Friday, December 18, 2009

[Interview] Jason Bicko

Speculative fiction author, Jason Bicko has worked as a barman, garden labourer, care home kitchen hand, slot machine engineer and bingo caller.

His work includes Alien Inc. which is available as an e-book from Sonar 4 Publications.

In this interview, Jason Bicko talks about his concerns as a writer:

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

Unobtrusive, I would like to say. I don’t go in for literary impact because I don’t like that in the books I read. I want the story to go straight into the reader’s head -- I don’t want them to fight through the prose, constantly reminded that they’re reading a book. One author I find excellent at the subtle prose is Stephen Leather.

I have no target audience other than those who pick stories for what they might want to read at that moment. That’s how I read. I don’t go to the crime section in the library because I fancy a crime novel that day. I pick up various books, read the blurb, and choose the one that I like the sound of. It might be a crime novel or a western -- I never know.

My writing style changes constantly and this is because of the novels I read. For instance, after reading Clive Barker’s Weaveworld, I wanted to structure my stories the way that one was put together, broken down into Books, Parts, Chapters with titles, and sub-chapters marked numerically. After reading Stephen Leather, I began to compose my stories in such a way that chapters didn’t really exist, only one-line breaks. I prefer this format now because it keeps a reader reading. I don’t like chapters because it’s too easy to stop reading at the end of one.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

My emotions and personal experiences don’t figure into my writing much.

For me, writing, or reading, is about escapism. It’s like a little mental holiday when I pick up a book or sit before my keyboard.

If I were to have a car crash, for instance, I wouldn’t let that intrude into my mind enough to filter into my writing. But it might give me an idea for a story about road rage turned deadly. In fact, just talking about it makes me want to write just such a tale.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern is spinning a decent yarn.

Way back, I used to try to come up with an exciting storyline and then make my version of that story. But I was always concerned that the same idea would be out there.

Take a story like Groundhog Day, in which a guy wakes up in the same day every day and must use his knowledge of what’s going to happen to change things a bit. That story has been done a few times, and since Groundhog Day was kind of the template, all the others are judged by it, I think. To me, that means a story might not live to its expectations, and I find that just wrong. So I gave up going for original storylines and concentrated on (trying to) tell good stories.

If I write a story about a guy trying to rescue his kidnapped wife, I know it isn’t the first of its kind. I just hope mine is better than some of the others out there. I just hope it’s a good tale.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Finding time to write is my main hurdle.

Thankfully, I don’t need to sit down in order to plot stories. Once I have an idea for one, I can let it brew like a good cup of tea. Ideas, scenes, twists, they all grow in my head as I live and work. If I hear a good joke, it’s stored in there and will take part in the story one day. When it’s time to sit down and put a synopsis on paper that I will stretch into a longer story, it comes easily. All the ideas I had over the last couple of months, they just come together as if magnetized, then I write.

Do you write everyday?

I don’t write every day, but I always create in my mind. A bit like a musician humming on the bus. I call it plotting. It’s probably more like daydreaming.

How many books have you written so far?

Seven novel-length stories, but these are unpublished. Eight or so short stories that are out there on the Internet. These are all works that came about after I moved cities in 2000.

Before that, I wrote about ten novels, but none of these has survived. My ego hopes they’re preserved somewhere in a bag or box, to be discovered in 50,000 years.

The latest one, Alien Inc. is set for ebook publication by Sonar 4. I fancied doing a gung-ho horror based on that old idea of a bunch of people trapped in one place and hunted by an enemy. I wanted to set the scene, then let it run. There were a few directions I knew it had to take, but I set these as markers and sort of said to my wild imagination, “Do what you want, just hit these checkpoints on the way.” I wrote it in about six months.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into Alien Inc.?

The hardest part was characters. There were eleven in it, each as strong as the next. That meant keeping track of the emotional make-up of eleven people as they went through the story. Much easier when there are one or two main characters and everyone else is built of a little less substance. It also made the choice of killing them off a bit harder. But that had to be done. Couldn’t have eleven people all survive in this sort of story.

Keeping track of all these people was made easier after the group split into five smaller groups. It became more like writing five short stories at the same time. I would concentrate on one at a time until the group was reunited.

What did you enjoy most?

If you read a Dan Brown book, you see important information on every page. That’s constant attention to telling the tale.

In this story, I mostly got to play. There’s a part where two people are trapped in a carriage on a monorail, hunted by an alien enemy. I just let it go with the flow and didn’t have to think about it or refer to notes. It was fun to write.

What sets Alien Inc. apart from other things you've written?

The horror aspect. I wrote horror as a teenager, because somehow that seemed easier. Setting a story on an alien planet filled with vampires means no wasting time on research. Garlic doesn’t bother my vampires. That’s another story you’re thinking of! I wrote horror because I had no experience of the world, so probably couldn’t have written a courtroom scene or a birth scene realistically. But chopping the heads off virgins came easily.

As I got older, I cast aside horror and wrote thrillers involving real people and realistic events. But maybe I missed the carefree ways of the horror novel.

For me, maybe Alien Inc. was the adult returning to the playground he’d so loved as a kid.

What will your next book be about?

Guy hunting down his lost sister. A good old action thriller set in the murky London underworld. Another chance for me to let the imagination run wild. I don’t often put guns in my stories. I’ll fill this one with them. Can’t wait.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Having Sonar 4 Publications decide to put the story on their website.

When did you start writing?

I started writing at age 12. My dad had started a creative writing course and I wrote a story to see what he thought. That was the beginning. I had the bug from that day.

I wanted to be published because I wanted my work out there, for all to read. I was young and foolish and didn’t understand how hard and competitive the writing world could be. Pocket money went on photocopying my work and postage costs to send it to the big publishers.

Back then there was no email submissions. I would wait months, get back a rejection letter, and start again. Usually, a rejection letter wasn’t seen as a fail, it was seen as proof that my story wasn’t the one I was destined to be famous for. So rather than tweak that story, I would sit down and do another. I would often send out the first thirty pages as soon as they were completed, knowing that by the time the publisher wrote back to ask for the full manuscript, the story would be finished.

Possibly related books:

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Related article:

[Interview] Allen Ashley, Author of 'Urban Fantastic', Conversations with Writers, September 5, 2007

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