Hello! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born and brought up in Bramhall, near Stockport, England. After studying Art & Design at school, I went on to complete a Foundation course in Art at Stockport College and then completed three years as a film student in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. I graduated after making a short science fiction film entitled “Unity” with my mates Mark, Paul and Pete among others.
After leaving the North-East, I became a prop maker, set builder and art director working at Cosgrove Hall Films in Chorlton-Cum-Hardy and Hot Animation in Altrincham. I worked on several shows that included “Brambly Hedge”, “Lavender Castle”, “Rocky and the Dodos” and the first fourteen series of “Bob the Builder”. Among my most noteworthy creations were the first cardboard prototype for Scoop the JCB, Bob the Builder’s mobile phone and tool kit, and the Gibson Les Paul guitar for pop star Lennie Lazenby (voiced by Chris Evans).
I finally opted for the “good life” and became a professional gardener and married Louise, who was the only one that would put up with me. I’m now working as a gardener back up in the beautiful Northumberland countryside. The one thing that has remained constant throughout is my love for science fiction and for writing. This has lead to the writing of the forthcoming “Unity” series, based on the idea for my short film, which starts with the “Josiah Trenchard” novella stories.
You’re a Sci-Fi Author, among many other things! What is it about the genre that made you want to write about it?
I’ve grown up with science fiction, right from sitting on my Dad’s knee watching Doctor Who with Tom Baker in the seventies. I was a huge fan of Star Wars as a kid and also loved Blake’s 7, Space 1999, Knight Rider, Star Trek… If it was vaguely sci-fi related, I watched it. As I grew up I became a fan of films like Aliens, Blade Runner, AKIRA. I guess it’s the complete fantasy that appeals. I would spend hours in my bedroom making Lego models of Airwolf or Daleks and acting out scenes with them. In science fiction there are no boundaries as to what you can make up. You can create whole worlds, even galaxies. I guess it appeals to the control freak in me. Plus there’s the tech! I love a great sci-fi gadget, spacecraft or weapon. From a lightsaber to the drop-ship in Aliens, I love the technology. I used to make models of things I liked from cardboard when I was a kid and I guess that’s where my model making career sprouted from…
How long have you had a passion for writing?
I used to like writing at Junior school and then GCSE’s and A Level kind of beat the fun out of it for me. For a while it was all about art and design and I ended up completing an art Foundation course then going on to a film studies degree. It was when I was taking the degree that I discovered this magical thing called a “film script”. I didn’t actually undertake the script writing course, but a lot if my friends did and I picked up a great deal from them.
I worked on several other student films and then decided I wanted to make my own sci-fi epic. My friends Paul Bird and Mark Collins helped with the script, in fact Paul wrote most of it, but based upon my ideas. He could really write and he helped sort my mad ramblings into a coherent script. After the degree finished, I ended up working in animation, but I developed the script into a series, which I’ve been tinkering with ever since. The books I’m writing have come directly from that…
You’re working on a project called the ‘Unity’ series, which begins with the ‘Josiah Trenchard’ short stories. Where did the inspiration come for this?
As I’ve mentioned above, it all stemmed from my degree film. “Unity – Part Three” was a sixteen minute short, shot in the most part inside the old Wills factory in Newcastle Upon Tyne. I was heavily influenced by the films “Aliens”, “Bladerunner” and “The Crow” and also by the Foundation series of books by Isaac Asimov. I can’t talk too much about the plot of the film as it would give away too many spoilers for the books, but let’s just say that the core idea for the books comes straight from that film and the subsequent series scripts that I wrote. The Unity novels will be published after the Josiah Trenchard series is completed. I already have the first two novels ready to publish, but I wasn’t happy putting all my eggs into one basket and publishing them first. I had never published on Amazon before and so I thought it would be better to start small. I came up with the idea of a series of short novellas that would work like a TV series, with different episodes but a linking story arc. Because I had already written about the United Worlds Space Navy, it was a fairly easy step to write about a different starship Captain and follow his adventures. That’s how Josiah Trenchard was born.
What are the stories about?
In essence, the Josiah Trenchard series is about a ship and crew that get sent into the most dangerous situations to clean up other people’s mess. Trenchard is the absolute antithesis of Star Trek’s Captains. He is foul mouthed, no nonsense, hard drinking and hard fighting! I like to think he’s got a little Dirty Harry in him, he gets every dirty job going, although I based his character more on Philip Glenister’s portrayal of Gene Hunt from “Life on Mars”. The spacecraft “The Might of Fortitude” is based on a Royal Navy submarine. It’s cramped, smelly and full of consummate professionals working in one of the hardest environments in the Galaxy. The United Worlds (my version of Empire, Federation, etc.) are trying to keep the peace, but there are Insurgent terrorists who are fighting for independence, pirates praying on inter-stellar craft, and all manner of nasties lurking out there in deep space. If that didn’t make Trenchard’s job hard enough, there are several dark sub-plots which are thrown into the mix and which will develop as the series goes on. Think X-Flies or Fringe and you may have an idea how the series will develop.
A lot of film adaptations of books tend to get bad reviews. Why do you think this is?
Because a book has far more to it and fills the readers head with images that almost never match up to expectations in a film. Also, books are usually longer in content. The novel versions of my scripts have so much more to them. When you make a film you have to use a lot of shorthand, and loads of stuff gets left out. Therefore it’s usually very disappointing for someone who read the book first.
How has social media helped your own writing career?
Incredibly. Obviously there’s the advertising element, but that’s not as powerful as you would imagine. I think word of mouth plays a much larger part in book sales than people think. More importantly I’ve met so many nice, supportive people on Twitter. I’ve learned so much from the #author community. People are generally very free with their advice. The problem can be sifting through the advice for the nuggets that apply to you. If it wasn’t for all the indie authors out there who have interviewed me, promoted my books, offered advice and RT’d my mad rambling, I wouldn’t be half as good at writing.
What’s your favourite book of all time and why?
I’m a very slow reader, it takes me months to read a book. Having said that, I listen to a lot of audiobooks while I’m doing other things. I can’t pick one book, but anything science fiction or fantasy. I’m a big fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I love his satirical take on dungeons and dragons. It’s all about the characters with him. I love Death and Commander Vimes, but the series is peppered with fabulous characters like Rincewind and Cut Me Own Throat Dibbler. I was heavily influenced by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series too. I love the idea of predicting the future mathematically for centuries ahead. I also love the Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell and of course the Day of the Triffids and War of the Worlds. I guess my sci-fi high is a completely fantasy world that is grounded in reality in some way. I don’t like stuff that’s completely unbelievable or set so apart from today’s society that its hard to find something to relate to.
In terms of writing, who do you look up to as an author?
John Wyndham, Asimov, Pratchett. But it’s hard to get too excited about someone you’ve never met. My favourite writers are people I know. My friend Paul Bird is an amazing writer and so clever. Also my friend Mark Collins is very inventive. I was at University with the best writer I’ve ever met, Kenny Aitken. He scripted some really amazing short films for our degree course. I hope wherever he is now, he’s writing something.
Can anybody be a writer?
Writing is ten percent creativity and around eighty percent hard, regular slog! The remaining ten percent is cake and coffee. I knew a guy who constantly said he wanted to be a writer, but never bothered to write anything or try and get it published. Really, I wasn’t a writer until I hit the “publish” button on Amazon’s website. Unless you’re going to put it out there for people to criticise, then what’s the point? I write without fail for an hour every day before I go to work as a gardener. You have to treat it like a job, do a little every day. It’s no good writing when you feel like it, you’ll never get anything done! Anyone can write, not everyone can be an author!
You were involved in making ‘Scoop The JCB’ for children’s television show Bob The Builder, as well as other props and sets for many productions. That’s quite a different task than sitting down to write a book! Which do you prefer?
I enjoyed being a model maker and Art Director, but the stress associated with the job wrung the enjoyment out of it for me eventually. I’ve started making models again for my book covers and now I enjoy it again. I love writing, but I also love doing the artwork on Photoshop, growing vegetables, walking on the beach. I guess what I’m saying is do lots of different things! Enjoy life. You never know when it’s going to end. I had a friend called Mike who worked on my degree film with me. He was very supportive and a good friend. He died soon after we all left University in a car crash. I was devastated, it was the first time I knew someone that died who was my age. It taught me to “seize the day”. If there’s something you’re doing that you don’t like, stop doing it.
What other projects are you involved in?
I’m finishing part four of the Josiah Trenchard series (which has zombies!) and then two “Unity” novels are on the way after that. I occasionally take nature photos which go on my Pinterest site and I actively promote and interview other indie authors on my Twitter and Goodreads sites. I’m also trying to find the time to write a children’s book for the lovely guys at Skelat.com. Then I grow veg and enjoy cooking. When I’m not doing all that, I’m usually in the pub!
If you had to give advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Write every day. Get on Twitter. Publish on Amazon. You’re bound to make mistakes, but you’ll learn as you go! As Yoda said, “Do, or do not. There is no try!”…
Why should people read your ‘Joasiah Trenchard’ books?
One word… “Fun”. If you don’t have fun reading a book, then what’s the point. Read the reviews, if you like what people are saying, give them a try. I periodically give part one away free so that people can try it out. Watch for the tweets!
Where can people access your short stories and find out more about you and your work?
and on Twitter: @JonGardener