A Pankhearst Interview
Who are you?
I’m an English transplant to America, a screenwriter who dislikes going to the movies, a seeker of the truth, a consultant to big-business, and the co-founder of a think-tank to promote social and economic justice. When I add it all up I’d probably just call myself a dreamer.
Where are you?
I like to think about the future, so right now I’m somewhere in 2015. In reality, I’m in Shanghai, in a hotel room. Last week I was in London. Tomorrow I’ll be back with my family in Washington DC.
And how the hell are you doing?
As I look at it right now, I’ll be doing much better in 2015 thank you. You know, there’s a much better world coming. For us all. I know it, I can see it coming.
Tell us about your new/latest book.
The Theory Of My Wonders is a young adult sci-fi story of a modern seven wonders of the world, the psychologically untethered girl who visits them, and how these wonders change her life. It’s narrated by a robot with some kind of a multiple personality disorder who doesn’t understand the world, or humans, or love. Oh, and I forgot, it’s a love story…maybe. If you don’t like love stories, that’s OK – lots of people die, most quite horribly.
Why are you publishing independently?
I badly wanted to write something really commercial, I really did, and worked hard on it. But then I woke up one morning and realized I had written a book narrated by a robot with some kind of a multiple personality disorder. I didn’t even bother calling agents and publishers. I keep telling myself the next book will be commercial, but I have this bad feeling…
How is publishing independently working for you?
I’ve really enjoyed publishing independently and it’s gone tremendously well – except for that bit where books end up getting sold. That hasn’t worked so well.
Are your stories plot or character driven?
As a screenwriter, I’m always looking for character arc. To see the main character learn, change, grow, become someone new. To me that’s amazing and sometimes even hopeful. That change, that arc, can come through the decisions that are made by the main character, or situations into which they’ve been forced by the author – and the two of these together are the most interesting. So I look for impressive events, giant plot developments, but then let the main character make his or her decisions amid the chaos I’ve created.
Where do you get your ideas? Your inspiration?
Sitting on planes. You can’t change the world sitting on a plane, you’re trapped, there’s nothing to understand, you’re a piece of walking cargo, the experience is dehumanizing. It makes me feel that I’m slowly dying. It’s the perfect time to dream of escape, to dream of a better world, or even just a different world – and start to write about it.
Favorite author, and why?
China Miéville has been my favorite author for a while. I especially liked Embassytown, though it’s a challenging read. I love the way he writes confidently about surreal worlds, with the strangest details seemingly thrown in almost offhandedly. Yet he still stays grounded in reality. Crazy name, crazy writer.
Everyone has their own dream. What’s yours? Best seller, feature film adaption, fame, riches, groupies, a gabillion followers on Twitter?
All of these, except the Twitter one. I’m hopeless on Twitter. Some people are so good on Twitter, that it makes me feel positively ashamed and depressed. I’m not much better on Facebook. Someone needs to develop a social media channel for people like me who simply aren’t any good at social media. And the groupies would have to be well-behaved – I’m happily married.
They say know the rules and then you may break them. Which ones do you find yourself breaking the most and does it work in your writing?
There seems to be a rule in young adult lit that there should be lots and lots of dialogue, which is often confused with the rule ‘show, don’t tell.’ But no reader should have to wade through mundane back-and-forth chitchat. I limit dialogue to when someone says something important, or tells a story – not when they order a cup of coffee.
Define a great book.
One that leaves you with images, or thoughts, or people, or words that you’ll simply never forget. Otherwise, it’s just a good read. Or a bad read.
What is the hardest or most frustrating aspect of writing? Ideas, getting started, writer’s block, re-writing?
For me, naming a book is the biggest headache by a country mile. You think you have the perfect name, then realize it’s been used for some awful movie, or you mention it to someone and they say, “huh, what?” Names are either too long or too short, or not interesting enough, or don’t represent the book well, or are just plain stupid. I sympathize with the Artist-Previously-Known-As-Prince, and understand why he changed his name to a funny squiggle.
Who (or what) has been your biggest inspiration?
Poetry, usually 19th century poetry. Especially Tennyson, but also Coleridge, Keats. I know that sounds odd, and there is a general perception that much of the poetry of that period is flowery, over-written, and irrelevant. But the best of it is sparse, dark, depressed and philosophical. The phrasing, especially, is often incredibly moving and memorable. I suspect they had more metaphysical self-doubt than the modern writers of today – I believe writers need to be agents of cultural change, not just entertainers waving their arms around trying to get attention and a big payday in a sea of noise. What was the questions again?
What else have you written?
I have two screenplays gathering dust at William Morris Endeavor (Wonderland and HBKR if anyone is interested), and a bleak and angry short story called ‘Yard Sale’ that will be coming out at the end of the summer, in a Pankhearst compilation named Heathers. I’m very excited by this as all I had to do was write the story – other people did all the hard work, God bless ‘em. I could get used to that.
TSW Sharman on the web