I'm delighted to introduce you to a fellow Walker Books author today whose sci-fi trilogy looks freaking brilliant!
Aliens and video games?
Jamie Russell is a former contributing editor of Total Film magazine turned screenwriter and author. He has written several non-fiction books, including Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema and Generation Xbox: How Videogames Invaded Hollywood. SkyWake: Invasion is the first in a planned trilogy and is Jamie’s first book for children.
Casey Henderson – aka CASEY_FLOW – is obsessed with online team shooter SkyWake, which has taken the gaming world by storm. The Ghost Reapers are a high-ranking team and, when Casey’s in the zone, anything seems possible.
Then, at a live SkyWake tournament, things start to get weird. The Red Eye alien “cosplayers” seem to have real guns, a massive alien spaceship looms overheard, and kids are going missing. This no longer a game… It’s an invasion!
Did you always dream of being a writer/illustrator?
As a child I always thought writers were like magicians. The ability to put words on a page and transport people to other worlds seemed like sorcery to me. I knew that I wanted to write from an early age, but it took me decades to find the confidence to write fiction. So, I ended up taking a really circuitous route to where I am now via academia, journalism and the film industry.
When did you start pursuing publication of your work?
The first thing I ever published happened almost by accident. Back in 2000 I sent my PhD thesis – on William S. Burroughs and queer theory – out to a few publishers just on the off chance. Not many PhDs get published, for obvious reasons because they’re pretty dull to be honest. An editor at Palgrave in New York read it and decided to publish it.
It set me up for a career in academia. But, although I adored research, I was a terrible teacher. Back then you were literally just shoved in front of a class of undergrads and expected to teach them with no training at all. It was sink and swim… and I sank like the Titanic!
So, I bailed on academia and built a career as a freelance writer focussing on film and videogames. I had no contacts and no clue. I just cold-called my way into it. I published a couple of non-fiction books during that time. Yet couldn’t shake the feeling that I should be writing more creatively than magazine features and reviews.
What spurred you to switch to fiction?
A brush with cancer in 2012 made me rethink things. I packed in freelancing and started writing screenplays full-time. I made just about enough money from that to survive financially, yet none of the projects I worked on ever got made. It felt like writing into a void. Then, just as I was about to give up and finally get a proper job, my daughters asked me if I could write a novel for them…
How long did it take from that first thought to release day?
A good couple of years. The book was on the backburner while I was doing other stuff and I kept plodding along with it, uncertain whether it was worth finishing or not. Looking back at it there were so many moments when I almost tossed it aside. But I eventually let my eldest read a few chapters and it was her enthusiasm for the story that made me realise I had to finish it. She would bug me at every opportunity for more pages to read and was drawing fan art of the characters and leaving it on my desk with Post It notes telling me I had to finish it. I suddenly had an audience… even if just an audience of one! I eventually finished it and showed it to my film agent who showed it to a literary agent he knew. That was March 2019. I did a revision with agent notes and went out on sub a few months later. By November 2019 I had a three-book deal with Walker Books and a release date lined up for March 2021. It was a long wait because their slate was already quite full.
What’s been the hardest part of publishing a book so far?
Tuning out the negative voices is hard. Writing fiction is so much harder than writing non-fiction because you’re trying to conjure a world out of nothing. It’s inevitable that self-doubt creeps in. Writing a novel – especially one that has a lot of world-building – is like being a stage magician. You’re constantly trying to misdirect the audience so that they don’t notice the bunny up your sleeve. It’s very easy, I think, to misjudge your work. You can see all the joins and the seams, and you assume that no one will ever be able to suspend their disbelief in it.
And the easiest, or most enjoyable?
The most enjoyable moments are probably not the easiest ones. I love the act of writing. Putting words on the page to create something. It’s so pure. It’s also maddeningly painful and riddled with disappointment and self-lacerating frustration. Despite that, I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else. There’s never a day when I don’t want to write. I have done office jobs in the past and I know the dread of Monday morning and the drudgery of doing something you don’t care about. In twenty years as a writer, I’ve never felt like that about writing.
What's next for you?
My debut novel SKYWAKE: INVASION is the first part in a trilogy. I’m waiting on notes for Book 2 while pulling together ideas for Book 3. We sold it on the basis of the manuscript and a five-page outline for the whole series, so I know the general direction of the story which is a really refreshing place to be! I’m working on a YA novel and a screenplay commission – a biopic about William S. Burroughs.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to writers just started their pursuit of publication?
You have to fail to learn... and you have to learn to fail. Think of it like riding a bicycle. If you’re never ridden a bike before, you can’t just jump on and cycle down the road. You will fall off. Repeatedly! But every time you fall off, you’ll be closer to finding your balance. I think a lot of people think that a career in writing is about catching lightning in a bottle their first time out the gate. But it’s not. It’s about resilience. Try again, fail again, fail better.
Last book you just read?
LARK by Anthony McGowan. It’s the story of two boys who get lost on the moors and it is brilliant. Sweary and hilarious and really, really tender in a beautifully British way.
What book are you reading now?
LAST ONE TO DIE by Cynthia Murphy. It’s a YA supernatural thriller billed as Point Horror for a new generation. It’s very creepy.
Best book you've ever read?
Too hard! So many to choose from! The best book most recently is BEARMOUTH by Liz Hyder. It is phenomenal and she is a major, major talent.
Too many! I’ve been rediscovering the joy of reading H.G. Wells recently.
Best moment of your writing life?
My kids’ excitement when they realised the novel was going to be published. They enjoyed taking credit for it!
Name of your newest WIP?
DEAD CANARIES. It’s a YA love story about two teens who start a school climate strike and end up in London during the Extinction Rebellion protests in April 2019.
If not an author, what would be your dream job?
I always liked the working title T.S. Eliot had for The Waste Land “He Do the Police in Different Voices”. Writing feels like acting but in your own head. I’d love to do it for real. But that would be in another lifetime.
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