Author interview with Robert Dickinson
Hi Robert, welcome over to thebookplank and for taking your time to answer these few questions for us!
BP: First off, can you tell us a bit more as to who Robert Dickinson is, what are your likes/dislikes and hobbies?
RD: I’ve had a succession of office jobs, most of which involved spreadsheets. Whenever I’ve joined any kind of artistic association they usually ask me to be treasurer. This possibly tells you something. When I’m not pretending to understand lists of numbers I read, listen to music, attempt to write, and worry about how much time I spend watching television – did I really need to watch that episode of CSI: Cyber? I could have listened to that Ligeti string quartet or memorised two or three Russian words. Instead I find myself admiring the cast’s ability to keep a straight face while they explain cybercrime to each other. Apart from the mild self-loathing induced by rubbish television most of my dislikes are related to politics and the kind of language used by politicians, not to mention the kind of language they provoke me to use.
BP: The Tourist is your debut novel, what gave you the idea to start writing this book?
RD: I’d previously had two novels published by an independent publisher. The Tourist is my first science fiction novel. The idea for this one came out of the blue. I remember waking up from a dream that involved travelling back to 1960s Paris and from that started thinking about the idea of time travel. As somebody once said, we know it’s impossible because if it was possible we’d have met travellers from the future. Well, what if it was possible and we did meet travellers? I thought about it over the course of a Sunday morning and realised I had enough to make a start.
BP: Pursuing the career as an author is chancy road, what gave you the motivation to pick up the pen and start writing?
RD: The first things I ever had published were poems. That soon reconciles you to the idea of never making a living from writing. I started because I had ideas for things that seemed original, if only to me. In the last few years I’d built up enough savings to be able to take extended breaks from work. That gave me the time to write.
BP: Starting to write novel takes a lot of planning how did you went about writing The Tourist?
RD: By that Sunday afternoon I had the basic idea. I let it simmer for a few days and then started writing. I was certain I’d be able to iron out any inconsistencies as I went. When you start anything you need a certain misplaced optimism.
BP: if you look back on writing The Tourist, what did you find the hardest?
RD: There are two plot strands running through the book. The hardest part was balancing these. You don’t want one to overwhelm the other, and you want to keep both interesting, but in different ways.
BP: Besides the hardest part, which part came to you the easiest?
RD: The tone of the principle narrator. Once you have a tone of voice, a lot of the rest follows.
BP: Which character, scene or chapter did you enjoy writing about the most?
RD: There’s a minor character called Ivan. The narrator doesn’t like him, and it was fun to write about his dislike. Maybe I’ll write something from Ivan’s point of view.
BP: The Tourist will be published on the 20th of October, if you could rewrite or change one scene in the book would you do it? If yes what would you chance and why?
RD: If it was still in my hands I’d probably find something. You don’t finish books: you either get fed up with them or somebody takes them away from you. I trust the editor’s judgement. Perhaps in five years I’ll look back and see what could be different. Or I’ll just use that to write a different book.
BP: The Tourist is about 23rd century tourist visiting the same place a few centuries earlier. If you would be given the chance to visit an earlier century, which one would it be and why?
RD: Ignoring the health risks, the 13th century. As travel destinations go it’s relatively unspoilt (the Renaissance would be full of students on a gap year).
BP: Writing about future and time travel is a tricky bit, there must always be implications, did you find any of did particular hard, by just one movement the future can be altered and the time traveller might never have been born, how did you keep track of things?
RD: The trickiness was something I decided to revel in. It’s even mentioned in the book that the people have two new tenses – one for actions in the future that have already been completed, and another for actions in the past that haven’t yet been undertaken (because that person hasn’t yet been sent back). The characters generally believe they can’t alter the future – anything they do in the past is part of the history they’ve developed from. The problems arise when there isn’t anything in their records. What are they supposed to do then? It’s the same problem faced by people who belong to the era they’re visiting; the travellers are just less used to it. Generally I kept track of the developments in my head, though I occasionally had to go back – or forward – to check that a character hadn’t developed inappropriate foreknowledge of events.
BP: If you would have to sell The Tourist with a single sentence, how would it go?
RD: On and on and on.
BP: which authors and which stories are your source of inspiration?
RD: I’ll steal from anybody. I was impressed by Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World and inspired by Naomi Foyle’s turn to activist science fiction in her Gaia Chronicles. Other current favourites include Vanished Kingdoms by Norman Davies and the poetry of Karen Solie. There’s also the negative inspiration – where you read or see something and think: No, that’s a mistake or That’s a missed opportunity. Films are good for this.
BP: And last but not least, can you give us a sneak peek of what will be instore for us in The Tourist?
RD: A fed-up travel rep’s account of early 21st century England, terrorism, and some hints about happens after civilisation-as-we-know-it collapses.
BP: Thank you very much for your time Robert and good luck with writing your next book!