Name Stewart Hotston
Where are you from
I’m from the south of England. Having trained as a physicist (my PhD was in quantum mechanics), I left academia and went into banking. Having survived the horrors of being right in the heart of the financial crisis (I can’t watch Margin Call without feeling ‘Nam style flashbacks), I’m still working in the city. However, when I’m not making numbers dance I spend my time writing and fighting with real swords.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I’m really excited to say that I’ve got two pieces of news. The first is that A People’s War, the sequel to my first novel A Family War, is due out on the 20th December, 2016. The first novel was really well received and I’m very excited to see the follow up hit the shelves.
The second piece of news is that I will have a new epic fantasy series, called The Fox’s Hope, coming out from TicketyBoo Press next year. Timings still to be finalized but the first book, Dreams of Darkness, is done and dusted.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing more than twenty years ago – mainly to impress the girl who I later married. We’d watched a film we both thought was rubbish and I said “I could write something better than that.” Having made such a bold statement I then had to deliver – the process is ongoing!
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I think when my second short story was published I started to believe I might actually be ok at this writing lark. I got one published and thought “well that’s probably just a fluke,” but when number two came out I accepted that I might be able to write well enough for other people to think I wasn’t embarrassing myself by submitting. From then I thought of myself as someone who could write. However, it’s still rare that I describe myself to anyone as a writer – it seems a little too far away from reality – if only because I still pay the bills with a different job.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I read the book ‘Holocaust’ by Martin Gilbert. It’s a devastating account of the persecution and murder of the Jewish people across mainland Europe from about 1930 until 1950. The programmatic rounding up of Jewish people didn’t end with the end of the war in Eastern Europe even if the concentration camps were closed. What stunned me was how the majority of the population colluded in the murder of their neighbors and I wanted to write about how that can be possible. It became a sci-fi thriller because the subject is a tough one to write about and I wanted to place the tale far enough away from the inspiration to ensure that I didn’t step on people’s toes, hurts and wounds regarding that period in history.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
No. I definitely have a voice but my style has definitely changed over the years. The main theme is that my writing has become sparer, less ripe. I love action but I also love stories that have worlds which will happen around the main character even while they’re acting. i.e. I like my readers to see that the world’s they’re reading about have substance, have a feel of being real (even when they’re fantastical).
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Getting titles is almost as hard as working out the pitch! Typically I want to get the grand themes into the title. It needs to be short, pithy and memorable – so no big ask!
My first trilogy – the Oligarchy – is all about a war to decide the future of humanity. As such each of the books will have war in the title. The first two are A Family War and A People’s War.
The Fox’s Hope trilogy being published by TicketyBoo Press is an epic fantasy but, again, has a couple of big themes. As such, the title for the first book, Dreams of Darkness covers two of the main ideas in the story – the power of dreams and the big bad. However, that was about the fifth serious working title…
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
A People’s War is about how ordinary people get through horrendous events. It asks us to realize that anyone is capable of any kind of act if they’re in the right context – that might be a horrible act, but is can also be one that lifts the spirits and reminds us of the hopefulness of good.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
A People’s War isn’t ‘realistic’ in that it isn’t set now in a contemporary setting. However, I have focused hard on giving my characters real motivations and flaws, desires and hopes. This means that sometimes they respond to the situations they find themselves in, in ways that initially surprise me. They don’t know the plot nor do they have perfect foresight, so they make mistakes and stupid (from the reader’s point of view) decisions. I love it when it happens because it means I’ve successfully created plausible characters.
Underneath that though I’m asking who gets to decide who’s in charge. The characters fight their way through war zones, solve mysteries and act as diplomats all in one go but they’re always being asked ‘who gets to decide?’ It so happens that they don’t like the answers they get; they’re unhappy with the elite 1% who appear to run everything.
For sure some attitudes and color I take from
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
Two people. My best friend and long suffering wife, Rachel who remains my first reader and gauge of what works plus my buddy David Thomas Moore of Rebellion Publishing who’s offered me some superb advice and completely believed in my early on.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I read a couple of brilliant debuts this year. The first is the weird fic, The Incorruptibles by John Horner Jacobs and the other was epic sci fi thriller, NineFox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. Both books take well known tropes and completely turn them on their heads. They’re conventional, exciting stories with compelling twists and deft mastery of the language.
My favorite living author is Jonathan Franzen (followed up swiftly by Hilary Mantel). It’s probably a bit cliché but he’s the quintessential American writer at work now.
Having said that, my favorite author of all time is Mikail Bulgakov, whose The Master and Margarita is simply the best book ever written.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Author and publisher, Theresa Derwin has supported me throughout, but I should also mention Ian Whates of NewCon Press and TicketyBoo Press who have been incredibly supportive of my writing as well.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Yes, but not one that will replace the day job. Publishing is a difficult place to be and I’m fortunate to have a full career already in another profession. Although I spend a LOT of time writing, I’m certain it will remain secondary to my work in finance.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Haha! Difficult question. Without spoilers then…I’d probably make it longer. There are a couple of characters whose lives outside the main story are quite interesting and I’d love to find a way of getting them more exposure.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’ve always read. I’ve always told my own stories – whether it was through table top gaming and then LARP, narrative has been an important feature of the pastimes I enjoy. I started writing at university after a friend of mine asked me to write a story for an anthology a group of students was putting out. I wrote a story (it was terrible) and got the bug.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Showing rather than telling. It can be as simple as changing
‘I don’t know,’ he said, frustrated to ‘I don’t know,’ he said with a deep frown.
The former tells the reader through the words, the latter shows the reader through the character.
However, when you have a complex world whose rules and cultures aren’t familiar to a reader it can be a real temptation to simply explain what’s going on as a narrator rather than deliver the world through your characters. It’s a skill all writers have to learn but one which I think every one of us struggles with to some extent.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I travel a lot with other work, so have had the benefit of visiting a lot of places. This means I can always draw on that experience to get the feel of somewhere right or to create imaginary places with enough difference to feel plausible.
Failing that, we have google earth and the amazing ‘From our own correspondent’ podcast by the BBC which travels around the world with in depth reports about any number of different subjects every week.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Lawrence Mann is my cover guy for the Oligarchy. His skills are amazing and he’s a joy to work with. Go see him here: http://lawrencemann.co.uk
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Making sure that the sci-fi didn’t end up being a McGuffin only there to get me out of plot problems! Having said that, sometimes I’m tempted to have my writers be proper heroes without blemish – and although it would be appealing to take a binary route to my characters and have easily identifiable bad guys as well, I simply don’t find those kinds of characters satisfying.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learnt a lot about myself. Writing the first draft is easy enough – you simply have to keep at it. However, it’s when I came to editing that I really learnt a lot about myself. I always want to finish before it’s ready. I often want to avoid proper structural edits because they’re hard work. Getting from a first draft to a workable story requires perseverance, attention to detail and simply grit to get through the grind. I discovered they were all elements that I struggle with…
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead
I’d love Helena Woolf to appear on the screen. I believe Alicia Vikander would be a great piece of casting.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Keep writing. I’ve edited a few anthologies in my time and I’ve noticed that a lot of writers submit once, or submit the same story over and over again. Forget that. Write, write more and then write some more after that. Don’t stop. Not only do you get better as you write more, but it exercises the imagination and puts you ahead of the vast majority of writers who hang onto that first piece and never move past their initial rejections.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I’ve had some tremendously kind feedback over the years and I’m always genuinely humbled by those who take the time to let me know what they thought – in the end that’s what makes it worth it – that people read what I wrote and had thoughts about it.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’m reading Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson and Purity by Jonathan Franzen
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
The first proper book? The Hobbit.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Slapstick always makes me laugh. As does the blackest of black humor. Stories about hope and freedom make me cry.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Abraham Lincoln because having ready the epic Lincoln biography, Team of Rivals, I think he’s one of the most incredibly interesting people I’ve ever come across.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
Made other people more themselves. Why? Because if I can leave people believing in themselves then I know I’ve done good.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I’m a keen swordfighter – historical European martial arts, or HEMA. I’m a rapier and sidesword practitioner with a few years under my belt now.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I’m not a great consumer of TV but I am an avid movie fan. My films of the year this year are Arrival, Moana and Lala Land. Three very different films but each of which are wonderfully constructed in their own way with superb writing, structure and verve.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
I’m an omnivore. Apart from tripe I’ve not yet encountered a food I won’t eat with pleasure. As for music, the band 65daysofstatic have inspired more than one story, so they’re definitely my go to group when I need to get in the mood.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Looking back, I wonder if I shouldn’t have studied philosophy full time rather than as a minor. It remains a lifelong interest but I’m not sure I have the chops to have made a success of it.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Amazons authors page https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stewart-Hotston/e/B00D1TYWS8/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1#