How did you get into writing, and why science fiction?
Writing was always something I'd considered doing, the idea (impulse?) to start grew steadily during my twenties, so I eventually went out and bought a typewriter. As to why science fiction, it was the genre I enjoyed reading the most, so in my mind that was the obvious field to write in.
You've been publishing bestselling science fiction books for more than twenty years now, how have things changed for you as a writer in that time?
I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot about the whole process of novel writing in all that time. The way I write the outline and plot structure now is certainly more sophisticated than it was when I approached Mindstar Rising, my first book. That kind of development can only ever happen through experience. I’m not sure it’s necessarily any easier to write a novel twenty years on, but I certainly have a lot more confidence about being able to deliver when I sit down and face the dreaded blank screen of chapter one.
Your novels always have wonderful detail about technology and new sciences – how much research do you do before starting to write?
Enough to make it sound plausible, is my rule of thumb. There’s always the danger of too much research which can spill over into the book, and drown the reader in too much unnecessary detail. The bigger challenge with future technologies is working out the impact they’ll have on society and the changes in attitude they’ll instigate.
Are there any advancements or technologies that you’ve written about in your novels that have since become reality?
This is the benefit of writing stuff set hundreds or thousands of years in the future, you rarely get called out on improbabilities. Having said that, Greg Mandel (written twenty years ago and set in a future now only twenty years away) uses electronics that are suspiciously like laptops today – they didn’t exist when I wrote them.
From your early novels featuring Greg Mandel through to Salvation, it’s been clear that worldbuilding is a big part of your stories. How important is this to you?
Very! It's all very well to have a plot, but unless the setting is one which is plausible the story becomes unbelievable. Putting a fully functional world / universe together is my first priority, I'll spend months making sure all the aspects work together.
One of your strengths is giving us multiple characters offering a variety of viewpoints. But how do you decide on the different voices that will be necessary to tell the story?
It's a chicken and egg situation. I like to provide as much balance to a story as possible, everyone has a reason for doing what they do, and just because I personally don't share their opinion doesn't mean it's not valid. So main characters are chosen for their outlook on what's happening, which in turn gives them their behaviour and motivation, which colours their voice.
Do you have any favourite characters and who are they and why?
Like any good parent, I show no favouritism. However, that said . . . I do like writing Gore Burnelli simply because his opinions are completely opposite to my own. I always have fun doing that.
How do you tackle writers’ block – if you suffer from it?!
I avoid it by making a lot of notes beforehand. That’s not to say there are no bad writing days, but I always know what I have to write. I suppose that means the only time I’d have writers' block is if I couldn’t think of a new idea for a book. That hasn’t happened yet.
If you get time to read for pleasure, what’s your go-to genre – other than science fiction? Or is it science fiction all the way?
It is mostly science fiction, and mainly because I now know so many SF authors. The to-be-read pile is now so large that they never will all be read now. And I have just come out of a phase of reading a lot of children’s books. Sadly my kids are now too old for me to read to them each night, but it was grand while it lasted.
There’s been a greater output of quality science fiction TV shows and mini-series of late – both from original ideas and novel adaptions. Do you have a favourite among these, or any you’d recommend? And have any recent films caught your attention?
I've just finished binge-watching Stranger Things on Netflix, which I liked. I haven't got round to watching The Expanse, and I'll probably take a look at the new Star Trek series when it comes out. In films, my son is a huge Star Wars fan – I don't take much persuading to take him to the cinema for that.
What’s the most interesting/strangest fan encounter you’ve ever had?
Some people have written albums ‘inspired by’ the books, which is both crazy and wonderful. And yes I have them on my iTunes library. Then there was one reader who brought all (and I do mean all) his poetry to an event, and wanted me to read and critique it there and then. The people in the signing queue behind him weren’t terribly impressed.
Hear more from Peter on his stunning new series The Salvation Sequence here.
Find Peter F. Hamilton’s books in order here.
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