Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
I am James ‘Grim’ Desborough (the Grim being an old college nickname from my Goth days) and I am old enough to know better, and young enough to get away with things.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I live in a small village in deepest, darkest Hampshire in the UK. I’ve lived there most of my life, apart from a short spell in Britain’s most grey and boring town, Basingstoke. It’s so non-descript and grey that even the only thing it has of note – roundabouts – it is beaten out on by Swindon.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
There’s not a great deal to tell really. I’m married. I have two cats who are as much muses as gremlins. I studied to do art but ended up doing writing. I have a lifelong passion for politics and history – especially the history of what you might call ‘nerd media’. I’m a passionate atheist, an ardent – old school – left anarchist, and I spend most of my days in a state of exasperation at the general state of the human species.
I suffer from severe and ongoing depression, which has also made me something of an activist on mental health issues and I try to be open about my illness and state of being as a way of helping others.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
I just released a non-fiction book called ‘Inside Gamergate’, about the big, online scandal of 2014 which is still ongoing to some extent and which has become a part of the broader culture war that is still ongoing around the world. There was an untold story there, passed over by the mainstream media. I was a part of that ‘consumer revolt’ and wanted to write a social history of what happened, to correct the record.
Otherwise I mostly work in tabletop role-playing games, though I have written a collection of short stories (Pulp Nova) and a full length novel (Old, Fat Punks) and I am working on a survival horror diary-novel and a follow-up to Pulp Nova. I also write erotica under a pen name, and no, I’m not telling you what it is.
Game-wise I’m working on licensed roleplaying products based on Jon Norman’s Gor novels, and figuring out my next big projects.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve always been a storyteller, right from when I was little. That was channelled into role-playing games for most of my life and then I began writing somewhat professionally in the 90s, working on fanzines and fan-material.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I suppose when I, and my writing partner Steve Mortimer, wrote ‘The Munchkin’s Guide to Powergaming’ in 1999/2000. That was my first real, commercial break and it won an award, as well as spawning the whole ‘Munchkin’ franchise of card games and so forth. I’ve been chasing a similar level of success ever since.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
In that instance it was all the games we’d ever played and the quirks of players we knew. It was a rich vein of comedy, albeit for a niche audience. The funny thing was that it was really just a throwaway idea we tossed into a bunch of other suggestions we had made when looking for freelance work.
For my own writing, outside of games, I have long been fascinated by early science fiction. I wanted to go back and examine those tropes and ideas with a more modern eye. I’ve long thought that the cheapness and ease of e-publishing lends itself to that high-volume, hit-and-miss, try anything model of the pulps and I think it has, though it’s different.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Pulps, but new, and explosive. Novel as in new, neo as in new, nova as in explosion, pulp as in what I was referencing. It just seemed to work.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I have a fairly loose, informal style. No matter what I’m writing there’s always a little humour in there and I can’t help buy enjoy wordplay. I suppose my style is a little ‘breathless’, editors often have to break things up as I gallop ahead and cram a lot in, in a short space of time. Despite that, reviewers often tell me my style is efficient, that I can say a lot in a relatively short amount of space, and that my characters are distinct.
Of course, as the author, I have no confidence in my own abilities.
The biggest challenge today, regardless of genre I think, is that everything is so political and I’m not really at home in any camp. I’m not inclined to be PC and I’m not inclined to be mean-spirited or archly conservative either. So I get it from all sides.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Fantastical fiction is rarely grounded in real life, but what you’re aiming for is a sort of… plausibility. It’s a paradox in genre writing that the more fantastical elements you use the more the rest has to be grounded in the believable and plausible. Characters help keep such fiction grounded and relatable I think. So long as you can see through the character’s eyes, you can understand the strangest of worlds. That’s true for my games writing and my sci-fi and fantasy work.
My full length novel, Old, Fat Punks, is a departure from fantasy and into a sort of political/crime/caper story, set in our contemporary world. The characters in that are, somewhat, amalgums of people I’ve known and aspects of my own life experience. Ageing, becoming more and more disenchanted with people and politics, frustrated at the world. Seeing how unfair and rough the world can be to people and trying to find humour and defiance in all that.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
On a writer’s salary? I think not!
You can’t travel to the Moon or a fantasy land, save by reading and imagining. I’d like to travel more but in the absence of that, knowing people around the world and having access to the Internet is the next best thing – so long as you’re careful.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
I use all sorts of different people to do cover – and interior – illustrations for me. It wouldn’t be fair to highlight any single individual. I try to work with a lot of younger artists to help them pay their way through school and even run a scholarship in memory of a young artist I worked with for several years, who unfortunately passed away. He went by Darkzel and I still miss him and his brilliant work.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I’m generally not a fan of bash-you-over-the-head message fiction. I think the story has to come first and your own views and ideas will come through organically that way. Message fiction tends to have the same problem as Christian Rock. It’s so busy shoving its view down your throat that it forgets to be any good.
In some of my work there’s a defiance of social censure and outrage culture, in most of it it’s just about what is fun. Old, Fat Punks comes the closest to message fiction and that’s about finding hope and humour in nihilism and hopelessness.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I tend to prefer older books. The New Wave science fiction of the 60s and 70s. The last couple of authors who really grabbed my attention aren’t really ‘new’. China Mieville’s work always has something to recommend it and Peter F Hamilton writes sci-fi almost as good as the old masters.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
The Gamergate community has – mostly – been very supportive of my efforts with Inside Gamergate. Everything I work in is niche though, Steve Jackson Games gave me my first break, but these days I work for myself as a small publisher.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I do, and it’s the only thing I can really do any more. So I’m pretty much stuffed as the market is so volatile and the margins so small these days! Still, you have to do what you have to do.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I don’t think I would. It was written, in some ways, as a response to another book that isn’t coming out until early September. I’ve read some leaked material from that book and it seems what I wrote was the best counter I could have hoped for.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I learned that writing non-fiction is a lot easier than writing fiction!
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
That wouldn’t work for Inside Gamergate, so looking back to Old, Fat Punks I would say… that I don’t know. It would need to be a 50 year old character actor from London. I’ve no idea who would fit!
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Write. Network. Hold each other up. Fight for your right to free expression. Our rights, as creators, have never been in more peril and a large part of that is because we’re so intolerant of each other. Worry more about whether the writing is good, and not the ‘message’ it sends.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I appreciate every single one of you.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’m currently reading the Gravel graphic novels by Warren Ellis.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Probably a chewable ABC book.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Antidepressants tend to dull your emotions, so the most anything gets is generally a wry smile or a sigh I’m afraid!
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Not any one person… I’d like to travel back in time to one of those 1940s or 50s early, science fiction conventions where all the greats were under one roof.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Games, painting and drawing though I’d lost any joy in that for years, reading, Youtube commentary, board games… all sorts.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Anything SF&F, horror less so – I’m fussy about horror, it has to be really good, or really bad. I have an unabashed joy for schlocky straight-to-video films.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Curry/Black/Goth, metal, industrial and some odd bits here and there of every other genre.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Slowly starve to death.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
Here lies Grim
He’s really dead
But at least
He was well-read
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
https://postmortemstudios.wordpress.com/ is my main blog.
I also have https://talesofgrim.wordpress.com/ for my non-gaming writing.
Facebook: james.desborough, JGDgames, Jdwriter, PostmortemStudios