After his visit to The Inklings in Autumn Term 2015, The Looking Glass decided to pick author Malcolm Rose’s brain on his newest book series ‘Outer Reaches’, the significance of science to literature and tips on successful writing. Read on to find out what Malcolm had to say in an extremely interesting interview…
Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed! Firstly, congratulations on the release of your latest book series The Outer Reaches! In four words, what can readers expect from the four books in the series?
Gore, science, relationships and fun.
In The Outer Reaches, the character ‘Lexi Iona Four’ belongs to another human race, how did you go about crafting an authentic ‘other’ human race?
Turn on the news and it will be immediately obvious that Homo sapiens has a get deal of difficulty in living peacefully alongside others with different ethnicity and/or beliefs. I thought it would be fun to ask Homo sapiens in The Outer Reaches (called majors because they form a majority) to live alongside a different non-interbreeding human species (called outers). A recipe for turmoil, I should think. Anyway, this is nothing new. Thousands of years ago, different human species occupied the planet at the same time: e.g. Homo sapiens lived – and interbred occasionally – with Neanderthals. That’s why all of us have a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA. All I did for The Outer Reaches is imagine that Neanderthals or one of the other human species continued to live and evolve. They became outers. I wanted outers to be physically much the same as us but I also wanted differences based on body chemistry – to make forensic science more interesting.
I crafted some characteristics of outers purely for fun (their diet of insects and the lack of enzymes that turn alcohol into a poison so they drink beer and cider like lemonade). I liked the idea of their greater intelligence and logic – which made them more scientific and less religious. I also followed through an evolution that stripped females of their ability to carry a successful pregnancy. The effects of continuing the race through IVF has profound implications for family life – or lack of it.
What attracts you to crime fiction specifically?
I am attracted to both crime and thrillers: the dark side of life. That’s because they are a million miles away from my real life. For me, therefore, they are an escape. Writing about crime, horror and
the rest of the dark side is also a way of working out my feelings about issues, crimes and controversies without having to leave a comfortable office chair. Let’s face it. Most of us would not want to get involved in crime and murder for real. But we seem attracted to horror and crime films/stories as long as we are secure while we see/read them!
On your website you connected your chemical research and story-writing stating that both “illuminate some aspects of human life.” Can you tell us what aspects your novels seek to illuminate?
I believe that young readers use novels not just as a form of entertainment but as a means of working out their own opinions and beliefs. In a novel, I set up a controversy such as animal experiments in laboratories, the illegal trade in human body parts, or the slaughtering of endangered animals for use in ‘natural medicine’. Then, it’s up to the young reader to discover her/his own feelings about such topics. Are these three things inherently wrong in all circumstances? Or do we take a different view if we have a disease that could be cured by one of them? Do animals have rights? Are they inferior to humans so we have the right to treat them however we wish in order to improve our own lives? Or is that slavery? I know my own views but I don’t know if I’m right! The issues – often scientific ones – in my books allow my young readers to find their own answers. That’s what I meant by “illuminating aspects of human life”.
Does your background in chemistry influence or help your writing in anyway, and if so, how?
Hugely. I tackle only topics I get passionate about. My interest in science means there is almost always a scientific element to my novels. Biological and chemical warfare, forensic science, cloning, diseases, poisoning, medicine, robotics and bionics, climate change….. All of these themes – and several others – have cropped up in my books.
Remember that, by its nature, science is always coming up with new things. That makes it fertile ground for novelists seeking ideas. There’s always something new and original to write about. Every writer should be familiar with science!
You’ve spoken about joining a writer’s club in York, how did that help your writing and your career?
Actually, I joined a writers’ club after leaving York. I found it very helpful for two reasons: (a) reading my work aloud to an audience gave invaluable feedback and confidence; (b) professional writers told me how to submit a manuscript to a publisher. (By the way, the latter is less relevant today when many writers use the internet to become known.)
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever read, and why?
Maphead by Lesley Howarth. It starts with a hungry alien devouring a mushed cat and the ability to flash up any map on his forehead. Great story, though. Weird, funny, moving, original, etc, etc.
Do you have anything in store for your readers for 2016
A controversial Young Adult story called CONNOR’S BRAIN. It’s about a boy with a (genuine) brain disorder and the grooming of underage girls for sex. If I had a young daughter, I’d tell her that she’s got to read this one.
Finally, what’s your advice for aspiring authors?
Look at the 15 writing tips on my website: www.malcolmrose.co.uk. I think my best tips are:
- take ideas from your own interests; choose a theme that’s close to your heart; if it’s interesting to you as a writer, you might excite the reader as well
- as author, don’t look down on your characters as if you’re playing chess with them (they should feel as if they’re alive, not just tools of the plot); get inside them and see the action from their point of view
- allow the plot to develop; don’t stick with the original if it doesn’t feel right; maybe the butler didn’t do it after all
- read your story aloud to a small supportive audience; you will hear any weaknesses, especially in speech and the flow of the story, when it’s said aloud; the critical but constructive comments of friends will also help