Interview with Geoff Nelder
Author of Suppose We
Geoff Nelder lives in Chester with his physicist wife, within easy cycle rides of the Welsh mountains.
Geoff is a former teacher, now an editor, writer and fiction competition judge. His novels include Scifi: Exit, Pursued by Bee; The ARIA trilogy; The Chaos of Mokii; thrillers: Escaping Reality, Hot Air, Xaghra’s Revenge.
Collections: Incremental– 25 surreal tales more mental than incremental.
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Geoff, could you take us through your writing process?
- It starts at night. I’d dream a potentially brilliant story, wake up at daybreak, grope for a bedside pad and scribble anything worthy I remembered. After breakfast, I’d look at said scribbles and groan. Occasionally, a gem makes it through. VIEW FROM was a recent result – I’d dreamt that I woke up on the ceiling looking down on my bed. It’s in the INCREMENTAL collection. I wrote it before lunch but that is rare. I usually cycle or walk to the shops to get my blood moving, sending fresh oxygen to that creative synapse. I write at home or in a café in the afternoons, and after tea at home. You’d think that I’d manage more than 2,500 words a day now I’m a retired teacher, but I aimed for 2k words then, and often managed it. I write far more at writing retreats whether that is a budget B&B in Wales or a slice of heaven on a Greek island.
After a few chapters or a short story has survived a first draft, I print them to read slowly, armed with a red pen, in my conservatory where I’ll read aloud if Mrs N isn’t around. I lacerate and insert then retype that evening. After three drafts they are sent to Orbiters. These are critique groups within the British Science Fiction Association. I belong to a novel and short story group. We content-edit each other’s subs and suggest markets. Sadly, the market for science fiction and fantasy short stories is pitifully small, so I look for anthologies. My novels these days are published by Solstice Publishing or LL-Publications both based in the US though the latter used to be in Scotland.
Do you often find yourself interrupted by butterflies? Is it helpful?
- I am easily distracted especially when writing in the shade, outdoors on a warm day. I’d started writing the third chapter of SUPPOSE WE while in Limnisa, a retreat on Methana, Greece. A ‘Scarce Swallowtail’ butterfly landed on my laptop, obviously demanding to be a character in the story. The novella’s French protagonist called it Papillon. It’s alien, and not really a butterfly, but it looks and behaves much like one. In the sequel to SUPPOSE WE, Papillon even has a chapter to itself.
Butterfly issues. I’d learnt the poem Flying Crooked as a child and it so suited SUPPOSE WE with Papillon that I wanted to quote the 60-word verse in my book. However, in spite of Robert Graves having written it in 1931, it is still not 70 years since he died, so no one can quote the poem without paying copyright fees to Carcanet. I had to pay them £100. It’s like a tax on poetry. The amount assumes I will only sell a few hundred copies / downloads, but suppose it took off on its flying crooked path and sells, say, a million then Carcanet can claim more. Bit weird considering none of his family alive at the time are still kicking now. More in my blog post https://geoffnelder.com/copyright-flutterbies/
Why do you think science fiction has such broad appeal? (I suppose we could ask the same question of any popular genre – crime, romance etc – and your work spans a few genres, but always with sci fi at its core)
- Fantasy sells four times more than science fiction in the UK, even so, TV science fiction series such as Dr Who and reruns of Star Trek, drive interest. I’d say my stories are a touch bizarre and their surrealness is the common factor. Prof Stanley Salmon, who runs the Chester Writing Circle alleged that my stories are somewhat Kafkaesque, which pleased my ego enormously. If only my scribbles could genuinely be so compared. Incidentally, I stumbled into the tiny house that Kafka wrote his A COUNTRY DOCTOR collection only last week in Prague. I was buzzing. I’m sure security looked at me suspiciously and could see blue sparks emanating from my head.
The Muppet Show gave us Pigs In Space. We’ve had to wait 40 years for Vegans In Space. Could you tell us a little about the role of veganism in the story?
- I love this question! Haha. I’ve been vegan 40 years before it became fashionable, but rarely made it a thing in my stories. As a teacher I didn’t want to be accused of promulgating a vegan lifestyle to my pupils and perhaps I feared a backlash from readers too. Following a suggestion from my daughter I once wrote a fantasy story where a vampire bit a veggie and it changed his blood chemistry – a fun tale. Because I often forage for food in woods and hedgerows, I often wondered how a vegan would cope if stranded on a desert island. The norm in such scenarios is that castaways eat fruit but lust after fish and small mammals. They generally ignore the seeds, nuts, roots, seaweeds, and leaves. It amused my vegan pals no end when a recent newspaper headline ran with “Woman survived by eating plants” when she got lost in Hawaii. Hence I thought the time was ripe to take the plunge and make my main character a vegan, force the crew of the crashed spaceship to also be vegan when they didn’t want to be (so as not to upset the natives) and set on a vegan planet. How can a planet be vegan? No predators exist larger than insects on Kepler20-h. You might argue that the mammals would become overpopulated but there are ecosystems where fertility drops in such circumstances. It happens on Earth too with Sitka Deer. The commander is desperate for meat and this leads to a lot of fun for me as the writer as the vegan tries to produce mouth-watering dishes from local plants that satisfy the omnivores.
Which writers provided inspiration for Suppose We? Or for your writing in general?
- Twenty years ago, the writer that rekindled my desire to write again was Tibor Fischer. I’d read his THE THOUGHT GANG. A humorous thriller based on two precepts: 1) that (in those days) bank robbers usually got away with it; 2) bank robbers are dumb. So, an out-of-work philosopher ganged up with other philosophers to go on a bank-robbing spree. Whacky, fun and suited my style completely! His COLLECTOR COLLECTOR is about an ancient vase that collects owners. Brilliant, and it inspired me to write a humorous crime short story FAKE FAKE published in Shots magazine in 2003. As for SUPPOSE WE, I’ve always been inspired by the possibility of space exploration and discovering habitable planets. Most scifi authors have written at least one. It allows the imagination to soar beyond the confines of Earth.
Which of your books or stories are you most fond of?
- Every time I finish writing a story it is my favourite. Over time it settles but not really in a logical order. Of recent shorts, I suspect my favourite is POTHOLE. A cyclist bunny hops over a pothole near Madrid. Next day it’s twice as big. Every day it doubles in size. How long before Madrid is swallowed? The Earth? Although it’s apocalyptic, it was fun to research and write, bringing two characters to life in their attempts to inform the authorities, their friends, relatives… There’s even an explanation of sorts and a post-apocalyptic post-ending. It’s in the INCREMENTAL collection.
What are you working on now?
- FALLING UP is the sequel to SUPPOSE WE. If you think the first book had original concepts just wait. I’m also sketching out the third book and writing short stories in between. It’s an addiction.
When a ship crash-lands on a faraway planet the crew needs local help. Unfortunately, the natives are a million years ahead of us. Ignored, the crew has to find a way to get attention. Bringing back a sense of discovery and wonder to science fiction.
“I’ve always found Geoff’s work both inspirational and brilliant. I know that whenever I pick up one of his works I’m in for a damned good read. For those who’ve never read any of his works before, welcome to the Geoff Nelder club.”—Mark Iles, author of THE DARKENING STARS series.
Jon Courtenay Grimwood: FELAHEEN, PASHAZADE AND END OF THE WORLD BLUES - “Geoff Nelder inhabits science fiction just as other people inhabit their clothes.”If you liked Tuf Voyaging by George R.R. Martin, and Anne MccAffrey’s Dinosaur Planet you’ll like SUPPOSE WE.