The Sam Kates Interview – Part 1: Earth Haven

The Cleansing by Sam Kates is the first part of his series Earth Haven.

Seven billion people inhabit this planet in blissful ignorance of imminent annihilation. Destruction comes, not from meteors or nuclear holocaust, but from a source no one even knows exists.
A handful of survivors—traumatised, bewildered—must come to terms with the new reality. And quickly. For the Cleansing is only the beginning . . .

The message washed over her like a cold wave. She gasped and sank back into the armchair, which groaned beneath her bulk. She closed her eyes and saw the images, still so familiar to her after all this time: ebony spires and minarets and monoliths, great glass domes peering from the constantly shifting dunes, pyramids and ziggurats, obelisks and amphitheatres, and endless deserts of dark sands gleaming faintly in the baleful light of a dying sun.
She gasped again when she saw the craft: vaster than a mountain range, blacker than night, sleeker than an otter’s hide. It was emerging from the desert floor, the sands boiling and parting; she could almost hear the slithering sound the sand made as it cascaded off the smooth sides of the craft.
Her jaw set into a determined line and she opened her eyes. At last, they were coming.
It was time for her to send a message of her own.
The armchair creaked and complained, then sighed as she pulled herself upright. From habit—there was nobody before whom she had to make herself presentable—she smoothed down her housecoat and walked in a rolling gait across the apartment to the work station upon which stood her computer.
She eased herself into the chair that she’d had custom made; it supported her weight without so much as a creak. The work station stood before a picture window that looked out over Central Park. While she waited for the computer to boot up, she stared down at the people braving the December cold. Couples strolled beneath the weak morning sun, muffled and gloved and hooded against the biting winter breeze. Long-coated businessmen strode purposefully, clutching briefcases or portfolios, intent on reaching the cosy sanctuaries of their plush offices on Fifth or Madison. The occasional fitness enthusiast in jogging bottoms and sweat shirt bounded by. A chattering kindergarten class snaked along the paths, the children in woolly hats and gloves, the cold failing to douse their excitement at the field trip.
She watched this snapshot of humanity and for a moment, only a moment, felt a pang of sorrow. Her broad brow wrinkled into a frown and she shook her head to clear it. This was no time for regrets.
Returning her attention to the computer, she opened her e-mail application. The message had already been written. It had sat in her drafts folder for years, since she had first decided that e-mail would be a far simpler, relatively effortless way to spread the word. Of course, not every intended recipient of the message would have e-mail access. Even with today’s blanket coverage, some remote corners of the globe were out of reach or were blocked from communication with the outside world by isolationist governments. She had another method of reaching them; a method that would cost her a great deal of mental energy, but she was prepared. She had been prepared for many years.
She opened the message from the drafts folder. It was simple, only four short sentences: They are coming. Begin immediately. Mercy is not an option. Acknowledge.
The e-mail was set up to be sent to almost five thousand addresses, addresses that she had painstakingly kept up to date.
Her right hand clutched the mouse, moving the cursor over the send button. Her index finger hovered over the left-click button of the mouse while she hesitated.
She allowed herself one more glance out of the window, at the people moving through the Park, and was powerless to prevent a profound look of sadness from moving across her face like a dark shadow.
Again she shook herself and her features hardened. Looking back at the computer screen, she pressed the send button.
Mankind’s fate was thus sealed by the click of a mouse.

A First Bite of… Sam Kates

Q.1 Do you see writing as an escape from the sorrows of existence, an exercise in futility, or an excuse to tell lies and get paid for it? Or is there another option…?
All the above, and more: it’s an effective release valve, a great way to silence the voices. No, I don’t hear voices in the get-me-into-a-straitjacket-and-quickly sort of way. It’s more the clamour of characters in as-yet untold tales. The best way to stop hearing them is to write their stories.

Q.2 Hero or villain – which is the more interesting to write?
Either. Both. I find a person’s motivations for acting heroically as interesting as someone else’s for acting in a dastardly fashion, the bounder.

Q.3 How much of you is in your characters?
I believe it virtually impossible for any writer of fiction not to occasionally imbue a character with one or more of their own characteristics. It might be as simple as liking the same chocolate bar, or be more complex, like sharing the same political persuasions. Undoubtedly I have done this on occasion. Sometimes I have given a character a trait that I don’t possess in abundance, but wish I did. Courage, for instance. Some of my characters act far more bravely than I think I could if I found myself in the same situation.

Q.4 Having created a fictional world for your novels, is there any moment in the process where you find your brain inhabiting that place?
Pretty much every moment. Isn’t that true for every fiction writer? It’s how I write: I mentally go to wherever the action is taking place and describe what I see and feel, and report on what the characters are doing.

Q.5 Is it important to include all shades of belief and sexual orientation in a book?
Life is made up of a variety of beliefs and sexual orientations. If a writer is writing about life—and, when you boil it right down, who amongst us isn’t?—then they ought to be as inclusive as the story allows if they want to reflect real life. I say ‘as the story allows’ because I strongly believe that story is everything. I’m not one to include a character who, say, holds particular religious beliefs when the story doesn’t demand such a character and the only reason for including them is out of tokenism.

Q.6 What inspires your writing? Money is an acceptable answer.
Money doesn’t motivate me to write, nor even to publish, but it’s what drives my marketing efforts. What does motivate me to write? The need to transfer the tale and the characters from inside my head and onto paper, or its modern equivalent the hard drive.

Q.7 If you knew nobody would ever read a word you wrote, would you continue writing?
Yes—it’s the best way I know to declutter my mind. However, it would be a far less satisfying enterprise if I knew nobody would ever read it. This might sound fanciful, but for me a story isn’t complete until it has been read by somebody I don’t know. That episode of Friends where Phoebe rescues the dead Christmas trees so they can fulfil their destiny resonates with me. I feel the same way about my stories: they haven’t fulfilled their destiny until they’ve been read.

Q.8 Have you ever written somebody you know into a book – a lover, a friend, an enemy?
Not in their entirety; not that they’d be recognisable. This is a bit like the question about giving characters some of our own characteristics—it’s virtually impossible not to do the same with people we know.

Q.9 Do you think your political beliefs inform your writing in any way?
I don’t think so. I hold political beliefs, fairly moderate, but I keep them mostly to myself. I’ll avoid discussing politics with all but my closest friends—and not often with them—because I’ve seen too many people fall out over issues that no amount of arguing is going to change anyone’s mind about. Since I naturally shy away from discussing politics in real life, it’s not a stretch to keep it out of my writing

Q.10 If you had to recommend one of your books to a new reader, which would it be, and why?
I’d recommend The Cleansing. It’s the first novel in an apocalyptic science fiction trilogy—the Earth Haven trilogy—so readers who enjoy it will have two more novels in which to continue the story to its conclusion. It’s also my most popular book.

Retired international jewel thief Sam Cates lives on a melting iceberg with his flatulent pet dragon Jeff (thus the melting ice), a grumpy penguin who refuses to answer to any name except ‘Oi’, and a shoal of silverfish.
When he is not telling dark tales, his hobbies include cultivating dandelions, keeping Oi away from the fish, and making sure he stays upwind of Jeff.
You can track him down on Twitter or drop by his website and blog.

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