For those unfamiliar with your books, how would you describe your fiction?
The ‘elevator pitch’ I came up with when submitting the Vanguard Prime series to publishers was “Alex Rider joins the X-Men”, which embarrassingly enough managed to make it through to the marketing materials. “Percy Jackson joins the Avengers” would be another way to encapsulate it, though in general terms I’d describe my fiction as books for kids that adults can enjoy too.
What was one of the most challenging or most enjoyable things about writing a novel which introduces readers to a team of superheroes?
The challenging thing was working out an obstacle that would be big enough to challenge a whole team to solve it, and to work out a way that the most junior member of the team could prove to be the most effective. It wasn’t easy! But, in a weird way, that was also the most enjoyable part. I see plotting as being a bit of a mind puzzle; you work out what you need the story to do and then you start assembling the jigsaw so that all the pieces fit. It’s hard, but it’s satisfying when you make it work.
The other challenge was in creating superhero characters that felt genuine and that had a sense of history to them, while also being a bit of a fresh spin on some well-worn archetypes. I hope I managed to pull it off!
You recently appeared at the Somerset Celebration of Literature, an annual literary festival primarily for school aged readers, held at Somerset College on the Gold Coast. What was a highlight or two from your time at the festival?
I was amazed at how smart and engaged the kids were. My not-so-secret dread was that they’d all be completely uninterested in what I had to say, but there was a real love of books, stories and reading amongst all the students. Getting to meet them all one-on-one at the signing tent was great fun.
Another major highlight for me was hanging out with the other authors and absorbing as much knowledge as I possibly could. When Andy Griffiths tells you what it takes to keep an audience full of kids interested, you listen and learn.
What is one of your favourite fiction books you have read in the past year or two and what made it work so well for you as a reader?
I got seriously hooked on George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series after I’d watched and loved Game of Thrones on TV. As is often the case, as good as the adaptation was the books were even better. The scale and depth of the world that Martin has created is staggering, but beyond that he’s peopled it with an incredible variety of multi-faceted and ultimately sympathetic characters. I noticed that Loretta Hill also cited the first book in the series when asked this question, which I think proves just how broad the appeal of Martin’s writing is.
You have written that “the best villains are the characters that shed light on your protagonist.” Who is one of your favourite villains from written or filmic stories and what makes that character work so well for you as a reader or viewer?
When I wrote that, I used Batman’s rogue’s gallery as an example of what makes a great villain. The Joker, specifically, is everything you could want in an antagonist because he’s the perfect mirror opposite of the hero. While Batman is representative of order, stoicism and self-discipline, the Joker is anarchic, tempestuous and impulsive. In playing them against each other, you not only get fantastic dramatic friction, but you also gain a greater insight into what makes the hero tick. I think that’s why The Dark Knight is generally regarded as being the best of the Batman movies.
A more classical example would be Moriarty’s rivalry with Sherlock Holmes , where we get a sense of what could become of Holmes’s brilliant mind if he turned it towards nefarious purposes. It demonstrates to the reader how much discipline it takes the hero to keep from falling into a moral abyss.
If you could bring any fiction author back to life for one day for the sole purpose of discussing fiction writing, who might you choose and why?
Wow, what a hard choice to make! I get the feeling that the answer should be Shakespeare or Dickens or maybe Hemingway, but I’d probably go with George Orwell because he’s a personal literary hero of mine. His rules on writing prose, which emphasize clarity and originality, echo in my mind whenever I approach the keyboard. It’d be great to get the chance to sit with him and discuss the craft of writing, as well as hear the stories of his life.
Roald Dahl was another author that occurred to me, but I think he’d just be grumpy about being woken up.
You have written about “the need for a memorable superhero to have a strong thematic element; something that elevates them from the mundane to the iconographic.” This provides an immediate impact through the cover art but to what extent did you consciously think about the imagery you were helping readers imagine throughout the novels with your words?
You can’t underestimate the importance of striking visuals in fiction writing, even if they aren’t actually visual in the literal sense. The more rich, interesting and evocative your description, the greater an impact it makes. I’m always very conscious of that whenever I write, though sometimes it won’t be until the second draft that I start incorporating more visual detail into the narration.
On a practical level, when describing a character you want the image of them to stand out to your reader as it helps to identify them. If the reader is someone who has trouble keeping track of names, they can use descriptive cues to refresh their memory; “Oh, that’s the character with the eye patch. And that’s the one with the dodgy moustache.”
More than that, the visual of the character can give an insight as to who they are, whether that’s the steel-toed boots they’re wearing or the black armband they have around their sleeve. It’s those little details that connect the dots in the reader’s mind and potentially tell a larger story than what’s happening on the page.
What is next for your fiction writing?
My editor and I are about to start working on the rewrites for the third book in the Vanguard Prime series, which is set for release in September, while also editing a promotional novella that we’ll be releasing as a free e-book at the same time. Depending on how the series is received, I’ll hopefully get the chance to write some more adventures for the Vanguard Prime team but in the meantime I’ve started working on a Young Adult title that combines my background growing up in a small coastal town with my interest in action stories and quantum physics, of all things. I have no idea how it’ll turn out but it’s proving fun to write so far.
Steven Lochran’s author website: www.stevenlochran.com
The Australian Literature Review