What's the title of your most recent/forthcoming book?
The Second Death of Daedalus Mole.
Describe the book in under 100 words.
In a galaxy on the verge of economic collapse, a greasy man in a spaceship takes on an unwanted passenger to make some easy booze money. He soon realises that his passenger comes with a lot more attention than he’s comfortable with, and becomes entangled in a star-hopping scramble for purpose when all he really wants is to sit down with a nice pint. He soon realises, however, that she isn’t the only one running from something. The book is about loss, guilt and the flawed ways in which we see those closest to us – for better or worse.
Describe the book in under 10 words
Sad man in space sabotages own life and those of others.
What is your favourite book and why?
If I had to choose – and apparently I do, you bastard – it would have to be Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. It’s a bizarre story set in a bizarre world: far in the future, after a devastating nuclear war, when half the world has mounted their cities on titanic caterpillar tracks to chase down and eat smaller, weaker cities and static settlements, which are seen as backwards and barbaric. It’s called Municipal Darwinism. A young London historian sees something he shouldn’t have and is thrown out onto the bare earth, and ends up having to chase down his hometown along with the assassin who got him into this mess in the first place. Also, they’re being chased cross-country by an ancient killing machine. If this sounds completely insane, that’s because (A) it is and (B) I’m not Philip Reeve, who has an enviable gift for sketching unlikely situations from a perspective that helps you slide into his universe without a hitch. A world of cities eating each other might sound like a stretch, but the story is really about a young man trying to find his way home, only to learn that home isn’t quite what he thought it was. Who can’t relate to that? The idea of everything you’ve ever known just getting up and moving, leaving you behind wondering where you really belong? He just made it a bit more... literal. I’m also a sucker for stories about robots that make me cry, so that helped.
Who is your favourite author and why?
It’s got to be Terry Pratchett. No contest. I’ve never experienced such a sudden and terrifying shift in perspective as when I read Small Gods. It was like – writing can be like this? Really? You can just… do that and get away with it? Then I read The Truth, which might as well be re-published every year and only get more relevant, get more cutting as the days go by. Reaper Man, though, was the one that really floored me. Pratchett, in my mind, might as well have walked right into the Vatican during the Pope’s lunch break and sat down in his chair. It seems obvious that a writer can write whatever they want, really, but I never intuitively got it until I read a story about Death quitting to go and work on a farm. To read a book about that, and for that book to be brilliantly-written, funny, warm, cold, touching, brutal and sinister all at once was like I went out for a curry and came back to find the wallpaper peeled off the inside of my head, then to think oh, there was wallpaper in here? Terry Pratchett was a genius and we are all of us deeply privileged that he managed to write so much. I can’t think of a better recommendation to give anyone, for any reason, than to read Discworld.
Name a book that you wish you'd written and why?
Hmm… maybe Station Eleven? It’s by Emily St. John Mandel and it (again) is a post-apocalyptic novel that follows a troupe of actors, musicians and general handy-people who go from town to town putting on Shakespeare plays in the aftermath of a plague that killed most of the world’s population. It’s a bit like The Road in how it paints such a quietly disturbing view of the end of the world, and it manages to be a very sincere vindication of capital-A the Arts without coming across as preachy or pretentious, which I’ve tried to do before and failed. As a writer I came away from it feeling very validated indeed. I’d like write something at least once that makes people feel better, more sure of their place in the world. It’s not the most important thing a book can do (and it’s not, by any means, the only or most important thing that Station Eleven does), but it is nice. Then again, if I’d written Good Omens then I would be both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, which is probably a better deal.
Describe a typical writing day for you.
Okay, set the scene: it’s 5.35pm. I’ve just left work, it’s already dark out because it’s late winter. I plug in the headphones I found in a bush four months earlier and stick on the first playlist my numb fingers can locate on my out-of-date phone, which creaks audibly as it fires up one of Amanda Palmer’s more depressing albums. Resigned, I half-jog to the Overground station. On the way I enter a very artsy, literary-feeling kind of fugue state, neurons firing lazily as I sketch out brilliant ideas and beautiful plot threads in my brain, which is taking full advantage of that late-afternoon second wind. I arrive at the station, squeeze my way onto a train between two implausibly sweaty men and slowly let the will to live drain from my body on the short half-hour ride from West Brompton to an undisclosed location further north. By the time I climb the stairs and collapse into the chair by my desk, trousers flung aside, I have not only forgotten the strokes of genius from earlier, but also forgotten why I’ve ever bothered writing or doing anything at all. I source some cheap Shiraz/own-brand gin/lager found under the sofa (to loosen the creative muscles) and decide to play a couple of quick rounds of Rocket League. Four hours later my loved ones gently remind me that I was going to do some writing tonight, and I haughtily pour another drink and bash out a few sentences, cursing myself for every life decision I’ve ever made that contributed to me being here, writing, when I would clearly be much more suited to a career as a hedge fund manager, or a stuntman, or a rodeo clown. Come 11pm, unproductive and unsatisfied, I slink to bed so I can be up in the morning to hit the day job again. In my dreams I whip myself with thistles for not being a better writer. Thankfully I get a lot more done on the non-typical writing days.
What's your biggest frustration as a writer?
Having to treat your own emotional state as a kind of finite resource to draw on. Writers aren’t special, obviously – everyone feels drained in the evenings, everyone needs time to relax and recover for the next day, but trying to wrestle your evenings back and sit in that chair to not just write something, but to write something good, is the opposite of relaxing. Everyone needs free time, but people who have these weird solitary creative projects give theirs up like they’ve always got homework to be doing. That said, I’ve accidentally woken up early a few times and tried writing before the sun comes up. I find that works much better, though that puts you at a worrying sleep deficit... I’m sure proper, grown-up writers have figured out the whole work-life balance thing, but I haven’t quite nailed it yet and that’s probably the most frustrating thing. So, er, my biggest frustration is my own flaws? Like most people, I guess.
How do people find out more about you?
They can follow me on Twitter for incisive social commentary and lies, like that one. I’ve also got a website of sorts at niallwhodoesbooks.wordpress.com, and people can check out me book what I gone and done at unbound.com/books/the-second-death-of-daedalus-mole/