The World’s Collider Interview – Jonathan Green

In the first of a regular series of interviews, we at World’s Collider (well, there’s really only me here) chat to the anthology’s contributors about their stories, their career and anything else that pops into our heads.

First up, Jonathan Green, who is writing the first story “Dead Lights”!

This is what Jon looks like, on a good day.

For the 2% of readers who have never heard of you, tell us a little about yourself.

Hi, my name’s Jon and I am a freelance writer… Hang on, that sounds like an introduction at a meeting of the AA (Authors Anonymous). No, but seriously, I’m a writer of speculative fiction – everything from SF and Fantasy to Horror and Steampunk. I received my first commission in 1992 and finally went full-time in 2007.

I’m probably most well-known these days for my Pax Britannia novels (published by Abaddon Books) although those with long enough memories will remember my Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 novels, and maybe even my contributions to the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks.

I’ve been published in various languages and have written for a number of famous franchises, including Sonic the Hedgehog, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Wars the Clone Wars and Doctor Who.

Which of your works are you most proud of?

There’s nothing I’ve written that I’m not proud of in some shape or form. If I had to pick out one or two things in particular I guess I would have to go with my more recent Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, my first digital gamebook Temple of the Spider God and the Ulysses Quicksilver Pax Britannia books. I’m also very proud of my Eleventh Doctor novel Terrible Lizards, but that’s not out until February 2012.

Terrible as in dinosaurs or terrible as in, “Cats make terrible lizards”?

Dinosaurs. Definitely.

The TARDIS crash lands on board a Victorian tramp steamer in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. The Doctor, Amy and Rory end up joining a party of explorers searching for the Fountain of Youth. Inevitably, neither the explorers nor the treasure they seek are quite what they first appear to be.

Terrible Lizards is being published with Gary Russell’s Horror of the Space Snakes in one chunky volume that goes by the name of Monstrous Missions.

Congrats on that! What are you working on right now?

Right now, I’m just finishing off my first Warhammer 40,000 gamebook for Black Library. It’s called Herald of Oblivion, and in it the reader takes on the role of Brother Nabor of the Imperial Fists’ First Company as the Space Marine and his battle-brothers board a sinister, moon-sized space hulk. It’s been a lot of fun to write and is something that was originally mooted fifteen or sixteen years ago!

Tell me about Time’s Arrow.

Time’s Arrow is my eighth Pax Britannia novel featuring dandy detective and agent of the crown Ulysses Quicksilver. Heart-broken, battered, mutilated and shot, he’s been driven backwards and forwards in time, only to arrive in the middle of a crime scene in Paris. Finding himself with the dead man’s blood on his hands Ulysses is forced to go on the run, so that he might track down the real killer.

What makes this one different is that the book is being released in three parts in e-format first. Part 1 Red-Handed is out now and, having enjoyed the story, readers have until Sunday 11 December to go online and vote for how they would like the story to continue. I will then write Part 2 based on the outcome of the vote and once that’s out in March, readers will once again get to choose where the story goes next before I write the final part. The whole story will eventually be collected in paperback format at the end of the year, along with a bonus novella.

What will you do if readers pick an option you don’t want to write?

Then that’s just too bad. It will be the public’s choice so I’ll just have to go with it. That said, it’s a Pax Britannia story, so of course I’m going to want to write it, whichever path the public choose!

How about the Temple of the Spider God?

Temple of the Spider God is my first digital gamebook. It’s been published by Tin Man Games as the seventh title in their Gamebook Adventures range. Just like the gamebooks of the past, as you work through the adventure (influencing the action throughout by the choices you make) more and more of the story is revealed to you. There’s a combat system, with virtual rolling dice, and achievements to be unlocked too. It’s basically part novel, part RPG, and part video game.

What attracted you to World’s Collider?

The chance to develop what is effectively an overarching story with a group of writers, and, at the same time, by telling individual, standalone tales. I like the chance to experiment with my writing and World’s Collider provided just such an opportunity.

Tell us a little about your story.

Mine is actually the first story in the collection and so kicks things off. I don’t want to say too much, in case I give too much away. Let’s just say, imagine scientists carrying out ground-breaking experiments with the Large Hadron Collider… You just know that isn’t going to end well!

What choices of “W” phobias did you turn down before selecting Wiccaphobia for the new Phobophobia anthology? 

I didn’t. The reason I went with Wiccaphobia was all because of an online conversation I had with the book’s editor Dean M Drinkel. After Dean invited me to submit something for the collection, and I said yes, the conversation went something like this:

Dean: I was thinking perhaps you might like to take W or Y as I’d like a real kick ass finish to the book!

Me: Are we talking W, as in Wiccaphobia (fear of witches and witchcraft), or W, as in Wallabies (for example).

Dean: Wiccaphobia would be cool.

So I kind of walked right into that one. But it was fun to do.

I was inspired by a house my Dad and I would drive past in the car on the way home after swimming club every Friday night. We used to call it the Witch’s Cottage. It was covered in dark thatch, had small leaded windows, and the owner really played up the image with a cauldron and broomstick propped outside the door. Or perhaps a witch really did live there.

Short stories don’t pay much, so why do them?

You have to remember I used to write before I got paid for it. It’s not money that motivates me (there’s not that much of it in writing after all); it’s the challenge, the thrill of creating something from nothing, the chance to give my creativity an outlet, to create my own worlds, populate them with my own characters and then, generally, do unspeakable things to them.

I love short fiction. I love the fact that you can use short stories to air an idea that is effectively a one trick pony, a conceit or a twist that wouldn’t work with something as long or involved as a novel. Conversely, it’s also a good way of trying out an idea or technique that you might want to try later in a piece of long form fiction.

Can you give an example of where you did this?

I’ve not applied it to my long form fiction yet, but in the past year or so I’ve written a number of short horror stories in the third person present tense. I find it lends the story a certain immediacy and I would like to try writing a novel in the same way – at some point.

How do you balance writing with family life?

Basically I have to fit one around the other. Having got the kids off to school in the morning I knuckle down to work, trying not to be too distracted by the Internet, before 3.30pm rolls around all too soon. Once the kids are in bed it’s back to the laptop.

Weekends vary. Sometimes I’ll not write at all; at other times it can be just like the working week, depending on deadlines. Holidays likewise.

As a writer, do you have any regrets? Any missed opportunities?

When people say they have no regrets in life, I’m afraid I don’t believe them. However, I’m also a great believer in the old adage that you make your own luck. I don’t really like to turn down work, but I’ve had plenty of jobs cancelled, or gigs that I’ve not been picked for, for whatever reason. You put yourself out there but sometimes it’s just not your turn.

I did have a close shave once. Bloodbones my fourth Fighting Fantasy gamebook was written back in 1996 for Puffin Books but never saw print, as the series was cancelled after publication of my third title Curse of the Mummy. After Wizard Books picked up the license in 2002, Steve Jackson and I communicated about the possibility of the book seeing print at last, but I was planning my wedding at the time and didn’t get back to him soon enough. As a result, two other gamebooks by other people were  re-printed before Bloodbones ever saw the light of day. Thankfully I got a precious second chance and this time seized it with both hands. Who knows, if I hadn’t there might never have been a Howl of the WerewolfStormslayer or Night of the Necromancer.

I am deeply jealous that you got to write Fighting Fantasy books. I loved them as a teenager. How much fun was that?

Massive fun! I remember when I got the letter saying that I’d been commissioned and how excited I felt. There’s not been much to match it since. I was the target demographic when the Warlock of Firetop Mountain first came out and I can honestly cite that book as one of the main reasons why I’ve ending up doing what I do today.

Do you consider yourself to be an established writer, or still struggling?

Both! When people invite me to speak on panels at conventions, or interview me for the national press, or refer to my status as legendary when they write about things like gamebooks, I realise that I am established. However, on a day to day, week by week, year by year, basis it can sometimes feel like a very great struggle indeed.

Fortunately at the moment I’m struggling to meet all my deadlines, rather than struggling to find work. Which is nice… I think.

Any plans to write a completely original, standalone horror novel?

Yes, but like everything else it’s a case of finding the time, which means making the time, and I have more pressing projects on my plate at the moment. But never say never.

I’m guessing you firmly believe there is still a place for traditional publishers these days?

Absolutely. Bibliophiles will mean that there’s always a place for the printed world amongst all those zeroes and ones. After all there’s nothing quite like the smell of a new hardback or the crack of the spine as you open it for the first time. And for a writer, to be able to actually hold something physical in your hands after months of work, and say to other people, ‘I wrote this’ is hugely rewarding.

Jonathan Green, thanks for taking the time to talk!

Please go take a look at Jon’s website, and check back next week for another interview with a World’s Collider contributor!

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