Our Interview with Peter Empringham!
The author is a man with a long track record of success. None of this has been in the literary world. Born and raised in a British east coast backwater, and set to work as a child in the family holiday camp business, I nevertheless broke out to study English and American Literature at the University of East Anglia under a host of luminaries including Malcolm Bradbury and Lorna Sage. Since graduation my career has been a long upward curve to senior global management roles in the telecommunications industry, for which a literature degree is clearly the best foundation. A lack of profile in the arts is not for want of trying. As a youth, my local paper described me as ‘pompous beyond his years’ in the role of Toad in Toad of Toad Hall; my acting career continued at university where I took the lead in Snoo Wilson’s Vampires, the popularity of which may be to some extent explained by the full frontal female nudity not entirely demanded by the script. The stage may not have been my career, but this experience no doubt contributed to my ability to present more than competently to audiences of up to a thousand people in my business career. As a writer I have been prolific if not public. My first collection of short stories was explicably rejected by The New Yorker, who said that my writing ‘showed promise’ (although the rejection letter was suspiciously formulaic), and I completed my first novel, about a young man raised in east coast backwater working on a holiday camp, at the age of twenty two. I wrote sketches for, and performed in, my University Rag Revue, which was subsequently taken to Edinburgh by Arthur Smith and Phil Nice and contributed regularly to in-house telecommunications publications. In 2007 I wrote the script for a TV sitcom, ‘The Afternet’, which is now turned into the novel of the same name, and have written the script for the first episode of a TV drama ‘Father and Son’, which did not make it past the BBC scrutineers. I am a writer who has been successful as a businessman, but would rather be the reverse.
Bio provided by author
It was our pleasure to get the opportunity to interview Peter and get a chance to learn more about how he came to be an author. So get comfortable and grab a warm mug of your favorite beverage and give a warm welcome to Peter!
- What makes for a good hook in your stories? Where does your inspiration come from?
The real hook for The Afternet comes from the setting. Millions of people are wandering around after their lives come to an end because the computer system that judges them is broken down. From that point the reader doesn’t know whether the next character to pop up will be an invention of mine, an historical character Abraham Lincoln and Jane Austen feature in the first book), or one of the thousands of Gods worshipped in different cultures. From Mark Twain onwards I think writers have loved exploring the incongruity of people out of their time, or characters meeting across history, and the Afternet allows me to do that.
It’s a mix, but because the world I’ve drawn is very complex, I have had to become very organised about keeping clear notes on who comes from where, or when. There are a potential four billion characters, so thankfully I’ve limited it somewhat. I tend to free write when I start a book, with a vague idea of where it might go, but I become much more organised as I go along, and by halfway I usually have things pretty well plotted out.
I am reasonably disciplined about my writing. I tried the ‘Wait for The Muse’ approach last year and it meant my tennis improved but my book missed Christmas. I write at least four days a week, I start straight after breakfast and do a minimum three hours. I find that I usually wind up doing more than this because I really get into the activity once I’ve started. And I usually want to know how the book ends.
The inspiration came from a general and genuine love of books. I studied English and American Lit at University, so I read books across a very wide range for my degree, and that just made me want to write. I realized, after my teenage angst novel, that I probably wasn’t cut out for serious literary effort, and the success of people like Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Jasper Fforde in producing intelligent, humorous writing helped me to believe in this genre. It would still, though, be fantastic to write like William Boyd, who just consistently produces high quality, brilliantly written novels.
Editing. Surely no-one likes it, not even editors. However, even though it is long, boring work, I think it’s really critical, particularly in the e-book environment. Anyone buying a book has the right to know that you’ve done everything to make it as good as it can possibly be.
I read a lot, but try to steer clear of anything in any way similar to my work while I am writing. Right now I’ve just finished Matthew Syed’s ‘Bounce’, which is about the value of practice, and I’m on the way through C J Sansom’s ‘Dissolution’. This is a mystery set in the Reformation. I’ve got William Boyd’s new book ‘Waiting For Sunrise’ ready for when I finish.
I think I naturally ended up there because I tend to subconsciously insert humour into most things I write. The Afternet started life as a sitcom script, which I think you can see in the book, because it is a very visual piece of work. I also like the opportunity to make some serious points from within a humorous setting. Since the book is set in the afterlife, I am pleased to say there is nothing directly personal, but I guess like many writers I will take bits of people I have met to fill out characters.
For writers starting out, the traditional publishing world is very hard to break into, and innately conservative. What the e-book market has proved is that writers are much less conservative and very happy to try books across a broad range of writing. I do think the print publishing model is broken, and that unless those in that marketplace do some very fast thinking e-books will become dominant, at least in fiction.
There is no more, for the moment, at least. I have a blog, which I have to say I’m not very good at, but when the next book comes out soon I will be looking to get my online presence a little more interesting.
I’ve just finished ‘The Afternet II: Redemption’, which I now have the trauma of editing. The book will be on Amazon in time for Easter. There have been more than a thousand downloads of the first book, so I am really hoping that people will want to see how the story develops. I think I will then do something different before coming back to more Afternet books; I have a detective story started which I may well look to bring out next.
God’s representative is Geoffrey; he’s a 7th century turnip farmer. He’s a bit of a bumbling character who is struggling to get a grasp of television. There’s a guy called Chris O’Dowd who we know in the UK for brilliant TV (The IT Crowd), but he’s also recently been in Bridesmaids and Gulliver’s Travels. I think he would get the permanent bewilderment really well. The Devil’s man is Marcel, a French libertine from the 17thcentury; he’s smooth, good-looking, and has the facility to be quite unpleasant. Topically, it has to be Jean Dujardin. Do you think he can do unpleasant?
Henry VIII would be interesting, although I’d have to keep him away from my wife. I’d like to know whether he actually believed in any
of it (the adultery, the enclosures, the sacking of the monasteries…)