Geoff and I have never met, although we’ve been corresponding for a great many years. I’m a firm admirer of his work, a Nelderphile if you will. I particularly enjoyed the humour and twists in his recent tale The Chaos of Mokii, yet today we’re celebrating his latest release, Xaghra’s Revenge. Luckily, I've managed to host the first day of his blog tour, to ask a few questions.
Geoff, a laptop can be quite a big piece of kit to carry around on a bike and it’s easily damaged. Does this worry you, and do you use a netbook to avoid the weight problem?
A cyclist packing for a tour or a single journey aiming at a writing retreat for a week’s masterpiece or mischief making, cuts his or her toothbrush in half to save bulk. It’s not just the weight, after all I am the terminus of a million veggie samosas, but panniers can only hold so much volume.
I admire the writer David Gardner for his use of a tiny NetBook. It’s the size of 6 x 9 paperback and half the weight. He internets and writes with it. I tried to, Lord I tried but the mouse and the variability of the keyboard and the inconsistency of saving work drives me crazy. Hence, I invest in the lightest possible laptops. Currently it is a Sony Vaio, 800 gms and 20 x 28 cm. With the extended battery it will last over 10 hours unplugged. Even that’s a drag, so where possible I ask the retreat hosts if they have a PC I can borrow – I don’t mind no internet as long as Word or even Open Office is there. I spent a week writing with WordPad with few probs.
Given all the hype about the dramatic drop in the price of flights to Mars, would you go if you could, and if so why?
Yes, I would. I’d open up a bookshop that only sold books about Earth. I’d write the books. I’d sell telescopes too for the homesick. I’ve calculated recently that I’ve cycled halfway to the Moon. Only another 60 years to go to reach a lunar bus stop so I can use my bus pass to get home. Bit too long to reach Mars.
Let’s take the classical SF authors as given. This year I have fallen in love with Claire North (First Fifteen
Lives of Harry North, The End of the Day and best of all for me - though Mrs N couldn’t get past chapter one – The Sudden Appearance of Hope. Claire has my take on ‘what if’ with a surreal twist. She knows and we’ve compared plots we’ve each written. In love. Her mum knows. There’s an injunction out.
A more elderly all-time favourite is Tibor Fischer. He turned me on to writing with his The Thought Gang. In the 70’s, bank robbers got away with it. Bank robbers were of average to moronic IQ. Imagine a group of out-of-work philosophers taking to bank robbery. Not only is the humour so dry, Fischer uses every word in the English language, and some, with a z. Inspirational.
If just one of your books had a chance of making it to the big screen, which would you chose?
An American contacted me not long ago from MGM Studios, Hollywood saying she’d like to script my short ghost story, No Way, with a view to creating a straight-to-DVD short movie. After a month of resetting the action from Cheshire to Mass, and agreeing on the final script, it turns out she was an office filer in the studios. Yes, she mixed with the stars and apparently was Rod Stewart’s first US live-in girlfriend for a while and Kevin Spacey sat on her lap. She had contacts and our film was oh-so-close to being made, but it remains on file in the US copyright system.
Would, or have, you ever collaborated on a writing project?
Lush was an experiment sitcom – parody of Friends set in London. I was the lead scriptwriter of five. We met in London occasionally but mostly emailed our script contributions and critiques. Only one of had a lot of experience writing drama scripts – Michael Starr, who continues to write stage productions for Amdram. Hence we learnt a lot, mainly from the BBC website section on writing comedy scripts for TV. It was hard work but rewarding. After a dozen scenes Mike funded a screen audition in Riverside Studios, Hammersmith. It’s fantastic hearing real actors reading out lines you wrote, improvising and improving them. Best though was the 200 young women a couple of metres away, all eager to please me! Sigh. Sadly, our financier suffered a breakdown and Lush disbanded. A year later he told me the finished scripts were sold to an American cable company.
As most of us know, a lot of a writer’s success depends on the covers they use – as they draw the customer’s eye. Have you found issues here, and do you choose your own?
In some ways it would have been easier for us to have no cover art like the Penguin books in the middle of last century, and it’s true that most books are sold after a personal recommendation. However, some superb covers have driven up sales. I can’t think of a book that I bought purely on the cover, but I admired greatly the Paul Kidby’s illustrations of Terry Pratchett’s books.
I’m mixed up over mine. In the cover of Aria, the reflection of the alien suitcase in the astronaut’s visor is wonderful – created by artist Andy Bigwood from my suggestion, but it’s turned people off who thought it was a ‘rockets and spacegun’ book, instead of the medical mystery apocalypse it is. On the other hand, I love book 3 of the trilogy. ARIA: Abandoned Luggage. It’s of the alien planet using colours Andy at first said wasn’t possible for paperbacks.
What if… I hadn’t gone to Malta on a holiday and discovered an awful, generally unknown truth: the
mass abduction of a whole island into slavery? Only a handful of novels touched on this event and even the locals didn’t think it worth shouting about. I did. I wanted revenge for those 5,000 abducted souls and gave it to them in Xaghra’s Revenge.
Xaghra is a real town on the small Mediterranean island of Gozo. I chose it to begin the story because I’ve been there many times. It’s the site of one of the world’s oldest buildings, The Ggantija Temple – older than the pyramids and Stonehenge! I’ve hugged those huge limestone blocks and the vibes touched me. I’ve stood in the spot where Stjepan hears the alarm bell, where he sees his friends chased by pirates, and outside his house. It’s personal.
This opening sets the story with a contrast and conflict: an idyllic rural and family scene versus a worrying incursion threatening to disrupt everything.
When Reece and Zita become lovers, past and present collide as the spirits of their ancestors force them to relive one of the greatest battles of the 16th century. Xaghra’s Revenge follows the fate of a sixteenth century abducted family, and of two contemporary lovers thrown together by the ancients. Reece and Zita are unaware that one descends from the pirates, the other from the abducted family. While ancient Gozo spirits seek revenge, so do the Ottoman Corsairs, who intend to roll back history, and this time win the siege of Malta. The history is real. The places are authentic.
The Mediterranean island of Gozo 1551, July 24th
Stjepan leaned on his hoe and listened. His beans needed rescuing from the bindweed, but they’d have to wait if that was the warning bell coming from the city.
Five… He stepped up onto a low limestone wall and scanned the horizon. A flock of starlings created an air sculpture – God’s chariots chasing each other. It always lifted his heart.
Six… The Citadel topped the hill to the west; the clock tower visible, but he couldn’t see if people were running up the lanes to the city walls.
Seven, eight… He strained to see, but hills prevented a clear view of the ocean even though Gozo was less than a day’s ride across.
Nine… Perhaps a pirate ship had been seen again. The damned Turkish corsairs raided more often these days. Pirate dogs. He spat at the soil. His short sword lay under his cot at home.
Ten... In spite of the heat, he shivered at the thought of his wife and four-month-old son thrown into the dank belly of a corsair galley.
Eleven, twelve… He held his breath as if that aided hearing. The starlings swirled around the citadel as if they knew something. His heart sank.
Thirteen, fourteen… curses.
He drove his hoe into the stony soil, wishing it was Dragut’s black heart. Stjepan picked his way through berry bushes and olive trees until he reached his village, Xaghra. Karlu, his neighbour, called as he walked in the opposite direction towards the capital, Rabat.
“Ho, Stjepan, you’ll get fined again.”
“I’m not going without Lidia and my son. Your wife?”
Karlu stopped, scratched his head and twitched his moustache. “In Rabat, staying at her mother’s. She’s been coughing up hairballs.”
“That’s cats. Ah, you never liked Senora Angelina. I’ll see you there.”
In spite of the humour, panic tightened his chest as he ran across the central square. Stjepan saw his
marmalade cat, its tail upright. She possessed a sense for trouble. “Heket, you’re supposed to be Lidia’s guardian.”
He frowned pushing past neighbours then saw Lidia waving at him outside the church.
“Father’s tripped on the steps. He can’t walk to Rabat.”
“He’ll have to go on the priest’s cart.”
Stjepan gnawed on a knuckle while his brain raced. He couldn’t afford another florin fine, yet the alert was probably another false alarm.
“I’ll carry your father.” Blood seeped through Alfredo’s grey robe from his knee. His eyes apologised.
Stjepan crouched before the old man. “Come on, I’ll carry you on my back.”
They crossed the wide village square. Stjepan found the old man lighter than he expected. Nevertheless, he stopped.