DS – Let me start off by saying how much I enjoyed your novel. In fact, it was my favourite read of 2017, perhaps even of the last two years. So, thanks for such a wonderful story, and particularly for creating Lineker.
AJW – Thank you.
DS – Reading the book, I constantly felt myself thinking about things like Brexit, UKIP and the EDL. To what extend did the current political climate either inform or inspire the novel?
AJW – It certainly inspired the novel’s backdrop, but the story itself – particularly Reg’s part in it – was informed more by how I saw people (me included) react to the unfolding events. The last few years have been politically unsettling for many of us, but they’ve also seen a huge growth in the rise of social media, which has the power to disconnect us as much as connect us. We feel like we’re watching a horror show much of the time, without fully realising that we’re part of it too. Like Peter Griffin in that episode of Family Guy when he puts a television set around his head.
DS – I think anyone with a sense of humour will love Lineker, and I think anyone with a dog will feel you nailed his doggishness. Where did the idea for Lineker, the potty-mouthed mongrel come from?
AJW – Thanks! Definitely my dog, Bronte, and watching her play with her ‘pack’ when we lived near Peckham Rye. Dogs are quite often anthropomorphised as wise, noble animals in fiction, but I wanted to capture their rougher side as well. They are fine creatures, but they definitely swear.
DS – There seemed to be a lot of dualities running through the story (the tension between Reg’s past and present; the Purples and the Rising Star; the desire to understand versus acceptance)? I’ve read you are a planner, so was that an intention from the start, or did those themes emerge through producing different drafts?
AJW – I am certainly a planner now, but I wasn’t when I started the book. I started with Reg and Lineker’s voices, and this idea of wanting to distance oneself from global events, but the story and the themes you mention evolved as I wrote. My editor (Emily Yau) gave me a lot of help, particularly in finding the heart of Reg and Lineker’s story.
DS – I read that for ‘The End of the World Running Club‘ you did some research into ultra-distance running and even interviewed some practitioners of the that masochistic art. Did you need to do any specific research for ‘The Last Dog on Earth’?
AJW – I learned a lot about dogs when I wrote it, and I owe a lot to conversations with other owners in the park, especially a dog-trainer friend called Amey whom I thank in the acknowledgements. Other than that, everything dog-related came from the time I’ve spent with my own dog, and from a few books as well – notably In Defence of Dogs by John Bradshaw.
DS – After the much acclaimed ‘The End of the World Running Club‘, this is you second post-apocalypse novel. Is there something about these kinds of dystopian landscapes that you find stimulating as a storyteller? And do you see yourself returning to the genre?
AJW – I do like the dystopian genre (particularly PA), mostly because I get off on the idea of a social ‘reset’ where the rules that sometimes drag us down no longer apply. But any genre should just provide a vehicle to tell a character’s story, and an empty or wasted world is an excellent way of doing so.
That said, I think there’s a limit to how many cities you can level before it gets boring! My next book is a little different. It could be dystopian or utopian, depending on your outlook.
DS – If books had parents, who are The Last Dog on Earth’s mom ‘n’ pop (or extended family too)?
AJW – Disapproving grandparents: Day of the Triffids, Call of the Wild
Despairing parents: I am Legend, Children of Men
Pitying siblings: The Art of Racing in the Rain, Watership Down
DS – Do you have a favourite dystopian novel?
AJW – Two: Lucifer’s Hammer and The Road, but the best I’ve read recently is The Last of Us by Rob Ewing.
DS – Which post- apocalyptic landscape would you choose to survive in? Zombie, alien invasion, viral pandemic, meteor strike, other, and why?
AJW – I would plump for alien invasion, purely for the spectacle.
However, I always liked the idea of the 1990s ITV series Not With a Bang, in which an experiment on Tomorrow’s World suddenly causes almost everyone on earth to disappear.
(Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it.)
DS – What author would you want to survive a zombie apocalypse with and why?
AJW – Ernest Hemingway. I could probably run faster than him.
DS – You’re an author who is having commercial and critical success with a “conventional” publishing house, but you have also chosen to self-publish. Could I ask why you’ve decided to do that? And what would be the main differences from your point of view as the author? Is self-publishing like being the writer, actor, director and producer?
AJW – Self-publishing is not what it used to be, and if you put a bit of time and money into it (paying for editors, cover designers, marketing etc) it can be a viable way of bringing in a regular income. The difference is that you have to put aside any distaste you might have about marketing and advertising and treat it like a business. I’ve not quite cracked it yet, and I haven’t self-published anything since signing with Penguin Random House, but I do have something completed which I’m planning to release in the next year. Traditional publishing is fantastic when it works, but most of it is out of the author’s control and you have no idea what kind of income it’s going to bring you year-to-year. With self-publishing you can control it, to a certain extent.
DS – I was reading that, your first novel, ‘From the Storm‘ took over five years to completely finish. And that at the time you were working as a software/web writer. You’re now, I think it is true to say, an established writer, with both conventional publishing and self-publishing success. What sustained your drive to keep writing at a time when you were working on your first novel, and what continues to motivate you to take on new novel writing projects?
AJW – That is a difficult question…most writers will tell you the same story – the early starts, the blank pages staring back at you, the often hopeless feeling you get when you start a new book – you do sometimes wonder why you do it when the rewards are so hard to come by. But when it works, it works.
Outside of the perceived success, though, there is a catharsis to writing which not everyone gets. For example, when I wrote The End of the World Running Club, I had been obsessing about apocalyptic events, running and my new role as a father for months, and I found that writing about them behaved as a kind of exorcism. It provides a means of working out what you think about something, and this is almost certainly the best way of creating a resonance with your writing – if it’s working for you, then the chances are it will work for your reader too.
DS – What’s next for you?
AJW – I have two completed books on my hard drive, both of which will be published in some form this year. I’m very excited about one in particular.
Quick fire questions.
DS – Have you any unusual writing habits?
AJW – When I wrote Running Club, I had to wear boots and a cap at my desk. It was a difficult time.
DS – Kind of like Flash Gordon, you can only pick four books to save the world, which everyone would have to read – a novel, a children’s story, a short story and a non-fiction – what would they be, and why?
AJW – Novel: I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan
Children’s Story: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Short Story: Mute by Gene Woolfe
Non-fiction: Sapiens by Noah Yuval Harari
DS – If you could give an aspiring writer one piece of advice, what would it be?
AJW – Write what you want to read about the things you find difficult to write about.
DS – If you could give those writers one piece of homework, what would it be?
AJW – Write three pages you know nobody will ever read but you, and don’t hold back.
DS – If you could put up a message on a bill board and have it on every motorway and in every city centre, what would you put on it?
AJW – DON’T PANIC, NOBODY ELSE KNOWS EITHER
Interviewed by Daniel Soule
You can read our review of ‘The Last Dog on Earth’ here.
‘The Last Dog on Earth’ is available to purchase from Del Rey here.
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From Trumpocalypse to Brexit Britain, brick by brick the walls are closing in. But don’t despair. Bulldoze the borders. Conquer freedom, not fear. EXIT EARTH explores all life – past, present, or future – on, or off – this beautiful, yet fragile, world of ours. Final embraces beneath a sky of flames. Tears of joy aboard a sinking ship. Laughter in a lonely land. Dystopian or utopian, realist or fantasy, horror or sci-fi, EXIT EARTH is yours to conquer.
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