GJ: Can you give an introduction to yourself?
CS: In theory, I’m a complex interplay of matter and energy in wave-patterns whose probability cloud is densest in York, U.K. The moon landings impacted the pattern’s self-awareness mechanisms at a young and tender age, which ignited a lifelong interest in Physics and humanity’s plight on Earth…
So, yes: at the age of six, I wanted to be an astronaut. Of course it became obvious that this wasn’t going to happen: the Americans, unlike the USSR, hadn’t yet invented female astronauts at the time. But then along came Physics into my life, which began to let me into the secrets of how Space – and everything in it – works. It has been my working life for over thirty years, and that fascination has never left me. Neither has the famous image of the earth seen from the moon. We really are, in a way, all travellers in Space – and we need to preserve our ‘life-support system’!
GJ: Can you give an introduction to your writing?
CS: It’s sci-fi, Jim, but not as we know it. And then again, some of it is Crime, Satire, or just quiet tales of families in uncomfortable situations. One of the stories – it’s free-to-read on a link from my site www.cspillardwriter.co.uk – came out of a thought-experiment ‘What would a Chinese version of Trump (in his pre-president days) be like?’ Another was a result of a challenge to imagine conducting a job interview without asking any questions – and I’ve had some surreal job interviews in my time!
Anytime I spot something in real life that strikes me as ironic or just plain inexplicable, it tends to become a prompt for a story. In these ‘interesting times’ life presents me and my story-writing self with what the U.S.A.’s military community would refer to as a ‘target-rich environment’!
GJ: Can you describe your journey to publishing your first novel?
CS: It has its roots in the 2008 Banking Crisis. I wrote a string of sketches taking the mick out of how the industry worked. Set in the 1980s they featured a Physics graduate who, by founding a bank and using conventional self-issued credit to buy shares in newly-privatised industries – shares whose value rapidly ballooned – becomes fabulously rich. Rolling in money – nearly all the money on earth – and not knowing what to do with it, she decides to use it to write-off third world debt. But the bank’s sinister auditor has other plans…
The story grew, the battle moved into the present day, and so ‘The Price of Time’ was born, along with evil genius Stan ‘Satanic’ Mills and the later-life version of our Physics graduate Verity, now with grown-up children of her own. But I had a problem: the present day itself! As fast as I wrote, the situation moved on: the political (our Member of Parliament is no longer ‘he’), the technological (Verity has to learn how to use a Smartphone – surprisingly tricky if you’re left-handed and with a woman’s small hands), and even the setting (it is now no longer possible to hide in the Dark Arches under Leeds station: they’re illuminated). I wanted the story out there before something huge happened that put it out-of-date altogether so, having met someone who’d set-up to assist people to self-publish – Quantum Dot helped with editing and did formatting, cover design and setting-up an account to sell online all for a very reasonable price – I did just that.
GJ: How did you come to get involved in the York Literature Festival?
CS: I volunteer at the Oxfam Bookshop in York and in the run-up to the Festival we display their brochures for people to take. This was round about the time I had turned some extra chapters of the work which would become ‘The Price of Time’ into short stories. I leafed through a brochure during a lull in book sales and lo! They had a flash fiction competition! My entry got nowhere, but it did put me on their mailing-list.
When the call for volunteers came up the following year, I went along to help.
This year I’m being interviewed at one of the events. I shall be talking, among other things, about being a ‘lab rat’ for psychology experiments (and what these revealed about the subconscious), about the time I spent being dead (by the USA definition), and why the most basic assumption that underpins our system of economics gives this physicist nightmares.
GJ: Can you tell me about your blog? What do you blog about and what does it mean to you?
CS: I’ve been writing the blog – https://insurrealtime.wordpress.com/ – for nearly two years now. I put up new posts on Mondays, but some I miss.
It started out as straightforward reporting on some of the stranger new findings in science: ones that shed light upon the nature of Time, Consciousness; Perception… sometimes it bordered on the metaphysical. I began to add other observations: the strange choice of Winston Churchill quote reproduced on £5 notes being one such. There have also been months when I post something new – and simple – with more frequency: October 2017 had a haiku and picture every day, and the following month I put up 19 of the short comic poems called Clerihews. Most were topical: some still are. For example:
Can herd cats in a circle
Which she often has to do
For the E.U.
More recently it has become home for the background research for my writing: the facts behind the fiction. This has meant a return to science, but to a new field for me: Psychology. Specifically, I wanted to know more about the psychology underlying cruelty and obedience, which is one of the threads that runs through The Evening Lands and an issue that has troubled me since the age of about fifteen.
GJ: Can you tell me about The Evening Lands?
CS: The Evening Lands is the sequel to The Price of Time (in which Verity crosses the Atlantic to the USA fight against a new peril), and it has been accepted for publication by Rhetoric Askew, a small American publisher.
GJ: If you could talk to your 13 year old self what advice would you give?
CS: People are going to expect something profound and life-affirming here, aren’t they? Well, mine’s quite prosaic in comparison:
I have a subtle problem with my eyesight: one that nobody had spotted during my childhood – not even me! If you’re wondering how this could happen – how I could fail to notice a problem – it’s because it is astonishing how much ‘patching-in’ of missing information a brain can do without one’s ever being aware what’s going on in there. The extra work might account for some of the headaches I’ve had over the years…
So my simple advice to thirteen-year-old me would be to walk into an Optician’s and get a full test – not just the letters on charts (which I’d already had), but everything. There’s no cure for my condition, but it’s one of those things that can be ‘worked-around’ so as to avoid having it spoil other aspects of life, or be a danger.
I guess you could generalise this for everyone. Thirteen’s a time to check and make sure there are no hidden health issues holding you back as you hit that phase when you start having to work hard. Dyslexia, face-blindness and anaemia spring to mind.
GJ: Apart from your writing device, what is your essential writer’s tool?
CS: Time – time without interruptions. I’m lucky in that I get a lot of this compared to most people, and that I’m able to concentrate even if there’s a fair bit of noise. The one thing that can break my concentration is music – probably because there’s always music in my head already and it’s often the inspiration for what I’m writing… So yes: my other essential writer’s tool is music – just not while I’m doing the writing!
GJ: What are you working on right now?
CS: The edits of ‘The Evening Lands’ are passing to and fro between me and the publishers. Isn’t it annoying that even at this late stage a few ‘continuity errors’ crop up! For example the antagonist – Stan Mills, spirit of Fear – is unable to utter the word ‘forgive’ (because forgiveness dispels fear – both irrational fear and the type of fear that can be useful) but what did I have him say when Verity found a picture of Chinese goddess Kuan-Yin..?
And in between all that, there are always more short stories and flash to write. I’ve become fond of 400-word spine-chillers lately.
GJ: What marketing action has had the single most positive effect on your sales?
CS: Tweeting at 4 a.m. (GMT). So it’s insomniac Brits, Aussies over their afternoon beer or Americans after their long working day who are buying ‘The Price of Time’.
More generally, ‘finding the people who are like you’ (because they’ll like what you’ve written – and you already like it, right?) is the most important thing. But the individualists, the curious, the idealistic bordering on the impractical… where do they all congregate? Almost by definition, they don’t! It’s an interesting Marketing challenge, and probably explains why Facebook has long since ceased sending me any adverts.
GS: Thank you Candida for taking the time to talk with me. You can buy Candida’s novel The Prince of Time from Amazon now and you can keep in touch with her either through her website, www.cspillardwriter.co.uk, or via Twitter.
I regularly interview authors and those in the publishing industry, along with providing an insight into my own experiences of publishing my debut novel, In The End, an apocalyptic thriller that will leave you breathless.