Twisted Metal, Tony Ballantyne’s upcoming novel to be published on May 1st by Tor UK, is a book set in a world of robots. It’s a great read and the potential it has for the rest of the series is great! After reading and enjoying it so much (see my review) I got in touch to see if he’d be available for a little interview – and he was!
Many thanks for taking the time out of your undoubtedly busy schedule to answer a few questions. First off, could you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write – and why science fiction?
I’ve wanted to write since I started to read. When I was about twelve I read The Space Merchants, The Chrysalids and 1984 on the recommendation of a teacher and I knew then it had to be SF!
What books and authors have influenced you and your writing?
J.L. Carr, particularly A Month in the Country. I’m not saying that I emulate his style, quite the opposite in fact, but I am fascinated by his way of writing. I re-read some Alan Garner recently, and I realised his placing of the fantastic in ordinary situations has definitely influenced me.
Do you still find time to read, and if so anything in particular?
Oh yes, I love to read. I’m just finishing Villette by Charlotte Bronte. I rather like Victorian Fiction, I find it very familiar and different at the same time, it can give a sense of a changing world, rather like SF. Speaking of SF, I recently finished the Turing Test by Chris Beckett, one of the best collections of Short Stories I’ve read for some time.
How do you go about your writing – are you a meticulous planner, make it up as you go or somewhere in between?
I do both. I’m a meticulous planner, and I do a great deal of research, but I’ve said before that I think real writing takes place when the characters start to follow their own paths.
Do you have a specific routine when you’re writing?
I used to write between 8 and 9 every night, but this gets harder as the kids get older. Now I just do it when I can!
Without giving away too much can you briefly outline Twisted Metal?
It’s set on a world inhabited entirely by robots, where different states fight to show theirs is the dominant philosophy. But none of them can see the real truth upon which their world is founded…
The way that Twisted Metal was written, from the characters to the flow of the story, didn’t immediately feel like a typical science fiction novel with such hi-tech robots living in a low-tech environment. Was this a conscious effort to put a different spin on the story and setting?
Not really. The story and to a certain extent the setting came first. The feel of the book came from letting the idea develop logically… but I think I’m about to stray into the next question…
How difficult was it to build a society like this?
Not exactly difficult, but it was a lot of work. (Enjoyable work, though). The trick was to lay down the parameters of robot urges and drives and then follow them through logically. For example, I realised that robots wouldn’t build next to rivers as humans have done, as they didn’t have the same need for water. I spent a good deal of time finding out about geology, in order to make the robots’ world believable and many ideas came from that research. The big moment, though, was when I worked out robot reproduction. After that everything fell into place.
What can we expect from the next in the series?
A look at life on Yukawa, the other continent briefly mentioned in Twisted Metal, and some answers as to why the robots are as they are…
I know it’s a question that most authors hate, but where did you get the initial idea for Twisted Metal?
Two places. Firstly, from the Recursion trilogy, secondly, from all those films and stories about robots I read and saw when I was a child.
Will you be doing any signings or appearances for the Twisted Metal release? If so, where will these be held for any readers that want to go along?
I’m signing at Forbidden Planet in London on Saturday, May 2nd, from 2-3pm. I’ll then be taking part in a Robots and Reality event at Sci-Fi-London at 5.15pm. You can find out about other appearances on my blog: tonyballantyne.wordpress.com.
Your previously published novels, Recursion, Capacity and Divergence, have a focus on AI and now Twisted Metal has gone all the way by having a completely robot focused story. What draws you to this subject for your storytelling?
The concept of intelligence. The idea that we have it, yet we struggle to define it and to see how it works. I liked robots in fiction because they are clearly made objects, and yet they can be depicted with “souls”. I think this raises questions within us about our own sense of self.
What do you think your strengths are as a writer and storyteller?
Ideas, plotting and economy.
And any weaknesses or areas that you feel you need to work on or improve?
Every writer can always improve. I hope that I’m getting better with each book.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes, please leave a comment on my blog! I’ve only just started writing it (under pressure from various parties) and I love to get opinions/feedback/ideas…