Christopher Nuttall is a rising star in the science fiction writing community. A highly successful self-
published author he was recently picked up by Elsewhen Press, who have already published one of his books. His fascination with the Royal Navy, with many of his starships’ named after RN vessels, has led to a strong following from that community. I found Chris engaging, insightful and more than happy to answer a few questions for our readers.
What was the first piece you had published, and where?
Oh, a hard question <grin>. The first book I published on Kindle was Patriotic Treason (a space opera I may revise one day), while the first professionally published book I had was The Royal Sorceress.
Why the RN theme (as an ex-matelot I love it, by the way), do you have any links to the navy yourself?
No, I don’t have any direct links - as far as I know, no one in my family served in the Royal Navy. (It's a point of pride that I keep getting people asking me when and where I served.)
Ark Royal was born when I noticed just how few UK-themed books there actually were out at the time. Most Military-SF was US-based. So, I had the idea of a British carrier, which would be based on the heavily-armoured carriers of WW2. They flew less aircraft than their American counterparts, but they were much tougher and survived strikes that would have badly damaged an American ship. Somewhere along the line, the idea of the old carrier took shape, along with her crew.
Do the ships, Ark Royal, Dreadnaught etc - have a special meaning for you?
Ark Royal was a deliberate homage to the famous WWII carrier - although, of course, there were other Ark’s in the RN over the years. Warspite and Vanguard followed the same lines, although Vanguard was the last of the Royal Navy’s true battleships.
On a more general term, I think - having studied history myself rather than had too much PC crap forced down my throat in school - that we in the UK should remember the navy, the defender of our freedom. These are not the days, alas, when there was a vast public demand for ships - “we want eight and we won’t wait” - let alone demand for RAF aircraft and army troops. The world is red in tooth and claw - and we really need to remember that.
I loved the play of words in the title of your book ‘Fear God and Dread Naught’. Did you fear that only military people might catch this?
I just thought it fitted with the super-dreadnaught theme <grin>.
Generally, I tried to keep the titles of the series linked to the RN, so I felt that fitted in with the rest.
Can you foresee humanity having a line of military ships in the future, or even nationalities, as per your writing?
To be honest, a lot depends on both technology and political situations. Given the tech to build Ark Royal and her successors, I think we will. All of the treaties to limit the military use of space - already weakening - will vanish as we expand beyond the atmosphere and start putting something in space we need to protect. If Britain survives as an independent nation at that point, why not a space-going HMS Ark Royal?
You’ve enjoyed great success as a self-published author, what would you say to other writers doing this?
Work hard <grin>.
I get asked, frequently, what the secret is. And the blunt truth - which any successful writer will tell you - is that you have to work hard. You’ll need to write around a million words before you have something people will want to read. Get beta readers, get an editor ... learn your mistakes and grow a thick skin. You’re going to need it.
Quite a few indie careers have self-destructed because the indies couldn't take criticism. I know, it hurts to have someone point to our work and say “this is crap, etc, etc.” But we just have to take it and move on. Sometimes the critics are actually trying to be helpful. And when they’re not, just ignore them.
Do you have set hours to write each day, a special place to do so?
I have an office. I generally try to write for five or so hours each day.
Where do you get your inspiration?
History and current affairs, mainly. I’m an avid reader of history and it gives me most of my inspiration. Looking at the Ark Royal books, A Small Colonial War obviously drew its inspiration from the Falklands. Others - First Strike, Barbarians at the Gates - came from the Russo-Japanese War and the prolonged period of civil wars that eventually crippled the Roman Empire.
My Twilight of the Gods series, although an alternate history of Nazi Germany, was originally inspired by the Libyan Civil War, while Culture Shock drew its inspiration from the immigration crisis. (And I actually had it plotted out before 2014.)
Obviously, a lot of details get changed along the way.
One interesting exception came from Romeo and Juliet. The play would have had a different reception in Shakespeare’s day: to us, it’s romantic; to them, the two young lovers were foolish and selfish. Modern-day issues with the story often condemn the families for not letting love rule the day ... which simply would not have been possible in that era. I wrote Love’s Labour’s Won with the intention, at least in part, at poking fun at the play.
Have you a current project, and if so could you tell us a little about it?
Well, right now I’m writing The Zero Blessing, which is a deliberate attempt to sketch out a Teen/YA book. It centres on a young girl who has to attend a magic school ... without even a tiny gift for magic. Originally, it was intended as a spin-off of Schooled In Magic, but it couldn't be shoehorned in without confusing everyone. (I wish I’d had the idea earlier, as it would have been fun.) So, it’s in a whole new universe ...
Beyond that, I’m sketching out three or four other Ark Royal books and more beside.
The writing industry is constantly changing, what developments do you anticipate?
There’s a lot of debate about that, as you know. Really, a lot depends on the bigger publishers getting their act together and realising that the old publishing model is no longer viable. I’m not holding my breath, really.
I think there will be more and more focus on self-publishing, as authors take advantage of newer services. Kindle lets authors like me avoid the gatekeepers and collect reviews from people who are actually part of the general public. POD is growing into a mature technology now - so far, I can't put out mass-market paperbacks, but I can get quite some good oversized ones. And there are audio books coming out that help us expand still further.
You can get most of the services publishers used to provide online now, which is another change. I’m expecting a much larger directory of artists, editors and suchlike to come online soon. (I have a small list on my site.)
If they’re smart, publishers will tear up their old contract model and give authors a fairer deal. They can also take note of successful self-publishers and bargain with them, allowing them to take advantage of readership bases. If not, they’ll continue to lose good authors as they move over to Kindle.
As a self-published author, it’s hard to get yourself noticed when so many others are out there. How
did you achieve this amazing success?
I spent the last seven years building up a reputation <grin>.
It all goes back to hard work, to be honest, and not losing sight of what you want to do. You have to focus on writing continuously, building up a reputation, gathering reviews and listening to the beta readers/editors. I’m both a science-fiction and fantasy author, which lets me appeal to two different sets of readers. (Obviously, there's some overlap.)
Ideally, what you want are enough books that you can afford to discount one of them (or give it away) so you can lure more readers into purchasing the later books. I discounted Ark Royal for three days over Christmas, for example, which gave the rest of the series a boost.
I was also delighted to see that Royal Sorceress was professionally published by Elsewhen Press. How did you find this venture, as opposed your previous path?
I saw the advert online somewhere - it was four years or so ago, so I’ve honestly forgotten precisely where. I had quite a collection of manuscripts at the time, so I sent them The Royal Sorceress and Bookworm. They purchased them both - Bookworm, which came out later, was a strong success, so I wrote three more in the series.
I would honestly recommend working with a small press, if you’re serious about writing. A smaller press is more responsive, more likely to listen to questions and provide serious answers (as well as accepting feedback and cover ideas). I’ve learned a great deal from looking at their editing, even though editing can be a real headache.