Wednesday 8 June 2011

Sean Cregan interview: All You Leave Behind

All You Leave Behind by Sean Cregan

Sean Cregan's been making stuff up for a living for 9 years, though originally under his real name. If you sketched it, his career arc would look like a ski jump ramp, and his writing output is probably best described as "an eclectic mix", most recently hovering around the "faintly dystopian urban thriller" mark.

Can you sum up All You Leave Behind in no more than 25 words?

A slumland courier opens his package when it starts ringing. Inside are a phone, a gun... and the disarmed bomb that would've killed him.

Did you set out to write a short story that grew too big, or were you always planning on a novella?

No, this was planned start-to-finish as a novella. (I've very rarely done shorts, as it goes.) I've had to do a lot of pitching work this year, and that's given me a surplus of what I think are solid story ideas that could do with using up. I also think there's something about novella-length fiction and the digital form that makes them a good fit for one another. Enough space to tell a reasonably meaty story, but quicker and more readily consumable than a longer novel. And unlike in hardcopy, where physical book size for store stocking consistency makes novellas more or less a no-no, there's nothing that says you can't. Assuming the readership go for it, of course...

Who designed your cover and how much difference does a good cover make?

I did; photographed a mate in an alleyway and then tweaked it and worked out the text arrangement. It's not as lovely as, say, Charlie Williams' ones, but it's not bad. A good cover (and memorable, and above all little-used, title), I think, is as important for an ebook, if not more so, than in print. It's still the first thing you see, and if what you have is one of those "dropshadowed Times New Roman on top of unchanged meaningless stock photo/sketch apparently done by a child" ones, I don't imagine I'm the only person to think that maybe this reflects the quality of the book and who then doesn't bother buying it.

Can you tell us a little about the novels you've written under the Sean Cregan name?

They're non-series books somewhere between thrillers and cyberpunk, but without the 'cyber' part. Urban punk, to one extent or another. Street mythology, the gulf between rich and poor, weird interstitial communities existing under their own rules in the shadow of regular metropolitan life (of which the boat people-esque floating neighborhood of Blackwater Port from THE RAZOR GATE is my current favorite), Third World living in First World slums. Oh, and in one instance, a hovercraft.

What did you do with John Rickards? Might we see him again?

I was originally contractually obliged not to do anything else under my own name, though since the Headline deal's done, that's past. But still, it's very hard trying to maintain a consistent identity when you've got both names, let alone release material that way and sell it. Brand identity, and all that. I doubt there'll be anything much more as myself, so I suspect poor old Rickards has retired.

How important is a book's central character?

To enjoyment and the ability to grab a reader, very. Not so much that they've got to be likeable (or even fantastically well-rounded), but there's got to be identifiable personal conflict for them because that's where drama comes from. Superman without mooning over Lois Lane (I mean that in the emotional sense, not that he flies around overhead with his tights pulled down) would be insufferably dull; not at risk himself, nothing personally at stake with regards to anyone else.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

I like to think I can do description, atmosphere and style as good as anyone, and at times I think I can do a decent job with character. Plotting, though, I usually fall down on. (I follow the "Raymond Chandler" model, clearly.) I've recently taken to meticulously outlining and planning each book so I can see any mistakes I'll be making well before I've actually written a word.

What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?

"If you're going to back into a story, you'd better have a great-looking ass."

What was the last good eBook you read?

Recently finished Simon Logan's NOTHING IS INFLAMMABLE, and I'm midway through Nick Mamatas' MOVE UNDER GROUND. Both very good.

If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?

(Almost) no contest. THE CITY AND THE CITY. Even though I remain disappointed that the two cities aren't 'overlaid' on one another, even though this seems like the most sensible option (since real places like Beszel/Ul Qumo don't have any of the other complication that they do), I love that book hard, the way a man loves a fine Cuban cigar.

Who's your favourite living writer?

Also almost no contest. William Gibson. His writing style is second to none.

What are the biggest problems facing writers these days?

Making a living from it. Not that this hasn't always been a problem, but I think a lot of us are uncertain as to how things'll be in five or ten years. Will the ebook bubble have burst? Will publishers still be able to pay living wage-level advances? What effect will the emergence of agent-publishers have? Will we see some return to the days of Dickens, with cheap serialisation of books and, perhaps, a sort of 'collective patronage', Kickstarter-style, of authors by their readership?

Not that these are worries for all writers, I imagine. When you make a poorly-paid living from it and you have no other marketable skills, I guess it weighs more on your mind...

Do you have any other projects on the go?

Ha! Yes. I've got to outline a very, very different YA novel (plus sketch the other two parts of what would be a trilogy) for my agent - which should be very cool; I'm looking forward to it. And then write it as fast as possible unless I plan on living on fresh air and wishful thinking. And since I'm ideas-heavy, time-poor, I'm also planning on writing one of these novellas, of one sort or another, every couple of months until the end of time itself. And I've got a baby on the way in September. Busy times, these.

All You Leave Behind by Sean Cregan

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