Author Interview: Lindsay Francis Brambles

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Lindsay Brambles is represented by Kelly Sonnack of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. He was born in Ottawa, Canada in 1959. In ‘68 his father, an electrical engineer, signed on for a job overseas. This led to a decade of living and traveling in countries such as Pakistan, Iran, and Tanzania.
After grade three, Lindsay’s formal education was largely through the Ontario Ministry of Education correspondence course. He has spent most of his post-academic life in a variety of unrelated jobs, ranging from construction to childcare, all while pursuing a vocation as an artist.
When not engaged in the literary arts, painting, or earning money in less creative pursuits, Lindsay enjoys anything fitness related (especially cycling), collecting Gold Key comics and motion picture soundtracks, tinkering with computers, and just about anything that will expand his awareness of the world around him. Passionate about science and technology, he is especially interested in astronomy, cosmology, and quantum mechanics.
Lindsay is at present busily working on several books, not least of which are the sequel and final novel in the Haven trilogy (of which Becoming Darkness is the first in the series).--Goodreads
I can’t say that I ever had a staggering compulsion to write a vampire novel, but seeds for one came when several years ago I acquired a new e-reader and began reading some of the classics. Among these was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which I’d never read before – though, of course, like many people I knew of it and had seen countless movies based on it. At about the same time, I happened to catch a documentary on TV that featured a clip from an information film the British government had made during the war that had been intended for public consumption in the event that a successful invasion of the island by Hitler’s forces seemed imminent. The film had this scene where there were German soldiers (British actors, actually) riding about London in a double-decker bus, behaving like a bunch of tourists. That got me to thinking about what it might have been like had the Axis powers won the war. One thing led to another, and I had one of those “eureka!” moments when two disparate ideas came together: What if the Nazis had won the war because one of their science experiments had gone awry and wiped out most of the opposition? And what if that experiment had resulted in most of the survivors becoming vampires?

It didn’t take me long to imagine a world in which Hitler’s war machine had unleashed an airborne virus that rapidly spread around the globe. Those the virus didn’t wipe out would be turned into vampires (or people who manifested vampire-like traits) – except, of course, the few individuals immune to the virus. I did at one point consider calling the transformed survivors of the plague “virals,” but I felt the vampire angle offered more potential for drawing the reader in. There’s also the fact that when you say “vampire,” people have an immediate sense of what you’re talking about and what is at stake for some of the characters involved.

The more I worked on developing the novel, the more I realized that vampires have so much potential as a vehicle for saying a lot about our own society. And I thought there was a way to create a vampire novel that wasn’t like any other out there. Whether I’ve succeeded will be up to the readers.

I’m a voracious reader and I read a lot of non-fiction, and some of that happens to be history and a lot of it science. For Becoming Darkness I did seek out a few more books about World War 2, but I was also able to draw on what I already knew. I also went through a few other vampire novels, but mostly to make certain I avoided covering territory they already had.

For Haven, part of the sense of that place comes from my own experiences. When I was nine, we moved to what was then known as West Pakistan and lived on a small colony in Sukkur (though we would later move to a slightly larger one in Khairpur). Being a minority, living in a tiny walled-in community, was an unusual experience – particularly since we didn’t have access to many of the things people back home took for granted. There was no TV, and the local cinema only showed English films one day a week. We didn’t even have a telephone, and our only source of regular news from the outside world was through my father’s prized Braun shortwave radio (over which we listened to the BBC). Things like common breakfast cereals, chocolate bars, and peanut butter were unattainable. We used to have to send away to Hong Kong for shipments of luxury food items, such as ham (in a can), processed cheese (also in a can and very rubbery), and products that simply didn’t exist in Pakistan at that time.

The idea for rationing in Haven came in part from that, although I also drew upon my parents’ stories of life in Britain during World War 2. (My mother worked for the Admiralty and my father was a junior officer on a Royal Navy an escort carrier.) The sense of isolation and being surrounded on all sides by a culture foreign to one also was born from my personal experience of life on those colonies.
When we lived in Pakistan, we endured blackouts and brownouts on an almost daily basis, which is something I threw into Haven to add to the sense of an environment that on the surface seems like paradise, but in reality is far from it. A society that in many regards is stretched to its limits.

I got the idea for the Mandatory Labor Service (which Sophie and Camille must endure in the book) by  how a large proportion of the British population (particularly the female half) was co-opted for duties of various kinds during the war. I was also able to draw upon personal experience for that as well. When I lived in Moshi, Tanzania, the local government came up with the idea of planting corn all over the place – even in the roadside ditches of the town. The plan was that when it was ready for harvest, local students would be called upon to pick it. I don’t recall whether that actually happened in the end, but I do recall cycling about and seeing an awful lot of corn growing all over the place.

Frankly, I can’t imagine being a vampire, confined to a life in which one would be dependent on blood for one’s sustenance. I’m not sure the trade-off of being immortal and almost indestructible (well, except for the whole sunlight thing and the stake through heart bit – oh, and the toxic Immune blood) would be worth it. And in Sophie’s world being a vampire definitely sucks (pun intended).

If I were in a world where Gomorrah existed, I’d definitely want to be an Immune. If you’re a non-Immune, without that built in immunity, you’re toast.

At first blush the hybrid seems to have the best of both worlds: strong, possibly immortal (or at least able to live hundreds of years), able to endure sunlight, and with no dependency on blood. Of course, there is the possibility of insanity… But, hey, it would be worth the gamble to be able to live to see the world change over the course of centuries rather than decades and at the same time enjoy it in a normal fashion, rather than being stuck skulking about at night and only having one menu choice.

So it’s hybrid for me.

I love Sophie to bits. She’s smart, she’s witty, has sass, and doesn’t take guff from anyone. A strong, independent woman, yet also flawed – and sometimes it was the flaws that were the best parts to write. But as much as I love her, I have to say that some of the secondary characters were the most fun for me. And of those, it’s Inspector Havershaw, hands down.

Havershaw is the embodiment of those British detectives like Foyle (from the Foyle’s War TV series), Inspector Morse (also from TV) and Inspector West (who used to be on BBC radio and whose exploits I used to listen to every week when we lived in Pakistan and later in Iran). They have a certain character about them. Sometimes a little rumpled, a little circumspect, and often meditative. They’re not the action type, running about with guns, getting into all sorts of dangerous shenanigans. They go about their business quietly and methodically, in a manner that is often deceptive, fooling those around them into thinking they’re not doing much at all. If Becoming Darkness were a TV series, I’d want Havershaw’s role expanded because he’s just this great guy, trying to do the right thing in a situation he never bargained for.

Developing the relationship between him and Sophie was enormous fun, and I wish there would have been more of that. The good thing is that I got to use him again in the sequel.

I chose New York City for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that when you think of noire films, that’s the city you think of (and there’s a definite noire aspect to Becoming Darkness). New York City just has such a compelling atmosphere of shadowy alleyways, wide avenues filled with cars and bright lights, and towering, monolithic structures brooding over the landscape. There’s also the fact that it has readily identifiable features that fit with the plot, not least of which being the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and Grand Central Terminal. When you speak of them, most people have a pretty good idea of what you’re talking about. Also, let’s face it, of all the cities in the world, there are probably only a handful that are readily known to most of humanity, and New York City would probably be at the very top of that list. It’s big, dynamic, and interesting in so many ways.

I just never really gave it a second thought when I was considering which North American city would be the one to which the vamps would gravitate. It seemed the obvious choice.

If Sophie had been an everyday Immune, they’d have probably given her the nickname “Stinky” (for reasons you may recall from the book). But as it is, I think she’d have been given a moniker more like “Spunky” (because she’s rather gutsy – probably more often than she should be). Or the vamps might have called her “Kid,” the way Isabelle refers to her. The latter would make sense, because among the vamps she really is just a kid.

As for me, I’d want something kind of mysterious. Maybe “Enigma” or “Mister X.” Unfortunately, if the vamps were naming me, they’d probably just call me “Dead Meat” (because I don’t think I’d last that long in a New York City run by Nazi vamps).

I think one of the most challenging scenes to write had to be the one in which Sophie discovers that not only did Val have a connection to her mother (What?!), but to her grandmother as well (Holy cow!). I mean, hell, I think that would blow just about anyone’s mind and it certainly knocks Sophie for a loop. It’s clearly a somewhat unsettling revelation, but there are a few reasons why I wanted to have those connections, not least of which was to emphasize that Val isn’t exactly what he appears to be. On the surface he looks like an eighteen year old, but he has actually lived about eight decades. More than once I made this point, partly because I think vampire novels tend to gloss over the issue or ignore it altogether. I wanted readers to think about that and perhaps be a little unnerved by it, because ultimately I wanted there to be this sense that both Val and Sophie are real people, and as such they are flawed. One of those flaws is the fact that they’re drawn to one another despite the fact that the relationship is problematic on so many levels. But love tends to blind people to the truth, and even the most intelligent, rational people can do pretty stupid and crazy things when they’ve fallen deeply for another.

I think this scene was crucial to revealing just how intense the feelings between Sophie and Val are; that despite what Sophie learns, despite her doubts and suspicions, she can’t bring herself to give up on this man. Without that, I don’t think Sophie would do some of the things she does, and I’m not sure Val would either. And although I don’t think of Becoming Darkness as a romance novel, the relationship between Sophie and Val is an important component of the story and at times serves as one of the propulsive forces that carries the narrative forward. Without it, I’m not sure you get to the end of the story – certainly not in the same way.

There’s a point toward the end of the novel when Val makes a vague reference to someone having told him in the past about Sophie, and in the third book, you get to see how this comes about and why it is that Val was so drawn to a woman who would, in a way, be his ultimate downfall.

I’m not sure I’m in any position to be dispensing advice to anyone when it comes to writing. I’m pretty new to the publishing game and I still have a lot to learn about it and the art of writing. But there are a few words of wisdom I can pass along based solely on my own experiences thus far.
The first thing, of course, is that in order to be a good writer I think you have to be a good reader. It’s not just about devouring as many books as you possibly can; it’s about looking at more than the story and analyzing how writers write, the way they use words, the rhythms and cadence of their styles, the construction of their plots, the way in which they parcel  it out in their chapters, how they handle dialogue, etc.

Read books that are recognized as being well-written and examine them carefully for all the aforementioned aspects, because good writing is so much more than just the story. That’s important, of course, but if a story is told using clunky prose that’s difficult to wade through and a narrative that lacks cohesion and shows a poor sense of construction, then no matter how compelling the tale, it’ll be diminished to the point of being irrelevant if not told well.

Assuming you get your story written, it’s important to get feedback on it. You want people who will be brutally honest with you. I doubt anyone likes criticism, but as a writer you need to look at in a positive light. As much as it might sting, it’s to your advantage to accept it and use it to improve your work. That doesn’t mean that you have to agree with it all, but you owe it to yourself to seriously consider everything readers tell you and not just dismiss it outright. It’s the way you’ll improve as a writer.

When I was writing Becoming Darkness, Kelly Sonnack (my agent at the time) gave me lots of pointed critiques of the work. If I had ignored them, I don’t think the book would ever have been published. I always considered her advice, and because of that I think I ended up with a much better novel. Likewise, when Alison Deering (the editor at Switch Press who worked with me on the book) asked for changes, I rarely argued the point because I understood that it was her objective to make the book the best it could be, and that’s what I wanted too.

It’s important to realize that getting published traditionally (if that’s the route you choose) is seldom easy. There are a lucky few who will land big contracts right out of the gate and enjoy enormous success, but for most writers it’s a much tougher row to hoe. For the majority, patience (a lot of it) and determination will be essential, because rejection is the norm and success (when it comes) is measured in much smaller financial returns than the six and seven figure deals that many aspiring writers dream about.

The fact is, few writers are going to be lucky enough to be able to make their living off writing – which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. But be realistic, and go into it with your eyes wide open, conscious of the fact that it may take you years (yes, “years”) to get anywhere. The John Greens, Veronica Roths, and Suzanne Collins of the writing world are rare; and while it’s always possible you may end up achieving the success they’ve had, don’t count on it. Strive toward it, yes. That’s an absolute must. But don’t give up or be disheartened if you don’t attain that kind of stature.

Lastly, get an agent. This isn’t by any means easy, and you should do a lot of research before submitting your work to one. But if you want to get anywhere in the traditional publishing world, an agent is pretty much an absolute must. The chances of getting a publishing deal without one are slim. More importantly, however, an agent serves as your go-between and is there to get the best deal for you. They do a lot of things that few writers are skilled enough to handle, and the good ones will help you make your book better and offer you advice on so much that you’ll need to know as you venture forth on your writing career. I can say unequivocally that I would not have succeeded without mine; she’s a gem.

Well, I’ve written a sequel and I have about two thirds of a third and final book written (in rough draft). Whether these get published depends upon several factors, not least being the success of the first book. There are no guarantees in the publishing world, and one has to remember that publishing is a business and books have to make money. So if enough people buy Becoming Darkness, then the publisher (Switch Press) may exercise the option to purchase the sequel. But that’s basically up to you, the readers. I’ve done my part, now you have to do yours.

There is, too, the possibility that the publisher might not like the direction I’ve taken the second part of the story. I don’t know; but I can say that I’ve taken it in the only direction that worked for me.
As to the content of the sequels, I don’t really want to give too much away, but I will tell you that they’re probably not going quite where readers may be anticipating. While Sophie appears in the second book, she’s not actually the central character. I can also tell you that her mother does appear in the sequel as well, although only briefly (but playing a critical role – and no, she never actually talks).

No Haven for Darkness, the book mentioned a few times in Becoming Darkness, is very important to the sequel and the third novel. The third book also involves a form of time travel, though not in the way most people would expect.

I intend to take the story full circle, so that the end will connect to the beginning – which is to say that readers will get to see the Fall and the beginnings of Haven, but also what ultimately happens to Sophie and her world.

I should stop at that because I think I’ve already given way too much away.

Right now, I’m working on a YA contemporary. I also have a draft of another YA completed, this one a sort of SF thriller set about thirty years in the future. I’ve also got a very rough draft of a sequel to that one completed. As well, I have preliminary notes for another YA contemporary. And then there are the ideas in my notebooks that may or may not ever get developed. It all depends on how my writing career goes and what takes my fancy in the days ahead. What I’m not doing is trying to write to trends, because the publishing industry moves at such a slow pace that what is fashionable now may not be so by the time the book hits the shelves.

I have a short bucket list of things I’d really like to do: take a trip into space (which may soon be possible for tourists – though it’s unlikely I’ll ever have the $250,000 to purchase a seat); fly in an airship (you may have surmised from Becoming Darkness that I have a fascination with them); climb to the top of Kilimanjaro (back in the mid 70s I actually lived in Marangu, in the foothills of the mountain, but never got a chance to go to the top); sail underwater in a submarine (I’ve been in one, but not while it was underway); sail around the world (back when I was a kid my father was planning to do that with us, but like many things in life, reality intervened); learn to fly a helicopter (I flew gliders for a while, but helicopters are a whole different kettle of fish); go to Egypt and see the pyramids and other ruins (we came close in our travels when I was young, but never quite got there); go to Australia (because, hey, it’s Australia! – warm weather, nice people, modern cities, etc.); and meet Buzz Aldrin and shake his hand (because I’m really big into the whole manned exploration of space thing).

Of things I’d like to achieve, getting a book published the traditional way and having it become a bestseller was always high on my list. I’ve done half of that, but the second part remains to be seen.

The one thing at the very top of my list that I’ve always wanted to accomplish was to really make a difference – in a positive way – to other people’s lives. Unfortunately, that’s not anywhere near as easy as it sounds. But I keep trying, and maybe one day I’ll succeed. That’s when I’ll truly be happy and feel I’ve done something of worth.

Thank you, Lindsay Francis Brambles, for visiting the blog today! It was so much fun!

Becoming Darkness is one of my new favorite books and if you haven't, you definitely should check it out.  Read my review

Make sure to buy the book.
If you've read it, there is a guidebook to Haven and other cool things that you can check out on Lindsay Brambles' website.
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