Friday, 6 September 2013

Getting to know ... Adam S. Leslie

What genre would you say your novels fall into, or do they defy classification?
Technically they fall into the Fantasy category, but not the ‘hard fantasy’ wizards-and-elves sort of fantasy.  I suppose you could call my stuff magical realism, though it can be pretty far out too.  I like to explore shifted realities, dream realities, nightmares, fever, nostalgia, and try and do things that haven’t really been tried before.

Kaleidoscope itself starts off as dystopian science fiction, but it becomes something much darker and more tied into the subconscious as the book progresses.

What made you choose that genre?
A combination of escapism and impatience.  I’ve always looked to fiction to transport me from the mundanities of everyday life, rather than necessarily reflect it back at me.  That’s not to say that the best escapist fiction doesn’t have profound things to say about our lives and the world we live in, but it’s nice also to get away from what you’re doing for a while.  Of course, this is what I do all day, so I run the risk of becoming a crazy hermit man-child from lack of exposure to reality.  I’ll let others be the judge of whether that’s already happened.

I’m not really one to sit still for long – I’d find it hard, I think, to write an entire novel tied to a single genre.  Kaleidoscope is an appropriate title, because it’s a pretty kaleidoscopic mix of science fiction, fantasy, post-modernism, comedy, surrealism, adventure, satire and a dash of horror.  The trick is finding tonal consistency, so that it all feels like it belongs in the same world and the same story, rather than a chaotic mishmash.

How long does it take you to write a book?
I’m primarily a screenwriter, and the books are something I do in between, so it’s hard to really tell how long they’ve taken in real time.  Kaleidoscope spans a few years, but not very concentrated years – which, I think, has helped keep it fresh.  I never reached the stage of getting burnt out with it.

Now they’re getting published, though, I have the impetus to ramp up the pace a little!

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I don’t really have one, which probably isn’t healthy.  Much of my day is Adam vs. Insomnia, or Adam vs. Procrastination.  I’m normally writing, or trying to write, pretty much from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed, which is why I have so many friends.

Where do you get your ideas for your books?
This is traditionally the big unanswerable question, isn’t it?  For me, it varies from book to book – with Kaleidoscope, I started off with a sense of the environment, a huge shopping centre in which everyone lives and no one ever goes outside, and they’re so hypersensitive they’ve become phobic of everything.  On top of this, about twenty years ago, Milton Keynes shopping centre had its own pub, which meant that this one part of the centre could be a bit of a no-go area at certain times of day.  It amused me that a shopping centre could have a rough part of town – so that’s where the nightmarish Outer Zones came from.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?
My school friend Peter and I wrote a Tolkien-inspired Fantasy epic called The Adventures Of Drinil when we were 11/12, about some little people called Lidils (not Hobbits) who go on an adventure and fight orcs.

We were somewhere in our teens when we wrote a massive illustrated surrealist novel called The Secret Onion.  It’s still probably the oddest thing we’ve written, Peter was some kind of precocious genius I think, his bits still really stand up today.  How many other 16-year-olds would come up with a complex series of fractal, synaesthetic alchemical worlds based around the vowels in the chapter headings?

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I’m a bit of a movie buff.  Last night I watched Silent Running, the old Douglas Trumbull ecological science fiction film from the early ‘70s.  What a glum little film that is!  The two films I always try and persuade people to watch are the Monkees movie Head, which is a lot darker and weirder than one might expect; and French Magical Realism classic, Celine & Julie Go Boating.  Also, on behalf of my cover artist Evelyn and I, everyone must watch Tarsem Singh’s The Fall – you’ll never see anything else like it.

I’m also pretty heavily into music.  I have a non-career as a songwriter and musician, which I had to jettison in order not to take too much attention away from my writing.  I’m a sucker for melody, hence my love of 60s/70s guitar pop-rock.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Perhaps that everything they taught me about creative writing at school is wrong – in fact, you have to strip out those excess adjectives and adverbs, be sparing with ‘said bookisms’, keep it clean and simple.

How many books have you written?
Not including those teenage noodlings, two complete novels, plus another four currently on the go.

Which is your favourite and why?
Blinsby, which is the first of a sequence of four books.  It’s such a personal novel; it’s a fictionalised memoir by Peter and I of our time at primary school.  But it’s so fictionalised that nothing in the book actually happened in real life!  The story is about a new boy who starts at school, apparently discovers a dark secret being kept by the school authorities, and is disappeared.  Erasmus and Frank (based on Peter and I) set about investigating, and uncover layer upon layer of deceit and betrayal.

It has a similarly kaleidoscopic mishmash of genres – it’s ostensibly an adventure romp, but with quite a darkly nightmarish surrealist element, plus comedy, satire, thriller, etc.  I’m also fascinated by the notion of it being a children’s book for adults… I love the idea of transporting the reader back to their school days in a genuinely immersive way.  We’ve created quite a detailed alternate version of 1980s pop culture and a fully-populated school environment; and the book follows a complete school day in heightened real time, so hopefully it feels like you’re really there.  We use the Calvin & Hobbes technique of having children express themselves in exaggeratedly articulate fashion – they don’t think like adults, but they have the articulacy of adults – which I think helps adults identify with them.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I was always in denial about growing up (and still am, I suppose), so it was never more than my pre-prepared answer to that most standard of grown-ups’ questions.  The whole notion of being old and having a job seemed pretty theoretical.  It was originally teacher, because that’s all I really knew, and I liked the idea of setting the work rather than having to do it.  I also fancied being costume designer on Doctor Who, till a friend told me that you had to be a woman, which put paid to that.  I did want to be a Doctor Who companion, too.  Not an actor, just a Doctor Who companion.

What are you working on now?
Various top secret film projects, plus the second book in the Blinsby series.

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