Adam Christopher has had a very sharp rise to success. Not many debut novelists have a second, and completely different book coming out within six months of their first. His first book, Empire State, gained many rave reviews on its release, and his second, Seven Wonders, looks set to do the same. The Fiction Stroker met up with Adam to discuss his writing.
Born in New Zealand, comics have clearly been a influence on Adam’s writing – but have they always been something he was into? Commenting on growing up in New Zealand, I asked Adam how exactly he had got into comics, and where the genesis for Seven Wonders had come from:
“I came into comics quite late. Growing up, so many of my friends were reading them, but I didn’t pick up my first comic properly until I was 25! I did have a couple of comics when I was a kid: an issue of Batman, an issue of Iron Man and a Marvel character encyclopaedia. My dad bought them for me when we stopped at a corner store en route to our usual Christmas holiday spot. I remember picking them off the rack. You could buy comics in corner stores in those days!”
As a big Doctor Who fan I asked Adam whether Doctor Who had been a big influence on his life and his writing.
“I think it was Doctor Who that got me into writing initially. In 1985, when I was seven, TVNZ started this big repeat run of Doctor Who. They showed a couple of Troughton stories and everything from Spearhead from Space through to Survival five years later. I was hooked, instantly – I guess I was exactly the right age. Growing up in the Eighties with Jon Pertwee as my Doctor is perhaps a little bit unusual, because in the UK it was the middle of Colin Baker’s tenure.
“At primary school, we used to write stories a couple of times a week, and if the teacher liked a story you could have it “published”, which meant writing it out neatly in pen on a nice piece of paper and it would get pinned on the wall. I’ve still got a couple of my old writing books and its all Doctor Who stuff, basically a 7 year old’s rewrites of what was on television at the time! There’s a Spearhead from Space/Ambassadors of Death mashup, complete with lines from the TV episodes in it. The school library also had all the Target novelisations of the TV, so I read those and little else. I guess I owe my career entirely to Terrance Dicks!”
“A few years later I discovered the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club, who produced a fanzine called TSV. I quickly subscribed and began to send in bits and pieces, book and story reviews, and then some short fan fiction. The NZDWFC also produced a fiction-only zine, Timestreams, every year or so, and I managed to get some stories in that, including a couple that made both the back and front covers, which was cool.
“Over the years I got more and more involved with the club and ended up editing TSV for several issue between 2002 and 2005, winning the Sir Julius Vogel Award (given out by the Science FIction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand) for my final issue.”
Paul Scoones, founding editor of TSV, president of the NZDWFC and writer of The Doctor Who Comic Strip Companion was curious to know whether Adam had ambitions to write a BBC Doctor Who novel:
“I used to have that ambition! In the 1990s, Virgin Publishing produced two series of books, the New Adventures and the Missing Adventures, and they had an open submissions policy. While I never submitted anything, I did write up a proposal, which I guarantee was diabolical! But I remember something Terrance Dicks said: if want to write a Doctor Who book, you have to what to be a writer, you can’t just want to write a Doctor Who book. That was actually quite an important statement for me, and I knew while I wanted to write a Doctor Who book, I also wanted to write other stuff.
“So perhaps I’d give it another go now, for BBC Books!”
Having sharpened his teeth on TSV, and writing becoming more than a hobby for Adam, I wondered at what point he considered it as a viable career and what his path to publication was:
“There comes a time when all writers, I think, come to this realisation: if you want to be a writer, and to take it seriously, it has to be the number one priority, above everything else. Writing is a hard job that requires a lot of discipline and hours of solitary work. When I used to work in an office, I would get up early in the morning and write for an hour before breakfast, then go to work, and come home in the evening and write for another hour, five days a week. When the weekend came, that just meant more available hours for writing! My schedule is more flexible now, but it’s still sitting down in front of a keyboard and writing. Writing is a lot of hard work, and getting published is a lot of hard work and a tiny bit of luck.
“I met my editor on Twitter. Being from New Zealand, a long way from anywhere, I spent a lot of time online. When I moved to the UK, a friend of mine suggested I try Twitter, where I discovered a strong community of writers, readers, fans, editors, agents, publishers and people who just hung out and talked about books and writing.
“At that time I was writing properly, and I was keeping a blog, mainly for my own benefit. Then, I got talking to Lee Harris, the Angry Robot editor at a couple of conventions, having ‘met’ him online on Twitter. I was about three quarters through writing Empire State and had a feeling that this might be good enough to approach publishers with. As it was a cross-genre book, it felt like it might be a good fit for Angry Robot.”
“Crucially, one day I was passing through Nottingham (where Angry Robot are based) and asked if they fancied meeting up. I wasn’t intending to pitch anything. I tried to describe Empire State and thought I’d blown all my chances! But they were interested, and they don’t take unsolicited submissions – unless they know who you are and invite you, which they did – and fortunately for me they liked it! So Twitter was instrumental in getting me the book deal. But one of the reasons you go to conventions as a writer is because you meet these key people in the industry. Back then Twitter wasn’t in the public’s consciousness, it wasn’t as well known.”
I was curious to know about the mechanics of how Adam writes. In particular, I had heard him refer to the ‘vomit’ draft of his work and I wondered how this informed his style of writing:
“There’s an author I know who says “You’ve gotta get the clay on the wheel”. My style is to overwrite and then when the novel is complete, carve the final text from that. That’s the way it works for me, I call the “vomit” draft, draft zero – where you put everything down before you forget it. I try to write to a semi-outline and I know my characters will go and do their own thing but if the plot is planned and the characters are real, they will have the adventure on their own.”
Adam’s first novel, Empire State, dealt with the story of an alternate, parallel, New York trapped in the prohibition era, and debuted to numerous rave reviews earlier this year. The high-octane plot and intense development was something I was very keen on in my review. I wanted to know if this was something that Adam was conscious of when writing it:
“I know Empire State is quite twisty. I mean, I know it is, that seems to be my kind of thing. I believe that plot comes from character, not character from plot, which is an important distinction. For it to be believable, they must do their own thing – which is probably where the twists and turns come from! I think I was more aware of Seven Wonders being “high-octane” because superheroes are so much more visual, doing it in prose is tricky and you’ve lost a lot of the visual information, so it had to be fast and punchy.”
Speaking about the Worldbuilder project which launched alongside Empire State, Adam says: “That was a bit of an experiment really to see what happened if you had publisher-endorsed fiction, and to invite people in to play with the world of the novel, and there is some pretty good stuff that’s come out of that!”
And recently Empire State has gone on sale within the Empire State Building itself:
“Yeah! That’s so weird. The first time I went was in January 2012. I hadn’t been to it before, but the thing you want to do if you want a good view is go to the Rockerfeller Center – if you’re on the Empire State building, you can’t see the Empire State building. There’s this massive gift shop to walk through on and I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if..?’ Suddenly six months later, it’s on display! It’s cool, that.”
I noticed that where Empire State has an autumn/winter feel, Seven Wonders has a spring/summer vibe to it:
“Completely! Well, I didn’t intend to have those themes. Empire State is dark and mostly takes place at night. For Seven Wonders, I wanted sunshine and blue skies. One thing I love about superheroes is the costumes, the colours and the spandex. I envisaged it as very bright and loud visually. Which sounds strange because it’s a novel. But that’s what I had in my head when writing it, I wanted to capture the blue skies and sunshine.”
In Part Two of this interview, Adam talks in depth about his new novel Seven Wonders and what the future holds in store.