The Interview: Bookbag Talks To A K Hill

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To A K Hill

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Summary: We were quietly impressed by A Mediocre Man and particularly by the way that it touched on so much which is wrong with our world without ever being depressing. When author A K Hill popped in to Bookbag Towers we had quite a few questions for him.
Date: 16 November 2012
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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We were quietly impressed by A Mediocre Man and particularly by the way that it touched on so much which is wrong with our world without ever being depressing. When author A K Hill popped in to Bookbag Towers we had quite a few questions for him.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

A K Hill: The honest answer is I don't know. I look at the success of books like 50 Shades of Grey, or the Twilight Saga and I understand and realise the particular demographics that those books appeal too. I understand that for a book or author to be commercially successful they need to appeal to a large demographic who will want to buy their books.

Do I think I could write a book that would appeal to the kind of people who would make a book successful? Yeah I could probably bang something out, but would I think it was any good? Probably not. When I write I don't write to appeal to anybody in particular.

When I write I try to write something I would enjoy reading. Sometimes that will be something fun, sometimes it will be something that will make you think, and sometimes it will be something dark that leaves you feeling uncomfortable.

I'd like to think that my stories tick more than one of those boxes at the same time, and that there are multiple layers to my writing. Some of the comments I have had about my first published book make me think I have managed that so far. Some have said they enjoy the fun of the story, others have enjoyed it as a police procedural that entertains them, and some have loved it for the contrasting views of reality versus the media machine that seeks sensationalism for all the wrong reasons.

So I don't really imagine who would my readers would be, as I like to think there is something for everybody within my writing, even those who would not ordinarily read a particular genre.


  • BB: It's easy to think that the inspiration behind A Mediocre Man was the Banking crisis, but I suspect that it goes deeper than that. Where did it all begin?

AKH: I do make a point of saying in the preface of A Mediocre Man that the banking crisis and the current situation with British media, phone hacking etc., did not play a part in the inspiration for the story. As hard as it may be for some people to believe that, it's true.

The current situation in the media is the culmination of decades of press and media practice and the chickens coming home to roost, so to speak.

In any given week, from now back over the last few decades a news story will appear that will take over the news cycle and hold the nation enthralled. This isn't a modern day occurrence and has been going on for a long time.

I remember a news story about David Beckham taking his young son for a kick around with a football. This story was on the front page of a newspaper, and on the page back (sports headlines). How does this qualify as news? How is that the sports headline for the day from a major national newspaper?

Everyday there are people in this country who do mundane things who get their names in the paper and get paid ludicrous sums of money to tell their story. In contrast to that there are people in this country who everyday do amazing things and you never hear a word.

The fire fighter who runs into a burning building, not to save someone, but to make sure there is no one in there that needs saving. The old woman who gives up her evenings to go and help out a homeless shelter. The older brother that stands up to a bully in the school playground and tells them to leave their younger sister alone.

I find it such a bizarre and out of tune comparison, and that is where the story of A Mediocre Man began for me.

  • BB: I thought A Mediocre Man was a tale which encapsulated our times. It seemed to touch on so many of our current ills. Does the state of the world worry you?

AKH: There are things that are going on in the world that are terrifying but they don't worry me, because sadly I understand them, I understand the human nature that drives these situations.

The media and the press is of course how we find out what is going on in the world. At the moment the boogey man is terrorists and religious extremists from the Middle-East, the boogey man used to be the communists but we get on with them now. Yet as I sit in this interview, right now in the United States of America there are people signing petitions asking for the USA to be broken up. Not just a few people but tens of thousands. I find the prospect of an unstable country, which drives so much of the world economy, and has nuclear weapons far more terrifying than a possible terrorist attack. Yet that isn't what the press focuses on. And if the press doesn't tell us all sides of a story in a fair and balanced way, how can we affect change?

Some of these things make people want to run and hide, I don't have the urge to run and hide, but I do have the urge to bang my head against a wall. Does the state of the world worry me? No. Does the state of the world irritate me? It's like being stuck in a room with a Kardashian!

  • BB: We'e with you completely, A.K.! I loved Mr Humbleton - even the name is perfect. What inspired him and did you have any regrets about killing him off?

AKH: It is always nice to hear that something I have created becomes loved. There is no particular method to the madness of my writing. Sometimes a story will just come, other times I need to work at it. Some of my stories have a beginning and an ending written, but as yet no middle. With A Mediocre Man I had the title, one of those random thoughts that come to mind. An ordinary man who does extraordinary things, and no one knows he exists.

From that starting point, the image of Mr Humbleton came to me. The name was easy: mediocre, ordinary, not wanting the limelight – Humble. I stuck a 'ton' on the end so it wouldn't be quite as obvious. I wanted him to just be a face in the crowd, but at the same time quirky so that he had an air of oddity that some of the other characters would find strange. Within a few minutes of writing Mr Humbleton had his bowler hat, his walking cane, his thick rimmed glasses. Other characters I create take work, writing and re-writing until they fit into the story. And then there are others who I just pluck from nowhere. Mr Humbleton, Fiona Wilbur, DC Smith, James Thadius, Gabriel - the last two being in other stories I am writing. These are the characters I love the most, people and faces that just come to me fully formed, needing no tweaks or changes, that just fit perfectly into the prose.

Sadly for Mr Humbleton I had killed him off by the second page that I wrote. The first page I wrote being the start, and the second page I wrote was actually the ending, told you there was madness in my method. I felt his death was an intrinsic part of the story and I have no regrets about that. There is however a part of me that regrets it had to be that way, the world could do with a few more Francis James Humbletons.

  • BB: Tell me about relativistic mechanics and how you got from there to accountant to author!

AKH: Everything is relative as per Einstein's theories of relativity. E = MC2 and all that. Seriously if you want to know more just ask, of course I'll get you a nice hot cuppa and you can nod off as I talk.

I've never known what path I wanted to take in life. And as a young man of eighteen I decided on university and went to study Physics with Astronomy – yes I am actually a rocket scientist, or at least I would be if I had finished the degree. After a few years at university I came to the stark realisation that while I loved knowledge, and I loved physics it wasn't what I wanted to do with my life.

I spent the next few years working in the hospitality industry, nothing that stretched the mind, but it paid the bills, but still left me unfulfilled. Following the mistakes of youth I came to the decision to take my aptitude for numbers and apply that. The strangeness of things is my Father was an accountant who became a hotelier. I was a hotelier that became an accountant, and that is what I have spent the last ten years doing, much like most people, working nine to five, trying to pay the bills and carve out a little piece of the world to call my own.

Yet throughout all these transitions, wherever I have been, wherever I have gone, I have taken these little scraps of paper, or carried these ideas in my head. Writing has been a part of me all my life, the only constant. And so when the opportunity came to spend a few months concentrating on my writing, and having someone by my side who gives me nothing but love and support, I have seized it with both hands.

The transition from scientist and accountant to creative fiction writer might be strange for some people to grasp. In a world where we are told that science and art are two different things, requiring different skills and personality – I don't hold with that. Science is all about imagination and creativity, making an hypothesis and working out a way to prove it true or false.

There are days I feel I have a unique way of looking at things. For example would you believe that Science and Religion have more in common than you would think? Science believes in harmony, balance, one thing affecting another. Religions all share these views. Newton's third law of motion – For every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction – if that isn't karma I don't know what is.

So how did I go from rocket scientist, to hotelier, to accountant, to creative writer – how could I not?

  • BB: I enjoyed the gently understated humour of the book and the way that you were able to convey a great deal in very few words. Where - or how - did you learn to write like this?

AKH: You do like asking the tough questions?! Humour is hard at the best of times. Someone once said Dying is easy. Comedy is hard. Standing in front of people and trying to make them laugh must be scary, but trying to convey humour in written form is nothing but a challenge. As anyone who has ever ventured onto an internet forum can testify to, trying to be sarcastic and funny can backfire in the worst way.

It was always my intention to have a subtle vein of humour and satire running through the book. I am not fearful that people won't see the humour as the story still works without it, but I am still worried that people will misconstrue the humour and take things the wrong way, and end up spoiling their own enjoyment of the book.

Humour isn't something that I normally have running through a story. A joke or something funny will pop up every now and then, but nothing like the style of A Mediocre Man. A lot of what I write can be dark. Either dark that gets darker, or more usually dark that takes the characters/world to a place of light. 'A beacon of light' is a phrase that crops up in a lot of the things I write. I love it for the words and the imagery. With that being said I do have the workings of a story that I hope will have the same undercurrent as A Mediocre Man.

The rest of my writing style is mine. I have never taken a writing class. I don't adhere to the styles of other authors I have read. Someone once described my writing as intelligent but down to earth. I love how they put it, and I like to think they are right. I don't see the need for large words that on the surface might appear intelligent, but I feel they detract from the story, or try to make the story appear intelligent when the reality is very different – 50 Shades of Grey (a friend told me) has a nasty habit of doing this.

When I write, I write for imagery, I try to be poetic with my prose to draw the reader in and keep them wanting more. I try to keep the dialogue realistic and fitting to the character at hand. What I guess I am trying to say about the way I write is that it's a natural thing for me.

Oh, and with regards to the easiness of death - I do have my own philosophy: Dying is easy. Dying with style, now that takes practice!

  • BB: Where and how do you write? With music or without?

AKH: The simple answer – I write everywhere! I carry around a small notepad and pen just in case I am at the shops and an idea springs to mind, or a line of dialogue occurs to me. I have sent myself text messages and emails just in case I forget things. I have a big notepad that sits on my bedside table in case I wake up in the middle of the night. I sit at my desk on my big PC, but that can be uncomfortable and distracting.

I recently bought a little netbook with a lovely feeling keyboard (the keyboard must feel good to strike) that I use as I sit on the sofa. Sometimes the TV is on, sometimes its off.

If I am writing particular scenes I will put my headphones on and pick an appropriate music album and type away. Although I recently downloaded Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men and whacked it on repeat. I thought I had been through the track about three times, about fifteen minutes. The reality was it had been six hours and I had typed out over 10,000 words.

Music can help me to write, but the music needs to fit the mood I am writing.

  • BB: What are you reading at the moment and what's your best book ever?

AKH: I am not reading anything at the moment, and haven't for the last few months, not since I started concentrating properly on my writing. I am fearful of being distracted by other people's ideas. I want to get to a place with my writing that I am happy with. My current plan is to write and self-publish four novellas/short novels and a collection of short stories. Once I have achieved that goal and set the groundwork for future books I will pick up my reading list again.

As to my opinion on the best book ever, my heart lies with Fantasy, sword and sorcery. There can only be one answer – The Lord of the Rings. That is as much as I am saying about a masterpiece of storytelling, otherwise we will be here for days on the subject.

  • BB: You've got one wish. What's it to be?

AKH: In terms of the world outside of writing – To live in a world where I can stop banging my head against the wall.

In terms of writing it is a short answer, nothing to think about – To have a book published by a large publishing house and sell one copy.

  • BB: What's next for A K Hill?

AKH: I am currently finishing off Codename: StarWing, a Sci-Fi novella set in the near future. It follows James Thadius as he struggles with his own morals and principles in a world at war. To sum up the story of StarWing - Not content with a warring world mankind has taken its aggression and hatreds and greed to the stars. The year is 2100 and Earth stands on the brink of destruction as the Mars Colony sends its ships against Earth. Standing between them is James Thadius scientist, engineer, pilot and his new breed of spacecraft - StarWing.

Once I have published that, I can move on to my fantasy novella that I have already begun work on. This is one of those stories that has been with me for many many years. The story forms part of the history of the fantasy world that has been growing in my mind since I was a young boy. Hopefully people will enjoy both books, which are in some ways prequels to larger novels that I one day hope to be able to write.

  • BB: The best of luck with all that, A.K. - and we look forward to seeing the results.

You can read more about A K Hill here.

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