What if the Earth Wasn't God's First Try? An interview with author Craig Meighan.
There are a great many fans of humorous science fantasy & fantasy out there. Indeed, authors Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Christopher Moore have set the bar high. Yet, I'm delighted to announce that Craig Meighan's 'Far Far Beyond Berlin', now released by Elsewhen Press, easily hurdles this threshold. If you enjoy humorous SFF then do check this out, for you certainly won't be disappointed!
Craig, your concept about God creating dimensions until he gets it just right made me smile. What is it about other dimensions that encouraged you to write this tale?
In the book we see God’s creative process and I thought that’d be a good vehicle for exploring multiple fantasy and sci-fi concepts within the same story. Each world is a new dimension and is different from the last. He is experimenting and learning as he goes. We get to see the results of his efforts and the aftermath of their failure. All of which I found very appealing.
Once the narrator becomes stranded on the first of these designs it lets us see the worlds from two vastly different perspectives. God’s point of view has the overview and the context of the planning stage, whilst the narrator is on the ground dealing with the reality of what it’s like to be there. He has to deal with talking animals, killer robots, unpredictable pirates, space travel, inter-dimensional travel, whilst being pursued by a supernatural assassin and he has no special skills, he’s not an astronaut or a scientist or a navy seal - he’s an office worker with above average Excel. The contrast of these two worlds was really fun to write.
Who are your favourite authors, and which one really inspires you?
Douglas Adams is my all-time favourite writer. When I was about 12, my mum gave me a copy of Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that she’d borrowed from the footballer Pat Nevin in the 80s, when they had worked at a sports shop together. It was an absolutely worn paperback edition that had clearly been read about a thousand times. I was immediately excited to open it, as it was clearly a much-loved book. About a page and half in, the line “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.” made me laugh out loud and I was hooked forever. He was a genius. I’m also a huge admirer of Raymond Chandler’s crime writing. There’s a brevity and economy to it that is marvellous. In one of the Marlowe novels, he describes a character: “From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.” It’s hard to imagine learning more about a character and a narrator in as few words as that. Every ten pages he knocks your socks off with a dazzling line. Brilliant.
I see that you wrote this novel after work in the evenings What is your writing routine now?
The lockdown has changed my routine, I used to get out and about more with the laptop, I’d go to the gym and then to the library some days, other days I’d go to the park or drive somewhere with a nice view and do some pages there. Now I have a home office and I write at a desk with a PC. Same place each day and I’ve fallen into a very steady routine. I walk the dog, eat breakfast, complete a jigsaw puzzle to warm my brain up and then begin. I’m traditionally a night owl, but I’m really trying hard to transition to writing during the day. The day however, brings distractions that the night does not. At night everyone is asleep, everything is quiet, no news, no tweets, nothing on tv. It’s perfect and I do miss it. I still have the odd night of climbing into bed at 4am because I’ve written until my eyes can’t take it. My rule is that when I’m on a roll, I ride it out until there are no more words left. It’s not common, but maybe once a month I get a night where I get five thousand words in a flurry and you’ve got to take it however it comes to you.
What tools do you use to visual your characters and keep them consistent?
I can’t draw and I don’t plan extensively so it’s a short, simple method. I picture them in my head and if I can’t see them clearly or hold an imaginary conversation with them, then I discard them. I find the good characters are bright and vivid and don’t allow you to forget them or alter their voice. They are persistent thoughts.
Having left your last position to work fulltime as an author, how are you finding the transition – and what would you say to someone else considering the same? I can only tell you my story, it’s very much a case-by-case decision. I absolutely love it. It’s comfortably the best change I’ve ever made in my career and the resulting increase in happiness has blossomed into every other part of my life. I was working a job which came with responsibility, pressure and ethical quandaries. It wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, but I’d tried being a screenwriter and it was so frustrating trying to get things made that I gave up. In the evenings, I started writing the book. It was just for me at first, but after about six months it was coming along nicely. I was sitting on the couch one evening and my wife Jen and I got into a conversation about work. She pointed out, quite correctly that I was clearly very unhappy. She told me that she believed if I gave it my full-time attention, I could get the book completely finished and get it published. That if I didn’t try, I’d spend the rest of my life wondering what could have been. That I should leave the job that was making me unhappy and have a year at pursuing the dream. Without Jen believing in me and backing me 100%, I would never have made the leap. I’d have worked that job for life. I handed my notice in the following day. I am at least 6000% happier as a result. I love writing, the process and the ups and downs. I love the freedom of being able to write about anything I choose. I love the concept of ideas being my livelihood. It’s a wonderful, fortunate position I am in. It is absolutely the best thing I’ve ever done in my working life. If you are considering doing anything like that there are a few things to be aware of:
· Obviously make sure that you can financially cope with leaving your current employment. There was saving and
budgeting involved in my decision.
· It’s a long road you’re on. Even if you immediately found a publisher, it would be a year or so before you’ll see your
book in print. For me I started writing the book in 2018, left work in late 2019 and my book launch is March 2021. I
know people who’ve had much longer journeys to traditional publication.
· There is likely to be rejection. From agents and from publishers. You must be ready for this and be sure that you
have some tools to cope with it.
· It is a solitary job. You don’t have colleagues; you don’t have a boss. Make sure you keep your social engagement up
and find a network of people you can regularly chat to. (i.e. leave the house if you can)
If you are reading this and genuinely considering it, you are welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll gladly answer any questions you may have – though I am a foolish man who writes books about talking sheep, so it would be sensible to take that into account.
Some people have a specific tool they use when writing (coffee, tea, a glass of wine, classical music) do you have anything like this? I don’t do tea or coffee and I don’t drink at all anymore. Sugar is my weakness; home baking and fizzy drinks feature a lot more than wine. Music is the real tool for me though. For every book I create a playlist to write to that takes me to the same mood and state of mind. I then only listen to that music when I’m writing that book, it helps me tune in to the vibe of the story. Joanna Newsom, Regina Spektor, Pixies and Radiohead were heavily featured on my playlist for Far, Far Beyond Berlin.
Craig Meighan was born in Lanarkshire, in central Scotland. Both a keen drummer and a fan of science fiction, he grew up
wanting to be either Animal from The Muppets or Douglas Adams. This has led to an unfortunate habit of smashing up his computer at the end of each writing session.
With the ambition of becoming a screenwriter, he attended film college in Glasgow. He spent a short time making corporate videos and then after attending one chance meeting, he accidentally joined the civil service. Intending to stay for one summer, he ended up staying for 12 years (so think carefully before inviting him round for tea).
He is too polite to say which of the killer robots, demons and other assorted antagonists that appear in his book, are based on his interactions with actual government ministers.
His first novel, Far Far Beyond Berlin, was written in the evenings, after work, every day for a year, at the end of which time his wife Jen convinced him it was time to finally leave the safety of the office job and pursue writing full-time. She cunningly incentivised him by promising that if he managed to get his book published, he could get a big dog.
Craig lives with Jen, just outside Glasgow, where they like to play softball, enter pub quizzes and do escape rooms. He is delighted to announce that they are expecting a greyhound.
Even geniuses need practice
Not everything goes to plan at the first attempt… In Da Vinci’s downstairs loo hung his first, borderline insulting, versions of the Mona Lisa. Michelangelo’s back garden was chock-a-block full of ugly lumps of misshapen marble. Even Einstein committed a great ‘blunder’ in his first go at General Relativity. God is no different, this universe may be his masterpiece, but there were many failed versions before it – and they’re still out there.
Far Far Beyond Berlin is a fantasy novel, which tells the story of a lonely, disillusioned government worker’s adventures after being stranded in a faraway universe – Joy World: God’s first, disastrous attempt at creation.
God’s previous universes, a chain of 6 now-abandoned worlds, are linked by a series of portals. Our jaded hero must travel back through them, past the remaining dangers and bizarre stragglers. He’ll join forces with a jolly, eccentric and visually arresting, crew of sailors on a mysteriously flooded world. He’ll battle killer robots and play parlour games against a clingy supercomputer, with his life hanging in the balance. He’ll become a teleportation connoisseur; he will argue with a virtual goose – it sure beats photocopying.
Meanwhile, high above in the heavens, an increasingly flustered God tries to manage the situation with His best friend Satan; His less famous son, Jeff; and His ludicrously angry angel of death, a creature named Fate. They know that a human loose in the portal network is a calamity that could have apocalyptic consequences in seven different universes. Fate is dispatched to find and kill the poor man before the whole place goes up in a puff of smoke; if he can just control his temper…
Fate was the board’s assassin; a born killer who relished his work. His role was in deciding people’s ultimate fate; he chose
whether people were allowed a painful or peaceful demise. In popular culture he was known by many names; The Angel of Death, Death, The Grim Reaper – well not that many names actually, but they were all a bit deathy, so he preferred to be called Fate because he thought that was much cooler.
He was also God’s henchman, sworn to deal with threats to the stability of the universe. However, as you’ll no doubt be relieved to hear, threats to the stability of the Universe are few and far between so, in times of peace, he indulged in a little unilateral population control. He picked favourites, he developed grudges, he watched the theatre of the world play out then intervened when he saw fit. He roamed the earth taking human form. He has killed men to get to women he wanted to sleep with, from time to time he killed people for their political beliefs, but it can be far pettier than that.
He has killed people for choosing the wrong snack from a vending machine. Basically, he is a big evil bastard.
When people meet after ten years of being apart and lonely, they say “Fate brought us together” “It was destiny”. Well they’re wrong; it’s just life. Humans are predictable; they go to the same places and do the same things. Events will coincide from time to time; it would be strange if they didn’t. Fate has nothing to do with it. He doesn’t bring people together; he’s a cold-blooded killer.
And if you’re wondering, it was a Twix.
Book page on Elsewhen Press website: https://bit.ly/FarFarBeyondBerlin
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