I.A. Watson is an adventure, fantasy, and SF author from Yorkshire, England. Since his fiction debut in 2010 he’s won several awards for writing in the pulp genre although he’s still not sure what that genre actually is. He just likes to write and he likes people to read the stories he’s told. The fact people pay for this sometimes is a lovely bonus.
Interview with I.A. Watson author of Vinnie de Soth, Jobbing Occultist 6/4/2015
What is your current release and (without spoilers) tell us about the new book or series.
Due out any day now is VINNIE DE SOTH, JOBBING OCCULTIST. It’s the everyday story of a down-on-his-luck urban sorcerer eking his living in modern day London between the corporate vampires and the blue collar werewolves, avoiding his enraged sorceress ex-fiancé and his corpulent landlord whilst trying to stand up for the little guy. I had a really hard time trying to decide if it classified as horror or dark humour.
What is the usual process for your writing? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
It depends on the project. I first broke into publishing with stories for each of Airship 27’s SHERLOCK HOLMES: CONSULTING DETECTIVE series (now up to volume 7), and to do those right one has to plot out the mystery before one lets the characters interact with it. Another upcoming release, “Murder at Barrowbrocks” in Space Buggy Press’ STRANGE AND COZY, was so complicated it involved movement grids for all the characters, four pages of timeline, and eight sheets of backstory. On the other hand, where the story is primarily an adventure yarn, as with ROBIN HOOD, KING OF SHERWOOD and the other three volumes in that series, I tend to have a vague mental impression of what has to happen and I set the characters loose to find their ways there. It’s nice when they surprise me. Different methods for different jobs, really.
Once you have an idea that sparks your imagination do you research your idea or do any world-building exercises, or do you just begin to write and see where the Muse takes you?
Two ways again. I’ve discovered that if I wake up in the middle of the night with a burning story opening, or think of a great concept while I’m on a long car journey, I need to commit that to paper or computer file quickly to consolidate it. Otherwise the insight goes away. But when it comes down to telling the story, research and notes are ways not only to inform and authorise the narrative but to get me in the mood as well.
A lot of what I’ve written has historical settings. ST GEORGE AND THE DRAGON Books 1 and 2, from Chillwater Press, are set in 3rd century Roman Africa. The ROBIN HOOD books are based in 12th century England. Holmes has a Victorian setting. Even alternate-history stories, like my BYZANTIUM fantasy novella series from Pro Se Press has historical foundations; in that case set around A.D. 1000 in a world where Christianity never emerged and magic never went away. I find that researching the era helps me shape the characters and the plot. It gets me into the mindset for how stories happening in that time and place should go.
I also tend to draw maps or even sketches of the characters and places I’ll be using. Sometimes I mock up cover images. It all helps me get into the zone, and it informs the story.
Some writers listen to music or read similar works to prepare. I find that I can’t read or listen to anything too close to what I’m trying to write because it draws me off my game. I have a stack of great literature piled up ready to read some time that I’ve had to avoid so as not to get sidetracked.
Are you a full time writer? If so when did you make the decision and what factors led to the decision? If you are not a full time writer…Is your plan to one day being a full time writer?
Fiction writing started out as a stress-relief hobby, because it requires a very different skillset to running a company. These days I make my living as a consultant management troubleshooter or project starter, which requires me to be very hard and very forceful and to think like a dyspeptic accountant. Writing involves me sitting alone in my study, thinking about wonderful worlds far from corporate takeovers.
I resisted being published for years, fearing that if my hobby became another job it would stop being a hobby and an escape. Eventually I got sucked in to print – starting with a tiny story in White Rocket Books’ superhero anthology SENTINELS: ALTERNATE VISIONS – and discovered that having a wider audience and a paycheque didn’t necessarily interfere with the fun.
I’m lucky in that I get paid an obscene amount of per diem for consultancy work, so a couple of days average a week covers my bills and the rest can be writing. The only way I could afford to be a full time writer is to be successful enough to match that income, and for that I’d need to be the next Stephen King or Terry Pratchett.
What is your daily writing time like?
There’s a narrow window to get started. I crawl out of bed into the bathroom, then feed the cat, then make coffee. At the computer I check e-mails and look at five sites – Girl Genius, Order of the Stick, Darths and Droids, Something Positive, and the Doctor Who News page. Then I get writing. If I miss that window it is really hard to start later. I also find that I can’t mix consultancy work days with fiction writing days because the mental switch is too great, and I even struggle between writing days and proofreading days.
Once I’m writing, I keep going until I get distracted. On a typical day I’ll get about 4000 words of first draft or 5000 words of second draft done, though I have been known to get up to about 6000 words a day when I was really inspired. A novel usually takes me about 35 days.
Can you tell us about your publishing experience? Are you Indie, Traditional, or do a bit of both?
I’m so far out of the loop on publishing that I had to stop and think about what Indie and Traditional meant. My general policy is that I write either because I want to tell a story from an idea I had or because somebody asked me to write a story on a particular topic.
So, my novels SIR MUMPHREY WILTON AND THE LOST CITY OF MYSTERY and THE TRANSDIMENSIONAL TRANSPORT COMPANY were books no-one asked for, just stories I needed to tell. Few editors say, “Hey, how about a book about an eccentric World War II secret agent with a time-mangling pocketwatch?” or “Ian, we need you to do an urban SF novel featuring an outfit that delivers packages to alternate universes. Stat!”
Conversely, stories like “The Fort of Skulls” in White Rocket’s PRIDE OF THE MOHICANS, which won Best Pulp Short Story in this year’s Pulp Factory industry awards, or “Blood-Price of the Missionary’s Gold” in Pro-Se’s NEW ADVENTURES OF ARMLESS O’NEIL, or “Famous Monsters of World War II” in Mechanoid Press’ MONSTER EARTH, or “Prey of the Mask Reaper” in Moonstone’s THE SPIDER: EXTREME PREJUDICE were all written to order. I like doing that kind of work too because it imposes disciplines and subject constraints on me that stretch me as an author.
Most of my experience has been with small-press publishers. More recently, as small-press publishers haven’t been able to keep up with my output rate, I’ve also tried independent publishing. I’ve found the latter to be a bit more time-consuming and technical than I’m comfortable with, and I certainly haven’t cracked how to market those works, but I enjoyed the freedom.
Everyone likes to know where an author gets their ideas from, but what I want to know is what is the strangest thing to inspire one of your stories?
I’m amazed how many ideas from childhood games and from bedside stories I told my children have made their way into my works. Storylines from make-believe my friends and I played when we were kids have informed my SF work in THE MANY WORLDS OF ULYSSES KING and its forthcoming sequel. A tale I wrote to amuse my infant daughter and son informed the adult novel THE LABOURS OF HERCULES, due out just before Christmas.
The strangest thing, though, was probably a spooky event from when I was around seven or eight. My mother took me on holiday to some tiny little seaside resort – think Innsmouth but on the east coast of Yorkshire, England. It was a strange place, tide-washed and seagull-haunted. We had a flat above a shop on the high street, with a view across at the shops opposite, all lit at night by the rotating beam of a lighthouse literally at the end of the road. My bedroom had a single bulb with a wicker shade that cast cobweb shadows over the ceiling when the wind blew it. Assuming that was the wind.
The place was inherently spooky, both the rooms we were staying in and the town as a whole. On our last night there, mum and I were sitting in the kitchen/dining room playing cards. The light went on in the upper room of the shop across the road from us, the equivalent space to where we were. It was a storeroom above a butchers, and we could see pig carcases hanging on meathooks, with the butcher moving about between them.
Then, right by the window, there was a huge hairy hand. This was before Star Wars or I’d have said it was a Wookie arm. The thing was huge, a couple of feet of it sticking out from one side of the frame. The hair was shaggy and matted, covering even the fingers and thumb. At least that’s what I saw. Mother thought it was maybe a grinning goats’ head. Neither of us could work out what the hell it actually was. The butcher gave no indication of noticing it was there, even through the arm was slowly waving up and down as if it was trying to hail a taxi.
We watched for maybe a minute before the butcher’s light went off and we could see no more. In that time I had a feeling of absolute alien terror, as if I was seeing something I was not meant to view. Mum was pretty troubled too, though she laughed it off afterwards and assured me it was just some hanging carcass that the butcher had disturbed. And it probably was. But I haven’t forgotten that moment of existential terror as the normal world dropped away, and when I really want to seriously write horror then that is the moment I go back to. Readers have to feel like that!
Can you tell us about some of your other writing (fiction or nonfiction) and any appearances or signings that you have planned?
I get asked to speak in public a lot, but rarely about my writing. I’m so far out of the writing community that I have never met any published author. I’ll be attending my first ever convention, FantasyCon 2015, in Nottingham, UK, in October of this year.
Upcoming publications that I haven’t mentioned yet include WOMEN OF MYTH, an anthology all by me reinterpreting some classic legends and fairy tales (due out in August), BYZANTIUM: REBELS RUN, BYZANTIUM: GHOST ARMIES, and BYZANTIUM: SHATTERED BONDS, PREMIUM DELIVERY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF RICHARD Knight volume 3, HOLMES AND HOUDINI (probably next year), and some stories in anthologies.
As an author what inspiration or advice would you give to a writer who is working to make the transition to Author?
I doubt I’m a very good example to give that kind of advice, but if I had to choose something I’d go with “professionalism”. A pro will work through the tough patches, will show discipline to finish things he or she has started (ending stories is a major part of the skillset and it needs practice), will deal with peers and publishers with courtesy and integrity, will add that bit of extra polish on every product, and will prioritise the work to be sure it is done and done right. Few people want to be a bad author or a sloppy author. Professionalism is the key to being the kind of author others want to work with, want to promote, want to contract, and ultimately want to read.
Who is your favorite author? Tell us what makes this author stand out in your mind, and what book would you recommend to someone new to that author?
Favourite authors vary depending on my mood, but favourites from my youth to which I return again and again are Tolkein, M.R, James, T.H. White, Dorothy L. Sayers, Anne McCaffery, and Stan Lee, and the books Watership Down, The Good Companions, Three Men in a Boat, and Carnacki the Ghost Finder.
More recent favourites include Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Jack Campbell, Lindsay Davis, early Tom Clancy, and Lois McMasters Bujold.
For one book that is a masterclass in how to introduce characters, world-build, show action and emotion, and tell a damned good story I would point would-be authors at Lois McMasters Bujold’s The Hallowed Hunt. Better stories have been written (though not that many), but for someone looking to pick up writing pointers that book has a lot to offer.