor’. But in one writing workshop I was fortunate enough to attend, the last one that Roger Zelazny did before he died, Zelazny asked me two questions. How long had I been writing? (and I said, forever) and Did I read or write a lot of poetry? (And I had admitted that I did). And he said to me, “It shows. You have a voice all of your own. Nobody else will ever write like this.” I take those words as something uttered by a master to an acolyte. If you want to call that a mentorship – although it is encapsulated in a single sentence – there it is.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

This might be changing in today’s publishing culture but I still belong to the generation which, when published, did not “choose” their cover artists and have no direct links or contacts with them, even, in most cases. For something like “Empress” I did commission the cover myself – from Hugo-Award-winning artist Elizabeth Leggett – because I love her work, and she and I worked together on a concept that I had for the cover. For my Book View Café-published novel “AbductiCon”, a humorous science fiction novel about science fiction conventions, the cover designer was… myself. But more often than not authors are presented with a cover during the publication process, and have to hope we like it…

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Read. Read FIRST. Read before you write a single word yourself. Writers who begin by saying that they don’t have time to read… have not done the training required to write. Read first. Read EVERYTHING. And learn from all of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Learn about what kind of person, what kind of WRITER, you want to be.

Book Cover EmpressAlma Alexander
Bellingham, WA

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Empress

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No Wasted Ink Writers Links

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Welcome to another Monday of writer’s links. This week I got out of my comfort zone and explored a bunch of new blogs and authors.  I found plenty of interesting articles out there.  I hope you’ll enjoy them.

A Road to Publication

ON WRITING: HOW TO WRITE A BOOK – PART ONE – THE IDEA

Who is Science Fiction For?

Why I Don’t Have a Degree

Bigger on the Inside

Characters development and personality traits

Critique Groups – 8 Good Reasons to Love

Journey of Words

Where do you get your ideas from?

Older British Accents Actually Sounded More Like Americans Speak Today