What are some of the values you want your fans to take away from your novels?
Thatís an interesting question, because I am quite wary of trying to overtly put my values into my stories, of trying to force a message on people. That said, I donít think it would be possible to write something of any real worth without oneís own values or emotions leeching into the story, so I suppose what I am really saying is that I believe - quite strongly, really - that the story should come first, rather than the message, and not the other way around. Another way of looking at it is that one motivation for writing something is to clarify oneís own thoughts and feelings on the matter, and that necessarily means that there will be an element of passion, of real feeling in writing that comes from here, and that probably will come from a place of personal values (or at least, of trying to work them out!).
So, with that caveat out of the way, I would say that, more specifically, I tend to value individuality, creativity, free will, the importance of making our own choices - even if they are the wrong ones - and the fundamental ability of any of us to be good , whatever that means. Conversely, we all have it in us to be weak or hurt or tempted. Which brings us back to choices again.
I value spirituality, because I think the Universe is a rather barren, empty place without something bigger and more transcendental than us silly little humans knocking around in something so fantastic and impressive as this sublime cosmos - but at the same time I am very wary of organized religions, partly because they seem too human to me, and partly because - although they have done and continue to do much that could be regarded as good in terms of helping people make sense of their lives and live more happy, caring, fulfilling, aware existences - they are also very often used as tools of control, tools of repression, ways of shutting down free thought, and of closing off ideas and expression. Not to mention mass exploitation, top-heavy hierarchy (often - but not always - with men much higher up than women), and control of societies and populations for political rather than spiritual ends. Donít get me wrong - Iím not saying I hate religion or that I am an atheist - but I think we all have the power to find something of deeper meaning within ourselves and with our friends and families, and we donít need people in special hats and shiny robes to act as mediators to the divine; most especially, we donít need to give them money!
All of that is rather heavy, and I think something else I value - and which therefore might often come across in my writing - is a sense of the ridiculous, the ludicrous, the comedy and joy of it all. Life doesnít have to be this big, heavy, crushing burdensome thing, even when bad stuff is happening - every day is full of small wonderful things and amazing coincidences and jokes, and we should try and see them and appreciate them and laugh with the Universe, even when itís raining on us. Because I think the bottom line is: itís OK. Even when things are bad, itís going to be OK. Like Bill Hicks said, itís all a ride.
What are your professional and/or personal goals for the next decade?
This is an easier one:
-Personal: get married, have kids, improve my health, write more, do some traveling, try desperately to not be in debt (highly unlikely, but dreaming is important!). Oh, and make sure my brother gets a girlfriend! Heís lovely, honestly ladies! He lives with my folks, but they are lovely too, and they have a hedge maze in the back garden. I mean, seriously, how many men can say that? Heís good-looking, healthy, clever, kind, funny, generous, special, talented, and he has access to a hedge maze. Go on ladies, heís single: whatís stopping you??
-Professional: become a fully qualified family doctor and make this work so that I can split my time between being a doctor and writing novels. In all seriousness, that has literally been the plan since I was about 15. I saw a careers adviser when I was about this age (I was home-educated, by the way, so I went to a local college to do my initial qualifications). She asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I wanted to be either a writer or a doctor, preferably both. Once she had stopped laughing, she told me this was probably a bit unlikely, and recommended a science degree instead. Which is what I did, of course. But lifeís a funny old beast, isnít it, and who can say where weíre going to be ten years hence? Incidentally, I donít want to be mean about my careers adviser: she was just being sensible, really, and Iím sure she had my best interests at heart. On the off chance that she ever reads this, I wish her well, and thank her for explaining to me what a co-enzyme is.
Since Speculative Fiction is often interwoven with spirituality (myths, legends, science, etc), please describe your personal spiritual path and how it is reflected in your writing.
I think Iíve touched on this in other questions, so Iíll try to be briefer than I would otherwise as I donít want to bore people (any more than I already have, I mean!)
Essentially, I am a spiritualist. I donít follow any organized religion, but I think thereís more to this strange and mysterious Universe than dust and atoms, or even than quarks and quantum states. I think we are all part of one enormous organism - the Universe itself, perhaps - and this and everything in it, including us, is in a constant state of emergence into something bigger and more complex and more startling than we could ever imagine. But thatís including two fallacies, really. First, itís a gross over-simplification, as I think whatís really going on is actually much more strange and bizarre than anything silly little mammals such as us could ever really grasp: itís something totally transcendental, and I donít think we could possibly understand it until after we are dead, and even then we might only get a glimpse. Second, itís rather too pretentious and portentous - it gives the impression of something regal and stern and magisterial, and I think the truth is closer to something thatís more silly and playful and delights in mischief and life and existence for the pure joy of existence itself. Thrills and spills and catherine wheels. Life should be light and wonderful. It should be fun and an adventure. Sure, there are bad bits, but ice cream still tastes nice and flowers look pretty and the smell of warm grass on the first day of a new spring morning isnít a small thing. Neither are the millions of stars in the sky or the love you feel for your mother or the sudden connection you have with someone when your minds touch one another for the first time and you realise you are not alone. And you donít need a church or a religion to know these things: these things are our birthright, they belong to all of us, for free and forever; to me, God is in a Cathedral exactly as much as (s)he is in a leaf or in my little finger or this keyboard or the glass of water you had at bedtime. And I believe in evolution, itís so elegant, I love it, and I love the scientific method. But a close friend once said to me something like complete belief in science is kind of like saying a dog has four legs: itís completely true, but itís nowhere near the whole truth. So why canít we have both? Letís let science into our lives and use it to help us understand this amazing Universe of ours, but letís not build Cathedrals to it or call people fools because they think thereís a chance of something beyond what we can perceive with our everyday senses.
I think these sentiments - consciously or unconsciously - tend to be reflected in a lot of what I write, because thatís the story that beats in the heart of me, and nothing true I write could ever be wholly divorced from this.
Do you have a motto?
In terms of writing, the motto or golden rule I try and stick to, is that if Iím bored when Iím writing something, how can I expect someone else to enjoy reading it? What I mean by that is, there are times when I find myself slogging away at something, and it really feels like an effort, and I have to consciously stop and think, Wait a minute, something really isnít working here, what can I do to change things? And what often comes out of that is that the story needs to go in an unexpected direction, something new, surprising, interesting, something that feels like getting a glass of cold water thrown in your face, to wake you up. Someone - I think it was Paulo Coelho in The Manual Of The Warrior Of The Light - talks about approaching things with a touch of madness, which I feel relates to this. Itís important to me to stay slightly - very slightly - off balance when writing, to retain the ability to surprise my (conscious) self.