Author Interview: Paul Collins

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Paul Collins new book Mole Hunt is released this month, it is the first in a series of three featuring lead character Maximus Black.

We were lucky enough to borrow the very busy Paul Collins for this author interview:

How did you get started as an author?

I used to love comics as a kid – I didn’t actually read a book until I was about eighteen. But my first love was western films – we’re going back to the sixties here, with only one channel on TV, and Rawhide, Wagon Train, Branded, etc being prime time TV.

I figured I could mix the comics with the films and write a western. I wasn’t too successful, but that was my start. I then self-published – another mistake.

What made you decide to write science fiction?

I was working as a waiter at the Breakfast Creek Hotel in Brisbane and a colleague knew I was interested in publishing (after the western novel debacle).

He suggested I start an SF magazine because there wasn’t one published in Australia at the time. Although I’d only vaguely heard of Asimov and Heinlein, I embarked on a career that has led me to where I am today.

paul collins

(Paul Collins with his two dogs Jack and Molly)

What is your book, Mole Hunt about?

A lot of chaos. It’s dystopian fiction, and quite fast-paced. Basically, Maximus Black is as his name hints, a sociopath. He has one burning ambition, and that is to rule the universe. To do so he needs an armada of dreadnoughts, hidden by three “lost” coordinates.

The Maximus Black Files is a trilogy, so obviously he’s seeking each set in each book. So far the reviews have been generous. Bookseller and Publisher said that Mole Hunt is a blend of Total Recall, Dexter and The Girl With the Golden Tattoo; Buzz Words said the book is so fast-paced it would give Matthew Reilly a nosebleed (laughs).

But no book will succeed with just an antihero, so I have Anneke Longshadow. She’s every bit Maximus’s equal. They spend a lot of time trying to “off” one another. It’s classic space opera/thriller, but the main character is an antihero instead of the all-round good guy.

You have been awarded the A Bertram Chandler Award for “Outstanding Achievement in Australian Science Fiction, what does this mean?

This award is the premier Australian SF award. It’s not really for anything specific, rather a life-time achievement award. I’m quite honoured to receive it.

It sits next to my fourth-placed attendance at karate – you’ll gather by this that I don’t win too many awards.

Where do you get your inspiration?

The joke answer is that I can’t do anything else. But writing was always a hobby. In the end, it was making more money than my daytime job, which was running a clothing store.

I don’t want this to sound like I just do it for the money, but when you love doing something and you earn more from it than doing something you don’t particularly like doing, then there’s a rather obvious career choice happening there. I’m inspired by knowing that I earn a living doing something I enjoy.

How many people can say that of their lives?

MOLE HUNT COVER

Who are your target readers?

I write everything from picture books through to young adult books. So everyone within that target audience, I guess. Oddly, the fan mail that I do get usually comes from adults.

It seems many have read The Jelindel Chronicles, a four-book series that Penguin started publishing in 2002.

Who are your favourite authors right now?

I love Eoin Colfer and Philip Reeve (Artemus Fowl and Mortal Engines authors). The problem I have these days is that my main daytime job is publishing.

It takes up seven days a week and almost every night. I rarely get a chance to read these authors. The unsolicited (slush pile) I have always glares at me if I even look at a book.

Is it hard for Australian writers to get published?

With technology the way it is, anyone with even a vague knowledge of technology can get published. It’s easy to get someone to convert a Word file to epub or Kindle and upload to an online bookseller, or go to www.lulu.com and self-publish. The hard bit is selling.

Unless you are extremely well-liked and have a zillion friends, no one will ever find your book, much less buy it. Traditional print publishers in Australia are almost impossible to crack if you’re an unknown author. It’s certainly getting tougher out there in some ways, but much easier in other ways.

It really depends on how good you are at social media.

What are you currently working on?

Dyson’s Drop is the second book in The Maximus Black Files. I have to admit to having only written the first draft of Book #2, though. Again, Ford Street Publishing takes up most of my time.

I did manage to write a picture book called The Glasshouse (illustrated by Jo Thompson, and that has been short-listed for the CBCA’s Crichton Award. It was also chosen by IBBY (international organization) as one of the world’s 50 outstanding books for kids with disability. But anything longer will be on the back-burner, I’m afraid.

How long does it take you to write a book?

That’s the old “How long is a piece of string?” question. The Glasshouse was easy, because it came from personal experience. It took about a month to write. But Mole Hunt took a year or so, because whatever I wrote had to connect with two other books in the trilogy. The latter are very hard to write, because you need to look so far into the future of your work.

The character in your book is 18 years old, how did you get inside his head?

I suspect I took all the bad bits out of those Marvel Group Comics I read as a kid and all the bad traits from the crims in books I’ve since read. Put them all together and we have Maximus Black.

Someone told me he was like Artemis Fowl’s evil twin (laughs). And I think that reader hit the nail on the head.

What does being a writer mean to you?

Freedom.

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