Monday , February 26 2024
I rarely get a chance to tell a famous person he’s wrong, but here we go. Mr Orwell, you’re wrong.

Interview with Greg Byrne, author of ‘Nine Planets’

gregGreg Byrne is a teacher and author because he had little genetic choice in either. Passion and delight are bound up in both, but teaching pays more. He teaches undergraduate teachers at a local university, and reveals the secrets of the English language to overseas adults at a local English language school. At night, when everything is quiet, he closes the door to the world and steps into other places where his imagination is unfettered.

He wanders purposefully into bookshops, loves watching documentaries, learning about the world, and loves finding out where things came from. Histories of all kinds fascinate him.

He has been to six countries and many cities but lives in the most isolated capital city on the face of the planet with his beloved wife and family and wouldn’t live anywhere else.

His first novel, a supernatural thriller called Nine Planets, a Christmas-themed science fiction thriller, is available on Amazon, and he is now working on the Ally Jones YA thriller series.

Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Nine Planets. When did you start writing and what got you into supernatural thrillers?

I started writing pretty much as I knew what crayons and pencils were for. There have always been stories in my head and a love of words, languages and books, so I never made a conscious decision to write. It was rather a case of not understanding why other people didn’t have the same fascination as me for books. How was it possible that other kids at school wanted to play sport? Didn’t they know how many wonderful worlds and characters were waiting in the hundreds of wonderful books in the library?

I’ve also had a strong desire to write about things that are strange, weird, wonderful, exotic, fantastic. Nine Planets is so strange that it teeters on the surreal in some parts. I read it some times, shake my head, and wonder who it was who thought it up. Anyway, I am very pleased with it in all its ‘otherworldness.’ It’s certainly unlike most other books out there today.

Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing?

nine2No. The inspiration for the book was so incandescent that the whole novel was in my head within an amazing ten minute period. The only difficulty for me was a long-standing doubt as to whether I had the ability to write the story and honour it as it deserved. I agonized for months over the ending and debated every word, every scene. You’ll know why when you read it. 

Who is your target audience?

Every adult in the Western world. Everyone who has wondered in a private moment about his future and whether it has any hope. Nine Planets is all about hope and how some events can inspire or destroy hope. 

What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate?

That’s a question that assumes that I am dependent on a muse. A muse also assumes that the words and story inside need some sort of encouragement or persuasion to come out, a little like a shy child at a party. Writing for me is much more genetic than that. In the same way that some people gain meaning through dance or art or service, I gain meaning and fulfilment through writing. The vector between the story inside and the words on the page is therefore pretty straight and strong and really doesn’t need any kind of muse. I’m very blessed in that regard. 

How do you keep your narrative exciting?

One of the first things I learned from my fellow writers in my early writing days was that the plot in a novel needs three or four things:

  • A person or thing who wants something
  • Someone (maybe himself) or something who wants to stop him.
  • A deadline.
  • A solution.

Keeping the narrative exciting was just a case of making sure that all these elements were there in the story and that the deadline was both possible but scarily difficult. Readers have to actually believe that the story could take place in a world somewhere, but Nine Planets also asks them to suspend their disbelief as well. I made a deliberate choice not to explain too much in the novel – the timeslip, the five words, the curse, sled reactors, and particularly the four year old John Smith! – but to simply tell the story as it stood and to invite the reader just to accept it. 

Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to write. Can you relate to this?

No, I don’t get this anxiety. I don’t sit down thinking that I have to write so anxiety never appears. Anxiety is rather a manifestation of fear or uncertainty and if those two are removed, there is no anxiety. Instead, writing should be a happy compulsion, an unavoidable urge. I let the story marinate inside me for a while, allowing characters and images and flavours and events to connect. When that’s done, I go to the keyboard and write it down. Those off-grid ideas are SO important, the thoughts that just appear as images and tastes and brew neurally for a while and, when these bubble up and become words and a story, I just write them down.   

How do you celebrate the completion of a book?

By starting another. The process of writing is the most fun, the fantastic excitement of casting off anchors and setting out from harbor on a journey of discovery (Ships are not built to stay in harbor). Finishing a book is rewarding but also slightly depressing. What do I do now? What new project can occupy my time and thought and effort? Without a book, I feel a little lost. Starting another keeps the joy levels high. Writing is my way of sharing this joy. 

George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” 

I rarely get a chance to tell a famous person he’s wrong, but here we go. Mr Orwell, you’re wrong. Writing a book is a grand adventure of discovery, excitement, learning, exploration, immense joy, satisfaction, problem-solving, mental and spiritual stimulation. Writing is like breathing. It is natural and joyful and fulfilling. No demons here, George.

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.

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