Q: I remember reading somewhere (probably on Chrons http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum) that you almost accidentally fell into writing Space Captain Smith and actually planned to do something else first. What’s the story behind that and Smith’s origin?
TF: Yes, I started writing Smith whilst writing a very serious fantasy epic, really just as an outlet for all the jokes and silliness that weren’t happening in my grim and bloody version of the Renaissance. Needless to say, the fantasy masterpiece isn’t published, and Space Captain Smith is. I still have hopes that one day, perhaps when I’ve backstabbed my way to Prince, I’ll be able to get the fantasy novel published at last. I think it’s great, but that’s just me.
Q: In my review of God Emperor of Didcot I describe the world of Space Captain Smith as Blackadder meets Red Dwarf. What were your inspirations when you wrote the books?
TF: Blackadder always has been a great inspiration. It strikes a great balance between fart jokes and historical references. There may be funnier comedy, but not much better comedy. While I enjoyed some of Red Dwarf it’s never been that much of an influence. I’d also cite Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, the Biggles books and of course Dan Dare. Frank Hampson was a genius. A lot of the things I’ve parodied are also pretty good: ranging from old war films to The Difference Engine and, of course, the British.
Q: I checked your website recently and saw you have a number of free mini-stories available for download http://spacecaptainsmith.com/, and that Smith is now on twitter http://twitter.com/isambardsmith. What d’you make of the rising importance of technology, including eBooks and eReaders?
TF: To be honest I’m not a natural technocrat. Twitter baffles me pretty much, although I do like having a web presence. I think it brings readers and writers together in a way I wouldn’t have imagined when I was younger. As to ebooks, they’re not really to my taste – I much prefer actually owning a solid object, especially since all the digital technology I own breaks with alarming frequency – but if they get people reading, so much the better. I wonder if we will get some new way of quality assurance better than the Amazon review stars, though.
Q: What one piece of advice would you offer an aspiring author?
TF: I’d suggest new writers keep reading and keep writing. You have to get the practice in to get better, as with any craft, and reading widely enables you to see things you wouldn’t normally get. I write comedy, and often find myself turning to Raymond Chandler and George Orwell, neither of whom are renowned for their levity, just to see how good writing can be done. I’d also suggest joining a good writing group. There are some excellent ones out there. That’s actually about four pieces of advice, but then again the world is a better place for me not having gone into maths.
Q: What’s your favourite aspect of being a writer?
TF: I’m not sure, really. Getting paid for doing what I enjoy is pretty good, as is being able to do what I’m probably best at. I’ve still not got used to going into bookshops and seeing my name on the shelves. That’s pretty excellent too.
Q: Do you ever suffer writer’s block, and, if you do, how do you work through it?
TF: I don’t really get much writer’s block. Whenever I’ve found myself not getting into a scene, I do tend to write a later one and go back to the first scene later on. I try to keep this to a minimum, but it’s sometimes necessary. But to be honest, most of the time I’m so keen to get the words down and the story out it isn’t really too much of a problem.
Q: You mentioned on Chrons that audiobooks of the three SCS books will be out at some point. Can you give away who the reader is?
TF: The reader of the audio books is a chap called Clive, and very good he is too. He has a good feeling for the characters, and manages to strike the right balance between being slightly silly and completely ridiculous. They’re coming together pretty well. Highly recommended!
Q: Lastly, will we see a new Space Captain Smith book and, if so, when?
TF: I really want to do more Smith. I certainly feel that there are loads of jokes and adventures still to come, and I’ve made notes for more. Unfortunately it’s really difficult to say when I'll be able to write them at the moment. There should be a new longish short story out in the next few months, and of course the audio-books, but I’m still trying to get life and writing in general sorted out enough to be able to promise a fourth book at a definite date. That doesn’t mean we’ve heard the last of Smith, though: I’ve loved writing it and would love to do more!
Many thanks to Mr. Frost for kindly agreeing to give me the interview, and here’s hoping Space Captain Smith gives Gertie a darn good British-style thrashing in the fourth book.