Matt steps into the elevator, wanting only to reach his workspace, and coffee, on the Sixth Floor. Three more people enter and the elevator ascends. Another dreary day in the office, they think. Until the door slides open…
What greets Matt drives all thoughts of coffee from his mind, for he isn’t faced with the drab office he is expecting, but a sun-drenched land of exotic scents. And danger.
The colour of the sky as I trudged to the office should have warned me that it would be no ordinary day. All greens and purples and tones of black, like a few-day-old bruise. It was eight-thirty on a spring morning, yet the air was as stilled and dusky as twilight. Birds flocked and muttered, unsure whether to roam or roost. I paused and looked up.
Big mistake. The cloud formation above Claridge House, where I had worked for the past eighteen months, swirled and spiralled, the colours and movement combining with my hangover to make me want to heave.
Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes. And opened them in time to see the flash of lightning fork down onto the roof of Claridge House like the world’s largest spark. I might have imagined the puff of smoke that rose from the roof, but there was no mistaking the sharp smell of ozone or the way the hairs on my neck and back of my hands fizzed and jived and stood to attention.
I waited to see if the building would collapse or burst into flames so that I might turn around and go back to bed. No such luck. Cursing the efficiency of modern lightning conductors, I resumed my trudge to work. My system needed coffee. Badly.
The foyer on the ground floor of Claridge House could not have been less prepossessing. Unless perhaps it hosted a service for devil worshippers, complete with goat, chalked pentacle and slaughtered cockerel. Grimy, peeling walls and linoleum floor, a suggestion of eau de cats’ piss and a few doors leading deeper into the building or to the stairwell. I made for the shiny, battered metal door which opened into the lift.
The display panel alongside the two buttons, one with an arrow for ‘up’, the other for ‘down’, showed that the lift was on the Fifth Floor. Muttering under my breath—the lift wasn’t ancient, but not exactly in the prime of youth either; it would take a good thirty seconds to descend five floors—I pressed the ‘up’ button. While I waited, I glanced around furtively, hoping that nobody else would come. The lift car wasn’t large; it felt stuffy and cramped with two people inside. I preferred having it to myself when I was in tip-top shape; with a hangover, the craving for solitude was almost as strong as my need for coffee.
The lift pinged its arrival at the same time as a draught and sudden swell of traffic noise indicated the main entrance to the building had opened behind me. The lift door began to slide sideways in its uncertain, ponderous way. By the time the gap was wide enough for me to step through, the building entrance had opened a second time.
A Second Bite of… Sam Kates
Q.11 What is worse – ignorance or stupidity?
Well, as the saying goes, you can’t fix stupid, whereas ignorance can be alleviated through education. The worst thing of all, to me, is wilful ignorance. And, oh boy, there’s a lot of that about at the moment. Take, for instance, the people who know sod all about virology, yet pontificate about mask-wearing and social distancing on Facebook as if they’re world-renowned experts. “My mate Gary says that wearing masks starves the brain of oxygen and he should know—he works down the hospital. Why, only the other day he had to wheel some poor bugger to the morgue who’d died due to excessive mask-wearing…”
Q.12 Do you have any marketing tips for fellow writers? (Go on – say do some!)
The dreaded M-word. Although my marketing knowledge has increased over the past few years as I’ve struggled to get to grips with it, I’m no expert. If I had to offer a tip, it would be this: try various marketing methods until you hit on one that works for you—there are umpteen methods out there, but not every one will work for every writer.
Q.13 Can you pin down the time when you decided to be a writer? Or have you always written?
It was the mid-nineties when I hadn’t long turned thirty and was beginning to hate my job (I was a lawyer). I had never seriously considered being a fiction writer until then, largely because it seemed such a difficult profession to break into. It still is, but self-publishing has enabled so many of us who have been rejected by the traditional pubishers to nevertheless make a living from what we love.
Q.14 Is there one of your books of which you are more proud than the others? If so, which and why?
I have another completed series of novels—The Elevator trilogy. Dark fantasy with elements of science fiction and horror. It’s difficult to market (that dratted M-word again) because it crosses over genres and—the first novel, The Elevator, in particular—is probably a Marmite book. However, the final book in the trilogy, The Lord of the Dance, is the one I’m most proud of because I think it contains some of my best writing. And I love the Inception-inspired ending.
Q.15 If you could meet one person (alive or dead), who would you choose? And what would you talk about?
I’d need an interpreter since my Aramaic is a little rusty, and it would be on the assumption she’d be willing to engage in an open conversation with me, but I’d opt for Mary Magdalene. I’m not religious, but I think the tale of Jesus Christ is, as the film title says, one of the greatest stories ever told. I would love to sit and chat with her to find out how much of the accepted biblical version of the tale is true. I’m also fascinated by the idea popularised by Dan Brown that she, and not some wooden goblet, is the Holy Grail, and I’d love to dig deeper into that with her.
Q.16 You are going to meet your literary hero and you are told to bring a gift. What do you take?
Beer. I have a few literary heroes and they all are or were, I believe, partial to a drop of ale. I’ve been for a pint in The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, the pub where C. S. Lewis and Tolkien used to meet to discuss their work—yes, they are two of them. I sat there supping my pint, while the bustle of the lunchtime rush continued unheeded around me, a little awed simply to be in a place they had once frequented together. The other would be a certain S. King, who I hope still enjoys the occasional beer.
Q.17 Who was the first musician/singer to make an impact on your life? And can you remember the song?
The first single I can remember buying myself was in 1974, when I was around nine: ‘Seasons in the Sun’ by Terry Jacks. It would probably be considered overly sentimental now, but it tugs at the heart strings—the singer is dying and saying goodbye to his loved ones. Sniff.
Q.18 Similarly, can you recall the first book that grabbed you by the gonads and shook your world?
I could say any of the Enid Blyton books I devoured as soon as I learned to read—The Faraway Tree, for example—but I had no point of comparison. Instead, I’m going to choose a book I encountered a few years later, by which time I’d been reading far more widely. Our teacher started reading the book to us in class and it blew me away. I ran home and badgered my parents until they bought me my own copy so I could read it at my own pace. When I learned it was part of a series with six other books, I probably peed a little with excitement. (Not really, at least I don’t think so…) Oh, the book: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Q.19 As a writer, what is your ambition?
My ambition as a writer was, at first, simply to be published. Later it became to be able to make some sort of living from writing fiction. I suppose it’s now to make a comfortable living from writing fiction. There is one other, though it’s more a fancy than an ambition since I don’t believe it’s realistic. It’s to see one of my works adapted for the screen—TV or cinema, I’m not fussy—and sit in front of it in a mix of awe and apprehension as to how my words have been interpreted. How utterly amazing would that be.
Q.20 Chips (fries) or pasta?
Since I’m British and a staple of British pub grub (when they’re allowed to open) is lasagne and chips, why not both?
Q.21 What is your favourite tipple?
Beer. And red wine. Not together—it’s too messy.
Sam Kates lives in Wales, a small constituent country of Great Britain and the U.K. Like many of his fellow countrymen, he possesses a fondness for rugby union (though these days only as a spectator) and a good pint of beer. Usually the two go hand in hand.
His tastes in reading and film tend toward the darker side of life and the fantastic. Little surprise, then, that the fiction he writes is usually science fiction and fantasy with a decidedly dark flavour, or outright horror. You can track him down on Twitter or drop by his website and blog.