Interview with James Flanagan

Author of GENEFIRE

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Quick description of the book for a new reader - what should they expect?
  • GENEFIRE follows two narratives that interweave a century apart, and across time the protagonists of each find ways to help each other. Both sets mirror each other involving a male protagonist aided by a slightly more competent female character.

    Larry Milton is a PhD student studying genetics, and is having a hard time in his PhD until he discovers something remarkable. He finds a warning from the future about the destruction of Earth written in the DNA of a girl. He is accused of scientific misconduct and threatened with dismissal from his PhD. Undeterred, Milton goes to great lengths, with the help of a biohacker genetics expert called Noah, to try and save the world.

    A century later, we follow Tammy Henry, a unique genetic hybrid, and Gessica Kelly both working on the international space station. Both witness the destruction of Earth, and through misfortune, find themselves the only survivors on the ISS. In their struggle to survive they discover "Genefire" a satellite with the ability to send messages back in time packaged in the viral particles to infect people with their message. But do they dare mess with time?
What was your inspiration for this book?
  • I have always found it fascinating the idea of writing in DNA, and how much could we actually write with the 20-letter protein code (and the DNA code that underlies that). As with most sci-fi stories, for me, it starts with a "What if". What if we could write in DNA? Well, we can. But what if we could write in DNA or RNA and package that in a virus and infect someone with a message? Sure, we can probably do that these days too. But what if we could send those viruses back in time and change history? Now, that we can't yet do...

    The other inspiration for this story comes from my experience of going through a PhD and witnessing the journeys of all the PhD students that I have now supervised. Milton's journey is a bit of a metaphor for that PhD journey, from the struggle to find results worthy of a PhD, then finding something remarkable, and going through hell trying to replicate the result. Then at the end being interrogated as though it was a criminal trial.
Which authors do you admire? How have they influenced your writing style?
  • I have always been fascinated by science fiction books, long before I was a scientist myself. I started with Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Orson Scott Card, Ursula le Guin, Phillip K Dick, Isaac Asimov, HG Wells, you name it, all the classics. I really love Kurt Vonnegut (and I have a tiny little tribute to him, in GENEFIRE, if anyone can spot it). I would like to think they have all influenced how I write in one way or another.

    In terms of contemporary writers I don't think I could name them all, but I'm a big fan of Cixin Liu and Andy Weir and I think reading their books gave me the idea that I could try and write my own.
Can you tell us a little about the locations in your book?
  • The story of Larry Milton takes place in London, UK. That is where I live, and I found it entertaining to sit in different places around the city and imagine Milton in his habitat. I remember sitting in that coffee shop near Goodge Street imagining those scenes taking place. Most of the locations are fictional, but some like the British Museum is a venue I hope most readers are familiar with.

    The other main location is the International Space Station, which looks very different from the one we have today. It is much larger and has a crew of about 50-60. Unfortunately, I haven't visited there yet.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
  • One thing aspiring writers will not be short of is advice from other writers. There are so many great writing courses, Masterclasses, blogs, youtube channels, social media, discord groups (shoutout to 11:59!) all willing to provide advice. The best bit of advice I have heard is to just write, write, and do a bit more writing. Get into a habit, find what works for you, and don't be afraid to have a few slow periods. That is normal. Don't be afraid to share your writing with others. You will need to eventually, when you are looking for beta readers, or sending it to editors of magazines, or contests or publishing. So share now, and share often. Then don't be afraid to offer critiques to others in return. Look at that, I found a theme: Don't be afraid.
Could you talk a little about your writing process?
  • When I first started drafting this, I wrote on an iPad mostly while I was commuting on the London Underground. You will hear people be called Planners (those who plan everything), Pantsers (those who write by the seats of their pants), or a combo - Plantsers. I would say I lean towards Planner. I had a plan for each chapter (what the characters goals were, what the conflict was, where I wanted it to end up, and what is going on with the character), then I wrote each as though it was a bit of a short story. Then started to piece them all together. Although the two narratives are interweaved, I actually wrote one, then the other. It was easier to stay in the head of the same character at the same time.
Which character has had the greatest impact on readers?
  • I don't know, I guess the readers will have to tell me. I could tell you who my favorite character is, but that would be like picking your favorite child. I have a soft spot for Tammy though... He is probably the sweetest character and the one who makes some of the hardest choices.
If the book were to be adapted for TV or film, who would you see in the lead role? Who did you have in your mind’s eye ?
  • Isn't that tempting fate? I would love to see that but I wouldn't dare to dream.... OK.... just for the sake of argument. I would prefer to see them all played by up-and-coming actors, but just to give you an image: Milton - a young James Cordon with foppish blond hair
How have readers responded ?
  • I would love to find out. Contact me and let me know! Reach me on twitter @jimiflanUK or on my webpage
Where next? What are you working on now?
  • I have two more books in this series already planned that I would like to write. I've started work on the second in this series and we will see how far I get. I'm also working on lots of short stories hoping to get a few of those published in various venues.
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A near-future SciFi novel crossing space and time. In a future where genetic engineering is becoming the norm, even the simplest mistakes could be devastating.

Sometimes it feels as though the world will end if you don’t finish your PhD. For Larry Milton, it’s true.

Larry has discovered a dire warning from the future about Earth’s destruction — written in the DNA of a young girl.

With the destruction of the planet at stake, and no one believing him, he goes to extraordinary lengths to help the messenger from the future save the world… and try to finish his PhD at the same time.